This week, Prospect Power takes an in-depth look at Toronto Blue Jays‘ powerful right-hander John Stilson. Stilson was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2011 MLB draft, 180th overall, by the Blue Jays. After falling in the draft, Stilson did not pitch after signing as he was completing a 6-week rehabilitation program for a torn labrum. However, he has surged through the Blue Jays’ system in his first season of professional ball. First, he was aggressively assigned to Advanced-A Dunedin, and after he had tremendous success, was promoted to AA New Hampshire.
The results at AA, however, have been mixed. While he has enjoyed successful stretches, he has also endured a few tough outings. This inconsistency has manifested in a 4.85 ERA, despite a decent K rate, 7.38/9, and BB rate, 3.92/9. Stilson has been hit harder during his stint with New Hampshire than he was while with Dunedin. He has given far more line drives and induced fewer ground balls. Much of that, I believe, can be attributed to his lacking of an individualized plan for each batter. Stilson needs to learn to pitch, rather than rely on his stuff alone to get batters out.
When I watched Stilson, he did not mix his pitches particularly well, throwing multiple breaking pitches in a row, or tossing hittable fastballs in favorable counts. In addition, his fastball command was inconsistent. Despite solid control, his fastball often ended up in the bat path of the hitter, and consequently, was hit hard.
Nevertheless, I came away impressed with John Stilson. The hard-throwing Texan’s repertoire can be broken down as follows:
Mechanics: John Stilson has a fluid lower body during his delivery. He has a mid-sized leg kick, but does not fall off the mound excessively when he is pitching well. Usually, he leaves himself in good position to field the baseball, and because of this, he can make outstanding plays with his extraordinary athleticism (after all, he was a multi-sport athlete before settling on pitching). However, when Stilson struggles, he comes out of his follow-through and falls off exaggeratedly to the first base side. When this begins to happen, he has the tendency to jump around and become agitated.
Stilson has a violent arm action, and this of course has been the focus of injury concerns. He has a high-effort delivery, which, as we know, might make him a better fit for the bullpen down the line. Nevertheless, he will remain a starter as long as he does not experience trouble in his pitching arm.
Stuff: Without question, Stilson has an outstanding fastball. He throws quite hard, 92-95 with the occasional pitch hitting 96, and his fastball has good, late life. If he were to be moved to the bullpen, his fastball would sit in the high 90s, rather than the low-to-mid 90s. While his control of the fastball is solid, Stilson has not quite mastered its command yet. This leads to some fastballs left over the plate and in the bat path, as mentioned earlier.
Stilson did not throw too many changeups in his most recent start, but we know that he has an exceptional circle change, and when he did throw it, it looked great. It fades down and away from left-handed batters. He has the ability to get hitters out in front with this pitch because he maintains his arm action and the pitch has similar movement to his fastball.
Earlier in the year, it was reported that Stilson’s breaking ball needed considerable work. He has apparently obliged. Stilson appeared to be working heavily on his breaking ball during this particular start against the Altoona Curve, as he threw it in any count and often tossed it consecutively, as many as four times in a row, against a single batter. The pitch was very consistent from pitch-to-pitch and had considerable depth. He maintained a solid arm action, but seemed to fall of to the first-base side when throwing his breaking ball more often than when he threw his fastball or change. However, the breaking ball has nasty, sharp bite and generated the most swing-and-misses of anything else in his repertoire. When I saw his breaking pitch, it looked like a plus pitch in the major leagues right now.
Mound Presence & Poise: Stilson pitches at a good pace. His large frame makes him an imposing figure, looking the part of a major league power pitcher. Because of his size, he generates great downward plane on his fastball, especially when it’s down in the zone. Stilson is a quick worker, constantly keeping the batter on their toes. However, this can be a detriment to Stilson at times. He has the tendency to speed up when he struggles, not delaying to consider pitch selection. It is obvious when Stilson becomes flustered – he begins to jump around after each dissatisfactory pitch and becomes quite fidgety. He is irritable on the mound and can become overly agitated when he does not get the calls that he believes he deserves.
Prognosis: John Stilson needs to take some meditation and yoga courses with Ricky Romero. I believe that a more stoic approach to the game will be of benefit to Stilson, who has the tendency to get himself into trouble when he becomes frustrated. His stuff is good enough to pitch in the big leagues right now, and he showed three plus pitches when I watched him, though it may have been merely a good day for his breaking ball. Nevertheless, some improved command and a renewed mound presence should find John Stilson in the major leagues for the Blue Jays sooner rather than later.
Prospect Power is a weekly column that will analyze the Toronto Blue Jays’ top prospects. The scouting reports found in this column are based on a combination of personal observation and outside reports.