|Sean Reid-Foley/Clutchlings photo|
Minor League Opening Day is getting closer, and the potential rosters of the Blue Jays affiliates are becoming a little clearer.
The New Hampshire Fisher Cats became a Blue Jays affiliate in 2003, and the partnership has been a successful one, even with Toronto attempting to help relocate an Eastern League team in Ottawa in 2014, only to have Ottawa city council balk at footing the bill for necessary stadium upgrades. The PDC between the two sides was extended last year for another two years, to 2018. The team is solidly in Red Sox country, and some of the Fisher Cats promotions reflect that.
A former Red Sox, Gary Allenson, will return to New Hampshire to manage this year after spending the last three year piloting Buffalo. Three of the top prospects in the system (Richie Urena, Anthony Alford, and Sean Reid-Foley) should start the season at this level. Cuban IFA Lourdes Gurriel may begin the season at AA, but his April destination will largely depend on his spring training progress - he hasn't faced live pitching in a year and a half. Some have suggested that he starts the season at Dunedin, before making his way north to New Hampshire or Buffalo once the weather warms up.
In many ways the jump to AA is the highest in the minor leagues. The consensus is that players at that level "have a plan": they realize that they no longer can get by on the strength of their physical talents alone. Pitchers realize that they can't necessarily blow the ball by hitters, so command, sequencing, and secondary pitches become extremely important. Hitters come to learn that approach becomes everything, and that they can't just sit on mistake pitches any more in order to succeed.
The organization is very high on Jansen, who has advanced receiving skills. Agile, with excellent pitch calling and framing skills, Jansen has had the hardest time staying healthy, missing hugh chunks of time in 3 of his first 4 pro seasons with injuries. He may profile as a defense-first Catcher, but the bat has some power potential, and he puts the ball in play. Jansen redeemed himself with a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League. Reese McGuire and Max Pentecost (provided he stays at the position) may have passed Jansen on the organization depth chart, but team officials have said that he still figures in their long-range plans.
Peterborough, ON native Reeves got off to a solid start in the Australian Baseball League, but found himself shifted to 3rd Base at times when regular Canberra receiver Robbie Perkins rejoined the team. Reeves got off to a hot start with Canberra, but cooled over the last half of the ABL season.
Urena is the highlight here, but he's not the only name to watch. McBroom, the 2015 Midwest League MVP, has never been considered a top prospect, but he's hit at every level, hitting 21 Homers in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League last year. He's a bat-first prospect, however, which has limited his outlook. If he can continue to hit the long ball in AA, however, we may have to reconsider his status.
|Richard Urena/Clutchlings photo|
Nay was once an up-and-coming prospect, even seeing some action with the big team toward the end of spring training two years ago. Injuries limited him to 22 GCL ABs last season, and after struggling in High A in 2015, he will be looking to regain his former standing.
Urena figures to be in Buffalo by mid-season at the latest. He has proven he has the skills on both sides of the ball to become a major league regular, and he should find a home in the bigs by 2018 or 2019.
After a breakout 2015, Alford had his share of injuries and inconsistency in what's been termed a sideways 2016, although he had a solid second half, and like Jansen, regained considerable status with a strong AFL campaign. Davis had a fine 2016, finishing 2nd in the FSL in steals, and 3rd in runs and walks, as well as 5th in OBP. The versatile Harris missed much of last season due to a PED suspension.
|SP||Jeremy Gabryzwski||23||New Hampshire||1.48/3.0/5.9|
|SP||Taylor Cole||27||New Hampshire||1.41/2.5/7.9|
With a simplified delivery, Reid-Foley found the strike zone more often, and had a breakout 2016. He has the highest ceiling of any starting pitcher in the system. Cole led the minors in Ks in 2014, but shoulder issues held him to 61 innings last year, and he should return to AA for a third season. If he is healthy and there are openings in the system above him, he may reach Buffalo before long.
This is the group that helped propel Dunedin to a playoff birth last season, and they should move up to AA together. Rowley, who hadn't pitched in two years while he served a military commitment, found success in the bullpen after struggling as a starter. Southpaw Mayza's delivery is very tough on left handed hitters, while former top prospect Cardona, who has had his share of injuries, made a successful conversion to relieving. If New Hampshire makes a playoff appearance this year, the bullpen may be a big part of it.