So who are the offensive players projected to be on the Buffalo Bisons to start the year? Well, they’re an interesting mix of players that features a drastic reduction of veteran minor league free agents than in years past. The Blue Jays have typically populated the Buffalo Bisons with a group of veterans, many of whom have big league experience or several years of Triple-A or Double-A time on their resumes. A look at rosters include Casey Kotchman, Matt Dominguez, David Adams, Domonic Brown, Junior Lake, Jiovanni Mier and Tony Sanchez . . . and that was just last year’s roster. This year, there will be more “homegrown” players featured on the Bisons.
With so few positions on the big league club up for grabs, this year’s projection for the Bisons’ hitters is probably easier than ever. The big questions will be at the catching position and who will play where, and how much will they play.
The Blue Jays have been high on McGuire all spring and the product of the Pittsburgh Pirates organization will likely get a chance to prove himself in a regular role. The glove and arm have been shown to be outstanding for McGuire but his bat just hasn’t made due on all of the promise that McGuire, a 14th-overall pick in the draft, showed coming out of high school.
Graterol was claimed on waivers this offseason but only has used one of his option years and therefore can be sent down to the minors without exposing him to waivers. Graterol, 28, played in nine big league games last year and hit well. In fact, he had one of his best years with the bat last year, playing mostly in Triple-A in the Angels’ system. Still, since Jarrod Saltalamacchia has the inside track to the big league backup job (at least he does if you ask the TV and radio broadcasters), Graterol’s spot on the 40-man roster is in jeopardy since Salty is not on the 40-man and a spot will need to be cleared.
Ohlman was signed as a minor league free agent and the 26-year-old catcher has a sheer physical presence at 6-foot-5 that inspires fear from opposing pitchers. While Ohlman has always hit in the minors (although his power isn’t quite as much as you’d expect from such a large man), his defense is his weak point and he could play some first base to spell Rowdy.
Lopez, 29, was signed on a minor league deal this February and he brings some solid experience in Triple-A over the past few years with a couple of big league cups of coffee along the way.
Tellez will continue his charge to the major leagues after impressing the big league club so far this spring. Despite his regular playing time and outstanding plate approach, Tellez, who turns 22 on March 16, will start the year in Buffalo but could very well by in the majors at some point in the season, particularly if Justin Smoak continues to struggle with the bat.
Lopes had an excellent season split between Dunedin and New Hampshire but it’s his numbers in New Hampshire that are the most impressive. Lopes hit 30 doubles in 108 games with the Fisher Cats and while he has never hit a lot of home runs (his six including three in Dunedin and three in New Hampshire last year were a career high), his defense is very good.
Berti is another homegrown Blue Jay who has finally earned the right to start the year in Buffalo. He’s done everything asked of him, including change positions multiple time and he can play second (his natural position), third, and the outfield.
Elmore was one of the Jays’ few offseason signings to play for the Bisons and he’ll probably play a lot of third base. One of the few players to ever play all nine positions in a major league season, Elmore, 29, is exactly one of the depth players that the Jays have signed to minor league deals in past years and he hit .320 for Milwaukee’s Triple-A club last year (but just .218 for their major league club).
The Jays signed Petit to play on the infield and I think he could be a place holder until Richard Urena gets a promotion to Buffalo. Still, Petit played 89 big league games last year, hitting .245/.299/.348 and, at age 32, Petit has spent parts of five seasons in the majors.
An old familiar face, Diaz has been a stalwart of the Blue Jays’ minor league season for all but two of the past 11 years. Diaz, drafted by the Blue Jays in 2006, has parts of three big league seasons under his belt but has been playing at the Triple-A level since 2010. A defensive whiz, the 31-year-old infielder will probably be used more sparingly this year.
It’s been talked about on Blue Jays broadcasts so far that the club will want Pompey to play everyday which I don’t think he’ll do at the start of the season in Toronto. He’s put on some muscle in the offseason and we’re going to see what kind of effect it has on his game. He’s already off to a great start in the spring, going 2/5 with a home run but he’ll probably start the year in Buffalo and show that he’s in a groove before he comes back up.
Smith, 24, is finally going to get a chance to play regularly in Triple-A, probably. After two full seasons in Double-A New Hampshire, there may well be a spot in left field for Smith in Buffalo. He’s shown the ability to hit at a solid clip at Double-A and added some power last year.
Ceciliani was one of Buffalo’s best players last year when he wasn’t out with injury. He’s got a lot of the tools that Pompey has–speed, defense, a little bit of pop–but he’s a couple of years older and hasn’t hit nearly was well at the major league level (albeit having had less opportunity). Like Pompey, Ceciliani still has a minor league option, meaning that he’ll likely return to Buffalo.
Tabata was once a rising young prospect who hasn’t been able to do much with the bat over the past few years. Still, Tabata hit .284/.393/.374 in Triple-A with the Dodgers’ organization last year and, at 28, still could turn things around.
On the Bubble
I don’t think there will be enough room on the roster for Leblebijian on the Buffalo Bisons but there’s a chance he winds up here. He had a breakout year with the Fisher Cats last year and was one of their best players not named Rowdy. Still, Leblebijian is really the only infielder on this list who I’m unsure will start the year with Buffalo and, as such, is on the bubble.
A couple of things need to happen before Ryan Goins is on the Buffalo Bisons. The first is that Devon Travis needs to be healthy. The second is that he needs to clear waivers. I think he’s on the Blue Jays to start the season, though.
Fields had a full year in New Hampshire last year and probably gave us a better idea of what he can do with the bat. The speedy 26 year old stole 44 bases last year (and has yet to steal fewer than 40 in a season as a pro) hit only .227/.295/.296. He could return to New Hampshire, but there will be a lot of pressure as players are moving up from Dunedin and therefore, Fields may be pressed into a backup role in Buffalo.
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