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On Sunday night, manager John Farrell was adamant that the Toronto Blue Jays wouldn't demote Kyle Drabek, who had posted a 5.70 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in 14 MLB starts, because of his struggles. Two days later, the organization recognized that he had some real issues to iron out. Toronto sent him down so that he could work on his command.
Taking Drabek's place is Zach Stewart, 24, whom some think can be nearly as good as Doug's kid. According to Baseball America, the right-hander is blessed with a mid-90s fastball that has great sink on it and a plus slider which coaxes swings and misses. Command of this devastating pair isn't an issue for Stewart.
What might be a problem is depth - how much of it he can gain per start, and how much of it he'll have in his bag of tricks.
The Cincinnati Reds converted Stewart from reliever in 2008 to starter for the first half of 2009. That year, the club promoted him to Triple-A Louisville - and moved him back to the bullpen there, to limit his innings. Not long afterward, they sent him and two other players to Toronto for Scott Rolen. The Jays installed him as a starter for the rest of that season, at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Stewart spent the entire 2010 season as a starter - at Double-A New Hampshire. He pitched 136 1/3 innings, posting a 3.63 ERA, a 7.00 K/9, a 3.56 BB/9 and a 0.86 HR/9. He added a changeup, with signs that it may become legit third offering, at least a serviceable one. One could surmise that his dip in ground-ball rate, although it's still solid, could be attributed partially to its addition.
Stewart routinely goes no more than six frames. He hasn't perfected efficiency, but he shows promise as a starter, and the reduction in walks handed out is a big positive. The Texas Tech product hasn't yet produced something even close to his fantastic rates of strikeouts per nine that he did as a reliever, though. His stuff is better than that.
Don't discount Stewart's prospect status because he hasn't yet graduated to the Triple-A level. Toronto prefers to keep most of its incubating arms away from the poor pitching environment in Vegas. GM Alex Anthopolous told The Toronto Star that the intriguing pitcher has done all that they've asked and has pitched well in recent outings.
The common thought is that Drabek won't spend much time in Nevada, but judging from the way the Blue Jays have handled somewhat more established players (Brett Cecil, Travis Snider), they won't promote Drabek simply because they need an arm. The club has a couple of other options should they be dissatisfied with what Stewart gives them, however. They prefer to let the players' performances dictate their choices.
Stewart has a lot of upside, but he's far from a sure thing. He has shown flashes of he can when he reaches his ceiling, but he still has a good bit to learn. He's still worth gambling on in AL-only leagues, but mixed leaguers should definitely wait for the righty to convince them.
Earlier this year he was demoted to the Smokies thanks to his 17 walks in 19 2/3 innings at Triple-A Iowa; the right-hander improved a bit after that, holding opponents to a .227 clip, but still showed similar struggles in run prevention.
The 25-year-old's lively four-seamer was hitting 100 mph with regularity in the 2010 Arizona Fall League but hasn't done so as much in the minors. Luckily, he can still sit in the mid-90s. He needs to figure out how to command his arsenal, which also includes a decent slider and a moderately effective changeup.
Scouts peg his upside as a No. 3 starter or setup man. Unfortunately, his move to the bullpen hasn't maximized his dominance as they'd hoped: 7.31 K/9 in 2011 relief work, 7.49 in his 2010 starts. Without a rotation spot or chance at saves, he isn't worth fantasy attention outside of an NL-only flier; the single-year return is miniscule.
Keeper leaguers should remain intrigued, though. It doesn't hurt to monitor or stash someone with his K potential.
From the post-hype files: Travis Snider could be looking at a recall soon. He's hitting .395 with a homer, two RBIs and a 1.123 OPS over his last 10 games at Triple-A Las Vegas. Sure, he has owned pitchers during farm stints in recent years, and it's the Pacific Coast League, typically a batter's paradise.
But the 23-year-old opened up his hitting stance recently and has been driving the ball with more authority. Also, note his 19 walks and 31 K's (0.61) in 200 Las Vegas plate appearances; it's notably better than his career farm figure (0.44).
The Toronto Blue Jays have plenty of movable pieces that could make room for Snider at first base, left field or DH. Deep leaguers in need of a difference-making bat should tuck him away to avoid the rush; shallow league relevance for at least part of the season isn't a stretch.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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