Feb 28, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays pitcher John Stilson throws against the New York Yankees during the bottom of the eighth inning of a spring training game at George Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
John Stilson is a 23-year-old Texan righty who has impressed a lot of people in the Toronto Blue Jays’ big league camp this Spring Training. Throwing in six Grapefruit League games, Stilson didn’t give up a run over seven and a third innings, surrendering just three hits and three walks while striking out six.
With a fastball that tops out at about 95 miles per hour, 6-foot-3, 200 pound Stilson is the Toronto Blue Jays’ top relief prospect and is trying to make it to the big leagues in an organization that has one of the deepest bullpens with incumbent closer Casey Janssen and closer-in-waiting Sergio Santos to go along with 2013 All-Stars Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil as well as a host of other talented, out-of-option pitchers like Dustin McGowan, Esmil Rogers and Jeremy Jeffress.
Stilson had a terrific year in Buffalo last year, his first at the Triple-A level, throwing 47 1/3 innings there with a 2.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, just 15 walks and 47 strikeouts, earning rave reviews from his teammates and coaches.
I spoke to Stilson just before the Toronto Blue Jays’ March 19 Grapefruit League game in which he threw another shutout inning. Unfortunately, March 19 was Stilson’s day of reckoning as he was sent back to minor league camp and will likely be one of the Buffalo Bisons’ top options to close out games in 2014. Here is a transcript of that interview.
Jay Blue: So far you’ve had a really great spring training. How’s everything been going with that?
John Stilson: I’ve been real thrilled with the way I’ve been throwing lately. I’ve commanded my fastball pretty good and had some key situations in games I’ve gotten in and done pretty well. I’m still learning, like a sponge right now with all these older guys trying to learn what’s going on and how to compose myself when I’m out on the field and how to be a big leaguer.
JB: You were in Buffalo last year. Was there anybody in particular that you were talking to, you said you’re like a sponge, you’re looking up to all these guys, there were a lot of guys with a lot of big league experience last year in Buffalo.
JS: Right, there were some guys who came through on rehab stints — Dustin McGowan, Serge [Sergio Santos] was in there also — you’re always trying to learn something from those guys. They’ve been there they’ve done it, they’re really good at what they do. Ryan Langerhans last year was big. He kinda took me under a little bit and taught me what to do and what not to do. Mike Nickeas is also a big help. He’s a really great guy; he’s a pro in whatever he does. He’s been real good to me in taking me under his wing and teaching me what to do.
JB: What kinds of things have you been working on in Spring Training with your pitching?
JS: [It’s a] pretty high tempo out there so I’ve been trying to slow the game down the best I can. Other than that, just my fastball command. It’ll be there sometimes and sometimes it won’t. That’s just a learning experience; I’ve got to learn how to control it when it’s not there and be able to get guys out that way when it’s not. I think I’ve made strides in camp and I hope that I can keep continuing to get better with it.
JB: Do you feel like you can get anybody out? Is there anyone that you’ve looked at in the batter’s box and you’ve said “How am I gonna get one by him?”
JS: As a pitcher, you think you can get anybody out but you’re gonna get beat regardless if you make the pitch. If you make the pitch they’re still gonna hit it. These guys are paid a lot of money to be doing what they do up there and they’re really good at that also. I feel like if I make my pitch I can get pretty much anybody out but you’ve always got a chance, it doesn’t matter what happens, that’s just how baseball is. I can get away with mistakes too sometimes, but other times you just don’t get away with those mistakes. It’s just however they put a good swing on it, they put a good swing on it, you can’t help that.
JB: When you need to make a good pitch, what’s that pitch going to be?
JS: When a guy is throwing some velo[city], you always want to say your fastball, but there’s times when you can’t do that, you gotta throw a slider or a changeup in certain situations depending on the batter. I’m comfortable throwing whatever to get guys out, it just depends on what Dioner (Navarro) or whoever’s back there is calling. I can trust them to know what they’re doing back there.
JB: We know that the Blue Jays’ bullpen is pretty crowded right now. Are you working under the understanding that you’re trying to get to Toronto but you may well end up back in Buffalo?
JS: I really have no idea. I’m just going out here taking it one day at a time and learning as much as I can. When I get a chance to pitch, I go out there and try to do what I’m supposed to do. If I get a chance to go to Toronto, that’s great, if not, I’m fine going back to Buffalo, getting better and learning more and more to where I will be able to get a chance. You’ve pretty much got, if not the best bullpen, then one of the top three best bullpens in the big leagues. It’s going to be tough cracking those guys. It’s incredible what we’ve got up there. Hopefully in the future I’ll have a place up there with them and I can say I’m a part of that bullpen as well.