2010 Clinton Lumberkings Preview
In the Bavasi years, the Midwest League roster was frequently the most interesting squad to start any given season, featuring a variety of high-potential teenagers from the international market and maybe a high school kid or two drafted in the early rounds. This year’s Clinton Lumberkings are similarly interesting (ultimately losing out on talent to West Tenn), but are constructed in a completely different way. There’s only one teenaged international free agent on the roster, and only four international players total, an unusual total among recent years. Similarly, there are only three teenagers on staff, which seems kind of reasonable when you think about. Even without these boom-or-bust styled youngsters, there’s plenty to watch from the ’09 draft picks that dominate the roster.
RHP Tyler Blandford, RHP Daniel Cooper, LHP Nick Czyz, LHP James Gilheeney, LHP Jonathan Hesketh, RHP John Housey, LHP Jose Jimenez, RHP Brandon Josselyn, RHP Chris Kirkland, LHP Brian Moran, RHP Taylor Stanton, LHP Anthony Vasquez
A few things stand out about the group heading north to Clinton to start the year. One is that they’re all fairly experienced. Even the youngest among them is at least of drinking age and all but one of them (Jimenez) comes from some experience in college baseball. The other is that, with few exceptions (Cooper, Moran), just about any of these guys could end up in the rotation. The third is that there are a whole lot of lefties here, representing half the group, and a lot of the right-handed pitchers at least bat from the other side.
The group is headlined by a few top ten picks from this past draft in Blandford (5), Moran (7), and Gilheeney (8). Blandford is an anomaly for McNamara’s draft in that he’s all brute force and little technique. Armed with a low-to-mid-90s heater and a powerful slider, Blandford can saw through lineups when he’s on, but command is not a strong suit for him and he actually got worse in his tenure at Oklahoma State, going from 3.9 walks per nine in his freshman year to 5.2 per nine as a junior. His Ks climbed too, from 8.2 to 11.2, with a small dip in his sophomore campaign. As a starter, Blandford’s stuff would stack up with anyone, but as a reliever, he might be a shorter, and perhaps better, version of former M’s farmhand Aaron Taylor. Moran might be more known for being B.J. Surhoff’s nephew than his own stuff. His fastball is an average offering delivered with quite a bit of deception. The secondaries aren’t much to write home about, but if nothing else he can kill against same-handed batters, holding them to a .107 average and striking out thirteen of them per nine, while walking under two. He could move up quickly if needed, but the ceiling is low. Gilheeney is the most likely off the group to keep on starting. His heater is about the same as Moran’s on a good day. When he has to pitch with a little less hair on it, he’s not anywhere near as effective. Confidence is what separates him from the pack, as he’s willing to throw any one of his pitches at any time.
Going through the rest of the ’09 picks, you have Vazquez (18), Hesketh (20), Cooper (21), Josselyn (25), and Housey (36). Vazquez was a senior signing who can start or relieve and impressed enough during spring training to get a brief call to camp in one of the early games. Hesketh was one of the guys I saw in Everett last season. As with a number of the picks McNamara made in the mid-to-late rounds, Hesketh compensates for lackluster velocity (mid-80s) by knowing how to pitch. You can take my word for it, or look at his 8/1 K/BB ratio he posted between levels last year, as he struck out more than thirteen men per nine on average. The stuff probably won’t hold up at higher levels, but I’m curious at least. Cooper was a reliever for the USC Trojans in his college career and logged eight saves with the Aquasox last season. He gets his strikeouts in, but walks a few too many. The former Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, which isn’t saying a heck of a lot (sorry guys), Josselyn has a slightly better than average fastball, a change, and a slider, and could start if called for it, though he did not after turning pro last year. Housey is another candidate for the rotation, but comes from a different background, as he relieved mostly in college and was nothing special for Miami, and then came on as a decent starter between Peoria and Pulaski last year.
The four other guys on the list have been around a bit already. Stanton held down the front of the rotation for the Aquasox last year. He’s a bit raw on the whole, but managed to reduce the number of walks he was giving out in Everett last season. Still, he’s not nearly as unpolished as Kirkland, who was a top-10 catcher as a prep and then switched over to the mound once they found out he wasn’t great at hitting. Ks and walks can be expected from him, and possibly work in the rotation as well. Czyz missed the majority of last season due to off-field stuff and will be looking to reestablish himself. Jimenez is a repeat from last year’s squad, possessing a sometimes interesting arm and very little consistency.
Brandon Bantz, Steve Baron, Henry Contreras
The big ticket here is supplemental rounder Baron, who earlier talked his way into a NRI to the big camp and arrived wide-eyed and eager to impress. Impress he did, as just about everyone praised his abilities as a backstop, from framing, to blocking, to throwing, which he’s pretty good at, nabbing over half of the runners trying to steal on him last year. The offense is another story, as he managed only a .534 OPS in Pulaski. If he can provide passable offense, he’s a major leaguer for the glove alone. Bantz was a senior catcher drafted in the 30th round last year out of Dallas Baptist. He slugged .597 in nineteen games for Everett last season. Another throwback to the distant ’08 draft, Contrares is also around to provide experience and good hitting from the position.
3B/1B Vinnie Catricala, SS Nick Franklin, IF Shaver Hansen, 3B Mario Martinez, SS Gabriel Noriega
If nothing else, these guys should be able to pick it pretty effectively, all being accustomed to the pace of the game on the right side of the diamond. Franklin is the top pick on the roster, a high motor guy who compensates for a lack of standout tools by playing as hard as he can at all times. Coaches are going to love him, and he should be able to stick it out at short, so the hitting will have to justify starting him, and he’s off to a decent start there. Noriega will be sharing time with him at the six-hole, and is the superior glove of the two, but despite what you might think from his .311/.360/.456 average in Pulaski, his bat is the more questionable of them and his aspiration might be to become an average hitter. Hansen, I’ll mention next, not wanting to incur the wrath of his father, Stan “The Lariat” Hansen. A 6th round pick last year, Shaver is capable of playing all over the infield and may not have a set position. He was barely above the .200 mark in 36 games in Clinton last year, but displays a good eye, matching that with a .312 OBP. Going into his second attempt at the league, Martinez only had a .579 OPS last year in Clinton. He recovered to a .777 mark in Everett later in the season and was reportedly a team leader, and some of that will hopefully carry over. If you call him Mar Mar on this blog, I will frown and give you disapproving looks. Being a less proficient glove and lacking a bit of range, I’d project Catricala to get some more reps at first than third this season. He may be able to hold that down well enough, as he cranked out eight home runs for Pulaski last year and slugged nearly .500.
CF Daniel Carroll, CF Matt Cerione, RF James Jones, RF Dennis Raben, RF Kalian Sams
One thing this group isn’t lacking is arm strength, though the range might be more questionable. Of the two, I can’t decide whether I’ll be tracking Jones or Raben more. Jones was a surprise pick last year as a hitter rather than a pitcher. Some have compared him to a left-handed version of Mike Cameron, or that other Jones that we used to have in system. James can hit to all fields and probably has more pop in his bat than he showed last season. Raben is coming off a lost year due to microfracture surgery in his knees. Previously, he was regarded as a competent outfielder for his ability to read ball trajectories and get a good jump on them, but if he’s lost that first step due to the surgery, he may end up doing more time at first. Cerione is the only other ’09 draftee in the outfield. He has a good eye at the plate and will draw his share of walks, but his swing is somewhat erratic. The results were better than Jones, though I didn’t find him quite as impressive visually. Strange thing, short season ball. Carroll can’t seem to get out of the league, as he keeps getting hurt, often busting his hands on pitches. He has played just 79 games in both of the last two seasons, and if not for his determination to play, would probably have missed more. Sams missed most of last season due to injury, logging only twenty games and less than eighty at-bats. What I would say you need to know about him and his abilities is that in Pulaski, in 2008, he slugged .528 despite hitting only .204, and struck out in over 40% of his at-bats.