2012 High Desert Mavericks Preview

Jay Yencich · April 4, 2012 at 11:31 pm · Filed Under Minor Leagues 

So what, nine hours later and one response to the previous preview? I feel like I’m throwing these to the wind, like so many batted balls leaving Mavericks Stadium. Segue!

I was looking it up the other day and it surprised me to discover that the Mavericks have been the Mariners’ Cal League affiliate since 2007, which was when Saunders went through. 2007! It’s such a long time! Someone could have entered and completed an entire PhD program in that span! And which of the two collections of data would prove more valuable? Of the hitters and the degree holder, who would have a more inflated sense of self-worth, who would stand a better chance on the job market within the same field? Further jokes! Okay, let’s get on with it.

Rotation: LHP Roenis Elias, LHP Anthony Fernandez, RHP George Mieses, RHP Jandy Sena, RHP Carson Smith

I never know how to feel about it when there are pitchers of some interest to me who land in Adelanto through no fault of their own. Pitching there can end up with this sort of Scylla and Charybdis effect: you can dodge the home run issue by throwing fewer strikes, but then you get saddled with the “bad command” rep, and if you throw too many strikes, you risk injuring yourself from all the spinning around to see if the ball is still in the park or not.

The big deal here is Carson Smith who signed too late to play last year. An eighth-rounder, he’s hit 97 as a bullpen arm, but has also started and say in the low-90s with a decent three pitch mix. Normally, you’d try to stick with him in the rotation to see what happens, but his delivery is sort of wonky and he’s had shoulder issues in the recent past, hardly promising news. Even if he’s healthy, it could be a Tom Wilhelmsen-like situation where starting is just the way to get him the most work on what he needs and they actually view him as a reliever.

For the other guys, there are two that have seen the whirlpool/snake heads already and two that haven’t. I’ll touch on the two returners first. Fernandez is a DSL product who has been mostly station to station in his move up the ladder, except that he skipped Pulaski. Last year, as I remember it (stupid MiLB.com took down the splits already), he was in Clinton for half the season posting decent numbers and then got promoted to High Desert where he ran a 6.04 tRA for seven starts (the ERA was much worse, 15.4 hits per nine will do that I guess). When he went back to Clinton, he pitched a lot better. As I remember it, Fernandez has average velocity and a decent change, but last year saw his walks jump from where they had been before. No good.

Sena is interesting for a couple of reasons, but I don’t think that any of them are prospect-y, necessarily. One is that he was drafted out of a military academy, so that’s different. Another is that he’s a pitch to contact guy with limited command (51/38 K/BB last year), which is usually terrifying in Adelanto except that he gets two outs on the ground for every one in the air. It hasn’t really helped him so far, but it’s something.

Unfortunately for him, Mieses has also been sort of pitch to contact, and while the walks are slightly less of an issue for him, the strikeouts are more of an issue. He only had 56 of them in 114.2 innings last year for Clinton. Also he got shut down pretty early. And his groundball rate went down. All alarming signs potentially. What I’ve heard is that he’s got decent stuff, but doesn’t really have much of any idea how to use it, so maybe that will change in the same sense that we think a lot of prospects might change their ways and then find our attention diverted when someone new appears.

If Mieses is like Sena, Elias is the completed analogy to Fernandez. Elias has less stuff than Fernandez, but is also crafty at times and is not too far removed from his time in Cuba pitching for the Guantanamo squad. He’s supposedly got a nice curve, but his command is kind of bad and he gave up seven home runs in 36.1 innings for Clinton, which makes me worry. Maybe a lot. Either way, if he’s good or bad, it’s a spectacle, and spectacle is a form of entertainment.

Bullpen: RHP Jonathan Arias, RHP Tyler Burgoon, LHP Jimmy Gillheeney, RHP Austin Hudson, LHP Jose Jimenez, RHP Willy Kesler, RHP Chris Sorce, RHP Taylor Stanton

This seems like a large bullpen. Will they all be active? Maybe not. Anyway, there are a couple of bullpen arms of interest here and there are some guys who are here because they took the wrong door into the clubhouse and activated the curse which keeps them there either forever or until their soul is decisively proven crushed or not crushed. Like so many fastballs! Moving on…

Arias has been a bullpen sleeper pretty much since he moved from the other end of the battery. His neat trick this past year with Clinton was to go from 7.1 Ks per nine innings to more than double that. Yes, he ended the season with 101 strikeouts in 63.1 innings and that’s nuts, but before you become nuts too, note that he also walked thirty-eight. He manages to avoid the home run, good, one would hope, but even with the Ks he really needs to stop giving out the free passes before he’s anything more than a curiosity.

Burgoon is also a curiosity if “small and throws hard” is something that catches your fancy in a pitcher. He’s touched the mid-90s in the past and can fire off a pretty good slider, so we expected him to rocket through the system, but instead he hung out in Clinton for a full season, all the while running a 2.69 tRA and having more than four times as many Ks as walks. He only gave up one home run all season! I can’t figure out why it took him so long to get here, unless he didn’t want to come.

Those are the new guys. The rest have been here a while. It’s like the Ship of Lost Souls over here. Stanton, Gillheeney, and Sorce have all done time in the rotation. Stanton actually got to pitch half a season in Jackson last year for which he was almost certainly grateful, and while he was around in Adelanto he learned to walk fewer guys. To be fair, he also put the ball in play a lot still and the OF defense was pretty good last year. Gillheeney also got to run around and play for a little while in Jackson, but his command fell apart there when he stopped being able to strike dudes out and so he’s punched his ticket for a return trip. He gave up 21 home runs in 107.2 innings with the Mavs last year, but otherwise he was okay. Aside from that one glaring problem which invariably results in the one thing that pitchers are not supposed to do, i.e., let runs score, he was good. Sorce was around the entire season, or twenty-seven starts of it, and managed, but his strikeouts dropped and so did his walks while the hit rate went way up. Weird. Other than that, competent pitcher, decent stuff, etc etc. Any one of these three could slip into the rotation, but I picked the guys I saw starting in the minor league box scores on the M’s blog. Deduction, I think.

Kesler, Hudson, and Jimenez are the strictly bullpen guys who are back. Jimenez has been with the Mavs in three of the past four seasons. Weep for Jimenez. This past season was at least better than the previous trials since he posted a career low 3.6 per nine walk rate, but the strikeouts were down slightly at 7.1 and the hits and home runs, high. I feel bad for him. Kesler is only in his second tour. He didn’t walk anyone in 18.2 innings with the Lumberkings, but he walked thirteen in 40.1 innings for the Mavs. Curious thing, that. Beyond that, he pitched decently, better than you’d expect, and was something like a closer for portions of the season. His fastball is a tick above average. Hudson was with the Mavs all of last season after vaulting over Clinton. Hits, a few too many walks, okay but not really passable strikeout numbers. Looking at a High Desert pitching staff always gives me this awful déjà vu.

Catchers: John Hicks, Jack Marder

Two picks from last year are leading the backstop corps this year, which is nice considering that before, we had been relying on various backup mercenaries here and above. Hicks is the one with the higher draft billing (he also got $40k more in bonus loot), being the 4th-round pick last season. He’s not exactly a sure thing behind the plate, however, as was the case with a lot of the picks. He passed six balls in thirty-eight games last year. That’s as many as Adam Moore had in his debut season, and while improvements were made, Moore was no great shakes at it at first. On the plus side, Hicks’ CS rate was 44%, so even if the arm strength doesn’t get great reviews, he’s doing well with it. He also hit .309/.331/.446, which will pass for a catcher, but again, not great any of the other places he might land.

Marder is more of a wild card, since he was a middle infielder in HS, a RF/1B as a freshman, and a catcher as a sophomore before we drafted him. He’s already seen High Desert for eighteen games and posted a .873 OPS while he was around, playing five defensive games at second and nine behind the plate. Some people really like the defensive tools he brings to the [home] plate, but he’s still raw back there and there’s the added concern of whether his diabetes (he wears an insulin pump in games) is going to really affect his endurance. Many worry that he won’t be able to catch for that reason.

The fact that there are only two catchers on the roster right now surprises me a little. Some managers might look at that decide that without that safety net of a third catcher, Marder maybe shouldn’t play around the infield as much since it could put the team in a bad way if things go awry. Will that happen? I feel like the current configuration does put a little bit more pressure on him to be a catcher. How they’ll divide the time is another matter.

Infielders: IF Patrick Brady, 3B Mario Martinez, SS Brad Miller, 3B/1B Steve Proscia, IF Stefen Romero, 1B/LF Mickey Wiswall

Lots of guys capable of playing third here, but who will be the one? Regardless of any of that, the top prospect on the infield is Miller, easily. One of the things I found pleasantly surprising in spring training is that whenever he played the infield for us in spring training, there usually followed great reports on how well he had handled the shortstop position. Since he was dogged by concerns that he’d have to move off (in large part due to wonky throwing mechanics), this is heartening and means we have something going on in the depth there besides Nick Franklin. Miller hit .415/.458/.528 for the Lumberkings in a short stint last season, and I don’t expect that level of silly numbers even in High Desert, but high average and on-base percentage are to be expected and there are probably a few doubles that will clear the wall for him just for where he’s playing.

I’m guessing that his double-play partner is going to be Romero, who played forty-nine of eighty-nine defensive games at second last season. He’s been my weird breakout pick for this season because he’s proven better with the glove than anyone expected and hit .302/.346/.525 in the second half for the Lumberkings. His game relies a lot on putting the ball in play, but he’s been good at it so far and has shown some power to make up for what he doesn’t always bring in walks. I’m a fan, and hope that he does well lest my reputation be ruined forever.

At third, the two primary options are Proscia and Martinez. Proscia already familiarized himself with the area last year, hitting .303/.319/.568 in forty-four games. I guess he figured out the wind pretty quickly. The path to Jackson was blocked by Francisco Martinez and Poythress, so he’s here again, and I doubt it’ll hurt him to spend a little more time with this competition. He’s trying to stick at third and has the tools for it save for the fact that he doesn’t have great range. That and plate discipline will be the two major things for him to work on this year. Like Hicks, he was a college teammate of Hultzen. Hultzen, who was blessed enough to get a lot of money and skipped over this level.

Mar Mar was here last year, after sort of repeating Clinton two years ago. People have generally liked his glovework coming up since he was a shortstop at one point, but he’s only ever hit in Pulaski, which is a refrain I’ve become all too familiar with. Last year, he hit .278/.313/.419 for the Mavs with an abysmal 137/19 K/BB, and the batting line relative to the league is well below average. It could force him into a back-up role, or a share of time at first and third.

One more candidate for time at first is Wiswall, who played that and left for Clinton last year. He was touted for his hitting ability coming out of college and the first summer made it look like the scouts were right, but then he hit just .240/.281/.340 for the Lumberkings last year and grounded into sixteen double plays. Statcorner is showing me a 6% shift from the line drive column to the groundball column between the two seasons, which somehow doesn’t surprise me. I think the swing may need tweaking if he’s to do well. I think of him as a lesser Matt Mangini.

Brady is your back-up infielder/utility guy, seeing a few games in the outfield here and there. He’s been more a second baseman than a shortstop, but he has experience there and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the spot. He walked more than he struck out last season, which is cool, though overall he’s not much more than a doubles and average hitter.

Outfielders: RF James Jones, CF Mike McGee, LF Julio Morban, RF Kevin Rivers

Prospects? Sort of? Morban is probably still the one to pay attention to. He’s only twenty and in advanced-A. Pay no head to that injury-plagued .697 OPS in Clinton last year. Wait, he struck out in nearly 30% of his plate appearances last year? Oh dear… Back when he was signed, scouts loved the way that Morban controlled the bat and his debut season did little to dissuade them, but since that debut he’s only played ninety games spread over two years. As skilled as he was, he hasn’t been active all that much and it shows a good amount of confidence to be pushing him to High Desert, where the environment is challenging in multiple ways. I’d expect him in left and backing up in center.

McGee, I have as the centerfielder because that’s where he played every game last year. Every game. He came on for the Lumberkings in the second half and hit .283/.351/.426, which isn’t too bad at the position. He’s more of a contact-oriented doubles hitter, stretching it out if it lands in the gap. Surprising then, that he hadn’t stolen more bases. If the Lumberkings end up in a blowout, there’s also a good chance that he could take the mound, seeing as how he was a two-way player in college.

That is, if the Mavs need a right-handed pitcher. If they need a left-handed pitcher in a blowout, the answer is James Jones, who was liked better on the mound in college. Through his two full minor league seasons, he’s been a much better hitter in the second half than he has in the first, but there’s only so much to like about an overall .247/.347/.378 line with the home stadium he has. Jones was probably one of the biggest disappointments for most people last year, but he wasn’t entirely healthy either, and he did hit .307/.398/.542 in Australia over the winter. Spring is a time for some optimism, or not (thanks, T.S. Eliot).

Rivers will get some starts at the outfield corners and DH. My “neener neener” remark would be to point out that, after he hit .332/.466/.556 in Everett as a 21-year-old left-handed bat and I was screaming about exercising caution in evaluating him, he then went on to hit .249/.332/.406 for the Lumberkings in the following season with worse plate discipline. The power is still there though, and in High Desert he could be a fun player to watch even if he isn’t especially prospect-y. But man, if he really goes nuts and I have to start explaining park factors again, I don’t know what I’ll do.

That’s the story as I see it. I’m pretty interested by the catchers in isolation, but because Montero and Jaso are here, my enthusiasm is diminished. Otherwise, there are scattered narrative threads which I hope to track, guys that I still have some hope for who could start every day, and a rotation that doesn’t make me cringe. I would say that the roster is not terrible, but that feels like I’m damning it with faint praise. I actually expect them to be somewhat competitive, it’s just that park factors are such a variable that they could invalidate anything I say here. Just like the PhD quips are invalidated if you, unlike me, are NOT in the humanities.


7 Responses to “2012 High Desert Mavericks Preview”

  1. spankystout on April 4th, 2012 11:44 pm

    You know we love your work and time JY! I still check marinersminors just in case you decide to unretire.

  2. HighBrie on April 5th, 2012 6:42 am

    Faintly praiseworthy?! I like these hitters. I’m excited to see the Miller-Romero combination, I like the catchers, Proscia appears somewhat blocked in the system but seems able to hit, and I have a lot of hope that this is the year that James Jones makes people notice him. I think Jones has good tools that show glimpses of being turned into skills (some speed, some power, decent outfield range, great arm), and he draws a walk. If he does anything like his 2010 second half or his Adelaide Bite! stint, he’s going to vault way above Joe Dunigan. I’m also a little surprised Blash wasn’t pushed a little and sent here.

  3. marc w on April 5th, 2012 9:36 am

    Good to see they put Hicks and Marder where they can get some instruction from their manager, Pedro Grifol. Grifol was a catcher himself and was a player development guy for years. I’m not sure how much to make of all that, but it seems like it can’t hurt.

    Totally agree on Proscia, HighBrie. Interested to see if he goes off in Adelanto. Same w/Jones, who fell off the map with a bad year in 2011.
    I’m surprised re: Blash as well. I understand he’s raw and that he didn’t exactly do well in Clinton last year, but he’s going to be very old for the league, and it seems there’s some value in pushing him up and seeing what happens.

  4. Johnny Slick on April 5th, 2012 11:29 am

    Hey, for what it’s worth I read all of these. I just have nothing to add so don’t reply. The moral to this story is: please do not take a lack of comments for lack of interest.

  5. Jay Yencich on April 5th, 2012 12:36 pm

    Objectively, I like the team.

    Subjectively, I hate the park factors there so much that it’s impossible for me to be objective.

  6. Jack Merridew on April 5th, 2012 10:58 pm

    What happened to Dennis Raben?

  7. Jay Yencich on April 6th, 2012 2:09 am

    DL, as usual, near as I or anyone else can figure.

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