The New Hampshire Fisher Cats were stacked with position-playing prospects to open the season. Not all had the same quality of season, however, as some spent time on the DL and others under-performed to their expectations. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of Fisher Cats players to get excited about as the 2017 ended.
Danny Jansen, 22, was the talk of the town after his helium-fueled season. Jansen, now wearing glasses to help his vision and finally healthy, put together a strong season while proving that he can hit even at the highest minor-league levels. Jansen started his season with the Dunedin Blue Jays, hitting .369/.422/.541 with six doubles and five home runs over 31 games in Advanced-A, repeating the level at which he had a .585 OPS in 2016. Although he walked only 5.9% of the time (likely because he was hitting .369!), he only struck out in 10.3% of his plate appearances, leading the Blue Jays to get him to New Hampshire quickly. Jansen arrived in New Hampshire in mid-May with projected starter Reese McGuire out of action and he took over, hitting .291/.378/.419 with 15 doubles, a triple and two home runs while boosting his walk rate to 10.5% and lowering his strikeout rate to just 9.0% in 210 plate appearances. That was good enough to earn Mid-Season All-Star honours in both Dunedin and New Hampshire (I’m not sure how often that’s happened) while he moved up to Buffalo for the last month of the season (we spoke to Danny just after his promotion). Getting regular playing time in Triple-A (21 games and 78 plate appearances), Danny hit .328/.423/.552 with four doubles, a triple and three home runs, raising his walk rate to 14.1% and maintaining his 9.0% strikeout rate while also increasing his ISO from .128 in NH to .224 in Buffalo. All in all, it was a wild season for Jansen and was one where he proved that he belonged at the highest levels of the game. Jansen, a hard worker and great teammate is highly thought of by the organization (he was singled out to me by Gil Kim during spring training) and he’ll probably start 2018 in Buffalo and will likely be added to the 40-man roster to protect him in the Rule 5 draft.
Reese McGuire, 22, was acquired by the Blue Jays from the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2016 trading for Francisco Liriano. The former first-round pick was a highly touted prospect and his status was built mostly around his advanced defense and the potential in his bat. The potential didn’t arrive while he was with Pittsburgh and that allowed the Blue Jays to acquire him, Liriano and Harold Ramirez for Drew Hutchison. McGuire’s 2017 got off to mediocre start as he hit just .216/.311/.373 with a triple and two home runs in 63 plate appearances before going down to an oblique injury While rehabbing in Florida, he underwent knee surgery and started working his way back into form with the GCL Blue Jays in July. He hit a healthy .409/.462/.500 in eight games with the GCL Jays and had three hits in three games with the Dunedin Blue Jays before returning to New Hampshire. In his final 18 games, McGuire had 73 plate appearances and hit at a torrid pace, putting up a .328/.411/.594 slash line, hitting five doubles and four home runs, giving him a final slash line of .278/.366/.496 in Double-A, giving him a career-best OPS of .861 and a career-high in home runs in a season with six . . . in just 34 games. McGuire also had very strong walk (11.8%) and strikeout (14.0%) rates. If this is how McGuire is going to hit as he moves forward (remember, he’s just 22), then he’s going to be highly coveted, particularly since he’s still a strong defensive catcher, throwing out 33% of runners trying to steal in NH this year. McGuire will likely be added to the 40-man roster this year as the Jays have a number of questions surrounding their catching corps but need to protect a number of minor league players for the upcoming Rule 5 draft. He could start either in Buffalo or New Hampshire, depending on how the catching situation looks in the majors and the high minors.
Alex Monsalve was one of the Blue Jays’ back catchers slated for the high minors, splitting his season between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo. In 84 plate appearances with New Hampshire, Monsalve hit .284/.310/.321 with three doubles while hitting .250/.283/.357 with three doubles and a home run in 60 plate appearances in Buffalo. Monsalve only threw out 21% of runners but played just 23 games behind the plate for New Hampshire while throwing out 31% in 12 games for Buffalo. Monsalve may not have a contract beyond 2017 and, with several other catchers putting themselves into the conversation for inclusion on the big league roster, he may not be back.
The Blue Jays picked up catcher Patrick Cantwell from the Texas Rangers in early May, acquiring him for cash but the 27-year-old New Yorker only got into two games before getting injured and missing the rest of the season. Cantwell was 1/4 with a double and two RBI for New Hampshire and hit .133/.188/.133 in seven games with Triple-A Round Rock. Cantwell, a third-round pick in 2017, will likely return to New Hampshire as a backup.
First baseman Ryan McBroom was having a decent season for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats when he was traded to the New York Yankees for infielder Rob Refsnyder in late July. For the Fisher Cats, McBroom, 25, was putting up numbers that were expected of him: a .243/.321/.402 slash line with 19 doubles and 12 home runs in 346 plate appearances. The 2015 Midwest League MVP hit .257/.327/.379 with five doubles and four home runs in his final 38 games of the year with the Trenton Thunder.
Tim Lopes was, for me, one of the most well-rounded contributors to the Fisher Cats in 2017. Finishing with a .271/.338/.390 slash line in his second year in Double-A (after playing in the Southern League in 2016 with Jackson, Seattle’s affiliate), Lopes, 23, increased his power numbers by hitting 27 doubles, four triples and seven home runs while stealing 19 bases in 28 attempts. Lopes maintained a strong 9.3% walk rate while striking out 16.3% of the time which, considering his increase in power (from a .071 ISO to a .119 ISO), is more than acceptable. A former sixth-round draft pick, Lopes started out well, with a .817 OPS in April but slumped in May and June, finding his form in July but struggling in August. Still, he hit five of his seven home runs in the final two months of the season, giving us hope that he’s added a new dimension to his game. Lopes could land either in Buffalo or New Hampshire next year.
25-year-old Gunnar Heidt got consistent playing time for the Fisher Cats, playing multiple positions, mostly at second and third base but also spent some time at first and in the outfield. Heidt spent his first season in Double-A playing in 126 games and hitting .229/.303/.370 with 20 doubles and 13 home runs (good for second on the team) with a 9.3% walk rate and a 28.5% strikeout rate. The strikeout rate is a real concern seeing as it jumped to 28.5% in 2017 from around 22% in 2016 split between Lansing and Dunedin. Still, as a utility player, Heidt has a lot of value and I’d expect to see him back in New Hampshire in 2018.
Richard Urena, 21, was one of the Jays’ top prospects heading into 2017 and, with a New Hampshire assignment and 40-man roster spot, was expected to get a look in Toronto before the season was over. Injuries to Tulo and Travis gave Urena a shot to play regularly in the big leagues but his season was generally disappointing from an offensive standpoint. In 129 games with the Fisher Cats, Urena hit just .247/.286/.359 with 36 doubles, three triples and five home runs. Urena’s strikeout rate rose from 14.4% in his 2016 stint in Double-A to 18.1% while his walk rate also rose from 3.0% to 5.4%. In the major leagues, Urena hit .206/.270/.309 after a stellar 10-game stint in which he hit .316 with three doubles and a home run. He had just two hits in his next 10 games while striking out in 37.3% of his 75 big league plate appearances (but walking in 8.0% of them). Urena will likely start 2018 in Buffalo but it will be important for him to be more selective at the plate when it comes to both getting on base via the walk and getting better pitches to hit.
Emilio Guerrero 25, started off his season by hitting rather poorly (.227/.284/.327) before going down to injury and missing about two months. Coming back, the Dominican infielder turned things around with a .310/.347/.440 slash line, hitting 10 doubles a triple and a home run in his final 33 games. Overall, Guerrero had a .263/.311/.376 slash line, hitting 14 doubles, two triples and four home runs, walking in 6.3% of his plate appearances and striking out 19.9%. Guerrero played mostly first base (36 games) with 21 games at third base. He has reached the end of his initial contract and may be able to elect free agency following the World Series.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 23, signed as a free agent with the Blue Jays this offseason and got his season off to a slow start, playing sparingly in spring training and then getting into only one game in April before missing the rest of the next two months with injuries. Gurriel, the Cuban infielder, returned in mid-June, playing 18 games in Advanced-A Dunedin and hitting just .197/.217/.258 in his first consistent game action since leaving Cuba a couple of years ago. In New Hampshire, he started rounding into form, hitting .241/.286/.371 in 46 games with 10 doubles and four home runs, only walking in 5.4% of his at bats and striking out in 16.2%. Despite his decent strikeout rate, when I saw Gurriel, he was chasing too many bad pitches and will need to work on pitch selection as he continues his North American career. He’ll be seen next in the Arizona Fall League (starting today) and will likely be either in New Hampshire or Buffalo next year.
24-year-old Andrew Guillotte had a terrific opening to his season that set him up well to finish the year in Double-A with a couple of trips to Triple-A sandwiched in there (where I caught up with him). Guillotte started the season with the Dunedin Blue Jays, hitting .293/.363/.400 with 10 doubles and two home runs and he played multiple outfield positions as well as the infield. Guillotte was not just coming up swinging at the plate, but he was coming up gunning in the outfield, racking up 11 outfield assists (nine from right field) as he utilized his strong arm very effectively. He jumped up to Buffalo for a couple of games but settled in in New Hampshire, playing in 64 games there, hitting .244/.316/.315 with four doubles, a triple and three home runs while hitting .304/.407/.478 in eight games in Buffalo. Guillote had another four outfield assists in New Hampshire to give him 15 on the year, an impressive number for anyone. Guillotte had solid walk rates at every level (8.8% in Dunedin, 8.4% in New Hampshire and 14.8% in 27 plate appearances in Buffalo) while striking out at respectable rates in Dunedin (14.6%) and New Hampshire (18.0%). It appeared that, in the small sample size, strikeouts were a problem in Buffalo as he went down on strikes in 33.3% of his plate appearances. Still, Guillotte’s true value comes from his baseball IQ as well as his ability to play the infield as well as the outfield. I can see him starting 2018 in New Hampshire with the potential for some time in Buffalo if needed.
Outfielder Jonathan Davis, 25, is now a two-time Blue Jays from Away Player of the Year (2017 NH, 2016 DUN) and continued his solid play as an everyday player in Double-A. He played in 128 games, mostly in center field, hitting .249/.361/.379 with 20 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases. As he moved up to Double-A this year, Davis lowered his strikeout rate to 20.1% and his walk rate dropped almost one percent to 12.6%, still very high. The thing about his season, however, is that his ISO dropped significantly, from .189 in the Florida State League, a notoriously tough hitter’s league, to .130 this year in a much better hitter’s environment. One possible explanation could be that Davis hit fewer line drives and more ground balls while pulling the ball less. I think that Davis will return to Double-A to start next season.
Harold Ramirez, 23, came to the Blue Jays with Reese McGuire in the deal that also brought Francisco Liriano to Toronto. Ramirez didn’t make much of an impression in 2016 thanks to an injury that allowed him to play only one game that year but in 2017, he played the whole season, getting into 121 games and hitting .266/.320/.358 with 19 doubles, two triples and six home runs. Ramirez walked in 6.5% of his plate appearances and struck out in only 13.3%. Ramirez hits a lot of his balls on the ground with a 56.1% ground ball rate while only hitting 25.5% fly balls. Neither of these figures are particularly promising in when defenses shift more. I’ve been told that the organization likes Ramirez’s strength and athleticism but his swing plane may have to change for him to get the most out of his talent. Ramirez is on the 40-man roster but will likely have to be optioned and, with several other players vying for outfield spots in Buffalo, he could remain in Double-A to start 2018.
In his seventh minor league season, 24-year-old Derrick Loveless probably struggled to get enough playing time to show what he can do. Loveless started his season in Advanced-A Dunedin, hitting .293/.411/.427 with the D-Jays in 20 games, hitting 10 doubles before being promoted to New Hampshire at the end of April. In New Hampshire, Loveless played 69 games the rest of the year, hitting .253/.379/.326, only hitting nine doubles, a triple and a home run in 190 at bats. Loveless has always boasted strong walk rates and he put up a career-high 16.2% this year in Double-A while striking out in 23.5% of his plate appearances. Loveless’s ISO fell significantly from his .207 mark in 2016 with New Hampshire to just .074 this year while his BABIP increased. Like Ramirez, Loveless isn’t getting the ball in the air enough, with a 59.3% ground ball rate with the Fisher Cats and a fly ball rate of only 23.7%. After seven seasons, Loveless will likely have the opportunity to elect free agency this year.
23-year-old Anthony Alford can’t buy an injury free season. Alford played the first month and a half of the season with Double-A New Hampshire, hitting .325/.411/.455 with seven doubles and three home runs before the Blue Jays called. In four games in Toronto, Alford had one hit before breaking his hand and missing the next month and a half. Rehabbing in Dunedin, Alford didn’t hit much, hitting .143/.182/.143 in six games before he returned to New Hampshire and finished his time there with a .310/.406/.429 slash line, stealing 18 bases in 21 attempts and slashing 14 doubles and five home runs. He finished his season in Buffalo, going 4/12 with a double in three games. Alford showed tremendous discipline in New Hampshire, where he played 68 games, walking in 12.1% of his 289 plate appearances and striking out in only 15.6%. Alford’s speed, bat-on-ball ability and raw power make him a prime candidate to hit the big leagues for good in some time in 2018. Still I’d like to see him get a little more loft in his swing but he’ll likely do that swinging in Buffalo in 2018.
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