This post is the fifth part of an
eight-part nine-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.
There will be a complementary “Countdown to Baseball” post published on Tuesday that will feature a member of the projected Buffalo Bisons starting pitching staff.
The Buffalo Bisons have the hardest roster to predict. At this point in spring training, there are several roster spots that are open for competition (particularly in the big league bullpen) and there may be one or two pitchers who make the major league team. There are also players who have minor league options remaining who should make the big league squad but won’t because the Blue Jays want to hold on to other players in the organization (at least for the time being). Finally, there are players who will either be lost to waivers or released at the end of spring training and others who might have clauses in their minor league contracts that allow them to become free agents if they don’t make the major league club by a certain date (usually a little later into the season).
All of these contractual complexities make for a tough time trying to figure out who goes where, particularly since (after Jayson Aquino was optioned to New Hampshire) there are still 32 pitchers in major league camp. With room for 12 or 13 pitchers, at the most, on both the major league staff and the Buffalo staff (plus those who will start on the DL), there just isn’t room for anyone. In this projected roster list, I’ll add symbols to indicate whether a player is on the 40-man roster (indicated by the *) and if the player is out of options (^). If a player has both symbols, there’s a very real chance that if he doesn’t stick at the major league level, he’ll have to be put on waivers and may not make it through to play for Buffalo. For information on options and outrights, head to Bluebird Banter. They have a great reference chart by MjwW that tells you everything you need to know.
There are so many pitchers looking to get relief pitching positions in Toronto and Buffalo that I’ve decided to devote a full post to them and that will come out tomorrow or Wednesday.
We start with a Canadian. Albers was signed on a minor league deal and pitched in Korea last year. He’s looking to get back to the majors where he was fairly successful in 2013 with the Minnesota Twins.
Scott Copeland became a minor league free agent after 2014 and re-signed following a strong year spent mostly in New Hampshire. He was good in Buffalo too and I think he’s going to be in Buffalo again. Copeland could surprise people. He’s got quality stuff that isn’t “fancy” but his good control and heavy sinker should make him a valuable contributor in Buffalo.
Jeff Francis was another Canadian signed to a minor league deal as he tries to get back to the major leagues. Francis can refuse an optional assignment, meaning that if he’s placed on the 40-man roster, he’ll have to clear waivers to go back down to Buffalo.
The first big question mark in the Buffalo starting rotation is Liam Hendriks. Hendriks had an outstanding season for Buffalo last year and was one of the best pitchers in the International League. At this point, he’s going to fight tooth and nail for a bullpen job in Toronto. He’s out of options and on the 40-man roster which means that if he’s sent to Buffalo to start the season, he’ll have to clear waivers. Another option is that he’ll be traded but, considering the fact that the Blue Jays traded him last year to get Danny Valencia and then traded Santiago Nessy to KC to get him back, I’m not sure if that’ll happen.
Daniel Norris is the second big question mark. He could very well make the big league team and there are lots of grumblings that he will. It’s too early in camp for me to say that definitively but if doesn’t make the big league squad, he’ll probably be the Opening Day starter for Buffalo and will hang around for a couple of months.
Other Possible Starting Pitchers
As you can see, there aren’t a lot of options for extra starters in Buffalo. Austin Bibens-Dirkx and Mike Lee are probably the leading candidates. Both have pitched at the Triple-A level and both have been starters. I’ve got at least one of them, if not both, slotted to begin in Double-A this season but if Norris makes the major league team and Liam Hendriks is available (waiting to clear waivers or claimed by another team), either one could be pressed into duty.
Kyle Drabek is out of options and on the 40-man roster. If he doesn’t grab a spot in the big league bullpen and he clears waivers, he could end up back in the starting rotation in Buffalo. 2014 was the first time that Drabek pitched out of the bullpen and, while it’s a longshot, he could see time as a starter in Buffalo.
Rob Rasmussen is an interesting candidate to start. 2014 was the first time for Rasmussen (or Blue Jays from Away cover boy) that he was in the bullpen full time and, with a full compliment of solid pitches, he could return to a starting role that he pitched well in in other organizations. That said, he was really effective in the bullpen.
UPDATED: Yes, I’m guilty of forgetting about Ricky Romero. Recovering from knee surgery in the offseason and removed from the 40-man roster, Romero has flown under the radar so far that I completely forgot about him. Making a salary of $7.5 million this year, the Blue Jays are going to try to get everything they can out of Romero without expecting anything. If healthy and somewhat effective, Romero can be penciled into the Buffalo rotation, but that’s a big “if.”
Finally, we have Johan Santana who is still recovering from his offseason shoulder surgery. Santana should probably start pitching in games in April and will almost certainly make a few starts in Buffalo as he’s getting ready to see if he can help out the Blue Jays’ rotation.
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