A lot about the Buffalo Bisons’ pitching staff is going to come down to whether the Blue Jays go with youth or go with some of the recently signed veteran pitchers to bolster the staff for the season.
That said, it’s going to be crowded in Buffalo unless players get put on waivers and are lost. The Bisons are going to have a younger group of pitchers in the 24-26-year-old range who will look to solidify their chances to become major leaguers with strong Triple-A performances.
Sean Reid-Foley will likely be the best known starter in Buffalo and, probably, the one with the highest upside. He has the stuff to be a dominant pitcher on any given day but, as his big league debut made clear, still needs to work to harness his consistency.
Thomas Pannone is probably going to start every fifth day in Buffalo although his long-term future may be more as a reliever. While his fastball is fringy, he does have good deception and spin rates which help it play up a bit and get some swings and misses. He has a lot of poise but tends to give up too many long balls at this point in his career.
Trent Thornton came over to the Blue Jays in the deal with Houston for Aledmys Diaz and, similar to Pannone, is known for his spin rates, particularly for his curveball. He throws harder than Pannone, however, with an average fastball that sits in the low-90s, touching in the mid-90s at times. He’s another guy who may have a big league career as a reliever but, at 25, the Jays want to give him some time in Buffalo to see if he can continue his solid numbers in a more pitcher-friendly league.
Jacob Waguespack was the booty that the Blue Jays got in exchange for Aaron Loup when Loup was sent to the Phillies. Many think the 25-year-old righty is ultimately a reliever but he’s only been given the chance to start as a pro for the past two seasons and the jury is still out. Still, he’s not going to light up prospect-watchers eyes and could be more of a bullpen arm in the major leagues.
On the Bubble
Ryan Borucki is on the bubble because we don’t know yet if he’ll be in Toronto or Buffalo. We’re all rooting for the tough lefty to be in the big leagues but with a couple of additions to the starting rotation in the offseason, he could be bumped down to Buffalo. If he’s a Bison on Opening Day, he’ll start that first game, I would think.
Shawn Morimando pitched briefly in the big leagues in 2016 and the 26 year old has struggled with injuries before being released by the Indians and scooped up on a minor league deal by the Blue Jays. I think the Jays see the lefty as a starter but if he moves to the bullpen, he can add some much needed depth to that side of the mound.
Returning relievers like Conor Fisk are valuable, particularly because Fisk showed he had another gear since he became a reliever full time. It’s quite possible that the Jays have another Ryan Tepera, a former starter whose fastball velocity spiked when he started pitching out of the bullpen. I saw Fisk hit 95 mph in Buffalo last year and he’s always been able to pitch.
Another returning reliever is Justin Shafer who was outstanding in the minors last year but struggled in his first taste of the big leagues. Still, Shafer has the stuff to pitch in the majors with a solid sinker/slider combo in the low 90s.
Matt Dermody is coming off an injury that cost him almost all of last year but the lefty is one of the only true lefthanded relievers who project to start in Triple-A (I figure that Tim Mayza will be in the majors to start). With that in mind, I think he’ll take some time finding his groove but should be able to recreate some of the solid work he did a couple of years ago.
Danny Barnes could very well earn himself a spot back on the major league roster but since he was sent to Buffalo outright, the likelihood is he starts back in the minors, trying to find that mojo he had when pitching for Toronto in 2017.
Javy Guerra is a big league veteran on a minor league deal. The righty has pitching in parts of eight major league seasons and has racked up 213 1/3 innings out of the bullpen for the Dodgers, White Sox, Angels and Marlins. Could the Blue Jays be big league team number five? Probably not at the start of the season.
Mark Leiter Jr. is going to be in tough to get back to the major leagues. He hasn’t really looked great over the past couple of years and the Blue Jays are hoping that he can get back to some of the results he had 2017 when he struck out almost a batter per inning in 90 2/3 innings with the Phillies.
On the Bubble
Canadian Andrew Case has been a feel-good story ever since he was signed out of the T-12 Tournament. He had a very good season in 2017 but was hit fairly consistently in 2018 in Buffalo and New Hampshire. He needs to right his way in 2019, likely with Buffalo but if the roster gets a little too crowded, he might start in New Hampshire.
Dusty Isaacs is another pitcher who has had some solid, albeit unremarkable results. Isaacs had a strong 2017 in New Hampshire but his ERA jumped to 4.86 in 2018 in 50 innings with the Fisher Cats while his WHIP moved up to 1.44 although he struck out more than a batter per inning, his walk rate inched up from an already high 5.6 BB/9 to 5.8 BB/9. He did get 10 innings in Buffalo but will need to walk fewer batters to be considered a stalwart of the Bisons’ bullpen.
David Paulino is on the bubble a little like Ryan Borucki is. He could wind up with a bullpen spot in Toronto after some strong work in a limited viewing in 2018. He was used mostly as a starter in 2018 but only threw 27 innings due to injuries. Part of the deal that brought Ken Giles and Hector Perez to Toronto, he could be another big-league piece who is entering his Age-25 season.
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