With uncertainty in their major league bullpen and limited big name free agents still available to fill the void, Toronto Blue Jays fans should be getting acquainted with right-handed prospect Blake McFarland, an older minor leaguer that refuses to become complacent.
McFarland is starting to get the recognition he deserves after a stellar Arizona Fall League campaign. Facing quite arguably the best hitters he has ever seen didn’t slow the California native down. Appearing in 12 2/3 AFL innings, McFarland didn’t allow a run, adding 15 strikeouts to his name, coupled with an opposing hitter batting average of just .196.
“I loved playing in the Arizona Fall League and was honored to represent the Blue Jays,” said McFarland. “It was a great experience playing with players of such talent and at such a high level of competition. It exceeded my expectations in every way.”
For fans that didn’t follow the AFL this season, major league baseball was implementing a pitch clock in their games for a potential rule change down the road. Each pitcher had 20 seconds to make their pitch, and if they didn’t get it off in time, the batter was rewarded a ball. Obviously, the potential rule change didn’t affect McFarland much judging by his outstanding numbers, but he goes into detail about his personal experience using it and whether, or not he feels the MLB will go that route in the future.
“We had a couple of meetings as a team about the rule changes and the pitch clock was definitely an interesting one,” explained McFarland. “It didn’t affect me much because I normally have a pretty good tempo and I only saw one ball called due to the pitch clock.”
“In my opinion 20 seconds is more than enough time to deliver the ball,” he added. “I don’t see it changing in MLB, but if it does, it won’t be a problem for the players.”
Playing in the Blue Jays system for four seasons, McFarland has only gotten better at every level he has played at, which is a great sign for any player climbing the ladder. Most recently, playing with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the ‘AA’ Eastern League, McFarland maintained a 2.04 ERA with 37 strikeouts and two saves in 35 1/3 innings of work.
As good as those numbers were; the stats that really jump off the page of McFarland’s New Hampshire experience was his 1.132 WHIP, 9.4 K/9 ratio, and the fact that ‘AA’ hitters only managed a .197 average against him. Even though he had a tremendous season in the Eastern League, the area McFarland enjoyed the most was the east coast travel, which was all new to him.
“I loved playing in the Eastern League,” stated McFarland. “It was my first time on the east coast, so I got to experience a lot of new places and loved the home fans.”
Another aspect McFarland found helpful was learning from Fisher Cats pitching coach Jim Czajkowski. The two worked together in McFarland’s first professional season in Vancouver and the ability to learn from a familiar face really helped the 26-year old pitcher.
“Jim Czajkowski was a great pitching coach to have,” said McFarland. “I had him as a coach my very first year of professional baseball in Vancouver, so I know him well and I have always enjoyed playing for him. He has extensive knowledge of the game and he has helped me greatly in my career.”
Striving on better competition is not the only reason McFarland has improved so much since signing as an undrafted free agent in 2011. The young pitcher credits a lot of his success on being able to continually expand his pitch repertoire, as a professional.
“Every single season since I started in 2011, I have worked on different things. If you were to see me pitch in 2011 and then in 2014 you would not recognize me.”
“I have completely new pitches, including a 4-seamer, a splitter, and a cutter,” he added. “In 2011, I only had a 2-seam, curveball, and slider. The key for me succeeding is never feeling complacent and always working on something to get better.”
Focused on making the final push for the major leagues in 2015, McFarland is excited to be back home in California working towards his dream. Playing in the AFL has shortened his off-season, but he’s okay with that, as he is focused on continually getting better at both baseball and his side hobby of designing sculptures out of recycled tires.
“I do not have much of an off-season due to playing in the Arizona Fall League, so I am already back to training every day,” said McFarland. “I work out and I’ll start throwing in the upcoming weeks. Other than baseball my off-season consists of my artwork (www.blakemcfarland.com) and a lot of surfing.”
Keep your eye on Blake McFarland this upcoming spring, as he makes a serious push to join the Blue Jays out of spring training.