By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away
It's that time of year that we begin our reports summarizing the season for the Blue Jays' minor league affiliates. We continue our reports with the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
If you're new to Blue Jays from Away, we summarize all eight of the Blue Jays' minor league teams in four parts: The Blue Jays from Away Awards, Starting Pitchers, Relief Pitchers and Position Players. Players are discussed with the team that they spent the most time with (by innings pitched for pitchers and at bats for batters).
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats had a tremendous season that was only half-fueled by Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.). Under first-year manager John Schneider, the Fisher Cats finished 76-62, good for second place in the Eastern Division, two games back of the Trenton Thunder for a playoff spot. The Fisher Cats dominated the league offensively, finishing with 5.08 runs scored per game, tops in the league and that's with an average age of player that was 0.5 years below league average. The pitching was a little more mediocre, finishing with 4.53 runs allowed per game, a little more than the 4.42 r/g league average with a staff that was 0.1 years younger than the league average at 24.3 years old.
When the playoffs came, the Fisher Cats swept the Trenton Thunder in the postseason despite Guerrero having finished his season in triple-A Buffalo. The Fisher Cats also went on to sweep the Akron Rubberducks three games to none to win the Eastern League Championship in a sweep of the playoffs.
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.” Many 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.
Here are the leaders for Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats:
Harold Ramirez 16
Cavan Biggio 15.67
Bo Bichette 14.67
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 12.5
Jon Berti 8.83
T.J. Zeuch 8
Jonathan Davis 7.83
Jordan Romano 7
Juan Kelly 6.33
Max Pentecost 5.5
Gunnar Heidt 5
Jon Harris 4.83
Connor Panas 3.83
I'm sure you'd have the immediate reaction that Vlad would be the Blue Jays from Away Player of the Game Champion, but no! It was Harold Ramirez, who had a tremendous season, pulling it out at the wire with a 0.33-point victory over Cavan Biggio! Congrats Harold!
Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year
While the fact that Harold Ramirez had a strong season and played the whole year allowed him to win the Player of the Game Championship, we'll recognize the unbelievable season that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had with the Fisher Cats, dominating the stat sheet and the league despite playing just 61 games. His .402/.449/.671 slash line is pretty ridiculous when you think of it. Congrats Vlad!
Honourable Mention: Cavan Biggio, Harold Ramirez, Jonathan Davis
Blue Jays from Away Pitcher of the Year
Several pitchers were in the running for this award but it was T.J. Zeuch who was most consistent in his strong outings. While his strikeout numbers may not have been as high as some other pitchers on the club, his 120 innings with a 3.08 ERA and 1.26 WHIP were strong and he only walked 31 batters with the Fisher Cats. Canadian Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) was the first runner up, logging more innings (137 1/3) while going 11-8 with a 4.13 ERA and 1.19 WHIP and 125 strikeouts.
Honourable Mention: Jordan Romano, Sean Reid-Foley
Blue Jays from Away Reliever of the Year
The Fisher Cats had a plethora of strong relievers including Zach Jackson and Jose Fernandez but the clear winner of the Reliever of the Year is Travis Bergen who tossed 35 2/3 innings with a 0.50 ERA, walking nine and striking out 43 after moving up from Dunedin. Justin Shafer pitched well in 13 outings before moving up to Buffalo (and Toronto).
Honourable Mention: Zach Jackson, Jose Fernandez, Justin Shafer
We're going to start our more in-depth look at the New Hampshire Fisher Cats by looking at starting pitchers. We're going to include anyone who made 50% of his appearances as a starter, or logged enough innings to gain consideration. If a player played for more than one team over the course of the season, he'll be grouped according to the club he played the most with.
We begin with the pitchers who made the most starts and work our way downwards from there.
25-year-old righty Jon Harris led the Fisher Cats with 25 starts and the 2015 1st-round pick of the Blue Jays went 12-5 with the championship Fisher Cats, posting a 4.75 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in his 136 1/3 innings. Harris struck out 17.2% of batters while walking only 5.4%, but the strike thrower got a lot of fly balls (more than ground balls) while giving up a lot of home runs (1.4 HR/9). Harris did show enough to get a couple of starts in Buffalo, allowing four earned runs on 14 hits and one walk in 12 innings with nine strikeouts, going 1-1 in a Bisons uniform. Harris made one postseason start, going 6 1/3 innings and giving up a run on five hits with seven strikeouts. Harris should move up to Buffalo for his Age-25 season (he just turned 25 this month) and he has the tools for success and can pitch effectively if he keeps the ball in the yard.
Throwing 137 1/3 innings for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats was 25-year-old Jordan Romano. The Markham, Ontario-born righty made the jump to double-A very effectively and had some strong numbers in the first half of the season. Romano won his first eight decisions with the Fisher Cats (and then won his only outing with the Buffalo Bisons) before coming back to earth and not picking up another win until late July. Through April and May with the Fisher Cats, Romano had a 2.04 ERA and allowed just a .506 OPS against in his first eight Fisher Cats wins but after returning to the Fisher Cats from Buffalo, he had a 5.96 ERA and a .758 OPS against in those next eight starts before he notched his next win. Romano was more good than bad for the last part of the season and when the dust settled, he had a 4.13 ERA and 1.19 WHIP for the Fisher Cats, striking out 21.9% of batters and walking 7.2%. He got a win in Buffalo, throwing five innings and giving up two runs but he also walked four and struck out three. After a rough final start to the regular season, giving up eight runs in four innings, Romano had a strong postseason, making two starts and giving up three earned runs in 10 innings, striking out seven and walking only one. Look for Romano in Triple-A in 2019.
The 6-foot-7 former first-round pick of the Blue Jays (in 2016), T.J. Zeuch, got himself out of A-ball early after a strong performance with the Dunedin club. In six starts with the Dunedin Blue Jays, Zeuch had a 3.47 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 36 1/3 innings, striking out 16.2% and walking 6.1% while getting an incredible 62.2% ground ball rate. When he came up to New Hampshire, Zeuch didn't miss a step, posting a 3.08 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, striking out 16.1% of batters and walking 6.2% in 120 innings, getting a still excellent 55.2% ground ball rate. The big righty was stellar in the postseason, giving up just one run in 12 innings, striking out nine and walking five over two starts. Zeuch was a master of getting weak contact but had a tough time getting swings and misses and I think he will return to New Hampshire as a 23-year-old to polish up his breaking pitches.
Josh DeGraaf, 25, split his season between three teams, spending most of the year with New Hampshire. In seven starts with the Dunedin Blue Jays, he had a 4.08 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, striking out 19.8% of batters while walking only 5.8%. Promoted to New Hampshire, DeGraaf tossed 81 innings, mostly as a starter (starting 15 of his 19 appearances), with a 4.33 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, improving his strikeout rate to 22.4% while his walk rate rose just slightly to 6.7%. Making one start in Buffalo, DeGraaf lasted just 3 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
Francisco Rios, a 23-year-old Mexican righty, started out his season in the starting rotation for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats but struggled through eight starts until the middle of May when he went on the DL for two and a half months. Following his stint on the DL, Rios emerged in a bullpen role (after four appearances with the GCL Blue Jays) and finished his season back in New Hampshire, throwing multiple innings out of the bullpen. Overall, Rios had a 7.15 ERA and 1.74 WHIP, striking out 16.3% of batters but walking 11.8% in 39 innings. With the GCL Blue Jays, he was good, posting a 3.38 ERA in 5 1/3 innings, giving up just one hit (a home run) and two walks with two strikeouts. Rios showed much better stats as a reliever, putting up a 1.62 ERA and 0.60 WHIP with 11 strikeouts and just three walks in 16 2/3 innings. Rios has just one more year on his initial contract and will likely work out of the bullpen with a glut of starters coming up to the top two levels of the organization.
6-foot-4 righty Nick Tepesch, 30, pitched an almost equal amount between double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo, throwing 48 1/3 innings with New Hampshire, holding down a 5.21 ERA and 1.47 WHIP while striking out 14.2% of batters and walking 7.6%. With Buffalo, that strikeout rate dropped to 10.2% and he walked 6.6% but had a 1.73 WHIP and 7.90 ERA. Tepesch was traded to the Tigers for Cash on August 9 and pitched in four games with the Erie SeaWolves out of the bullpen before he was released.
25-year-old righty Justin Dillon made three different stops in the Blue Jays' organization in 2018 in his second season. Dillon started his season in Dunedin, making five appearances before he moved up to Buffalo on May 3, pitching 2 2/3 outstanding innings. He was then sent back to Dunedin for one outing and then moved up to Buffalo and started three games, striking out 10 in his first triple-A start and giving up just two earned runs over 20 innings. At the end of May, Dillon was sent to double-A where he remained for the rest of the season, making seven starts but finishing the season in the bullpen. Overall, Dillon had a stellar 0.79 ERA and 0.53 WHIP in triple-A Buffalo, striking out 19 and walking just two batters. In Dunedin, Dillon had a 4.43 ERA and 1.39 WHIP over 22 1/3 innings, striking out 17 and walking eight. With the Fisher Cats, Dillon tossed 50 innings, posting a 6.84 ERA and 1.64 WHIP, striking out only 9.7% of batters while walking 9.7%. Which Dillon will return in 2019? Where will he return? Both questions will be answered after the season starts.
The Blue Jays picked up 22-year-old righty Hector Perez from the Houston Astros in the trade that saw the Jays' closer go to Houston at the trade deadline. Perez, possibly the most intriguing prospect in the deal, showed flashes of why he was so highly coveted in 25 2/3 innings with the Fisher Cats. Perez started the season with Buies Creek in the Advanced-A Carolina League and posted a 3.84 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 72 2/3 innings with a 27.5% strikeout rate but an elevated 13.3% walk rate. Promoted to double-A Corpus Christi, Perez struck out 18 in 16 2/3 innings, allowing six runs and walking eight batters before he was traded to Toronto. With the Fisher Cats at the same level, Perez tossed 25 2/3 innings, striking out 29.4% of batters with a 14.7% walk rate while putting up a 3.86 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Perez saw some action in the postseason, giving up three runs in 3 1/3 innings, allowing six hits (including two home runs) while walking two and striking out three. Perez will likely return to double-A in 2019 where he will continue to get a chance to be a starter as he works on sharpening his command.
We move on to the relief pitchers for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, looking at pitchers who made most of their appearances out of the bullpen.
We begin with the pitchers who made the most appearances and work our way downwards from there. If a player played for more than one team over the course of the season, he'll be grouped according to the club he played the most with.
23-year-old Zach Jackson led the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in appearances with 43 while having a strong season at his highest level yet. Jackson, a curveball specialist who has always had control issues, threw 62 innings with a 2.90 ERA and 1.29 ERA and proved that he was tough to hit, allowing only 29 hits but walked 19.4% of the batters he faced, a career high. He also maintained his history of striking out a lot of batters, striking out 28.5% of batters. Jackson induced a lot of weak contact, getting an inordinate number of infield fly balls (31.4% of fly balls) and allowed just two home runs all season. Jackson is currently in the Arizona Fall League and will likely start 2019 back in New Hampshire, particularly if he has the same amount of trouble throwing strikes.
Lefty Danny Young, 24, spent the entire season with New Hampshire after splitting 2017 between Dunedin and New Hampshire. He threw 56 2/3 innings with a 4.13 ERA and 1.45 WHIP, striking out 19.4% of batters and walking 7.7%, both numbers are improvements on his 2017 half season with the Fisher Cats. Young got a ton of ground balls, getting 64.3% of his balls in play on the ground and he should be ready for Buffalo next year if there's room on the roster.
Canadian righty Andrew Case (Saint John, N.B.) had an up and down season, literally. The 25-year-old did make one appearance with the Buffalo Bisons at the end of the year, pitching three innings and giving up a run on two hits with one strikeout but other wise spent the year in New Hampshire seeing stretches of excellent pitching and other times he was hit hard. Case, in 46 innings, had a 5.09 ERA with a 1.57 WHIP and 16.1% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate and had a ground ball to fly ball rate of exactly 1.00. Look for Case to return to New Hampshire next year.
At 27, Dusty Isaacs was one of the older pitchers on the New Hampshire staff and he threw a lot, tossing 50 innings for the Fisher Cats with a 4.86 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, striking out a healthy 25.3% of his batters but his walk rate bloated to 14.5%, his highest of his career. Isaacs also added 10 innings in Buffalo, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on 15 hits and five walks with eight strikeouts. Look for Isaacs to be either in New Hampshire or Buffalo next year.
Lefty Kirby Snead started his season with the Dunedin Blue Jays and, in April, he was outstanding, posting a 1.08 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, striking out 12 and walking six in 8 1/3 innings. Promoted to New Hampshire, the now-24-year-old tossed 42 2/3 innings with a 4.43 ERA and 1.64 WHIP, striking out 19.0% of batters and walking 12.2%, seeing a fairly typical regression from the results he was getting in class-A Advanced Dunedin. Snead will likely return to New Hampshire next year.
While Kirby Snead had some trouble in double-A after his promotion, another lefty, Travis Bergen, was dominant both in Dunedin and in New Hampshire. Bergen, 25, has completed his recovery and finally got a full season of pitching in after three years in the Jays' system and he rewarded the club for their patience. Spending the first two months in Dunedin, Bergen had a 1.71 ERA in 21 innings, posting a 1.05 WHIP while striking out 36.9% of batters and walking 7.1%. If that wasn't good enough, he threw 35 2/3 innings in New Hampshire after his promotion and had a 0.50 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, striking out 29.3% and walking 6.1%. Interestingly enough, Bergen had reverse splits, allowing righties to post a .497 OPS against him while lefties had a .621 OPS. Look for Bergen to be in New Hampshire or Buffalo next year.
Making 23 appearances with the Fisher Cats was lefty Jose Fernandez. The hard-throwing Dominican finally put things together, rising from double-A (in his second stint with the Fisher Cats) to Buffalo and then to the major leagues. Fernandez spent half the season in New Hampshire, throwing 31 1/3 innings with a 3.45 ERA and 1.47 WHIP, striking out 24.1% of batters and walking a whopping 16.8%. He cut down the walks in Buffalo, walking only 6.7% with a 26.7% strikeout rate and 1.06 WHIP, lowering his ERA to 2.45. Promoted the majors in September, Fernandez struggled a bit, giving up seven runs in 10 1/3 innings with a 1.35 WHIP, striking out only 13.3% and walking 8.9%. He'll likely start 2019 in Buffalo.
The Blue Jays acquired 24-year-old righty Corey Copping from the Los Angeles Dodgers for John Axford at the trade deadline. Sent to double-A, Copping had already spent much of his season in double-A int he Texas League with the Dodgers' affiliate in Tulsa. There, Copping had a 2.53 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in 46 1/3 innings with the Drillers, striking out 55 and walking 24. He moved up to Triple-A and threw 7 1/3 innings with Oklahoma City, allowing two runs on nine hits and two walks with four strikeouts. Copping found his strikeout magic again with the Fisher Cats, fanning 32.8% of batters (20 strikeouts in 14 innings) with a 14.8% walk rate (his highest rate of the season), with a 1.93 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. Look for Copping back in New Hampshire next year although he'll get a serious look for Buffalo's roster if there's room.
Righty Drew Muren spent much of his season injured, making one appearances on May 27, giving up just a hit in one innings against the Hartford Yard Goats. He went back on the DL after that appearances and was ultimately released on August 7.
We turn to the hitters of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats to see who did what in 2018. We'll start with the catchers and go around the horn to the infield and then to the outfield.
25-year-old Max Pentecost was slowly putting himself back in prospect conversations with his solid season in 2018 with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, showing that, after multiple surgeries to his throwing arm, he could still catch. Pentecost hit .253/.283/.401 with 17 doubles, two triples and 10 home runs in 89 games for the Fisher Cats, walking in 4.1% of plate appearances and striking out in 24.2%. That said, Pentecost improved throughout the season, hitting just .202/.248/.309 in the first three months of the season, and .314/.327/.513 over the final two months, with 10 of his doubles and seven home runs in that span. Pentecost's slash line of .375/.381/.650 in August earned him the Eastern League Player of the Month award and gives us some hope for the future. Obviously, he's going to need to improve his OBP and take more walks. He also improved behind the plate and threw out 40% of potential base stealers. Pentecost did struggle in the playoffs, hitting .188/.278/.375 with a home run and four RBI in four games. Pentecost is eligible for the Rule 5 draft and after a solid finish might draw some interest from teams, making the decision the Blue Jays have to make about putting him on the 40-man roster a little more difficult. He will probably start 2019 in New Hampshire unless the Blue Jays decided to carry three catchers with Russell Martin (Montreal, Que.) also serving as a utility man.
After only getting into two games with the Fisher Cats in 2017, catcher Patrick Cantwell played in 40 matches, hitting a solid .276/.386/.433 with four doubles, two triples and four home runs. Cantwell's 11.6% walk rate was excellent and his 20.0% strikeout rate was just fine. Cantwell played in three postseason games, going 4/8 with two doubles. The 28-year-old threw out 30% of potential base stealers but his contract is likely up at the end of the season and it's unknown whether the Blue Jays will bring him back.
24-year-old catcher Ryan Hissey split the backup job with Cantwell and played 34 games for the Fisher Cats, hitting .173/.216/.255 with three doubles and two home runs in 110 at bats. Hissey walked in 5.1% of his plate appearances and struck out in 23.7% while throwing out 29% of base stealers. Look for him in a backup role somewhere in the mid-to-high minors next year.
24-year-old first baseman Juan Kelly's season was marred by injury as the 5-foot-10 Dominican played in only 87 games for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in what was likely his final year in his initial minor league contract. Kelly missed a week in April as well as parts of Jully and August in his season and never really got on track after an April that had him hit just .214 (albeit with a .340 OBP). When the season was over, Kelly hit .221/.317/.407 with 15 doubles and 13 home runs, showing a tremendous 12.0% walk rate but a rather high 26.6% (career-high) strikeout rate. Kelly also was hurt by his .268 BABIP. While his batting average was exactly the same from either side of the plate, the switch hitter showed better numbers in OBP (.340) and SLG (.418) from the left side of the plate as opposed to the right side (.247 OBP and .377 SLG). If he returns to the Blue Jays, I can see Kelly back in New Hampshire but he'll need to really break out in order to move up in someone's system.
Cavan Biggio led the Fisher Cats in home runs as well as the number of games played at second base. Biggio made some adjustments to his swing in the offseason and after an underwhelming full-season debut in 2017 with Dunedin, Biggio emerged in a big way, slugging his way to a Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star honour while also taking home the Eastern League Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. While he only saw a three-point bump in BABIP, Biggio improved his batting average by 19 points, his OBP by 46 points and his slugging percentage by 136 points, posting a .252/.388/.499 slash line with 23 doubles, five triples and 26 home runs in 563 plate appearances. His whopping 17.8% walk rate gave him the rare figure of 100 walks on the season (second only to Ryan Noda in the organization) while he struck out in 26.3% of his plate appearances, a number that was just 1.1% higher than in Advanced-A in 2017. Biggio performed very well in the playoffs, going 6/20 (.300) with six walks, a double, a home run and nine RBI in six games while also swiping three bases in three tries. Biggio has not only been playing second base but he's been working on his versatility, playing 22 games at first, 34 games at third and two in the outfield in addition to 68 at second. Biggio has been in the Arizona Fall League, getting some reps in the outfield especially and will likely be in Buffalo in 2019 at the age of 24.
Baseball America's Player of the Year was, of course, the Blue Jays' own Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who started in double-A New Hampshire and set the world on fire for a little over two months. After suffering a knee injury, Guerrero missed over a month of play from the beginning of June to mid-July and he played in four rehab games (three in the GCL and one in the FSL) before returning to New Hampshire for a victory lap of seven games before the inevitable promotion to Buffalo at the end of August. With the Fisher Cats, Vlad hit an uncanny .402/.449/.671, punishing the ball with impunity and and I got to see some first-hand heroics myself while visiting. Vlad hit 19 doubles, a triple and 14 home runs in Double-A while walking in 7.9% of plate appearances and striking out in only 10.2%. After his promotion to triple-A, Vlad cooled off a bit, hitting "only" .336/.414/.564 with seven more doubles and six home runs. Guerrero is also hitting well in the Arizona Fall League, posting a .393/.443/.508 slash line with seven doubles thus far. He'll start the season in Buffalo next year but will probably be the Blue Jays' everyday third baseman starting in late April.
Shortstop Bo Bichette struggled for the first time in his career, hitting double-A New Hampshire at the age of 20. Bichette's season went in waves, as he'd swing out of his shoes (and sometimes, socks) at times, missing badly on breaking balls out of the strike zone. That said, he never really slid off the map of decent numbers with his lowest monthly OPS being in July at .731. In August, he had his best OPS at .876 with 13 doubles and a home run and posting a .339 batting average. When it was all over, Bichette had a very respectable .286/.343/.453 slash line with a whopping 43 doubles (I believe setting a season record for the Fisher Cats), seven triples and 11 home runs while stealing 32 bases in 43 attempts. Bichette also showed improvement at shortstop, entrenching himself as a potential future big leaguer at the position. While Bichette was a non-factor in the 2017 Florida State League Playoffs, he had a big role to play in 2018 on the way to getting his second minor league championship ring, hitting .346/.393/.385 with a double and three stolen bases in six games. Bichette played in the Futures Game, was a mid- and post-season All-Star and continued to show signs of maturity. He was slated to play in the Arizona Fall League but begged off due to minor injuries. Look for him in Buffalo as just a 21-year-old in 2019.
Gunnar Heidt was a versatile and helpful player along the road to a championship for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. While he played 18 games for the Buffalo Bisons (four in July and 14 more in August), the Blue Jays sent him back to New Hampshire for the playoffs. Heidt had a rough start to the year posting just a .448 OPS with the Fisher Cats in 14 April games and that affected his full-season numbers as he had a .229/.297/.342 slash line with 16 doubles, two triples and four home runs in 320 plate appearances, walking in 8.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in 23.8%. He did hit much better with the Bisons, posting a .286/.357/.460 slash line with five doubles and two home runs in 70 plate appearances but he struck out in 38.6% of the time and had an unsustainable .471 BABIP. In the playoffs, Heidt hit just .143/.250/.143 in 21 at bats, striking out eight times with three walks and one stolen base. Heidt does offer positional versatility, playing first, second and third base as well as shortstop while also playing three games in the outfield. Look for Heidt back in New Hampshire to start 2019.
Jon Berti's patience finally paid off as he not only won a championship with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats but he got to play in the major leagues for the first time. Berti played four games with the Buffalo Bisons, going 2-for-8 before he was traded to the Cleveland Indians who assigned him to the Columbus Clippers where he hit .217/.333/.233 with just a double in 73 plate appearances. The Indians traded Berti back in June and, instead of going to Buffalo, Berti was sent to the Fisher Cats where he played 72 games becoming a team leader in the absence of Vlad and leading the club to the playoffs and beyond. Berti hit .314/.399/.498 with 13 doubles, seven triples and eight home runs while stealing 21 bases in 30 attempts before the season ended. Berti had a solid playoffs, hitting .261/.414/.304 with a double, six RBI and three stolen bases. Home in Michigan and thinking his season was over, he got a call telling him to get ready to join to the Blue Jays. His call to the bigs came on September 26 when he notched his first major league hit, going 1/3 and he played four more games, getting a hit in each (including a double and a triple with two RBI and a stolen base). Berti was designated for assignment following the season and was sent outright to the minors and he then elected free agency following the World Series. Could he be back next year? Certainly. I'm sure many organization have a spot for Berti on a young team who needs veteran leadership.
The Blue Jays acquired 23-year-old infielder Santiago Espinal in the trade for World Series-MVP Steve Pearce. Espinal hit .313/.363/.477 with the Salem Red Sox in the Advanced-A Carolina League, hitting 15 doubles, three triples and seven home runs with nine stolen bases. He was assigned to Dunedin and he had some solid numbers in 17 games, hitting .262/.333/.431 before moving up to New Hampshire where he hit .286/.354/.395 with nine doubles, two triples and a home run. Espinal's walk rate was better with the Jays and fairly stable at his two stops at 8.2% in Dunedin and 8.5% in New Hampshire while his strikeout rate was slightly higher than it was with the Red Sox but also fairly stable at 13.7% with the D-Jays and 13.4% with the Fisher Cats. Espinal was 4/19 (.211) in the playoffs. With so many young middle infielders in the Jays' system, it's unlikely that Espinal moves up to Buffalo to start 2019.
Andrew Guillotte led the Fisher Cats in games in left field, playing 107 games in total while hitting .251/.336/.326 with 17 doubles, a triple and two home runs in 386 plate appearances. Guillotte's healthy 11.1% walk rate and his solid 17.6% strikeout rate were also very good for the Fisher Cats. Guillotte did get back to Buffalo for four games in early July, going 1-for-8 and played in three games with the Bisons in August, going 0-for-3. Guillotte returned to New Hampshire for the playoff push and was 0-for-4 in the playoffs with a run. Look for Guillotte back in New Hampshire next year in his Age-26 season.
26-year-old Jonathan Davis was on the outside looking in when the rriple-A rosters came out at the beginning of the season. After having a strong 2017 in New Hampshire, Davis returned to double-A and put up even better numbers in his second try at the level. He hit .302/.388/.443 with 22 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 19 stolen bases (in 22 attempts) with a 9.8% walk rate and 14.8% strikeout rate in more than three months of baseball. After his long-overdue promotion to Buffalo, Davis finished out his minor league season with the Bisons, hitting .249/.309/.389 with seven doubles, two triples and five home runs in 202 plate appearances while seeing his strikeout rate climb to 20.3% and his walk rate drop to 5.9%. Promoted to Toronto in September, Davis got into 20 games but had only 27 plate appearances and he hit .200/.259/.240 with a double and three stolen bases (without getting caught). Look for Davis back in Buffalo to start 2019.
Also caught up in the outfielder numbers crunch in the Jays' high minors was Harold Ramirez who had an underwhelming 2017 with the Fisher Cats that resulting in his being removed from the Blue Jays' 40-man roster. Assigned to double-A for his third season, Ramirez broke out in a big way, winning the Eastern League batting title by hitting .320/.365/.471 with 37 doubles and 11 home runs (both career highs). Ramirez also showed some life in his legs, stealing 16 bases in 18 attempts while striking out in 17.4% of his 505 plate appearances and walking in 5.3%. Ramirez elected free agency after the World Series and could attract some attention in his services, particularly after he's currently among the league leaders in many statistical categories in the Venezuelan Winter League. The 24-year-old is unlikely to be back with the Blue Jays in 2019.
25-year-old Torontonian Connor Panas had a somewhat disappointing season in his first year at double-A, playing in 105 games with the Fisher Cats and hitting just .232/.296/.359 with 16 doubles, two triples and nine home runs. The left-handed hitting outfielder walking in 6.1% of his plate appearances and struck out in 20.6%, neither figure being too far off his numbers from Dunedin in 2017 (although the walk rate was a fair bit higher last year). Look for Panas to return to double-A next year.
Acquired from the Colorado Rockies in the trade that sent Seung-hwan Oh to the Mile High City, Forrest Wall put up some strong numbers at the end of the season for the Fisher Cats. Wall, 22, started in Advanced-A Lancaster and hit .305/.382/.453 with 11 doubles, five triples and three home runs, stealing 20 bases in 28 attempts in the hitter-friendly California League over 230 plate appearances, with a walk rate of 10.0% and a strikeout rate of 20.4%. Promoted to double-A Hartford, Wall struggled a bit, hitting .206/.289/.359 with six doubles, a triple and six home runs in 190 plate appearances, with a walk rate of 8.9% and strikeout rate of 22.1%. After the trade, the numbers on Wall show some conflicting data for a small sample size. Hitting .271/.354/.380, Wall struck out in 31.3% of his 147 plate appearances while walking in 8.8%. An unsustainable .410 BABIP bolstered his very high strikeout rate and he'll need to address that going forward. Wall hit .238/.333/.286 in the playoffs, hitting a double and stealing a base. Look for him back in New Hampshire next year.
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The 2018 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is now available!