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Direct your focus to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ playoff run!

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats are about to begin their first dance in the playoffs since 2011 and it’s going to be fun times folks. The ‘Cats are going to host the Trenton Thunder tonight at 6:35 p.m. at the terrific Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.

I’m certain the beer taps will be busy at the Samuel Adams Brewhouse in left field. And this summer September weather is perfect for the outdoor tiki bar.

For any readers who don’t know, the ‘Cats finished just 2 games back of Trenton (the dumb Yankees affiliate) in the Eastern League (Eastern) standings with a record of 76-62 – not too bad at all. So, I’m sure this series is going to be wildly entertaining.

As you already know, the ‘Cats’ roster features many future Jays who have been banging the prospect drum all summer long, making a ton of noise here in Canada and in the MiLB world. You would’ve had to have gone completely off the grid to not have heard about the ‘Cats this summer.

All eyes have been on New Hampshire, the city where ‘plakata’ was born. Vladdy isn’t going to be a part of this playoff run, of course. But, the likes of Bo, Biggio, Ramirez, Berti, Pentecost, Zeuch, Harris, Romano, and Bergen are. Some of these players have become household names here in Canada, especially for the prospect loving Jays fans out there like you and me.

Prospect-y goodness has become the cool trend these days. I could go on and on and on about different players on the ‘Cats. I could talk about how Pentecost was just voted the Eastern League Player of the Month. I could go on about Travis Bergen who has been almost flawless out of the ‘pen this season, as he has only given up 2 earned runs in 35.2 innings pitched. I mean, we could all go on and on about Bo, MVP and Rookie of the Year Biggio, Zeuch, Ramirez, and every other exciting name that’s on this deep roster.

Hopefully, you did the smart thing this season and ordered MiLB TV and watched these talented kids in the system. It certainly helped make things a bit better during this woeful Jays season. And I’m looking forward to listening to Tyler Murray, the lead broadcaster for New Hampshire, call this playoff series and hopefully the final out that crowns these ‘Cats.

I thought it’d be cool to contact Tyler and ask him a bit about the regular season that has just finished and the playoff run that the ‘Cats are about to go on. I think that all of you, who have been sipping the large adult son content all season long like it was happy hour at your local watering hole, are going to really like this interview. It’s prospect-y fun at its finest.

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Now that the season is over, what player on the ‘Cats’ roster exceeded any expectation you had of him on Opening Day?

After 2017 I thought we knew what we had with Jonathan Davis – an A+ defender with great speed and baserunning ability, maybe with a ceiling as a 4th outfielder in the big leagues. But his bat really came alive this year, and for my money he was the best leadoff hitter in the league. He hit .302 overall and stole 19/22 bases, and when leading off innings (111 at bats) he hit .351 with a .459 OBP – not a small reason why Vlad, Bo and Biggio all had 60+ RBIs. Looking back, I shouldn’t have been surprised at JD’s improvement – he works about as hard as any player I’ve seen, and we were thrilled to see him called up to Toronto yesterday.

Based on what you’ve seen this season, who do you think could be an ‘impact’ type of player on the Jays in ’19?

I think we all knew that Vlad’s bat was MLB ready after a few weeks in Double-A, so he’s the obvious choice. I’d also love to see what Travis Bergen can do at the next level – he’s given up two runs all year (0.50 ERA). This was his first full season as a pro, and he stood out enough in a talented bullpen to earn the closer’s role. Lefty, throws strikes, good breaking ball…there’s a lot to like.

Romano, Harris, and Zeuch pitched great this year. What impresses you the most about each of these pitchers?

Zeuch – his poise. T.J. never seems to get too high or too low out there, and I think that’s important for a groundball pitcher (not every grounder is fielded perfectly in the minors). He always seems to get off to a strong start – he put up a zero in the first inning of his first 20 outings this year. His last regular season start was the only opening frame in which he gave up a run.  

Harris – how he attacks hitters. When Harris is rolling, especially early in the game, he won’t waste much time between pitches. He’s willing to make changes to his mechanics as well. At 12-5, Harris finished the season with the best winning percentage in the Eastern League, but it wasn’t without some speedbumps along the way. After a 6+ ERA in April and a 5+ ERA in May, he tweaked his delivery to hide his hands better, and it yielded a 3-0 record with a 2.74 ERA in June.

Romano – His adaptability. Romano added a changeup this year and it really made a difference – he went 9-0 with a 2.04 ERA in his first 10 starts. Like Harris, Romano worked with pitching coach Vince Horsman to make some minor adjustments after some struggles in June. For him, it was bringing his break point down to his belt instead of up near his head.

Do you think that Vladdy, Biggio, and Bo will end up becoming the ‘bloodline bashers’ for the Jays? And, if so, could you think of a better nickname than this if they end up raking together in the MLB?

They’ve mashed together at multiple levels of the farm system, so I see no reason why that won’t continue in the major leagues. From what we had heard entering this season, it was the “Vlad and Bo Show” with Biggio along for the ride. Vlad and Bo were spectacular, but Biggio was voted MVP and Rookie of the Year – his breakout season moved him from out of the Blue Jays Top 30 prospects to No. 9 (MLB.com), and it’s well deserved. So not just because of their current talent, but because of the work they’ll continue to put in, all three guys have the ability to develop into every day major leaguers.

Bloodline Bashers isn’t terrible…I’ve heard The Legacies, The Progeny, The Kids, The Next Generation…I’m just impressed how they’ve been able to make names for themselves with how they’ve played. Cavan has often said: maybe we were initially scouted because of our names, but we’re here now because of our ability and work ethic.

Let’s get into some playoff-run kind of talk now that this team is about to dive into that fun stuff, what players are you expecting to really come through during this stretch?

It’s a fun quasi-rematch between Yankees and Blue Jays farmhands in the playoffs. Last year’s FSL Championship came down to a three-game series between the Tampa Yankees and Dunedin Blue Jays (D-Jays won, 2-1). That series featured both managers (Jay Bell and John Schneider) and over a dozen players that will be squaring off again here in Double-A (Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Connor Panas, T.J. Zeuch, Jordan Romano, Kirby Snead, Zach Jackson, Josh DeGraaf, Trey Amburgey, Kyle Holder, and Gosuke Katoh, to name a few).

I’m expecting our hottest hitters to stay hot in the postseason. Jon Berti finished the year 18-for-35, including a cycle on August 28. Max Pentecost was just named August Player of the Month in the Eastern League (.375 average, 6 homers). Connor Panas hit three home runs in that three-game series last year, so he’s always a threat to change a series. Bichette and Biggio will certainly have an impact, and let’s not forget Eastern League Batting Champ Harold Ramirez (.320), who was one of six Fisher Cats named to the Full-Season All-Star Team.

What team do you think will give the ‘Cats the most trouble in a playoff series? And, of course, why?

We split with Akron this year (3-3), and played Trenton awfully tight (8-10), but Altoona looked very good, taking two out of three both times we faced off. They’re the defending champs, so they’ve got that pedigree, and finished the season a league-best 22-12 record. I’d say they’re the most balanced team we’d face, although Akron is ranked second in the league in both ERA and runs scored. Trenton is tough, but they heavily rely on pitching (league-best 3.25 ERA, but ranked 10th in batting average and runs scored).

Bold prediction 1: Will the ‘Cats win it all?

I think the rotation is deep enough to get it done – we’ve got Jordan Romano lined up as our No. 3 guy right now, and he was the only right-handed starting pitcher to make the Full-Season All-Star Team. The ‘Cats league-leading offense (.272 average, 5+ runs per game) cooled off just a bit at the end, but I think Tuesday’s off day – with no travel – could help reset things.

Bold prediction 2: What player(s) on the ‘Cats do you think make the 40-man roster out of Spring Training next year?

Tough one, but I’ll take a stab with…

Harold Ramirez

Justin Shafer

Travis Bergen

Jonathan Davis

(Would be Vlad if not for service time situation)

Since you brought up Vlad, let’s go down Vlad lane: could you tell us a little bit about what it was like to watch him through the spring and summer before he was promoted to the Bisons?

Watching Vlad was incredible. I’ll never see anything like it again…and it almost got to be bittersweet after a while, as in, “this is probably the best player we’ll ever see in New Hampshire, but he could be / will be gone just like that.” So it came down to soaking in as many highlights and media circus moments as possible, because every day (especially when we got into June) it felt like he could be called up at any minute. He just kept one-upping himself. First it was the .400 average, then it was the home run off the hotel, then the 4-for-4 game with a walk-off HR. Above all, he’s a great kid, handled all the media attention like a seasoned pro, and was a terrific teammate. The “fun factor” of Major League Baseball is going to increase from the second he arrives in the show.

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Now, that’s close to two thousand words of prospect gold right there, and I hope you enjoyed it. I want to thank Tyler for his time, and I want to wish the ‘Cats the best of luck in their playoff run. It’s been a long time coming for this team, as they haven’t been in it since 2011. But, here they are now, the most exciting affiliate in the Jays’ system.

Here’s the schedule for the 5-game series against Trenton:

Game 1: Wednesday, Sep. 5 at 6:35 p.m. (Northeast Delta Dental Stadium)

Game 2: Thursday, Sep. 6 at 6:35 p.m. (Northeast Delta Dental Stadium)

Game 3: Friday, Sep. 7 at 7 p.m. (ARM & HAMMER Park)

Game 4 (if nec.): Saturday, Sep. 8 at 7 p.m. (ARM & HAMMER Park)

Game 5 (if nec.): Sunday, Sep. 9 at 1 p.m. (ARM & HAMMER Park)

…This is a series that features the ‘Cats’ league-leading offence going up against the Thunder’s league-leading pitching. This here is the MiLB good stuff.