2011 Clinton Lumberkings Preview
Here we go, just two days away now and already getting some rosters in. This year’s group of Lumberkings has a much younger look than last year’s, with nine players on the roster born in the 90s. It also has intriguing talent at just about every position, and as a team, might interest me even more than last year’s west division champion squad. The Lumberkings will be celebrating their 75th anniversary in Clinton this year, and if things break right for them, it could be a good one. I’m already planning on tuning into a lot of games.
Pitching Staff: RHP Jonathan Arias (DL), RHP Matt Bischoff, RHP Tyler Blandford, RHP Tyler Burgoon, LHP Anthony Fernandez, RHP Willy Kesler, RHP Seon Gi Kim, RHP Stephen Kohlscheen, LHP Jason Markovitz, RHP Fray Martinez, RHP Brandon Maurer, RHP George Mieses, LHP Edlando Seco, RHP Forrest Snow
In the offseason, I had the suspicion that either the good college arms from the Appalachian League would be combined with the international arms from Everett or that they’d go aggressive and bring up the younger guys who played in Pulaski last year. It looks like they’re trying to do both here, which is awesome in that there’s no guy on this staff that I wouldn’t be interested in seeing, but troublesome in that I have no idea who is in the rotation.
The one confirmation that I have is that Snow will be starting the opener. Snow, you may remember from last season as the UW product who signed after being drafted in the 36th-round and displayed increased velocity from the bullpen. He divided his first season between Everett and Cinton, striking dudes out, walking a few here and there, and allowing an insignificant number of hits. The trend continued this spring when he spent the entire camp not allowing runs and sitting low-90s as a starter. Not bad, for a late-round pick.
The rest is a matter of assigning four spots from a group of seven guys who combined for sixty-five starts and ten relief appearances last season. Of that bunch, it’s pretty easy to assume that Fernandez has an inside track on one of the spots since he was Everett’s #2 last year. He’s one of the system’s better left-handed starting prospects, but right now that’s a top heavy group (Paxton/Robles/Shipers), and Fernandez doesn’t have much beyond average velocity, good control, and a feel for pitching. Seco, who was the fifth starter for the ‘Sox, has better stuff, but is older and his command can be awful at times, as he’s never walked fewer than 5.6 per nine innings for any season.
Kohlscheen and Blandford are two arms with college experience who might get some consideration for the rotation. Kohlscheen was a 45th-round pick last year that is one of a few guys showing good velocity, whereas Blandford was the team’s fifth-round pick two years ago and was already known for his live stuff. One has good command, the other, awful. Blandford also spent most of the season on the bench after starting just seven games, so the M’s might choose to take it slower with him, or leave him in relief where some thought his future was anyway.
The two teenagers of the group, Mieses and Kim, may be on the outside looking in to start the season if the team opts to play it safe and limit their innings. Kim has a pretty solid three pitch mix and will sit in the low-90s. Mieses has better velocity, but less to offer with his secondaries, as indicated by his forty-eight Ks in 75.2 innings last year. The wild card is Maurer, who went 5-1 over nine starts in the offseason with the Adelaide Bite, all the while running a 51/12 K/BB. Scouts like his arm and the sink he sometimes is able to put on his pitches, but through three pro seasons, he’s only logged a little over a hundred innings.
The guys that one could consider bullpen “locks” are the remainders, Arias, Bischoff, Burgoon, Kesler, Markovitz, and Martinez. Of those six, Burgoon is the biggest prospect of the bunch and also the shortest player on the roster. He can really sling it and has one of the best sliders in the system, but since he’s a two-pitch guy and undersized, he’s probably going to stick it out in relief. Bischoff would be the second-best, a senior drafted in the 20th-round last year who served as Pulaski’s closer for a time. He’s an unconventional back-end reliever in that he doesn’t have stuff that will blow anyone away, but he has more pitches than the average relief arm and knows exactly what to do with them.
Arias and Martinez are both former position players, Arias as a no-hit catcher, and Martinez as a cannon-armed infielder. Arias has pitched for two years now and Martinez, three, but both are still going through the adjustments and are on the record as walking more than four guys per nine. Martinez has more hair on the fastball, and probably more of a future. Markovitz is a former Dirtbag who did quite well for himself in Everett, but stumbled a little once he got to Clinton and lost some Ks. Kesler is an atypical pitcher in that he’s kind of short and stocky and has already had Tommy John, but he has an okay fastball and on draft day, we do love our pitchers from New Mexico.
Catchers: Steven Baron, Carlton Tanabe
Steve Baron! We are excited to see Steve Baron! If you were following along with me in spring training, you probably caught all the stories about Baron re-working his swing in the offseason after watching a lot of tape and now trying to get more of his lower body into it. The results-based analysis seemed to like it, because he hit a home run and everything and really how often did that happen last year? Of course, the reality is that we’re all geeking out at the moment because out backstop with the pretty glovework now looks like the might be able to hit enough to not be a total loss, so enthusiasm may need to be scaled back a little until we see what he does over the course of a few months. I already feel confident that he’s better than Rene Rivera.
Tanabe is one of two catchers we’ve drafted out of Hawai’i in the past two years, which isn’t something I expected to be saying two years ago but okay. He’s another strong-armed backstop with limited offensive ability and he spent most of last season accumulating frequent flyer miles, logging playing time at three different stops and being nominally on the roster at a few more (I swear, I saw him in Tacoma).
Infielders: SS Marcus Littlewood, 3B Ramon Morla, 1B/DH Tim Morris, SS/2B Anthony Phillips, 2B Carlos Ramirez, 3B Stefen Romero, 1B Mickey Wiswall
For the second year in a row, the M’s will be sending their second overall draft pick and promising shortstop to the Midwest League. Littlewood is another switch-hitter who plays hard and has good instincts, making up for the fact that his tools on their own aren’t terribly exciting. Except I feel like I could have said some of the same about Nick Franklin last year and look where he ended up. Littlewood is more of a risk to move to a corner and was regarded as having more power as a prep player, which is not to say that the home run record in Clinton will be broken two years in a row. I’m more bearish on him than most, but I seem to be one of the few.
Morla might interest me a little more because even though he is a third baseman, he seems to have all the tools and then some. It’s taken him some time to get things together as a baseball player. He still makes silly throws from time to time and is typically aggressive for a Dominican hitter, but he tries to be a team leader and has power to all fields in addition to some speed, so there’s enough to get excited about, even if I am getting increasingly skeptical of Pulaski hitting numbers.
Manning second base, you’re likely to see either Ramirez or Phillips. Ramirez spent four years in the VSL before getting his feet wet in the states last year and is the more offensive-minded of the two, but also has more experience as a utility player. Phillips is a South African who is much beloved for his infield defense, though he can’t hit a lick. This is his first full-season assignment despite being in the game for four years, and he’s spent almost three-quarters of his career with the Aquasox.
On the far right side, you’re likely to see Wiswall much of the time. The team’s seventh-round pick last year, he has good bat speed and some pop in his bat, with more to be tapped into. He could be Mangini mk. II. Romero was Oregon State’s third baseman last year, though he may not be enough of a defender to stick at the hot corner. He didn’t play last year for the M’s due to injury, but has a chance to fill a role similar to what Vinnie Catricala had with the Lumberkings late last season. Morris was the team’s DH for parts of last season, but with two years in the books, has a career line of .238/.3330/.348, and the power he showed late in his college career has yet to appear as a pro. Why are we so alphabetically backloaded here?
Outfielders: CF Matt Cerione, CF/LF Julio Morban, RF Kevin Rivers
One of the reasons it doesn’t seem like a stretch to project Ramirez or Romero seeing outfield time is the fact that the team only has three official outfielders and one has been rather injury prone to open his career. Also they’re all left-handed? Morban is the injury risk, a nineteen-year-old who was the team’s big international signing in 2008. Since then, he’s played in all of fifty-six games after being benched for much of last year, shoulder issues and the like. Where the recent trend with the Dominican outfielders the team has pursued has been oodles of power and limited experience putting it to good use, Morban has a notion of how to hit and is a fringe center fielder.
However, it’s more likely that Cerione returns there after starting sixty-one games at the position last season. Cerione sometimes has some intriguing pop in his bat, but it comes at the expense of a lot more Ks than one might be comfortable with. He struck out in 36.7% of his at-bats last year, which is not good news by any stretch. Rivers is likely the team’s right fielder, the same position he held down for the Aquasox last year as he hit .332/.466/.556 with a 62/60 K/BB, not bad numbers for a NDFA. A good showing could move him on the fringe of the prospect radars.