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It’s March and spring training in full swing! That also means that it’s time to try to play the roster projection game! Over the next week or so, I’ll give my projections on the rosters of all four full-season teams in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, and we continue with the pitchers of the Buffalo Bisons!
We finally reach the Buffalo Bisons and as we all know, the Blue Jays have added significantly to their pitching depth in the major leagues and this has had a huge impact on their pitching rotations through the upper minor leagues. It’s always tough to project the Buffalo Bisons’ opening rosters because we have to wait and see who the Blue Jays take north to start their regular season but it’s always fun to try!
Nate Pearson is going to be with the Jays sooner rather than later and as impressive as his spring has been so far, he’s still just had three outings in Triple-A so far. The hard-throwing righty is projected to lead Buffalo’s rotation for at least a month or so, so if you want to see him in Buffalo, be ready to head down there early in the year.
Anthony Kay is one of the projected Bisons who made his major league debut last year. Acquired in the Marcus Stroman deal at the trade deadline, he has shown himself to be one of the club’s top pitching prospects and was originally projected to be in the Blue Jays’ rotation in 2020 until they acquired three (to four) starting pitchers in the offseason. The lefty will probably be in Toronto at some point in 2020 but another year in Triple-A can’t hurt his development as he continues to polish his secondary offerings.
T.J. Zeuch threw a no-hitter in Triple-A last year and made his major league debut last September. While he was on the bubble to make the major league roster at the beginning of 2020, he’s now pushed down to at least third on the depth chart for the Buffalo Bisons.
Sean Reid-Foley is in for an important year. I think this is his last chance to prove himself as a starting pitcher and the Blue Jays have committed to having him stretch out to be a starter. He’s likely going to be in Buffalo but I see him lining up as the #3 or #4 starter in Triple-A. If he figures out his command a bit, he has the stuff to be a starter, otherwise we’ll see him in the bullpen.
On the Bubble
The bubble is big for Buffalo. First here is Jacob Waguespack who I think could easily make the Blue Jays’ bullpen after holding his own in the majors last year and logging 78 innings with the Blue Jays. He was a decent starter for the Jays but could make the team this year as a long man if he doesn’t get sent back to the minors.
I think Phillippe Aumont is also on the bubble. There aren’t a lot of spots to go around and the 31-year-old Canadian is looking to make his return to affiliated ball after 2019 in the independent leagues. Aumont is a starter and was excellent last year and he could be in New Hampshire or Buffalo and could be in the bullpen or the rotation (although I’d bet on the rotation).
Yennsy Diaz is another pitcher who made his major league debut last year and is on a bubble. He was strong in Double-A New Hampshire last year but still struggled with his command and needs to find it. Will he be moved up to Buffalo or will he stay back in Double-A? That’s a big question.
While he spent much of 2019 in Buffalo, Andrew Sopko had a 7.12 ERA and 1.67 WHIP over 54 1/3 innings, getting hammered for 14 home runs over that span. Could Sopko get bumped out of the Buffalo rotation in favour of someone like Tom Hatch (I wrote about him in the article projecting the Fisher Cats’ pitchers) or Yennsy Diaz? I think there’s a good possibility of that.
Jon Harris didn’t have much of a presence last year thanks to a series of injuries. He’s been primarily in New Hampshire since 2017 and needs to see what he can do in Buffalo. If he’s healthy and pitching near his potential, I think he could be in Buffalo (although he might be in the bullpen).
Zach Jackson is going to be a guy who comes out of the bullpen in Buffalo near the end of the game. While he was able to lower his walk rate last year, which had always been veering towards the high side, he also saw a drop in his strikeout rate.
Ty Tice has earned some good reviews in his appearances with the big league team in 2020 spring training but he’s earmarked for the Bisons’ bullpen. He got stellar results in Buffalo, with 33 innings and 41 strikeouts although he did walk 21 and will need to cut down the walks.
Bryan Baker spent most of 2019 in Buffalo and is a hard-throwing back-of-the-bullpen guy. He’s also had trouble with walks, walking 16 in 22 innings in Buffalo but he also struck out 31.
Jackson McClelland was another pitcher who made it to Buffalo last year and he struggled a bit after his promotion from New Hampshire. He walked 11 and struck out 14 in 15 innings in Triple-A with a 6.00 ERA and 1.53.
Lefty Kirby Snead has gotten some time in big league spring training and had a solid Triple-A debut alst year with 52 innings in Buffalo, posting a 3.98 ERA and 1.40 WHIP with 54 strikeouts and 19 walks.
Another lefty, Travis Bergen, is tabbed for Buffalo. He was taken by San Francisco in the Rule 5 draft last year but was returned to Blue Jays midway through the year. He wasn’t great in the action he saw last year and needs to return to the guy he was in 2018 if he wants to get back to the major leagues.
Corey Copping was fine in Double-A but didn’t do well in 32 innings in Triple-A in 2019. He had a 6.75 ERA and 1.84 WHIP, striking out 33 but walking 22.
Tayler Saucedo is another lefty who spent a lot of time in Buffalo last year. He was solid for most of the year but ran out of gas in August, going through a really rough stretch at the end of the season in which he was hit very hard. Still, he only allowed five home runs in 55 2/3 innings with 46 strikeouts and 20 walks in Buffalo.
Conor Fisk has bounced between starting and relieving and there was a time that I thought a big-league call up was imminent. He stepped back in 2019 with 97 innings in Buffalo, giving up 20 home runs with 92 strikeouts and 31 walks.
On the Bubble
Thomas Pannone is sort of on the bubble. I think the Jays will have use for him as a lefty in the bullpen as their other options are limited to guys like Bergen, Snead and Moran. In the majors, Pannone had a 6.16 ERA and 1.425 WHIP, striking out 69 and walking 31 with the Jays last year and I think that he’ll be able to be back in the majors to see if he can be the primary lefty for the big club.
Julian Merryweather, I think, will likely be used in the bullpen in 2020 after coming back from a couple of injury-plagued seasons. The question will be which bullpen. Will he be used in Buffalo or can he make the Blue Jays to give them another high-octane arm in the bullpen?
The Blue Jays signed several relievers to minor league deals and A.J. Cole was one of them who may have the best chance to break camp with Toronto. Cole hasn’t given up a run in four outings so far in spring training and has a solid major league resume that includes a 3.81 ERA in 26 innings in Cleveland last year, striking out 30 with eight walks. If he shows he can do that, he might make the big leagues again.
Justin Miller is another reliever with major league experience, most recently, 15 2/3 innings with Washington last year. He had a 4.02 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, striking out 11 and walking four and has a career 4.43 ERA in the major leagues in 156 1/3 innings.
30-year-old Ryan Dull played for three MLB teams last year and gave up 18 earned runs in 12 2/3 innings combined last year. He has had some trouble in the majors and in Triple-A last year but spent much of 2018 in the major leagues with Oakland. He’s got a shot to make the majors but my money is on Cole or Miller out of the gate.
Another minor league free agent who could make the majors is lefty Brian Moran. He doesn’t throw hard and has had a rough time in spring training but he was successful in Triple-A last year with the Miami organization and made his major league debut last September.
Finally, the Blue Jays picked up Connor Overton in the offseason and he could be in New Hampshire or Buffalo. Overton had a solid time in Double-A in the Giants’ organization and, after he was released, he went to the Lancaster Barnstormers in the Atlantic League where he was a starter in nine games, striking out over a batter per inning.
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