- Julian Merryweather’s journey to the big leagues has been a long time coming. Pitching in just his second year in the MLB, the 29-year-old took a long, winding path to break camp with the Blue Jays on Opening Day.
It’s easy to forget how the Blue Jays acquired him initially back in 2018 because it was a “nothing trade.” Some might recall he was involved in the infamous Josh Donaldson trade at the August 2018 non-waiver deadline.
As the Bringer of Rain was rehabbing for a late-season return, the Blue Jays flipped him to Cleveland in exchange for a player to be named later. In fact, Merryweather’s name wasn’t officially announced as the PTBNL until two months later.
#BlueJays GM Ross Atkins says PTBNL in Josh Donaldson deal is set, not contingent at all on JD's health. Described him as "a near-term prospect that will impact our major-league team in a significant way."
— Shi Davidi (@ShiDavidi) September 1, 2018
That player ended up being Merryweather, a 26-year-old prospect who was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Even after his name was attached to the deal, it still seemed like a light return in exchange for a former MVP.
Now it looks like the Blue Jays might actually “win” the Donaldson trade on both ends of the deal; during his arrival in Toronto in 2014 and upon his exit in 2018, which netted the Blue Jays a new fireballer with closer potential.
These are small sample sizes, but for sake of comparison, Donaldson posted 0.5 WAR in 16 games with the Cleveland Indians. Merryweather has 0.8 career WAR and counting as a member of the Blue Jays.
Donaldson played just 16 regular season games for Cleveland, plus another three in the 2018 postseason before leaving for Atlanta in free agency. He’s now 35 and beginning his second season with Minnesota.
It’s premature to declare that trade a slam dunk for the Blue Jays, but if Merryweather amounts to anything in the big leagues, it will go down as a steal of a deal for the Blue Jays.
Merryweather was lights-out for the Blue Jays during their opening weekend in the Bronx. He struck out five of the six batters he faced en route to collecting a pair of saves. Not to mention, he lit up the radar gun with his 100-mile-per-hour fastball.
Fastest pitches in #WeAreBlueJays history (tracking began in 2008):
Nate Pearson – 101.5 on 9/25/20
Brandon Morrow – 101.2 on 9/10/14
Jeremy Jeffress – 100.8 on 9/4/13
🔥Julian Merryweather – 100.4 today 🔥
Ken Giles – 100.4 on 6/1/19 https://t.co/no72RZAHZm
— Rodney Hiemstra (@therodbot) April 4, 2021
The right-hander always had the potential to throw triple digit heat (it was reported he reached 100 MPH during some rehab stints in 2019), but since he’s spent the last two-plus years under cloak and dagger, few saw Merryweather’s potential up close.
That all changed when he had the baseball world buzzing after decimating Yankees hitters with his electric fastball. On Opening Day, Merryweather was one strike away from an immaculate inning, throwing 10 of his 11 pitches for strikes.
MONSTER MERRYWEATHER 🔥
— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) April 5, 2021
Yesterday, the 29-year-old came back and was just as impressive, taking only 11 pitches to strike out Gleyber Torres and Jay Bruce, and getting Jay Bruce to line out to left field.
However, this isn’t Merryweather’s first tour with the Blue Jays. You might recall he pitched eight games last season, starting three of them. In fact, his last appearance of 2020 was as an opener against the Yankees on September 17.
The ship has sailed on Merryweather as a starting pitcher, but he’s already shown some elite potential as a high leverage reliever, perhaps becoming the Blue Jays’ answer to the Milwaukee Brewers’ multi-inning relief weapon: Josh Hader.
Merryweather’s heater touched 99 MPH last season, but since he bounced between the bullpen and the starting rotation, he never had time to find his footing. He struck out 15 batters in 13 innings of work, but the six walks were troublesome.
It’s still very early into the 2021 campaign, but the Blue Jays have uncovered a very dangerous weapon for the back end of their bullpen. Merryweather already has five strikeouts, zero hits surrendered, and 19 of his 22 pitches thrown have been for strikes.
The Blue Jays were dealt a huge blow to their bullpen a few weeks ago when they announced Kirby Yates was out for the season with Tommy John surgery, but the team might have found his replacement already.