Deep League Sleeper: Could There Be Value In Toronto’s 5th Starter (Trent Thornton Or Shun Yamaguchi)


As we’ve noted it is impossible to know exactly how the 2020 season will ultimately unfold.  When will it start?  How many games will be played?  Could rosters look different due to a truncated schedule?  Until we gain clarity on those questions, and countless others, it’s impossible to know for sure who will win jobs and who won’t.  However moves being made by teams do help show us what teams are currently thinking.

An example of that is the Toronto Blue Jays, who demoted Anthony Kay and Sean Reid-Foley to Triple-A last Friday.  That would indicate that they had lost their battle for spots in the team’s rotation, though they should be expected to make an impact at some point.  These moves the final rotation spot for either Trent Thornton and Shun Yamaguchi, so let’s take a look at them and determine their potential value:

Trent Thornton

With Friday’s demotions it’s clear that Thornton has the inside track to open the year in the Blue Jays’ rotation.  He made 32 appearances for the team in ’19, 29 of which were starts, though the results (4.84 ERA) and skills were underwhelming:

  • Strikeout Rate – 8.69 K/9
  • Walk Rate – 3.56 BB/9
  • Groundball Rate – 32.4%

His 10.0% SwStr% doesn’t indicate significant upside in his strikeout rate, though you can argue that he utilized too many pitches:

  • Fourseam Fastball – 43.48%
  • Cut-Fastball – 16.15%
  • Slider – 15.50%
  • Curveball – 12.96%
  • Split-Finger Fastball – 8.86%

He also utilized a sinker occasionally.  He might be better off refining his repertoire, especially as he gave up 20 HR against fastball variations (.514 SLG against his fourseamer).  Finding a way to get the groundball rate up is going to be key, considering a minor league career 8.0 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 (his second half performance was much closer to that, with a 7.84 K/9 and 3.02 BB/9).

Without significant strikeout potential, the home run issue looming and having the maneuver through the AL East the upside simply isn’t there.  Ultimately Kay, Reid-Foley or Nate Pearson will likely step into the role, so Thornton is easily ignored.

Shun Yamaguchi

While he could be considered an option, you have to wonder if he fits better as a reliever given this scouting report courtesy of Baseball America:

Yamaguchi does not blow hitters away. His belowaverage fastball sits at 87-93 mph. It actually gained a tick in 2019 to average 90 mph after sitting at 89 for several previous years. But Yamaguchi uses a forkball, slider, curveball and changeup as well. His forkball has become a bigger and bigger part of his approach in recent years, and is a pitch that induces chases out of the zone. Yamaguchi’s delivery adds deception as well. He can be difficult for opposing batters to time because he hangs over his balance point on the rubber. He has average command and control.

The Blue Jays didn’t need to break the bank for the 32-year old, signing him to a two-year, $6 million contract.  That further lessens the pressure to find a spot in the rotation, especially given the other options the team has acquired.  While he could get a few starts, it appears that there’s a better chance he operates as a swingman out of the bullpen.

Sources – Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, Baseball America, Brooks Baseball

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 Fantasy Baseball preseason rankings:

PositionLast Updated
First Basemen02/13/20
Second Basemen02/18/20
Third Basemen02/21/20
Starting Pitchers03/09/20
Relief Pitchers03/03/20


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