This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.
The word “bulk” is really having its moment in Major League Baseball.
It’s a modern way to market the swingman or, worse yet, the “long reliever," a title long reserved for failed starters with rubber arms who ate unmemorable innings.
Something has changed, though. This is no longer a fallback option for pitchers or a role that occupies the bottom spot on the roster. It’s quickly developed into a role that clubs are embracing, developing and actively targeting on the open market, and the Blue Jays are at the forefront of that.
Toronto’s acquisition of Mitch White from the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline fit this, almost a carbon copy of the Ross Stripling deal two years ago. It wasn’t Luis Castillo or Frankie Montas, but it fit an identity the Blue Jays are trying to embrace.
“You see it more and more in the game today,” said GM Ross Atkins. “It really comes down to the ability to start that is so attractive, someone that can go five or six innings and throw 100 pitches. He has the ability to get right-handers and left-handers out. He obviously has the arsenal to do that and the athleticism to hold up.”
This is why you’ll see more of this from the Blue Jays. In 2022, you’ve already seen just how valuable it can be.
When Hyun Jin Ryu went down, Stripling stepped in and has performed admirably, posting a 3.16 ERA over 82 2/3 innings to this point. He’s currently nearing a return from a brief IL stint, but by sliding in as the automatic No. 5 starter at the time, Stripling saved the Blue Jays from a season of headaches, churning through waiver claims and prospects who weren’t ready.
This isn’t necessarily about finding aces, either. Stripling, like White, profiles best at the back of a rotation, keeping a spot steady for a week, a month or a full season, depending on which needs arise. Toronto’s upper-Minors pitching depth was a weakness entering this season, so Stripling’s presence has been extremely valuable.
Two big league arms could be a coincidence, though. To truly appreciate that this is part of an active strategy by the Blue Jays, you need to look to the Minor Leagues and the club’s player development strategy.
First, take Hayden Juenger. Taken in the sixth round of the 2021 Draft out of Missouri State, Juenger immediately impressed the Blue Jays when they brought him in for a rookie camp, and a decision was made.
Instead of developing Juenger as a starter and deciding down the line which role was best for him, the Blue Jays have actively developed him as a bulk reliever. It’s refreshing, frankly, to have a break from an organization saying, “We view him as a starter,” about any pitcher who throws more than one inning at a time.
The results have been encouraging. Juenger, who just turned 22 and ranks as the No. 26 prospect in Toronto's system, is already up to Triple-A, pitching mostly in two-inning stints after plenty of three- and four-inning outings earlier in the season. He owns a 3.66 ERA between New Hampshire and Buffalo, with 78 strikeouts over 66 1/3 innings. That’s how he’s different than your classic swingman, or even Stripling and White.
As you see the Blue Jays work to develop these arms, their bulk relievers will come with real velocity and swing-and-miss potential, something that swingmen typically lack.
Yosver Zulueta, the Cuban right-hander and No. 19 prospect who flirts with 100 mph, is now being used in more of a bulk-relief role after beginning the season as a starter, making him a legitimate option for the MLB club down the stretch. Nate Pearson, when he’s healthy, is expected to continue building into a bulk role in an effort to maximize his arsenal over two or three innings.
Traditional starters won’t die out, of course. Even with fewer workhorses in MLB, there will always be room for Kevin Gausman or Alek Manoah, but fewer clubs will have seven or eight options for traditional starters. Instead, you’ll see more clubs with four or five starters and a group of bulk options to supplement that, and the Blue Jays seem intent on being ahead of that curve.
Sign up to receive our daily Morning Lineup to stay in the know about the latest trending topics around Major League Baseball.
Blue Jays embrace developing bulk relievers – MLB.com