Blue Jays' top prospect Ricky Tiedemann dominates in spring training debut

The Blue Jays left-hander showcased his electric arsenal and made quick work of three Detroit Tigers.

Ricky Tiedemann came as advertised in his Blue Jays spring training debut. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)
Ricky Tiedemann came as advertised in his Blue Jays spring training debut. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

There was a lot to like about left-hander Ricky Tiedemann’s spring training debut with the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday.

Tiedemann, a third-round selection from 2021, had already garnered plenty of attention in camp this spring among his teammates and coaches, with everyone keeping a close eye on the franchise’s top prospect. And who could blame them?

The 20-year-old has drawn a large crowd whenever he has taken the hill as a professional, with his hype train first gaining steam during his stellar — albeit brief — stint at low-A Dunedin (1.80 ERA over six starts) in 2022. That excitement continued as he rose to high-A Vancouver before finishing the year at double-A New Hampshire.

In an effort to manage Tiedemann’s workload, Toronto’s minor-league development staff shut down the 6-foot-4 starter following his start on Aug. 26, where he allowed two walks and a hit-by-pitch while recording a pair of strikeouts across three innings. He did continue throwing at the Player Development Complex in Florida after being transferred to the development list, though.

So when Tiedemann returned to TD Ballpark on Tuesday, it was the first time he had encountered a live game setting in almost six months, generating plenty of buzz among the fan base. While his outing only lasted an inning, he certainly made the most of it.

Tiedemann entered the game in the top of the sixth inning, jogging out from the Blue Jays’ bullpen beyond the right-field wall. His first assignment was facing Javier Báez, which was no small feat, but he made quick work of the two-time All-Star.

The Blue Jays lefty missed high above the strike zone with his first pitch, a 98.1-mph sinker, only to pound the inside half of the plate with a 97.4-mph heater to even the count at 1-1. Then, after Báez fouled off a poorly located changeup, the top young hurler blew him away with a 99.4-mph sinker for a swinging strikeout.

Tiedemann continued to flash his suddenly explosive fastball, which averaged 98.3 mph in his outing — noticeably higher than last season’s average — and threw a pair of high-90s heaters to Austin Meadows, who grounded out to shortstop Luis De Los Santos on three pitches.

Then, before departing for the afternoon, the talented lefty recorded his second swinging punchout of the contest, this time against Matt Vierling.

After getting ahead 0-1 with a slider on the outside corner, Tiedemann issued three straight 98-mph sinkers before enticing Vierling to offer at a beautifully located changeup down and away for strike three. Like the sinker he used to finish Báez, it featured 16 inches of horizontal break.

Of the 12 pitches Tiedemann threw, eight were sinkers, with six clocked at 98 mph or higher. It is a minuscule sample size, but the Blue Jays couldn’t have asked for a better building block from their prized possession.

Among the highlights that stood out was the left-hander’s repeatable delivery — a sentiment that has resonated throughout Toronto’s organization, particularly with its big-league hurlers. With a healthy arm slot like his, it is easy to understand how he’s been so dominant up to this point.

As a starter, Tiedemann will have to reserve his energy over multiple innings rather than emptying the tank for just three batters. So you likely won’t see him hitting 98 or 99 mph regularly during the season.

As for the remainder of spring training, there’s also a strong chance Tiedemann’s fastball velocity will drop back down to his usual range of 95-96 mph, especially considering he was likely pitching on a bit of adrenaline during his first outing of 2023.

Tiedemann’s spring is certainly off to a strong start, one he’ll hope to build on over the next four weeks. No matter how he performs, though, the top pitching prospect is likely slated to return to double-A New Hampshire for the start of the regular season.

It is, after all, worth remembering that he only compiled 11 innings with the Fisher Cats in 2022 before being shut down for the rest of the season. And as someone who won’t turn 21 until August, there isn’t any need to rush him to the majors, at least not yet.

Four of the five spots in Toronto’s starting rotation are occupied by Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt - who also made his debut Tuesday - and José Berríos, with Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White competing for the final position. But neither were effective as starters last season.

Kikuchi struggled mightily in the rotation, posting a 5.25 ERA and 5.94 FIP across 20 starts before being moved to the bullpen. The 31-year-old, however, has made a few mechanical adjustments and is seemingly benefiting from the new pitch clock this spring, making his case appear encouraging.

White, on the other hand, is behind the eight ball after his offseason throwing program was delayed by a right shoulder impingement. At this rate, with the right-hander still building up, chances are he’ll begin the year as a reliever.

The Blue Jays will be in a difficult spot if Kikuchi’s woes return, at least early on, as multiple internal options — including Tiedemann and fellow prospect Yosver Zulueta — could emerge as the season progresses. Hyun Jin Ryu, recovering from Tommy John surgery, could also eventually be part of the equation.

But for now, Kikuchi is receiving another opportunity to prove himself to the Blue Jays. And so far, so good. The real test, however, will be delivering consistent quality outings — or at least respectable ones — moving forward.

Because if the veteran lefty struggles, Tiedemann is already chomping at the bit to enjoy a fast-tracked path to the major leagues, similar to Manoah’s from 2021.