The New Hampshire Fisher Cats lineup/offensive roster has several large questions to it heading into the 2016 season. It’s usually considered a fairly big jump from Advanced-A to Double-A and the question is whether certain players are going to be ready. Many hitters (and pitchers) found the jump from Lansing to Dunedin to be more difficult than they anticipated last year and the same thing happened as players moved from Dunedin to New Hampshire. Double-A is also a level where the necessity of going outside the organization to bring in minor league depth pieces who can play at the major league level if needed is really felt. For example, the Blue Jays acquired several outfielders and several catchers over the offseason (Darrell Ceciliani, Junior Lake, Domonic Brown; Humberto Quintero, Tony Sanchez Wilkin Castillo), which will push some of the home-grown players down a level.
With the influx of catchers, I actually think that there are going to be as many as four players for every spot at each level from Buffalo down to Lansing. New Hampshire gets a respite of just three but Wilkin Castillo could easily be in Buffalo and Jorge Saez could move up to New Hampshire. Robinzon Diaz could also be in New Hampshire to start the year, leaving the club with more catchers than it can handle. It’s an unfortunate inevitability that players are released at the end of spring training and this position in the organization is one where we could see the most cuts.
The way the 1B/DH position shakes out for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats will depend on a couple of things. The first is whether the Blue Jays feel that K.C. Hobson is ready for Triple-A. Hobson has now spent a season and a half in New Hampshire. While his results were still below league average last year, he managed to hit 14 home runs and lead the team in RBI, improving on his 2014 numbers. With just one real first baseman slated for Buffalo (Casey Kotchman), Hobson may get his chance. I think Rowdy Tellez is almost a sure thing for the Fisher Cats lineup. He’s proven that he can hit everywhere he’s gone and, despite losing time to an injured wrist, is probably a more mature hitter. Also, as a left-handed hitter (like Hobson), there probably isn’t much room for both of them, unless Hobson moves to left field.
The other question is whether the Blue Jays see fit to promote Matt Dean. Dean had a very solid season despite playing in a very pitching-friendly league in Florida last year. He tied for the Florida State League lead in home runs and, despite a somewhat low walk rate and somewhat high strikeout rate, he did produce at a rate that was 22% better than league average. At 23, Dean needs to move up to stay on track.
Originally, I thought Jon Berti, 26, was going to be back in Buffalo but with the pickup of David Adams, Jio Mier and Alexi Casilla and the emergence of Andy Burns as a big league bubble player, there’s little room for Berti on the infield and ditto for the outfield. I’d like to see Berti back in Buffalo to build on his .609 OPS in 40 games but I think that won’t come until later in the season.
Lopes hit very well in Dunedin last year but scuffled when exposed to Double-A pitching. Even though he’s been in the Jays’ system forever, Lopes is only 23 and will probably get a chance to settle in in New Hampshire.
I felt that Mitch Nay would stay in Dunedin to start the year which means that Emilio Guerrero gets a chance to redeem his rather poor results in 52 games in New Hampshire last year. Another 23 year old, Emilio got some exposure in the Arizona Fall League with some mediocre results. He’s another guy who needs to cut down his strikeout rate and get on base more. If Nay starts off strongly, he could take over third base in New Hampshire by the All-Star Break.
Flores, 24, opened eyes as an everyday player in 2015. While he profiles as a fringe utility player in the major leagues, his solid defense and ability to adjust to Double-A as a hitter has made him one of the more reliable infielders in the organization. Flores doesn’t hit for much power but his .360 OBP last year and strong walk and strikeout rates means that he’s not a liability at the plate by any means. Flores could probably move to Triple-A but with several other infielders up there, he’ll be back in New Hampshire.
Both of these guys have time in New Hampshire under their belts and Opitz has shown the most potential with the bat despite a down year last year. Jason Leblebijian could also see time in New Hampshire if he can figure out the pitching in Dunedin.
I think that this is going to be your outfield for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for most of the season. If one of the Dunedin outfielders is lights out this year, he could join them but this configuration gives the outfield a lot of flexibility. Newman will probably see a reduced role with more playing time given to Alford, Fields and Smith who all need the reps. Smith is looking for consistency at this level while Fields and Alford will try to hit with a little more authority. Both will terrorize the Eastern League with their running.
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