Who were the Blue Jays’ best September callups from the last 5 years? By Luke Garrison (Wednesday September 5th, 2018)
PICTURED (LEFT TO RIGHT)—MOISES SIERRA, TEOSCAR HERNANDEZ, VLAD. GUERRERO JR. // Original Photos—Jaysjournal.com, Pinterest.com, and Uproxx.com.
TORONTO—It’s been a season filled with the unimaginable for the Blue Jays.
When looking back at GM Ross Atkins’ comments from the 2017 Winter Meetings, it’s important to remember that hindsight is twenty-twenty. He re-emphasized his intention to “rebound, not rebuild” and even specifically mentioned players such as Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin as ‘the current core’.
Donaldson has now been traded to the Cleveland Indians for a PTBNL and still hasn’t seen MLB action since May 28th. Even before his arm officially “died”, he was cold as ice (.234 BA, 5 HRs in 137 ABs).
But we’re talking about a player who was nominated for the AL MVP award in five consecutive seasons (2013-2017) before this one. No one could have predicted such a deadly regression for the perennial all-star/iron-man. Even with the rise of Vlad Jr., it’s a shame to see the third baseman leave for so little after just one down year.
In addition, Troy Tulowitzki has been on the DL all season and Russell Martin has somehow found a way to be a less consistent hitter than he already was. It seems as though the latter two players are on their way out of the league. So much for ‘the core’ (although Tulo would disagree with you, given his recent comments).
The Jays’ starting pitching has somehow been even worse and the bullpen has been effectively sold for parts.
In a season as miserable as this, there’s only one thing that can give Toronto fans hope for the future—September callups. More specifically, Guerrero Jr. and friends.
Unfortunately, it appears as though some of Vlad’s friends will be joining the Jays without him this time around. Sean Reid-Foley (P), Taylor Guerrieri (P) and Jose Fernandez (P) were among the first wave and Jonathan Davis (OF), Dwight Smith Jr. (OF), Richard Urena (SS), and Rowdy Tellez (1B) formed a second wave on Tuesday.
But enough about the present, what about the past? More specifically, who were Jays fans excited about going into previous Septembers? And where are those players now?
Today, we’ll be going all the way back to 2013 and profiling some of the Blue Jays’ best September performers from the past five years.
As with any first-round pick (he was the Jays’ 20th overall selection in 2009), expectations were high heading into Jenkins’ first MLB appearance. He initially made his major league debut with the Jays during the 2012 season (on August 7th) and looked good during his first few relief appearances (8.2 IP, 2.08 ERA); however, he finished the season poorly (23.1 IP, 5.40 ERA from August 25th onwards).
Four of his five September outings lasted 3.2 innings or longer (three were starts); therefore, his late season implosion could have been a result of the Jays stretching him out. Nonetheless, he was used as a starter once again the following season as Toronto was injured and desperate.
They had already recently used an emergency starter and had no choice but to rely on Jenkins (on May 12th, 2013) after Brandon Morrow suddenly became unavailable due to “back tightness”. Luckily, the experiment worked as Jenkins ended up making three starts during the month of May. All of those outings had three common characteristics—5 IP, 2 ER, and 2 Ks (strange..right?).
Despite playing well, he was sent back down to the Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A) on June 1st and wasn’t recalled until exactly one week before rosters expanded (August 24th). He was used as a long reliever for the rest of the season and put up fantastic September numbers.
In 14.1 innings, he had a 1.88 ERA to go along with seven strikeouts and just a single walk. He also managed to hold batters to a .204 average and a .220 OBP during that span. Truly dominant.
Nowadays, Jenkins has unfortunately been out of baseball for a couple of years. He pitched well for the Jays as a reliever again in 2014 (31.2 IP, 2.56 ERA) but could not replicate his success once more the next season. He only made two appearances (3.2 innings) at the MLB level in 2015—once on May 5th and again on October 1st.
Some argue that the Jays never really gave him a fair shake in terms of sticking with the franchise long term. After all, it’s pretty cold to be given up on after just two bad appearances. Especially considering he was still pitching well in Triple-A during 2015.
His 2016 season in Triple-A , however, was a disaster that effectively ended his career.
Runner Up—Moises Sierra
Sierra had also experienced his first brief taste of the major leagues during 2012. After Eric Thames and Travis Snyder were traded at the July 31st deadline, Sierra was recalled in order to provide outfield depth. He finished the season with six home runs in 147 ABs; however, his .224/.274/.374 slashline left something to be desired.
Fast forward to 2013 where his offensive numbers, for the most part, took a significant jump. Although he only left the yard once in 107 ABs, his slash line improved to .290/.369/.458 and his OPS+ jumped from 75 to 126. Not bad for an international free agent whom the Jays had originally signed in 2005.
Unfortunately, the feel good story would end there. He struggled out of the gate in 2014 and was DFA’d before being claimed by the White Sox on May 3rd. He hit .276 with two homers over 127 ABs to finish the season; however, it wasn’t enough to earn a contract.
He has performed well in Triple-A for various teams over the last three seasons and seemed to really turn a corner this past winter when he hit .353 in the Dominican Winter League.
On a side note, he was caught partying at 6 a.m. in early January with Phillies’ third baseman Maikel Franco and other winter league teammates. They had a playoff game later that day but luckily, it got rained out. Nice to see he’s living life to the fullest I guess...
To date, Sierra is currently a member of the Washington Nationals organization. He made his first MLB appearance since 2014 with the Nats on April 11th, 2018; however, he had an abysmal .167/.217/.204 slash line in 54 ABs and was DFA’d in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Juan Soto (which seems to have worked out). Sierra has spent time in both Single-A and Triple-A this season and whether or not he can ever return to the majors on a regular basis seems sort of doubtful.
PICTURED—CHAD JENKINS // Original Photo—1bluejaysway.blogspot.com
Now I know what you’re thinking. It’s very difficult to call Pompey a winner in any sense at this point in his career; however, the farm was very thin on MLB-ready position prospects that year. His numbers weren’t very good (.231/.302/.436, 1 HR, 1 SB in 39 ABs); however, they weren’t terrible given the fact that he was a rookie getting his first taste of the bigs.
The Canadian also showed flashes of defensive brilliance in the outfield. The highlight of that September for him was definitely on the 26th against the Orioles, as he went 3-for-4 with two triples and a double.
He began 2015 as the Jays’ opening day centre fielder; however, he performed at a below-average level for the Jays in 2015 and 2016 (despite doing well in Triple-A during those years).
Pompey also served a key purpose in the 2015 postseason. He stole four total bases (two in the Texas series and two in the Royals series) while only registering a single at-bat. In other words, he became very useful as a pure pinch runner due to his elite speed.
In March of 2017, his speed would catch up with him as he suffered a concussion during a steal attempt at the World Baseball Classic. Another setback that would surely hinder Pompey’s potential as his “prospect” status continued to slip away.
He’s returned this year and has posted admirable offensive numbers throughout the minor league ranks so far (a .272/.352/.418 slash line with five homers and 11 steals). During his five games with the big club this season, he’s 2-for-10 with two singles.
Given the Jays' current logjam in the outfield, there’s a slim chance that Pompey will get the call at some point this month.
Runner Up—Kendall Graveman
Here’s a name you might remember.
Mostly because he was part of the package that went to the Athletics during the Donaldson blockbuster; however, he was also a highly touted prospect for the Jays in general at the time.
Graveman was drafted by Toronto in 2013 (8th round) and spent the rest of the season in Single-A where he made 10 starts (4.31 ERA). This clearly wasn’t what generated the hype around him.
It was his 2014 minor league season that caused fans to start buzzing. Through 27 starts (167.1 IP) across multiple levels between Single-A and Triple-A, he posted a 1.83 ERA to go along with 115 strikeouts. What’s even more impressive is the fact that he only allowed two home runs and 31 walks all season.
He was recalled to the Jays later that year and received his first big league shot against the Red Sox at Fenway on September 5th. It was unfortunately a bit of a disaster as he allowed an earned run without recording an out before being yanked in favour of Aaron Loup during the bottom of the eighth.
Luckily for him, Loup went on to blow the save during that inning so people quickly forgot about his MLB debut. Especially since the Jays re-took the lead in the top of the tenth before Casey Janssen came in and blew a save of his own (in walkoff fashion, ouch).
But the rest of the month went relatively smoothly and the young pitcher finished the season with a 3.86 ERA through 4.2 innings (5 appearances) while managing to throw 77% of his pitches for strikes. He was traded to Oakland the following November and would become a starter from that point onwards.
To date, Kendall is in his fourth year as a member of the A’s rotation; however, his time there has been mediocre at best. He has also been shut down for the remainder of the year since having Tommy John surgery on July 24th.
He began both the 2017 and 2018 seasons as the opening day starter, but that certainly wasn’t a skill-based decision. He was optioned to Triple-A on April 26th, 2018 after recording a 8.89 ERA through his first six starts.
Since 2015, Graveman has posted a 4.38 ERA (4.58 FIP) over 78 starts (441.1 IP) with the green and yellow. Depending on how Tommy John went, his career could be in jeopardy. Especially if he loses any velocity and somehow becomes even more hittable.
It seems as though the Jays dodged a bullet with this once promising prospect.
PICTURED—KENDALL GRAVEMAN // Original Photo—Sportsnet.ca
Seeing as the Jays were in a pennant race, there wasn’t as much space available for September callups. They were pretty loaded at multiple positions thanks to former GM Alex Anthopoulos’ aggressive approach around the trade deadline.
One player they did have room for, however, was minor league first baseman Matt Hague. He was named the International League (Triple-A) MVP for the season on September 1st and one week later, he found himself on the Jays’ bench as a pinch hitter.
It wasn’t his first MLB action as he had actually made the Pittsburgh Pirates’ opening day roster after a hot training camp in 2012. He only got into 30 games (74 ABs) with the Bucs that season and his abysmal .229/.270/.257 slashline (with only two extra base hits, both doubles) secured a demotion back to Triple-A for the remainder of the season.
Fast forward to 2015 and at 30 years old, Hague is ready for his next taste. Although he was used rather infrequently (10 appearances; 2 starts at 1B), he provided a decent bench bat en route to a .250/.400/.333 slash line over 12 ABs.
It’s not easy to hit coming off of the bench; however, he handled his role with aplomb. It’s impressive that he got into the lineup at all considering what was on the line for the birds during these games/how many options they had. Seeing as he’s a career minor-leaguer, it just goes to show how highly the organization thought of him.
Nowadays, Hague has resumed life as a Triple-A journeyman. After signing a minor league deal with the Mariners on December 12th, 2017, he would begin the year with Triple-A Tacoma. After posting a .226 average through 17 games, he was released on April 26th.
He signed a new minor league deal with the Nationals the day afterwards; however, they too weren’t thrilled about his production with Triple-A Syracuse (.262 AVG; 1 home run) and he was let go on June 13th.
It’s hard to say what’s next for Hague. He did spend 2016 with the Hanshin Tigers in the Japanese league so that could be an option for him once again.
Runner up—Darwin Barney/Marcus Stroman
It is a bit strange to include these two since they’re not true September callups; however, both did come to the Jays during the last month of the season and managed to play pretty well en route to a first place A.L. East finish.
Stroman tore his ACL before the season began and was supposed to miss the entire thing. Stunningly, he managed to heal very quickly while simultaneously finishing the rest of his sociology degree at Duke University. Come September, he was ready to rejoin the rotation and did so in a huge way.
Through four starts, he went 4-0 with an immaculate 1.67 ERA. He also threw the ball very well against the Rangers in the ALDS (two starts, 3.46 ERA). Unfortunately, he’s had a pretty up-and-down career since then and his struggles have naturally been well-documented by the Toronto media.
His 2016 season wasn’t too impressive featuring a 4.37 ERA after 32 starts; however, things turned around quite a bit in 2017. He posted a 3.09 ERA through 33 starts last year while also winning the Gold Glove and finishing eighth in Cy Young voting.
This year, he’s had multiple problems with blisters and has been in-and-out of the lineup as a result. He performed very poorly during his first 10 starts (54 IP; 6.50 ERA); however, he’s somewhat improved in the nine starts he’s made since (48.1 IP; 4.47 ERA) albeit not much.
What’s curious about Stroman is despite his ERA fluctuations from year-to-year, his FIP has consistently been within the same range since 2016 (between 3.71 and 3.90 from 2016-present). Perhaps he’s just been perpetually unlucky recently? But to what end..
Barney, on the other hand, came to the Jays in a trade with the Dodgers on September 13th. Although the timing of his trade caused him to be ineligible for the postseason, the former 2012 Gold Glove winner provided some much needed infield depth down the home stretch as Troy Tulowitzki had recently cracked his shoulder blade (after colliding with Kevin Pillar during a catch).
Darwin got into 15 games (four starts) throughout September resulting in a .304/.333/.609 slashline with two homers and four RBIs. Not bad for a player who had previously spent all but two games in Triple-A that season. He went on to play a utility role for the Jays in 2016 and 2017; however, he posted very underwhelming offensive numbers (615 ABs; .644 OPS)
Nowadays, he appears to be out of baseball although not for good. He signed a minor league contract with the Rangers on February 5th, 2018 but ended up asking to be released after finding out he wasn’t really in their future plans. In an interview with the Portland Tribunein April, Barney discussed a comeback that was contingent on how things go with his three children (ages 3, 6, and 9).
He’s received many Triple-A offers and has even contemplated playing over in Asia.
Tepera outperformed Barnes that September; however, he was well set up to do so given his greater amount of big league experience. The Jays selected Ryan in the 19th round of the 2009 draft and he worked his way up the minor league ranks for seven seasons.
His MLB debut finally came against the Red Sox on May 10th, 2015 where he pitched two clean innings in a 6-3 loss. He remained in the bullpen for the next three months and threw the ball very well (23.2 IP; 2.28 ERA); however, he was still sent back to Buffalo on August 1st.
He would be promoted once more on September 1st as apart of the 2015 callups but his numbers regressed mightily as he was hit hard down the final stretch (9.1 IP; 5.79 ERA).
A new season turned out to be just what Tepera needed as he posted solid numbers despite being sent down/recalled on five separate occasions in 2016. This must have been especially frustrating considering he made the opening day bullpen before being sent to the minors shortly after to make room for a new signing—Franklin Morales.
Ryan’s frequent transaction rate must have been undoubtedly difficult on his ego; however, it also served as powerful motivation. September arrived and he was looking to permanently move on from Triple-A. Given that he’s still a reliable bullpen pitcher for the Jays to this day, it’s safe to say mission accomplished.
The September stretch of the 2016 season was the beginning of that mission as he posted an ERA of 3.00 through nine innings while striking out 11 and holding opponents to a .222 batting average.
Over the last two seasons, he’s recorded an ERA of 3.60 (3.84 FIP) over 135 total innings. He’s an absolute workhorse and it appears as though his numbers will be sustainable for the foreseeable future.
PICTURED—RYAN TEPERA // Original Photo—Nationalpost.com
Runner up—Danny Barnes
Barnes is another Blue Jays’ draft pick (35th round, 2010) who had to play in the minors for seven season before getting the call. He made his MLB debut on August 2nd, 2016 against the Houston Astros and only allowed one hit while striking out the likes of Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa.
He would earn two more relief appearances in the next week before being sent back to Buffalo on the 9th. Danny rejoined the Jays on September 1st and had a decently successful month (9.2 IP; 3.72 ERA). His FIP during that stretch was also an impressive 2.19.
His 2017 season was a success as he threw 66 innings and recorded a 3.55 ERA; however, his 4.58 FIP was kind of concerning. This year, those concerns seems to be at the forefront as Barnes’ has amassed a 5.66 ERA to go along with an atrocious 1.77 WHIP through 35 innings of work.
He hit the DL with left knee tendinitis on June 22nd and missed nearly six weeks before being activated on August 1st. His ERA since his return is just north of 11 and opponents have an .OPS of over 1.000 against him through eight appearances (5.2 innings).
He has a lot of work to do if he wants to remain on the roster/in the MLB at all next season given the fickle shelf life of relief pitchers.
Strangely enough, Carlos Ramirez and Luis Santos had the exact same IP (16.2), ERA (2.70), and ERA+ (169) in September; however, Ramirez was the stronger pitcher for a couple of reasons.
First of all, he had an incredibly microscopic WHIP of 0.54 and a lower FIP (although 4.54 and 5.08 are both awful). In addition to that, he held opponents scoreless during 10 of his 12 appearances.
Carlos came to the Jays during 2009 as an international free agent and actually spent many years in their system as an outfielder. He then decided to become a pitcher in 2014 (a very random move) and found himself making his MLB debut just three years later. Pretty impressive stuff.
He only threw 2.1 innings for the Jays this season before being DFA’d on May 13th. He was then claimed off waivers by the Athletics on May 20th and pitched six innings (three appearances) between May 30th and June 15th. He had an ERA of 3.00 during that span; however, he also had a 4.98 FIP and issued four walks.
He has since been sent down and has spent the majority of this year in Triple-A with Nashville. He’s racked up respectable numbers (49 IP; 3.49 ERA) although his control continues to be a concern (4.6 BB/9).
Runner up—Luis Santos
Santos didn’t have the luxury of staying with the same franchise during his rise to the major leagues. He was signed as an international free agent by the Pirates in 2011 and spent two years in their minor league system.
He was then traded to the Royals and spent another two years between rookie ball and Single-A. Despite posting a 3.13 ERA through 178.1 innings (36 games; 27 starts), he was released on April 2nd, 2015 and the Jays picked him up on the 6th.
His numbers between Single-A and Triple-A during 2015-2017 were actually abysmal; however, he still got promoted to the Jays’ 40-man roster on September 2nd, 2017. Four of his five earned runs against that month came via the long ball.
This season, he’s unfortunately shown more control issues (4.5 BB/9; 1.80 WHIP). What’s interesting is the fact that his FIP has only increased by .08 (5.00 in 2017 to 5.08 in 2018) while his ERA has jumped by 4.50 (2.70 in 2017 to 7.20 in 2018). He was certainly due to regress this season; however, he’s seemingly imploded instead.
Although Santos has pitched well in Triple-A with Buffalo this season (42.2 IP; 2.74 ERA), he was outrighted on August 30th and therefore no longer has a spot on the 40-man roster. His future with the Jays is murky at this point.
Honourable Mention—Teoscar Hernandez
Hernandez was also a very hot player for the Jays; therefore, he’s worth a mention. Realistically, all three of these players performed very well last September and the order in which I’ve placed them is up for debate.
He was initially signed by the Houston Astros in February 2011 as an international free agent. He spent six seasons working his way up through the minor leagues and finally made his MLB debut on August 12th, 2016 (he went 2-for-4 with a homer).
He finished the season with a .230/.304/.420 slash line and four home runs over 100 ABs. He didn’t make the Astros out of Spring Training last season and was traded to the Jays, along with Nori Aoki, for Francisco Liriano at the July 31st deadline.
He was then assigned to Triple-A Buffalo until the Jays recalled him on September 1st. From there, he gave Jays fans something to cheer about during their first season of mediocrity following two postseason runs. Especially when he hit six home runs in six games from September 22nd-September 27th.
Overall, he finished the month with a .261/.305/.602 slash line and eight home runs in 88 ABs. If he maintained that pace over a full season, he would have hit somewhere around 40 jacks.
This season has proven that regression was likely as he’s hit .241/.301/.469 to go along with 19 bombs over 424 ABs. Still, the power is apparent and Teoscar certainly has 30-35 home run pop. The only things stopping him from cracking the roster full-time are his defence and his strikeout rate.
With the additions of Billy McKinney and Randal Grichuk, his future has been under threat for quite some time. With the infield seemingly set for the long-term future with prospects such as Vlad, Bo, Biggio, Gurriel Jr., etc., it will be interesting to see how the outfield plays out in general.