By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
It's that time of year when spring training has begun. The big league players have returned to Florida, taken their pictures and have even done some baseball related activities. This is when my mind drifts to the season to come and projects the rosters for the Blue Jays' minor league teams as we look to open the season.
We continue our look at the Blue Jays' projected minor league rosters by taking a look at the players I think will open the season with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Some of these players will be up in the majors quickly if there are injuries in Toronto.
Danny Jansen, 22, is the Jays' top-ranked catching prospect, leapfrogging both McGuire (see below) and Max Pentecost with his spectacular 2017, hitting .323/.400/.484 at three levels culminating in a stint in Buffalo. I think the Jays want him in the lineup at least every other day which will keep him in Buffalo until he's ready to make a splash at the major league level.
Reese McGuire had his 2017 season disrupted by injuries but put up some very strong numbers in double-A New Hampshire after he returned. Considered to be the most polished defensive catching prospect in the system, it's the bat that still needs development for the 23-year-old.
On the Bubble
Patrick Cantwell could back up in New Hampshire but there's a good chance that the 27-year-old returns to triple-A for the first time with the Jays' organization.
Rowdy Tellez is looking to bounce back in a big way. Turning 23 on March 16, Rowdy hit .222/.295/.333 last year and a revitalization is in order after a difficult season in 2017 from both a personal and a professional perspective.
Tim Lopes was one of the most consistent Fisher Cats with the bat in 2017, repeating the double-A level (this time with Toronto) and posting some similar numbers, with a slightly lower batting average and OBP and higher slugging percentage. With two years in double-A, he's ready for triple-A at the age of 23.
Jason Leblebijian, 26, was having fans call for his promotion to the major leagues last year after a hot start in Buffalo but the versatile infielder sagged somewhat as the season wore on and he finished with a .258/.323/.405 slash line. Still, he could improve those numbers and will be a regular for Bobby Meacham in Buffalo.
Richard Urena, 22, struggled in his first full season in double-A with his bat but I think that he's going to be promoted to Buffalo, mainly because I think that the Jays will want Bo Bichette in New Hampshire. Getting 21 games in Toronto last year, he hit .206/.270/.309 but his acclimatization to the majors will probably help him as he plays in Buffalo for the first time.
Jon Berti, 28, re-signed with the Jays after going the minor-league free agency route in the offseason. While he was hurt for much of the 2017 season, he's been a solid player throughout his professional career and brings speed and versatility on defence to the Bisons.
Lourdes Gurriel, the 24-year-old Cuban, was fine in his first professional baseball in about a year and a half since leaving Cuba. He hit .241/.286/.371, struggling with injuries and trying to shake the rust off with the Fisher Cats and he did marginally better (.291/.309/.494) with Peoria in the Arizona Fall League. I think he'll play shortstop and second base in Buffalo while getting the at bats he needs to help him bring his game up to major league level.
Anthony Alford, 23, constantly makes us wonder how good he would be by now if he had focused solely on baseball coming out of high school. He's shown a preternatural ability to show patience at the plate, posting an OBP over .400 with New Hampshire last year. As he grows as a baseball player, Alford continues to show us that he's understanding himself as a player more and more and should be allowed to develop a little bit more in Buffalo to start the year unless injuries at the major league club force him to Toronto earlier.
Teoscar Hernandez made a huge splash with the Blue Jays in September, launching eight home runs in 95 plate appearances. On the down side, he also struck out in 36 of those plate appearances so the 25-year-old has some work to do in that regard. Like Alford, he'll likely work things out for a bit in the minors but could play in Toronto if injuries at the big club create a need.
Roemon Fields, a 27-year-old speedster, had a strong offensive year last year with the Bisons, hitting .291/.355/.352, stealing 43 bases (and adding seven in New Hampshire to give him 50 on the year). He'll be on the lower end of the line for a job in Toronto but will give the Buffalo fans a lot to get excited about.
Dalton Pompey, 25, lost his whole 2017, getting into just 13 games with a knee injury and concussion. If he's healthy, he'll probably get a lot of playing time in Buffalo to show what he can do and try to get back tot he majors.
Dwight Smith Jr. made the most of his playing time in Toronto last year as he hit .370/.414/.444 in 12 games while continuing to put up solid numbers at the high minor league levels with a .273/.350/.392 slash line in 449 plate appearances with Buffalo. Smith is likely going to DH a fair bit due to the fact that all of the other players mentioned above are better defensive players than he is.
On the Bubble
Ian Parmley, 28, became a big leaguer last year, which is something that few thought he'd be able to do. He came off a very strong year in New Hampshire in 2016 and followed it up hitting .260/.306/.321 with Buffalo in 79 games last year. But with the outfield depth that the Blue Jays have now, Parmley could be pushed down to double-A or end up on the phantom DL to start the year.
J.D. Davis is probably the first player likely to move up from a slated New Hampshire start if some of the players tabbed for Buffalo have to start in Toronto.
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