The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are the next club up the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor league ladder. Double-A is where the rubber meets the road; good performances at this level will earmark a player for possible big league call ups. When the Blue Jays’ Triple-A club was in Las Vegas they insulated their pitching prospects from the difficult conditions out west where balls flew further and fields (particularly their home field in Vegas) were not as forgiving. Now, with the Jays’ Triple-A club in Buffalo, young pitchers aren’t being sheltered as much so it’s now just a stop along the way to Buffalo for many.
The Blue Jays have several pitching prospects who are scheduled to arrive on the New Hampshire pitching staff to start the year. The club, and its pitching coach, Vince Horsman, was very successful developing pitchers, particularly bullpen arms who are pretty ready to make a contribution at the major league level. Pitchers who started last year at the Double-A level included Danny Barnes, Chris Smith, Murphy Smith and Wil Browning and all of them had ERAs under 2.00. Who might be the Danny Barnes of 2017? Read on!
With 17 starts already under his belt at the Double-A level, Conner Greene is poised to take some big steps this year. He’s already thrown 100 mph this spring but still needs to reign in his control and command. Greene is only 22 and with so much experience at the Double-A level already, could be on a trajectory to hit Buffalo this year.
One of the Jays’ top prospects, Reid-Foley, 21, was dominant at two levels (Class-A and Advanced-A) last year, showing improved control, improved offspeed pitches and some nasty stuff that struck out over 10 batters per nine innings. Reid Foley could start in Dunedin but if he’s anything like what I saw last year, he’ll do fine in Double-A.
There’s a chance that Borucki, who got pasted in Dunedin to start the year last year, starts the season back in Advanced-A but I’ve heard things about how highly people within the organization think about him and his inclusion on the 40-man roster this year shows some of that faith. He’s the type of pitcher who can pitch in the high minors: he has good control and four solid pitches that he can command. He also has the mental intangibles not to get frustrated if he gets hit around a couple of times (see last year). He’ll also be 23 before the season opens, meaning that he’s not young for the level.
Gaby spent the whole 2016 in New Hampshire and was the club’s horse, tossing 146 1/3 innings over 28 starts. The overall numbers weren’t impressive as Gabryszwski is a contact pitcher and tends to give up a lot of hits and hard contact, particularly if he isn’t as fine with his command within the strike zone. Still, Gaby has three solid pitches and giving up runs is usually a mental focus for him. Without much room in Triple-A, Gaby, 24 in just a couple of weeks, stays in New Hampshire.
For me, Dawson was another surprise going into the season with the Fisher Cats. I thought he’d return to Dunedin after just five career starts there but the Blue Jays thought enough of the crafty, Canadian lefty to jump up to Double-A and he more than held his own. He made 26 starts (impressive considering some of the physiological issues he has) and threw 134 1/3 innings but his walk rate spiked up from his career norms and his strikeout rates dropped. He’s just 23 and will probably be back, but don’t necessarily be too surprised if he starts the year in Buffalo.
On the Bubble
Cole, 27, started out his season last year injured but returned to New Hampshire with some solid numbers in about half a season. He’s already got one complete season in Double-A under his belt (2015) but I’m still not sure if there’s room in Buffalo at the start of the year.
While I don’t think that Santos is on the bubble to pitch for New Hampshire, I think he’s on the bubble between the rotation and the bullpen. The 26-year-old Dominican righty made 15 starts in New Hampshire last year but has also pitched out of the pen on and off over his minor league career.
Mayza has already appeared in a spring training game this year and, despite getting roughed up in a brief taste of New Hampshire last year, Mayza was very dominant in Dunedin. At 25, he has nothing left to prove in A-ball and his High-90s arm needs to move to Double-A.
One of my sleepers this year, Gonzalez fared better than Mayza in a short audition in New Hampshire last year, but his 11 walks in 13 1/3 innings will probably have to come down if he wants to move up more. Still, he’s added some velocity in the last year or two and had some of his best career numbers with Dunedin last year. Like Mayza, he’s also a 25-year-old lefty.
I’ve run the numbers and I think Murphy Smith, 29, returns to his hometown club in New Hamsphire (he hails from Nashua, NH just about 20 minutes away). It’s not that he doesn’t deserve to be in Buffalo but I don’t think there’s going to be room in that bullpen. Smith had a 1.50 ERA last year but doesn’t have the raw stuff of some of his bullpen mates from last year.
After injuries kept him out of all but 10 1/3 innings since 2013, Adonys Cardona returned, firing in the mid-to-high 90s with a very nice slider in spring training. Still his layoff couldn’t help him find his control as he walked 31 in 37 2/3 innings in Dunedin. While he’s not too old to return to Dunedin (23), I have a feeling that the Blue Jays might want to push him a little and put him in New Hampshire.
Fisk was surprisingly successful in Dunedin after starting the year in Lansing. The righty worked both in the rotation and the bullpen with a 3.25 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, striking out more than three batters per walk. Fisk will be 25 just before the season starts and I think he’ll be one of the biggest surprises on the New Hampshire roster if you haven’t been paying attention to his career.
Isaacs is a little older than Fisk and had some tremendous success out of both the Lansing and Dunedin bullpens last year. Now 25, Isaacs shouldn’t have much to prove in A-ball and should be heavily considered for the New Hampshire bullpen.
On the Bubble
Stilson’s injury woes dropped him back to Double-A in 2016 after he was on the cusp of a major league call up with a strong campaign in Buffalo in 2014. He wasn’t fantastic in New Hampshire with a 3.88 ERA and 23 walks in 48 2/3 innings but he knows what he’s doing on the mound and was still throwing in the mid-90s when I saw him in spring training last year. I see him on the bubble between New Hampshire and Buffalo.
Another lefty, Fernandez had a solid season in Dunedin last year and, while he only allowed 29 hits in 43 2/3 innings, he walked 34. He’s on the bubble to move up to New Hampshire but I think he’s more likely to start in Dunedin at 24 years old.
Allen will be 28 this year and has had some struggles in Dunedin but certainly has the stuff to get batters out in Double-A. He’s also swung between the bullpen and the rotation over the past couple of years but needs to recapture his 2014 and 2015 form while reducing his walks.
Ramirez could very well start 2017 in New Hampshire but his placement will have to do with several factors. Ramirez has taken to pitching extremely well since moving from the outfield in 2014. He struck out 41 batters in 41 innings, a good sign for a newer pitcher, but also walked 21, a little bit high. Still, he has a lively, mid-90s fastball and a developing slider that could play in Double-A.
Villegas, 23, had a good year in Advanced-A last year and could very well jump to Double-A with the Blue Jays but he’s never pitched at that level and, generally, when the Jays have picked up a pitcher from another organization, they start him off at, or below, the level he was pitching at before. That said, Villegas’s strikeout to walk rate last year (70 Ks, 13 BBs) was impressive and could indicate that he’s ready for the next level.
I think Rowley could wind up in New Hampshire to start the year.
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