Though the Blue Jays minor league system as a whole has undoubtedly exceeded expectations, their highest level affiliate finishes up the year in a disappointing fashion.
Even though as a Blue Jays fan, your focus might not be on the minor league system, it’s definitely worth your while to occasionally glance at the standings of the International or Eastern Leagues. The Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats are roaring into the playoffs with an outstanding record. The Triple-A Buffalo Bisons, however, are not so fortunate.
A recent piece in the Buffalo News written by the incomparable Mike Harrington addressed that very topic. Shortly after falling to the last place of the International League’s North division, the Bisons eclipsed the IL record in roster transactions at 236(!) moves made. The team should also soon take over the modern-era record for players appearing for a single team.
This peculiar statistic, which manager Bobby Meacham has been taking notice of, brings to light an interesting potential factor in assessing the success of a minor league affiliate. At the Triple-A level more than any other, the urge to move up a level rules the minds of all players. Whereas players in lower levels are more focused on development and improvement, those in the International League seem to be more focused on simply keeping their roster moves or breaking on through to the bigs.
While there are numerous possible reasons for this, age seems to be a huge one. According to FanGraphs, the average age of players at the Triple-A level is 28.2, just under five years younger than the average player at the Double-A level. FanGraphs also notes that most of Triple-A players are older than the average MLB rookie.
Along with increased age, the incessant amount of talent at lower levels could also contribute to the lack of consistency displayed by the Bisons this year. Stacked rosters in New Hampshire, Lansing (A), Dunedin (High-A) and even Bluefield (Rookie) intimidate those at higher levels. The youth movement is coming, and fast.
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Lastly, the Toronto-Buffalo “shuttlers”, those who frequently are sent between the AAA and MLB levels due to optionability, eat up a ton of innings for the Bisons. Despite the fact that these aren’t exactly ineffective pitchers (Tim Mayza, Jake Petricka among them have been quite good), the lack of concrete roots and constant travel must take a toll.
At the end of the day, none of this really matters if the Bisons are producing players for the big club and at the same time providing entertaining, quality ball to those in the city and the surrounding areas. By many standards, especially attendance, the team has done just that.
Bisons fans, however, have much to look forward to. Those aforementioned stacked rosters in various lower minor league levels will soon travel to Western New York where they will join the Herd. Soon, Coca-Cola Field will be full of exciting, prodigious prospects that will take the team to the top.
Even if this season is sourly regarded as a flop for the Bisons, it’ll soon be a reminder of the never-ending variation among minor league teams, especially when their parent squad is as confused, disjointed and ambitious as the Blue Jays.