Homegrown players were starting to filter up to the Buffalo Bisons at the beginning of the year and that trend continued as the 2017 season went on. Still, there was a healthy mix of major and minor league veterans on the Bisons with mixed results.
Raffy Lopez didn’t just have a career year and forced himself into a major league job backing up Russell Martin (and taking over down the stretch when Martin was on the DL), but he took a huge step in his power game. Recently turned 30 years old, Lopez actually started his season in New Hampshire, rocking the Eastern League by hitting .262/.380/.619 with a double, a triple and four home runs in 14 games over a month before he moved up to Buffalo. In 59 games with the Bisons, he continued to slug his way to a career-high of 20 home runs (overall) with a .293/.368/.551 slash line, hitting 13 doubles, a triple and 12 home runs, walking in 9.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in 20.6%. In the major leagues, he played in 24 games, hitting .222/.306/.463 with another four home runs (to give him 20 on the year) but he struck out in a third of his plate appearances. While he threw out 27% of potential base stealers in Buffalo, he only threw out one of 16 in Toronto. Next year is going to be an interesting one for the Jays and their catchers. With Max Pentecost, Reese McGuire and Danny Jansen possibly needing to be protected from the Rule 5 draft (my money has the Jays protecting McGuire and Jansen) and Lopez and Luke Maile both on the 40-man roster (Miguel Montero is a free agent after the season), there is probably going to be some kind of upheaval with catchers this offseason.
At 6-foot-5, Mike Ohlman is a big boy and the former 11th-round pick (by the Baltimore Orioles in 2009) signed with the Blue Jays as a minor league free agent in the offseason. Over the course of 90 games with the Bisons, Ohlman hit .216/.334/.401 with 16 doubles and 12 home runs while also hitting .231/.231/.231 in seven games with the Blue Jays, making his big league debut. Ohlman struck out in 34.6% of his plate appearances with the Bisons but also walked in 14.5%. He elected free agency following the season.
A quartet of backstops caught a few games with the Bisons including Luke Maile (.167/.224/.167 in 16 games while rehabbing), Juan Graterol (.429/.429/.429 in four games), and Miguel Montero was 0/3 in one game (but hit .138/.248/.241 with the Blue Jays). Jarrod Saltalamacchia was just awful both with Toronto and Buffalo, hitting .162/.271/.243 with the Bisons and .040/.077/.040 with one hit in 26 plate appearances and striking out 16 times with the Blue Jays.
It was supposed to be Rowdy time in Buffalo after the slugging first baseman had come off an excellent season (with an excellent finish) in Double-A New Hampshire last year, posting a .917 OPS. While he started the season with a bang, hitting two home runs in his first game with the Buffalo Bisons, Tellez struggled for much of the season, playing 122 games and coming to the plate 501 times while hitting .222/.295/.333. His strong walk rate of 9.4% helped his OBP reach near acceptable levels but his slugging was way down as he hit just six home runs with 29 doubles and a triple for an ISO of .110 (down from .233 in 2016). While he hit underwhelmingly against righties (.251/.318/.378), he was very poor against lefties (.148/.235/.213, with just five extra-base hits). These splits are setting Rowdy up to be a second coming of Adam Lind, who struggled monumentally against lefties. The concern about Tellez is still there, but he’s only 22 and already has a full season of Triple-A baseball on his resume. Another reason for hope is the fact that Tellez hit .311/.388/.388 in August, showing some life after two months (June/July) in which he hit just .175. the downside is that Tellez did not hit a home run after June 22. Tellez will likely be back in Buffalo in 2018 but the Jays will have to make a decision on whether or not to protect him on the 40-man roster as he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft this year.
27-year-old infielder (and sometimes outfielder) Jon Berti led the club in games at second base and was among many Buffalo Bisons players who struggled with the bat this year. He hit just .205/.271/.321 with eight doubles, four triples and three home runs after returning from injury in late June. Berti did steal 23 bases in 27 attempts, showing that neither his speed nor his baserunning savvy were diminished by injury. Berti was in the final year of his initial contract, meaning that he’ll have the opportunity to become a free agent if he chooses this offseason.
Infielder Jason Leblebijian played the most at third base (also getting significant playing time at second) and the 26-year-old former 25th-round draft pick started out gangbusters. In April, Leb hit .333/.440/.587 while hitting .286/.340/.490 in May but after that strong start, he petered out, hitting just .229/.288/.331 the rest of the way (despite having a four-hit game on September 2). Leblebijian’s final numbers had him putting up a .729 OPS, hitting .258/.323/.405 with 22 doubles, four triples and 11 home runs, with a 7.4% walk rate and 26.2% strikeout rate (right in line with his career numbers above the Advanced-A level). Lebleb’s overall production was decent enough, to be sure, although opponents may have gotten the scouting report out after the first couple of months of the year. Leb should have another year on his initial contract, and as a flexible, and above-average, defensive player, he should have a chance to make another adjustment and play regularly for Buffalo in 2018.
Shortstop Gregorio Petit, 32, was a productive member of the Bisons’ infield for most of the season, but particularly towards the end of the year when anyone around the club would argue that he was one of the only offensive players hitting the ball with authority. Petit’s season was marred by injury as he missed about a month and a half. Petit hit very well in his first seven games up until April 21 but then was down until mid-June when he began a three-game rehab stint in the Florida State League before rejoining the Bisons on June 13. Overall, Petit hit .253/.275/.370 in 73 games with the Bisons, hitting 19 doubles, a triple and four home runs, walking in just 3.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in 16.2%. The veteran has played in parts of five major league seasons, including 89 games with the Angels last year and likely will be able to elect free agency this offseason (although he has yet to do so).
Shane Opitz, 25, was an 11th-round draftee by the Blue Jays and played in 84 games with the Buffalo Bisons in a utility role in 2017. He hit .252/.306/.333 with 15 doubles, a triple and a home run, getting into games at all four infield positions in addition to left and right field. A lefthanded hitter, Opitz walked in 6.6% of his plate appearances, striking out in just 13.5% with a .081 ISO that is fairly consistent with his career numbers. Opitz tends to hit a lot of balls on the ground and not so many in the air, making him not much of a home run threat. Opitz may be a free agent this year, after having been drafted in 2010, having played in the Blue Jays’ system for eight seasons now.
Christian Lopes, 25, played in 92 games for the Buffalo Bisons despite missing some time due to injury. Lopes, the older brother of Tim Lopes, who played in New Hampshire this year, had a solid offensive line, hitting .261/.349/.402 with 25 doubles, two triples and six home runs while also hitting well in four games the he spent rehabbing with the GCL Blue Jays and the Dunedin Blue Jays. Despite a lower batting average, Lopes improved in almost all categories over his solid 2016 in New Hampshire. He walked at an 11.2% rate (up from 7.3%) while striking out at a 13.5% rate (down from 15.8%) and also improving his power numbers, with a .141 ISO (up from .106) while his BABIP dropped almost 60 points. Lopes also added 18 stolen bases for the Bisons, making him one of the more productive hitters on the squad. With such a season behind him, Lopes can be expected to be back in Buffalo in 2018.
Big league veteran Jake Elmore, 30, was signed to be a utility man in Buffalo. He played in 94 games for the Herd, playing second base, third base, left field, right field and shortstop while hitting .231/.321/.273 with six doubles, two triples and a home run before he was traded to the Miami Marlins in August.
Jonathan Diaz continued his baseball travels, back with the Blue Jays’ organization to start 2017. He played in five games with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, hitting .273/.556/.545 with a home run in 11 at bats and hit .182/.348/.239 for the Bisons in 88 at bats before being traded to the Yankees and finishing the season with their Triple-A affiliate.
Several players played a limited number of games with the Bisons on the infield. One was Rob Refsnyder, 26, who hit well in a four-game trial with the Bisons before hitting .196/.281/.216 in the majors. Chris Coghlan spent seven games in Buffalo, hitting .217/.357/.304 with a pair of doubles while also hitting .500 in four games with Dunedin. Ty Kelly was claimed by the Blue Jays in April off of waivers and played in two games in Buffalo, going 2/8 with a double before moving up to Toronto where he didn’t get into any games. He was traded to the Phillies for cash and he got into 69 games in Philadelphia, hitting .191/.257/.337 and has become a free agent after being sent outright to the minors.
Lefthanded hitting 24-year-old outfielder Dwight Smith Jr. parlayed another solid season into a big league debut after being selected in the supplemental round in the 2011 draft. Smith hit .273/.350/.392 in 108 games in Buffalo, playing mostly right field while walking in 10.5% of his plate appearances and striking out in only 15.8%. He made his big league debut on May 18 and was back in Buffalo after two games (only to return to Toronto for another game on May 24) while also playing in a bunch of games in June but, conspicuously, was not recalled in September despite a .370/.414/.444 slash line in the big leagues with 10 hits in 27 at bats including two doubles. Looking deeper into his Toronto numbers, however, show that he may have been a bit overmatched in his small sample size, striking out in 34.5% of plate appearances and walking in just 3.4%. Smith will be in tough to play in Toronto for any length of time in 2018. At the time of this writing, I surmise that Steve Pearce, Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera, Teoscar Hernandez, Dalton Pompey and Anthony Alford may all be ahead of him on the depth chart. Still, Smith is on the 40-man roster and will likely return to Buffalo in 2018.
Speedy outfielder Roemon Fields, 26, must have been disappointed to have started his season back in New Hampshire. After reaching Triple-A for six games in 2015, Fields played only in Double-A in 2016, with some weak numbers. After 16 games in New Hampshire, despite a .237/.274/.305 slash line (with seven stolen bases), Fields was promoted to Buffalo where he proceeded to put up the best numbers of his professional career, hitting. 291/.355/.352 with 11 doubles, five triples and 43 stolen bases (in 57 attempts), setting a modern-era, single-season stolen base record with the Bisons. Fields had a very solid 8.2% walk rate while striking out in 16.8% of his at bats. The outfield in Buffalo may be crowded next year, relegating Fields to a back-up role but he’s shown that he can handle center field and can be a terror on the bases.
Ian Parmley, 27, was selected by the Blue Jays in the seventh round of the 2012 draft and was finally rewarded for one of his best seasons with a taste of the big leagues. Parmley exploded in the month of May, hitting .325/.373.442 over 24 games and hit .260/.306/.321 over 79 games with Buffalo over the course of the season, missing almost all of August with an injury. Parmley walked in 5.6% of his plate appearances and struck out in 22.0%. In late June, Parmley played three games with Toronto, going 0/3 in his chances at the plate and was sent to Buffalo outright. He should be around in Buffalo as a fourth outfielder, but I wouldn’t rule out a stint in New Hampshire if things get a little crowded in the Bisons’ outfield.
Teoscar Hernandez, acquired by the Blue Jays at the July 31 trade deadline started off his time in Buffalo on the chilly side. Hernandez, 24, had hit .279/.369/.485 with the Fresno Grizzlies, the top farm club of the Houston Astros before the trade but, in his first 10 games with the Bisons, had just three hits (including two doubles) in 34 at bats. Following that rough start to his Bisons career, he went 19/65 (.292) with an incredible .692 slugging percentage (four doubles, two triples and six home runs) in the next 16 games before rosters expanded and he made his Toronto debut. With the Blue Jays, Hernandez hit .261/.305/.602, hitting six doubles and eight home runs and giving the Blue Jays fans hope for an heir apparent to Jose Bautista while giving some of us pause by striking out in 37.9 of his 95 plate appearances. There’s likely a lot of power potential for Hernandez to come but he may have to figure out how to lay off pitches to be his most successful self in the major leagues. I wouldn’t rule out at least one trip to the minors for the young outfielder.
After signing a free-agent deal with the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason, former Blue Jay Michael Saunders, 30, played poorly enough to get himself designated for assignment with a .205/.257/.360 slash line over 61 games. After being released by the Phillies, Saunders signed a minor league deal with the Blue Jays at the end of June and joined the Bisons, hitting .224/.289/.342 before going on the DL. Returning from the DL after missing about 10 days, Saunders found his form, hitting .329/.356/.471 with five doubles, a triple and a home run in 16 games before getting called up to Toronto for September. With the Blue Jays, Saunders hit just .167/.250/.167 in 12 games. While he’s still on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster, Saunders will be a free agent after the end of the season and it’s doubtful that he’ll be signed back with the Blue Jays.
27-year-old Darrell Ceciliani struggled with his bat in 2017 but struggled even more with injuries as he only got into 31 games all season at three levels. Ceciliani started his season with Buffalo, playing 21 games before getting a promotion to Toronto. In his third game, playing against the Atlanta Braves on the road, Ceciliani went 2/2 with a double and a home run but also injured his shoulder, only coming back in July for six games with Dunedin and one with Buffalo before re-injuring it and having surgery to end the season. Ceciliani hit .156/.198/.169 with the Bisons but slugged his way to a .389/.450/.444 slash line in six games wtih Dunedin and went 2/5 with the Blue Jays. Ceciliani is on the 60-day DL, meaning that if he’s going to return to the Jays’ 40-man roster, someone will have to go to make room for him.
Steve Pearce also played a couple of games in Buffalo, going 2/7 with five strikeouts and a walk.
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