Home > Analysis > Arizona Fall League Profile: Sam Dyson (RHP) Converted Reliever

Arizona Fall League Profile: Sam Dyson (RHP) Converted Reliever

Dyson struggled during his brief 2/3 inning stint with the Jays

The Arizona Fall League (“AFL”) commenced this week and the Salt River Rafters – composed of the Jays’ seven delegates and other top prospects from the Diamondbacks, Nationals, Rockies, and White Sox – are off to an auspicious 2-0 start. That’s right. If watching the postseason has simply been a reminder of what the highly-lauded 2012 Jays were not, you can follow the organization’s lifeblood as they strut their stuff in spring training facilities along the Sunbelt.

Since I want to begin posting these entries with some regularity and – in accordance with Commissioner Selig’s no-news-during-playoffs edict – there have been minimal Blue Jays/Bisons developments, I figured I could profile one of the Blue Jays’ AFL delegates each day. I can’t guarantee I will post daily, but I am hoping to post an entry at least every other day.

I think there are two main audiences for this blog. First, there are Jays fans looking for the down-low on when their much-anticipated prospects could don the red, white and blue and contribute in the AL East. Second, there are Bisons fans that are more attuned to the here and now; i.e. whether the Las Vegas transplants can compete for an International League Championship.

I’m not saying that both of these demographics are mutually exclusive; there will obviously be some readers who don’t fit neatly within either category. You can obviously root for the Bisons’ immediate success while at the same time valuing the long-term development of the players. But by-and-large, readers of this blog are looking for gratification at varying times: some immediate, others delayed.

As such, I will cater these profiles to both audiences. Not only will I inquire into what each player has to offer today, but I will try to gauge their overall trajectory: when can we expect this player to be big-league ready, if at all? For each player, I will explore three questions.

Where have they been? This encompasses pedigree/draft information, as well as prior accomplishments.

What do they have? This includes skill-sets and tendencies, as well as current level of performance.

Where are they going? This is a nice way of asking if they will ever enjoy success in the majors.

This first entry will focus on RHP Sam Dyson who, regrettably, had a pretty rough first outing for the River Rafters. Yesterday Sam pitched 2 innings in relief, collecting two strikeouts, but surrendering 2 earned runs; the fatal blow coming off a 420 foot bomb to dead center by Astros 1B prospect Jonathan Singleton. We can hope for a better performance from Sam in the weeks to come.

Where has Sam Dyson been?

Dyson as a South Carolina Gamecock

Dyson, a former South Carolina Gamecock, was drafted in the 4th Round by the Jays in 2010. The euphoria of winning a College World Series title probably subsided quickly for Sam in 2011, when he had to sit out the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. While he saw 2/3 of an inning of big-league action this season – surrendering three runs – Sam spent the majority of the season with Class A+ Dundein, where he posted decent numbers (2-0, 4.08, 1.40), and Double-A New Hampshire where he excelled (2-2, 2.38, 1.17). In fact, during his first 15 games working out of the New Hampshire bullpen, Sam compiled a stellar 0.75 ERA, the likely stimulus for his brief promotion to the majors.

What does Sam Dyson have?

This might come as a surprise given his dominance out of the pen for New Hampshire last season – the marking of an overpowering strikeout pitcher – but Sam is not a strikeout guy. At least not anymore. Instead, he’s a pure sinkerballer whose bread-and-butter is inducing groundball outs.

At South Carolina, Sam had a different approach to the game. He was the number two starter and sported a diverse repertoire, including a four-seam fastball that hovered around 94-95mph. Gone are those days. Dyson can still rear back and throw a low-90s fastball – usually in the 91-92mph range – but it is the sharp dive on his sinker that has allowed him to transcend within the organization in one season’s time.

During his minor league stint last season, Sam converted 350% more ground outs than flyouts. Keeping the ball on the ground is a redeeming attribute for any pitcher, but unfortunately Sam doesn’t miss many bats. Sam averaged only 5 K/9 with Dundein, 4.37 K/9 with New Hampshire and an overall strikeout rate of around 12%. That means, seven out of every eight batters will put the ball in play; not the sort of guy you want relieving with runners on base.

Nevertheless, Sam’s success last year speaks for itself. What he lacks in the inability to miss bats, he compensates in his ability to coax harmless groundballs in big spots. From a full-breadth starter to a dominant reliever, Sam has adapted to his circumstances and carved out a niche-role within the organization. There remains a glimmer of possibility that Sam regains the arm-strength he lost from the Tommy John procedure but, assuming he doesn’t,  the complexion of his game has fundamentally changed.  While his move from the rotation to the bullpen might have originated as a rehabilitative expedient – monitoring his innings and re-strengthening his arm – Sam will probably remain in the bullpen.

He probably won’t be getting the call in high-leverage situations with runners on base, but he throws strikes (1.57 BB/9 with Dundein, 2.98 BB/9 with New Hampshire) and can rack up scoreless relief innings.

Sam has a minimalist delivery, which ostensibly places a lot of stress on his arm.

Sam’s selection for the AFL might seem a bit peculiar. He is not a top prospect. His health is also a concern. If the basis for his move to the bullpen was to ration his innings, why convert his comeback season into a protracted 8 month relief marathon? He is fresh off of Tommy John surgery.

So, what gives? I think the Jays are taking a calculated risk with Sam. Recognizing his susceptibility for injury, scouts nonetheless need a larger sample size of performance to determine whether Sam can contribute to the Jays in 2013. The AFL will serve as a litmus test for Sam Dyson’s 2013 assignment. After just one successful season in the farm system, Dyson touts a resume that indicates major league potential. How he fares against beefed up AFL lineups will indicate whether that potential can be realized in 2013.

Where is Sam Dyson going? 

Dyson pitching at Yankee Stadium

If Sam Dyson stays healthy, he could become a fixture in the Blue Jays bullpen. His major league debut – consisting of two dismal outings last year – left much to be desired, but given the Jays solid infield defense (See Edwin Encarnacion .994 fld%; Kelly Johnson .983 fld%; Yunel Escobar 982 fld%), his propensity to generate groundball outs could be a major boon to a staff that surrendered an MLB-leading 204 homeruns this season.

Of course his performance in the AFL will play a substantial role in his initial assignment, but I project Sam beginning the season at AA-NH and concluding it with the Jays.

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