The Buffalo Bisons are perhaps the most important team in the Mets farm system. Several of the players on their roster will be relied upon to help out in the big leagues at some point this season. Fortunately for the Mets, a few of their better prospects have finally made it up to the highest level of the minor league system. They also have plenty of so-called quad-A players with major league experience. The Bison’s roster looks like one that can be competitive in the International League, while having a lot of guys that could be called to the majors at any time. Let’s take a look at the key players for Buffalo, and the prospects worth keeping an eye on this year:
Jenrry Mejia and Dillon Gee will headline the rotation. Gee is likely to be the first called up if the Mets need a starter, since he is already on the 40-man roster. Mejia is on the 40-man roster as well, but is likely to stay in Buffalo all year, unless he is dominant against AAA competition for an extended period of time. Boof Bonser and Pat Misch add quality depth to the rotation. Misch is a known commodity for the Mets, and could get a chance to get back to the majors if the Mets rotation has health issues. Bonser is a veteran journeyman who made a good first impression in the spring. Major league veteran Casey Fossum will round out the rotation.
In the bullpen, Manny Alvarez and Ryota Igarashi are the most likely candidates to get the ball at the end of games, although it’s unsure how manager Tim Teufel and pitching coach Ricky Bones will organize things. Igarashi is no longer on the 40-man roster, so he will have to blow people away if he expects to get back to the major leagues. On the contrary, Alvarez is on the 40-man roster after a stellar 2010 where he rose through the system quickly, and he could be one of the first guys called up if a right-handed bullpen arm is needed. The Buffalo bullpen will have three lefties: Taylor Tankersley, Mike O’Connor, and Justin Hampson. Any of the three would be well qualified if the Mets decide to add a second lefty specialist to their bullpen. Closing out the bullpen are Dale Thayer and Jose De La Torre. Thayer has some major league experience, while De La Torre has posted an ERA below 3 in three of his four seasons, as he worked his way up through the Mets farm system. Manny Acosta may join the Bisons later if he clears waivers and accepts a minor league assignment.
The outfield should be a place of great strength and Buffalo. Kirk Nieuwenhuis will be the everyday centerfielder, with a chance to make his big league debut at some point, depending on how quickly he can adapt to AAA pitching and hit at the level he’s capable of, after struggling in Buffalo the final month of last season. Fernando Martinez will try to play everyday at one of the corner positions, and will focus on playing a full year at AAA rather than a possible promotion. For Martinez, his health and the number of games he plays will be more important than his production. Lucas Duda started the season in the major leagues, but he should be back as soon as Jason Bay comes off the disabled list, where he will split time between first base and the outfield, unless another injury forces the Mets to recall him. Jesus Feliciano and Jason Pridie will see time in the outfield as well, but not at the expense of prospects Nieuwenhuis, Martinez, and Duda.
The Bisons should also have a great infield. After clearing waivers, Nick Evans should hammer AAA pitching as the team’s everyday first baseman while waiting for an opportunity somewhere in the big leagues. After losing out on the second base competition, Justin Turner should see a bulk of the playing time at that position for Buffalo. As long as he hits the way he’s capable of, he will remain a viable plan B at second base for the Mets. As Terry Collins said the first week of spring training, Ruben Tejada will be the everyday shortstop for Buffalo, where he hit .280 in 65 games last year. Still a 22 year old, Tejada has plenty of room for improvement, which is why he’s best off back in the minors. At third will be Zach Lutz, a guy who can really hit, but has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career. If he stays healthy, he should have a good year and could garners some trade interest from other clubs, since he certainly won’t be cracking the Mets everyday lineup any time soon. Russ Adams and Valentino Pascucci will see occasional playing time as utility players, and Luis Hernandez should join the Bisons a few games into the season.
The catching position for Buffalo is a testament to the lack of depth the Mets have at that position in the upper levels of the farm system. Veteran minor leaguer Salomon Manriquez and 38-year old Raul Chavez will handle the catching, with Dusty Ryan a possibility as well.
All in all, it is a roster that is loaded with major league experience, with plenty of promising prospects mixed in (who also have major league experience). The Bisons should not only supply the Mets with major league ready replacements if needed, but they should also win a lot of games and be one of the best teams in the International League (which no longer has any international teams).