Meet your 2015 Buffalo Bisons (Maybe)

scott copeland

 * RHP Scott Copeland was 11-9 with 3.45 ERA in 31 games making 26 starts between double-A New Hampshire and triple-A Buffalo. He walked 55 and struck out 105 men in 164 1/3 innings. …. 

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By Jay Blue
Blue Jays From Away

This post is the final part of an series that will be my attempt to predict the Opening Day rosters for the Blue Jays’ four full-season minor league teams which start their seasons on April 9.

The Buffalo Bisons have the hardest roster to predict. At this point in spring training, there are several roster spots that are open for competition (particularly in the big league bullpen) and there may be one or two pitchers who make the major league team.

There are also players who have minor league options remaining who should make the big league squad but won’t because the Blue Jays want to hold on to other players in the organization (at least for the time being). Finally, there are players who will either be lost to waivers or released at the end of spring training and others who might have clauses in their minor league contracts that allow them to become free agents if they don’t make the major league club by a certain date (usually a little later into the season).

All of these contractual complexities make for a tough time trying to figure out who goes where, particularly since (after Jayson Aquino was optioned to New Hampshire) there are still 32 pitchers in major league camp. With room for 12 or 13 pitchers, at the most, on both the major league staff and the Buffalo staff (plus those who will start on the DL), there just isn’t room for anyone. In this projected roster list, I’ll add symbols to indicate whether a player is on the 40-man roster (indicated by the *) and if the player is out of options (^). If a player has both symbols, there’s a very real chance that if he doesn’t stick at the major league level, he’ll have to be put on waivers and may not make it through to play for Buffalo. For information on options and outrights, head to Bluebird Banter. They have a great reference chart by MjwW that tells you everything you need to know.
Starting Pitchers
Andrew Albers
Scott Copeland
Jeff Francis^
Liam Hendriks*^
Daniel Norris*

We start with a Canadian. Albers was signed on a minor league deal and pitched in Korea last year. He’s looking to get back to the majors where he was fairly successful in 2013 with the Minnesota Twins.

Copeland became a minor league free agent after 2014 and re-signed following a strong year spent mostly in New Hampshire. He was good in Buffalo too and I think he’s going to be in Buffalo again. Copeland could surprise people. He’s got quality stuff that isn’t “fancy” but his good control and heavy sinker should make him a valuable contributor in Buffalo.

Francis was another Canadian signed to a minor league deal as he tries to get back to the major leagues. Francis can refuse an optional assignment, meaning that if he’s placed on the 40-man roster, he’ll have to clear waivers to go back down to Buffalo.

The first big question mark in the Buffalo starting rotation is Hendriks. Hendriks had an outstanding season for Buffalo last year and was one of the best pitchers in the International League. At this point, he’s going to fight tooth and nail for a bullpen job in Toronto. He’s out of options and on the 40-man roster which means that if he’s sent to Buffalo to start the season, he’ll have to clear waivers. Another option is that he’ll be traded but, considering the fact that the Blue Jays traded him last year to get Danny Valencia and then traded Santiago Nessy to KC to get him back, I’m not sure if that’ll happen.

Norris is the second big question mark. He could very well make the big league team and there are lots of grumblings that he will. It’s too early in camp for me to say that definitively but if doesn’t make the big league squad, he’ll probably be the Opening Day starter for Buffalo and will hang around for a couple of months.

Other Possible Starting Pitchers
Austin Bibens-Dirkx
Kyle Drabek*^
Mike Lee
Rob Rasmussen*
Johan Santana^

As you can see, there aren’t a lot of options for extra starters in Buffalo. Bibens-Dirkx and Lee are probably the leading candidates. Both have pitched at the Triple-A level and both have been starters. I’ve got at least one of them, if not both, slotted to begin in Double-A this season but if Norris makes the major league team and Liam Hendriks is available (waiting to clear waivers or claimed by another team), either one could be pressed into duty.

Drabek is out of options and on the 40-man roster. If he doesn’t grab a spot in the big league bullpen and he clears waivers, he could end up back in kyle drabekthe starting rotation in Buffalo. 2014 was the first time that Drabek pitched out of the bullpen and, while it’s a longshot, he could see time as a starter in Buffalo.

Rasmussen is an interesting candidate to start. 2014 was the first time for Rasmussen (or Blue Jays from Away cover boy) that he was in the bullpen full time and, with a full compliment of solid pitches, he could return to a starting role that he pitched well in in other organizations. That said, he was really effective in the bullpen.

Finally, we have Johan Santana who is still recovering from his offseason shoulder surgery. Santana should probably start pitching in games in April and will almost certainly make a few starts in Buffalo as he’s getting ready to see if he can help out the Blue Jays’ rotation.

As I mentioned in the last post on the Buffalo Bisons’ projected starting rotation, the Bisons’ bullpen is extremely difficult to predict, moreso because of Marcus Stroman’s recent injury that will probably push Aaron Sanchez into the starting rotation and open up at least one spot in the bullpen. Does Miguel Castro jump up all the way from Advanced-A Dunedin to grab a spot thanks to his power arm? Does someone else make the roster if Brett Cecil isn’t able to go on Opening Day? There are so many questions revolving around big league camp that need to be answered before the Buffalo bullpen situation sorts itself out but I’ll do my best to make some predictions.

Relief Pitching
Once again, there are contractual complexities revolving around who can be sent to the minor leagues without clearing waivers. In this projected roster list, I’ll add symbols to indicate whether a player is on the 40-man roster (indicated by the *) and if the player is out of options (^). If a player has both symbols, there’s a very real chance that if he doesn’t stick at the major league level, he’ll have to be put on waivers and may not make it through to play for Buffalo. For information on options and outrights, head to Bluebird Banter. They have a great reference chart by MjwW that tells you everything you need to know.

On the Big League Bubble
Steve Delabar*
Kyle Drabek*^
Greg Infante
Wilton Lopez

With the reshuffling of the deck following the Stroman injury these four pitchers probably get extended looks to join the Toronto bullpen. Delabar has looked good so far in spring training and is probably the most likely of the bunch to end up with the Blue Jays to start the season. Delabar lost velocity and command last year and spent a lot of the season in Buffalo trying to work things out. We really hope that he can return to his All-Star 2013 form and get back to Toronto.

Drabek is out of options but hasn’t really looked fantastic this spring (though there’s still a long way to go before Opening Day). Once a top prospect and one of the key pieces coming to Toronto in the Roy Halladay deal, Drabek has lost a lot of his shine and has struggled to throw strikes and work effectively. Still, he was much better as a reliever in the Buffalo bullpen last year than as a starter and could put things together enough to come north as a Blue Jay. If he doesn’t, he’ll have to clear waivers and some other team may take a flyer on him before he can become a member of the Buffalo Bisons.

Infante is a hard-throwing fastball/slider pitcher who, when he can command his pitches, can be very effective in the major leagues, hitting 98 mph. He’s a dark horse to take a spot in the Toronto bullpen if he can maintain the improvements he made last year when he walked 9.8% of batters which was the best rate of his career over a full season.

Lopez has been rumoured as being a legitimate candidate for the Jays. He’s got 305 innings of major league experience under his belt, including three sub-3.00 ERA seasons with Houston in 2010-2012. He’s looked good this spring, throwing a sinker that has a ton of movement on it.

Likely in Buffalo
Cory Burns
Preston Guilmet*
Colt Hynes*
Bobby Korecky
Juan Oramas*
Luis Perez
Rob Rasmussen*
Bo Schultz*
Ryan Tepera*
Matt West*

Here’s where things get dicey. All of these players can be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. I’m favouring the younger pitchers who are either on the 40-man roster or who have minor league contracts and have pitched extensively at Triple-A before. Unfortunately, not everyone here is going to survive the spring.

Burns is a righty who has some big league experience with the Padres and the Rangers. He’s 27 and had a long history of being effective in the minors with a fastball that just grazes 90 mph. He’s not on the 40-man any more and has been sent outright to the minors.

Guilmet was a waiver claim from the Pittsburgh Pirates who has seen some ML action over the past two years. Guilmet has gotten high strikeout numbers throughout his career in the minors while walking very few. He also pitches in the 90-mph range with his fastball and threw a large percentage of split-fingered fastballs last year.

Hynes, 29, got 17 innings with the Padres in 2013 but gave up as many runs as innings pitched. He had a very good year with the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque and struck out seven batters with just one walk in 8 2/3 innings with the Bisons after being claimed by the Blue Jays off waivers. He’s on the 40-man roster but still has options remaining.

Korecky was the closer in Buffalo last year and has been extremely effective over the past few seasons in the Blue Jays’ organization. He’s on a bobby koreckyminor league contract and is almost certain to start with the Bisons.

Oramas was claimed on waivers from the Padres but is still just 24 (turning 25 in May). The Mexican lefty has been a starter throughout his minor league career so there’s a very good chance that he could start for the Buffalo Bisons.

Perez is a former Blue Jays who had Tommy John surgery and never really got a chance at the big league level. The lefty was signed to a minor league contract this offseason and could very well start in 2015 in New Hampshire.

Rasmussen is another lefty with a taste of the majors under his belt. He was very good in Buffalo in his first season as a full-time reliever and retired David Ortiz in his first major league appearance. Rasmussen is a very dark horse to make the Blue Jays but with options remaining, he’ll almost certainly be in Buffalo.

Schultz was another waiver claim who survived the winter to join the Jays in big league camp. Schultz has a big fastball that comes in at 95 mph and he seems to get a lot of ground balls and could be a candidate for a big league call up at some point after getting his feet wet in the majors with Arizona last year.

Tepera is a home-grown, hard-throwing righty who hits the mid-90s with a great sinker that usually comes in a couple of mph slower than his four-ryan teperaseam fastball. Tepera has looked good in spring and will be going into his second full year as a reliever, likely back with the Buffalo Bisons after being put on the 40-man roster this offseason.

West is a converted position player who has had some arm injuries that have resulted in a unique situation in which West has an extra option year. I have a feeling that the Blue Jays will take advantage of that, sending him to Buffalo to get some more experience on the mound as he only has 104 innings of work under his belt in the minor leagues and four in the majors.

Other Relief Pitchers
Scott Barnes*^
Greg Burke
John Stilson

Barnes was another waiver claim, changing teams three times this offseason before ending up with the Blue Jays. Barnes was effective with Cleveland in 2012 but not as much in 2013 (in limited action) and is looking to get back to the majors. Barnes doesn’t have any options left so if the Blue Jays want to send him to Buffalo, he’ll have to clear waivers.

Burke is a 32-year-old righty who has two seasons of major league action under his belt. He’s lost a lot of velocity since his ML debut, dropping about 3.5 mph on his fastball between his 2009 stint with the Padres and his 2013 outings with the Mets. He gets a lot of ground balls, though, which could be useful. On a minor league deal, Burke could very well pitch for Buffalo.

john stilsonStilson, after a strong season in 2014 with Buffalo, underwent shoulder surgery and he’s still working his way back from the torn labrum that has haunted him for a number of years. He was throwing 95 mph last year and if he can return to that form, he could be a potential back-of-the-bullpen arm for the Blue Jays in 2016. Stilson’s not on the 40-man roster and will be back in Buffalo once he’s healthy.

Over the past couple of seasons (and probably longer, but I’ve only been blogging for about 2 1/2 years), the Bisons’ roster of position players has trended towards minor league veterans with a smattering of major league experience who could be expected to provide experience and the ability to play a short-term role with the major league club in case of injury.

The Blue Jays have taken advantage of some of these players at times (Munenori Kawasaki, Chris Getz, Steve Tolleson) while others have come and gone without a sniff of the majors (Mike Nickeas, Ricardo Nanita, Brett Carroll). Who on the 2015 Buffalo Bisons will get a(nother) opportunity to show what he can do in the majors? Are there any up-and-coming prospects to look out for?

A.J. Jimenez
Sean Ochinko

Other Possible Catchers
Jack Murphy
Josh Thole

Jimenez is clearly going to be the everyday catcher for the Buffalo Bisons. The 24-year-old Puerto Rican with a cannon of an arm has been stellar defensively in spring training but, with the logjam in Toronto with newly signed Russell Martin, Dioner Navarro and possibly Thole all expected to the make the big league club this year, 2015 is not going to be Jimenez’s year.

Ochinko had some issues leading into 2014. He was suspended towards the end of the 2013 for using amphetamines and, when he did get back into action, he sustained a concussion that kept him out for another three months. He did play in the Arizona Fall League but he’s been the forgotten man around here. Still, he has shown some pop in his bat and will probably back up Jimenez in Buffalo.

Murphy is a great organizational catcher but he’s probably going to be the type of guy who’s sent where he’s needed which could be either Double-A New Hampshire or Triple-A Buffalo.

Finally, if Thole doesn’t make the Blue Jays’ Opening Day squad, he’ll be in Buffalo, but I don’t think that’s happening, especially if Dioner Navarro gets traded.

First Base
Daric Barton
Jake Fox
Matt Hague

One of these three players will probably be the odd man out, meaning that I don’t think he’ll survive the season with the Blue Jays’ organization.

Barton was brought in to compete for a job as a left-handed hitting first baseman/DH on the Blue Jays but since he’s only got a minor league contract, he’s probably going to end up in Buffalo. He’s got a lot of MLB experience but hasn’t been able to match his almost .400 OBP in 2010. He has one hit in 17 plate appearances so far in spring training so he’s not doing himself any favours.

Fox is another career minor leaguer who’s now 32 and has only managed to get 534 plate appearances at the major league level with his best numbers coming in 2009 with the Chicago Cubs, hitting .259/.311/.468 with 11 home runs in 241 plate appearances. If he can do that in Buffalo, that would be pretty awesome, actually. He’s only had two plate appearances in major league spring training and I expect him to get sent to minor league camp fairly soon but may hang on until Edwin Encarnacion feels good enough to play.

Hague is probably the player with the most big league upside despite getting a very small look in 2012 and an even smaller one in 2014. Mostly a gap hitter, Hague, 29, can also play third base and slugged in 13 games in Buffalo at the end of last year. Hague is the only player in this group who is on the 40-man roster and is also hitting very well in limited opportunities in spring training, with four hits (including a double) and a hit-by-pitch in nine plate appearances.

Second Base
Ryan Goins
Devon Travis

ryan goinsGoins is probably most likely to end up playing more shortstop with the Jays seriously looking at Travis as their second baseman of the future. Goins has actually been a decent (if not spectacular) hitter at the Triple-A level and has been hitting fairly well in spring training (5/14 but without any walks). With Maicer Izturis looking healthy and with minor league options remaining, Goins’s most likely outcome of spring training is to get sent to Buffalo.

Travis is almost certainly going to start the season as the everyday second baseman for the Bisons. I’m very curious to see how he hits and how he fields in Triple-A. He has gotten off to a slow start this spring despite being given ample opportunities.

Third Base
Andy Burns
Ryan Schimpf

In the past couple of years, the Jays have signed some veteran players to play third base in Buffalo (Jared Goedert, Andy LaRoche) but this year, they’ll probably have someone homegrown.

If I was making the decisions around here, I would put Burns at third base every day in Buffalo and see what he’s got. He’s had hot and cold streaks but I’ve seen first hand how much talent there is and what he can do when he finds a groove. I’ve seen him make some stellar defensive plays, hit some home runs on tough pitches and I’ve seen him struggle a bit but he’s definitely has the tools.

Schimpf has probably run out of things to prove in Double-A New Hampshire after tying for the club lead in home runs in only 50 games. He went on to lead the Jays’ system in homers in 2015 after hitting another nine for Buffalo and should be a regular in some capacity for the Bisons. Schimpf can play second, third and the outfield and should find a spot in the batting order about five times a week.

Ryan Goins
I think that Goins is going to be the everyday shortstop with Travis at second. Playing his natural position, Goins will probably have to show more with the bat to get a call up to the majors this year and, when I say “show more with the bat,” I mean that he’s going to have to get on base a lot more by taking some walks.

Utility Infielders
Jonathan Diaz
Munenori Kawasaki
Ramon Santiago

Diaz returned to the Jays after having his bat exposed at the big league level last year. He’s a great utility man and has one of the best gloves I’ve jonathan diazseen but with a fringy arm and a weak bat, he’ll probably be low on the 2015 depth for someone to call up to the big club if there’s an injury.

Kawasaki is another light-hitting player who will get some time at second, third and short with Buffalo. His presence is highly sought after on any team and he’s the ultimate team player. He’s shown that he can be fairly useful at the big league level thanks to his ability to work counts and get on base at a reasonable level making him among the top choices to get a call up if needed.

Santiago was signed this offseason is a veteran utility infielder who has hit .243/.314/.330 in almost 2800 plate appearances at the big league level. Another player on a minor league contract, Santiago has been mentioned as possibly sticking with the big league club but unless someone starts the year on the DL, I just don’t see that happening. He’s gone 5/11 so far with a walk in spring training so he may be making an impression on the brass.

Other Possible Infielders
Kevin Nolan

kevin nolanNolan got a taste of Triple-A last year but unless players are lost to waivers, free agency or injury, he’ll probably be starting 2015 in New Hampshire.

Ezequiel Carrera
Chris Colabello
Chris Dickerson
Andy Dirks
Caleb Gindl
Dayan Viciedo

With Michael Saunders looking more like he’ll be healthy for Opening Day, I have a feeling that Carrera will be in Buffalo to start the season. A centre fielder who split last year between Toledo and Detroit last year, Carrera is a contact hitter who hits around the .300 mark in the minors with an OBP that is much higher but he’s had only limited success in the big leagues. He’s only 2/16 with a walk and seven strikeouts this spring and he’s also on a minor league contract meaning that he’s probably destined for Buffalo and will play centre field every day.

Colabello has some significant big league time under his belt and has been swinging the bat fairly well in spring training, going 5/16 with a double and a home run. The 31 year took a roundabout route to the majors and he’s not giving up just yet. Still, he’s on a minor league deal and he should start 2015 in Buffalo, playing right field and some first base (and DH).
When Michael Saunders went down with his injury, it was speculated that Chris Dickerson would be the beneficiary of the available playing time (beyond Pillar and Pompey) but he hasn’t done much with his opportunities this spring, hitting just 1/13 with three walks and a double. The 32 year old has played in the majors for parts of the last seven seasons, compiling a .257/.335/.395 slash line. On a minor league contract, he’ll likely start in Buffalo.

Dirks is still recovering from back surgery and probably will start the year on the DL. Also on a minor league contract, Dirks could make his way to the major league squad if he gets healthy and starts to hit. He’s probably got the most upside of all the players assembled here.

Gindl has been putting on a show this spring with five extra-base hits of his six hits in 14 at bats (with two walks and a HBP) for a .429/.529/.857 line through eight games. Gindl has some playing time in the majors with Milwaukee and has a very good eye allowing him to get on base at a respectable rate even if his batting average is low. While he has some pop, it’s mostly gap power and the 26-year-old Floridian has gotten some attention this spring. He’s a dark horse to make the big league squad, especially if Saunders starts on the DL.

Viciedo has seen his chances of making the Jays diminish thanks to a foot infection but he could very well be manning left field for the Bisons come April 9. Viciedo has big-league power, hitting 20 or more home runs twice in a season but hasn’t got on base at higher than a .304 rate in a year in which he’s played more than 40 games. The power is there but he needs to make more contact (after 122 strikeouts and just 32 walks last year with the White Sox. Still, Viciedo isn’t much of a defender and might be relegated to a DH role.

Other possible outfielders
Brad Glenn
Melky Mesa

Glenn has proven that he can hit at Triple-A but all of the minor league free agents that the Blue Jays have signed makes it hard for him to crack the Buffalo roster in April.

Mesa is another player with big league experience but, again, he’ll have to really have a great spring to grab a spot on the Bisons.

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