At the beginning of the season, ESPN’s Keith Law wrote an article pointing out some of the best minor league teams in baseball with respect to what prospects they had. I checked it out and got excited. The New Hampshire Fisher Cats were loaded. They had two top-20 prospects in baseball in Bo Bichette and Vlad Guerrero Jr. Manchester is only a little over an hour away from where I live south of Boston, so it made all the sense in the world to decide to attend my first Fisher Cats game.
I was waiting for the weather to warm up, and then waiting for the Cats to be home during a weekend when the weather would be both warm and sunny. That can be a real challenge in New England, even in May.
Memorial Day weekend was forecast for some sketchy weather, but the Cats would not be back home until the second weekend of June. I am sure that you are well aware of the fact that Vlad Jr. is obliterating Double-A baseball. He is hitting an unreal .426/.474/.716 with 11 home runs. If I did not go out to see him during Memorial Day weekend, I feared I would be at high risk of missing him entirely as a result of getting the call-up to The Show.
The Fisher Cats had a double header on Saturday, so that was looking like a pretty good opportunity. It was pretty warm that day, but the threat of thunderstorms scared me out of going. Even though it would be cloudy and cool off to under 50 degrees, I made the decision to venture out to Manchester for the Sundary afternoon instead for a game against the Hartford Yard Goats.
It was a bad decision.
The stadium is conveniently located right off the highway, and I was easily able to find cheap parking just a couple of blocks away. My wife and I walked around the stadium for a bit. It is a nice little minor league park! So why was going on that particular day a bad decision? Well, we checked out the lineups that were posted, and to my horror, Guerrero had the day off. Don’t get me wrong, he played a double header the day before and absolutely deserved a day off, but it was really disappointing to miss him. Brendan Rogers, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, also had the day off for the Yard Goats.
The good news was that Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette were still in the lineup. Also, to be clear, my wife and I had a great time at the game that day. I just really wish I could have seen Vladito!
I settled down in section 111, which is just to the right of home plate. I took out my notebook in preparation to take notes on my observations. I do need to make one thing clear: I am not a scout or any kind of experienced prospect evaluator. The gentleman sitting in front of me asked me if I was a scout, and I responded, “Haha no. I’m just practicing!”
My observations are from a fan with almost 30 years of experience watching baseball. If you want a scouting report from a skilled, experienced prospect evaluator, then I suggest checking out Law’s report from a couple of weeks ago. Coincidentally, he watched the same teams, only it was in Hartford, and Guerrero and Rogers actually played.
Bo Bichette is hitting well this year, slashing .269/.350/.416. That might not compare favorably to how much he raked in A ball last year, but considering he is a 20-year-old shortstop in his first year in Double A, I am sure the Blue Jays are really happy with his development. He went 1-3 with a walk, single, GIDP, and stolen base. However, the results belie the process, as he had some hard-hit balls on the day. Even without knowing his 10 percent walk rate, I could see he had good plate discipline. He has good bat speed and hand-eye coordination. He certainly looks like he has improved on his hit tool considering what was reported on him before this season.
This was actually not my first look at Cavan Biggio. I saw him at the Cape Cod League one time. I remember that he was the best player on the field that day, but it was an underwhelming crop of talent. I thought that Biggio would be nothing more than an organizational player. It seems that prospect evaluators shared that opinion, but things changed this season. He is raking, hitting .308/.426/.642. His 12 HR are one more than Vlad himself!
Biggio was 1-4 with a single and a strike out. He clearly has improved his plate discipline with a walk rate at about 17 percent, but watching him that day I would say that he was more passive than patient, declining to swing at pitches he should have swung at. Like with Bo, he had some hard-hit balls that day, even though he only had a single to show for it.
Vlad’s off day meant somebody else had to play third base, and that man was Biggio. He normally plays second, but according to Law’s report, he is fringe-average there. I thought he was fine at third base in terms of range and movement, but I am not sure that he has the arm for it.
As long as Biggio keeps hitting, I am sure his position is a problem the Blue Jays will be happy to deal with. He did not even crack FanGraphs’ top 22 prospects in the Jays’ system, and now he might crack overall top 100 lists next winter.
There was not much to say about the starting pitchers that day. Patrick Murphy started for the Cats. His fastball sat at 96-97 but he could not command it. He walked three on the day, and his season rate is at a high 12 percent. He has a curveball in the low eighties but it was underwhelming. He did get some whiffs on it, but I do not think it would fool major leaguers.
There were a few foolish sac bunts on the day by Jonathan Davis, Ryan Metzler, and Mylz Jones. Even if they do not project to be more than org guys, they are not going to have a chance to be more if their coaches are having them give away outs. Player development is far, far more important than the outcomes of minor league games. Their coaches should be teaching them how to hit.
That being said... the Cats won on a walk-off squeeze play! Gunnar Heidt has barely hit this season, with a line of .202/.250/.257, and he is repeating the level. It was a tied game in the bottom of the ninth, with one out and a man on third. Considering Heidt’s poor track record in Double-A, it made sense to have him try to bunt in the game winning run. He executed the bunt perfectly and would have been safe at first even had the run not scored.
It stinks to have missed Guerrero, but my wife and I had a great time at the ballpark. If you have never been to a minor league game, go see what prospects are playing and check them out!
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.