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 double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. We're starting to get a crowded outfield in New Hampshire with a lot of players deserving to be in double-A.
Max Pentecost is, of course, an oft-injured former first-round draft pick who has yet to really see a full season playing both offence and defence. While he's hit when he's healthy, some people think that he's going to need to be a catcher to get the most value out of his bat which, right now appears to be more of a high-average, doubles-power sort. That said, he did hit nine home runs in 316 plate appearances last year in Dunedin with a .276/.332/.434 slash line. but faltered in the Arizona Fall League before finishing early due to injury.
Michael De La Cruz, 24, is a veteran backup for the Blue Jays, playing at three levels last year, seeing the most time in class-A Advanced Dunedin where he hit .246/.308/.332. He did hit .500/.577/.773 with the Fisher Cats in 26 plate appearances, so we know for sure he'll be a stud if/when he returns there. That said, "De La" is a switch hitter and capable catcher.
On the Bubble
Patrick Cantwell, a former third-round draft pick in 2012 by the Rangers, was acquired by the Blue Jays last year for cash. He got into just two games for the Fisher Cats in 2017 but hasn't been much of a hitter throughout his career, hitting .241/.318/.312 in six minor league seasons. Still, Cantwell has been active with the Jays, appearing on the roster for big league camp and getting into two games so far.
Ryan Hissey, 23, would provide the Fisher Cats a hitter with a little more upside with the bat as a catcher but he's "on the bubble" because I have a feeling he's ticketed more for Dunedin than New Hampshire.
Juan Kelly has contributed to every team he's been on but still flies way below the radar on the Blue Jays' prospect lists (if he even appears). He's been in the Jays' system for quite a while but was one of the most consistent hitters for the low-A Lugnuts in 2016 (with an .804 OPS) and with the Dunedin Blue Jays in 2017 (with a .754 OPS in a tougher league for hitters). A switch hitter, the 23-year-old Dominican has impressed me with his ability to draw walks and have mature at bats and should be able to hit a few more home runs in New Hampshire than his 10 last year in Dunedin.
Cavan Biggio makes it New Hampshire more because of a "trickle-up" theory than from having a fantastic season in 2017. He put up decent numbers including a .233/.342/.363 slash line with 11 home runs and looked solid at second base but with infielders like Kevin Vicuna, Cullen Large, Samad Taylor and Yeltsin Gudino all likely moving up to Lansing and Dunedin, I think Biggio goes to New Hampshire.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Montreal, Que.) will be in New Hampshire, mark my words. Last year, I predicted an aggressive assignment in Lansing and he proved that he was more than capable of that. This year, with all the buzz around him being named the consensus No. 3 prospect in baseball, we need to remember that Guerrero is still just 19 years old and figuring out just what he can do with a baseball bat. Let's temper expectations, at least to start the year but I think he can really do something special by the time the season is over.
Bo Bichette, 20, was last year's MVP in the Midwest League and overall batting title winner in the minor leagues. I also think he'll be with Vlad in the Eastern League, showing off his skills. While he struggled down the stretch with Dunedin last year, I think Bichette also benefits from the "trickle-up" theory, particularly when we look at his position, shortstop. In my calculations, the Blue Jays will want to get 2017 first-rounder Logan Warmoth and fourth rounder Kevin Smith everyday reps at short. For that, I think Smith goes to Lansing and Warmoth goes to Dunedin. While Bichette will probably get some time at second as well as short in New Hampshire, he's going to be able to get at least 50% of his reps there in 2017 with the Fisher Cats.
Gunnar Heidt will return to New Hampshire after a decent, but not spectacular season, hitting .229/.303/.370. The versatile 25-year-old can play pretty much anywhere on the infield (although he didn't play short in New Hampshire last year, he did play 48 games there with Dunedin and Lansing in 2016) and is a sparkplug on the club.
On the Bubble
Emilio Guerrero, 25, was injured part of the year and he had a respectable season with the bat, hitting .263/.311/.376. More walks would be nice, but Emilio is another versatile player who has been focused more on the corner infield positions although he has played some right field.
J.C. Cardenas, 23, spent most of his season in Dunedin. A light-hitting middle infielder (.206/.262/.263 in 71 games with Dunedin), I think Cardenas could either start the year in Dunedin or New Hampshire.
Lourdes Gurriel is someone we all know about. The 24-year-old needs at bats because he's already on a major league contract and will use his second option year this year. He only played 46 games in double-A and struggled a bit, hitting .241/.286/.371. I think he'll probably start in triple-A but there's a chance that he returns to New Hampshire to start the year.
Jonathan Davis (a.k.a., J.D.) continues to impress me by his ability to play well as he moves up the ladder. With speed, patience at the plate, a little power and defensive ability, Davis should probably be in triple-A but there's a big log jam in the bigs right now and that trickles down to Buffalo. I think Davis will play a lot of centre field after hitting .249/.361/.379 with 10 home runs in New Hampshire last year.
Andrew Guillotte, 24, played at three levels last year, hitting a combined .267/.340/.358. While he had a tremendous run in Dunedin, he cooled off in New Hampshire where he spent most of his season. Guillotte adds some fear in runs when they try to run on him (he had 15 outfield assists) but also played 12 games at shortstop and 17 games at second base in 2017 between Dunedin and New Hampshire.
Connor Panas led the Florida State League in home runs last year. The 25-year-old Torontonian has struggled to get playing time out of the gate in the past two seasons but by the end, he's forced his way into regular at bats. The big hero for the D-Jays in the playoffs (he hit three home runs in their three-game series), Panas feels that the tweak made to his mechanics in July will help him continue to mash. With a full year in Dunedin under his belt, he should be in patrolling a corner outfield position in New Hampshire on a regular basis where he could break the 20-home-run mark if he plays every day.
Harold Ramirez was acquired from Pittsburgh in the trade that also brought Reese McGuire and Francisco Liriano. He didn't have a spectacular season with the Fisher Cats last year, hitting .266/.320/.358. I think he'll rotate in and out of the daily line up but it's hard to remind myself that he's only 23 (he looks older and has been around forever after signing with the Pirates as an international free agent).
On the Bubble
Jake Thomas, 24, was a walk machine in 2017, taking 70 free passes with three teams and hitting .255/.412/.331. Much of that damage was with Lansing where he had a .457 OBP in 37 games. Still, as a fourth-outfielder type, Thomas could be with Dunedin or New Hampshire next year.
D.J. Davis is the ultimate enigma. The 23-year-old has been in the system after getting drafted in the first round in 2012 and has struggled to progress. After four years in A-ball (two in Lansing and two in Dunedin), Davis needs to be tested in double-A. While he's struggled with strikeouts, he has brought that number down over the years and he has improved his stolen base rate considerably. Is there hope for D.J. in New Hampshire?
Bryan Hudson was signed by the Blue Jays after being released by the Red Sox. I think it's a stretch that he starts the season in New Hampshire, particularly since he's known as a fairly light hitter whose OBP is his best attribute (see Jake Thomas). Hudson, 23, is more likely to start the year either in Dunedin or even extended spring training but, you never know what can happen. Like D.J. Davis, he's spent two years at the Advanced-A level already, but generally when players change teams, they don't like to promote them above levels they've already played at.
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