Like their counterparts on the pitching side, the Buffalo Bisons’ hitters were a group that shuttled frequently either to Toronto or to New Hampshire (and sometimes both).
The catcher who got the most time behind the plate for the Buffalo Bisons in 2015 was . . . Sean Ochinko! Ochinko has had a rough go of it over the past couple of years with a suspension and a serious head injury siphoning away a lot of playing time. Ochinko, a 2009 draft pick and a former LSU teammate of Ryan Schimpf, was able to play a lot more than perhaps anyone expected thanks to injuries to A.J. Jimenez and having Josh Thole on the big league roster for a good portion of the year. In the end, Ochinko played the most he has since 2013, getting into 61 games with the Bisons and hitting .253/.288/.344 with 14 doubles and a pair of home runs. While decent behind the plate, he didn’t throw out many runners trying to steal (just 16%) this season. Ochinko should be a free agent at the end of the season.
At first base, the Buffalo Bisons had the league MVP, Matt Hague. Hague had an epic season with the bat, hitting .338/.416/.468 with 11 home runs. He earned a late season call up with the Blue Jays, hitting .250/.400/.333 in just 15 plate appearances. Adding a ton of awards to his mantle in 2015, Hague had an unbelievable run, striking out in only 10.9% of plate appearances while walking in 10.2%. While Hague has little left to prove in Triple-A, the 30 year old is likely behind Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Smoak and Chris Colabello on the Blue Jays’ depth chart so something will have to give for him to get a shot at The Show with Toronto in 2016.
I’ll get to the player who had the most time at second base next, mainly because he had the second most time at third base. Munenori Kawasaki is, as always, a fan favourite. He played 62 games in Buffalo, bouncing back and forth between the Queen City and Toronto but playing far less for the Blue Jays than he had in previous years. In 227 plate appearances for the Bisons, Kawasaki hit a respectable .245 with a .332 OBP. Kawaski clearly has little power and he posted a weak .286 slugging percentage. In Toronto, he hit .214/.313/.286. Known more for his ability to work counts and take walks, Kawasaki is becoming less and less of a contributor in Toronto, primarily due to the emergence of Ryan Goins and Devon Travis as legitimate big league hitters. Will he be back in 2016? Hard to tell. He’s currently on the 40-man roster but that’s not to say that the Jays won’t release him at some point this offseason and re-sign him to a minor league deal for 2016.
Andy Burns led the Buffalo Bisons in games at second base in 2016 with only 46 there. But he was definitely an every day player, playing in 126 games and getting to the plate 527 times this season. He was capitalizing on his versatility, playing 50 games at third, eight at shortstop, 13 at first base and eight in the outfield. Burns was probably a little disappointed at the beginning of the season, starting the year with New Hampshire but he was promoted to Buffalo after just six games (hitting .238/.333/.381) and he posted a very strong offensive season, hitting .293/.351/.372 with 26 doubles and four home runs. Burns cut down on his strikeout rate (which was never particularly high) to 13.1% and maintained a solid walk rate at 7.2% in his first attempt at Triple-A and, while he hit for a very good average, his BABIP was slightly elevated (.335). For me, the most concerning thing about Burns’s season was that his ISO dropped considerably from his very strong power numbers in New Hampshire last year. At .176 in 2014 (with 15 home runs), it fell to just .079. Burns is likely a candidate to join the Blue Jays in September in 2016 if they need another utility player and, if he doesn’t show some of the power he’s had in the past, could wind up with a Steve Tolleson-like career.
Diminutive infielder Jonathan Diaz got into some major league action for his third consecutive year but, like Munenori Kawasaki, has not been able to hit at the big league level. Diaz supplies stellar defense but hit .223/.328/.284 for the Bisons, walking in 11.9% of his plate appearances and striking out in 14.9%.
After being released by the Oakland A’s on May 9, the Toronto Blue Jays swooped in and signed outfielder Alex Hassan to a minor league deal. Hassan has been known for his strike zone discipline and, while his walk rate was down from his usual rates over his career, he was just as good (if not better) as he’s ever been. For the Bisons, in 305 plate appearances he hit .314/.357/.419 with a pair of home runs. While he’s not a home run hitter, Hassan hit 19 doubles and only struck out in 14.8% of plate appearances. while walking in 6.9%. Since Hassan is no longer on his original contract, we’ll have to wait and see a little bit before we know if he’s going to be returning to Toronto and Buffalo in 2016.
After struggling to hold on to his spot in Toronto, Dalton Pompey was sent down to Buffalo where he wasn’t impressive in his 23 games there, hitting .209/.294/.253 before getting sent down another level. Pompey found himself in Double-A New Hampshire, hitting .351/.405/.545 with six home runs in 148 plate appearances. Pompey was moved back to Buffalo and over his final 193 plate appearances of the season with the Bisons, he hit an outstanding .327/.414/.414. Overall, his numbers in Buffalo are very respectable (though not spectacular thanks to his early season struggles) at .285/.372/.345 with a 12.2% walk rate and just a 13.9% strikeout rate, adding 18 stolen bases. While he was mostly used off the bench as a pinch runner in September and the playoffs, Pompey still was 5/9 in his final three games of the year with two doubles, leaving us to wonder what might happen in 2016. His place on the club will be determined by what the Jays do with Ben Revere but having too many good outfielders is a nice luxury for a club.
Outfielder Brad Glenn led the Bisons in games in left field and, probably due to irregular playing time, had one of his weakest seasons, hitting just .239/.293/.372 with five home runs, 13 doubles and a triple in 246 plate appearances. He struck out in 24.4% of plate appearances and walked 6.9% of the time. Glenn is likely going to be a free agent, having his initial seven-year contract expire and is no longer on the Jays’ 40-man roster (he was sent to Buffalo outright last year).
Caleb Gindl had the Bisons’ fourth-most plate appearances at 335, playing in 85 games. Gindl hit .228/.287/.319 with four home runs for the Bisons after a stellar spring training for the Blue Jays. He walked in 7.5% of plate appearances and struck out in only 16.1% but he’s fallen further down the depth chart since the emergence of Pillar and Pompey as well as the usefulness of Ezequiel Carrera.
Melky Mesa split his season between Buffalo and New Hampshire, playing in 43 games in Double-A and 61 in Triple-A. For the Fisher Cats, he hit .299/.326/.443 with four home runs but he struggled to do something similar with the Bisons, hitting only .215/.259/.358. Mesa’s pretty much the same player at either level: he’s a guy who walks very little and strikes out a lot and while his walk rate and ISO remain mostly stable, his tendency to whiff is exposed even more in Triple-A (3.3% BB-rate in NH, 4.5% BB-rate in Buffalo; 27.6% K-rate in NH, 33.7% K-rate in Buffalo; .144 ISO in NH, .142 ISO in Buffalo).
In the “Passing Through” category comes Luke Scott, who returned from North America from Korea, signing with Puebla in the Mexican League and hitting .292/.499/.519 before the Blue Jays signed him in May. In 52 games with the Bisons, Scott hit .240/.311/.391 with four home runs and 15 doubles in 52 games before being released in August.
Catcher Josh Thole also spent much of the season in Toronto but his biggest value is not with the bat. He hit .228/.320/.262 with the Bisons in 45 games and .204/.250/.245 in 18 games with the Blue Jays. Defensively, he threw out 21% of potential base stealers with Buffalo but none with Toronto.
Chris Dickerson played in 38 games for the Bisons, hitting .270/.354/.340 but lost much of the season due to injuries. Dickerson didn’t play a game after June 10th and whether he returns for 2016 or not is unknown.
Infielder Ty Kelly was picked up by the Blue Jays after being put on waivers by the Cardinals and he had a solid season in Buffalo, hitting .264/.331/.313 in 38 games. He walked more than he struck out (8.8% BB-rate and 6.3% K-rate) but doesn’t hit for much power. Kelly was designated for assignment in August.
Ramon Santiago started off the season with a chance to be a utility infielder for the big league club. A broken collarbone ended that dream and he was released (and re-signed). He played in 33 games for the Bisons but hit only .202/.283/.218 before being released.
Ezequiel Carrera became a player who was useful in a pinch for the Blue Jays after he was signed over the offseason. With Pompey failing in the early going, Carrera actually played 91 games in Toronto, hitting .273/.321/.372 with eight doubles and three home runs, contributing an OPS just under .700. In 30 games with the Bisons, Carrera had almost exactly the same OPS as in Toronto, hitting .276/.349/.345. Carrera is out of options and would have to clear waivers to return to Buffalo in 2016.
Another player “Passing Through” the Jays’ organization this year was Daric Barton who hit .353/.421/.647 in a small sample of four games before moving up to Buffalo and struggling, hitting .196/.282/.299 in 111 plate appearances. He was released at the beginning of July.
I’m sure people are wondering whatever became of one-time “Catcher of the Future” A.J. Jimenez. The 25 year old spent much of the season hurt and only played in 28 games all year, 23 with the Bisons, hitting .218/.296/.322. If he can get his health together, he could have a shot at a roster spot with the Blue Jays in 2016 seeing as it’s unlikely that the Jays will re-sign Dioner Navarro. Josh Thole will still have the edge as the backup in Toronto with R.A. Dickey returning, however.
Chris Colabello certainly made the most of his minor league contract to start the season, hitting .337/.421/.554 with the Bisons (and could have been the IL MVP had he not been promoted to Toronto). Once with the Blue Jays, Colabello continued to hit, posting a .321/.367/.520 slash line with 19 doubles, a triple and 15 home runs in a statistically significant 360 plate appearances. Without a particularly significant platoon split (he did home runs at a higher rate against lefties but was pretty damn good against righties too), Colabello will either be given a shot for the Jays or be traded at what could be the height of his value.
“Passing Through”: Andy Wilkins – sold to the Dodgers after 21 games in Buffalo, hitting .264/.353/.319. Hit much better for power with the Dodgers’ Triple-A team.
“Passing Through”: Chris Heisey – hit just .155/.269/.259 before being traded to . . . the Dodgers!
George Kottaras joined the Bisons late in the season, playing 16 games and hitting .220/.304/.280.
Things were messy with Steve Tolleson. I won’t go into details (far too long of a story) but he played in eight games for the Bisons, hitting .133/.235/.133, mostly in a rehab assignment.
The Blue Jays picked up Danny Dorn on waivers late in the season from the Diamondbacks, sending him outright to Buffalo. He played in just six games, hitting .227/.250/.318 but was destroying the Pacific Coast League, hitting .386/.444/.618 in 75 games there.
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