2018 Buffalo Bisons' projected pitchers
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.
At long last, we reach the triple-A Buffalo Bisons. With several pitchers in the mix for the Blue Jays' bullpen, the Bisons bullpen battles are going to be fierce. According to my calculations (which are never 100% right), I think I've got the Bisons' rotation pretty much figured out but the bullpen has a lot of arms competing for positions and it's unknown how many of the minor league free agents with big league experience are going to make the Blue Jays and how many might opt out of their contracts before they ever suit up in the Bisons' colours.
Ryan Borucki, 23, among several Blue Jays' prospects, had a lot of helium last year. Starting out with a couple of rough outings in class-A Advanced Dunedin, Borucki had a phenomenal season last year, reaching Buffalo on the final weekend of the season. Added to the 40-man roster, Borucki is looking to cap his comeback from multiple arm surgeries between 2011 and 2015 with a trip to the majors in 2018. I think he'll be the Bisons' Opening Day starter.
Deck McGuire returned to the Blue Jays' fold this offseason, rejoining the team that drafted him back in 2010. The big righty spent a few years around the league, pitching with several teams but really found himself in 2017, spending the season in double-A with the Cincinnati Reds, capping his season with 13 2/3 innings over six appearances in the majors (where he actually did quite well in a small sample size). McGuire is on a minor league deal but could see the bigs if the Jays need to go eight or nine deep in their starting rotation this year.
Thomas Pannone, 23, was added in the deal that sent reliever Joe Smith to the Indians at the trade deadline in 2017. Pannone was dominant in double-A (at least before the trade) and the lefty is going to look to take that into triple-A in 2018. I really like what I've seen from him, but he's going to have to keep the ball down and away from the middle of the plate, especially as he starts to face hitters with a big league pedigree in triple-A.
Taylor Guerrieri is a former Top-100 prospect whom the Tampa Bay Rays put on waivers in the offseason after he missed most of the year due to injury. A solid pitcher with a big frame, Guerrieri has been a starter his entire career and should take the ball regularly for the Bisons.
On the Bubble
Chris Rowley was dominant at every level but the major leagues last year. The 27-year-old Army veteran and West Point grad got a taste of the big leagues but was sent outright to Buffalo after the season. We could see him in a bullpen role, hence the "On the Bubble" status.
Luis Santos, 27, got his first taste of the big leagues last year and was pretty solid, tossing 16 2/3 innings over the month of September with 16 strikeouts and four walks. He also hasn't given up a hit in four innings (over five outings) in spring training, walking one and striking out four. I think he'll be in Buffalo but could swing between either a starting or a relief role.
Murphy Smith, 30, has twice become a free agent since joining the Blue Jays in 2015 and he's twice re-signed. Spending most of the year in Buffalo, Smith is a Swiss Army Knife of a pitcher who can start or relieve and has put up solid numbers at every level of the minor leagues.
Tim Mayza, 26, was another young pitcher to reach the major leagues in 2017, throwing 17 innings out of the bullpen with a 6.88 ERA but 27 strikeouts and just four walks. the lefty is going to have to figure out a way to keep balls in the park and the best way to do that will be in Buffalo.
Matt Dermody tossed 22 1/3 innings in Toronto after three innings in 2016. The 27-year-old didn't put up the same kind of strikeout numbers that Mayza did (15 Ks in 22 1/3 innings), but also had some problems with the home run, giving up six over his time in the majors. Dermody and Mayza will be numbers 1 and 1A in Buffalo when it comes to lefties.
Chad Girodo, another lefty, has been excellent so far this spring, giving up just a hit with four strikeouts in four innings. The 27-year-old hasn't been back to the majors since 2016 but is looking to mix things up with his delivery to keep hitters off balance this year.
Rhiner Cruz spent parts of 2012 and 2013 with the Houston Astros and has pitched in the intervening years in Japan, Mexico and, most recently, with the Braves' triple-A affiliate. Cruz, 31, offers the Jays depth but he's unlikely to make the big club out of spring training despite throwing 3 2/3 innings with only an unearned run on his record so far this spring.
Jake Petricka, signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays after pitching parts of five seasons with the Chicago White Sox. The 29-year-old righty is recovering from elbow surgery (nerve transposition and flexor tendon debridement) and will likely start the year with Buffalo until he pitches well enough to get a shot at the majors.
Carlos Ramirez is also on the walking wounded list. The 26-year-old former outfielder has been injured for much of spring training but his dominant 2017 at three levels will have him in Buffalo and he could be summoned to Toronto early.
On the Bubble
The first four of our "On the Bubble" relievers are all on the bubble for the big league squad. There may be room for two of them on the Blue Jays and it is conceivable that the other two pitch in Buffalo until they're able to opt out of their contracts.
John Axford a 35-year-old Ontarian, has parts of nine season of big league time under his belt and, for a time, was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2010 and 2011. He's struggled with control since that time and hasn't put up an ERA under 3.95 since 2011.
Craig Breslow, 37, has been around the major leagues with a longer track record than any of the pitchers on this list. With parts of 12 years in the majors and a World Series title with the Red Sox under his belt (in 2013, when he had a 1.81 ERA), Breslow has little more to prove, particularly for a guy who graduated from Yale and chose baseball over medical school. Breslow is probably the top guy on the list to make the Jays if they want to go with a second lefty in the bullpen.
Tyler Clippard, 33, is just behind Breslow when it comes to big league experience as he's thrown in the majors in parts of 11 years, spending seven with the Washington Nationals. He's been bouncing around since 2015 (the year after he was an All-Star with Washington), pitching for no fewer than two teams each year. He's looking for a way back and is probably the odds on favourite of this group to break camp with Toronto.
Al Alburquerque, 31, is the youngest of this group and has pitched in parts of seven major league seasons dating back to 2011. He's had some injuries, control problems and relies heavily on his slider but he had decent numbers in limited opportunities in the majors last year and offers the Blue Jays some depth.
Crowding in the bullpen could possibly push these last two "On the Bubble" relievers to double-A. Both had shorter stints in Buffalo and, while they're both deserving of a spot with the Bisons, the fact that there will need to be room for at least two of the guys listed directly above (Axford, Breslow, Clippard, Alburquerque), at least until early June when contract opt-outs come around for these veterans.
Justin Shafer, 25, was impressive last year, rising from Dunedin to Buffalo. Spending most of the year in double-A, Shafer had a solid year and should be an under-the-radar reliever in 2018. His best weapon in his sinker/slider combination, particularly if he's working down in the zone.
Andrew Case (Saint John, N.B.) moved quickly in his progression last year, spending much of the season in double-A and pitching four times with Buffalo. While the 25-year-old wasn't added to the 40-man roster, he was invited to major league spring training, showing some faith in the Canadian righty.
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