Like the starters, the Buffalo Bisons reliever were a veteran bunch without many prospects. It’s an interesting group of pitchers and, because of the proximity to the major leagues, I’ll break up this post into three sections: Year-Long Bisons, Part-Time Blue Jays, and No Longer Around.
The first group of players are those who never made it to The Show this season. They pitched the entire year in the minor leagues and had their greatest number of innings pitching for Buffalo. The second group consists of pitchers who were with the Bisons for much of the year but earned significant playing time with the Blue Jays. The third group are pitchers who accumulated the most innings in the Blue Jays organization with the Bisons but were eventually released.
Buddy Carlyle, a former second-round pick of the Atlanta Braves all the way back in 1996, has major league experience with the Padres, Dodgers, Braves and Yankees with over 250 innings at the big league level. Carlyle, 35, didn’t manage to crack The Show this year but was a reliable, veteran arm for the Buffalo Bisons. Solid is the best term to describe Carlyle’s season. He threw 56 innings for Buffalo with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP with a decent 8.6% walk rate but an outstanding 32.5% strikeout rate. Having seen Carlyle in spring training, I can tell you that he has fringe-big-league caliber stuff with a low-90s fastball and a solid off-speed offering. At this point, I’d say that Carlyle has several options: he can come back to the Jays system, knowing that he’d probably be about the 15th guy on the list for a major league bullpen job, he could look for another team with whom to sign that has more room for him to possibly earn a major league job or, he could go back to Japan where he pitched as recently as 2010 (although his stats weren’t the best there). Needless to say, the choice is probably his at this point.
John Stilson, 23, is currently plying his trade in the thin desert air of the Arizona Fall League after a season that started late due to a (non-arm) injury in Spring Training. He started in Double-A New Hampshire but was quickly promoted to Buffalo where he spent most of the year. A 3rd round pick in 2011 (he fell to the 3rd round after an arm injury caused his stock to drop), Stilson was excellent in Buffalo, striking out almost a batter per inning and maintaining a very solid 7.9% walk rate. From some reports, he still needs to keep the ball down but most scouts think that Stilson is just about ready for the majors. I see him returning to Buffalo to start he season. The Blue Jays don’t need to put him on the 40-man roster until after next year and another year of development in Buffalo certainly won’t hurt him.
Joel Carreno is in a unique position for Blue Jays from Away, winning two awards for two different teams after his excellent 2013 season. Carreno, 26, was our Reliever of the Year for New Hampshire as well as the Most Improved Player for the Buffalo Bisons. Carreno has some major league experience but looks like he’s turned things around after a fairly poor 2012 season. A lot of credit may be due to a better fitness regimen. The picture above (taken in Buffalo in August) shows a much more fit pitcher than I saw in Spring Training. In fact, New Hampshire pitching coach Tom Signore told me that after a disappointing assignment to Double-A, Carreno really took his fitness in his own hands and dropped a lot of weight. In a combined 66 2/3 innings (between Double-A and Triple-A), Carreno struck out 90 batters and walked only 24 and while his insane New Hampshire numbers helped out a lot, he was still very solid in Buffalo with a 28.8% K rate and a 10% walk rate. Carreno is another pitcher who has shown that he’s ready for the majors and is in a crowded pitching picture for 2014. He’ll be at least in Buffalo and has a (very) outside shot at a big league role.
Bobby Korecky has been with the Blue Jays organization since signing as a minor league free agent in 2011. At his age and without lights-out stuff, he’s a career minor leaguer, especially considering the fact that, at 34, Korecky has only amassed 24 2/3 big league innings. Korecky had a decent season with Buffalo, throwing 56 2/3 innings with a 4.45 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. In his one major league inning with the Blue Jays last year, he averaged 87.4 mph with his fastball so you can tell that his velocity is on the decline and he’s probably unsuited for major league competition anymore. His 15.6% K rate also indicates that he probably isn’t fooling Triple-A hitters. With the crowded bullpen picture, I can see Korecky either signing a minor league deal with the understanding that he’d be an absolute last resort for the big league club or looking for work elsewhere.
Mickey Storey has gotten yanked around quite a bit, getting claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays from Houston on December 12, 2012 but he was sent outright to Buffalo nine days later. Storey, 27, had a very good first big league season in Houston last year, striking out over a batter an inning and having a solid 3.86 ERA and 1.22 WHIP and I’m sure getting sent outright to the minors (and getting removed from the 40-man roster) was not what he had hoped would follow a promising major league debut. While taking part in major league spring training, he started the season in Buffalo but had his contract selected on May 9. He made two appearances with the Blue Jays, getting hit fairly hard and was optioned back to Buffalo (note: this time, he was optioned, not sent outright). After that, Storey remained with the Bisons for the rest of the year (except for a one-batter, three-pitch appearance against Oakland on August 9) and had a very good season, throwing 59 2/3 innings with a 0.99 WHIP, a 2.56 ERA and outstanding strikeout and walk rates (31.6% K rate, 5.3% walk rate). While he doesn’t throw hard, Storey has proven that he can pitch effectively both in the minors and the majors and will be around 11th or 12th on the bullpen depth chart in 2014. He’s still on the 40-man roster and, unless he’s DFA’ed and picked up by someone else on waivers, will likely be in the mix next year.
Jeremy Jeffress, 26, had some injury issues this year but appears to be getting a handle on his control issues this year. The hard throwing righty was acquired from the Royals for cash and had some success both in the minors and them majors, striking out over 25% of the batters he faced at both the Triple-A and Major League levels (that number was a little higher in the majors) and limited walks to under 12%. While it’s still above the league average, it’s actually an improvement for Jeffress, who is on the 40-man roster (after passing through waivers after Spring Training) and probably is just off the track for the majors, looking at what the depth chart will be for next season. He could be a good candidate for a trade because he’s out of options and may not get through waivers again.
Brad Lincoln, acquired for Travis Snider, has had similar issues to Jeffress, in that he has had control problems. Lincoln, 28, had very good numbers in Triple-A Buffalo but walked almost 15% of the batters he faced in the majors. While his big-league ERA was a very respectable 3.98, Fangraphs has his FIP and xFIP at 5.48 and 5.91, respectively, showing that he was probably a little lucky this season with the Blue Jays. Lincoln is also on the 40-man roster and has shown an outstanding curve and split fingered fastball (that Fangraphs clocks at over 93 mph on average); the Blue Jays aren’t about to give up on an arm like that. He will also likely be in limbo this next season, on the cusp of a big league job but without options.
Neil Wagner, 29, made his way back to the majors after a five-inning cup of coffee with the Oakland A’s in 2011. Another big-armed righty (Fangraphs had his fastball averaging 95.8 mph), Wagner’s outstanding Triple-A numbers didn’t translate to the big leagues. While he struck out over 40% of the batters he faced as a Buffalo Bison, that number was only 20.5% as a Toronto Blue Jay. In the majors, he has been somewhat prone the home run (1.18 per 9 innings for Toronto), indicating that his hard fastball may be quite straight. Still on the 40-man, Wagner may well have more options and would probably start the season in Buffalo again.
Dominican lefty Juan Perez was one of my favourite stories of 2013. With major league experience dating back to 2006, Perez, 34, was probably signed as some insurance to keep in Buffalo but it turned out that after an incredible start with Buffalo, he was called up to the Blue Jays on May 29 and proceeded to make 14 appearances without giving up an earned run. With a herky-jerky windup that you wouldn’t teach anyone, Perez will walk a lot of batters but can strike them out too (especially lefties, who he stuck out 30% of the time). Unfortunately, Perez tore his UCL in August and will be on a long road to rehab the injury and at his age, may not be able to recover from it.
Alex Hinshaw, 30, was signed as a free agent in the offseason, pitched 11 mediocre innings for the Bisons and was released on May 10. His final line with the Bisons: 11 innings, 3.27 ERA, 5.20 FIP, 2.36 WHIP, 16 strikeouts, 17 walks.
Michael Schwimer was acquired from the Phillies in the off-season for first-base prospect Art Charles. Schwimer was injured through most of the year, even when he pitched. In 2012 with the Phillies, Schwimer averaged about 92 mph with his fastball but he never topped 88 mph when I saw him pitch in Buffalo in May. He only made it into six games for the Bisons, throwing six innings. Despite not giving up any runs, only giving up one hit and striking out six, he walked seven batters. He was released on August 7.*
Alex Burnett, 26, was picked up on waivers by the Blue Jays on March 29 from the Minnesota Twins and was immediately optioned to Buffalo. He got into two games before being designated for assignment and was claimed by the Baltimore Orioles. Burnett was actually claimed on waivers yet again by the Chicago Cubs on May 27 and got himself 2 1/3 major league innings between the Orioles and the Cubs.
* In case you’re wondering, Charles, a 6-foot-6 23 year old, hit .251/.339/.412 with 11 home runs and a very nice 34 doubles for Philadelphia’s Low-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League.
All photos copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013) and may not be used without permission.