As I mentioned before, the Fisher Cats offense was composed, at the beginning of the season, by a number of players who had been around the Double-A level before. Many of these players moved up to Buffalo at some point in the season but, other than one or two of them, none really excelled throughout the first half of the season. Newbies to New Hampshire were able to form part of the club’s nucleus but veteran players got a lot of the playing time.
While Derrick Chung actually led the Fisher Cats’ catchers in games, I already discussed his season because he spent slightly more time with the Dunedin Blue Jays. That brings us to Jack Murphy who split time between New Hampshire and Buffalo for the second time this season. Murphy had some health issues this year and only played in 53 total games, 42 of them in New Hampshire, hitting .221/.310/.374 with slightly better numbers in the Double-A portion of his year including almost all of his extra-base hits. Murphy managed to hit seven doubles and six home runs over the course of the season but is best known as a solid defensive catcher to whom pitchers love to throw. A 31st-round pick in the 2009 draft, Murphy is likely to be back in New Hampshire next year after his third winter spent in the Australian Baseball League.
Just before the season started, the Blue Jays signed first baseman Mike McDade as a minor league free agent, bringing him back into the organization for the first time since 2012. Playing all but seven of his 85 games with the Fisher Cats (he played those other seven with Buffalo), McDade hit 2.50/.307/.366 with 11 doubles and seven home runs. A solid, line drive hitter, McDade could very well be back in New Hampshire.
Second baseman Jon Berti, the Blue Jays’ R. Howard Webster Award winner for the Fisher Cats, spend his first season in Double-A contributing a great deal to the Fisher Cats with a .270/.323/.373 slash line, stealing 40 bases and hitting a career-high seven home runs and 21 doubles. Berti actually cut down his strikeout rate to a very nice 13.8% but his walk rate dropped to the lowest rate of his career at 5.9%. The Blue Jays have signed a lot of minor-league free-agent infielders to play in Buffalo in the past couple of years so I would almost expect the 24-year-old Berti to return to New Hampshire, particularly if the Jays get some help for the infield at the major league level.
Andy Burns spent his Age-23 season repeating the Double-A level which he reached for the first time in 2013. Burns started the season slowly, hitting only .213/.292/.330 for the first two months of the season. On the bright side, Burns turned things around in the second part of the season, hitting .280/.328/.492 over the final three months of the season, giving him a final line of .255/.315/.430 with some very solid stats for the complete year. He hit 32 doubles, five triples and 15 home runs while stealing 18 bases, giving him a very solid all around offensive game. Defensively, what I saw was somewhat disappointing. In 2013, I had seen Burns look like a world beater playing third base but seeing him again this year, he wasn’t nearly the same player. I’m not entirely sure what he’s going to be as a defensive player. I can see Burns getting a shot at Triple-A next year, particularly if players like Jared Goedert and Andy LaRoche don’t return to the Blue Jays next year.
26-year-old shortstop Kevin Nolan was an Eastern League All-Star last year and actually put up slightly better numbers over 2014 but also had a chance to play 21 games in Buffalo. In his 102 matches for the Fisher Cats, Nolan hit .257/.311/.367 with 22 doubles and five home runs while struggling a bit more and not hitting for much power at all in Buffalo. Nolan is a solid player and should be back with the Jays’ system in 2015 although I see a more veteran player with big league experience playing short in Buffalo.
23-year-old B.C. native Mike Crouse reached Double-A for the first time in his career and held his own, putting up respectable numbers across the board. Hitting .243/.321/.405, Crouse hit 17 doubles, six triples and nine doubles while stealing 15 bases. The biggest concern in Crouse’s game is his 26.7% strikeout rate which is actually around the lowest figure of his career, going back to his days in Rookie Ball. If he can tap into the massive power in his 6-foot-4, 215 pound frame, I think those strikeouts wouldn’t be nearly so troublesome. Crouse can expect to be back in New Hampshire, although a lot will depend on how many of the Blue Jays’ young outfielders (Pompey, Gose, Pillar, Glenn) end up ahead of him on the depth chart in Buffalo and Toronto.
In his Age-25 season, Matt Newman continued to do what Matt Newman does: hit doubles. The outfielder added 30 doubles to his career total while hitting seven home runs (all but one came in New Hampshire), hitting .253/.304/.406 between Dunedin and New Hampshire. Somewhat concerning was the fact that Newman’s walk rate plummeted and his strikeout rate soared after his promotion to Double-A. Still, Newman’s a good teammate and should be back with the Blue Jays in 2015, probably to play some more in New Hampshire.
Jonathan Jones was injured much of the year but had the third-most games in the outfield for the Fisher Cats. In his Age-24 year, Jones, a 29th-round pick in 2010 by the Blue Jays hit .233/.302/.314 with seven stolen bases. The Blue Jays have been waiting for Jones to break out for a while now and will probably keep him in Double-A to see if he can rebound next year.
Veteran catcher Hector Jimenez played with the Fisher Cats for a while, hitting .235/.264/.412 with a pair of home runs in 13 games but he didn’t last long and was released fairly soon after. Catcher Sean Ochinko is a former Webster Award winner who had a great start to his pro career but has been hobbled by health issues and a suspension over the past couple of years. Getting most of his time in 2014 in New Hampshire he hit .204/.232/.352 with a pair of home runs in 56 plate appearances but hit a bit better (.231/.286/.385) in his 28 plate appearances in Buffalo. Defensive specialist Aaron Munoz only played in 12 games this year, spending a lot of time on the disabled list and only had one hit in 39 plate appearances this year. Yusuf Carter, signed as a free agent in the offseason, struggled as well, hitting .183/.224/.225 in 23 games with the Fisher Cats.
Gabe Jacobo was released by the Blue Jays after hitting .146/.185/.270 through 35 games and had a very productive season in Independent baseball, hitting .281/.316/.464 with Lancaster.
Utility infielder Jorge Flores remains one of my favourite players to watch and follow. The player I’ve dubbed “Mighty Mouse” made a seamless transition to the high minors after starting the season in High-A Dunedin and, with about two-thirds of his playing time with New Hampshire, hit .298/.350/.350. While he doesn’t have a ton of power, Flores’ tiny stature (5-foot-5) makes him very tough to pitch to and he doesn’t strike out much. He can also hit the ball harder than you might think as his 14 doubles in 340 plate appearances can testify. Look for Flores back in Double-A next year.
Another backup infielder, Andy Fermin, made a big jump to Double-A this season after playing mostly in Vancouver last year and did pretty well for himself, showing glimpses of power and maturity at the plate. In his Age-24 season, Fermin hit .266/.312/.435 with six home runs playing mostly in New Hampshire. I can see him back in New Hampshire in 2015 with a little more playing time.
In the outfield, Melky Mesa came over from the Royals’ system and played mostly for New Hampshire with the Blue Jays’ organization, hitting .256/.304/.434 with four home runs in 35 games with the Fisher Cats. Outfielder Cory Aldridge only played in 22 games with New Hampshire, hitting .271/.303/.459 with five home runs while hitting .226/.306/.358 in 16 games in Buffalo, providing some veteran presence on the young team. In his Age-28 season, Brian Van Kirk only played 12 games with the Fisher Cats, hitting .217/.265/.261 before being released and finding work in an independent league, hitting .268/.329/.391.
We can’t forget Kenny Wilson, the 24-year-old who was on so many different teams in a few different systems that our heads were spinning after a while. Wilson spent the most time in the Jays’ system with New Hampshire, hitting .241/.299/.347 but also played 21 games in Buffalo, 11 games with the New Britain Rock Cats (with the Minnesota Twins’ system), 14 games with Triple-A Sacramento and 27 games with Double-A Midland (both in the Oakland system). Kenny was DFA’ed several times and has ended up in Oakland, playing well in Double-A but not so well in Triple-A.
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