2010 West Tenn Diamond Jaxx Preview
This is the team you listen to on off-days when the Mariners aren’t playing. Actually, scratch that, because of the time difference, you really have no excuse to not tune in to D-Jaxx games before the M’s come on most nights. The West Tenn squad features a glimpse of what the infield might look like two years down the road and a number of pitchers that might contribute in the near future either in the rotation or the bullpen. Even moving past the top prospect types, the team can run, hit for power, throw hard, even field a little, and should be fun to follow regardless.
RHP Dan Cortes, RHP Josh Fields, RHP Steven Hensley, LHP Nick Hill, RHP Aaron Jensen, RHP Wes Littleton, LHP Edward Paredes, RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Mumba Rivera, LHP Mauricio Robles, LHP Robert Rohrbaugh, RHP Anthony Varvaro
The most interesting roster in the system also features the most interesting rotation, which should include Cortes, Hensley, Hill, Pineda, and Robles, with some rehab appearances by Rohrbaugh before he moves elsewhere. Of those five, I’m a huge Pineda fan, and think that his elbow problems last year were exaggerated due to the caution with which the M’s handled him. Arm injuries usually manifest through a loss of velocity, or command, or both, and Pineda, who seems to be sitting 93-95 now, has shown none of that. The secondary offerings are also improving. He’s the top starting prospect in the system on talent. Behind him, Robles has also made strides, and came to camp with an improved change that drew a lot of rave reviews. He’s been able to dominate so far in spite of his mechanical inconsistencies, but the hope is that he gets to the point where he’s consistently throwing good games and going deep into them rather than two or three great games and one where he walks four. Cortes has gone from very little in the toolbox to everything he needs to succeed save the command to use it right. He’s entering his third tour of double-A, after walking 5.7 per nine last season. If he improves, he could punch his ticket to Tacoma, if not, he may end up as a reliever. Hensley is one of the rare pitchers to survive High Desert, and this after pitching 63% of his innings there, contrasted with every other starter on staff either ending up at even or fewer. He seems to be pretty much unflappable, and has stuff to back him on that front, with a low-90s fastball and what BA rated as the system’s best slider. Still, he might lose out on composure to Lt. Hill, who is pretty much the king as that goes. He throws a heavy fastball that gives him strong groundball tendencies. He’ll be tried in the rotation on a more permanent basis now. One thing to watch for there is whether or not left-handers continue to square up on him as they have in his career, which limits his value somewhat as a reliever. Rohrbaugh missed most of ’09 with arm troubles. He’d fall roughly in the Jason Vargas family of pitchers if healthy, though he tends to put the ball in play a bit more.
The ‘pen has one those much-talked-about closer of the future candidates in Fields. Last season, he had an oblique injury and his command subsequently fell apart. When healthy, you could put him in a similar group to what you get out of Mark Lowe. The two 40-man guys in the ‘pen are Paredes and Varvaro. Paredes is much liked by the organization, but is probably limited to relieving now, and as mostly a left-on-left guy. On the plus side, he had a 33/6 K/BB against southpaws in 23.1 innings last year and held them to a .231 average. Varvaro got on in part due to a strong Arizona Fall League showing, where he seemed to have suddenly discovered the command that he’d lacked since Tommy John surgery the year he was drafted. His career in the majors would be contingent on him being able to maintain that. Littleton is the guy on staff with major league experience, logging time with Texas from 2006 to 2008. We talked about him before hereabouts, but one additional thing worth pointing out is he walks one more batter per nine innings in triple-A than in double-A, everything else being about equal. Jensen, who switched over to relieving after an injury ruined his ’08 season, is moving up after three years in the Cal League. He’s never struck out as many as one might hope from the stuff he had as a prep, so the tour of double-A is either a reflection of something clicking or more likely a last stand. Of course, Mumba here has been kicking around the league for the past three years, blending intriguing Ks with awful command, so once you get to a certain point, you can usually latch on somewhere.
Luis Oliveros, Jose Yepez
Oliveros missed all of last season due to injury. It’s startling to think that he’s only 26, because he’s been playing in the stateside affiliates for the M’s since 2000, never getting much farther than few games in Tacoma here and there and a call-up to Seattle that he didn’t even play in. He’s an okay defender and a not-horrible hitter. Yepez bounced between West Tenn and High Desert in ’09, hitting well in California, but really, who doesn’t? He’s only ever logged 28 games above advanced-A, despite being 28 himself, so this is something of a test for him, albeit not a very interesting one. Moving on…
2B Dustin Ackley, IF Leury Bonilla, IF Jeffrey Dominguez, 3B Alex Liddi, 1B/LF Johan Limonta, IF Carlos Triunfel
The infield is where the excitement is. The big story here is Ackley, primarily in his defense, as the showing he had in the Arizona Fall League last season indicated that he should be able to handle wood bats all right. There were enough anecdotes about coaches watching him on the field this spring, wondering just who that slick fielding guy was at second, but even if you want to blow that off as being little more than hype, you could at least say that at least we’re not hearing things “well, it takes time to get adjusted…” and so forth. I don’t expect him up in Seattle before September, barring some crazy numbers of which he’s certainly capable, but next year, he could contend for a job. Liddi is out to prove that his Cal League breakout wasn’t a fluke, which I think he has better odds for than many others, as his away line of .303/.348/.500 was not bad at all. One concern I’ll throw there is that he walked twice as much at home, where he slugged .664, and that could indicate that nobody wanted to throw him anything over the plate there rather than a developing eye. Triunfel provides another prospect on the infield. You may remember him from his horrifying fibula injury at the beginning of last season. A few stories were written about his rehab process and new commitment to learning English, maintaining conditioning habits, etc in light of the possibility of him having to give up baseball, and those are all nice, but we’d all love for this to translate into being awesome in games, which he could not quite pull off in Arizona in the fall.
Moving on to the other three, Bonilla is hoping to do better than the .449 OPS he had over 26 games his last time in double-A. A true utility player, he can play everywhere but center, and has pitched in blowouts the past three seasons and caught a few innings here and there. All this is more interesting than anything I could say about his bat. Dominguez’ bat is even worse, but he at least switch-hits. He played all of ’08 in West Tenn, and then spent most of his time in the Cal League this past season. Whichever middle infield position Triunfel doesn’t play is probably where he’ll end up on any given day. Limonta is also entering a third go at the league. Relative to his first attempt, he slugged sixty fewer points last year, but compensated partially with ten points of OBP. He has some pop versus right-handers and has a ceiling as a platoon player who can play the outfield corners and first.
1B/OF Joe Dunigan, OF Kuo-hui Lo, RF Carlos Peguero, RF Mike Wilson
After Liddi, the player under most scrutiny as a possible Cal League product is Dunigan. He’s an interesting physical talent, though extremely raw and having a tendency to focus on one part of his game at the expense of others. When slugging more, he walks less, and when more patient, he won’t hit for power, etc. He didn’t have that weird issue Liddi might have had of pitchers throwing around him at home, even though two-thirds of his home runs came there, so that’s interesting. Peguero only got the “High Desert effect” his second year in, when he hit 31 home runs after getting healthy for perhaps the first time in his recent memory. He also struck out 172 times in 544 plate appearances, which is, uh, bad. Considering that everyone else on the roster is kind of big, though not necessarily lacking in speed, Lo might end up in center with McOwen dislocating his shoulder. His stolen base totals have dropped from 32, to 20, to 13 over the past three years, but his footspeed is probably still better than the other guys. He slugged a bit more and hit for a slightly higher average in his second tour of the Cal League. Another one-time 40-man member, Wilson has spent most of his time in double-A since 2006, but has only been healthy in half those years. After impressing in spring training last year, and hitting twenty-seven dingers the year before, he managed ten in half a season split between West Tenn and Tacoma last year before going down.