If you read yesterday’s post (the Blue Jays from Away Awards), you’ll know that there weren’t many starting pitchers who managed to stick for the whole season in New Hampshire. More than any other team, the Fisher Cats tended to have their starting pitching staff plundered by other teams in the system whether it was because the pitcher was promoted or because (at the end of the year) the Dunedin Blue Jays were prepping for the playoffs. This led the Fisher Cats’ rotation to have two really consistent starters that actually made more than 14 starts.
26-year-old righty Casey Lawrence wasn’t just the Pitcher of the Year for the Fisher Cats, he led the club in innings pitched (151 1/3) and strikeouts (93). The Fisher Cats didn’t have any pitchers to break the 100 strikeout mark in 2014 and that’s mainly because few real strikeout pitchers were given the opportunity by spending enough time at one level. Lawrence had an excellent walk rate of 4.6% to go with a decent 14.9% strikeout rate and his 3.69 ERA and 1.26 WHIP were very solid. Lawrence was a non-drafted free agent in 2010 and could very well be stuck in New Hampshire for his third year in 2015 thanks to several pitchers like Sean Nolin, Daniel Norris and Kendall Graveman who will likely be “waiting in the wings” in Buffalo in 2015.
Scott Copeland, like Casey Lawrence, is an unheralded worker bee of the Blue Jays’ minor league system. Logging 164 2/3 innings in 2014, Copeland made 22 of his 26 starts in New Hampshire and posted a 3.74 ERA, 1.35 WHIP with 89 strikeouts and 48 walks in 139 2/3 innings. In another 25 innings in Buffalo, however, he was excellent, striking out 16, walking seven and posting an ERA of 1.80 and a WHIP of 1.04. Copeland was acquired as a free agent after Baltimore let him walk in 2012 and he’s been excellent with the Jays ever since. Having seen Copeland several times live, he’s the type of guy that you might forget about in a rotation but his solid stuff (low-90s fastball, good slider, good control) will give him longevity in this game. Only 26 (although you’d think he was older thanks to his snazzy moustache), Copeland will likely be in Buffalo next year although, like Lawrence, he could be stuck back in New Hampshire due to depth.
Look who’s a big leaguer! Aaron Sanchez, the Jays’ #1 prospect coming into the season, made it all the way from Double-A New Hampshire to be a stud in the Jays’ bullpen down the stretch. Sanchez started the season putting up fairly mediocre numbers in the Eastern League, posting a 3.82 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP thanks to 40 walks in 66 innings, striking out only 57 batters. I was of the opinion that Sanchez needed more work to harness his control and that the strikeouts were down because he was trying to throw the ball to the middle of the strike zone and let the insane movement on his pitches get it to the corners. Well, I was half right. Moving up to Buffalo, Sanchez saw a drop in strikeout rate (from 20% to 18%) but a bigger drop in his walk rate and his time in Toronto got both ratios into league average (or better) range at 22.3% and 7.4% (respectively). Obviously, Sanchez’s biggest developments have come from his work on the sinker which produced an incredible 65.9% ground ball rate and a miniscule .157 BABIP. Both stand to regress a bit in 2015 but as long as he’s tough to get the ball in air against, Sanchez is going to be effective in the bigs. Look for him to take a starting rotation job for the Jays in 2015.
Austin Bibens-Dirkx (a.k.a. The X-Man) had another solid season as a good soldier for the Blue Jays, pitching where needed whether it was in Buffalo or New Hampshire and whether it was the bullpen or starting rotation. ABD made 12 starts in New Hampshire, logging 74 innings with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with 12 walks and 57 strikeouts. In Buffalo, he was mostly used out of the bullpen and wasn’t as successful but still managed to post a 3.89 ERA, 1.30 WHIP with 35 strikeouts and 11 walks in 39 1/3 innings. If back (since he signed as a free agent, his contract is likely up), he could pitch at both levels again in 2015.
Poor Deck McGuire. He’ll always be thought of as the first-round pick who busted in Blue Jays fans’ minds. Deck made 10 starts with the Fisher Cats and showed signs of figuring things out with a 2.98 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 47 strikeouts and 17 walks in 60 1/3 innings. He started out in Buffalo going crazy, with a 2.29 ERA and a 10-strikeout game in his first three starts there. Things went downhill as he gave up three or more runs in each of his next six starts before getting DFA’ed and eventually picked up by the Oakland A’s. He was maddeningly inconsistent for Sacramento, getting hammered twice by Reno (once at home, once away) and was lit up for 21 earned runs over two starts against the Aces. While the PCL wasn’t friendly to Deck, he’ll get a chance to start things again with the A’s in 2015 and, if he makes the big leagues at some point, he could benefit from pitching in an environment that allows pitchers to get away with mistakes.
Radhames Liz made eight starts for the Fisher Cats after recovering from his injury, posting an outstanding 1.93 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 11 walks and 33 strikeouts in 42 innings. Liz also started four games for Buffalo but his numbers weren’t nearly as good there and he was placed on the DL on August 2.
The Blue Jays picked up 6-foot-4 righty P.J. Walters from the Royals for cash as a way to bolster the minor league pitching. Walters, who came to the Blue Jays once before in the Colby Rasmus trade, split his time almost equally between Buffalo and New Hampshire, making fewer starts in NH but was more effective, allowing him to eat up a few more innings. In 52 innings with the Fisher Cats, Walters had a 2.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and an impressive 5.00 strikeout to walk ratio (50 strikeouts, 10 walks) but the numbers weren’t as good in 49 1/3 innings in Buffalo, with a 4.56 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 2.41 K/BB ratio (41 strikeouts, 17 walks). Walters was released by the Blue Jays at the end of the minor league season.
6-foot-7 righty Mike Lee was signed by the Blue Jays late in the year to help bolster the Fisher Cats’ rotation and he made five starts after making 21 in the Diamondbacks’ system in Double-A and Triple-A. Lee logged 32 very strong innings, posting a 2.25 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with 30 strikeouts and seven walks over 32 innings. The 27-year-old from Washington state is still with the organization (as far as I know) and will likely have the opportunity to choose free agency after the World Series ends.
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