Image credit: DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 22: Sem Robberse #77 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses for a portrait during Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day at the Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training facility on February 22, 2023 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Two days before the 2023 trade deadline, the Blue Jays and Cardinals agreed upon a trade to send righthanded reliever Jordan Hicks to the Blue Jays. In return the Cardinals received righthanders Sem Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein from the Blue Jays. The trade can be considered a rental, as Hicks is a free agent at the end of the 2023 season.
When Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano went on the injury list on Saturday with back inflammation this move became necessary. The Blue Jays wasted little time addressing the absence while fortifying an already strong bullpen for the stretch run. In 2023 the Blue Jays bullpen ranks in the top 10 in the game in reliever WAR and top five in strikeout rate, but it’s second from the bottom in groundball rate as a staff. Hicks provides it with a fireballer capable of generating whiffs and ground balls at a high rate.
The Cardinals system needs to be reloaded after graduating some high-end talent in recent seasons. In Robberse the Cardinals nab a projection arm with a good quality breaking ball and starter traits. Kloffenstein has enjoyed a renaissance this season in Double-A New Hampshire. Over 17 starts he pitched to a 3.24 ERA with career lows in FIP (3.45) and xFIP (3.36).
BLUE JAYS RECEIVE
Jordan Hicks, RHP
Hicks burst onto the major league scene in 2018 with a triple-digit fastball that was up to 105 mph. He made 102 appearances over his first season and a half in the big leagues before going down with a torn UCL. On June 26, 2019 Hicks had Tommy John surgery, missing the remainder of the 2019 season. After opting out of the 2020 season, Hicks returned in 2021, but went down with elbow inflammation in May. Fully healthy to begin 2022, the Cardinals tried Hicks as a starter, but he made eight starts before ultimately moving back to a relief role in July. Since that time Hicks has shown better bat-missing ability than at any point prior in his career. His 31.2% strikeout rate is the highest of his career, while his 12.7% walk rate is the lowest since his injury-shortened 2019 season. Hicks has thrown a higher rate of four-seam fastballs this season, but he primarily throws a sinker and slider. His sinker and slider mix accounts for 87% of his usage, as his sinker sits 100 mph, generating ground balls at a rate of 70%. His upper-80s slider is his primary swing-and-miss pitch with a whiff rate of 55.3% in 2023. Hicks also has closer experience, a valuable asset as Blue Jays all-star closer Jordan Romano hit the injured list with back inflammation.
Sem Robberse, RHP
Robberse ranked No. 7 in the recently updated Blue Jays Top 30 Prospects rankings. One of the rare European born and raised prospects in baseball, Robberse has slowly progressed each season as a pitcher. This year in Double-A the Dutch native has made 18 starts spanning 88.2 innings, the largest workload of any one stop of his career. While Robberse has seen mixed results he’s been solid overall, producing a 4.06 ERA and 4.11 xFIP while striking out 23% of the batters he’s faced. Robberse sits 92-93 mph, touching 95 mph at peak, with a sweepy mid-80s slider and a firm high-80s changeup that you might mistake for a sinker. He’ll mix in a cutter in the high 80s and a low-80s curveball. He’s an average strike-thrower but struggles to command his arsenal, leaving the ball over the middle of the plate too often. He has physical projection remaining and potentially more velocity in the tank. The development of his cutter could provide a valuable pitch between his four-seam and slider.
Adam Kloffenstein, RHP
Kloffenstein ranked 18th on the Blue Jays Top 30 Prospects rankings. Once a highly touted prep pitcher, Kloffenstein struggled to find consistency over the early part of his career. He found his best sequencing in 2023 and enjoyed a successful 17-start run with Double-A New Hampshire. He’s a unique pitcher as he pitches primarily off of his slider and cutter, using his two-seam fastball as his third pitch. He’s an advanced pitchability arm who keeps opposing hitters honest with six total pitch shapes and four primary pitches. His slider sits mid 80s, touching 88 mph at peak with around 6-8 inches of sweep, while his cutter is a true cutter at 88-90 mph with moderate ride and slight cut. His primary fastball is a two-seamer at 91-93 mph with sink and arm-side run. He’ll show a four-seamer at 91-93 mph and a sweepy curveball in the upper 70s. He’s been adept at both missing bats and driving ground balls in 2023, with a 51.3% groundball rate and a 27.6% strikeout rate, the latter the highest mark of his career.