2016 Projected Rosters: New Hampshire Fisher Cats
By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
Moving up through the Blue Jays’ system, projecting the rosters of the Jays’ minor league affiliates and we’ve arrived at the potential pitching staff for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Double-A is where the accumulated manpower starts to stack up and success doesn’t always mean that a player is going to move up to Triple-A. The Blue Jays have tended to bring in a fair number of minor league free agents over the past few years, mostly to stock the Buffalo Bisons with depth players capable of contributing to the major league club if called upon. These acquisitions tend to push more of the home-grown players back down to Double-A New Hampshire and they’ll need to really excel in order to get a look at Buffalo.
Last year, my success rate for prediction the starting pitching staff for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats was pretty high, mainly because there’s a lot more clarity at this level. That said, the injury to Mike Lee and Roberto Osuna’s ascension to the major leagues kept me from making it a complete sweep. Let’s see how I do this year.
This year, I think I’m going to have at least an 80% success rate (barring injuries). Anderson had an up and down season and he could be in the bullpen to start the season but I think the club might want to build on his career-high 120 innings that he threw last year in New Hampshire. Cole had a solid season and led the club in strikeouts and innings pitched but Buffalo is going to be crowded and there’s no harm in letting him figure out some consistency and location issues back in Double-A. Greene is the ascending hot prospect and at 21 on Opening Day, he’ll be back in New Hampshire, where he finished last year. Casey Lawrence is a steady hand and while he’s had two-plus solid years in New Hampshire, there just isn’t room for him right now in Buffalo. Murphy Smith got hit hard in his only two New Hampshire appearances last year but he was excellent in 17 games in Dunedin and was the club’s best pitcher until an injury ended his season. If he’s healthy, he’ll get another shot at Double-A (where he had pitched for three years before joining the Blue Jays’ organization).
Other Possible Starters
Berken was signed in the offseason and the 32 year old has been a starter throughout his career. With the exception of much of his time with Baltimore in the majors in 2010 and 2011, Berken has been a starter, although the Phillies had him throw in 28 games in 2015 with 13 of them going for starts. While the Jays were auditioning LeBlanc as a lefty reliever, he’s also been a starter throughout most of his minor and major league career, including his eight starts in Japan last year. While I think that Gaby starts in Dunedin again, there is the chance that the organization wants to see what he can do at the Double-A level.
I think both of these guys start in Dunedin but Reid-Foley is the bigger prospect and, like Conner Greene, started last season at a much higher level than expected (Lansing). Reports on Reid-Foley’s mechanics are that he’s more contained and if he can translate that into repeatability and command, there’s an outside chance that he breaks camp in New Hampshire at the age of 20. Dawson is another possible wild card. Dawson only threw 26 innings in Dunedin last year and, because he’s only 22, the Blue Jays are probably not going to necessarily rush him. Santos, on the other hand, is 25 and posted good numbers in Dunedin, mostly as a starter, striking out 86 in 93 innings with only 22 walks. He missed all of August and came out of the bullpen for two innings in September but didn’t allow a run in 10 1/3 innings in the Dominican Winter League, all in relief.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats bullpen will probably look a lot like it did last year with Antolin (re-signing as a free agent), Barnes, Browning, Hynes and Smith returning. Dragmire will get the promotion after being added to the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster and pitching with Dunedin last year. Browning probably returns here after having far more trouble in Double-A than in Advanced-A. Hynes pitched in 10 games with New Hampshire, splitting the year between there and Buffalo. Smith made only two appearances with the Fisher Cats last year, spending more time with Dunedin but also pitched in Double-A Trenton when he was with the Yankees’ organization. Schlereth joined the Blue Jays on a minor league deal and hasn’t been seen in major league camp, indicating one of two things: he’s injured or he’s so far down on the depth chart that he’ll probably land in Double-A.
Of these names, John Stilson is the wildcard. After pitching in just one game last year because of injuries, he’s now on the New Hampshire roster and the club may treat his pitching in Double-A as a rehab assignment of sorts before he returns to Buffalo where he was very successful in 2014.
The Fisher Cats lineup/offensive roster has several large questions to it heading into the 2016 season. It’s usually considered a fairly big jump from Advanced-A to Double-A and the question is whether certain players are going to be ready. Many hitters (and pitchers) found the jump from Lansing to Dunedin to be more difficult than they anticipated last year and the same thing happened as players moved from Dunedin to New Hampshire. Double-A is also a level where the necessity of going outside the organization to bring in minor league depth pieces who can play at the major league level if needed is really felt. For example, the Blue Jays acquired several outfielders and several catchers over the offseason (Darrell Ceciliani, Junior Lake, Domonic Brown; Humberto Quintero, Tony Sanchez Wilkin Castillo), which will push some of the home-grown players down a level.
With the influx of catchers, I actually think that there are going to be as many as four players for every spot at each level from Buffalo down to Lansing. New Hampshire gets a respite of just three but Wilkin Castillo could easily be in Buffalo and Jorge Saez could move up to New Hampshire. Robinzon Diaz could also be in New Hampshire to start the year, leaving the club with more catchers than it can handle. It’s an unfortunate inevitability that players are released at the end of spring training and this position in the organization is one where we could see the most cuts.
The way the 1B/DH position shakes out for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats will depend on a couple of things. The first is whether the Blue Jays feel that K.C. Hobson is ready for Triple-A. Hobson has now spent a season and a half in New Hampshire. While his results were still below league average last year, he managed to hit 14 home runs and lead the team in RBI, improving on his 2014 numbers. With just one real first baseman slated for Buffalo (Casey Kotchman), Hobson may get his chance. I think Rowdy Tellez is almost a sure thing for the Fisher Cats lineup. He’s proven that he can hit everywhere he’s gone and, despite losing time to an injured wrist, is probably a more mature hitter. Also, as a left-handed hitter (like Hobson), there probably isn’t much room for both of them, unless Hobson moves to left field.
The other question is whether the Blue Jays see fit to promote Matt Dean. Dean had a very solid season despite playing in a very pitching-friendly league in Florida last year. He tied for the Florida State League lead in home runs and, despite a somewhat low walk rate and somewhat high strikeout rate, he did produce at a rate that was 22% better than league average. At 23, Dean needs to move up to stay on track.
Originally, I thought Jon Berti, 26, was going to be back in Buffalo but with the pickup of David Adams, Jio Mier and Alexi Casilla and the emergence of Andy Burns as a big league bubble player, there’s little room for Berti on the infield and ditto for the outfield. I’d like to see Berti back in Buffalo to build on his .609 OPS in 40 games but I think that won’t come until later in the season.
Lopes hit very well in Dunedin last year but scuffled when exposed to Double-A pitching. Even though he’s been in the Jays’ system forever, Lopes is only 23 and will probably get a chance to settle in in New Hampshire.
I felt that Mitch Nay would stay in Dunedin to start the year which means that Emilio Guerrero gets a chance to redeem his rather poor results in 52 games in New Hampshire last year. Another 23 year old, Emilio got some exposure in the Arizona Fall League with some mediocre results. He’s another guy who needs to cut down his strikeout rate and get on base more. If Nay starts off strongly, he could take over third base in New Hampshire by the All-Star Break.
Flores, 24, opened eyes as an everyday player in 2015. While he profiles as a fringe utility player in the major leagues, his solid defense and ability to adjust to Double-A as a hitter has made him one of the more reliable infielders in the organization. Flores doesn’t hit for much power but his .360 OBP last year and strong walk and strikeout rates means that he’s not a liability at the plate by any means. Flores could probably move to Triple-A but with several other infielders up there, he’ll be back in New Hampshire.
Both of these guys have time in New Hampshire under their belts and Opitz has shown the most potential with the bat despite a down year last year. Jason Leblebijian could also see time in New Hampshire if he can figure out the pitching in Dunedin.
Dwight Smith, Jr.
I think that this is going to be your outfield for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for most of the season. If one of the Dunedin outfielders is lights out this year, he could join them but this configuration gives the outfield a lot of flexibility. Newman will probably see a reduced role with more playing time given to Alford, Fields and Smith who all need the reps. Smith is looking for consistency at this level while Fields and Alford will try to hit with a little more authority. Both will terrorize the Eastern League with their running.
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