Projecting your 2017 New Hampshire Fisher Cats

RHP Sean Reid-Foley averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings could be coming to New Hampshire.

RHP Sean Reid-Foley averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings could be coming to New Hampshire.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats 2017 Projected Roster


By Jay Blue
Blue Jays from Away

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are the next club up the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league ladder. 

Double-A is where the rubber meets the road; good performances at this level will earmark a player for possible big league call ups. When the Blue Jays’ Triple-A club was in Las Vegas they insulated their pitching prospects from the difficult conditions out west where balls flew further and fields (particularly their home field in Vegas) were not as forgiving. 

Now, with the Jays’ Triple-A club in Buffalo, young pitchers aren’t being sheltered as much so it’s now just a stop along the way to Buffalo for many.
 

The Blue Jays have several pitching prospects who are scheduled to arrive on the New Hampshire pitching staff to start the year. The club, and its pitching coach, Vince Horsman, was very successful developing pitchers, particularly bullpen arms who are pretty ready to make a contribution at the major league level. Pitchers who started last year at the Double-A level included Danny Barnes, Chris Smith, Murphy Smith and Wil Browning and all of them had ERAs under 2.00. Who might be the Danny Barnes of 2017? 

Starting Pitchers
With 17 starts already under his belt at the Double-A level, Conner Greene is poised to take some big steps this year. He’s already thrown 100 mph this spring but still needs to reign in his control and command. Greene is only 22 and with so much experience at the Double-A level already, could be on a trajectory to hit Buffalo this year.

One of the Jays’ top prospects, Sean Reid-Foley, 21, was dominant at two levels (Class-A and Advanced-A) last year, showing improved control, improved offspeed pitches and some nasty stuff that struck out over 10 batters per nine innings. Reid Foley could start in Dunedin but if he’s anything like what I saw last year, he’ll do fine in Double-A.

There’s a chance that Ryan Borucki, who got pasted in Dunedin to start the year last year, starts the season back in Advanced-A but I’ve heard things about how highly people within the organization think about him and his inclusion on the 40-man roster this year shows some of that faith. He’s the type of pitcher who can pitch in the high minors: he has good control and four solid pitches that he can command. He also has the mental intangibles not to get frustrated if he gets hit around a couple of times (see last year). He’ll also be 23 before the season opens, meaning that he’s not young for the level.

Jeremy Gabryszwski spent the whole 2016 in New Hampshire and was the club’s horse, tossing 146 1/3 innings over 28 starts. The overall numbers weren’t impressive as Gabryszwski is a contact pitcher and tends to give up a lot of hits and hard contact, particularly if he isn’t as fine with his command within the strike zone. Still, Gaby has three solid pitches and giving up runs is usually a mental focus for him. Without much room in Triple-A, Gaby, 24 in just a couple of weeks, stays in New Hampshire.

For me, Shane Dawson was another surprise going into the season with the Fisher Cats. I thought he’d return to Dunedin after just five career starts there but the Blue Jays thought enough of the crafty, Canadian lefty to jump up to Double-A and he more than held his own. He made 26 starts (impressive considering some of the physiological issues he has) and threw 134 1/3 innings but his walk rate spiked up from his career norms and his strikeout rates dropped. He’s just 23 and will probably be back, but don’t necessarily be too surprised if he starts the year in Buffalo.

On the Bubble
Taylor Cole, 27, started out his season last year injured but returned to New Hampshire with some solid numbers in about half a season. He’s already got one complete season in Double-A under his belt (2015) but I’m still not sure if there’s room in Buffalo at the start of the year.

While I don’t think that Luis Santos is on the bubble to pitch for New Hampshire, I think he’s on the bubble between the rotation and the bullpen. The 26-year-old Dominican righty made 15 starts in New Hampshire last year but has also pitched out of the pen on and off over his minor league career.

Bullpen
Tim Mayza has already appeared in a spring training game this year and, despite getting roughed up in a brief taste of New Hampshire last year, Mayza was very dominant in Dunedin. At 25, he has nothing left to prove in A-ball and his High-90s arm needs to move to Double-A.

One of my sleepers this year, Alonzo Gonzalez fared better than Mayza in a short audition in New Hampshire last year, but his 11 walks in 13 1/3 innings will probably have to come down if he wants to move up more. Still, he’s added some velocity in the last year or two and had some of his best career numbers with Dunedin last year. Like Mayza, he’s also a 25-year-old lefty.

I’ve run the numbers and I think Murphy Smith, 29, returns to his hometown club in New Hamsphire (he hails from Nashua, NH just about 20 minutes away). It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to be in Buffalo but I don’t think there’s going to be room in that bullpen. Smith had a 1.50 ERA last year but doesn’t have the raw stuff of some of his bullpen mates from last year.

After injuries kept him out of all but 10 1/3 innings since 2013, Adonys Cardona returned, firing in the mid-to-high 90s with a very nice slider in spring training. Still his layoff couldn’t help him find his control as he walked 31 in 37 2/3 innings in Dunedin. While he’s not too old to return to Dunedin (23), I have a feeling that the Blue Jays might want to push him a little and put him in New Hampshire.

Conor Fisk was surprisingly successful in Dunedin after starting the year in Lansing. The righty worked both in the rotation and the bullpen with a 3.25 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, striking out more than three batters per walk. Fisk will be 25 just before the season starts and I think he’ll be one of the biggest surprises on the New Hampshire roster if you haven’t been paying attention to his career.

Dusty Isaacs is a little older than Fisk and had some tremendous success out of both the Lansing and Dunedin bullpens last year. Now 25, Isaacs shouldn’t have much to prove in A-ball and should be heavily considered for the New Hampshire bullpen.

On the Bubble
John Stilson’s injury woes dropped him back to Double-A in 2016 after he was on the cusp of a major league call up with a strong campaign in Buffalo in 2014. He wasn’t fantastic in New Hampshire with a 3.88 ERA and 23 walks in 48 2/3 innings but he knows what he’s doing on the mound and was still throwing in the mid-90s when I saw him in spring training last year. I see him on the bubble between New Hampshire and Buffalo.

Another lefty, Jose Fernandez had a solid season in Dunedin last year and, while he only allowed 29 hits in 43 2/3 innings, he walked 34. He’s on the bubble to move up to New Hampshire but I think he’s more likely to start in Dunedin at 24 years old.

Brad Allen will be 28 this year and has had some struggles in Dunedin but certainly has the stuff to get batters out in Double-A. He’s also swung between the bullpen and the rotation over the past couple of years but needs to recapture his 2014 and 2015 form while reducing his walks.

Carlos Ramirez could very well start 2017 in New Hampshire but his placement will have to do with several factors. Ramirez has taken to pitching extremely well since moving from the outfield in 2014. He struck out 41 batters in 41 innings, a good sign for a newer pitcher, but also walked 21, a little bit high. Still, he has a lively, mid-90s fastball and a developing slider that could play in Double-A.

Kender Villegas, 23, had a good year in Advanced-A last year and could very well jump to Double-A with the Blue Jays but he’s never pitched at that level and, generally, when the Jays have picked up a pitcher from another organization, they start him off at, or below, the level he was pitching at before. That said, Villegas’s strikeout to walk rate last year (70 Ks, 13 BBs) was impressive and could indicate that he’s ready for the next level.

Potential Surprises
I think Chris Rowley could wind up in New Hampshire to start the year.

People are excited about the Fisher Cats’ projected lineup and I am too. Heck, I was just wondering when I might be able to get a trip scheduled to see them play. While New Hampshire hasn’t had a really competitive team in a few years, 2017 projects to be a year when the Blue Jays’ younger players are finally reaching the level.

Like with the Dunedin Blue Jays, there are pressures from above as the Blue Jays fill their 25-man roster and that for the Buffalo Bisons below them. Players who can’t quite get onto the Bisons or Blue Jays will end up in New Hampshire and, for some, it will be their third year doing so. Double-A is a level where players can definitely get stuck and moving upwards can be tough as the major league team signs players for big league depth to play above them in Triple-A. The 2017 New Hampshire Fisher Cats will be no different.

Catcher
I really think that Max Pentecost is the everyday catcher in New Hampshire. While a more conservative approach will be to have him catching every day (or four times a week) in Dunedin, I’m thinking that the Jays are a little more aggressive with him. Besides, I think that Danny Jansen plays every day in Dunedin leaving much less time for Pentecost who needs to put in the innings behind the plate.

Alex Monsalve was signed as a minor league free agent and, while his 2016 season was marred by injury, he played most of his games at the Double-A level. I can’t see him making it to Buffalo with the plethora of catchers above him in the system.

First Base
Ryan McBroom is an older player (25 in early April) who has done nothing but hit in three seasons at various A-ball levels. Still, in a brief call up to Double-A, he didn’t do much last year. He’ll need to perform at Double-A to keep getting his name mentioned.

Matt Dean played a significant amount in Double-A New Hampshire last year but didn’t produce as expected. The 24 year old finished his year in Dunedin after coming back from an injury but he’ll get another chance to show what he can do for the Fisher Cats.

Second Base
Acquired by the Blue Jays as the player to be named later in the deal that sent Pat Venditte to Seattle, Tim Lopes is the younger brother of Christian Lopes. The downside to having the two brothers, both of whom have extensive Double-A experience is that they play the same position. I think Tim is in Double-A, being the younger of the brothers.

Third Base
Emilio Guerrero has shown flashes of excellence in his playing but has been injured enough to prevent that from being more consistent. Guerrero is 24 and the Dominican infielder can also play some outfield but last year, in just 86 games, he hit 13 home runs (by far a career high) and started to show some significant increases in power, particularly in Dunedin (although some of that carried over to 43 games in New Hampshire).

Can Mitch Nay return? He missed almost all of last year with a knee injury and hasn’t made good on his promise of huge power over the past three seasons. He could easily start in Dunedin though until the brass is sure that he’s found his rhythm at the plate.

Shortstop
If I had my way, Richard Urena will play shortstop for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats every day for about 2 1/2 months. He needs to work on some things (like plate discipline and focusing equally on every play in the field) and I’d rather see him do it in New Hampshire as opposed to Buffalo. The sky is the limit with Urena but he is still very young (just 21 for the whole season) and, with Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop, there’s no rush to develop him.

Utility Infield
Seth Conner, Shane Opitz

Conner, 25, hasn’t played much in the last two years, missing time due to injury and only getting into two games in 2016. Opitz, also 25, has been seen already in major league camp and has the potential to be a versatile utility infielder produce more than the .580 OPS he had last year with the Fisher Cats.

Outfield
Anthony Alford prospect status and injury woes are well documented but his strong second half and the fact that he’s spent part of two years in Dunedin says to me that he’s going to be moving up to New Hampshire to start the year.

After being one of (if not) the best hitters in Dunedin last year, Jonathan Davis, 24, will need to see if he can repeat the same type of numbers in Double-A. He showed some power, speed and patience at the plate and while his rise through the system has been slow, people could start talking about him this year.

We didn’t see much of Harold Ramirez after he was traded to the Blue Jays in the Francisco Liriano/Reese McGuire/Drew Hutchison deal. He was injured and only played one game with the Fisher Cats. He could be in Triple-A next year, but he’s only 22 and I think he’ll return to New Hampshire.

Derrick Loveless seems to have trouble keeping his batting average up but was hitting for some significant power last year while also taking a lot of walks. He maintained an OBP about 100 points above his batting average and the lefthanded hitter saw an (expected) increase in power as he moved up to Manchester for 56 games last year. He’ll start back in NH.

Ian Parmley had a career year last year. The 27-year-old lefthanded hitting outfielder spent the whole year in NH and played in 92 games, hitting .294/.356/.379. No reason to expect that he isn’t back in a backup role.

On the Bubble
I actually think that if Lourdes Gurriel is in New Hampshire, one of two things has happened. The first is that Richard Urena starts the year in Triple-A Buffalo, which I probably wouldn’t do myself but wouldn’t be completely unexpected. The second thing that could happen is that Gurriel gets moved to third base. If that happens, he almost certainly starts in New Hampshire.


Michael De La Cruz, Mike Reeves

Behind the plate, there are a couple of “bubble” guys who will be fighting for either a roster spot in Dunedin or New Hampshire. Barring injury, they could be on either squad to start the year.

I originally thought that Jason Leblebijian, who had a career year at the plate in Dunedin and New Hampshire, would move up to Buffalo, but I think that he’s going to be caught in a numbers game. The versatile infielder could be the every day third baseman in New Hampshire, however.

 

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Jay Blue

A lifelong Toronto Blue Jays fan, Jay Blue started blogging about the Jays when he was living in Berlin, Germany. He founded his own blog, Blue Jays from Away, to write about developments with his home town team, focusing on the Jays' minor league system. When he's not watching baseball, he is usually on the diamond umpiring or he's pursuing his research interests in the field of ethnomusicology.