The New Hampshire Fisher Cats will have a group of pitchers in 2019 who closely resemble that which finished 2018 with the club. They’ll try to repeat as Eastern League Champions and there’s going to be an awful lot of talent on the pitching staff.
It gets a little easier to project the rosters and my lists get shorter as we approach the major league team. There are always surprises but they’re somewhat minimized at the higher levels.
Hector Perez came over from the Astros when the Blue Jays sent their former closer to Houston for a trio of pitchers. Perez probably has the most upside of the two prospects (him and David Paulino) but he also has more risk associated with him. While Perez’s stuff has been described almost everyone as electric, with a high-90s fastball and wipeout slider, he also has had trouble controlling his stuff and walks way too many batters for him to move up just yet. He’ll be back in New Hampshire after finishing his season with the Fisher Cats last year.
T.J. Zeuch will start the season probably on the DL but when he returns, he’ll probably be with New Hampshire again. It’s not for lack of pitching ability or performance last year, however. Zeuch had a 3.08 ERA and 1.26 WHIP over 120 innings but he needs to work on sharpening up his offspeed pitches to go with his sinker to give him a strikeout option. Plus, there are tons of starters who will start in Buffalo and if Ryan Borucki doesn’t crack the big league squad, the picture is getting even more crowded.
While I thought Patrick Murphy would have a Ryan-Borucki-like trajectory in 2018, the Blue Jays played things very conservatively and held him in Dunedin for almost the entire season (getting him one start in Double-A). The Florida State League Pitcher of the Year will certainly move up. He can hit 100 mph on the radar gun and has four pitches that he can throw. He’s a sleeper who people aren’t talking about because of the sexier guys around him, but watch out. Murphy is the real thing.
Andrew Sopko came over from the Dodgers in the Russell Martin trade and pitched half the year in Double-A with some solid results. He gave up quite a few home runs and hits in Double-A so he’s going to work on that. By all accounts, there are similarities between him, Thomas Pannone and Trent Thornton: none are particularly hard throwers but they have good control, can spin the ball but need to hit their spots.
Probably the first person on this list who makes you ask “who?”, Justin Dillon is a 25-year-old righty who jumped around a lot last year, finally settling in New Hampshire. While his numbers are sexy from his 22 2/3 innings in Buffalo (just 10 hits against and two walks with 19 strikeouts), they’re a bit of a chimera as he struggled in 50 innings with New Hampshire with a 6.84 ERA and as many walks as strikeouts (22). Dillon may be in the bullpen, or he could go back to Dunedin.
On the Bubble
After two years in Double-A, Jon Harris, 25, is on the bubble because I don’t see Buffalo having enough room for him despite probably being able to hold his own there (at least as well as he’s done in NH). When I’ve seen Harris, I’ve seen the stuff to be a major leaguer, it just comes down to execution with him. While his numbers aren’t great (4.75 ERA and 1.34 WHIP over 136 1/3 innings with NH last year), they’re a little inflated because he loses focus and grooves a few pitches in every outing. He can do well at either level but will probably have to earn his way up to Buffalo.
After spending most of 2018 in New Hampshire, Josh DeGraaf is on the bubble because he was used as a starter for most of the season but will likely be pushed to the bullpen. He had a 4.33 ERA and 1.395 WHIP, striking out 77 and walking 23 in 81 innings with the Fisher Cats so we know he can handle Double-A hitters.
With a lack of lefty relievers, Tayler Saucedo, 25, could very well move to the bullpen in 2019 but he started all 26 of his games in 2018 split between Dunedin and New Hampshire. Consistency has been Saucedo’s Achilles Heel throughout his career but his stuff from the left side could play up out of the ‘pen.
Kirby Snead is one of two finesse lefties who will probably start the year in New Hampshire. With a sinking fastball and decent slider, Snead still walks a lot of batters (25 in 42 2/3 innings) but he’s effective against lefties.
Danny Young had his second season in New Hampshire last year, making 40 appearances out of the bullpen. While Young’s stuff isn’t mind blowing (throwing 86-88 mph with sink, and a solid slider), he has been effective, particularly against lefties who struggle with his sidearm delivery.
Zach Jackson, 24, got a non-roster invite to Blue Jays’ camp this year and put up some serious strikeout numbers in Double-A New Hampshire last year. While he struck out 75 in 62 innings, he walked 51 and walks will always be an issue as he has a herky-jerky windup that, while it adds a ton of deception and makes his average fastball play up, make it tough to repeat his delivery and throw strikes consistently. He also features a plus curveball that is an effective out pitch. If he can cut his walks in half, he’ll be a big leaguer for sure.
Jackson McClelland is another fireballer who has touched 101 mph on the radar guns but has struggled to pitch as effectively as he can. He was dominant in Dunedin, fighting a couple of injuries in 2018 but struggled a bit with his command in New Hampshire and the Arizona Fall League. Look for McClelland to establish himself as a big league candidate in 2019.
Francisco Rios had injuries marring his season last year but the righty still has some potential. Some might think he’s going to be a starter again, but I have a feeling that he’ll need to find his innings in the bullpen after a rocky 2018.
Corey Copping is another hard-throwing righty and he came over from the Dodgers in the trade for John Axford last year. Copping, 25, is another pitcher for whom control has been an issue but he also struck out over 10 batters per nine innings last year at Double-A and Triple-A levels.
On the Bubble
William Ouellette is a non-drafted free agent who could reach New Hampshire this year after a very solid campaign in Dunedin in 2018. That said, he didn’t strikeout many batters (5.1 K/9) while he gave up a lot of hits (66 in 47 2/3 innings) and could be held back in Dunedin for another year.
David Garner is a flyer the Jays took in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft this year. Garner, 26, has pitched in Double-A and Triple-A but hasn’t pitched since 2017 and missed all of 2018 on suspensions for testing positive twice (a second and third positive test) for a drug of abuse (likely marijuana). Can he resurrect his career which had him striking out over 10 per nine innings in 2017 with the Cubs’ organization? He’s on the bubble because the Jays could start him in Dunedin to help him get back into the flow.
If you like us here, like us on Facebook!
The 2019 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is coming soon!
All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2018) and may not be used without permission.