Putting Together the 2019 Bisons

This will be the first of a four-part series that, as promised, takes a detailed look at the rosters of the full-season farm clubs with a best guess at how the assignments of the most interesting prospects will shake out.
The only real way you can speculate about how minor league assignments will fall is to work from the top down. You might present your conclusions from the bottom up for dramatic effect but the reality is you honestly have to have a pretty clear vision of how the Blue Jays line up before you even start. To that end, before I even mention the Buffalo Bisons let me stipulate to the Jays’ roster. I don’t have any more inside knowledge than anyone else – less than several – but I think that most of the Jays roster falls into slot pretty naturally to open the season.
Postulate an opening day rotation (as announced) of Stroman, Shoemaker, Sanchez, Borucki, and Richard. Further Buchholz is on the IL/Rehabbing until (my guess, given the schedule) the first week of May. The bullpen would include returning Giles, Tepera, Mayza and Biagini, Rule 5 guy Elvis Luciano (for now) and minor-league contract free agents Bud Norris and John Axford (which means they need to open to 40 man spots, more on that in a bit). David Phelps would be similarly situated to Buchholz, not yet ready for the 25 man roster.
On the other side of the ball, I’m putting down Jansen and Maile, Smoak and Morales, Galvis and Gurriel up the middle, and Drury at 3B for now. Clearly Grichuk, Pillar, Hernandez, and McKinney seem to be the outfield. That leaves two spots. One will be a reserve infielder, either Urena or Sogard, because Devon Travis will surely be on the DL. In my opinion, given that Sogard would need a 40 man spot and would potentially be lost when Travis returns or someone else is promoted, I’ll postulate Urena gets the spot. The last spot would either be Dalton Pompey or another reliever. I’m aware that the beat writers just take it as a given Pompey will sooner or later be gone (a position they have maintained since Labor Day) but I’m not convinced of that. In any case, for the purpose of this exercise, it’s easier for me to give it to him and not have to sort out who the last reliever would be. Also given they know that at least two veteran pitchers will be added in a few weeks then you might not feel pressure to carry that eight man ‘pen that Charlie speculated about just yet.
Finally on this point, there’s a school of thought that if you manage to get that guy you are worrying about losing through until after the season starts, other teams are less likely to claim them on waivers since their own rosters are set. One might suppose that you keep Pompey for, say, two weeks and then try to get him through waivers when you activate Phelps (for example). In the mean time you might always have an unexpected injury solve the problem for you. So those are the guys you should not expect to see me mention for the AAA team. 25 man roster plus three guys on the DL

Now Buffalo is half easy and half crazy. On the hitting side your regular starting team is almost completely obvious:
(players who made the prospect lists are noted with their rank numbers)

Catchers: Reese McGuire (22. 28) and Michael De La Cruz. Prospect and org-filler reserve. Maybe former first rounder Max Pentecost will land here, depending on the impression he makes this spring. More conservatively they will ask him to prove at AA that his August last year was no mirage. Also, Patrick Cantwell, a non-prospect who hit well splitting time with Max in AA last year was re-signed and is technically assigned to Buffalo. I wouldn’t be shocked if De La Cruz was released to clear space for him.

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Infield: Rowdy Tellez (24,17) at 1B, Cavan Biggio (11,9) at 2B, Bo Bichette (2,2) at SS, and, after a couple of weeks of rehab, Vladdy (1,1) at 3B. For reserves, you’ll find Andy Burns (back from two years in Korea) who’ll be the regular 3B after the Big Day and Sogard.

Outfield: Anthony Alford (10,10) and Jon Davis (whom I count as one of the prime candidates to come off the 40-man for one of those veteran relievers) will start. The only other returning OF on the current roster is Roman Fields. There will need to be another. If they get Pompey through waivers that would be another quality starter. Short of that they can either fill out the bench with a good org guy who won’t hit, like Andrew Guillotte, or conclude that Forrest Wall can handle the promotion. This depends entirely on their view of Wall as of assignment day. Barring a third catcher, that’s 12 guys leaving room for thirteen pitchers. And BOY do they need that room.

Looking at the roster, the overflow of guys who are on the 40 who don’t make the 25, at the experience of the new acquisitions, and the AA guys who have a case for promotion, I can list as many as 22 guys who might in the right circumstances fit onto this roster. So we have to look for some ways to thin the herd.

First, we’ll note that Julian Merriweather, TJ Zuech, and Matt Dermody are likely to land on the IL (Zuech probably on the AA roster). I think it’s safe to assume Javy Guerra and Mark Lieter, Jr. end up released. Likely David Garner (I know you never heard of him) also unless they stash him on the IL. That gets us to a manageable number.
Candidates to start are led by three sure things who appear on the prospect lists: Sean Reid-Foley (8,8), Trent Thornton (16, 22), and Thomas Pannone (22,21). along with newcomer Andrew Sopko. For me, as I mentioned last time, I’d have David Paulino (16) in this quintet too and let him build much needed innings. The alternative option or #6 guy (who gets lots of work in the minors) is potentially Jacob Waguespack. The  caveat here is that Sam Gaviglio will be here (unless they lose him when he comes off the 40 to clear a spot for Axford or Norris which I predict) and if so they have to decide if they make space for him in the rotation
The bullpen I expect will have, besides whichever of those  guys isn’t starting regularly, to begin with holdovers Justin Schafer, Connor Fisk, and Danny Barnes, along with free agent signing Ryan Feierabend. We’re up to 11 names now for 13 spots. Given Shawn Moeimando went to the AFL last fall one assumes the team sees something in him (he can start too but so many are ahead of him) and finally, I give you Corey Copping. The 25 year old right hander was acquired from LA last summer in exchange for John Axford. He compiled a 2.39 ERA in 60.1 AA innings last year while striking out 75. That seems to be a better case for a spot than people like Guerra or Lieter could manage.

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To account for the other pitchers currently sitting on the Bisons roster: Yennsy Diaz will be at AA at best, not here. Hector Perez hasn’t accumulated but 10 AA starts so it’s easy to expect him back there. Likewise, that’s the next natural step for Patrick Murphy. These guys are only temporarily listed here having been farmed out from major league camp.
Willy Ortiz, a minor league Rule 5 draft pick,  doesn’t have upper minors experience and probably is in the Dunedin rotation unless the rules force them to have him at least in AA. And with this little burst of thoroughness I’ve slightly spoiled my look at the Fisher Cats roster, coming up early next week.

I can’t wrap this up without looking back at this and marveling. Consider this potential late April, early May lineup card:
1. Alford – CF
2. Bichette – SS
3. Gurrero – 3B
4. Biggio – 2B
5. Tellez – 1B
6. Wall – LF
7. McGuire – C
8. Fields – RF
9. Davis – DH (yes the team doesn’t have an obvious DH)
And Reid-Foley on the mound.

Get your tickets now!

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UPDATE: Mark Lieter, Jr. will spend the season on the IL, and on the same day this was announced they also traded with the Royals for 27 year old RHP Jacob Adam who logically slots into the Bisons’ bullpen. There are different ways in which this could play out but basically, that would be potentially 14 active pitchers (unless Gaviglio makes the Jays’ roster as Wilner predicted) so something needs to give.