We continue our more in-depth look at the Buffalo Bisons by looking at relief pitchers. We begin with the pitchers who made the most appearances and work our way downwards from there. If a player played for more than one team over the course of the season, he’ll be grouped according to the club he played the most with.
Righty Zach Jackson led the club with 46 appearances and logged 68 innings. The 24-year-old curveball artist continued to get some solid results in his minor league career, posting a 3.97 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, striking out 23.6% of batters and bringing his walk rate down to a more manageable 11.8%. He also improved his ground ball rate, getting 45.0% of balls in play on the ground but his move to Triple-A, where they were using the livelier, major league ball in 2019, bumped his HR/9 rate to 1.3, the highest of his career. Jackson could be in line for a big league spot in 2020 but he’ll have to earn it during the season as I think he’ll start in Buffalo.
The Jays don’t have a ton of lefty relief pitchers filtering their way up through the minors but probably the most big-league ready is 25-year-old Kirby Snead. Snead started 2019 in New Hampshire, spending most of April there (with one appearance in Buffalo, before going back down to NH) and posting an outstanding 0.84 ERA and miniscule 0.38 WHIP, striking out a whopping 35.9% of batters faced without walking anyone in 10 2/3 innings. In Buffalo, he was used a lot, throwing 41 times with 52 innings and a 3.98 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, striking out 23.5% of batters with a solid 8.3% walk rate. Snead provided some solid work for the Bisons and will probably start there in 2020 but could join Toronto at some point in the season.
While he doesn’t fit the usual hard-throwing reliever profile with a big body, 5-foot-9 Ty Tice is generally thought of as one of the more athletic pitchers the Jays have and he acquitted himself very well in Triple-A despite being in only his third pro season after being drafted in the 16th round of the 2017 draft. Like Snead, Tice started his year in Double-A New Hampshire, spending just over two months there, throwing 24 2/3 innings with a 1.09 ERA and 0.85 WHIP, striking out 22.8% of batters and walking 7.9%. In 33 innings with Buffalo, that strikeout rate rose to 27.3% although his walk rate almost doubled to 14.0% as he had a 3.27 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. Tice is another reliever who could reach the major leagues in 2020 but is almost sure to start the season in Buffalo.
31-year-old veteran Buddy Boshers joined the Blue Jays on a minor league free agent contract after starting his year in the Mexican summer league. Joining the Bisons in late May, Boshers posted a 2.78 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 32 1/3 innings through late July, striking out 25.6% and walking 10.2% before getting the call to Toronto. Boshers stuck with the Jays through the rest of the season, tossing 20 innings with a 4.05 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, striking out 28.6% of batters while walking 11.0%. The lefty remains on the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster but could be one of the first to get DFA’ed if the Blue Jays want to take more spots than they have to add youngsters to the roster before the Rule 5 draft.
Selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, Jordan Romano was traded to the Texas Rangers but was returned to the Blue Jays on March 24 before the season started. Romano pitched out of the in Buffalo before starting three games in April and was returned to the bullpen where he would play out the year. Romano struggled a bit in Buffalo, posting a 6.10 ERA and .773 OPS against in 31 innings before he got the call to Toronto, throwing a perfect seventh inning with two strikeouts against the Baltimore Orioles on June 12. He pitched three more times before being optioned back to Buffalo where he had three appearances before going down with an injury. After coming back with the GCL Blue Jays for one game in early August, he rejoined the Bisons, making four appearances before getting recalled by the Blue Jays and returning to major league action on August 24 and he stayed in Toronto for the rest of the year. Romano had a 5.73 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 37 2/3 innings with Buffalo, striking out 31.9% of batters while walking 8.4% and had a 7.63 ERA and 1.70 WHIP over 15 1/3 innings in Toronto, striking out 28.0% of batters and walking 12.0%. Romano is likely pegged to start the year in Buffalo but, being on the 40-man roster, could earn himself a bullpen spot in Toronto with a good spring.
At 26, lefty Tayler Saucedo has gotten himself to the highest level of the minor leagues by being able to both start and relieve. He showed his versatility in 2019 by making seven starts out of his 24 outings in Buffalo but started the year mostly in the bullpen in New Hampshire. He threw six times there before coming up to Buffalo for five outings and then pitched six more times in New Hampshire before coming back up to Buffalo to stay in mid-June. In New Hampshire, Saucedo’s 1.01 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 26 2/3 innings were excellent while he struck out 20.4% of batters but walked 14.2%. His first exposure to Buffalo had him pitching extremely well, posting a 1.50 ERA and .516 OPS against in 12 innings. He was still solid up until the end of July, posting a 3.34 ERA and .709 OPS against in 32 1/3 innings but he had a horrible August, allowing a 1.170 OPS against with a 12.71 ERA in 11 1/3 innings including an outing I saw in person where the hitters seemed to hit everything he threw hard. Overall, in 55 2/3 innings with the Bisons, Saucedo had a 4.85 ERA and 1.62 WHIP, striking out 18.2% of batters while walking 7.9%. I think he’ll be back in Buffalo but could become more of a lefty specialist as lefties had just a .509 OPS against him while righties had an .842 OPS against him.
Another pitcher who went back and forth between Buffalo and Toronto was Justin Shafer. The 27-year-old righty made his MLB debut in August of 2018 and had two stints in Toronto before he stayed for most of the rest of the season (getting sent down for a few days at the end of August, rejoining the Jays after the rosters expanded). Shafer was solid for both clubs, tossing 30 2/3 innings for Buffalo, posting a 3.52 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, striking out 27.1% of batters while walking 6.2%. He regressed in both peripheral categories in Toronto, walking 13.7% of batters and striking out 21.4%, with a 3.86 ERA and 1.66 WHIP over 39 2/3 innings. Shafer is likely to be a back-and-forth guy in 2020 but we’d love to see him stick it out for a whole season in Toronto.
Corey Copping split his season between New Hampshire and Buffalo, logging a 3.86 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with a 20.8% strikeout rate and 9.1% walk rate over 18 2/3 innings with New Hampshire while he had a 6.75 ERA and 1.84 WHIP over 32 innings with Buffalo, striking out 21.7% and walking 14.5%. If he gets some more control over his walks in Triple-A, Copping could be someone the Jays look at to move to Toronto at some point in 2020.
Dusty Isaacs pitched in 17 games for the Bisons in 2019, tossing 26 1/3 innings with a 5.81 ERA and 1.29 WHIP, and despite a 30.5% strikeout rate and 5.9% walk rate, he was released on June 30, catching on with the High Point Rockers of the independent Atlantic League, where he had a 5.55 ERA and 1.48 WHIP over 24 1/3 innings, striking out 32 and walking 13.
Matt Dermody again struggled with injuries in 2019 and threw just 15 times for the Bisons, accruing 23 innings with a 5.48 ERA and 1.39 WHIP, striking out 22.6% of batters and walking just 2.9%. After seven years of pro experience, he should be able to elect free agency after the World Series.
Acquired by the Blue Jays at the beginning of the season, Jason Adam threw 14 innings for the Bisons around an injury and stints in the major leagues. He had a 2.57 ERA and 1.07 WHIP over 14 innings, striking out 20 and walking five and had respectable numbers in 21 2/3 innings in the majors with a 2.91 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, striking out 19.8% of batters and walking 11.0%. Adam, 28, is still on the 40-man roster.
Acquired in the trade that sent Kevin Pillar to San Francisco, Derek Law became a solid part of the Blue Jays’ bullpen, particularly when Ken Giles was injured. The 29-year-old righty had a 1.69 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 10 2/3 innings in Buffalo with just three walks and 17 strikeouts. He maintained his ability to strike out over a batter per inning in the majors with 67 in 60 2/3 innings but walked 40 at the big league level, posting a 4.90 ERA and 1.665 WHIP.
Danny Barnes, 30, struggled with injury throughout 2019, only pitching in 7 2/3 innings for the Bisons, allowing 10 runs on nine hits and three walks with nine strikeouts. Barnes has been sent outright to Buffalo and could become a free agent at the end of the World Series.
33-year-old righty Javy Guerra pitched 7 1/3 innings for Buffalo in 2019, posting a 2.45 ERA and 1.09 WHIP, striking out six batters and walking four before pitching for Toronto a little bit. In 14 innings for Toronto, he had a 3.86 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, striking out 15 and walking five but he was designated for assignment by the Jays on May 18 and claimed by the Washington Nationals. While he was DFA’ed by the Nationals and then promoted again to the majors, he didn’t pitch in the minors for Washington, throwing 53 2/3 innings with a 4.86 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, striking out 42 batters with 12 walks. To this point, he’s pitched in one game in the postseason with Washington, allowing a run on two hits including a home run.
Selected in the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft, David Garner only got into four games in 2019 at the end of June with Buffalo, allowing eight runs on nine hits (including two home runs), walking two and striking out nine in just 5 1/3 innings. He was released on July 8.
Selected by San Francisco in the Rule 5 draft, lefty Travis Bergen had a 5.49 ERA and 1.37 WHIP over 19 2/3 innings in the majors, striking out 18 and walking nine. He spent the most time in the minors with Triple-A Sacramento, posting a 3.78 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 16 2/3 innings, striking out 15 and walking 10 before he was returned to Toronto and struck out six without walking anyone in three innings, allowing one run with Buffalo before the season ended. I’d look to see him starting in 2020 with the Bisons but he could be added to the 40-man roster in November to prevent another team selecting Bergen in the Rule 5 draft this winter.
Originally signed by the Blue Jays, the Jays picked up Jimmy Cordero off of waivers from the Nationals. The hard-throwing righty got into one game for the Bisons, throwing a scoreless inning and allowed a run on two hits (including a home run) for the Blue Jays in his one appearance. He would go on to be claimed on waivers by the White Sox, with whom he would have a solid season, posting a 2.75 ERA and 0.97 WHIP, striking out 31 and walking 11 in 36 innings in the bigs.
Neil Ramirez was another pick up mid season. Signed after he was released by Cleveland, Ramirez threw once for Dunedin (scoreless inning) and once for Buffalo (a scoreless inning). He was promoted to Toronto and had a 5.40 ERA and 1.68 WHIP over 8 1/3 innings in six outings, striking out six and walking six before the Blue Jays got him through waivers and tried to send him to the minors outright. Ramirez elected free agency.
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