Jay Blue: Handicapping NH free agents

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* Examining the Blue Jays minor-league free agents who spent time at double-A New Hampshire this season. …

2014 Canadians in the Minors … Canadians in College
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Blue Jays Minor League Free Agents, Part 2: New Hampshire Fisher Cats

By Jay Blue
Moving down a level to the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, we now take a look at the minor league free agents who will be able to choose their own destiny in professional baseball this offseason.

Austin Bibens-Dirkx has, like Scott Copeland (discussed last time when we looked at triple-A Buffalo free agents), been one of the Blue Jays’ great soldiers, going wherever he has been needed and getting the job done. Bibens-Dirkx, 29, moved up a level (collectively) austin bibens-dirksfrom last season when he pitched to a 2.48 ERA at Dunedin and New Hampshire. This year, the numbers regressed a little bit but he was solid in Buffalo, pitching 39 1/3 innings with a 3.89 ERA and 1.30 WHIP over 17 appearances (including four starts). In another 17 appearances (with 74 innings) in Double-A New Hampshire, “The X-Man” pitched to a 3.16 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. Bibens-Dirkx is a 50-50 type of guy, I think. He’s done well in the Blue Jays’ organization but with the young pitchers probably starting the year in Triple-A, there may not be much room for him and he could go somewhere that will give him a chance to pitch at that level.

Probability of re-signing: 50%

Randy Boone, 30, is exactly the kind of guy that more Blue Jays fans should know about. A Blue Jays’ lifer, he’s spent most of his career at the upper levels of the minor leagues, first tasting Triple-A in his second season (2009) but has never made more than two appearances at that level in any given year. Still, Boone has a lifetime 3.86 ERA in five seasons and 390 1/3 innings at the Double-A level and last year was his best yet. Starting in Buffalo, Boone only pitched two innings for the Bisons before heading back to New Hampshire and throwing 56 innings out of the bullpen with a 2.89 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and an excellent 55 strikeout to 17 walk ratio. Boone could very well go elsewhere but might also come back the way two minor league free agents (Bobby Korecky and Jonathan Diaz) have already done.

Probability of re-signing: 50%

Scott Gracey, 28, regressed in 2014, pitching to a 5.50 ERA and 1.41 WHIP over 52 1/3 innings. While he had a very solid strikeout total (53 Ks) and decent walk rate (19 walks — 3.3 BB/9 IP), Gracey saw his home run rate balloon to the highest of his career at 1.2 HR/9 IP. 2014 was one of the worst seasons in Gracey’s pro career and it couldn’t come at a worse time. With room needed in Double-A for guys like Taylor Cole, Matt Boyd and Arik Sikula, Gracey is unlikely to re-sign with Toronto.

Probability of re-signing: 5%

Justin Jackson, a 2007 draftee, actually re-signed with the Blue Jays last year in his first opportunity to become a free agent. 2014 was the justin jacksonsecond year of the experiment to turn the former shortstop into a pitcher and the jury is definitely still out. While his numbers in 2014 betray much more polish than they did in 2013, Jackson is still walking a lot of batters and is getting hit hard. That said, 95-mph fastballs don’t grow on trees and there is a lot to be said for a guy who was solid in High-A Dunedin in only his second year as a pitcher despite getting roughed up (in only 8 2/3 innings) in Double-A. Jackson’s age (he’ll only be 26 next season) and positive energy in the clubhouse work in his favour and I can see him coming back to Toronto if the price is right.

Probability of re-signing: 70%

When I say that Mike Lee is going to be a free agent this offseason, I’m sure your reaction will be “who?” The 27 year old was brought in to the Jays’ system after starting 2014 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. The journeyman righty has pitched in four organizations with a career 4.16 ERA. In 32 innings with New Hampshire, Lee posted some excellent numbers including a 2.25 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with 30 strikeouts and just seven walks. Lee could be back with Toronto but, some experience at Triple-A already, he could be in demand as a guy who can fill out an organization.

Probability of re-signing: 30%

Sergio Santos, 31, became a free agent after the Blue Jays declined his 2015 option that would have paid him $6 million. The 2002 first-rounder, who started his career (like Justin Jackson) as a shortstop, had a disastrous 2014 campaign that saw him post an 8.57 ERA in 21 innings with the Blue Jays (walking an alarming 18 batters and giving up five home runs). Santos didn’t allow an earned run in 10 2/3 innings in Buffalo but walked six in 10 2/3 innings despite striking out 16. Santos will catch on elsewhere and could even come back to the Blue Jays if he takes a deeply discounted contract and finds his control.

Probability of re-signing: 15%

Richard Bleier, a 27-year-old lefty, came over to the Jays in the minor league portion of the 2013 Rule 5 draft after being in the Texas richard bleirorganization since being drafted as a sixth rounder in 2008. Bleier had a strong season in New Hampshire, posting a 3.93 ERA and 1.31 WHIP with just 11 walks in 84 2/3 innings. He had a taste of Buffalo with two innings in one outing but otherwise was in Double-A for the rest of the season. Bleier started five games and was a solid arm in the pen but I don’t think that the Blue Jays will really have much space for him going forward.

Probability of re-signing: 15%

Yusuf Carter, a catcher and utility man, was signed by the Blue Jays out of independent ball over the offseason but the 29 year old didn’t really play enough to make much of an impact. Upbeat and energetic, Carter (who’s the nephew of former Blue Jay Joe Carter), hit only .183/.224/.225 in 76 plate appearances all season and the fact that he saw limited action makes him a candidate to not return.

Probability of re-signing: 5%

Mike McDade was drafted by the Blue Jays and came back to the organization after signing a free agent contract in spring training. Still only 25, McDade hit .250/.307/.366 with the Fisher Cats in 303 plate appearances, hitting 11 doubles and seven home runs. The switch-hitting first baseman was better from the left side of the plate (with an 80-point swing in OPS) and, with the trade of Adam Lind and Dan Johnson a free agent, McDade could find a spot in Triple-A Buffalo in 2014 if he re-signs. Like for Brett Wallace, there could be an opportunity here for.

Probability of re-signing: 40%

Outfielder Cory Aldridge has had a well-traveled career and is currently playing in Venezuela looking for a new contract for 2015. Having cory aldridgespoken to him during his stay in New Hampshire, I can tell you that Aldridge appeared to really enjoy his time with the Jays’ organization after getting purchased from a Mexican League club early in the year. That said, the 35 year old only played in 22 games in New Hampshire (hitting five home runs) and the question of whether there is a spot for his veteran presence in the system is a legitimate one.

Probability of re-signing: 35%

Seeing B.C. native Mike Crouse’s name on the free agent list was somewhat surprising. Not even 24 years old (his birthday is on November 22), Crouse was a 16th-round pick in the 2008 draft. In his first year in Double-A, Crouse continues to show glimmers of promise and flashes of brilliant athleticism but hasn’t really been able to put things together in a spectacular fashion. Hitting .243/.321/.405, Crouse hit 17 doubles, six triples and nine home runs for the Fisher Cats this year while stealing 15 bases. I think the Blue Jays would really like to have Crouse back in the fold and if he’s willing, there’s a spot on the Fisher Cats for him to start 2015.michael crouse

Probability of re-signing: 75%

Melky Mesa came the Blue Jays in a trade with the Royals mid-season and the 27-year-old former Yankee had some solid numbers in just 35 games with the Fisher Cats, hitting .256/.304/.434. The big question is how he sees himself and whether he feels like he’ll get a better opportunity to play at higher levels (like he did with KC) in another organization.

Probability of re-signing: 20%

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