This post is the sixth part of an eight-part series that will be my attempt to predict the Opening Day rosters for the Blue Jays’ four full-season minor league teams which start their seasons on April 9. Today we get to the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats where, again, it gets a little bit tougher to predict who will be on the team until a number of position battles for jobs in Toronto are settled.
At this level, a good year doesn’t necessarily get you promoted. If you’re a late draft pick or an undrafted free agent, you’re fighting against three groups of players by the time you get to Double-A. The first group consists of players who got big bonuses to sign on (usually at least six figures). The team is more heavily invested in financially in these players who will get priority as they move up the system. Players who get small bonuses are generally used to plug holes in rosters where they’re needed but they can distinguish themselves and become legitimate major league players (see Kevin Pillar). The second group of players consists of veterans who have been signed to minor league deals and are usually competing for spots on the major league team. These players are generally going to take spots on the Triple-A roster, keeping them one step below the majors in case of injury or other need. The third group of players that causes minor leaguers to stall in their path to the major leagues, usually right around the Double-A level, is the group of major league regulars who could block certain players for years. We’ll see some of this when we talk about the Buffalo Bisons.
Other Possible Catchers
This is the first place that we see the presence of a major league veteran and better known minor league prospects who keep a player in Double-A. Derrick Chung could easily play in Buffalo but the Blue Jays have a log jam at catcher and it starts with the signing of Russell Martin to a five year deal. That waves goodbye to a starting job in the majors for just about anyone in the system until you get to the lower levels. Chung has hit just about everywhere he’s gone and that, along with his stellar defense, probably deserves to go Buffalo. But the Blue Jays have Martin, Navarro and Thole as legitimate major league options while A.J. Jimenez is going to get everyday at bats in Buffalo. I think the Blue Jays really like Derrick Chung but I also think that he returns to New Hampshire.
Jack Murphy is beloved by many but, except in Australia, he hasn’t hit particularly well in a long time. Perhaps Murphy figured something out Down Under and will translate that success to the US. His defensive skills are admired throughout the organization but he’s probably relegated to a backup role as he approaches his 27th birthday.
Jorge Saez is another player who’s probably being pushed down because of the roster logjam. He’s shown he can hit well but probably needs a bit more seasoning in Dunedin before moving up to New Hampshire. Despite that, he’s another defensively-oriented catcher who’s a leader on the field and has shown some potential with his bat. He could very well make it up to New Hampshire at some point during the year.
Chris Schaeffer is an organizational catcher in the system who has been to just about every level of ball. He doesn’t have much of a bat but he’s a great teammate and a hard worker and most teams hold some value in that. If three catchers make the opening day roster for the Fisher Cats, Schaeffer is my bet as the third.
Hobson is a first baseman who got a big bonus and has had some success in the minor leagues but has seen some of his offensive numbers tail off as he’s risen through the system. He’s got the pop, it’s just a matter of getting it to show up in games. Hobson’s been around a while but he’s only 24 and will be the everyday first baseman in New Hampshire after finishing 2014 there.
Here’s where things get tricky. By all accounts, Jon Berti, a two-time R. Howard Webster Award winner, should be in Buffalo in 2014 but the Blue Jays have lined up a whole array of players to try to win the second base position and traded for a youngster with more upside at the position over the offseason. With Ryan Goins, Munenori Kawasaki, Ramon Santiago and Devon Travis all slated for either the majors or Triple-A, my hunch is that Berti stays in Double-A for at least the first part of the year.
Things are getting a bit crowded in New Hampshire. I think Christian Lopes has done enough to merit a promotion to New Hampshire. The question is whether his incredible offensive performance in the Australian Baseball League this winter translates into success at the higher levels of the minor leagues. Among this group, he’s the most likely to go back to Dunedin.
Dwight Smith, another Webster winner, is going to be in New Hampshire. Invited to major league camp at the age of 22 following an excellent offensive season in Dunedin, Smith is getting promoted no matter what. The biggest question is what position he’ll play. His gap (and occasional home run) power, high OBP and good contact batting profile matches better with second base than with a corner outfield position and if he can complete a transition to second base, it’ll strengthen the depth at the position within the organization tremendously.
Now that we’re above the low minors, the Blue Jays’ shortstop depth thins out after the trade of Franklin Barreto. While Dawel Lugo will almost certainly be in Dunedin, I think last year’s Dunedin shortstop doesn’t play the position in New Hampshire and so Kevin Nolan, who split last year between New Hampshire and Buffalo, is the incumbent. He didn’t have a great year offensively last year (in his second in New Hampshire) but the Nashua native is blocked in Triple-A with the previously mentioned assortment of middle infielders looking for work in Buffalo.
I don’t know is on third in New Hampshire. Ok, seriously. I think that there’s no obvious choice here which will leave things wide open. I think Fermin, who was a surprise addition to the New Hampshire roster in 2014, has an inside shot considering that he’s already 25 and had some pretty decent number at the level last year, showing some power and solid contact ability.
I’ll talk about Emilio Guerrero a bit later. But he’s certainly a viable option at third base.
Flores split last year between Dunedin and New Hampshire, doing more than holding his own offensively while providing some defensive versatility and intangibles. There’s no reason the 23-year-old Mexican that I like to call “Mighty Mouse” (because he’s 5-foot-5) shouldn’t be here. If he walks at a higher rate, he could even go further as a utility player who is tough to pitch to because of his size.
Shane Opitz has hit extremely well when he’s been able to stay on the field over the past couple of years. While a shoulder injury kept him out of most of the season last year, he’s a good defender who will probably get his first taste of Double-A this year.
Other Possible Infielders
I think that Dantzler is going to be in New Hampshire at some point this year. It’s just a matter of whether he hits enough early on in Dunedin to make it. He was hampered by injuries last year so if he’s healthy to start 2015, he could reclaim the form he had in 2013 when he was the Northwest League MVP.
I really think Schimpf is going to be in Buffalo, primarily because of his versatility. He can play the infield (second and third base) as well as left field and, if he’s back in New Hampshire (where he has nothing left to prove), it’ll be a bit of a surprise to me and a bit of a disappointment.
There are two big question marks in this list of outfielders and how much they actually play in the outfield really depends on how well they make the transition to new positions. Emilio Guerrero has played most of his career at shortstop but his mounting error totals were finally getting to the point where he had to move. He could play third base (and has done so a bit) but the interesting part of the experiment was where the Blue Jays played him in center field for 20 games in 2014. Without an obvious center fielder here, Guerrero’s long strides could end up covering that ground at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium. He could, however, stay back in Dunedin to improve some of his hitting numbers which weren’t quite as good as what he did in Lansing in 2013.
Knecht will finally get a shot in Double-A after three seasons in Dunedin. Knecht was a member of a trio of highly touted prospects in the Lansing outfield in 2011 along with Jake Marisnick and Michael Crouse. Marisnick and Crouse are both out of the organization but Knecht finally had a solid season in Dunedin and, at the age of 24, should move up to New Hampshire and play left field.
Matt Newman is another player who’s probably an organizational guy at best but he’s been able to contribute both on and off the field wherever he’s gone. He won the Dunedin Community Service Award in 2013 and joined the Fisher Cats last year where he played wherever he was needed (including pitcher). He struggled at the new level but actually showed more power than he’s done since 2012 in Vancouver with 22 doubles, four triples and six home runs in just 81 games. Newman will probably be the regular right fielder for the Fisher Cats.
Dwight Smith, Jr. is obviously on this list again. He’ll get time in the outfield (probably left field) but it’s his bat that the Fisher Cats are going to want to keep in the lineup. This all depends on how well his transition to second base goes and whether he can stick there.
Other Possible Outfielders
Berti played 30 games in left field last year. Nuff said.
Glenn is another guy that I think really needs a chance in Buffalo. He seems to have lost favour in the organization after he was DFA’ed and sent outright to the minors. He has hit well in Buffalo but there’s a logjam thanks to the minor league free agents signed like Caleb Gindl, Chris Colabello and Andy Dirks. That said, there isn’t a lot of major league depth which means that people might be able to move up.
Mesa was a minor league acquisition last year (purchased from the K.C. Royals for cash) who re-signed a minor league deal to rejoin the Jays’ organization. He spent most of his 2014 with the Fisher Cats and could certainly play in Buffalo but is just as likely to end up back in Manchester.
Schimpf played 17 games in left field last year and another 14 in right field with Buffalo.
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