The New Hampshire Fisher Cats came into the season with three highly touted pitching prospects in their starting rotation and with one up and coming starter and another pitcher expected to put up solid numbers in his return to the Double-A level. Things didn’t exactly turn out as planned, however.
Sean Reid-Foley, who just turned 22 during the season, began his first season in Double-A after splitting 2016 dominating A-ball. After striking out 32.3% of batters in Dunedin last year, and keeping his ERA under three at both Lansing and Dunedin, he finished 2017 with a 5.09 ERA and a 1.49 WHIP, striking out 20.7% of batters and walking 9.0%. His ground ball rate was also the lowest of his professional career, at 40.4%. Despite the troubling trend of his numbers, he did throw 132 2/3 innings, a career high and he made 27 starts, a team high while also leading the team with 122 strikeouts. A key to figuring out what went wrong for Reid-Foley is possibly in his home runs. He allowed 22 home runs, for a high 1.49 HR/9 rate. From the one outing I saw during the regular season as well as one spring training appearance, Reid-Foley was throwing too many pitches in the middle of the plate and struggled to locate his offspeed pitches, resulting in too many hits on his fastball. I’d expect Reid-Foley to repeat New Hampshire next year and hopefully he can return to the form he had in 2016.
Righty Jon Harris, the Jays’ first-round pick in 2015, had an up-and-down season with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, his first in Double-A. After a strong season, finishing in Dunedin in 2016, the 23-year-old righty posted a 5.41 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over a team-leading 143 innings with the Fisher Cats, striking out 17.7% and walking 7.3%, getting a decent 45.0% ground ball rate. Like Reid-Foley, he also gave up a lot of home runs, allowing 20 on the season for 1.26 HR/9 rate. His season wasn’t without its highlights, as he had two strong months in July and August, allowing hitters to have a .667 and .686 OPS against, respectively (after OPSs of .937, .931 and .946 in April, May and June, respectively). That translated to a 3.68 ERA in July but a 5.14 ERA in August despite a stable K/9 rate of 7.7 in those months. The bottom line is that I think he just got lucky, and he walked a few fewer hitters in July than in August. In my opinion, I think Harris probably needs a little bit more refinement in his pitch location and execution. He has the potential to be a solid back-of-the-rotation arm but has to make better pitches. Look for him to also return to Double-A in 2018.
Tantalizing Blue Jays (and Fisher Cats) fans with his 100 mph fastball, 22-year-old righty Conner Greene completed his fifth season of professional baseball with the Fisher Cats. In addition to five starts in Double-A New Hampshire in 2015, Greene, the Jays’ seventh-round pick in 2013, Greene finished the 2016 season there with 12 starts and spent all of 2017 in Manchester, starting 25 of his 26 games. Greene logged 132 2/3 innings with a 5.29 ERA and 1.69 WHIP and, while he got a very strong 52.1% of batted balls on the ground, his strikeout rate fell to 15.1% and his walk rate rose to 13.6%. Struggling with his control, Greene was unable to put together any kind of consistency this year and when he was off, he was really off, giving up 10 runs in four innings on August 13 as well as nine runs (eight earned) in four innings on July 1. If you look at game score, Greene’s best outing came on April 19 when he allowed two runs on four hits and two walks with five strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings. It will be interesting to see where Greene starts in 2018. He’s shown that he still has to harness his control but has already had a year and a half’s worth of games in Double-A.
While he was a rotation stalwart in Double-A in 2016 with the Fisher Cats, Alberta native Shane Dawson, 24, was a starter until the end of July when he moved over to the bullpen after the Jays’ acquired Thomas Pannone and Ryan Borucki was a member of the Fisher Cats. Overall, Dawson regressed with a 6.16 ERA and 1.74 WHIP, striking out only 12.0% of batters and walking 9.3% with a very low ground ball rate of 33.3%. Still, Dawson had mixed results as a reliever compared to his time as a starter, with a 3.24 ERA and 1.68 WHIP as a reliever and a 6.68 ERA and 1.75 WHIP as a starter. Despite some better numbers, Dawson also walked 10 batters in 16 2/3 innings while striking out only nine in the reliever’s role. Dawson is likely to be back in New Hampshire in 2018, his seventh in the organization.
Francisco Rios, 22, logged 86 innings with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in 2017, his first attempt at Double-A and, early in the season, he was one of the Fisher Cats’ most consistent starters. After an April in which Rios allowed just a .635 OPS against, that figure ballooned to .958 in May but dropped back to a tiny .568 in June. Overall, Rios had a 4.29 ERA and 1.50 WHIP, striking out 16.5% of batters and walking 10.2%. He had an excellent ground ball rate at 51.7% and moved into the bullpen to end the season where he didn’t seem to agree with the roll, allowing nine runs over nine innings with a 2.00 WHIP (compared to a 3.74 ERA and 1.44 WHIP as a starter. Rios is a prime candidate to start 2018 in New Hampshire.
After trading Joe Smith to the Indians at the July 31 deadline, the Blue Jays got Thomas Pannone and Samad Taylor back. Pannone, 23, was assigned to Double-A New Hampshire to continue his trip around the Eastern League after Pannone was pitching for Akron. While his numbers bloated a bit after the trade, Pannone showed some potential with a 3.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 20.3% strikeout rate and 5.6% walk rate. Pannone is not a groundball pitcher, getting just a 35.4% GB rate with the Fisher Cats (in 34 2/3 innings), but he did show the ability to ability to get more strikeouts with a 24.5% rate with the RubberDucks in 82 1/3 innings. Pannone finished strongly, giving up just one run in three of his last four starts, including a seven inning, three-hit, one-run, no-walk, seven-strikeout performance on September 2 to finish the year. I think Pannone may start in Double-A but he can move up to Buffalo at some point in the season in 2018.
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