Although two seasons are already over (the GCL and the Appalachian League), today marks the final day on the calendar for full-season leagues and the Northwest League. I’ll be writing more to wrap up each individual team (and this week’s podcast will feature playoff updates for the Dunedin and Bluefield Blue Jays) over the next few weeks and I’ll look ahead to try and speculate what the teams will look like next year. But that’s for later.
How have the Jays’ minor league teams done? As a whole, pretty well. Two teams have/had playoffs in the cards for sure and one team looks like it’ll join them.
The Bisons were in contention heading down the stretch but the team’s depth was significantly weakened due to injuries with the Blue Jays necessitating a flurry of call-ups. They’ll finish above .500 with Thad Weber on the mound today to finish off the season.
Having spoken to staff and media around the Bisons, I think they’re considering it a fairly successful season. It was successful enough to renew the Player Development Contract with the Blue Jays until the 2016 season and I think that people around Buffalo are pleased with both the increase in attendance and the better on-field product than they had when they were affiliated with the Mets.
New Hampshire Fisher Cats
The Fisher Cats will finish the season at least 4 games below .500 but the team lost a lot of talent when the Bisons were emptied (and several players moved up) and then when the team was out of the race, some pitchers were sent down to Dunedin to bolster that club for its playoff series.
While the team didn’t have a winning record, it was in a playoff race until the last week or so of the season and the New Hampshire crowds got a chance to see some top tier talent. The Blue Jays and the Fisher Cats have had a very strong relationship and there’s no reason to think that it will change.
Dunedin Blue Jays
The Dunedin Blue Jays are the Toronto club’s highest ranked affiliate that will play post-season baseball. They finished up the season with a 63-68 record that reflects the team’s poor hitting overall, despite strong pitching and defense that helped the club win their division in the first half.
The Blue Jays will have a tough go against the Daytona Cubs in a Best-of-3 series that begins Tuesday but the team has received some help coming from above and below. SS Emilio Guerrero and pitchers Daniel Norris and Justin Jackson have come from Lansing and pitchers Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Casey Lawrence have come back from New Hampshire. The team has had some good offensive games of late which bodes well for the playoffs.
The Lansing Lugnuts had a pretty poor season, especially when compared to the season last year with the “Lansing 3” – Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino. While mourning over the lost prospects will come to no good, the team was really challenged this year but saw a few bright lights.
Dwight Smith, Jr. and Dalton Pompey emerged as potential stars in the outfield and Daniel Norris really started to put things together under the tutelage of pitching coach Vince Horsman. SS Emilio Guerrero heated up in the second half and was promoted to Dunedin.
From my standpoint (having visited Lansing twice this summer), the Lugnuts are truly enjoying their relationship with the Blue Jays and stand to have a very young but talented team in 2014.
The Vancouver Canadians are on the cusp of their 3rd straight playoff appearance on the final day of the season. With the tie-breaker over Spokane in-hand, the team is almost guaranteed of a playoff spot. While Vancouver has sent a few players up to Lansing this season, they have also received a couple of very solid ones from Bluefield, including SS Dawel Lugo and B.C. starting pitcher Tom Robson. Both have played well in Vancouver.
Vancouver is probably the jewel of the Blue Jays minor league system. While Lansing and New Hampshire have really nice facilities (I’ve actually been to all of the Jays’ minor league stadiums except Vancouver’s), few cities in minor league baseball can compare with the energy and rugged beauty of Vancouver. Every player that I’ve spoken to has spoken incredulously about the environment of playing there and gush about the city and the fans.
Bluefield Blue Jays
The Bluefield Blue Jays fielded one of the youngest teams in the Appalachian League that was filled with the proverbial prospect porn. The team had a very successful regular season although most of the team just hit a wall over the last two weeks. The club finished second (by half a game) in their division but lost in two straight games to the Pulaski Mariners in the first round of the playoffs.
I can’t see most of the talented club coming back. Players who were promoted late like Franklin Barreto, Miguel Castro and Rowdy Tellez will most likely start the season there in 2014, so Bluefield should be the home of another talented team. Talking to writers and team personnel, I learned that the club is really happy with the gobs of talent that the Blue Jays have been providing to Bluefield since they signed their Player Development Contract a few years ago.
Gulf Coast League Blue Jays
The GCL Blue Jays finished about 4 games under .500 with a team that had few real stars. Some of the bigger name prospects are extremely raw (Matt Smoral, Rowdy Tellez) and the best ones earned promotions to Bluefield (Franklin Barreto, Clinton Hollon). I can easily see a lot of repeat players coming back to the GCL out of extended spring training or letting them sink or swim at a higher level if promoted.