The New Hampshire Fisher Cats featured a few very good performances from its hitters who collectively finished in the middle of the pack of the Eastern League.
We live in a different era now, folks. It’s one where Jack Murphy is no longer a member of the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization. Long known as one of the best defensive catchers in the Jays’ system and one of the most popular minor league players thanks to his Australian heroics and long hair/moustache combination, Murphy played 85 games for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats before being traded in September to the Dodgers for Darwin Barney who was very useful for the Blue Jays as a middle infielder off the bench in the run to the playoffs. Murphy threw out a third of potential base stealers this year and only allowed four passed balls in 76 games behind the plate. Always known as a switch hitter, Murphy told me that he’s given up switch hitting and just hit from the left side this year (unless he renegged and went back to it after we spoke around the batting cage at the end of April). In 328 plate appearances, he hit .220/.309/.315 with a healthy 11.3% walk rate and a 17.7% strikeout rate adding a little bit of pop with 14 doubles, two triples and three home runs. Headed back to Canberra this year to play for the Cavalry, it will be the first time he does it without representing the Blue Jays.
K.C. Hobson, who, incidentally, looks a lot like Jack Murphy with his long hair and moustache, repeated the Double-A level in 2015, posting improvements in his numbers and playing in 130 games with 120 of them at first base. He hit .240/.288/.367 with 19 doubles, a triple and 14 home runs (second on the club). Looking a little deeper, however, Hobson improved his strikeout rate (down to 19.6% from 21.4% last year) but his walk rate dropped to 6.3% from 7.8%. The other worry is that, as a first baseman, his ISO was at .126 (about the same as his .130 rate last year). Hobson should have another year on his initial contract after being drafted in the sixth round of the 2009 draft but first base is going to get crowded in Double-A as L.B.Dantzler, Matt Dean and Rowdy Tellez all jockey for playing time in 2016.
Jon Berti tied for the most games at second base for the Fisher Cats, despite getting some playing time in Buffalo for the first time in his career. The speedy infielder (who has also started playing some outfield) posted very similar numbers to those in his first Double-A season last year. In 63 games this year, Berti hit .262/.345/.336 with 12 doubles, two triples and a home run while stealing 19 bases in 23 attempts. In a further 166 plate appearances with Buffalo, he hit only .228/.307/.302. The key to believing that his .262 BABIP in Buffalo is not his usual figure is that Berti has tended to have a BABIP around .300 in the mid-to-high minors and his rate stats are not too far off from what he was doing at other levels. In fact, his walk rate in Buffalo (8.4%) is just a fraction of a point off from his walk rate in New Hampshire (8.8%) while his strikeout rate in Buffalo (15.1%) only went up 2.3% over that in New Hampshire (12.8%). Basically, Berti wasn’t overwhelmed by a higher level of competition in Triple-A and, if he continues to make solid contact, he’ll be just fine with the Bisons in 2016.
Kevin Nolan’s numbers have steadily declined since being an Eastern League All-Star in 2013. Last year, he got his first taste of Triple-A with 21 games in Buffalo and this year, he spent most of the season in Double-A with just nine in Buffalo. Nolan hit .246/.294/.346 in 109 games in Manchester, being much more of a utility man than an everyday shortstop. He played 49 games at third and 50 at short with another three at first base. Nolan hit five home runs, down from his 2013 career high of nine, and stole 10 bases. Given his limited shot in Buffalo, however, Nolan performed very well, hitting .300/.364/.467 in 33 plate appearances with a home run. He was fairly consistent with his walk rate (6.3% in NH, 6.1% in Buffalo) and his strikeout rate (10.5% in NH, 12.1% in Buffalo) and those numbers have remained very constant since he reached Double-A in 2013. Nolan’s seven-year contract may well be up, having played in the Jays’ system since 2009, and he could very well have the freedom to choose where he’ll play for the first time in his career, at the age of 28 in 2016.
Usurping Kevin Nolan’s role as the everyday shortstop for the Fisher Cats, 23-year-old Mexican infielder Jorge Flores had a season that could be called “breakthrough.” While Flores (who I call “Mightly Mouse” for his surprising pop and diminutive stature) doesn’t hit for a lot of power, he hit .276/.360/.347 for the Fisher Cats in 461 plate appearances, hitting 20 doubles, a triple and two home runs. Flores’s 5-foot-5 frame makes him tough to pitch to and he really started to improve his value by taking walks in 10.2% of his plate appearances while still maintaining a low 13.7% strikeout rate. His .071 ISO was his highest since 2013. Flores either doesn’t run as well as he thinks or just hasn’t been able to get good jumps as he was unsuccessful stealing bases more often than he was successful, stealing 10 times in 21 attempts. That said, Flores is a good fielder, making only 16 errors in 80 games at shortstop and he played 27 games at second base, making just two errors. Flores also got time in at third and all three outfield positions for the Fisher Cats. While Flores profiles as a utility player, he will give you good defense and has shown that he hasn’t be overwhelmed by quality pitching. He could be an odd man out and remain in New Hampshire next year, especially if the Jays stock the Bisons with a lot of minor league free agents, as they have over the past two years.
One of the best-known prospects to join the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2015 was Dwight Smith, Jr. Smith, a former first-round pick had an up and down year (after an excellent one in 2014 with Dunedin) but ended up with solid, but unspectacular stats: a .265/335/.376 slash line, hitting 26 doubles, two triples and seven home runs while playing mostly left field. Interestingly, his peripherals haven’t fallen off a cliff: Smith had a walk rate of 10.9% in 2014 and it was a little lower in 2015 at 9.2% while also lowering his strikeout rate from (an already low) 12.9% in 2014 to 12.5% in 2015. His BABIP was down about 17 points from 2014 which almost completely accounts for his 19-point drop in batting average year over year. The biggest area that regressed for Smith was his power. His ISO, at .169 in a tough hitters league (Florida State League) last year, fell to .111 in a much friendlier league and park, particularly for left-handed hitters. I see Smith returning to New Hampshire in 2016 as a 23 year old to see if he can find some more power and be more consistent after starting and finishing strongly in 2015.
The top three center fielders for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in games played all played more for other teams this year so we come to Ian Parmley. The 25-year-old outfielder was the seventh round pick of the Jays in 2012 and, despite signing for only $5000, he has stuck with the club through four seasons now. Parmley split his season between New Hampshire (147 plate appearances) and Dunedin (137 plate appearances) and actually had far better numbers at the higher level, walking in 7.5% of plate appearances and striking out in 14.3% with a .278/.331/.361 slash line, hitting a home run, four doubles and two triples. In Dunedin his walk rate was higher (11.7%) while his strikeout rate was much higher (26.3%) while he hit just .171/.267/.188. Parmley’s true abilities probably lie somewhere in between and he’s probably going to be a fourth-outfielder in New Hampshire in 2016.
Right fielder Matt Newman’s BABIP plummeted in 2015, seeing his overall numbers fall despite a positive uptick in walk rate. Still, after a season that saw him hit 22 doubles in 2014 in 81 games had his power numbers fall in conjunction with his batting average as he hit 13 doubles (but nine home runs) in 2015 with a .208/.271/.339 slash line. Newman has a strong arm (with 11 outfield assists) and the 27-year-old lefty pitched for the second consecutive season, this time, throwing one scoreless inning with a strikeout.
23-year-old Shane Opitz spent the whole season with the Fisher Cats after losing a lot of time thanks to injuries in 2014. Opitz hit .240/.283/.335 with a 5.6% walk rate and 12.5% strikeout rate in 391 plate appearances, spending time at all of the infield positions and all three outfield positions. If he can return to the type of offense he produced in 2013 and 2014 in Dunedin, Opitz could very well be an excellent utility option at the high minor league levels.
Yes, our Fisher Cats Player of the Year is all the way down on this list, as he only played in 76 games and had 307 plate appearances in Double-A. Still, Ryan Schimpf managed to dominate the Eastern League, hitting .271/.378/.581 with a club-leading 20 home runs and a whopping .310 ISO. Schimpf’s normally high strikeout rates dropped considerably, to 17.6% while his normally excellent walk rates stayed high, at 13.7%. In 31 games in Buffalo, his numbers fell off considerably, to .200/.270/.336 with three home runs. Schimpf’s initial seven-year contract is likely up and he could choose to explore other opportunities after his third consecutive season as the Blue Jays organization’s minor league home run king.
Injuries led Emilio Guerrero to play only 80 games this year including 52 with the Fisher Cats. Guerrero did not have the best of seasons, struggling to make contact in Double-A, hitting .230/.267/.328 and striking out in 26.2% of plate appearances while walking in 5.1%. He hit only two home runs. In 28 games with Dunedin, he hit .245/.298/.368 with a 6.1% BB-rate and a 20.0% K-rate. Emilio is in the Arizona Fall League and I’m sure the club hopes that his depressed numbers are a result of his injury rather than struggles adjusting to the higher calibre of baseball.
32-year-old first baseman Jake Fox started the season with the Fisher Cats and hit .278/.361/.509 in 122 plate appearances, with five home runs before he was released from his contract to pursue an opportunity in Korea where he posted almost identical numbers (except for fewer walks).
Catcher Pierce Rankin started the season with the Fisher Cats and hit .248/.304/.381 over 116 plate appearances with four home runs before the Blue Jays released him in July.
27-year-old Derrick Chung had injury woes throughout most of the season, finally returning to action in mid-July before arriving in Manchester in early August. In just 87 plate appearances, Chung was his usual self, hitting .282/.379/.366 walking in 13.8% of appearances and striking out in 9.2%. Hopefully we’ll see Chung for a full season in 2016.
Ronald Torreyes was picked up by the Blue Jays from the Astros in May and he played in 16 games for the Fisher Cats, hitting just .140/.204/.180 before being sold to the Dodgers where he played much better, hitting .293/.348/.410 in Double-A and .306/.340/.388 in Triple-A before making his big league debut in September, going 3/6 with two walks.
The Blue Jays signed Cole Garner out of the Mexican League this May and he hit .222/.250/.259 in eight games with New Hampshire before being shut down in early June. We have no more information on him or the 30 year old’s progress.
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