Blue Jays 2010 first rounder shining bright in Vancouver
By Simon Druker
Vancouver – As the Blue Jays continue to gauge the progress of some the organization’s young arms that may have an impact in the coming season and beyond, the arms that project to debut long after 2012 are shining bright further down the minor league highway.
One of those lights is courtesy of the Lone Star State and it’s a big one in 6’5, 200-pound right-hander Noah Syndergaard.
The product of Legacy High School in Mansfield, Texas made his fourth start since being promoted to the short-season Class A Vancouver Canadians and managed to improve upon what has already been a dominant second professional season.
Taken with the 38th pick in the 2010 MLB draft, Syndergaard has a fastball that tops out in the high 90s although some around the Canadians say it may in fact be higher.
That speed along with an advanced changeup helped the 18-year-old Syndergaard tear through Appalachian League pitching en route to his promotion.
“Noah went to Bluefield (Virginia), did what he had to do and dominated the (Rookie-level Appalachian) League,” says Canadians pitching coach Jim Czajkowski. “And that’s what you want when you bring up another guy, you want him to dominate that league and show everybody he does not belong there.”
Dominate is a fair term
In seven games totaling 32 innings, the six-foot-five, 200-pound right-hander struck out 37 while holding opponents to a .198 average and posting a sparkling 1.41 ERA.
He tossed five scoreless innings in his Canadians debut. Limited by a pitch count, he tossed four in each of his next two starts, surrendering a four runs, 11 hits and eight strikeouts over eight innings but it was Thursday night back in the friendly confines of a sold-out Nat Bailey Stadium that the reserved Texan truly put on a display of the talent that has helped him dominate a level typically meant for older college-drafted players.
Against the Everett AquaSox – a Seattle Mariner affiliate – Syndergaard fired a no-hitter over five frames before being lifted due to a pitch count. What’s more is that he struck out eight of the first 10 batters he faced while routinely hitting 97 on the radar gun.
Czajkowski – along with Canadian’s manager John Schneider – praises the young righty’s pure pitching ability but it is mental toughness that has them equally impressed. That toughness is something that is necessary in preventing a bad pitch from becoming a bad inning (see Drabek, Kyle). It’s even tougher to harness when you consider Syndergaard is now pitching in front of crowds which number in the thousands – Thursday’s crowd was over 5,500 – rather than the paltry numbers of the Gulf Coast or Appalachian Leagues.
In your head
“Mental strength is big,” says Czajkowski, who closed out 122 games over a 12-year minor league career that finished up in the Blue Jays system. “Noah came in and kept doing what he was doing. Blocked everything else out and went about his business very well.
“If you remember the movie For the Love of the Game,” he says, referring to the 1999 film in which Kevin Costner played the aging ace of a floundering Detroit Tiger team. “When he says ‘clear the mechanism,’ that’s what these guys have to do to be successful. They’ve got to clear all those distractions no matter if there are 50 fans or 5,000. Its do your job, one pitch at a time.”
Syndergaard acknowledges a bit of shock and awe at first but said he welcomes the bright lights.
“Bluefield was quite a bit of a change (over the Gulf Coast League). Night games, there are not as many fans but you get the same atmosphere of playing in stadiums. But here (Vancouver), it’s quite a change playing in front of 3,000 fans. You get a nice little adrenaline rush when you have lots of fans cheering behind you.”
Impressing at a young age
The Jays brass must get a similar rush when they watch him pitch. Already physically imposing, Syndergaard doesn’t turn 19 until August 29, meaning he will enter spring training likely trying to crack the full-season Class A Lansing Lugnuts rotation as a teenager.
“We knew at extended that he was a power guy,” says Czajkowski, picking apart the right-hander’s repertoire. “The changeup is OK but maybe a little bit hard for this level. We’ve got guys that throw their fastball as hard as he throws his changeup. So that’s kind of hitting speed for these guys maybe.
“But at Double-A and Triple-A it’s the right speed. So he may get hit around with the changeup once in a while but when he gets to the higher levels, it’s going to be the right speed because guys are going to have to give for his fastball and they’re not going to be able to do it. They’re not going to be able to hit his fastball here, they may foul it off and that’s where his curveball development comes into play. That’s a pitch that he can throw and guys will swing and miss.”
Not looking for the big K
Though he does throw high-octane, Syndergaard – much like Jays rookie Henderson Alvarez – doesn’t call himself a strikeout pitcher, preferring to induce grounders and let his infield do the rest.
“Getting strikeouts is kind selfish, but I have the utmost confidence in the defence behind me. I love throwing inside and hearing the bat break.
“I’m really working on the changeup and the curveball. I’ve always had a changeup I’m just working on fine tuning that here.”
His velocity will allow Syndergaard to get away with throwing up in the zone more than most but Czajkowski too envisions him jamming hitters with inside fastballs rather than setting them down with them.
“At the higher levels, it may not be so many (strikeouts) but he’s got an overpowering fastball and will force guys to put pitches in play that they didn’t really want to swing at or couldn’t get the fat part of the bat on. So he’s going to be able to do a lot of things.”
Right now, Syndergaard will take the outs and worry about how he got them later. He’s already on the fast-track and he knows it.
He pauses briefly before answering the final question, although he’s absolutely certain of the response.
“I guess next year I’m really shooting to not go to extended spring training and hopefully have a starting spot in Lansing.”
If the numbers are any indication, Noah Seth Syndergaard is definitely on his way.