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Putting Together the 2019 Fisher Cats

Okay gang this one won’t be as long as the last, since I don’t have to spend words setting the stage by describing the potential Toronto roster. Still, if you haven’t read my previous posts this month you should as all this work is progressive. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the defending Eastern League Champions, don’t have as much firepower as last year but like the Bisons, have an abundance of pitching to sort through. As before, I’ll go with the offense first.

Catchers: I have a confession. Given that I live so far from any professional baseball save one team, and don’t have the finances to watch much of that, sometimes my baseball fandom tilts towards the “video game” aspect in that I love the art and science of roster building as much, almost, as seeing the game played. As this applies to the minors, my default expectation is that a “natural” progression is one level per year and your typical major leaguer will take 4-5 seasons to debut. Not that this should be expected but as a baseline against which you can note variations. Vladdy, for example, is so impressive in part because it took so little time for him to reach the doorstep. Conversely some prospects, Josh Donaldson for example,  are noted for having battled through the minors until they were too old to be prospects but still made their mark. Naturally injury and/or aberrations in performance can skew progression but I start with the supposition that most things being equal, a guy who played all year at one level will, if he’s a valued prospect, likely get promoted. That’s why my baser instincts say “Max Pentecost will be assigned to Buffalo”. But, honestly, he probably won’t. To begin with there’s McGuire which means someone is DHing half the time which isn’t ideal. The other factor is that as of July 31 last year Max had utterly failed at AA. He had a monster August which I found encouraging (he’s one of my “pet” prospects) but surely the organization wants to see him build on that at AA before making room in Buffalo. The reserve might be Pat Cantwell who was great in the role last year, or if he gets to go to AAA himself (he’s 28) then it’s probably light-hitting Ryan Hissy‘s job.

First Base: Chad Spanberger I suppose.  Spanberger was a beast in the Colorado organization in very friendly circumstances (too old for the league, very hitter friendly environment) but didn’t produce the same results after the trade.  Still, he was marginally better than Kacey Clemens in Dunedin and one of them has to get this job. (Clemens reportedly looks much better this spring after weight loss so…?)

Second Base: Santiago Espinal, mostly. He’s a SS by trade and there will be some movement around the infield but the team seems to really love his potential so he’ll get regular work, but the also really love the other guy so it may not be mainly at his primary position.

Shortstop: Kevin Smith, mostly. Any beat writer covering the Jays will tell you the same thing. Ask them who the player development people brag about the most and they’ll say Kevin Smith. Like Espinal, can play all the high pressure infield positions well. Smith is said to be exceptionally “baseball smart” and have real leadership qualities. If Vladdy as a 3B ends up flaming out in just a couple of years, Smith might move over to the corner when he arrives, or he might make 2B interesting, or be a heck of a Zobrist type. The middle infield reserve here will probably be Yeltsin Gudino. No one at Dunedin earned a promotion but he’s the most senior player in the organization suited to fill the role. Most likely he won’t hit. At all.

Third Base: Nash Knight…I guess? Gunnar Heidt maybe? To be honest, nobody in the system has earned this job. Heidt’s collective OBP in over 200 AA games split over 2 seasons is .672 and it was close to identical in each season. He’s a valuable versatile bench guy but your regular 3B? Nah. Those, however, were better results than Knight had in Dunedin last year. A guy who slashed .246/.335/.317/.652 is not screaming “I demand a promotion!” but, well, SOMEBODY has to be over there.

Outfield: The owner of the best mustache skills in the Jays system, with respect to Sean Reid-Foley, is RF Brock Lundquist. He split his 129 games last year between two A ball stops, 70 of those at the lower level. In a lot of scenarios he might hold back for some more Florida State league reps but the outfield is not packed with alternatives for the Fisher Cats either. Still, he had an .884 OPS so he’s certainly no Nash Knight. In center, the obvious choice is Joshua Palacios. He got into one regular season AA game last year, and rode this roster all winter. He’s a good on-base guy with doubles power and speed that he could use better. Reportedly has the glove for the position too. Left will probably be Forrest Wall. If he’s not in Buffalo which I don’t think he will be to start. He could earn a mid-season promotion though. Also on this roster and getting regular AB, or starting if Wall is in AAA, is Rodrigo Orozco who’s stat line is VERY much like Palacios’

There’s a lot more to be interested in on the pitching staff but we can go ahead and conclude these guys probably aren’t going to successfully defend that trophy.

Starting Rotation: There’s a bit of collision here between the guys who earned a promotion from Dunedin, the guys who didn’t earn one to Buffalo, and the one who did but there’s no room for him there. The senior guy here, as a prospect, is TJ Zuech (12,15) who in an ordinary year would be assumed a promotion. Besides the packed AAA rotation, however, he’s sidelined with an oblique injury and we have no announced timetable for him to resume pitching. Whenever it is, it’s some ways off and he’ll start the year on the AA injured list. Just as, if not more, highly regarded as a prospect, is Hector Perez (13, 11) whom you might rationally expect to be the best pitcher in this rotation. If he’s not, it will certainly be Patrick Murphy (18, 24) if he remains healthy. The FSL pitcher of the year last ear was dominant down the stretch and will be one of the most fascinating stories to watch this summer. Another promotion from Dunedin that’s reasonable to expect is Yennsy Diaz (29, 32). Like Murphy, he was added to the 40 man roster over the winter and while many observers project a future in the bullpen, I see no reason why they wouldn’t see how he handles AA lineups in the rotation first.  Here’s where things begin to get a bit more fuzzy. You have former first rounder Jon Harris who was again inconsistent in 2018 and to return here would mark his third full season at AA which is a really bad sign. He didn’t earn a promotion, particularly given the crowding, and it might be past time for them to see if they can make a Ryan Tepera out of him because he is way WAY down the SP depth chart. There’s Francisco Rios who missed most of last year with injury and is still only 23 but it’s been a couple of years since he seemed good enough to keep starting. I’m going to be bold here and predict lefty Zach Logue gets the call from Dunedin as well. He handled the FSL fine and gave up more than one earned run only twice in 18 appearances. If Jordan Romano comes back from the Rangers he might start the season here until the Bisons shake out some, but would deserve to be there.

Bullpen: This group too has intriguing players to follow. Your closer will be Zach Jackson who would be killer if he could stay in the strike zone. Are you ready for Mitch Williams 2.0? Behind him is fireballer Jackson McClleland who’s hit 100 several times, and a trio of guys who demand promotion from Dunedin along with him: Lefty Jake Fishman (who has a 5-1 K to BB ratio), Bryan Baker (another guy who can touch 100 that came over from the Rockies), and Jon Cheshire about whom I know almost nothing beyond the stats (which are quite good).  Add to that holdovers Kirby Snead (said by our man at Future Blue Jays to have the best slider in the organization) and Danny Young (both lefties) and we’re nearing capacity barring some folks landing on the IL. If the newly signed Jacob Adam pushing Corey Copping out of the AAA picture for now then we’re up to an eight man bullpen without including any excess SP. Other candidates without an obvious spot include Taylor Saucedo (who did well in Florida but knocked around in 11 AA starts), Andrew Case (who built a dominant rep in 2016 in Lansing but hasn’t carried the same performance up the ladder and is now 26), swingman Josh Degraaf (also 26), and 27 year old Dusty Issacs who has the secondary stats to imply he should be getting a go at AAA but there’s just no room. Some or all of these guys might be released, and the same goes for Rios.

One would assume an elevated proportion of low scoring affairs this season for the Cats.

(So actually it was longer than the last one. Basically I can’t tell you the time of day without 1500 words to work with)