Toronto Blue Jays: Joel Carreno Is a Low-Risk Addition to Starting Rotation

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Toronto Blue Jays: Joel Carreno Is a Low-Risk Addition to Starting Rotation
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Carreno's plus slider has been especially effective against right-handed hitters

Following a tumultuous spring in which he posted a 6.48 ERA and a 10/9 K/BB rate in 16.2 innings, the Toronto Blue Jays sent left-hander Brett Cecil to the minors on Tuesday morning.

Cecil was expected to begin the 2012 season as part of the team’s starting rotation alongside Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek. However, after allowing nine runs (seven earned) on 11 hits over four innings against the Tigers on Monday, it became clear that Cecil wasn’t ready to be rushed out there as part of the rotation.

To fill the southpaw’s spot in the rotation, Manager John Farrell announced that right-hander Joel Carreno would serve as Cecil’s replacement.

Now, you won’t find Carreno on many Blue Jays’ top-prospect lists. But that doesn’t mean that the 25-year-old lacks either potential or value.

Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2004, Carreno is a 6’0" 190-pound starting pitcher who has steadily progressed through the Blue Jays' system.

Carreno made a strong impression in his first professional season in 2007, making 12 starts for the Jays’ minor league affiliate and working 65.1 innings. The right-hander recorded a 2.62 ERA and a 3.05 FIP to along with a 8.82 K/9 and a 1.79 BB/9.

He showed improvement at Low-A in 2008, posting a 3.42 ERA and a 2.94 FIP in 76.1 innings. While he improved his strikeout rate (10.02 K/9), Carreno's walk rate also increased to 2.24 per nine innings.

After logging 11 additional innings at Low-A to begin the 2009 season, Carreno was promoted to Single-A, where he struggled for the first time in his career. Making 14 starts, he registered a 3.62 ERA and a 3.59 FIP in 79.2 innings. What was more concerning, though, was the fact that his K/9 dipped to 7.00 while his BB/9 jumped to 3.28.

However, Carreno made significant strides the following season at High-A. He posted a 9-6 record while setting career highs in starts (25), innings pitched (137.2), FIP (2.36), K/9 (11.31) and HR/9 (0.52).  He also posted a 1.96 BB/9, his lowest since debuting in 2007.

Carreno’s impressive 2010 campaign merited a promotion to Double-A to begin the 2011 season, where he at times struggled despite having a solid overall year. Once again, he made 20-plus starts (23) while tossing more than 130 innings (134 2/3) and maintaining a double-digit K/9 rate (10.16). 

Yet, the right-hander recorded the highest BB/9 rate of his career (4.54), which was as much a product of more advanced competition as it was his tendency to overthrow. He still posted a 3.41 ERA and a 3.88 FIP, which indicated that the increase in walks wasn’t as detrimental towards his success as it may have seemed.

Carreno’s consistency throughout his minor league career was ultimately rewarded in late August, when the Blue Jays called him up for the final month of the regular season.

Working strictly out of the bullpen, Carreno registered a 1.15 ERA and a 3.13 xFIP over 15.2 innings.  His overall command was impressive, too, as he posted a 14/4 K/BB rate while holding opposing hitters to a .200 batting average.

Despite his potential to be a strikeout machine as a reliever, Carreno’s three above-average pitches—fastball, slider, and changeup—make him valuable as a starter. His plus slider has always been an effective pitch against right-handed hitters, but it's uncertain whether his changeup will suffice in neutralizing lefties. In order to work deep into games, Carreno will also have to show better fastball command and an ability to consistently get ahead of hitters.

His stint in the Blue Jays’ bullpen at the end of the 2011 season was an exposure. Therefore, it’s obvious that his inclusion in the starting rotation will serve as a test for the 25-year-old. He’s a low-risk, in-house option whose success is dependent upon his command. And if he can’t stick as a member of the Blue Jays’ rotation, then his heavy fastball and wipeout slider will always be a nice fit in the back end of their bullpen.

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