400 miles to Toronto: spring training edition

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The first week of spring training is over and the New Hampshire Fisher Cats are just a few weeks away from returning for another season.

Here’s some prognostications on who might be taking the field 400 miles to Toronto.

Catcher

Luke Maile and Russell Martin have locked up the Major League roster spots, but there’s a scramble for the spots beneath them. 2017 Fisher Cats Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire are favorites to begin the season with Triple-A Buffalo. However, 2012 first round pick Max Pentecost and 2017 Rule 5 acquisition Alberto Mineo remain as wild cards.

Pentecost and Mineo are both slightly older than Jansen and McGuire, and Pentecost is coming off multiple shoulder surgeries that have limited his progression through the Blue Jays system.

Pentecost has struggled in spring training, going 1-for-14 during eight games, but Toronto is likely to hang on to him for one more season at least in attempt to see if it can recoup its investment following a decent season last year at Advanced Class-A Dunedin.

Any one of those four players may see some time in Manchester, but the primary Fisher Cat catchers next year will likely be Patrick Cantwell and Michael De La Cruz, both of whom saw limited time for the Fisher Cats last year.

Cantwell has appeared in three games as a non-roster invitee this spring.

Infield

The big names on the 2018 Fisher Cats will likely have familiar last names to long-time baseball fans.

Bo Bichette, son of former Major Leaguer Dante Bichette, will likely get a chance to start at shortstop after batting .362 with an eye-popping .988 OPS between Class-A Lansing and Dunedin in 2017.

Bichette is ranked as the 13th best prospect in baseball by MLB.com and the eighth best by Baseball America.

Next to him on the left-hand side of the infield is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., son of former Expos and Angels great Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero Jr. is MLB.com’s top tanked third base prospect, and like Bichette, had a stellar 2017, posting a .323/.425/.485 line over 119 appearances for Lansing and Dunedin.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. might not have the same pedigree, but he’s caught the attention of the Blue Jays brass, and he’s gotten 16 plate appearances in 10 games so far during spring training.

Emilio Guerrero has become the defacto first baseman following the trade of Ryan McBroom to the Yankees organization late last year, but he can fill in at any spot in the infield, as can Richard Urena and Gunnar Heidt.

Tim Lopes may also play a factor in the infield if he doesn’t get another shot in Buffalo.

Outfield

Heidt might also be an outfielder at times as well, as last year Heidt was groomed for positional versatility.

In contrast to the likely Fisher Cats’ depth in the infield, the outfield is a work in progress.

Despite a late season injury last year, Anthony Alford has too much talent to return to Double-A, he’ll likely begin in Buffalo and head to Rogers Centre as a September callup, if not sooner.

Alford was the Fisher Cats’ offensive catalyst for much of the 2017 season and Andrew Guillotte will hope to fill those shoes, showing flashes of brilliance last year bouncing between Dunedin, Buffalo and New Hampshire.

Guillotte has two hits in five appearances so far this spring training.

Jonathan Davis, now known as J.D. Davis, is another likely 2018 Fisher Cat outfielder, looking to build on his mediocre season last season in Manchester after earning the Arizona Fall League MVP award and a non-roster invitation to Blue Jays camp this spring.

Confusingly enough, J.D. Davis may be joined by D.J. Davis in the outfield. Like Pentecost, D.J. was selected in the first round of the 2012 draft but has struggled in the lower levels of Toronto’s minor league system.

However, in 2016 he showed some improvement when it came to plate discipline. He was also the Florida State League’s #2 in stolen bases (32).

Harold Ramirez may also return to Manchester, but it’s just as likely he will head to Buffalo, with 2017 Dunedin regulars Connor Panas and Jake Thomas also seeing time in New Hampshire.

Starting Pitcher

Lingering injury concerns with Marcus Stroman in Toronto might color things here, as late season New Hampshire standouts Thomas Pannone and Ryan Borucki are likely heading to Buffalo as a possible hedge for the Blue Jays rotation later in the year.

Chris Rowley’s on the hook for two losses so far during spring training, but there’s a strong chance he will also make the jump to Buffalo.

If Pannone, Borucki and Rowley make the leap, the Fisher Cats will seek improvement from 2017 veterans Sean Reid-Foley, Shane Dawson, Jon Harris and Francisco Rios and give opportunities to Dunedin’s Jordan Romano, T.J. Zeuch, Angel Perdomo and Conor Fisk.

The question also remains whether Dawson and Rios will return to the rotation or remain in their spot starter/long relief roles.

Relief Pitcher

Despite a poor showing in four International League appearances last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Andrew Case remain in Buffalo next year after posting a sub 2.00 ERA in relief for New Hampshire, joined by fellow 2017 Fisher Cat Justin Shafer.

Dusty Issacs is a dark horse to eventually join them, as the three were the most reliable relievers for last year’s team, but if Tim Mayza can’t the leap to Toronto, there may not be enough room in the Buffalo bullpen.

If Issacs stays, the other likely fellow veteran would be Jose Fernandez, who struggled late last season in Manchester.

Tom Robson, Josh DeGraaf and Danny Young will likely be the pitching versions of Cantwell as they make the jump from Dunedin regulars getting their feet wet to full-fledged Fisher Cats and non-roster spring training invitee Jackson McClelland will likely make the leap from Dunedin to Manchester at some point early in the year.


Andrew Sylvia/Sports

New Hampshire native Andrew Sylvia began covering the Fisher Cats in 2010 and 2011 and has reported on a wide variety of other sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader, the Nashua Telegraph and Patch.com in addition to thousands of other non-sports articles for over two-dozen outlets throughout New England and beyond. He also has a Australian Rules Football fantasy team and he thinks they’re finally going to win it all this year, if only because he’s an optimistic kind of guy.