SURPRISE, Ariz. – Waiting for New Hampshire Fisher Cats players upon arrival in the clubhouse each day is a printout of the TrackMan pitch chart data for each batter’s at-bats the previous night. Cavan Biggio picked up his packet one afternoon after a game in which he believed he was incorrectly rung up on a couple of low pitches, scanned the data, saw that the offerings were in the zone and shook his head. “I went up to Shrop, our video guy, and I was like, ‘Hey man, I think the TrackMan is off a little bit, it’s a little bit down,’” recalls Biggio. “And he was like, ‘Alright, whatever.’”
Bryan Shropshire wasn’t the only one skeptical.
“We all laughed,” says John Schneider, the Fisher Cats manager.
The last laugh, however, belonged to the Toronto Blue Jays second base prospect, as TrackMan emailed Shropshire a couple of days later and told him that the system needed to be updated because the zone was about two inches low.
Those disputed strikes were, in fact, out of the zone low, just as Biggio had said.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Told you,’” Schneider says grinning. “That makes you believe he’s got a pretty good idea.”
Biggio certainly demonstrated that during a 2018 season in which he was named the double-A Eastern League’s Most Valuable Player as well as its Rookie of the Year, walking 100 times in 132 games while batting .252/.388/.499 with 26 homers and 99 RBIs.
The 23-year-old’s dramatic step forward at the plate this year – he batted .243/.342/.363 with only 11 homers the previous season at single-A Dunedin – shot him up the organization’s depth chart, and the Blue Jays assigned him to the Arizona Fall League to get reps in the outfield.
The goal is to give Biggio, who also played 34 games at third base and 22 more at first this year, additional positional flexibility, in the process creating more pathways for himself to the big-leagues. One veteran scout covering the AFL this week suggested that if Biggio takes to the outfield, he could become a Swiss-Army-knife-type player akin to Joey Wendle, the impressive Tampa Bay Rays rookie who played second, third, outfield and even 10 games at short this year.
“I always knew I could move out to other positions and help the team win,” says Biggio, whose prime developmental goal is to get comfortable in the outfield after appearing there twice in a pinch last year at Dunedin and twice more this season. “It’s more running around, which brings me back to my wide receiver days in football.
“It’s all pretty positive, it’s all pretty exciting.”
For Biggio – the son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio – to maintain his current momentum into an eventual big-league promotion, he’ll need to continue the progress he made offensively this year, since it’s his bat that will ultimately carry him to the majors, rather than his glove.
To that end, last winter he lowered his hands during his pre-pitch set-up to keep his bat in the strike zone longer, and he added a loading mechanism that allows him to consistently transfer his weight into his swing at the right time.
That’s allowed him to more consistently make hard contact and when combined with his exceptional eye at the plate, unlocked some hidden power the Blue Jays felt he had all along, and believe is not a one-year aberration.
“The physical part wasn’t as drastic as a lot of people think,” says Schneider. “From an approach standpoint he said, ‘OK, I’m not hitting first or second, I’m hitting in the middle of the order and I’m going to be more aggressive on balls in the zone.’ The numbers speak for themselves and that’s why I think it’s sustainable. He’s a really smart player and can make adjustments throughout the game offensively. Is it going to be 26 and 100 every year? I don’t know. But it’s going to be good going forward because he understands what he wants to do.”
That comfort level is, in some ways, the most substantial change for him this year versus last, when he often felt “lost at the plate” and carried “a helpless feeling going into the cage trying to find something to get you ready for that game.”
In constantly trying to counter issues with his timing and bat path, Biggio was regularly trying something new with his swing which is a tough way to play.
“This year, whenever I’d struggle, or I’d go into the cage and I’m not really feeling well, I’d always find something that would get me ready for that day and usually for the next few days to come,” he explains. “It was just an easier adjustment to get ready for each day.”
A constant is Biggio’s plate discipline, providing a foundation from which he rarely swings at bad pitches. That’s allowed him to not only put himself in position to do damage when he puts the ball in play, but also to stay productive through slumps by consistently working walks.
This season his batting eye was so good, he could even validate TrackMan’s data.
“I mean, I always trust what I see,” Biggio says with a grin. “Even when I think it’s a ball and it shows a strike on TrackMan, I always take it with a grain of salt.”
As it turned out, rightly so.