Hard-Throwing Julian Merryweather On Deck For 2020
Heading into the 2019 season, the Blue Jays expected righthander Julian Merryweather to factor in the big leagues, one way or another.
Instead, his recovery from Tommy John surgery was slowed by a July setback, and he made only a pair of rehab appearances in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and at high Class A Dunedin.
That’s why six innings in the Arizona Fall League represented progress. The 28-year-old Merryweather struck out eight against two walks while allowing four hits and three earned runs in four appearances. That bodes well for his potential to impact the Toronto staff in 2020.
"It was exciting to see Julian facing live hitters,” farm director Gil Kim said. "There were nights he was showing four plus pitches. His fastball showed late life and sat in the mid-90s.
"His curveball was sharp and his slider was the one pitch he wanted to develop throughout the year and into the AFL. With sharp depth, it became a swing-and-miss offering along with a filthy Bugs Bunny changeup that showed late fade.”
That bodes well for Merryweather, who was the return in the August 2018 trade that sent Josh Donaldson to Cleveland. The Indians drafted him in the fifth round in 2014 out of Oklahoma Baptist.
He had piqued interest earlier in the summer when he was touching 100 mph in his initial buildup, prompting general manager Ross Atkins at the time to caution that "we want to see a larger sample size before we start talking about what that means.”
Assuming continued health, Merryweather will arrive as an arm to watch for a Blue Jays team focused on adding pitching this offseason. Ideally from the club’s perspective, he starts out as part of a strong rotation at Triple-A Buffalo, one fronted by top prospect Nate Pearson, offering the type of near-term depth so sorely lacking in 2019.
All of which makes Merryweather's progress in the AFL noteworthy as he comes back from missing nearly two entire seasons.
— Also in the AFL, righthander Jackson Rees built upon a strong season, in which he posted a 0.73 ERA and 0.89 WHIP with 88 strikeouts in 66.1 innings over 39 games between low Class A Lansing and high Class A Dunedin. In Arizona he recorded 13 strikeouts in eight innings over seven games.
"We’re thrilled and inspired by the progress that Jackson has made over the past season,” Kim said.
— Middle infielder Logan Warmoth, who posted a .567 OPS in 65 games with Double-A New Hampshire following a promotion from Dunedin, found his stroke again in the AFL with an .837 OPS in 71 plate appearances.
"Logan started setting his sights toward right-center field, and then once he got to Arizona he backed off the plate a bit and raised his hands,” Kim said. "He looked as athletic and as confident in the box as we’ve seen, and we’re hoping he comes back for 2020 locked in with the adjustments he’s made.”
— The same didn’t hold true for shortstop Kevin Smith, who batted .209/.263/.402 in 116 games at New Hampshire, and then hit .095 in 67 plate appearances in the desert.
"We are confident that some day when he’s a big leaguer he’ll look back at these days as key learning experiences,” Kim said. "He’s grinded through some tough stretches, and he’ll be that much more prepared the next time he faces struggles.”