2012 Clinton Lumberkings Preview

Jay Yencich · April 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm · Filed Under Minor Leagues 

I’m going to hit this one up before I have to run to classes and the rest will trickle in as I get time. Sadly, I have a busy week, and really could have used these rosters two days ago, insert meaningful glares and such.

So there have been some changes for the Lumberkings over the offseason. For example, Alliant Energy Field is now Ashford University Field (naming rights!) and Dave Lezotte bounced for the Gwinnett Braves and so now Chad Seely, formerly of the Daytona Cubs, is the “Voice of the Lumberkings”. He’s originally from Wisconsin, so this gets him closer to home I guess. Also of consideration, since the Lake County Captains shifted to the Midwest League not long ago, is that someone may see fit to combat “Moby Dick”, a $20, fifteen-inch sandwich which features fish filets, cheese, clam strips, French Fries, cole slaw, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, tartar sauce, and the threat of myocardial infarction. The Lumberkings won’t be visiting Lake County this year, but one of these years, it could happen. Lord help us, it could happen.

Rotation: RHP Ambioris Hidalgo, LHP Cameron Hobson, RHP Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP Steve Landazuri, LHP Jordan Shipers

As interesting as last year’s rotation? Nah. That’s hardly possible, but it’s arguably the second-most interesting rotation in the affiliates right now, it just hasn’t, you know, proven much of anything. Which is the main problem. But one of these names could jump onto prospect lists next year, since a lot of them have been interesting at one point or another. In the meantime, I guess patience is a word that’s going to be used a lot here.

Hobson was a guy that people liked a lot on draft day as a lefty with above-average stuff and good strikeout totals, and the early returns from Everett didn’t really dissuade anyone as he ran a 51/8 K/BB through 43.2 innings. Of course, he was rumored to be somewhat inconsistent in college and of the appearances he made, there were only five starts. As one of two college guys in the rotation, there’s a chance he could pitch his way out of here by the middle of the season.

Shipers has a similar profile, i.e., lefty, inconsistent, but was a high school pick in ’10 rather than a college pick last year. The story by now, you should know: no high school baseball team, limited experience (his mom had to drive him to showcases in another state), signed away from college commitment, etc. Still, he had a heater in the low-90s and a good change and that was enough to be interesting, even if the curve wasn’t there yet. He got some strikeouts last year, but rarely hit his spots and had a walk rate approaching five.

Landazuri was another good, late pick in that draft, one of those random high school kids in California that throws in the low-90s but gets overlooked because there are more extreme talents elsewhere. Some thought that he was going to breakout last season too, but while his K/BB was better than that of Shipers (72/29 compared to 47/26), it wasn’t great or anything. He’s making steady progress up the chain, at least.

Another name that was on and off the radar last summer was Hidalgo. After three years in the DSL, he wound up in Pulaski and was sort of their ace though his pitching returns were hardly consistent. Some days he’d strike out ten and walk no one, and other days the walks would be ridiculous, so something was clearly inconsistent. At any rate, since we’ve been on the topic, he had 40/22 K/BB in 43.1 innings and gave up a bunch of hits, but I get the impression that Pulaski can be rather hitter-friendly.

I originally thought that Kohlscheen was going to end up in High Desert and what I had written for him there is non-transferrable. Shoot. He’s got decent stuff and posted a good strikeout rate throughout last year, but when he got to Clinton he had both a dinger problem (more than one every nine innings) and a walk problem (more than four per nine), so all things considered, leaving him in Clinton probably wasn’t a bad idea. He also only started about half of his appearances, so if the organization wants to commit to him in that role going forward, this is a good place do to it. It’s mainly about the top four though.

Bullpen: RHP Wes Alsup, RHP Josh Corrales, RHP Tim Griffin, LHP Kyle Hunter, RHP Trevor Miller, RHP Brett Shankin, RHP John Taylor

Less exciting than the rotation, to be certain, which features mostly late round, college-drafted dudes from last year. I guess the one guy that I think would be worth keeping tabs on is Wes Alsup, whom Marc mentioned in a recent links roundup. I don’t have a BP subscription or anything, but supposedly Alsup’s been in the mid-90s with a high-80s slider, which means that people will at least talk about him being our latest steal from the indy leagues. A year ago, he was BA’s #2 indy league prospect and the profile is pretty interesting: he didn’t pitch until his senior year of high school (home schooled before), played briefly in college, and then went down with TJ. His mechanics are inconsistent and the command, bad as a result, but he has all the stuff to do great things. And the name too! Wes Alsup? Not much, Wes Alsup with you? Ha, it hasn’t gotten old yet.

Kyle Hunter is also pretty interesting on results. The stuff is average, or so the pre-draft reports went, but he absolutely killed it through two stops last year, posting 62 strikeouts in 47.0 innings between Pulaski and Everett. He didn’t even walk all that many either, just nine free passes. This isn’t exactly like a teenaged junkballer in the summer leagues laying waste to baseball fields on the merit of a change-up alone, so I’m at least somewhat intrigued.

Corrales was the staff ace at Cal State Dominguez Hills and if you only now learned that there was a CSU Dominguez Hills you probably are not alone. He pitched at four different stops after signing last year, mostly the three short-seasons though he did get an inning in Jackson where he plunked a couple of dudes. His bio on their team website said that one of his goals was to become a professional baseball player. Congratulations, kid.

John Taylor was a senior draft pick and already saw time in Clinton last year. He had a 12/8 K/BB in 16.2 innings then. Before that, he had a 10/1 K/BB in seven innings for Pulaski. If you’re guessing “decent stuff, not so good command,” you’d be on the money. I don’t have any earlier scouting data for him though.

The one other not-2011-draft guy is Griffin, who was a 28th rounder in 2010. He’s been station-to-station so far, doing time with Pulaski the first year and then Everett last year. I feel like I should know more about him because what he’s shown so far is impressive strikeout totals and a low number of walks, but he’s also recently twenty-four and just now entering full-season ball. Look, he switch hits! I love it when pitchers switch-hit.

Two pitchers that I thought might have a shot at the rotation before Kohlscheen’s return (they may yet!) are Shankin and Miller, who were both late-round picks last year at 28 and 40, respectively. Shankin was sort of the typical pitcher for that part of the draft in that he threw a bunch of stuff for strikes and it wasn’t amazing or anything. So I thought at least, then he walked nearly as many as he struck out in 28.1 innings for Pulaski. Baseball! Miller’s a JuCo kid from California and made a few conference teams while there. He pitched mostly for Peoria last year and did well, but wasn’t dominating or anything.

Catchers: Steve Baron, Mike Dowd, Carlton Tanabe

We’re doing this again! I remember last spring, after he had hit a double off of Felix Hernandez and done some other impressive things in spring training, Steve Baron enthusiasm was at an all-time high. There was all kinds of talk about how he had re-worked his swing and everything (much like Saunders did and… oh dear). That turned into him playing fifty-seven games for Clinton and batting .197/.266/.323. The only good thing that I can say about this is that his K% went from 28.5 of his PAs in 2010 to 23.1% in 2011, and his BB% went from 4.3% to 7.6%. Baby steps! Since the Mariners drafted like a million catchers last year, I don’t think that anyone’s thinking too hard about Steve Baron and if they are, they might not be too happy about that.

Dowd was one of those ~one million catchers, and is another Franklin Pierce product following Kevin Rivers and Scott Savastano. We must know someone there. He saw a lot of playing time there and reportedly has good abilities when it comes to throwing dudes out, as we saw with his 46% CS in Everett. The rest of his game is supposedly inconsistent and he didn’t impress anyone at the plate with the Aquasox since he hit only .228/.272/.290.

Carlton Tanabe has probably seen more of America and the world in the past couple of years than you have. In 2010, he saw playing time in Peoria, High Desert, and West Tenn, and was at least in uniform for the Rainiers at one point. Last year, he marked Clinton off of his tour of the affiliates and then spent the winter playing for Adelaide in the Australian Baseball League. This is all more interesting than his career batting line, which is .192/.247/.252. But he did throw out half the runners trying to steal on him last year. Allow me to say an obvious thing and mention that offense will have to come from somewhere else in this lineup, because with the backstops, it probably ain’t happening.

Infielders: 1B Jharmidy de Jesus, IF Dillon Hazlett, 3B Ramon Morla, 2B Dan Paolini, SS Anthony Phillips

Not an especially exciting infield either, but it has a few things worth paying attention to. Dan Paolini was the team’s tenth-round pick last season and hit .284/.378/.463 in Pulaski, which is good, although hitters tend to do well there. He pitched in high school, but switched to second base full time in college, where he became well known for his bat. Even if you’re down on the power production under the circumstances, the walks still led the team, and were tied for tenth in the league. Defensively, we don’t really know what to expect from him right now. Some expected that he would have to move to the outfield almost immediately, but pre-draft reports said Stefen Romero would have to move off third and he’s playing second now. Don’t count on improvements in conditioning, but don’t act like they can’t happen either.

The one other ’11 pick is Hazlett, who was a 20th-round pick last year. When they selected him, I started wondering about the possibility of William Hazlitt references, but alas, they’re spelled differently and it’s not an area of my expertise. I’ll try if he ends up being good. He hit .243/.332/.311 last year, so I’m not really holding my breath on the being good part. The cool thing though is that he saw time at every position on the field last year save catcher, which is just great. We need more guys like Leury Bonilla in the system.

The rest are international guys. Ramon Morla is one of the interesting ones insofar as he had one year of great production (.323/.354/.610 for Pulaski in 2010) and is still just twenty-two. Last year, he had a .451 OPS through about thirty games for Everett, then disappeared for a long stretch only to resurface in Everett where he hit better, but nowhere near his previous level of production. The tools are there, but he’s near the bottom of the third base pile and it’s a sizeable pile. He is also getting older at the bottom of the pile.

de Jesus finally reappeared last year after a year in the mystery zone. de Jesus’ career is a mystery zone. He hit .309/.376/.530 in his first year bouncing around short-season ball and was named a top ten prospect in the system by a lot of people. He didn’t even make a full-season roster the next season and was injured the year after that. Jharmidy hit .299/.374/.408 for Everett last year, but that on-base percentage is inflated by him getting hit a bunch, so it’s hard to get excited about even that. Someday, he may yet show us all. Maybe.

Anthony Phillips getting assigned to the Lumberkings is the new Anthony Phillips getting assigned to the Aquasox. I have talked him to death and then he has come back to life again multiple times. He has a career minor league OPS of .610 and a good defensive reputation which seems to keep him around. He also has good wheels and I bet he can lay down a devastating sacrifice bunt.

Outfielders: OF Jean Acevedo, CF Jamal Austin, RF Jabari Blash, LF Guillermo Pimentel, CF Mario Yepez

Definitely more interesting than the infield. I don’t know where I’d want to start here, but let’s go from left to right as I see it. Pimentel is better than the other Pimentel that the Rangers have, in no small part because he’s a lefty with power potential in the 30+ home run range according to some scouts. His swing is awesome, but he’s developed a reputation for hacking a bit (28.6% of his PAs resulted in Ks so far) and doesn’t walk too much. It’s mostly a discipline issue, and with scattered reports of his disinterest on the field, I wasn’t exactly holding my breath for improvement, but then I was listening to the radio a few days ago and Chris Gwynn was on. He said that Pimentel won their “Control the Zone” award in camp this year. I don’t even know what that means, but I’m guessing it has something to do with laying off of bad pitches, which has me hopeful. It’s better than a kick in the throat.

Jamal Austin is the second coming of Jamal Strong. Not exactly, but it’s the closest player parallel I can make: smaller guy, speed like the dickens, and on-base skills conducive to walks and general pitcher nervousness, but very limited power. I’d expect him to be the leadoff guy. He doesn’t draw quite as many walks or steal as many bases as Strong did (a difference between a 13th round pick and a 6th round pick), but he should be fun to watch anyway.

On my own excitement, I’d put Blash first because, come on, it’s Jabari Blash. In the first half with Clinton last year, he was too patient, which resulted in a 43/38 K/BB and an OBP that was .183 points higher than his average. In the second half, he got a little more aggressive and slugged .574 in Everett with more than half of his hits going for extra bases. Those are two different crazy things to have a player do in a season, and if he could do both at the same time, I can safely say that we would all love him forever, strikeouts be damned.

I’m not as excited about Acevedo, but I would say that he has a good shot at opening the year as the team’s DH. Finding a position for him has been weird: last year he was mostly a third baseman, the year before, mostly a second baseman and a left fielder, and the year before that, he was almost entirely a left fielder. Right now, he’s a doubles hitter who has a good knowledge of the strike zone, meaning that he draws a fair number of walks and doesn’t strike out a whole heck of a lot. At a premium defensive position, that would be an interesting bat, but at the corners, it becomes less compelling.

Yepez is alphabetically last, so why not end with him? He was mainly a right fielder for Everett last year and his offensive value was largely tied to his average, as he drew just fourteen walks and didn’t have a dinger all season. With another minor league outfield, you might be able to say that what he showed last year and has historically shown would justify having him as a near-everyday outfielder, but given that all of the presumed starters are much more interesting, it’s a harder case to make.

Overall, it’s a team with things worth watching on it. I’d probably put the outfield first, then the pitching staff, then infield, then catchers. I was about to say that, by my own level of excitement, I wouldn’t expect it to be a dominating team, but I’ve also said that before only to see them tear it up later because my judgment from a prospecting standpoint and from a competitive standpoint are sometimes exclusive from one another. If you don’t feel like listening to Jackson games all the time, tune into these guys every now and then.


6 Responses to “2012 Clinton Lumberkings Preview”

  1. Celadus on April 4th, 2012 11:11 pm


    I seldom comment, because I don’t have any familiarity with the players, except for the quasi-famous ones like Hultzen and Walker.

    However, I always read and appreciate your minor league analyses.

    I believe I speak for many of us when I say that I find these articles valuable even though I don’t have anything germane to add.

  2. CapSea on April 5th, 2012 12:41 am

    Wes Alsup! He’s no Jabari Blash, but no one is. Not even Jabari Blash.

  3. HighBrie on April 5th, 2012 6:49 am

    Hey Jay: I realize Castillo is very young, but he’s supposed to be very good. As it stands, this outfield is pretty loaded for the level. Whom do you foresee being most likely to advance first among this group, and do you think Castillo gets promoted to Clinton by year’s end (assuming good K/BB, decent power at Pulaski)? Also, how old is G. Pimental?

  4. marc w on April 5th, 2012 9:26 am

    HighBrie –

    Pimentel is 19; he’ll turn 20 after the season.

  5. Jay Yencich on April 5th, 2012 12:38 pm

    Jabari Blash and Jamal Austin are two guys that I would single out as being likely candidates for promotion. Edge goes to Jabari since he’s older and there’s more of a push to get him to see tougher competition. But spots would have to open up and there’s something of a logjam in Jackson right now.

  6. marc w on April 5th, 2012 3:03 pm

    The intriguing Cam Hobson gets the opening day start – game starts at 4:30 pacific.

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