Relief pitching was definitely a strength of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The cats had a core group of very solid relievers, several of whom had career years in 2015.
Leading the charge, at least in innings and appearances was Danny Barnes. He’s had some injury struggles in his career and had a fairly rough season when coming back in 2014 with Dunedin. In 2015, though, Barnes, 25, threw a very solid 60 2/3 innings on the season with a 2.97 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and excellent peripherals, striking out 28.2% of batters and walking only 7.3%. Overall, he was one of the most consistent Fisher Cats and should get a shot at Triple-A next year.
Following Barnes, we have our Reliever of the Year, Blake McFarland. McFarland is among a group of non-drafted free agent relievers who have thrived in the Blue Jays’ system. McFarland’s success led to his Triple-A debut in 2015 at the age of 27 after being truly dominant in New Hampshire where he threw 47 innings with a 1.72 ERA and 0.89 WHIP while striking out 34.1% of batters and walking 3.3%. Those peripherals took a hit in Buffalo as he struck out 23.8% and walked 9.5% but there’s no reason to believe that he can’t keep up those strong numbers in a return engagement to the Bisons in 2016.
Hawai’ian righty Dustin Antolin has flown under the radar for years but had a second strong season in New Hampshire in his Age-25 season in 2015. Antolin threw 55 2/3 innings with a 3.07 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, striking out 23.1% of batters (down from last year’s 28.1% total) and walking 7.6% (down from last year’s 8.1%). Antolin’s FIP was 2.78 and he should be in line for a spot in Buffalo at the age of 26 in 2016.
Cory Burns just turned 28 this month and, with major league experience under his belt, could be expected to dominate in Double-A but, unfortunately, wasn’t able to get the job done. He’s been removed from the 40-man roster and had two stints on the DL this season but his 5.76 ERA and 1.65 WHIP weren’t up to the task. Still, he had a much better 3.60 FIP but his strikeout rate of 18.2% wasn’t overwhelming despite a solid 8.1% walk rate.
28-year-old Scott Barnes was an eighth-round draftee of the Giants in 2008 but has mostly kicked around the minors since. In 2015, he pitched for the Fisher Cats and got a call up for the Bisons after getting claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays in December of 2014. Barnes has also been removed from the 40-man roster and had a similar season to Cory Burns with a 5.59 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 19.3% strikeout rate and 5.9% walk rate. He pitched 4 1/3 innings in Buffalo, striking out three without walking anyone and giving up just one hit.
A big leaguer between 2011 and 2013, Luis Perez finally returned to action for the Jays’ organization after having Tommy John surgery in 2013 and missing all of 2014 with complications of the injury. Perez pitched 52 1/3 innings with the Fisher Cats and another 13 2/3 innings with Buffalo and his numbers paint an interesting story. With the Fisher Cats, he had a 3.78 ERA and 4.80 FIP, with a 1.41 WHIP, 16.4% K-rate and 12.5% BB-rate. In Buffalo, however, some of those peripheral numbers indicate much better success despite a 5.93 ERA and 1.68 WHIP. He walked only 7.8% of batters, struck out a full quarter while posting a 2.13 FIP. Perez could be back in Buffalo next year and, if Loup continues to struggle at the big league level, may eventually become a lefty relief option.
Side-arming lefty Chad Girodo pulled a similar type of rise through the minors that his college teammate Kendall Graveman did last year. Girodo, 24, was drafted in 2013 in the ninth round and signed quickly for only $5000. In 2015, Girodo was extremely dominant (until he hit Buffalo) and put together a phenomenal season for a reliever. In 27 1/3 innings with Dunedin, Girodo posted a 0.62 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 30.2% K-rate and 6.6% BB-rate. Those numbers stayed excellent as Girodo stepped up to New Hampshire, dropping his ERA to 0.62, his FIP to 1.89 (from 2.29 in Dunedin) while his WHIP only went up to 0.97. He struck out 20.9% of batters and walked only 1.8%. In four innings in Buffalo, he allowed six hits and three runs but didn’t walk anyone and struck out three. Girodo could also be pushing the big leagues next year. While he doesn’t throw hard (I’ve seen him hit as high as 92 mph), he has a ton of movement on his fastball and could very well be a LOOGY at some point next year.
Hard-throwing righty Matt West was off to a terrific start on the year with the Double-A Fisher Cats, throwing 12 1/3 innings without allowing an earned run on nine hits and four walks with 17 strikeouts. I was thinking that he’d end up in the Jays’ bullpen at some point but the Blue Jays traded him to the Dodgers for cash in May. He ended up pitching well in Double-A for the Dodgers, not so well in Triple-A and got back to the big leagues with three solid innings.
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