Mar 12, 2014; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Marcus Stroman (54) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
With just under three weeks to go until the full season minor league schedules commence, I thought it was a perfect time to resuscitate the wildly popular Org Filler (In) series. The four ‘pre-season’ pieces will give me an opportunity to run through each of the full season teams, taking a look at the players to watch on each rung of the ladder and what we may expect of them. Of course, as the rosters are by no means set yet, it will require a bit of prognosticating, which leaves me open to looking like a fool. Normal service then.
We’ll go top down, starting with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
The main focus in Buffalo (and this will be a theme throughout the organization) will be on the pitching side. After opening the 2013 season with a pitching rotation whose average age was 33.2 years old, and not exactly chock full of prospects, this years edition will be young and, depending on results, should be competing for long term spots on the big league roster. Not just replacement level injury fill ins.
The most exciting member will be Marcus Stroman. I gotta believe, despite the protestations from AA that he’s going to ‘take the best team north’, that the Jays will listen to Stroman’s service clock and send him to Buffalo no matter how he finishes the spring. I could be wrong (I have been once before) but there is no downside in having the Duke University product continue to refine his new changeup grip, add to his low(ish) 131 innings of minor league ball, and gain a year of service time by starting for the Bisons
Sean Nolin may not have the wipeout stuff that Stroman possesses but he has the body to become a durable innings eater at the major league level. And for all intents and purposes, he is probably ready to fill that role now. Still, like Stroman, he could use some more refinement, and will get that opportunity in Buffalo. Dependent on injuries and performance, I think there is a very good chance we see Nolin in Toronto at some point this season.
After undergoing his second Tommy John surgery in 2012 a lot of people will be interested to see how former top prospect and main component in the Roy Halladay trade, Kyle Drabek, fares this season. He has been underwhelming so far this spring which may be expected after only throwing 45 odd innings last year, however with a career mlb BB/9 rate of 5.8 it’s not like he has a successful history to fall back on. This is a big year for Drabek, possibly, if things don’t go particularly well, his last as as starter.
With Wednesdays news that Ervin Santana has signed with the Braves, there are two holes to fill in the Jays rotation. If you would have asked me a month ago, Drew Hutchison was starting the season with the Bisons, however, given his performance thus far, and extra opening, I’d say he breaks with the Jays.
So who fills out the Bisons rotation then? If he’s serious about becoming a starter again than Dustin McGowan, despite his service time allowing him to block any optional assignment, should be willing to stretch out in AAA. Given he’s on the 40 man roster, McGowan would be unprotected if the Jays tried to push him through, but with his salary and injury history, the chances of him getting picked up are thin.
Another veteran and former first round pick should join the rotation. Despite Alex Anthopoulos’ being so excited to see Ricky Romero pitch Wednesday versus the Rays, let’s be honest, he’s not a major league pitcher at the moment and fact he’s not on the 40 man roster means he’s an easy choice.
Can either Romero or McGowan work their way back to being productive major leaguers? Probably not, but I’ll be far more interested in keeping an eye on them this year than I was with Ramon Ortiz and David Bush in 2013.
Two more former first rounders will also find their way to Buffalo making for a crowded scene and the ability to start a ‘first round pick’ club. Both Chad Jenkins and Deck McGuire are probably considered disappointments considering where they were drafted and what they have done career-wise thus far but both are knocking on the door of the major leagues and will be looking to get off to a great start in the International League.
Throw in relievers like John Stilson and the Jays certainly have pitching depth. A case of quantity over quality? We’ll soon find out.
It may seem like I’m giving the positional players short shrift but, as mentioned above, there’s not the same sort of talent that there is on the pitching side.
The fact Melky Cabrera has been taking some reps at center seems to point towards the Jays looking internally for their 4th outfielder. As Moises Sierra can cover both corners but definitely not center (to be fair, something I would have said about Cabrera as well) it looks like Anthony Gose will be returning to Buffalo to play in between Kevin Pillar and Brad Glenn. This leaves Moise Sierra with the big club as a utility man. Really hope the eight man ‘pen is worth it.
Any other positional players to keep an eye on? I thought Kenny Wilson might get his shot, but, as per the below tweet, it seems he’ll be back in New Hampshire. Same with catcher A.J. Jimenez, which leaves Buffalo’s catching duties to the loser of the Erik Kratz/Josh Thole battle.
So it’s the pitching staff and outfield then. Those are the positions I’ll be keeping an eye on in Buffalo this year.