We have reached our final team report of 2019, looking at the hitters of the Buffalo Bisons. Once, again, note that if a player split his season by playing for more than one team, he’ll be considered with the team for which he had the most plate appearances.
Playing in 72 games for the Buffalo Bisons was lefthanded hitting catcher Reese McGuire. McGuire hasn’t hit much in the minor leagues since coming over from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the deal for Francisco Liriano in late 2016 but McGuire continued to show better numbers in the major leagues, getting into another 30 games for the Blue Jays down the stretch, splitting catching duties with his former teammate in Buffalo, Danny Jansen. For the Bisons, McGuire hit .247/.316/.366 with 12 doubles, a triple and five home runs, throwing out 26% of potential base stealers with 10 passed balls over 71 games but in Toronto, McGuire hit .299/.346/.526 with seven doubles and five home runs in just 105 plate appearances, throwing out 26% of potential base stealers with just one passed ball. The only real negatives to McGuire’s game as he moved up to the majors was the fact that his walk rate dropped from 9.0% in Triple-A to 6.7% in Buffalo while his strikeout rate rose slightly from 15.0% to 17.1%. Look for McGuire to split catching duties in Toronto with Jansen in 2020.
26-year-old minor league veteran Michael De La Cruz used the lively balls of the International League to his advantage as he had probably the best offensive season of his career despite playing only occasionally, getting into 52 games with 192 plate appearances. Still, he hit .278/.379/.444 with 12 doubles and five home runs, walking in 13.5% of his plate appearances and walking in 17.2%. De La Cruz threw out 18% of potential base stealers with four passed balls in 40 games behind the plate. After seven years of action with the Blue Jays since being signed out of the Dominican Republic, De La Cruz is likely eligible to become a free agent after the World Series.
One of the great offensive stories of the 2018 Fisher Cats, Patrick Cantwell, 29, struggled to stay on the field in 2019, playing in just 22 games for the Buffalo Bisons (and four rehabbing in the GCL). He hit just .217/.316/.275 with four doubles in 80 plate appearances, striking out in 30.0% of his plate appearances and walking in 11.3%. I’m not sure if he’s around in 2020.
The Blue Jays picked up catcher Beau Taylor in August after he was DFA’ed by the Oakland A’s. He spent about a month in the Jays’ system before getting DFA’ed by Toronto and picked up again by Oakland (but he elected free agency earlier this month). For Las Vegas, Taylor hit .257/.408/.461 with 13 doubles, a triple and eight home runs in 62 games and for the A’s, he hit .174/.321/.435 with two home runs in 10 games. For Buffalo, he only hit .188/.282/.250 with a pair of doubles in 10 games while going 0/2 with a strikeout in his only game for the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays traded for first baseman Jordan Patterson from the Reds at the end of March and provided a veteran presence at first and in the outfield. Patterson hit a respectable .234/.308/.432 with 19 doubles, two triples and 16 home runs for the Bisons ,walking in 6.0% of his plate appearances but striking out in a whopping 32.2%. He also pitched in one game, allowing a run on a hit and two walks with a strikeout in one inning. Patterson will likely be able to elect free agency following the World Series.
Another corner infielder the Jays picked up was Patrick Kivlehan who came from the Pirates organization in a trade for cash on May 10. With 132 games in the majors, Kivlehan started the season well with the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate in Indianapolis, hitting .212/.287/.412 with five doubles and four home runs before the trade. Assigned to Double-A New Hampshire, the 29-year-old went on a tear, hitting .421/.477/.789 in 11 games, hitting five more doubles and three home runs before he was moved up to Buffalo for the rest of the season. With Buffalo, Kivlehan played in 90 games, most at first or third base, and came to the plate 375 times, hitting .247/.336/.534 with 13 doubles, three triples and 25 home runs, enough to lead the Blue Jays’ organization in 2019. Kivlehan had a solid 9.9% walk rate but a 28.0% strikeout rate. He’s also likely to be a free agent at the end of the year, but he made a big impact in his time in Buffalo.
Richard Urena, 23, played 98 games in Buffalo and was up and down to Toronto, starting the season with the Blue Jays and riding the QEW until late May. In 403 plate appearances with the Bisons, Urena had one of his better offensive seasons at the level, hitting .274/.314/.393 with 18 doubles, four triples and six home runs while he hit just .243/.273/.324 in 30 games with Toronto, hitting six doubles. Urena’s never walked much, posting a 5.7% rate in Buffalo and 2.5% rate in Toronto while his strikeout rate was 21.1% in Buffalo and 28.8% in Toronto. Urena also showed much stronger numbers as a lefthanded hitter, posting a .740 OPS (combined between levels) from that side while he had a .559 OPS from the right side of the plate. Urena played second, third and short at both levels, while adding in a part of game in left field for Toronto and pitching an inning, giving up four runs on four hits (including a home run) with one walk. Look for Urena to ride the bus another year and serve as an emergency replacement in Toronto.
After two years in Korea, Andy Burns returned stateside and played a full year in Buffalo with strong numbers from the 29-year-old infielder. With 474 plate appearances, he hit .275/.364/.470 with 17 doubles, three triples and 19 home runs (a career high outside of Korea), walking in 12.0% of his plate appearances and striking out in only 17.5%. Burns may have an option on his contract that will allow the Blue Jays to bring him back but he could also become a free agent.
Bo Bichette was one of the more anticipated debuts in Toronto but let’s not forget that the 21-year-old phenom did start the season in Buffalo (before breaking his hand and missing about a month and a half). Before his injury, Bichette was having a strong Triple-A debut but he wasn’t lighting the world on fire, hitting .250/.322/.404 with three doubles, a triple and a home run in 15 games. He had a four-game rehab with Dunedin from June 7 to June 11 and was 4/5 with a double in the final game of his rehab assignment. He returned to Buffalo and improved his numbers, hitting .284/.339/.497 with 13 doubles, a triple and seven home runs in the next 41 games before he got his call to the show. Playing 46 games in Toronto, Bichette endeared himself to Toronto fans, hitting .311/.358/.571 with 18 doubles and 11 home runs, walking in 6.6% of plate appearances and striking out 23.6% before missing the end of the season with a concussion after being hit in the head with a pitch. Bichette will look to carry that success over to the big leagues in 2020, taking over the every day shortstop job in Toronto.
Another player who entrenched himself in the Toronto lineup was Cavan Biggio who started his season with a .312/.448/.514 slash line in 43 games in Buffalo, hitting eight doubles, triple and six home runs, walking 34 times and only striking out 28. He continued to display his incredible eye at the plate in the major leagues, walking in 16.5% of his 430 plate appearances but his strikeout rate skyrocketed to 28.6% to go with his .234/.364/.429 line, hitting 17 doubles, two triples and 16 home runs while stealing 14 bases and producing 2.4 WAR (according to Fangraphs). Biggio had some hot streaks and we’re hoping that his strikeout rate comes down a bit without affecting his walk rate and he’s able to put more balls in play for the Jays, playing every day at second base in 2020.
Another young player who went back and forth a bit between Buffalo and Toronto was Rowdy Tellez, the big, 24-year-old first baseman. In 26 games with Buffalo, Rowdy hit .366/.450/.688 with nine doubles and seven home runs but, while his power numbers were solid in Toronto (19 doubles and 21 home runs in 409 plate appearances), he had a .227/.293/.449 slash line, striking out in 28.4% of the time and walking 7.1%. Obviously, some work in both of those categories is going to be necessary for him to keep an every day role in Toronto as the Jays struggle to decide whether to bring in another first baseman to offer some safety at the position and bring out the competitive spirit in Rowdy.
Alen Hanson came back to the Blue Jays when they traded Kevin Pillar to San Francisco at the beginning of the season but didn’t really work out. In 18 games with Toronto, Hanson hit .163/.229/.163 without an extra-base hit, striking out in 35.4% of his 48 plate appearances. In Buffalo, he got into 48 games with 180 plate appearances, hitting .187/.232/.271 with three doubles, a triple and three home runs before he was released in early August.
Andrew Guillotte hit .159/.207/.207 with two doubles and a triple in 25 games, playing more on the infield than in the outfield before he retired at the end of May.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. spent some time in Buffalo, playing more on the infield than in the outfield (where he would eventually solidify a spot in Toronto). After a rough start in Toronto, hitting .175/.250/.275 in 13 games in which he was having a lot of trouble making throws from second base, Gurriel was sent to Buffalo to figure things out. In Triple-A, Gurriel worked hard, hitting .276/.308/.480 with 13 doubles and four triples in 130 plate appearances, getting himself back to the majors by the end of May. Gurriel had a four-hit game in his third game back from the minors and didn’t look back, hitting .292/.339/.580 with 15 doubles, two triples and 20 home runs in 71 games after his return, missing just over a month with a quad injury and having surgery for appendicitis at the end of the the season. He’s looking to be the hitter he was in the second half of 2019 as he gets a chance to play every day in the outfield, where his arm strength became a great weapon, in 2020.
Eric Sogard played just nine games for Toronto with the 33-year-old veteran starting the year in Buffalo before exploding in Toronto and getting himself traded to Tampa Bay at the deadline. Sogard had a .267/.395/.433 slash line in Buffalo before coming up to the majors, hitting .300/.363/.47 with 17 doubles, two triples and 10 home runs (tying his career high) in 73 games with Toronto. Moving on to Tampa Bay, he hit .266/.328/.404 with another six doubles and three home runs before the season ended.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the name on everyone’s lips as the spring started but an injury in spring training had the 20 year old held back from action from action. He played in four games for Dunedin at the beginning of the season, picking up a hit in each one and he reported to Buffalo to play on April 11. In just nine games at the top level of the minor leagues, Guerrero showed that the International League couldn’t contain him, hitting .367/.441/.700 with four walks and two strikeouts, hitting a double and three home runs before he came to the major leagues for his debut against the Oakland A’s in an event seen widely around Blue Jays land on April 26. Guerrero would ultimately have an up-and-down season as a rookie, posting solid offensive numbers and showing some improvement in the field. He punctuated his season with a stellar August, hitting .341/.406/.571 with four home runs and seven doubles, adding a triple but his offensive production dropped off dramatically in September as he hit just .232/.264/.293. Overall in the majors, Vlad hit .272./339/.433 with an 8.9% walk rate and a 17.7% strikeout rate. Fans are hoping he will report ot camp in 2020 in better shape and can make his August numbers look like what he can do over the course of his first full big league season.
Speedster Roemon Fields was the only regular outfielder on the Bisons who didn’t get to the majors. In 98 games, Fields hit .254/.324/.321 with 16 stolen bases in 24 attempts, hitting eight doubles, three triples and two home runs in 340 plate appearances. Looking more like a minor-league fourth outfielder with limited pop in his bat, Fields will likely be a depth player for the Jays in Buffalo.
The answer to a problem that doesn’t exist. If we were on Jeopardy, the “question” to that answer would be “Socrates Brito.” The Blue Jays acquired Brito, an outfielder with a similar offensive profile to Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez, Billy McKinney (and later, Derek Fisher), in early May, sending minor league outfielder Rodrigo Orozco to San Diego in exchange. Brito flopped in his major league audition, hitting .077/.163/.128 with a triple and a painful 39.5% strikeout rate. Sent to the Bisons outright, he put together a very solid minor league season, hitting .282/.328/.510 with 28 doubles, seven triples and 16 home runs, walking in 6.8% of his 428 plate appearances and striking out in 22.7%. Brito, 27, may be around next year but he may also be able to elect free agency after the World Series.
Jonathan Davis played in 82 games with Buffalo but also got a chance to try his hand against major league pitching in 37 games, hitting .181/.266/.265 with the Jays, hitting a double and two home runs in 95 plate appearances and stealing three bases. He had a solid season in Buffalo, hitting .262/.382/.449 with 19 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs, stealing 13 bases in 17 attempts, walking in 11.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in 23.6%. He’ll be back and forth a bit next year but there are several outfielders ahead of him on the depth charts.
Jonathan Davis’s brother-in-law (they’re married to sisters) is Anthony Alford, 25, whose baseball career continues to be marred by injury. Alford played in one game at the beginning of the season for Toronto (going 0/3) but then reported to Buffalo, hitting .256/.340/.405 in 62 games, hitting 13 doubles, three triples and five home runs and stealing 17 bases (in 24 attempts) before another injury derailed his season. Alford missed over a month, returning to action in August (with four games in the GCL for rehab). From August 7 to September 2, Alford put up solid numbers, hitting .273/.355/.436 with three doubles and two more home runs, stealing five bases in six attempts and giving him a .259/.343/.411 slash line overall. Alford played sparingly in Toronto in September and had a .179/.233/.286 slash line with a home run in 30 plate appearances. Alford’s strikeout rate was high at both levels–29.5% in Buffalo and 36.7% in a small sample size in Toronto–and he’ll need to get that under control in 2020 if he’s going to seriously compete for a roster spot in Toronto.
Billy McKinney split his season between Buffalo and Toronto, playing 36 games in Buffalo and 84 in Toronto. He hit a strong .271/.383/.488 in Buffalo, hitting eight doubles, four triples and four home runs while hitting .215/.274/.422 with 14 doubles, a triple and 12 home runs in the major leagues. McKinney’s low 6.9% walk rate and somewhat high 26.4% strikeout rate in the majors are in need of some adjustment but his ability to put the ball over the fence is quite good. If he can bring up his OBP (hopefully by increasing his .250 BABIP in 2019), he could be a productive member of the Jays’ outfield although where he’ll play is a big mystery as he’ll be in competition with Lourdes Gurriel, Teoscar Hernandez and Derek Fisher for a spot.
Teoscar Hernandez played 19 games in Buffalo with a .253/.313/.480 slash line, hitting a triple and five home runs while he was in the minors. In a much larger sample size in the majors (125 games), Hernandez hit .230/.306/.472 with 19 doubles, two triples and 26 home runs but struck out in 33.0% of his plate appearances. His improved walk rate of 9.7% helped his OBP to .306, four points higher than in 2018 but he still needs to get on base a bit more to really produce value for the Jays.
Ben Revere was in the Jays’ system for about a week, hitting .286/.286/.371 with three doubles in 35 plate appearances before he was released.
Dalton Pompey, 26, continues to be haunted by his injuries, playing in 17 games in 2019 as concussions continue to be a problem. In eight games in Buffalo (with four in the GCL and five in Dunedin), Pompey hit .259/.382/.259. Pompey was sent the minors outright and may be able to elect free agency at the end of the World Series.
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