On opening day at Triple-A Buffalo, the Bisons' rotation was made up of Marcus Stroman, lefty Sean Nolin, Kyle Drabek, veteran southpaw Ricky Romero and journeyman right hander Liam Hendriks.
Of those five today, only Nolin is still with the "Herd" and he missed a chunk of the season with an injury. Stroman is up with the Blue Jays as a key member of the starting rotation. Drabek was just called up this past weekend to be part of the Jays' bullpen after the organization decided he was better suited to relief pitching. Romero is done for the season with a knee injury and Hendriks was part of the trade with the Kansas City Royals that brought Danny Valencia to the Blue Jays.
So the Bisons' rotation for the final two weeks of International Leage season looks distinctly different and appears to offer the Blue Jays a lot more upside.
Nolin is still pitching well. Lefty Daniel Norris has been brilliant in his first two Triple-A starts, striking out a total of 23 batters. Raul Valdes is a 36-year-old southpaw, adding a bit of veteran stability. Then, you have a pair of young right handers who've been more than holding their own in Scott Copeland and Kendall Graveman.
Graveman is the one who really caught my eye. On Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies-affiliate Lehigh Valley Pigs, he got a no-decision while pitching seven shutout innings. He struck out four and walked none. The 23-year-old right-hander out of Alexander City, Alabama has had a meteoric rise through the Blue Jays' organization, especially considering he was just an eighth-round draft pick in 2013.
Graveman, or maybe we should start calling him "the Undertaker," has made four different stops throughout the Blue Jays' system this season. He started at Low-A Lansing, then moved up to Dunedin in the High-A Florida State League, where he spent the bulk of this season. Then, it was on to Double-A New Hampshire and finally Buffalo. Youvre got to be pretty impressive to move up that fast. In total, Graveman has pitched 155 innings this season. He has built a 12-6 record with a sparkling 1.68 ERA. Opponents have only managed to hit .223 off of him and he has surrendered only two home runs in total.
The Blue Jays playoff hopes are looking iffy at best right now with just 37 games to play, but the pitching future looks encouraging, especially with the likes of Stroman, Sanchez, Hutchison, Norris, Nolin and now maybe Graveman. This may be the best group of young arms, this side of the New York Mets.
--- All this talk of pitching brings me to a great bit of research by Woody Paige of the Denver Post. Going back over the archives, Paige discovered that the Rockies had drafted 569 pitchers (414 right-handers) over their 22-year history. Of those numbers, the only arms that had made any significant impact with Colorado were Canadian lefty Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Jason Jennings and Jamey Wright. Is it any wonder then, that Colorado has the worst record in the National League and second-worst in the Majors, just a game ahead of Texas?
--- The Detroit Tigers have been stumbling around since June 1, compiling a meagre record of 35-34. They are sitting a half-game back of Seattle for that second Wild Card slot in the American. But one reason not to count Detroit out is that hey have 11 of their remaining games left against the Central cellar-dwellers, the Minnesota twins, and they close out the season at home against with seven-straight games against the Chicago White Sox (three) and the Twins (four). The Mariners, on the other hand, play 13 of their final 27 against the two teams ahead of them in the West in the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland A's.