The Blue Jays AAA affiliate Buffalo Bisons are beginning to see their potential roster take shape as the 2016 baseball season approaches.
Some Blue Jays fans may not know it, but Mark Shapiro was in Cleveland during the time Buffalo served as the AAA team of the Indians for 14 seasons [1995-2008] and averaged an 80-64 record. They made the playoffs nine times during an 11-year stretch, winning the Governor’s Cup 3 times in 1997, 1998, and 2004.
Since last making the playoffs in 2005, Buffalo has gone 10 straight seasons without making the post-season. Over the Blue Jays three-season tenure, the team has averaged 73 wins. It appears that the Blue Jays President wants to see the AAA team return to contention.
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The 2016 Buffalo Bisons on paper look to have the potential to field a better team than last season’s team that went 68-76. With the parent club adding the likes of Estrada (re-signed), Happ, Chavez, and Storen, there seems to be the chance of seeing a few MLB-caliber as well as some four-A pitchers ending up in Buffalo.
If relievers like Steve Delabar and Chad Jenkins don’t make the big club, they are both out of options, and may get claimed by other teams. As well, lefty-righty pitcher Pat Venditte can elect free agency if he is sent to the minors. Buffalo still has veteran farmhand Bobby Korecky and lefty Daniel Schlereth, who was recently signed and invited to spring training.
The Starters (With 2015 stats at their respective levels)
Scott Copeland, (11-6, 2.95, 20gs), returns to Buffalo and should be one of their front line starters.
Scott Diamond, (11-6, 3.71, 25gs), is a savvy lefty who brings some MLB experience to the Bisons.
Roberto Hernandez, (3-5, 4.36, 20g, 11gs), played for the Astros last season. He still has enough in the tank to be the number one SP callup for the big club, though he does have an opt-out clause that could enter the picture.
Joe Biagini, (10-7, 2.42, 22gs), was claimed in the Rule V draft from San Francisco. Unless he surprises and cracks the bullpen, the Blue Jays will likely attempt a small trade in order to keep and send him to AAA.
Two opening day rotation spots are also expected to be occupied by southpaw Wade Leblanc (2-5, 4.23, 8gs) who played in Japan last season, and Brad Penny (7-10, 4.46, 24gs). Penny has an out clause if he doesn’t make the Jays lineup out of spring training. Prospect Conner Greene is expected to crack triple-A by mid-summer as well.
Ben Rowen, (4-1, 1.95, 48g, 2sv) had a fantastic season playing for 4 different teams between AA and AAA in 2015 and should provide very reliable depth.
Arnold Leon, (2-5, 2.95, 20g, 1sv) was purchased from Oakland and appears to have found his niche as a reliever.
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Pat McCoy, (2-3, 4.18, 27g) is a lefty who spent time between AA and AAA serving as a reliever.
Chad Girodo, (4-2, 1.34, 45g, 2sv) is another southpaw who finally made it to AAA last season and could conceivably push for an MLB spot at some point in 2016.
Blake McFarland, (3-3, 2.03, 46g, 16sv) was a dominant closer in AA who auditioned at AAA last season with Buffalo.
Bo Schultz, (2-1, 1.69, 16g, 7sv) is a MLB reliever but unfortunately the numbers game, plus his having options, could see the hard-thrower start the season in Buffalo as their closer.
Positionally, the parent club made very few changes and rightfully so. Don’t be surprised to see the Jays invite another catcher and infielder to Spring Training. With the outfield, the return of a healthy Michael Saunders to left field may see two of either Junior Lake, Ezequiel Carrera, or Dalton Pompey sent to Buffalo. Both Lake and Carrera would have to clear waivers, while Pompey still has options.
Humberto Quintero, (81g, 288ab, 7-33, .257/.284 at AAA) was brought onboard to give the Jays some depth at catcher. He has almost 500 MLB games under his belt.
A.J. Jimenez, (23g, 87ab, 0-9, .218/.296 at AA-AAA) will have to pass waivers in order to be sent to AAA. He will likely compete with Chung for the other catcher’s spot if he can stay healthy, which has been an issue for him.
Derrick Chung, (24g, 71ab, 0-8, 12/8, .282, .379 at AA) is a darkhorse catching candidate for the Bisons. A late bloomer, his calling card is as a solid defensive backstop, good game caller, a career .994 FPCT and is blessed with a cannon for an arm, having a career 41% caught-stealing mark.
1B Casey Kotchman, (90g, 317ab, 7-44, .290/.374) may see some time with the big club as an injury replacement if the need arises. The veteran is still blessed with soft hands at first base and a good eye at the plate.
3B Matt Dominguez, (117g, 442ab, 10-56, .269/.310) replaces reigning MVP Matt Hague at the hot corner. Formerly known for his glove, Dominguez is only three years removed from a 21 home run season with the Astros.
The middle infield, it appears, will be manned by some combination of David Adams, Jon Berti, Andy Burns, and Jiovanni Mier. Burns is still a solid prospect and the most capable hitter who can play multiple positions, including the corner OF.
Buffalo may see one, two, or none of Ezequiel Carrera, Junior Lake, and Dalton Pompey. It all depends on Saunders health and whether or not the Jays brass want to have Pompey platoon in LF, serve a the 4th Ofer, or spend another year in AAA getting everyday at bats, playing time and possibly an MVP award. Expect Roemon Fields and Dwight Smith Jr. to start the season with the Bisons. Melky Mesa could remain in the picture, as well.
The Bisons aim to contend for a playoff spot this season. Solid starters, a talented bullpen, capable catchers, two veteran MLB players anchoring a solid infield, and what could be a fantastic outfield should have the fans at Coca Cola Field cheering for a winning team and a trip to the post season.