Toronto Blue Jays: Deciding who takes the last spot in the rotation

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 28: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch during first inning of their MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on September 28, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 28: Trent Thornton #57 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a pitch during first inning of their MLB game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Rogers Centre on September 28, 2019 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images) /

With some new pitching acquisitions this off-season, there is one spot left in the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation left up for grabs between a wide variety of internal options.

The Toronto Blue Jays have been active this off-season, trading for pitcher Chase Anderson and signing Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, and Shun Yamaguchi to multi-year contracts.

There is also returning pitcher Matt Shoemaker, who is coming off a shortened 2019 season after tearing his ACL. He only started five games before getting injured, but was excellent during his time in a Blue Jays uniform and is currently going through arbitration with the Blue Jays.

For the first four spots, I think Ryu, Roark, Anderson, and Shoemaker will take these spots with Yamaguchi moving to the bullpen in order to get acclimated with pitching in the MLB versus his previous experience in Japan.

This would leave one spot open for a wide range of internal options within the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

While prospects Anthony Kay, Jacob Waguespack, Sean Reid-Foley, and T.J. Zeuch performed well during the 2019 season, it was Trent Thornton who was relied upon all year to take up a bulk of the innings and lead the team in innings pitched. Factor in the return of left hander Ryan Borucki, and the last spot in the rotation gets a lot more complicated to figure out.

I think Kay, Waguespack, SRF, and Zeuch deserve to start and could become MLB contributors very soon, but these newly acquired pitchers may push this quartet back down to the minor leagues. This will allow them to continue being stretched out as a starter and throw innings while avoiding the bullpen role. Considering they are still young and have potential to start games, moving them to the bullpen this soon would not be ideal and would still provide the team with some additional starting pitcher depth, which is never a bad thing to have because of injuries, trades, etc.

This leaves Thornton and Borucki for the last remaining spot to begin the season. Given each players short track record in the MLB, this last spot is by no means getting handed out to either pitcher just yet this off-season.

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Trent Thornton was acquired prior to the 2019 season from the Houston Astros and found himself in the starting rotation for opening day. His first full season was not a statistical masterpiece by any means, but he was able to start 29 games and produce over 154.2 innings on the season. This was necessary for the Blue Jays this past year given the merry-go-round of starting pitchers used over the season.

In his rookie season, Thornton was able to accumulate 1.8 bWAR while also striking out 149 batters, ending the season with a 6-9 record and a 4.84 ERA. Considering he pitched against tough teams with the A.L. East and didn’t have extensive offensive support from a young Blue Jays team, Thornton’s rookie season is nothing to scoff at.

On the flip side, there is left hander Ryan Borucki.

Borucki had a tumultuous 2019 campaign, one which saw the Mundelein, IL native find himself on the injured list for most of the season.

He first went onto the IL during spring training because of inflammation to his pitching elbow and did not make his first start of the season until July 22 against the Cleveland Indians. Borucki would pitch poorly over his next two starts, throwing only 6.2 innings and giving up 8 earned runs and 6 walks on the way to a 10.80 ERA.

He would then find himself on the IL once again after his second start, this stint being a season ending injury because of surgery required to remove bone spurs in his pitching elbow. He should be ready to go for spring training in 2020.

When comparing these two players, you have to look at Borucki’s rookie season in 2018 to see how much of an impact he can have on the MLB rotation.

In 2018, Borucki pitched to a spectacular 3.87 ERA while starting 17 games after being called up in late June. He would finish the season with 33 walks, 67 strikeouts, and a 4-6 record (again, not the best offensive corps behind him this season) with a 1.7 bWAR.

If Borucki had been healthy in 2019 and pitched anywhere near like his Blue Jays rookie campaign, then the fifth rotation spot would most likely be his to lose. Similar to Thornton, if Borucki can come out of the gate well in spring training and remain healthy in 2020, the spot could be his as well.

In conclusion, when the dust settles and opening day is upon us, I think it will be Trent Thornton who will claim the last rotation spot.

That’s not to say that I think Borucki will pitch worse than Thornton in spring training, but because Borucki was injured and missed most of the previous season, he needs to get some more reps under his belt in the MiLB in order to avoid long(er) term injuries.

I have fears that if he is rushed back into the rotation at the MLB too soon, he could find himself on the IL once again and could suffer a career ending or longer term injury like the 2019 season. An innings limit approach to the 2020 season may do Borucki some good, and he would be a great replacement pitcher if anyone on the MLB roster gets injured a few months into the season.

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The only way we will find out the winner of this competition is to keep our eyes peeled until spring training comes to a close. That is until top prospect Nate Pearson arrives midway through the season, and the very real possibility that neither Thornton or Borucki find themselves bumped off the rotation.