LOS ANGELES — Yosver Zulueta is moving fast this season, so it makes sense that his Futures Game experience will also go by in a flash.
Called by the American League to clean up a first and third two-out mess in the second inning of Major League Baseball’s annual prospect showcase, the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander needed just one. ground, a 96.9 mph heater, to complete the frame.
New York Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez weakly anchored the offer at second base, the kind of efficient and deadly backup work every team covets.
« I don’t have too much experience, to be honest, in that situation as a reliever. But they said, hey, go ahead, and I was ready to go, » Zulueta said via of San Diego Padres interpreter Danny Sanchez, who was assisting MLB at the event, « I had a great time. »
Unlike fellow Blue Jays pitching prospect Ricky Tiedemann, the lightning-armed southpaw who threw a fifth at three-and-three and is expected to join Zulueta at New Hampshire’s double-A after the All-Star break, the 24-year-old from Cuba was not scheduled to pitch on Saturday.
He was on call, when needed, which he turned out to be.
The same could possibly apply at the top of the ladder, as Zulueta’s high-speed profile and looming Rule 5 eligibility mean that if he dominates double-As as he did low-As Dunedin and high in Vancouver earlier this year, the Blue Jays are going to have an intriguing choice to make.
A stone’s throw from the majors, for a club desperate for an arm like his, and with a 40-man berth earmarked for him this fall anyway, the possibility is in the air for him and other members. organisation.
« Always – I mean, that’s what you work for, so it’s always a priority, » Zulueta said. » That’s the point. That’s what I’m trying to achieve and hopefully one day soon.
Among the wave of young pitchers infiltrating the high-A and double-A farm system, Zulueta and his Fisher Cats teammate Hayden Juenger seem like the most likely candidates to help this season. Tiedemann, just 19, has the raw material for it, but probably not enough buildup to get organizational approval for such a jump. Trent Palmer and Adam Kloffenstein are also in New Hampshire but not as advanced, while Nick Frasso, Sem Robberse and Alejandro Melean are among those advancing in Vancouver.
At the same time, they’re all potential future Blue Jays, they’re also capital, and it’s rumored the Washington Nationals will consider trading Juan Soto after he turned down a 15-year, $440 million extension, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, put the Futures Game in turmoil. The leak was no doubt timed to spark speculation about a showcase showcasing the kind of talent essential to such a deal, and perhaps divert much of the talk during the upcoming All-Star Week as well.
The Blue Jays have twice traded players they sent to the Futures Game a few weeks later – Jairo Labourt in 2015 as part of the David Price package and Austin Martin as part of the Jose Berrios deal in the year last – and their system is still deep enough to engage anyone from Soto down.
They are said to have had contact with the Nationals in recent days, but all the clubs in contention will be kicking there, if they haven’t already. Whether the Blue Jays would bet around half a billion dollars to extend Soto long-term is an interesting question. But it’s worth noting that they tried to sign Gerrit Cole when he hit free agency, undeterred by a price they knew would stretch north of $300 million because that it was a generational talent.
Either way, the Blue Jays will make deals before the Aug. 2 deadline in a bid to augment a team that has underperformed so far, leading to manager Charlie Montoyo being fired on Wednesday.
Zulueta isn’t counted on to be part of the solution, but the Blue Jays won’t care if he emerges as an option for the September reinforcement. Despite his age, it would still be an aggressive schedule considering he’s only made 11 appearances across three tiers in what is essentially his first professional season since signing for $1 million in the spring of 2019.
Using the extra international bonus space acquired in deals sacking Kendrys Morales and Dwight Smith Jr., the Blue Jays pulled him from a showcase in the Dominican Republic. They had some history on Zulueta from his appearance at the world junior championships and a stint with the Cuban senior national during his 2017 Canadian-American Association tour.
But his tricks played on the showcase, and when the Blue Jays discovered he was throwing with a tear in his elbow, they became even more impressed that he was hitting 93-97 mph and sitting 94-95 despite that. As they tested him at their resort in the Dominican Republic, they gained enough faith to adhere even if Zulueta was going to need surgery from Tommy John.
« We’re used to signing players in the first round who are going to have TJ or are recovering from TJ, » said Andrew Tinnish, the team’s vice president of international scouting. “There is no doubt that there is a risk. After seeing him pitch twice and do what he did, if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have done it. »
Zulueta said he would have pain after throwing but not when he threw, which he attributed to adrenaline. He called the operation a blow, but once he recovered he was in major league camp with the Blue Jays in 2021 and left an impression hitting triple figures, albeit wild.
Set up for a quick rise with a low field goal in Dunedin, he blew out his knee while covering first base against his first hitter of the season. An off-line pitch forced him back against his momentum and he pitched no more in 2021.
« Obviously it was very tough, » he said. “But I worked really hard to get back here and it was a tough process. I wanted to improve and get stronger. I was more worried after the elbow surgery compared to the ACL surgery. Once the arm surgery went well, I wasn’t too worried about the speed of return.
This year, it was finally not followed and took off. Supplementing his fastball with an improved slider, curveball and changeover, he gets the chance to feature four legitimate big league pitches. The lost time raises questions about whether he can start, but if he’s a reliever, he has a chance of being a dominant.
« I don’t think we’re ruling anything out with him and it’s hard to predict exactly what his role will be, » says Tinnish. “He is eligible for Rule 5 at the end of the year. As we sat there in spring training and he was healthy, you kind of hope the kid puts us in a position where it’s like, oh, we have to make a call on this . And at this point, he certainly did. From where we were in spring training to today, it’s hard to ask for more.
For different reasons, the same can be said of Tiedemann, who went from last year’s third-round pick to top-100 in the blink of an eye. A SoCal kid who grew up cheering on the Dodgers, his only time pitching at Dodger Stadium before Saturday was during a pre-draft practice.
Taking the field there against many of the game’s top prospects was « a dream, honestly. »
« It’s a dream come true to just walk into a major league ballpark and be able to pitch against other teams, » he added. « It was an awesome experience. »
It was also a bit of a measuring tool for itself and « for others to see how I rate against other prospects, just because I haven’t pitched at the double-A or triple level yet. -A, » he said. « So it was cool to know where I am and I think I’m in a good place. »
Much like Zulueta, long an enticing talent that is starting to emerge as a reality.
« When I got to double-A I was a bit surprised because I was going up so fast, » he said. « But honestly, I’m very happy. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am, I’m excited and I’m happy to be here.