2012 Everett Aquasox Preview
Usually around this time of year, when I’m previewing the Aquasox, my refrain is that the draft just happened and consequently many important picks have yet to sign, therefore this roster may not be entirely representative of what the team may look like later in the season. Blah blah blah. Regardless of the signing deadline has been bumped up to July 13th, the Mariners have signed a lot of their early college-level picks anyway, which means that this roster looks pretty much like I’d expect it to down the line. It is what it is, and what it is is pretty darned good looking. It’s a young rotation, as the M’s have increasingly shied away from using recently-drafted college pitchers as starters their first year, but two of the five are quite talented and the rest are interesting if nothing else. The infield is loaded with high-round draft picks that should be capable offensively and the outfield has one talented though somewhat enigmatic hitter who could find his way into the heart of the order. I like this roster. The only weak point I see is possibly the bullpen. I’m eager to see what they can do.
For everyone’s info, there’s going to be a pre-game ceremony on the 23rd where they’re going to retire Greg Halman’s uniform number.
Rotation: RHP Mayckol Guaipe, RHP Seon Gi Kim, RHP Victor Sanchez, RHP Dylan Unsworth, RHP Jose Valdivia
Where the rotation is concerned, we are experiencing a return to the old “Model U.N.” style of Aquasox roster construction, though we seem to be doubling up on Venezuela, and with the Latin focus already present, would it kill them to get a Dutchman in there or something? Honestly.
I don’t know yet how the rest of the rotation is going to be ordered, but the ace is Sanchez, who was our big international signing last season, receiving the largest bonus to an international player in team history. Sanchez is supposed to be unusually polished for a player this young, part of why he skipped over the VSL, Arizona, and Pulaski to get here. He sits low-90s with the fastball, spots it well, and his secondary offerings are reportedly quite advanced. If he has one flaw, it’s that he’s not that big and people seem to think that he’s done growing. What we see now is what we get with various improvements in command and savvy along the way.
Valdivia might be next in terms of talent, it’s just that he’s had some issues getting to where he needs to be. The Nicaraguan is bigger than Sanchez and was hitting the low-90s as an amateur, but then he had Tommy John Surgery in 2010, so he has less than fifty innings under his belt despite inking in the 2008 international period. He had a slight dinger issue last season and walked a few too many guys, but he struck out 23% of the batters he faced, which is decent. Command typically improves in the years following TJ, so I’m expecting to see some good things from him this season.
The rest of the rotation, I don’t have as good a gauge on the talent level. Unsworth is our most recent South African signing and would be accurately labeled as a “strike thrower” after running a 44/1 K/BB in Arizona two years ago. What this translates to is super-low walk levels more than strikeouts, and his hit rates are higher than one might like. Like Erasmo Ramirez, he may be the kind of guy that they need to train to throw outside the strikezone a little. His nickname is “Sharkie.” Don’t forget now.
At 21, Guaipe is an old man by the rotation’s standards. He pitched four years in the VSL, mostly as a reliever, before coming stateside last year, starting fourteen games for Pulaski and leading the team in innings pitched. If you go looking up his stats, I wouldn’t read too much into his lack of home runs allowed as the longball is something of a rarity in VSL play. Instead, I’d hope on the general increase in strikeout rates over the years as being indicative of an improvement in stuff, while at the same time pondering over the erratic walk rates.
Kim is one of those guys where it surprises me to see that he’s only been around two seasons, because it feels like it’s been longer at times. He and Ji-man Choi (now in Clinton!) were our Korean signings from a couple of years back and Kim came in with the lesser reputation, being a high-80s FB guy with a good curve and inconsistent mechanics. The first season he turned in was great, since he had a 78/13 K/BB in 64.1 innings of work, but last year his command went elsewhere and he was walking a batter every other inning on average. It was particularly bad in his Pulaski tenure when he walked twenty in 29.2 innings. I don’t know which line will be closer to reality for this season.
Bullpen: RHP Mark Bordonaro, RHP Mario De Jesus, LHP Scott DeCecco, LHP Steven Ewing, RHP Oliver Garcia, RHP Blake Hauser, RHP Dominic Leone, RHP Brandon Plotz, RHP Marcos Reyna, RHP Bobby Shore, RHP Matt Vedo, RHP Grady Wood
The bullpen here is a combination of what Larry Stone said about the prospect assignments and the roster as of Tuesday that I got from the Aquasox. The official site lists Ewing, Hauser, Vedo, and Wood as reserves, so I’ll begin by talking about the other guys.
The short term “closer” candidate is probably going to be Bordonaro, who filled that role at Fairfield his first two years. He’s got a live fastball despite his size, though everything else grades out well behind that. He had a weaker than expected junior year after striking out thirty-eight in 59.0 innings and running a 4.42 ERA as a sophomore. The Mariners drafted some college arms from lower New England around the time that Bordonaro was graduating from high school, so my guess is that they’ve known about him and followed him a while.
Leone is another guy whom they could have been following from then, though he took a detour from New England to Clemson. As it turns out, we also follow Clemson pretty well, what with Brad Miller coming from there last season. Despite being somewhat undersized, he was a starter in college and throws in the low 90s with a curve as his breaking ball. Leone had a good 2011 which was limited somewhat by a shoulder injury, but his 2012 was worse as far as batting average, Ks, and dingers went. I would guess they give him a look in the rotation next year, but who knows? He might also be a short-term closer.
The rest I’m taking alphabetically. De Jesus was formerly known as Yunior. He was in the DSL for two and a half years and the last year and a half he was running K%s of 24-28% with improving command. The only thing that immediately survived his transition to American baseball was the lack of walks, and the Ks dropped to 15.7%.
Unlike a lot of student athletes who end up majoring in communications or business or something, DeCecco majored in criminal justice, probably because his hometown is listed as Cape May Courthouse. He was the Friday starter for South Carolina-Upstate in the 2011 season and this season he improved on that, going 86.2 innings with a 59/28 K/BB. This is a late-round pick, but not as late as the guys to follow.
Garcia is with de Jesus representing the international community in the bullpen. He pitched two+ seasons in the DSL, which I say because his first season consisted of one eventful inning in which he walked two, threw a wild pitch, and struck out the side. That turned out to be fairly representative of him so far: in 2010, it was a 21/23 K/BB in 20.0 innings with ten wild pitches, in 2011, a 25/23 K/BB in 23.2 innings with seven wild pitches. The Mariners must see something in him aside from the potential for hilarity.
A 47th-round pick from 2011, Plotz had a 19/11 K/BB in 16.1 innings for Peoria last year because he comes from that portion of the draft where the mode is poor control numbers but strikeouts from either a junior college environment or a lower division NCAA college. At least the strikeouts remained present once he turned pro.
Reyna was a 43rd-round selection last year after being the ace of Bakersfield College’s staff, posting a 2.41 ERA in 78.1 innings. His main issue there was control, with a 95/39 K/BB and thirteen hit batters. This was also the case when he was pitching in Peoria, and he had a 31/16 K/BB in 32.1 innings and seven wild pitches.
Shore is from Oceanside, California, a fact that never ceases to delight me even if he went to school in Oklahoma. He was a 41st-round pick, which means that there are four guys on the roster, three in the bullpen, drafted in rounds that no longer exist according to the new CBA. Shore was senior signing and as a result he was in Pulaski last year, running a 21/7 K/BB in 17.2 innings.
Brief notes on the four reserves: Ewing went to Miami, had a 88/34 K/BB in 91.1 innings, was a 20th rounder; Hauser was at Virginia commonwealth, 60/25 K/BB in 31.0 innings, 13th-round pick and has a good fastball in terms of velocity while throwing as many sliders as Clint Nageotte used to; Vedo is a 24th-round pick out of UC Santa Barbara, despite growing up in California his favorite teams according to the Gauchos website are “the Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks, and the defunct Seattle Supersonics,” was second on the team in IP with 82.1 while running a 112/57 K/BB; Wood has been talked about.
Catchers: Marcus Littlewood, Carlton Tanabe, David Villasuso
One of the stories from last season, when the organization was doing its darnedest to replenish catching in the system, was that Marcus Littlewood would be moving from shortstop to behind the plate. From the standpoint of what he did and didn’t have to offer, it made sense: positioning and arm strength were known strong suits, range was not. But now, Littlewood is contending with things like Zunino being drafted third overall, the Montero and Jaso trades, and actual catchers hitting ahead of him. Backstops are said to be slow to develop because the amount of attention they need to devote to the defensive part of their craft often takes time away from their hitting. Littlewood hasn’t really hit yet either. He was .206/.337/.373 with Everett last season and was worse in Clinton before that. The peripherals are promising certainly, though the strikeouts were a little high. This is more page space than I expected to devote for a thesis that amounts to “Marcus Littlewood is in an unenviable position right now.”
Tanabe was drafted in 2009 and since then has accumulated less than 300 at-bats total. This isn’t because he’s been hurt. The media guide has no listing of DL stints or injuries. This is because he’s serving the role of organizational fill-in catcher and is usually slotted on any roster where it seems like two backstops might be insufficient. Also, his career line is .195/.252/.264, so that probably contributes. I’ll remind you again that he’s probably seen more of the country than you have these past few years.
Villasuso was the 42nd-round pick last year and played back-up in Pulaski where the most impressive thing about his batting line was that he had 36% extra-base hits. Other than that, he passed five balls in twenty-seven games, had a weak caught stealing percentage, batted under .250, and was hit as many times as he walked.
Infielders: 1B Taylor Ard, 3B Patrick Kivlehan, SS Ketel Marte, 2B Jamodrick McGruder, SS Chris Taylor
I’ll be arbitrarily moving from left to right here, starting with Kivlehan at the hot corner. Given that as a defensive back, he’s supposed to have a bit of speed, a number of people were projecting Kivlehan as a possible outfielder. This roster would seem to place him at third, since the only other person capable of playing there is Acevedo, unless you want to try Littlewood out. I mention this in part because I know a bit about his offense (Big East Triple Crown being one of those bits) but relatively little about his defensive tools beyond range speculation. Kivlehan’s ability to go the other way will likely help him as a right-hander playing in Everett Memorial.
At short, we have either Taylor or Marte. Taylor supposedly got a good amount of money to sign (half a million, by reports), which I wasn’t really expecting as a guy whose draft status was founded on defense. Like a lot of glove-first shortstops, his work with the bat doesn’t draw rave reviews and he’s regarded mostly as a doubles guy. That said, he’s not small in the same way a lot of the 2012 draftees seem to be small, so there could be a little bit more in him.
Given the bonus, I would expect that the majority of the playing time goes to Taylor, which is bad news for Marte. A DSL product and a switch hitter (he hit .259/.341/.336 there last season), Marte has generally drawn good reviews for what he does with the glove and some have regarded him as an up-and-comer on the shortstop depth charts. It’s ambitious to be taking a guy who has only played a DSL season and slot him in the Northwest League, so I’m interested to see what kind real data we can get on him and whether the patience he showed earlier is more a product of poor competition.
Second base, for the time being, belongs to Jamodrick McGruder, though he may also see some starts in the outfield in an effort to get both Taylor and Marte in. McGruder is the fastest player we’ve drafted in a while, probably even faster than Jamal Austin. He’s also the only left-handed bat on the infield, though with his reputation being founded more in speed and on-base percentage, I’m not expecting him to start pulling the ball onto the porch in right field. If he’s not either leadoff or #2 in the lineup, I’d be stunned. With the glove, his inconsistencies in his fielding are part of what spurs the outfield discussion.
First base belongs to Ard, who has power to all fields and experience handling wood bats, so he’s going to be a good bet to fill out some extra-base hits for the Aquasox. I’m less certain about his ability to hit for average, but he generally gets good reviews so I’d expect him and Kivlehan in the heart of the order. He’s supposed to be a good defender, good enough to make the other guys on the infield look better, so there’s a chance that the Aquasox will be set up for a good groundball defense.
Outfielders: LF Jean Acevedo, CF Michael Faulkner, RF Alfredo Morales, OF Janelfry Zorilla
The outfield consists of three Latin American guys and a draft pick who is from Tennessee and went to school in Arkansas. ‘Kay. Faulker is probably going to be the starting center fielder. His offensive profile is similar to that of McGruder in that it’s mostly speed that he’ll be doing damage with since his power is lacking. I’ve seen higher averages in college ball though, and higher walk totals too. My guess is that he’ll slot in at second or ninth in the order. He’s able to cover a lot of ground in the outfield, but he’s sort of Johnny Damon in terms of arm strength. William Faulkner references are, of course, welcome.
Probably the most interesting outfielder, for me at least, is Morales, who hit .405/.452/.608 in nineteen games in Peoria last year and then .266/.353/.357 in Pulaski. Morales is the guy that the team really likes and thinks they got a steal in finding, which is why he’s never spent any time in the DSL. Strikeouts are one of the concerns with him that I’d have. Another is that he might get a little too friendly with the right field porch considering he’s the only LH bat on the roster with any power. I’m definitely keeping a close eye on him, though my expectations of him in the short-term are somewhat modest so I’m guessing he bats sixth or seventh.
The other two guys are Acevedo and Zorilla, an A to Z sort of thing. I mention Acevedo as an outfielder because those are the needs of the roster and that was the impression I got from the articles I’ve read, though the reality is that he was a third baseman most of last year and a second baseman in what few games he played with Clinton this year. Acevedo derives a lot of his offensive value from contact: he doesn’t walk or strike out a whole lot and his power is mostly doubles. In some respects, he’s like a lesser, Venezuelan incarnation of Scott Savastano.
Zorilla is the only Janelfry in Baseball-Reference’s database, but if you type in “Zorilla,” it will redirect you to Ben Zobrist’s profile. He spent four years in the DSL where his offensive profile was pretty similar to Acevedo’s up until last season when he slugged nearly .600, thanks to twenty-one doubles and twelve dingers. This was the highest HR total since Darling Read knocked out thirteen in 2008. The list of guys who spent that much time in a summer league and then went on to do great things is not especially long (go look up Read on B-R). The fact that he’s covered center is good, but not especially telling as defensive positioning rarely is in those leagues.