2011 Everett Aquasox Preview
We all remember what happened last year. I looked at the roster the Aquasox were going to field on opening day, said it didn’t seem all that interesting, and then a couple of months later they won the NWL Championship. Funny how that works out. And yet a lot of the names from the 2010 squad are already gone from the system: Evan Sharpley, Kevin Mailluox, Hawkins Gebbers, Ryan Royster, Eric Thomas, Jorden Merry, John Housey. I don’t even know if Terry Serrano is still around, but he was a free agent in the winter. The most dominant bat in the NWL, Kevin Rivers, is now putting up pedestrian numbers in Clinton (better of late), LHP Anthony Fernandez and RHP Chris Sorce are taking their lumps in High Desert, and LHP Edlando Seco, the fifth man in the rotation, didn’t start the year in the rotation and is having his poor command catch up with him. Baseball is kind of weird when you get right down to it.
Anyway, the roster isn’t totally in place yet, as we’ve seen fewer higher-end signings to this point than we usually get. There’s still some talent around in the pitching staff though, it just seems to be a team that’s currently constructed to pitch a lot and then hope for enough offense to get by, which can be a little tricky when there are only so many position players on the roster that can bat left-handed. Some of those fellows are among the better players on the roster.
Pitching Staff: LHP Tony Butler, RHP Jason Buursma, RHP Vicente Campos, RHP Jeroen de Haas, RHP Nolan Diaz, RHP Joe DiRocco, RHP Tim Griffin, LHP Cameron Hobson, RHP Max Krakowiak, RHP Steve Landazuri, RHP Bryan Leigh, LHP Jordan Shipers, RHP Cody Weiss, LHP Bennett Whitmore
The early reports coming out of Everett have informed us of three guys who are locked in the rotation to start out, Campos, Landazuri, and Shipers, and if so, that’s a pretty powerful group to be leading with. Campos has the most stuff of the bunch, with a heater in the mid-90s that’s touched 98 in the past and a good curveball. He doesn’t have great command though, as evidenced in the higher than average walk rate. He won’t turn nineteen until the end of July, so the M’s can take their time with him.
Landazuri was a sleeper coming into the season, a 22nd-round pick last year, but those who have seen him like what they see. Back in instructs last fall, he was clocked in the low-90s and showed good command of three offerings. Some think he could add more velocity as he grows a bit. He was a two-way player in high school, playing the hot corner in addition to pitching, and is a candidate to improve as he only focuses on the one thing. Landazuri was also signed by the same guy that brought us in Taijuan Walker, and who signed Mike Moustakas and John Lamb back when he worked for the Royals.
When the M’s started to look like they wouldn’t be able to sign 3rd-round pick Ryne Stanek last year, they switched gears and went hard after Shipers, who was a 16th-round pick with a Missouri commitment. He’s not a big guy and his overall knack for pitching is a little rough because his high school didn’t have a baseball program and he had to be driven by his parents to the various showcases. He’s a fastball/slider/change guy, with the fastball clocking in the low-90s, but the secondary offerings are where he really shines and make him a near lock to keep starting if he proves that he has the endurance to do it.
The past few years, the Mariners have preferred to keep their college arms from throwing additional innings and have gone with arms that have already been around internally to fill out the rotation. The guy that seems to be filling one of the two remaining spots, according to last night’s exhibition against the Merchants, is Bennett Whitmore, giving the Sox a second southpaw in the rotation. He ate a lot of innings for Concordia his senior year, but his command was off a bit as a pro and he was allowing a lot of walks and hits. The second spot, I don’t know about. One guy with a shot is Nolan Diaz, who has pitched the last two seasons in Pulaski. The first one was abbreviated, as he only got five starts in, and in his second season, he lost a K, added a walk, and had an average against of over .300. His abilities are decent, he just hasn’t pitched well thus far. Another candidate would be Tim Griffin, a 28th-round pick last year who was a NCAA Division II All-American his senior year. His ERA was nothing special for Pulaski, but he had good control (31/5 K/BB in 27.0 IP) and didn’t allow too many hits.
There are two other pitchers on staff who have already been around the system, though I wouldn’t necessarily regard them as starting candidates, which means that they probably have a better chance than I realize. Jeroen de Haas is one of our more recent Dutch signings, but he’s already been around the system for three years and has yet to see time in any full-season team, spending most of his innings with Peoria. His strikeout numbers have improved every year his command was back to normal last year after struggling in ’08. Leigh was a NDFA, curiously signed by the same guy who added Landazuri and Walker. His command was off a bit last year but he seemed to keep hitters off balance.
The pro baseball newbies are DiRocco, Hobson, Krakowiak, and Weiss, for the time being. Hobson would be the kind of left-hander that the M’s would pick between round six and eight in most other drafts, a testament to the depth of this one. He instead slipped to the 11th round despite sitting around 91 and throwing a good slider. DiRocco is a Seton Hall product who has less velocity, but is more of a natural at pitching and seems to be the type where the whole exceeds the sum of the parts. Future pitching coach, if you ask me. Krakowiak is out of Fordham but I don’t know anything about him other than he was a drafted senior and posted adequate numbers. Weiss is the second-highest pitcher signed from this year’s draft and has a good fastball and not a whole lot else. Then again, the same was said of Sorce back in the day.
The old war horses, so to speak, are Butler and Buursma. Butler was once the #4 prospect in the system after the 2006 season, hitting the mid-90s and throwing a great curveball. Things went south for him after the Bedard trade and he only had 112.2 innings pitched with them over two-and-a-half years before he was released by the BOrioles, after which he signed on briefly with the Brewers org. He’s been injured a lot and when healthy, his command has been bad much of the time. He’s another candidate to start and I really hope they manage to get him right again. Buursma is probably not a regarded as a starter, seeing as how he’s a submariner. For that reason you probably shouldn’t pay too much heed to the K/BB he’s put up previously this year. He was formerly drafted by the M’s in 2007, though he did not sign, and went to Lakeside and graduated a few years before Forrest Snow did. Local angle!
Catchers: Michael Dowd, Larry Gonzalez
Since he’s the top drafted catcher on staff, Dowd would figure to get most of the playing time in the near-term. He was the shortest player the M’s drafted at 5’9 or 5’8, depending on your source, but no one seems to think less of him for that and he’ll rank as one of the better arms in the system from behind the plate. The rest of the package is average at best and I wouldn’t expect him to hit a whole lot. Gonzo has been in the system since ’06 and has been a catcher all the way up, when it’s common that guys will split time between there and first in the VSL, where he spent four years. He also shows a good arm from behind the plate, catching half the runners trying to steal on him last year, but he’s no star with the bat and the best you can hope for is doubles.
Infielders: IF Jetsy Extrano, SS Marcus Littlewood, IF Danny Lopez, IF Ethan Paquette, UT Rudy van Heydoorn
Littlewood is the big name in this lineup, having been the 2nd-round pick last year. He couldn’t get it done in Clinton this year, posting a .158/.236/.211 line, but Everett represents a fresh start and a chance to show off a little power from the left side. His bat is probably going to outpace his defense eventually (limited range), but some believe that he can stick it out at shortstop and scouts generally like him a lot and he appeared on plenty of top ten prospect lists at the end of last season. He works hard and has that going for him, so it’s time to see some dividends from the extra coaching in Peoria.
The rest of the infield is not so interesting at present, save for the fact that it does not feature Anthony Phillips [nor is Kalian Sams in the outfield]. Jetsy Extrano has one of the best names in the system. He doesn’t have much else going for him and hit .230/.318/.320 for Pulaski last season in a starting role. I don’t know that I see him as much more than a back-up in Everett. Lopez started four years at short for U Pittsburg, but his arm is below average. He can hit a little and draw the occasional walk. Paquette played mostly first for Pulaski last season, though a .643 OPS wouldn’t generally be acceptable for the position. He played third base and right field for Hofstra and there’s a chance that he starts out at the hot corner for the ‘Sox. Finally, we have van Heydoorn who was signed as a third baseman and played mostly catcher and first last year. He’s weird in that he was promoted to the states in ’09 (where he hit .123/.197/.208 over forty-one games) and then demoted to the DSL again for last year (where he hit .305/.439/.508). His position with Everett is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think that he’ll be catching all that much given the roster’s make-up. I’ve heard he might do time in the outfield.
Outfielders: RF/CF Jabari Blash, CF Jarrett Burgess, CF Nathan Melendres, RF James Wood, CF Mario Yepez
If nothing else, this group should be able to run the ball down and throw it when the need arises. My favorite is Jabari Blash, recently transferred in from Clinton. He started out with great peripherals, running a 19/27 K/BB in twenty-seven May games, but his June has had him slip to 21/6 K/BB and limited power, more in line with his older tendencies. His tools are great, but consistency is another matter, as you can tell. Whatever method they had going for him when he was first promoted to the Midwest League needs to be re-instituted, pronto.
The new guy is Melendres, a 17th-round pick this year. While all the guys on this roster would be capable in center, I expect Melendres to take the spot in the short-term because he’s the one whose prospect status would slip most easily with a move to a corner. Most of that is just in the fact that he’s not too big and power is not a part of his game. However, he defends well, is fast, and is a contact hitter, so it’s easy to think of him as taking either the leadoff spot, second, or ninth in the order to take advantage of those abilities.
We close with a few outfielders who were in Pulaski last year. James Wood, a product of Trinity College, hit .291/.387/.408 for Pulaski last year and was really hot to start the season. Unfortunately, he’s not shown much more than doubles power at this time, though the short right field porch should help. Yepez is veteran of a few years with the VSL M’s and has been moving level-to-level since 2008. He hit .231/.288/.364 in the Appy League last season with six home runs, and as a switch hitter, it’ll be good if some of that power comes from the left side. Burgess has never hit very well and spent last season injured, logging only thirteen games. He went to the same high school as Denny Almonte and I think of him as a poor man’s version of the same.