Ten Added to the 40-Man
To think that we were saying last year was an opportunity to add some fringe guys because there was space. Back then, we added six, and this time, ten players were added, those being OF Johermyn Chavez, RHP Maikel Cleto, LHP Cesar Jimenez, 3B Alex Liddi, RHP Josh Lueke, RHP Yoervis Medina, OF Carlos Peguero, RHP Michael Pineda, LHP Mauricio Robles, and RHP Tom Wilhelmsen. If you’re expecting nearly 2000 words of analysis to follow, well then by golly, you’re right.
Chavez was originally a throw-in for the League-Morrow trade. No one figured he was worth a Rule 5 selection last year, but after thirty-one home runs this season in the California League, one might suspect people would be more interested. The slash line of .315/.387/.577 was surely nothing to make light of, even in context of the home park, which is roughly equivalent to the moon. He took advantage of this fact, and twenty-three of his dingers came in Mavericks Stadium. Yet, over the winter he’s been playing like a different animal, batting .312/.418/.481, going from a 131/52 K/BB during the season to a 15/14 after. It’s often difficult for younger players to reconcile plate discipline and power hitting, and Chavez has come close to doing just that, while facing competition that is hardly bad. This makes me a lot more optimistic about him going into the high minors than I might have been ten weeks ago.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Maikel Cleto. Cleto was a guy we were having a hard time figuring out eligibility for, but it seems that he was under consideration and in context, it’s not surprising that he should be added. Latin American players with live fastballs are among the first selected in the Rule 5 draft, regardless of whatever else they have. Unfortunately for Cleto, right now his fastball is about all he’s got, and it’s piping hot all right, but emphasis on piping there, leaving it less dazzling than one might expect. Remember Ian Snell’s heater? Yeah. After a middling season for the Mavericks, Cleto has run a 14/13 K/BB in 19.1 innings for the Javelinas, and allowed thirty-one hits in that span. Even with pitching being down and hitting up in the league, that’s awful. I mean, he didn’t even have to face Ackley. Cleto spent most of the fall season either so far away from the plate as to induce walks, or so near as to get hit. He’s probably the biggest project of anyone on the 40-man currently, and needs better mechanics and improved secondary offerings in order to be anything of interest.
Jimenez is an old school pick, a throw-back to previous generations of Mariners prospects. In the past two seasons combined, he’s pitched fewer than 30 innings total owing to labrum surgery in September of last year. This type of surgery is often the end of the line for such prospects, since he was only throwing 88-90 before that, but he appears to have bounced back well enough to garner attention. Through 14.1 innings for Lara, he’s run a 15/5 K/BB and avoided getting hit, keeping batters to around a .150 average. None of this should be awe-inspiring, as Jimenez is a veteran of the LVBP by now, but we can still number them among the positives he has going for him at present. The future remains to be determined. Jimenez is known as a change-up artist, as most southpaws are wont to be. While he’ll also throw a curveball to keep left-handers at bay, his main strength is probably in his ability to get RH hitters out. Left-on-left might not be an ideal role for him.
Liddi was one of a few players Marc and I offered as near-locks in the process. He’s the kind of player that scouts have a lot of difficulty getting on board with because his overall package of skills is lacking. While his arm is fine, steps backward in his footwork and position left some more convinced than ever that he would have to move over to first in time, and there his bat profiles not nearly as well. At the same time, we’re looking at a prospect who was competent in the Southern League at the age of twenty-one, who lost only a few extra-base hits and added about twenty strikeouts in one of the most difficult transitions in minor league baseball, a guy whose wOBA was second-best on the team behind Johan Limonta, who has now logged nearly as much time in double-A as Marshall Hubbard did when he was with us. Liddi is a player who is going to have to continue to prove himself as he moves up, though I wouldn’t put it past him considering how far he’s come as a baseball player from a non-baseball country.
Lueke put his abilities on display throughout the Arizona Fall League, being one of the few pitchers to actually flourish there this season. He leaves with a 12/3 K/BB in 11.1 innings and only seven hits allowed, which is hard to imagine if you’ve been following the league at all. What’s equally striking is that, in the more normal context of the regular season, he had a 94/15 K/BB in 63.0 innings. Possessing a fastball that’s clocks in the mid-90s complemented by a change-up and a curve he can throw for strikes, Lueke’s abilities are pretty much unquestioned, and he might be the top reliever in the organization at present for his blend of talent and skill. On top of that, by all accounts he’s been a boy scout since entering the organization and a great teammate, and most who have encountered him describe him as a humble, personable kid eager to make amends. We could talk on and on about his past as we have previously, but for now, he’s in the organization and has been given a vote of confidence by the front office. I don’t think that we’ll uncover anything new in talking about his circumstances, so let’s just shelve that for now.
For those of us who get into the exploration of these proceedings, Medina’s selection comes as a little bit of a surprise. The right-hander from Venezuela is already twenty-two, but has only pitched a single season in the states, after four years kicking around the VSL. Medina isn’t lacking for a repertoire, as he has a low-90s fastball that touches higher, a plus curveball, and an assortment of other pitches that he can throw for strikes. In both the Northwest and the Midwest, he ran K-rates around ten and a half per nine and walks around three. I’m a little concerned that his ERA in Clinton might have been a deceptively low, but right now Medina does look like a guy who would get considered for the Rule 5, profiling as a back-end starter with enough patience and corresponding developments in his abilities. The M’s will figure to challenge him next season, as he runs the risk of burning through option years too soon otherwise.
Peguero is one player whom I’ll expect to generate a bit of discussion here. A small but vocal group will come forward saying that a left-handed power hitter is exactly what this team needs and that this alone would have made him enticing. My own perspective is that Peguero lacks value on defense or the basepaths, making him hard to stash, and outside of his incredible start to the season, he was pretty awful and didn’t show any improvements in his ability to hit southpaws. If you’re digging for positive news on him, I could point out, as Marc did, that he went from a 7.7% walk rate in his plate appearances to one of 10.1%, which helps his case to a certain degree. I still find hard to imagine that he’ll be much more than a platoon outfielder, but he’ll get three years to work with in the high minors if he doesn’t hit his way off before then.
What more can I say about Pineda at this point? I doubt much of anything. Those fearing his elbow problems from last season would be a precursor to the usual Mariners pitching woes ended up seeing him throw almost 140 innings this year. During which time he racked up 154 strikeouts, walked just thirty-four, and maintained a .227 average against. From a physical standpoint, he’s also got a lot going for him with the mid-to-high-90s fastball, command, and the kind of build that would suggest durability. The slider and change-up are still developing, but Pineda manages to combine athletic ability with a strong work ethic and it’s not unreasonable to expect him to make the needed adjustments in time. He has the potential to be a really special pitcher, and a true number two to follow Felix.
Where Pineda is close to a sure thing, Robles at present is not so much. An outfielder before turning pro, he’s only been pitching for five seasons, and it’s a credit to his abilities that he’s been able to make it all the way up to triple-A in that span. However, as one might anticipate from the history, his mechanics reflect how raw he is. On rare occasions, he’ll get it up there to 97 mph, sitting 92-5, and his curve and change-up have both shown signs of recent improvement, but his delivery is not without effort, he’s not a big guy, and the lack of command leaves him throwing a lot of pitches for each batter he faces. The lower end projections for him would put him as setup man who hands out some absolutely aggravating free passes, and he manages to stick around largely on which hand he’s throwing with and how hard he’s doing it. Optimists prefer to look at him as a mid-rotation guy with the potential for more, depending on his figuring out how to pitch. Your mileage will vary.
We round out the list with another recent Peoria Javelina, and a guy well-acquainted with the Arizona locales in Wilhelmsen. If you go to Google to figure out what he’s all about, you won’t likely be disappointed by what you find. Wilhelmsen is a comeback story, a live arm drafted by the Brewers way back when who smoked up his bonus money and dropped out of baseball for a while, only to come back to the game after years of bartending and wandering the world, setting fire to whatever league he’s landed in. Ignore the ERA for him in the AFL. Look instead at the fifteen strikeouts in twelve innings, the competent pitching from a guy who has never seen any competition higher than the Midwest League up until now. The Mariners will push him as hard as they’re able to in the coming year to see what he’s capable of. In relief, he offers a fastball in the mid-90s and a hard curveball, and could see the high minors next season on ability. In the rotation, the offerings are similar, but the timetable likely drawn out more. I look forward to the day when he has the chance to help the Mariners, but it’s hard to say right now when that might be or in what capacity.
Glancing over the list, you probably notice a few names we’ve mentioned that weren’t added. Some are reporting that Triunfel is not yet eligible, and if that’s from Jack directly, I’m happy to take them at their word. As he’s not a slick fielder by any stretch, it’s hard to imagine him being taken anyway. Other omissions include Lt. Nick Hill, who struggled with injuries this season and only pitched 42.2 innings in his second tour of double-A, and infielder Matt Lawson, who hit .286/.375/.349 with Peoria. Given Lawson’s strikeout tendencies (and the internal presence of Kazmar and Josh Wilson) and Hill’s somewhat minor injuries, I’m not all that surprised that they were excluded, but other inclusions are perhaps more surprising. In time, the Mariners will have to do even more maneuvering with the roster than they’ve already done to free up space, perhaps moving around some relievers on the trade market to keep developing the core group they’re after.