October 6, 2014
The Vancouver Canadians continued their Northwest League dominance in 2014 by reaching the league championship series for the fourth consecutive season. This edition of the Canadians featured a lot of talented young prospects that were anchored by an excellent rotation headed by staff ace Jairo Labourt.
The left-hander led the Canadians in many pitching categories including: Innings pitched (71 1/3), strikeouts (82), and ERA for a rotation member (1.77). Labourt also maintained an excellent 1.18 WHIP and a 10.9 K/9 ratio.
Labourt’s season in the Northwest League was just what he needed after a slow start in Lansing. During the first month of the season in Lansing, the lefty had some command issues walking 20 batters and hitting another four in his 14 innings of work. For Labourt, this was a disappointing setback following his breakout season in Bluefield last year.
The Toronto Blue Jays organization decided to send Labourt back to extended spring training at the end of April. The move paid off, as the coaching staff at their minor league complex in Dunedin, Florida spent the time getting into Labourt’s head, making him mentally stronger for his season in Vancouver.
The extra coaching was a big help for Labourt who features three excellent pitches, including a changeup, slider, and fastball. The Dominican Republic native showed excellent velocity all season continually hitting 95 mph or higher with his fastball.
The young southpaw feels his slow start in Lansing was partly due to the piggybacking system the Lugnuts were using early in the year. Starting the season with seven starters, the Lugnuts needed to team up two groups of younger players to start and relieve some games. Explaining the difficulties he had coming out of the bullpen Labourt describes why his season in Vancouver was more in line with what Blue Jays fans were expecting from a guy who struck out 45 batters in 54 2/3 innings and maintained a 1.92 ERA in 2013.
“With a deep rotation in Lansing, it felt good getting innings early in the year,” stated Labourt. “I found the relieving aspect of the piggybacking system tough because I’ve never been a reliever. I know learning to be a reliever has some benefits, but I found it tough this season.”
“The hardest aspect of the bullpen was getting my throwing in,” he added. “As a starter I do a lot of long toss before a game. I use the long toss exercise to warm up and as a reliever the opportunity to do long toss isn’t there due to limited space available.”
Breaking down the differences between his time in Lansing and Vancouver more, Labourt lowered his H/9 ratio from 9.6 to 5.9 and his BB/9 ratio from 12.9 to 4.7 all the while raising his K/9 ratio from 7.1 to 10.3. It’s safe to say whatever was done to change Labourt’s mindset in extended spring training worked well.
Staying positive on Labourt’s development, Lansing Lugnuts pitching coach Vince Horsman discusses what he liked about the 20-year old lefty.
“Jairo had a slow start in Lansing, but he’ll be fine moving forward. His pitches are really good,” explained Horsman. “In April, Jairo was leaving his pitches up in the zone. He just needed to lower them. He worked on that in extended spring training, as well as Vancouver. It’s great to see him getting better. He’s a good kid and I enjoyed working with him.”
Since joining the Blue Jays organization as an international free agent in 2011. Labourt has spent time with the Blue Jays’ Dominican Summer League, Gulf Coast League, Appalachian League, Midwest League, and Northwest League affiliates. Discussing his career in detail, Labourt was excited for every opportunity he has been presented with so far in his career.
“Signing with Toronto was a very happy moment,” Labourt recalls. “I remember being really happy. My family was happy and I remember smiling a lot at the opportunity to play professional baseball.”
“I felt great in Bluefield. I really threw the ball well there. My 2013 season was very successful and that great year was why I was able to start the season in Lansing,” he added. “I really liked playing in Lansing too. The city is nice and I enjoyed my opportunity there. Being from the Dominican I wasn’t used to the cold, but everything else was great.”
The Blue Jays’ 16th highest ranked prospect will be looking to continue building upon the success he found in this year as he moves forward to full season action. Whether his destination is the low-A Lansing Lugnuts or the high-A Dunedin Blue Jays, expect to see better command and a lot of strikeouts from Jairo Labourt.