Previewing the Buffalo Bisons: The Blue Jays have good starting pitching depth in the minor leagues, as well as intriguing prospects
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8 months ago
Last season, I often described the Buffalo Bisons’ pitching staff as “a reliever society”.
This article is the first of three on Friday, which will feature a preview of the Buffalo Bisons., You can read about their position players in this article here. In this article, we’ll look at the Bisons’ starting rotation.
It appears that the 2023 Buffalo Bisons will have a full rotation, instead of having starters by committee as they had last season. By my estimation, six pitchers could conceivably start for the Bisons this season. The Jays minor league teams often had a six-man rotation for the six games in a series, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they do the same this season.
Let’s start with the six starters, as well as a few other starters who could start for the team later in the season.
The Buffalo Bisons’ opening day rotation:
Casey Lawrence is the opening day starter according to their website. Last season with the Bisons, he had a 2.79 ERA and a 4.16 FIP in 126 innings pitched. More impressive were his 21.9 K% and 3.5 BB%, which gave him an 18.4 K-BB%, a rather impressive number for just a 21.9 K%. He is also one of several starters with big league experience, as he owns a 6.80 ERA in 96.2 innings pitched with several different big league teams.
Drew Hutchison is another starter with big league experience, as you may know. Last season, the 32-year-old pitched mainly in the big leagues, posting a 4.53 ERA and a 4.93 FIP in 105.1 innings with the Detroit Tigers. For his career, he has a 4.89 ERA and a 4.53 ERA in 587 innings pitched, including an opening-day start in 2015 for the Blue Jays. If a starter goes down in the big leagues, I’d expect Hutchison to be the first to be called up.
Zach Thompson was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and could see time in the big leagues with the Jays. For his major league career, he has a 4.44 ERA and a 4.42 FIP in 196.2 innings pitched. His best season came in 2021, where he posted a 3.24 ERA and a 3.69 FIP in 75 innings pitched, mainly as a swing man. The 29-year-old struggled with the Pirates in 2022, but has three option years remaining.
Thomas Hatch is the next most experienced starter in the Buffalo Bisons’ rotation. He has pitched 40.1 innings in the big leagues, posting a 5.58 ERA and a 5.56 FIP in that time frame. The 28-year-old had an incredibly successful season with the Jays in the plague year, posting a 2.73 ERA and a 4.14 FIP in 26.1 innings pitched. With the Buffalo Bisons last season, Hatch had a 4.67 ERA and a 4.52 FIP in 131 innings pitched, the most in the minors for the Blue Jays.
Bowden Francis had limited experience in the big leagues but looked damn good in the second half of the 2022 season. Overall, he had a 6.59 ERA and a 6.02 FIP in 98.1 innings pitched with the Buffalo Bisons last season. However, from July 6th to the end of the season, he had a 4.47 ERA and a 3.42 FIP (29.8 K% and an 8.3 BB%) in 46.1 innings pitched. The 26-year-old also had a fantastic winter league in Puerto Rico, posting a 1.51 ERA in 35.2 innings pitched, which saw him register a 34.6 K% and a 6.6 BB%. His 15 strikeouts rank the fifth-most in Blue Jays’ spring training. Our very own Tyson Shushkewich recently wrote an article on Francis, which you can read here.
Yosver Zulueta is the only starting pitcher on Buffalo who ranked on my Top 50 prospect list, where he ranked fifth overall. As you probably know by now, 2022 was Zulueta’s first full pro season in America. He signed in 2019 but received Tommy John and tore his ACL enduring his first at bat in 2021. Last season, the 25-year-old pitched in all four A levels, posting a 3.72 ERA in 55.2 innings pitched. While he struck out 33.9% of batters he faced, he struggled with control and command as he had a 12.9 BB%, which got worse the higher the level he was at. However, that makes sense after the long layoff that he had.
Starters in Double-A who could pitch in Buffalo:
Ricky Tiedemann has the stuff and the attitude to be an ace. The 2021 third-round draft pick had a rapid ascension up the minor leagues last season, pitching in Low-A, High-A, and Double-A. All told he had a 2.17 ERA and an insane 38.9 K% in 78.2 innings pitched. There have been rumours that he could get the call-up to the big leagues as soon as 2023, so expect him to pitch in Buffalo a few months into the season. Tiedemann (obviously) ranked as Blue Jays Nation’s top prospect.
Sem Robberse is another prospect who could see Triple-A at some point in 2023, albeit later in the year compared to Robbins. With the High-A Vancouver Canadians, he posted a 3.12 ERA and a 3.85 FIP in 86.2 innings pitched, where he had a 21.8 K% and a 6.7 BB%. He earned a promotion to Double-A at the end of the season, posting a 3.65 ERA and a 5.44 FIP in 24.2 innings pitched. While his 18.3 K% was on the low side, he struck out 9 batters in his final game. He’s a pitcher, and he’s pretty darn good. Sem “The Pitching Dutchman” Robberse ranked as Blue Jays Nation’s ninth-best prospect heading into 2023.
Jimmy Robbins had a rapid ascent in the Blue Jays system in 2022. Pitching in Low-A, High-A, and Triple-A, he posted a 2.59 ERA in 76.1 innings pitched. He had a 30.2 K%, but like Zulueta, struggled with command at times as he had a 9.8 BB%. However, as the season continued, he ironed out the control and command issues and posted a 1.52 ERA and a 3.33 FIP with the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Invited to spring training, he pitched three innings, striking out four, walking two, and not allowing a run. He ranked as Blue Jays Nation’s 25th-best prospect heading into 2023.
This is the second of three articles on the Buffalo Bisons on Friday. The last one will come around game time, and will look at their deep bullpen (which is good enough for the big leagues). Stay tuned!
As always, you can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Brennan_L_D.
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