It’s spring and while there are certainly no signs of it in the air quite yet, baseball is in full swing. It’s pretty clear that attendance has been down across the MLB and MiLB, as the young season pushes on through these February-like days. The players are wearing toques on the bench and the show must go on – sort of, as the good ol’ Buffalo Bisons had to wait a few days to kick off their season, thanks to this persistent winter weather.
But, as we all press on, the days are getting longer and people are no longer leaving their jobs at 5 and heading into the bleak darkness of January – it is April and sooner rather than later, we will all be complaining about how hot and humid it is, as we take in a ball game on a lazy summer Saturday afternoon.
This offseason, all the buzz, noise and hype being spilled across the Internet in Blue Jays land was about Vlad and Bo. And this spring, Blue Jays fans had the chance to watch these two prodigious stars show off their are-you-kidding-me awesome skills.
And when the Blue Jays affiliates released their rosters, it came as no surprise that these two future stars would begin the season in New Hampshire playing for the Fisher Cats. This team is rich with talent and a couple surprise names, like MLB veteran, Craig Breslow.
The infield is the best in the Eastern League, with Vladdy Jr. at third, Bichette at shortstop, Lourdes Gurriel at second, and Cavan Biggio at first – not too bad at all. And the outfield shouldn’t be over-looked either, with Connor Panas, who is really starting to come around at the plate, Jonathan Davis, and Harold Ramirez.
It’s cool to think about how much attention the New Hampshire Fisher Cats are going to get from the great white North, as all of us Jays fans will be checking in on what’s happening this baseball season. It’s actually pretty special if you really think about it.
I can’t remember a time when so many Canadian baseball fans have been so in awe over two prospects, when so many fans have excitedly wondered what the future holds for the good Birds of Summer when Vladdy and Bo eventually don Toronto Blue Jays caps and take the field at the place we all call ‘Dome’.
However, I think it’s important for Blue Jays fans to also not forget that the farm is rich with a lot more talent than just Vlad and Bo and many of these players are playing in New Hampshire this season.
I know that it’s hard to believe that the summer is actually only a couple months away, but it really actually is. And with the summer, comes fun family road trips – or cool weekend getaways with close friends. And if you are a Canadian baseball lover, who lives within driving distance of New Hampshire – you might want to pick a weekend and head out on the 401 East and then take the I-89 S. Sure it’s a bit of a drive, but you could turn it into fun, play-whatever-tunes-you-like trip, and enjoy the cruise down a nice long stretch of asphalt.
I contacted the awesome Tyler Murray – the lead broadcaster and media relations manager of the Fisher Cats – and asked him if he would like to answer a couple of questions about the team that he covers day-in-and-day-out, and he kindly agreed.
What are the chances that we see big Nate in New Hampshire this year?
I’d have to see how his first month in the Florida State League goes. The fact that he skipped Class-A Lansing shows that the Blue Jays aren’t afraid to move him up quickly, although he was scratched from his first start of the season in Dunedin, so they’re obviously being cautious. I’d put it at 40%…but don’t count on me for odds – I thought Tim Tebow would have a 0% chance of starting this season in Double-A, and we’re about to host his team next week.
After Sean Reid-Foley’s dominant first start of the season, do you expect the number 10 prospect in the Jays’ system to have a big bounce back year?
Even before that great outing, you had to expect a bounce back year. He’s just too talented. You won’t hear him use it as an excuse, but his first two Double-A starts were thrown off and pushed back by weather, and he had to come out in the second inning each time because of pitch count limitations. Once he got into the summer months, things started to click. The one outing that sticks out is July 21 against Trenton, who was loaded enough to rival this year’s Fisher Cats lineup. 6.2 innings, one run, 12 strikeouts. Trenton went 18-3 against New Hampshire last year (yes, really), but he was on a mission that night. Games like that prove he can dominate at this level, and I can see plenty more of those performances in his future. Last season, if a few things went awry in the first inning (a walk, an error, etc.), it would bury him early and dictate the rest of the game. On Sunday, he gave up a leadoff single, and then finished with six no-hit innings. That’s a major step forward in my eyes.
I have to be honest, I was kind of surprised to see 37-year-old MLB veteran Craig Breslow on the ‘Cats’ roster. Were you?
I was, yes. It can only help the younger guys – there’s a ton of talent in the bullpen that tends to get overlooked, so hopefully he can lead by example and help those guys shine.
Are you expecting a big season from Andrew #CaseClosed Case this year?
I expect him to keep up the great work. Tough to top a 1.58 ERA in your first 40 innings in Double-A! The guy – and his story — is incredible. He pitches with no fear; like he’s got nothing to lose. And why wouldn’t he? He’s an undrafted free agent who was discovered at an amateur tournament…and he’s making the absolute most of the opportunity.
I had the chance to interview Connor Panas earlier in the year, and this young man is driven to succeed. I think he is one of the more over-looked prospects in the system. How many dingers do you expect this power hitter to crush this season?
It was impressive to see his numbers improve last year in Dunedin compared to Lansing in 2016. The FSL is very much a pitchers’ league, but he bumped his average up 45 points and led the league in home runs. His first few Double-A games have been encouraging as well: six hits, one double, not trying to swing for the fences every time. To answer your question…14. Also a gifted opera singer, as it turns out.
(Ed. If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the over.)
Would you like to comment on the are-you-kidding-me awesomeness of the ‘Cats’ infield?
When I saw the tentative roster, I thought it was a mistake. Vlad at third, Bo at short, Biggio at second – incredible on its own. But Lourdes Gurriel too? I didn’t think they had enough room for everybody – but we’ve seen Biggio at first, Gurriel at both middle infield spots, and John Schneider has spread the DH spot around very efficiently so far. They’re averaging a league-high 5.8 runs per game so far, and Max Pentecost hasn’t even got the bat going yet. Over the last few years we’ve had pitchers like Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman come through, where it’s appointment viewing once every five days. But it’s an every-night event with this team. Posting our starting lineup feels like a poker player laying down a royal flush every single hand. That’s probably too dramatic, but you get the idea. Our broadcast team is now in the habit of recording every Vlad at bat on their phone, just in case he destroys another baseball (and our loyal twitter followers won’t settle for a text-only tweet!). We can feel the energy and excitement about these guys all the way up to Toronto, and that makes it even more fun to be a part of.
Do you think Vlad and Bo will play out the entire season with the ‘Cats?
I had always assumed they’d have a good chance to get called up to Triple-A at the All-Star break as long as they kept mashing, but I’ve just about stopped guessing at this point. On one hand, they’re 19 and 20, so why rush things? Especially when they’ll have just as good of a chance to make the big league team out of Spring Training next year, regardless of how much time they spent in Triple-A this season. We’re starting to see top prospects go straight to the major leagues from Double-A anyway, like Anthony Alford last year (the Red Sox have done this recently as well: Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi went straight from Portland to Boston, and Rafael Devers only spent nine games in Triple-A before his MLB debut). On the other hand, they’re just too talented to keep in Double-A for longer than necessary. My hope is at the very least they get a September call up.
For Canadians who will be making their first trip to New Hampshire, where would you recommend they sit and enjoy the game at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium? The Samuel Adams Brewhouse in LF? The outdoor tiki bar? With you in the booth?
We love guests in the booth! But you can’t beat the Samuel Adams Brewhouse – a great spot to get a drink, something to eat, and have a view of the field from out in left.
What greasy spoon diner should Canadians go to when they make the trip down to New Hampshire this summer?
The Red Arrow Diner is about as famous as a diner can be around here, so that’s your best bet if you don’t mind a bit of a crowd.
And where will Canadians find the best burger and beer in the city?
For a burger, the Tuckaway Tavern & Butchery is a little outside the city, but most definitely worth it. I had a burger there with a piece of fried chicken on top, and I was full for about a week. For an adult beverage, you can’t beat the selection at Murphy’s or the Thirsty Moose. Good food right downtown.
Tyler Murray bold prediction: will the ‘Cats win the championship?
They won it in their inaugural season (2004), then won it again seven years later (2011). Seven years after that, here we are with the best offense New Hampshire has ever seen. You could call it destiny, if you believe in that sort of thing.
I want to thank Tyler for taking the time to do this interview with me. And if you’re thinking about circling some dates on your calendar to watch this awesome team, here’s the 2018 New Hampshire Fisher Cats schedule. It’s a bit of a drive, but it might be worth it to see big bad Vlad and company make a ton of Eastern League noise, as they win games, crush dingers, mash, and sweep teams.