Amid a tight playoff race, reinforcements will soon arrive for the Toronto Blue Jays in the form of September call-ups as rosters expand to 28 players.
As of Sept. 1, all 30 MLB franchises can promote one pitcher and one position player from the minors, both of whom can remain on the roster through the remainder of the regular season.
The Blue Jays have already set aside one of those spots for outfielder Bradley Zimmer, who was reclaimed by the team on Monday, but they’ve yet to decide which hurler to recall.
Based on the club’s lack of immediate pitching depth, it will likely be a short list. With that in mind, here are three individuals who could drive up the highway from triple-A Buffalo.
In an effort to shore up the bullpen, the Blue Jays acquired relievers Anthony Bass and Zach Pop (along with a player to be named later) from the Miami Marlins at this month’s trade deadline. But that created somewhat of a logjam in the ‘pen.
Despite enjoying a productive start, Pop got caught in a numbers game when left-hander Tim Mayza returned from the injured list on Aug. 23, forcing the team to option him to triple-A. Since he still features all three of his minor-league options, though, the 25-year-old didn’t need to pass through waivers first.
Before being sent down, the right-hander performed to a 2.70 ERA across 6.2 innings in seven appearances with the Blue Jays. He also recorded his third career hold and first since being acquired from the Marlins.
Overall, Pop owns a 3.38 ERA, 3.33 xERA, 3.31 FIP and a 0.3 fWAR through 26.2 innings during his second major-league campaign. The 6-foot-4 righty also carries a career-best 74.5 percent left-on-base percentage and a 55.4 percent ground-ball percentage.
With little competition behind him, Pop is the most likely candidate to claim Toronto’s 28th roster spot, especially since he’s already proven himself at the highest level of play.
It would also be foolish not to promote someone who features high-90s velocity during the most crucial part of the schedule. The seventh-round selection from 2017, whose average fastball velocity (96.5 m.p.h.) ranks in the 89th percentile, would further strengthen the team’s already talented relief corps.
Zach Pop, Sick 98mph Sinkers. 🤒 pic.twitter.com/b56kVrdZa1
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 25, 2022
Pop’s arsenal also includes a mid-80s slider, which he utilizes to help set up his explosive sinker. Together, they allow him to keep balls on the ground while avoiding barrels.
The Brampton, Ont., native isn’t a finished product, although with the Blue Jays aiming to secure the first wild-card seed, he can certainly help them the rest of the way.
Remember Julian Merryweather, the pitcher who looked unhittable early last season? Well, he might finally be nearing a return to the majors.
Merryweather has been plagued by two separate oblique injuries since 2021 and hasn’t appeared in the big leagues since June 13. The 30-year-old is currently on a rehab assignment with triple-A Buffalo and is dominating once again.
In seven appearances, the right-hander has allowed just three hits and four walks while striking out 10 batters over 7.2 innings. He’s posted a 33.3 percent strikeout rate, with opponents hitting .115 against him.
— Buffalo Bisons🦬 (@BuffaloBisons) August 21, 2022
The most encouraging sign - aside from his health, of course - has been the return of Merryweather’s high-90s fastball velocity. It’s consistently registered 98-99 m.p.h. and has also produced additional horizontal movement, as well.
Earlier this season, the hard-throwing righty’s four-seamer averaged 97.3 m.p.h. and a career-worst 6.2 inches of horizontal break. Now, his heater is averaging up to eight inches of break, making it much more effective.
Thanks to these improvements, Merryweather’s secondary weapons (slider, changeup) are also performing better lately, albeit against minor-league competition. It remains to be seen if his pitches will deliver similar success in the majors.
That’s likely a debate Toronto’s front office is currently having as decision time nears. Since he resides on the 60-day IL, an opening would need to be created on the 40-man roster before he could be activated. That might hurt his chances of being recalled.
The Blue Jays already know Pop’s skill set. He’s young and slightly inexperienced but isn’t prone to allowing boatloads of runs and induces plenty of ground balls. There isn’t that same level of certainty with Merryweather.
It’s been nearly two full seasons since he dominated the New York Yankees, where he made a name for himself during last season’s opening series. He’s excelled in the minors, but replicating that success in the majors is a completely different animal.
If Merryweather returns to the majors this season, his promotion will probably occur after Pop’s.
Baseball fans have been waiting all season for Nate Pearson to receive a clean bill of health and that appears to be on the horizon for the 26-year-old.
Pearson, who’s thrown just 7.2 innings all season due to battles with mononucleosis and a lat strain, has made progress in recent weeks while rehabbing at the organization’s training facility in Florida. As a result, he’s scheduled to throw live batting practice on Wednesday as part of his next recovery step.
If that runs smoothly, the 6-foot-6 righty could begin a rehab assignment shortly afterwards, setting him up for a potential return to the Blue Jays before the end of the regular season.
Like with Merryweather, though, the Blue Jays can’t add Pearson to their active roster unless another player is removed from the 40-man roster.
Before any decisions happen, however, the main goal is getting Pearson back to full strength. The former top prospect has been plagued by injuries throughout his young career, preventing him from completing more than 101.2 innings in a single campaign.
But if healthy, Pearson could serve as another high-velocity weapon within the Blue Jays bullpen.
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