By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away
The Buffalo Bisons started 2017 on a tear, giving us fans cause to think that it was going to be a great season for the Jays' top farm club. Two home runs by a young slugger and a win on Opening Day (which was delayed a couple of days because of weather) gave us hope, but as the season went on, troubles in Toronto pillaged the Bisons' roster, leading to a decline.
The Buffalo Bisons finished the season with a 65-76 record, 21 games back of the first place Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in the North Division of the International League. Bobby Meacham, moving up from the Jays' double-A affiliate, managed the team to a record seven games below their Pythagorean record of 72-69. The Bisons' offence was the third worst in the league, averaging 3.86 runs per game (below the average of 4.24 r/g) with a club that was 0.3 years younger than average. On the pitching side, the Bisons were a little older than average (actually, they were the oldest pitching staff in the league at 28.1 years old) and allowed the fifth-fewest runs per game at 3.79.
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion
For those of you who followed the minor league reports here, you’ll know that I “awarded” Player of the Game (PotG) accolades on a game-by-game basis. It should comfort you to know that I’ve been keeping track of these daily awards and my rationale for the system is as follows.
The Player of the Game Awards were determined by a number of factors that included who I thought had the most impact on the game and who might have gone “above and beyond.” Most nights, there was just one Player of the Game. If there was, he earned one point. If I thought that either a) no one stood out enough to merit a single PotG, or b) two or more players were outstanding and deserved mention, I split the point up into two, three or four shares. If two players earned PotG mention, they each received 0.5 points and if three players earned mentions, they each received 0.33 points, etc. There were occasions that I felt that no one merited the award and therefore, I did not give out any points.
Jason Leblebijian 10.5
Roemon Fields 10
Dwight Smith, Jr. 9.5
Raffy Lopez 8.33
Christian Lopes 7.67
Mike Ohlman 7.17
Shane Opitz 6.17
Rowdy Tellez 6
Luis Santos 4.83
Gregorio Petit, Jake Elmore 4.67
Brett Oberholtzer, T.J. House 4.33
Teoscar Hernandez 3.83
Cesar Valdez 3.5
Ian Parmley 3.33
Michael Saunders, Jon Berti 3.17
Danny Jansen 2.67
Chris Rowley 2.5
Jeff Believeau 2.33
Jarrett Grube, Lucas Harrell 2
Mike Bolsinger 1.83
Chad Girodo 1.5
Mat Latos, Murphy Smith, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Borucki 1
Casey Lawrence 0.83
Darrell Ceciliani, Ezequiel Carrera, Andrew Guilotte, Joe Biagini, Nick Tepesch 0.5
Matt Dermody, Leonel Campos 0.33
It was a very close race for the Player of the Game Championship but Jason Leblebijian held off the other competitors after a strong opening surge to the season!
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
A career year in the minors got Raffy Lopez to the major leagues and what a year he had in the minors. Just in Buffalo alone, he hit 13 doubles, a triple and 12 home runs with a .293/.368/.551 slash line (added to the four home runs he hit in Double-A and four home runs in the big leagues). Aside from Lopez, there wasn't much offence to go around. Christian Lopes was the player with the best OPS over the course of the whole season at .751.
Honourable Mention: Christian Lopes, Mike Ohlman, Jason Leblebijian
Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
While the pitching was strong overall, it was Chris Rowley who really put himself on the map, dominating triple-A hitters with a 2.66 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 64 1/3 innings. Pitchers like Brett Oberholtzer and T.J. House were solid but couldn't claim to be as effective despite pitching twice as much.
Honourable Mention: Brett Oberholtzer, T.J. House
Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
When it came to the ability to dominate, it was Leonel Campos who was at the top of the list for our Reliever of the Year. Campos was tied for the team lead with nine saves, posting a 1.65 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 32 2/3 innings, striking out 39. Other solid competitors included Murphy Smith (who also made eight starts and logged 82 1/3 innings.
Honourable Mention: Murphy Smith, John Stilson, Matt Dermody, Chad Girodo
Like in years past, the Buffalo Bisons had a rotating door of starters coming through, hoping for a(nother) shot at the big leagues.
Twenty-eight-year-old lefty T.J. House was the leader on the Bisons in starts and innings pitched with 24 and 133 1/3, respectively. House recovered from a scary moment in spring training when he took a line drive off his head to post solid numbers for Buffalo and he got into two games for the Blue Jays.
House had a 4.32 ERA and 1.59 WHIP with the Bisons, striking out 17.9% and walking 10.0% and generating a 49.3% ground ball rate. House doesn't throw hard, averaging 88.5 mph on his fastball when he was with Toronto but he gets some nice sinking movement to it. Despite being a lefty, House only had marginally better stats against left-handed hitters than righties, with a .711 OPS against against lefties and an .817 OPS against versus righties. House was at his best in April, making four starts and posting a 1.64 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 22 innings, striking out 28 batters but May brought massive regression and he didn't have an ERA under 4.78 for any month until August when he had a 3.38 ERA and 1.45 WHIP. House was sent to Buffalo outright and is not on the 40-man roster meaning that he can elect free agency at the end of the World Series.
Veteran lefty Brett Oberholtzer, 28, gave House a run for his money in the games started and innings pitched categories with 24 starts and 131 innings. With a 4.12 ERA and 1.53 WHIP, Oberholtzer was a solid starter who gave the Bisons innings this year. He had a solid walk rate of 7.7% but only struck out 14.1% of batters while posting a 45.4% ground ball rate.
Oberholtzer, who touched 90 mph on a good day, also didn't have much of a difference between his splits against lefties and righties, with a .725 OPS against with lefties and a .799 OPS against with righties. With the exception of a horrible June (in which he had a 7.52 ERA and 2.13 WHIP in six starts), Oberholtzer was pretty consistent throughout the whole season. Oberholtzer is also likely to elect free agency at the end of the World Series as he looks for a chance to get back to the bigs.
Making 21 starts with the Bisons was 26-year-old righty Luis Santos. Since signing with the Blue Jays at the beginning of the 2015 season, Santos has mostly toiled in Dunedin and New Hampshire but got the chance to really show what he can after an early promotion to Buffalo. Installed in the Bisons' rotation, Santos put up some solid numbers with a 4.07 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, with a 21.7% strikeout rate and 9.8% walk rate over 108 1/3 innings.
Called up to Toronto in September, Santos made 10 big league appearances, throwing 16 2/3 innings with an excellent 2.70 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, walking just 5.9% of batters and striking out 23.5%. Santos is not a ground ball pitcher and did give up more home runs per fly ball in the majors than at any other level. I think Santos is going to be a nice depth arm for the Blue Jays in 2018, starting in Buffalo (where he could either start or relieve) but could be on the cusp of a call up at any point in the season.
Thirty-five-year-old righty Jarrett Grube is the definition of a journeyman whose journey to try to get back to the major leagues, where he has just 2/3 of an inning under his belt, continues. He made 11 starts for the Blue Jays, posting a 6.14 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over 55 2/3 innings, striking out 19.2% of batters and walking 8.6%. Grube was traded to Cleveland in June and he put up some better numbers for the Columbus Clippers with a 3.56 ERA and 1.29 WHIP over 78 1/3 innings.
Righty Cesar Valdez, 32, was another Buffalo starter who got a couple of cracks at the big leagues over the course of the season. After Valdez pitched in both triple-A (with some great success in 10 innings) and in the majors for Oakland (without any success at all), he was designated for assignment by the A's and the Blue Jays claimed him off waivers, sending him to Buffalo. Valdez was up and down with the Jays, posting a 3.23 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 61 1/3 innings with Buffalo, striking out 17.6% and walking just 4.8%.
With the Blue Jays, he struck out 16.7% and walked 7.3%, with an ERA of 6.75 and WHIP of 1.59 over 21 1/3 innings. Valdez went on the DL with right shoulder impingement in early August and was transferred to the 60-day DL in September. With the number of players for whom the Blue Jays might need to clear room on the 40-man roster this offseason, I sort of expect Valdez to be a casualty of the roster shuffle.
Chris Rowley was dominant in New Hampshire but really made his case for his big league call up while he was in Buffalo, baffling triple-A hitters as a starter. In NH, Rowley made 17 appearances but only started five games. In 52 innings, he had a 1.73 ERA and 0.81 WHIP, striking out 24.8% of batters and walking only 4.6%. Called up to Buffalo, he made 12 appearances, starting eight games and had a 2.66 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over 64 1/3 innings, seeing his strikeout rate drop to 17.1% and walking 6.3%.
Called up to the big leagues, Rowley had a memorable debut, earning a win in 5 1/3 innings and allowing a run on five hits and a walk with three strikeouts against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He walked five against the Tampa Bay Rays, giving up two runs in five innings in his next start and allowed four runs against the same Rays in 3 1/3 innings, giving up two home runs in his third start. He was sent back to Buffalo for another two games before being recalled for September where he worked three times, including taking the loss, pitching the 16th through 19th innings against the Red Sox on September 5 and allowing six runs against the Twins in one inning on the 17th. Overall, Rowley's big league line is not particularly impressive with a 6.75 ERA and 1.82 WHIP, striking out 12.4% and walking 11.2% in 18 2/3 innings. Rowley's best-case is to be more fine with his pitches, letting the movement take the ball out of the middle of the plate. He still needs to find a way to strike out more batters but if he finds a true out pitch, he could be effective as a starter. I think Rowley works as a swing man in Buffalo in 2018 to start.
Lucas Harrell, 32, joined the Blue Jays in the offseason but started the year on the DL. He worked his way back, getting a couple of appearances in Dunedin (allowing two runs over 6 1/3 innings) before joining the Buffalo Bisons where he made six starts (and seven appearances) with a 2.08 ERA and 1.32 WHIP over 30 1/3 innings. Harrell joined the Blue Jays in July, making four big league appearances, allowing five runs on 10 hits and four walks in 6 1/3 innings with six strikeouts before he was designated for assignment and sent to Buffalo outright. Harrell made three more appearances before going on the DL in early August for the rest of the season. Harrell elected free agency in early October.
Signed on a minor league contract with a couple of opt outs, veteran righty Mat Latos got a shot to pitch in spring training with the Blue Jays, posting a 6.75 ERA and 1.43 WHIP in 14 2/3 innings. Latos reported to Buffalo and pitched two games before he was recalled by the Blue Jays, making three starts including six shutout innings against the Cardinals in his second start. His next start, however, was at Yankee Stadium and he allowed seven runs on 10 hits including four home runs in just four innings and he was sent back to the minors outright. After four more outings with Buffalo, he was granted his release (likely due to the opt out in his contract), finishing his time in the organization with a 3.81 ERA and 1.54 WHIP with Buffalo and a 6.60 ERA and 1.80 WHIP with Toronto.
Joe Biagini made four starts in the minors as he was stretched out to be a member of the Jays' rotation. In those four starts, he had a 3.12 ERA and 1.10 WHIP, striking out 20.6% and walking 8.8% in 17 1/3 innings. With the Blue Jays, Biagini had a tendency towards inconsistency as a starter as could be seen as he wound the season down, allowing five runs in 3 2/3 innings on August 27 but no runs with 10 strikeouts in seven innings on September 1 and five runs in 3 1/3 innings on September 6 and just two runs in eight innings on September 12. He only lasted 1 1/3 innings against the Twins on September 17 and closed the season with two starts allowing three runs in five innings, both against the Yankees. Biagini isn't likely to spend too much time in the minors in 2018 but his ultimate role, whether it's as a starter or a reliever, is currently undecided.
Casey Lawrence was signed by the Blue Jays as a minor league free agent and acquitted himself well in spring training, tossing 16 1/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. Lawrence was slated to be the Opening Day starter for the Buffalo Bisons but he was recalled by the Blue Jays and pitched against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 8 and then again on April 9. He was sent back to Buffalo for two outings and returned to Toronto for another two, making two starts and giving up five runs and six runs against the Angels and Cardinals respectively. Lawrence was designated for assignment in May and selected by the Mariners where he split his time between the Mariners and the triple-A Tacoma Rainiers. He had a 4.08 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in Tacoma and a 5.57 ERA and 1.67 WHIP over 42 innings with Seattle.
Nick Tepesch started the season with the Minnesota Twins' organization, working as a starter for three games with triple-A Rochester before getting a chance to start in the majors, getting through 1 2/3 innings and giving up seven runs (just one earned) in 1 2/3 innings. He made three more appearances in Rochester before getting hurt and starting a rehab outing in the GCL in late June. The Blue Jays traded for Tepesch, sending cash to the Twins and he made three outings with Buffalo before coming up to the major leagues for three starts before one more outing in Buffalo before the end of the year. In Buffalo, Tepesch had a 2.00 ERA in 18 innings with just one walk and 14 strikeouts but with Toronto, he had a 5.14 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 14 innings. Tepesch has declared free agency.
Signed by the Blue Jays late in the season after he was released by the Cubs, Brett Anderson made two starts in Buffalo, allowing one run in 9 2/3 innings before he was recalled by the Blue Jays, finishing the season with a 5.13 ERA and 1.44 WHIP over 33 1/3 innings, striking out 22 and walking nine. He'll be a free agent following the season.
Francisco Liriano, traded to the Houston Astros at the trade deadline, made one start with Buffalo, giving up three runs (two earned) in 4 1/3 innings with seven strikeouts and two walks.
The Buffalo Bisons' relief corps was, for the first time in a while, full of home-grown relievers who had varying degrees of success, with a couple of veteran arms added in to bolster the ranks.
The most-used pitcher on the Bisons was none other than Wil Browning. Browning, 29, has risen to the second highest level of the game in North America, despite having been a non-drafted free agent. The sidearming righty tossed 57 2/3 innings with the Bisons over 39 appearances but struggled for the first time in a long time in his career, his ERA sitting a 6.55 and WHIP at 1.86 as he walked 12.8% and struck out 20.3%. While he got a decent ground ball rate (42.7%), he also had a very high BABIP at .367, likely caused by a very high line-drive rate (25.3%) but luck may have had something to do with it too. Browning had almost as high of an OPS against with right-handed hitters (.808) as with lefties (.887). Browning should be back in Buffalo to try to get some regression out of those numbers to continue his quest for The Show.
Thirty-year-old righty Murphy Smith was probably one of the Bisons' most reliable and versatile pitchers. Making 37 appearances with the Bisons (after coming into two games for the Fisher Cats in early April), including eight starts, Smith tossed 82 1/3 innings with a 3.50 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, striking out 15.4% and walking only 5.2%. While he doesn't throw particularly hard (topping out around 93 mph), Smith was able to come through for manager Bobby Meacham in any role he was needed, with a 4.09 ERA and 1.18 WHIP as a starter and 3.42 ERA and 1.21 WHIP as a reliever. Smith was signed by the Blue Jays after he was released by the Rangers in 2015 and re-signed with the Blue Jays after electing free agency last fall. He may be able to do so again this year, depending on whether his current contract had a team option for 2018.
John Stilson, 27, has had a rough go since he was drafted in the third round in 2011, mostly due to injuries but the 6-foot-3 righty from Texas had a very solid season, earning the Bisons' Comeback Player of the Year award. Stilson started the year in Buffalo and made 15 appearances there with good success before he was sent to New Hampshire for four appearances before returning to the Bisons in mid-June to stay for the rest of the year. In his four outings in double-A, he had a 3.60 ERA and 1.20 WHIP with five strikeouts and two walks in five innings while posting a 3.14 ERA and 1.25 WHIP over 48 2/3 innings in Buffalo, striking out 22.1% and walking 9.6%. Stilson is not a ground ball pitcher and had a fairly high line-drive rate against (22.2%) but he was generally very effective.
Stilson did go on the DL a couple of times this season, missing most of September. Stilson has pitched for six years in the Jays' system but may have one more year on his contract; he signed his contract in August of 2011 but didn't pitch that year and therefore I'm not entirely sure if 2011 counts as the first year of his professional contract or not. We'll see this month or next if he can declare free agency. Otherwise, I'd expect him back in Buffalo in 2018.
Lefty Matt Dermody got to the majors in his second consecutive season, getting into 23 games at the big league level while also appearing in 33 in Buffalo. For the Bisons, Dermody, 27, had a 3.56 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, a 21.0% strikeout rate and 5.9% walk rate over 43 innings. In the majors, he actually didn't fall off too much, with a 4.43 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 15.8% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate. Dermody averaged a pretty solid 92.1 mph on his fastball and was much more effective against lefties than righties, allowing a .208 wOBA against lefties in the major leagues while a .459 wOBA against righties, including a pretty brutal .739 slugging percentage against righties (including six home runs out of 51 batters). If Dermody can figure out how to get righties out, he could be a very effective multi-use reliever in the majors. If he can't, he's still an effective LOOGY. He'll probably be up and down with the big club in 2018.
After getting a big league shot in 2016, Chad Girodo was designated for assignment and sent outright to the minors in the offseason. The 2013 ninth-round draft pick had a very strong season in Buffalo that was only marred by an injury that caused him to miss the end of June and all of July. Girodo pitched in 30 games for the Bisons, making one start, and finishing with a 3.02 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over 48 2/3 innings, striking out 16.5% of batters and walking 8.0% and getting 49.3% of his batted balls on the ground. Look for Girodo to return to Buffalo for 2018.
Another lefty, Jeff Beliveau, got himself back to the major leagues in 2017. Beliveau, 30, started strong with the Bisons, putting up a 3.09 ERA and had a .544 OPS against in 32 innings with Buffalo, in 17 games and 32 innings before he was called up by the Blue Jays. In about a month and a half with Toronto, Beliveau struggled to a 7.47 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, despite a solid 24.3% strikeout rate and 8.6% walk rate. He was clearly better against lefthanded hitters than righties, with a .579 OPS against for lefties and .770 for righties. Over the course of the season, his 29.0% strikeout rate and 12.6% walk rate in Buffalo were very strong (although the walk rate could have been lower) while his 3.04 ERA and 1.19 WHIP were excellent. Beliveau was designated for assignment and sent outright to Buffalo and he'll have a chance to become a free agent this offseason.
Twenty-nine-year-old righty Chris Smith was called up to the Blue Jays last September but didn't pitch in the major leagues. He reported to Buffalo in April and made just one appearance before going down with an injury, resurfacing in Dunedin for a rehab outing in mid-May. He rejoined the Bisons quickly and was very good, but still was getting hit on occasion. He was recalled by the Blue Jays at the end of June, making his big league debut on June 27 with a scoreless inning against the Baltimore Orioles. Heading back to Buffalo, he spent a few weeks in the minors before coming back up to Toronto for three appearances, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings before getting tagged for three runs in 1 2/3 innings against the Angels on July 28. He was optioned the next day and recalled on August 10 but was designated for assignment before he got to pitch again. After clearing waivers, he was sent to Buffalo outright and finished the season there. Overall, Smith had a 4.46 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 34 1/3 innings with the Bisons, striking out 16.7% of batters and walking just 4.2%. Smith struck out only 4.4% of batters in the majors and gave up 57.1% of batted balls on fly balls, a figure that is much too high to be good for him. Smith may be eligible for free agency in the fall, so he may or may not be back.
Righty Leonel Campos, 30, had an eventful season with the Blue Jays, splitting his time between Toronto and Buffalo after being claimed on waivers from the San Diego Padres. Four days after the waiver claim, he was designated for assignment and sent to Buffalo outright, only to be recalled on April 22 after five outings with Buffalo. After one game with Toronto, he was optioned to Buffalo, the first of seven times he was optioned. On the whole, Campos threw 32 2/3 innings with the Bisons, pitching to a 1.65 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, striking out 29.6% of batters and walking 10.6%. With the Blue Jays, he had a 2.63 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, walking 13.3% and striking out 25.0% in 13 2/3 innings. Campos is on the 40-man roster and is now out of options. He'll probably end up on waivers at some point unless he can earn a clear bullpen spot in spring training.
Mike Bolsinger had an up-and-down season, spending about two months with the Blue Jays (spread over two different stints) and three with the Buffalo Bisons. The 29-year-old righty started with Buffalo and was outstanding in the minors, posting a 1.70 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP over 47 2/3 innings with a 23.3% strikeout rate and just a 4.4% walk rate. With the Blue Jays, however, Bolsinger threw 41 1/3 innings with a 6.31 ERA and 1.81 WHIP, striking out 19.9% and walking a whopping 13.8%. Bolsinger was sent outright to Buffalo after clearing waivers at the beginning of August and was not promoted for September. Bolsinger elected free agency at the beginning of October.
Lefty J.P. Howell was signed by the Blue Jays in the offseason to be a bullpen lefty but he wasn't all that effective when he was healthy. As a result, the Blue Jays extended his rehab in the minors, where he had a 6.43 ERA and 1.71 WHIP over seven innings with the Bisons, striking out six and walking three. In the majors, he had a 7.36 ERA and 1.82 WHIP, walking seven and striking out six in 11 innings before he was released in August.
Righty Danny Barnes spent most of his season in Toronto after breaking into the big leagues with 13 2/3 innings in 2016. This year, however, he only pitched six innings with Buffalo, allowing two runs on six hits with eight strikeouts and no walks. Called up to the major leagues, Barnes was very good, with a 3.55 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, striking out 23.4% and walking 9.1% with a fastball that averaged 92 mph, a slider and a changeup. Oh, and he's probably smarter than you, having gone to Princeton before getting drafted in the 35th round of the 2010 draft. Barnes is on the 40-man roster and is likely to figure into the Blue Jays' bullpen plans for 2018.
Taylor Cole, 28, had a rough season thanks to injuries. He pitched in three games with the GCL Blue Jays, allowing two hits and a walk with six strikeouts in four innings and moved up to Dunedin, tossing in two games, pitching three innings and giving up four hits with three strikeouts. Moved to Buffalo where he pitched out of the bullpen, Cole pitched 5 2/3 innings without giving up a hit, walking only one and striking out seven. Cole got a chance to pitch in Toronto, allowing four runs on six hits with a hit batter and a walk, striking out one in just one inning before he broke his toe and went on the DL. He was released, re-signed on a minor league contract and promoted to Toronto in September (though he didn't pitch again before the end of the season). Now on the 40-man roster, I have a feeling that Cole's roster spot is tenuous heading into an offseason where the Jays might need that spot for some other players who will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
Dominic Leone, 25, made himself an integral part of the Blue Jays' bullpen this season, logging 70 1/3 innings in the majors. Claimed off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason, Leone started the season getting optioned to Buffalo. He never did pitch for the Bisons, coming back to Toronto and making his Blue Jays debut on April 7. Over the course of the season, Leone made 65 appearances with a 2.56 ERA and 1.05 WHIP, striking out 29.0% of the batters he faced while walking 8.2%. In Buffalo, he made four appearances over the course of the season, allowing two runs on four hits with one walk and four strikeouts. Leone is also on the 40-man roster and will likely be looking to secure a spot in the bullpen in the spring.
Homegrown players were starting to filter up to the Buffalo Bisons at the beginning of the year and that trend continued as the 2017 season went on. Still, there was a healthy mix of major and minor league veterans on the Bisons with mixed results.
Raffy Lopez didn't just have a career year and forced himself into a major league job backing up Russell Martin (and taking over down the stretch when Martin was on the DL), but he took a huge step in his power game. Recently turned 30 years old, Lopez actually started his season in New Hampshire, rocking the Eastern League by hitting .262/.380/.619 with a double, a triple and four home runs in 14 games over a month before he moved up to Buffalo.
In 59 games with the Bisons, he continued to slug his way to a career-high of 20 home runs (overall) with a .293/.368/.551 slash line, hitting 13 doubles, a triple and 12 home runs, walking in 9.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in 20.6%. In the major leagues, he played in 24 games, hitting .222/.306/.463 with another four home runs (to give him 20 on the year) but he struck out in a third of his plate appearances. While he threw out 27% of potential base stealers in Buffalo, he only threw out one of 16 in Toronto. Next year is going to be an interesting one for the Jays and their catchers. With Max Pentecost, Reese McGuire and Danny Jansen possibly needing to be protected from the Rule 5 draft (my money has the Jays protecting McGuire and Jansen) and Lopez and Luke Maile both on the 40-man roster (Miguel Montero is a free agent after the season), there is probably going to be some kind of upheaval with catchers this offseason.
At 6-foot-5, Mike Ohlman is a big boy and the former 11th-round pick (by the Baltimore Orioles in 2009) signed with the Blue Jays as a minor league free agent in the offseason. Over the course of 90 games with the Bisons, Ohlman hit .216/.334/.401 with 16 doubles and 12 home runs while also hitting .231/.231/.231 in seven games with the Blue Jays, making his big league debut. Ohlman struck out in 34.6% of his plate appearances with the Bisons but also walked in 14.5%. He elected free agency following the season.
A quartet of backstops caught a few games with the Bisons including Luke Maile (.167/.224/.167 in 16 games while rehabbing), Juan Graterol (.429/.429/.429 in four games), and Miguel Montero was 0/3 in one game (but hit .138/.248/.241 with the Blue Jays). Jarrod Saltalamacchia was just awful both with Toronto and Buffalo, hitting .162/.271/.243 with the Bisons and .040/.077/.040 with one hit in 26 plate appearances and striking out 16 times with the Blue Jays.
It was supposed to be Rowdy time in Buffalo after the slugging first baseman had come off an excellent season (with an excellent finish) in double-A New Hampshire last year, posting a .917 OPS. While he started the season with a bang, hitting two home runs in his first game with the Buffalo Bisons, Tellez struggled for much of the season, playing 122 games and coming to the plate 501 times while hitting .222/.295/.333. His strong walk rate of 9.4% helped his OBP reach near acceptable levels but his slugging was way down as he hit just six home runs with 29 doubles and a triple for an ISO of .110 (down from .233 in 2016).
While he hit underwhelmingly against righties (.251/.318/.378), he was very poor against lefties (.148/.235/.213, with just five extra-base hits). These splits are settingTellez up to be a second coming of Adam Lind, who struggled monumentally against lefties. The concern about Tellez is still there, but he's only 22 and already has a full season of triple-A baseball on his resume. Another reason for hope is the fact that Tellez hit .311/.388/.388 in August, showing some life after two months (June/July) in which he hit just .175. the downside is that Tellez did not hit a home run after June 22. Tellez will likely be back in Buffalo in 2018 but the Jays will have to make a decision on whether or not to protect him on the 40-man roster as he'll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year.
Twenty-seven-year-old infielder (and sometimes outfielder) Jon Berti led the club in games at second base and was among many Buffalo Bisons players who struggled with the bat this year. He hit just .205/.271/.321 with eight doubles, four triples and three home runs after returning from injury in late June. Berti did steal 23 bases in 27 attempts, showing that neither his speed nor his baserunning savvy were diminished by injury. Berti was in the final year of his initial contract, meaning that he'll have the opportunity to become a free agent if he chooses this offseason.
Infielder Jason Leblebijian played the most at third base (also getting significant playing time at second) and the 26-year-old former 25th-round draft pick started out gangbusters. In April, he hit .333/.440/.587 while hitting .286/.340/.490 in May but after that strong start, he petered out, hitting just .229/.288/.331 the rest of the way (despite having a four-hit game on September 2). Leblebijian's final numbers had him putting up a .729 OPS, hitting .258/.323/.405 with 22 doubles, four triples and 11 home runs, with a 7.4% walk rate and 26.2% strikeout rate (right in line with his career numbers above the class-A Advanced level). His overall production was decent enough, to be sure, although opponents may have gotten the scouting report out after the first couple of months of the year. He should have another year on his initial contract, and as a flexible, and above-average, defensive player, he should have a chance to make another adjustment and play regularly for Buffalo in 2018.
Shortstop Gregorio Petit, 32, was a productive member of the Bisons' infield for most of the season, but particularly towards the end of the year when anyone around the club would argue that he was one of the only offensive players hitting the ball with authority. Petit's season was marred by injury as he missed about a month and a half. Petit hit very well in his first seven games up until April 21 but then was down until mid-June when he began a three-game rehab stint in the Florida State League before rejoining the Bisons on June 13. Overall, Petit hit .253/.275/.370 in 73 games with the Bisons, hitting 19 doubles, a triple and four home runs, walking in just 3.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in 16.2%. The veteran has played in parts of five major league seasons, including 89 games with the Angels last year and likely will be able to elect free agency this offseason (although he has yet to do so).
Shane Opitz, 25, was an 11th-round draftee by the Blue Jays and played in 84 games with the Buffalo Bisons in a utility role in 2017. He hit .252/.306/.333 with 15 doubles, a triple and a home run, getting into games at all four infield positions in addition to left and right field. A left-handed hitter, Opitz walked in 6.6% of his plate appearances, striking out in just 13.5% with a .081 ISO that is fairly consistent with his career numbers. Opitz tends to hit a lot of balls on the ground and not so many in the air, making him not much of a home run threat. Opitz may be a free agent this year, after having been drafted in 2010, having played in the Blue Jays' system for eight seasons now.
Christian Lopes, 25, played in 92 games for the Buffalo Bisons despite missing some time due to injury. Lopes, the older brother of Tim Lopes, who played in New Hampshire this year, had a solid offensive line, hitting .261/.349/.402 with 25 doubles, two triples and six home runs while also hitting well in four games the he spent rehabbing with the GCL Blue Jays and the Dunedin Blue Jays. Despite a lower batting average, Lopes improved in almost all categories over his solid 2016 in New Hampshire. He walked at an 11.2% rate (up from 7.3%) while striking out at a 13.5% rate (down from 15.8%) and also improving his power numbers, with a .141 ISO (up from .106) while his BABIP dropped almost 60 points. Lopes also added 18 stolen bases for the Bisons, making him one of the more productive hitters on the squad. With such a season behind him, Lopes can be expected to be back in Buffalo in 2018.
Big league veteran Jake Elmore, 30, was signed to be a utility man in Buffalo. He played in 94 games for the Herd, playing second base, third base, left field, right field and shortstop while hitting .231/.321/.273 with six doubles, two triples and a home run before he was traded to the Miami Marlins in August.
Jonathan Diaz continued his baseball travels, back with the Blue Jays' organization to start 2017. He played in five games with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, hitting .273/.556/.545 with a home run in 11 at bats and hit .182/.348/.239 for the Bisons in 88 at bats before being traded to the Yankees and finishing the season with their triple-A affiliate.
Several players played a limited number of games with the Bisons on the infield. One was Rob Refsnyder, 26, who hit well in a four-game trial with the Bisons before hitting .196/.281/.216 in the majors. Chris Coghlan spent seven games in Buffalo, hitting .217/.357/.304 with a pair of doubles while also hitting .500 in four games with Dunedin. Ty Kelly was claimed by the Blue Jays in April off of waivers and played in two games in Buffalo, going 2/8 with a double before moving up to Toronto where he didn't get into any games. He was traded to the Phillies for cash and he got into 69 games in Philadelphia, hitting .191/.257/.337 and has become a free agent after being sent outright to the minors.
Lefthanded hitting 24-year-old outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. parlayed another solid season into a big league debut after being selected in the supplemental round in the 2011 draft. Smith hit .273/.350/.392 in 108 games in Buffalo, playing mostly right field while walking in 10.5% of his plate appearances and striking out in only 15.8%. He made his big league debut on May 18 and was back in Buffalo after two games (only to return to Toronto for another game on May 24) while also playing in a bunch of games in June but, conspicuously, was not recalled in September despite a .370/.414/.444 slash line in the big leagues with 10 hits in 27 at bats including two doubles. Looking deeper into his Toronto numbers, however, show that he may have been a bit overmatched in his small sample size, striking out in 34.5% of plate appearances and walking in just 3.4%. Smith will be in tough to play in Toronto for any length of time in 2018. At the time of this writing, I surmise that Steve Pearce, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera, Teoscar Hernandez, Dalton Pompey and Anthony Alford may all be ahead of him on the depth chart. Still, Smith is on the 40-man roster and will likely return to Buffalo in 2018.
Speedy outfielder Roemon Fields, 26, must have been disappointed to have started his season back in New Hampshire. After reaching triple-A for six games in 2015, Fields played only in double-A in 2016, with some weak numbers. After 16 games in New Hampshire, despite a .237/.274/.305 slash line (with seven stolen bases), Fields was promoted to Buffalo where he proceeded to put up the best numbers of his professional career, hitting. 291/.355/.352 with 11 doubles, five triples and 43 stolen bases (in 57 attempts), setting a modern-era, single-season stolen base record with the Bisons. Fields had a very solid 8.2% walk rate while striking out in 16.8% of his at bats. The outfield in Buffalo may be crowded next year, relegating Fields to a back-up role but he's shown that he can handle centre field and can be a terror on the bases.
Ian Parmley, 27, was selected by the Blue Jays in the seventh round of the 2012 draft and was finally rewarded for one of his best seasons with a taste of the big leagues. Parmley exploded in the month of May, hitting .325/.373/.442 over 24 games and hit .260/.306/.321 over 79 games with Buffalo over the course of the season, missing almost all of August with an injury. Parmley walked in 5.6% of his plate appearances and struck out in 22.0%. In late June, Parmley played three games with Toronto, going 0/3 in his chances at the plate and was sent to Buffalo outright. He should be around in Buffalo as a fourth outfielder, but I wouldn't rule out a stint in New Hampshire if things get a little crowded in the Bisons' outfield.
Teoscar Hernandez, acquired by the Blue Jays at the July 31 trade deadline started off his time in Buffalo on the chilly side. Hernandez, 24, had hit .279/.369/.485 with the Fresno Grizzlies, the top farm club of the Houston Astros before the trade but, in his first 10 games with the Bisons, had just three hits (including two doubles) in 34 at bats. Following that rough start to his Bisons career, he went 19/65 (.292) with an incredible .692 slugging percentage (four doubles, two triples and six home runs) in the next 16 games before rosters expanded and he made his Toronto debut. With the Blue Jays, Hernandez hit .261/.305/.602, hitting six doubles and eight home runs and giving the Blue Jays fans hope for an heir apparent to Jose Bautista while giving some of us pause by striking out in 37.9 of his 95 plate appearances. There's likely a lot of power potential for Hernandez to come but he may have to figure out how to lay off pitches to be his most successful self in the major leagues. I wouldn't rule out at least one trip to the minors for the young outfielder.
After signing a free-agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason, former Blue Jay Michael Saunders, 30, played poorly enough to get himself designated for assignment with a .205/.257/.360 slash line over 61 games. After being released by the Phillies, Saunders signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays at the end of June and joined the Bisons, hitting .224/.289/.342 before going on the DL. Returning from the DL after missing about 10 days, Saunders found his form, hitting .329/.356/.471 with five doubles, a triple and a home run in 16 games before getting called up to Toronto for September. With the Blue Jays, Saunders hit just .167/.250/.167 in 12 games. While he's still on the Blue Jays' 40-man roster, Saunders will be a free agent after the end of the season and it's doubtful that he'll be signed back with the Blue Jays.
Twenty-seven-year-old Darrell Ceciliani struggled with his bat in 2017 but struggled even more with injuries as he only got into 31 games all season at three levels. Ceciliani started his season with Buffalo, playing 21 games before getting a promotion to Toronto. In his third game, playing against the Atlanta Braves on the road, Ceciliani went 2-for-2 with a double and a home run but also injured his shoulder, only coming back in July for six games with Dunedin and one with Buffalo before re-injuring it and having surgery to end the season. Ceciliani hit .156/.198/.169 with the Bisons but slugged his way to a .389/.450/.444 slash line in six games wtih Dunedin and went 2/5 with the Blue Jays. Ceciliani is on the 60-day DL, meaning that if he's going to return to the Jays' 40-man roster, someone will have to go to make room for him.
Steve Pearce also played a couple of games in Buffalo, going 2/7 with five strikeouts and a walk.
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The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is now available! Check out the Handbook page for more information!