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.
The double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats just renewed their Player Development Contract with the Blue Jays and it's time to talk about their predicted rosters!
Today I'll write about the pitchers and tomorrow I'll write about the hitters. As we move up, it gets a little easier to try to make our predictions. We look at who had good seasons in class-A Advanced Dunedin and should be moved up and who might benefit from starting the season back at the double-A level that they played at last year. But we also have to consider the trickle down from the upper levels as the Blue Jays and the triple-A Buffalo Bisons fill out their rosters and run out of room, sending players down to New Hampshire.
Without further ado, here are my projected New Hampshire pitchers:
Jon Harris had a tough year in New Hampshire last year, posting a 5.41 ERA, 1.51 WHIP with 113 strikeouts and 47 walks in 143 innings. The former first-round draft pick enters his Age-24 season and has the tools to put things together but needs to figure it out.
Like Harris, Sean Reid-Foley had a rough year in New Hampshire but he was two years younger, posting a 5.09 ERA, a 1.49 WHIP, with 122 strikeouts and 53 walks in 132 2/3 innings and called it a season of learning. He's just 22 now and will be able to further refine his game in New Hampshire, at least to start.
Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) has been working his way up the top prospect lists since coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2016. He spent 2017 in Dunedin, logging 138 innings with a 3.39 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, striking out 138 and walking 54. He's going to have the chance to take his game up another level in double-A in 2018.
T.J. Zeuch also had a solid season in Dunedin last year and is ready to take the next step, especially following a particularly impressive 2017 Arizona Fall League stint. At 22, Zeuch is still pretty young and the 2016 first-rounder should find himself well at home in the Fisher Cats' rotation.
On the Bubble
Francisco Rios, a 22-year-old Mexican righty, bounced out of the New Hampshire rotation towards the end of the 2017 season, mainly after missing time due to an injury. He could very well hold down the fifth spot in New Hampshire but just as easily could be in the bullpen.
Conor Fisk nears his 26th birthday but he's steadily moved up the ladder since being drafted in the 24th round in 2014. He was a workhorse for the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2017 and there's no reason he shouldn't move up to double-A but he could wind up in the bullpen.
Jose Fernandez has impressed with his mid-to-high 90s fastball but isn't always able to find his consistent command. He's walked two in three innings in big league spring training and walked 26 in 46 1/3 innings in New Hampshire last year. If he finds the command, the lefty could have some helium once the season starts.
Dusty Isaacs, 26, is one of the underrated relief pitchers in the Jays' system as he logged 61 2/3 innings last year with the Fisher Cats, striking out 76 and walking 28. He reminds me a bit of Danny Barnes but he doesn't quite throw as hard. I think he's going to be one of the pitchers who gets stuck starting the year in New Hampshire because of the crowding in Buffalo.
Jackson McClelland had a dominant season, moving up from low-A Lansing to Dunedin last year. Throwing in the mid-to-high 90s, McClelland is looking to move up to New Hampshire in his Age-23 season.
Zach Jackson is another reliever who moved through two levels last year, making stops at Lansing and Dunedin and dominating hitters with his devastating curveball, striking out 68 in 51 innings. He did walk 26 batters but should be ready to move up a level as a 23-year-old.
Richmond, B.C., native Tom Robson, 24, got his feet wet in New Hampshire last year but only made two appearances there. After struggling with command since returning from Tommy John surgery, Robson got back on track in 2017 pitching with the Dunedin Blue Jays, striking out 30 and walking 11 in 34 2/3 innings.
Shane Dawson, a 24-year-old lefty from Drayton Valley, Alta., will likely be among a group of lefties with a lot of potential in New Hampshire. After starting the season in the rotation, Dawson will likely pitch out of the bullpen in 2018.
Alonzo Gonzalez is another lefty who struggled in New Hampshire, walking 23 in 33 2/3 innings after pitching much better in Dunedin. Still, at the age of 26, he's got to rebound in a big way this year, starting in New Hampshire.
Danny Young split his season almost equally between Dunedin and New Hampshire, striking out 27 in 30 1/3 innings in Dunedin while striking out 23 in 32 2/3 innings in New Hampshire. He had a rough time in the Arizona Fall League (16.43 ERA in 7 2/3 innings), but he looks to improve on his strong season in 2018.
Matt Tracy, 29, was signed by the Jays in the offseason and the lefty has some time in the major leagues which the Yankees in 2015 (one game) but he's spent a lot of time in double-A with three different organizations and was solid there in the Twins' organization last year. He could also pitch out of the rotation.
On the Bubble
Drew Muren, 29, was picked up in the minor league phase of the 2017 Rule 5 draft and has a fairly fresh arm after converting to pitching after 2015. He's reached triple-A with the Arizona and San Francisco organization last year and struck out 27 in 23 innings with the double-A Jackson Generals. I think the Jays will put him in double-A to start the year but they may hold him back in Dunedin.
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