For the final time in 2021, here’s what’s been going on recently with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
Tuesday, Sept. 14 – New Hampshire vs. Harrisburg (cancelled: COVID-19)
Wednesday, Sept. 15 – New Hampshire vs. Harrisburg (cancelled: rain)
Thursday, Sept. 16 – Harrisburg 4, New Hampshire 3
Friday, Sept. 17 – New Hampshire 4, Harrisburg 0
Saturday, Sept. 18 – New Hampshire 5, Harrisburg 2
Sunday, Sept. 19 – New Hampshire 6, Harrisburg 4
This spring, Granite State baseball fans awaited the return of the team after the COVID-19 pandemic stole it from them in 2020 and then took another month away this April.
The pandemic still managed to erase more baseball from our lives, negating a doubleheader with Portland at the end of the previous homestand, last week’s series against Reading and then one more game at the beginning of this final series of the year against Harrisburg. But in the end, it could not completely get rid of what were a good last few days for the 2021 vintage of the Toronto Blue Jays’ Double-A affiliate.
If not for a late three-run rally on Thursday, the Fisher Cats would have ended their season with a sweep against one of the worst teams in the Double-A Northeast.
“Obviously, it was a very good series getting three out of four,” said Fisher Cats Manager Cesar Martin. “We couldn’t get all four games, but it is what it is and it’s nice to end on a good note after the challenge of the last week.”
While the Reading series was the only significant stretch of lost games after the season eventually started in May, Martin said that the fear of COVID created team chemistry issues as players feared getting infected.
And even though the team’s 51-55 final record will not go down with the likes of years like 2018 in Fisher Cats history, he was proud of development from players like Samad Taylor, who saw his batting average jump almost 100 points and doubled his home run production from 2019 in Advanced-A Dunedin.
“(Taylor) really stepped up. He’s had that potential for a couple of years, but he finally put it together and he was really consistent,” said Martin.
Martin also praised the seasons of several other players such as Otto Lopez, who earned a few days at the Major League level in August before becoming a regular at Triple-A Buffalo and Kyle Johnston, whose 1.74 ERA over 21 appearances earned him a steady role in Triple-A after early August.
It is still far too early to tell who will return in 2022, but Martin says that top Blue Jays prospect and Fisher Cats catcher Gabriel Moreno is almost fully recovered from a thumb injury suffered earlier in the season and will likely participate in the Venezuelan Fall League soon after recent rehabilitation in Florida.
Moreno could be one of the key Fisher Cats next year if he doesn’t get a call up to Triple-A, and fans also saw a potential 2022 Fisher Cat regular during this series in the form of 23-year-old Spencer Horwitz.
In his four games for New Hampshire this week, he had a pair of double and a pair of homers, ending the series with an impressive 1.250 OPS.
No matter who returns next year, the Blue Jays developmental focus on offense will likely continue to be based around speed, with the Fisher Cats’ 146 stolen bases in 107 games only second to Somerset’s astounding 186 in 119 games. On the next rungs down the ladder from New Hampshire, High-A Vancouver saw 126 stolen bases in 119 games this season and Dunedin led the Low-A Southeast with 227 stolen bases in 120 games.
“Once you have the speed to steal some bases, it’s always a good thing,” said Martin. “Because once you have a guy in scoring position it really changes things during an at-bat. Often you win or lose by a run and speed can really affect that.”