We turn to the hitters of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats to see who did what in 2018. We’ll start with the catchers and go around the horn to the infield and then to the outfield.
25-year-old Max Pentecost was slowly putting himself back in prospect conversations with his solid season in 2018 with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, showing that, after multiple surgeries to his throwing arm, he could still catch. Pentecost hit .253/.283/.401 with 17 doubles, two triples and 10 home runs in 89 games for the Fisher Cats, walking in 4.1% of plate appearances and striking out in 24.2%. That said, Pentecost improved throughout the season, hitting just .202/.248/.309 in the first three months of the season, and .314/.327/.513 over the final two months, with 10 of his doubles and seven home runs in that span. Pentecost’s slash line of .375/.381/.650 in August earned him the Eastern League Player of the Month award and gives us some hope for the future. Obviously, he’s going to need to improve his OBP and take more walks. He also improved behind the plate and threw out 40% of potential base stealers. Pentecost did struggle in the playoffs, hitting .188/.278/.375 with a home run and four RBI in four games. Pentecost is eligible for the Rule 5 draft and after a solid finish might draw some interest from teams, making the decision the Blue Jays have to make about putting him on the 40-man roster a little more difficult. He will probably start 2019 in New Hampshire unless the Blue Jays decided to carry three catchers with Russell Martin also serving as a utility man.
After only getting into two games with the Fisher Cats in 2017, catcher Patrick Cantwell played in 40 matches, hitting a solid .276/.386/.433 with four doubles, two triples and four home runs. Cantwell’s 11.6% walk rate was excellent and his 20.0% strikeout rate was just fine. Cantwell played in three postseason games, going 4/8 with two doubles. The 28-year-old threw out 30% of potential base stealers but his contract is likely up at the end of the season and it’s unknown whether the Blue Jays will bring him back.
24-year-old catcher Ryan Hissey split the backup job with Cantwell and played 34 games for the Fisher Cats, hitting .173/.216/.255 with three doubles and two home runs in 110 at bats. Hissey walked in 5.1% of his plate appearances and struck out in 23.7% while throwing out 29% of base stealers. Look for him in a backup role somewhere in the mid-to-high minors next year.
24-year-old first baseman Juan Kelly‘s season was marred by injury as the 5-foot-10 Dominican played in only 87 games for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in what was likely his final year in his initial minor league contract. Kelly missed a week in April as well as parts of Jully and August in his season and never really got on track after an April that had him hit just .214 (albeit with a .340 OBP). When the season was over, Kelly hit .221/.317/.407 with 15 doubles and 13 home runs, showing a tremendous 12.0% walk rate but a rather high 26.6% (career-high) strikeout rate. Kelly also was hurt by his .268 BABIP. While his batting average was exactly the same from either side of the plate, the switch hitter showed better numbers in OBP (.340) and SLG (.418) from the left side of the plate as opposed to the right side (.247 OBP and .377 SLG). If he returns to the Blue Jays, I can see Kelly back in New Hampshire but he’ll need to really break out in order to move up in someone’s system.
Cavan Biggio led the Fisher Cats in home runs as well as the number of games played at second base. Biggio made some adjustments to his swing in the offseason and after an underwhelming full-season debut in 2017 with Dunedin, Biggio emerged in a big way, slugging his way to a Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star honour while also taking home the Eastern League Rookie of the Year and MVP awards. While he only saw a three-point bump in BABIP, Biggio improved his batting average by 19 points, his OBP by 46 points and his slugging percentage by 136 points, posting a .252/.388/.499 slash line with 23 doubles, five triples and 26 home runs in 563 plate appearances. His whopping 17.8% walk rate gave him the rare figure of 100 walks on the season (second only to Ryan Noda in the organization) while he struck out in 26.3% of his plate appearances, a number that was just 1.1% higher than in Advanced-A in 2017. Biggio performed very well in the playoffs, going 6/20 (.300) with six walks, a double, a home run and nine RBI in six games while also swiping three bases in three tries. Biggio has not only been playing second base but he’s been working on his versatility, playing 22 games at first, 34 games at third and two in the outfield in addition to 68 at second. Biggio has been in the Arizona Fall League, getting some reps in the outfield especially and will likely be in Buffalo in 2019 at the age of 24.
Baseball America’s Player of the Year was, of course, the Blue Jays’ own Vladimir Guerrero Jr. who started in Double-A New Hampshire and set the world on fire for a little over two months. After suffering a knee injury, Guerrero missed over a month of play from the beginning of June to mid-July and he played in four rehab games (three in the GCL and one in the FSL) before returning to New Hampshire for a victory lap of seven games before the inevitable promotion to Buffalo at the end of August. With the Fisher Cats, Vlad hit an uncanny .402/.449/.671, punishing the ball with impunity and and I got to see some first-hand heroics myself while visiting. Vlad hit 19 doubles, a triple and 14 home runs in Double-A while walking in 7.9% of plate appearances and striking out in only 10.2%. After his promotion to Triple-A, Vlad cooled off a bit, hitting “only” .336/.414/.564 with seven more doubles and six home runs. Guerrero is also hitting well in the Arizona Fall League, posting a .393/.443/.508 slash line with seven doubles thus far. He’ll start the season in Buffalo next year but will probably be the Blue Jays’ everyday third baseman starting in late April.
Shortstop Bo Bichette struggled for the first time in his career, hitting Double-A New Hampshire at the age of 20. Bichette’s season went in waves, as he’d swing out of his shoes (and sometimes, socks) at times, missing badly on breaking balls out of the strike zone. That said, he never really slid off the map of decent numbers with his lowest monthly OPS being in July at .731. In August, he had his best OPS at .876 with 13 doubles and a home run and posting a .339 batting average. When it was all over, Bichette had a very respectable .286/.343/.453 slash line with a whopping 43 doubles (I believe setting a season record for the Fisher Cats), seven triples and 11 home runs while stealing 32 bases in 43 attempts. Bichette also showed improvement at shortstop, entrenching himself as a potential future big leaguer at the position. While Bichette was a non-factor in the 2017 Florida State League Playoffs, he had a big role to play in 2018 on the way to getting his second minor league championship ring, hitting .346/.393/.385 with a double and three stolen bases in six games. Bichette played in the Futures Game, was a mid- and post-season All-Star and continued to show signs of maturity. He was slated to play in the Arizona Fall League but begged off due to minor injuries. Look for him in Buffalo as just a 21-year-old in 2019.
Gunnar Heidt was a versatile and helpful player along the road to a championship for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. While he played 18 games for the Buffalo Bisons (four in July and 14 more in August), the Blue Jays sent him back to New Hampshire for the playoffs. Heidt had a rough start to the year posting just a .448 OPS with the Fisher Cats in 14 April games and that affected his full-season numbers as he had a .229/.297/.342 slash line with 16 doubles, two triples and four home runs in 320 plate appearances, walking in 8.4% of his plate appearances and striking out in 23.8%. He did hit much better with the Bisons, posting a .286/.357/.460 slash line with five doubles and two home runs in 70 plate appearances but he struck out in 38.6% of the time and had an unsustainable .471 BABIP. In the playoffs, Heidt hit just .143/.250/.143 in 21 at bats, striking out eight times with three walks and one stolen base. Heidt does offer positional versatility, playing first, second and third base as well as shortstop while also playing three games in the outfield. Look for Heidt back in New Hampshire to start 2019.
Jon Berti‘s patience finally paid off as he not only won a championship with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats but he got to play in the major leagues for the first time. Berti played four games with the Buffalo Bisons, going 2/8 before he was traded to the Cleveland Indians who assigned him to the Columbus Clippers where he hit .217/.333/.233 with just a double in 73 plate appearances. The Indians traded Berti back in June and, instead of going to Buffalo, Berti was sent to the Fisher Cats where he played 72 games becoming a team leader in the absence of Vlad and leading the club to the playoffs and beyond. Berti hit .314/.399/.498 with 13 doubles, seven triples and eight home runs while stealing 21 bases in 30 attempts before the season ended. Berti had a solid playoffs, hitting .261/.414/.304 with a double, six RBI and three stolen bases. Home in Michigan and thinking his season was over, he got a call telling him to get ready to join to the Blue Jays. His call to the bigs came on September 26 when he notched his first major league hit, going 1/3 and he played four more games, getting a hit in each (including a double and a triple with two RBI and a stolen base). Berti was designated for assignment following the season and was sent outright to the minors and he then elected free agency following the World Series. Could he be back next year? Certainly. I’m sure many organization have a spot for Berti on a young team who needs veteran leadership.
The Blue Jays acquired 23-year-old infielder Santiago Espinal in the trade for World Series-MVP Steve Pearce. Espinal hit .313/.363/.477 with the Salem Red Sox in the Advanced-A Carolina League, hitting 15 doubles, three triples and seven home runs with nine stolen bases. He was assigned to Dunedin and he had some solid numbers in 17 games, hitting .262/.333/.431 before moving up to New Hampshire where he hit .286/.354/.395 with nine doubles, two triples and a home run. Espinal’s walk rate was better with the Jays and fairly stable at his two stops at 8.2% in Dunedin and 8.5% in New Hampshire while his strikeout rate was slightly higher than it was with the Red Sox but also fairly stable at 13.7% with the D-Jays and 13.4% with the Fisher Cats. Espinal was 4/19 (.211) in the playoffs. With so many young middle infielders in the Jays’ system, it’s unlikely that Espinal moves up to Buffalo to start 2019.
Andrew Guillotte led the Fisher Cats in games in left field, playing 107 games in total while hitting .251/.336/.326 with 17 doubles, a triple and two home runs in 386 plate appearances. Guillotte’s healthy 11.1% walk rate and his solid 17.6% strikeout rate were also very good for the Fisher Cats. Guillotte did get back to Buffalo for four games in early July, going 1/8 and played in three games with the Bisons in August, going 0/3. Guillotte returned to New Hampshire for the playoff push and was 0/4 in the playoffs with a run. Look for Guillotte back in New Hampshire next year in his Age-26 season.
26-year-old Jonathan Davis was on the outside looking in when the Triple-A rosters came out at the beginning of the season. After having a strong 2017 in New Hampshire, Davis returned to Double-A and put up even better numbers in his second try at the level. He hit .302/.388/.443 with 22 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 19 stolen bases (in 22 attempts) with a 9.8% walk rate and 14.8% strikeout rate in more than three months of baseball. After his long-overdue promotion to Buffalo, Davis finished out his minor league season with the Bisons, hitting .249/.309/.389 with seven doubles, two triples and five home runs in 202 plate appearances while seeing his strikeout rate climb to 20.3% and his walk rate drop to 5.9%. Promoted to Toronto in September, Davis got into 20 games but had only 27 plate appearances and he hit .200/.259/.240 with a double and three stolen bases (without getting caught). Look for Davis back in Buffalo to start 2019.
Also caught up in the outfielder numbers crunch in the Jays’ high minors was Harold Ramirez who had an underwhelming 2017 with the Fisher Cats that resulting in his being removed from the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster. Assigned to Double-A for his third season, Ramirez broke out in a big way, winning the Eastern League batting title by hitting .320/.365/.471 with 37 doubles and 11 home runs (both career highs). Ramirez also showed some life in his legs, stealing 16 bases in 18 attempts while striking out in 17.4% of his 505 plate appearances and walking in 5.3%. Ramirez elected free agency after the World Series and could attract some attention in his services, particularly after he’s currently among the league leaders in many statistical categories in the Venezuelan Winter League. The 24-year-old is unlikely to be back with the Blue Jays in 2019.
25-year-old Torontonian Connor Panas had a somewhat disappointing season in his first year at Double-A, playing in 105 games with the Fisher Cats and hitting just .232/.296/.359 with 16 doubles, two triples and nine home runs. The left-handed hitting outfielder walking in 6.1% of his plate appearances and struck out in 20.6%, neither figure being too far off his numbers from Dunedin in 2017 (although the walk rate was a fair bit higher last year). Look for Panas to return to Double-A next year.
Acquired from the Colorado Rockies in the trade that sent Seung-hwan Oh to the Mile High City, Forrest Wall put up some strong numbers at the end of the season for the Fisher Cats. Wall, 22, started in Advanced-A Lancaster and hit .305/.382/.453 with 11 doubles, five triples and three home runs, stealing 20 bases in 28 attempts in the hitter-friendly California League over 230 plate appearances, with a walk rate of 10.0% and a strikeout rate of 20.4%. Promoted to Double-A Hartford, Wall struggled a bit, hitting .206/.289/.359 with six doubles, a triple and six home runs in 190 plate appearances, with a walk rate of 8.9% and strikeout rate of 22.1%. After the trade, the numbers on Wall show some conflicting data for a small sample size. Hitting .271/.354/.380, Wall struck out in 31.3% of his 147 plate appearances while walking in 8.8%. An unsustainable .410 BABIP bolstered his very high strikeout rate and he’ll need to address that going forward. Wall hit .238/.333/.286 in the playoffs, hitting a double and stealing a base. Look for him back in New Hampshire next year.
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