2012 Pulaski Mariners Preview
Since 2008, the Mariners have operated a ninth affiliate (seventh domestic) in the Appalachian league in the Pulaski Mariners. Some of the years, I’ve been jealous of the talent that they’ve been able to see relative to the offerings we’ve had locally on the Aquasox roster. That is not the case this season. This season’s roster reads more as “Congratulations! You graduated from Arizona/Venezuela/the Dominican Republic! Here’s a plane ticket to rural western Virginia! Wheeee!” I’m counting thirty-two players on this roster and only eight were drafted this past season. Only six more were drafted at all. So largely, what we’re seeing here are imports who have run their time elsewhere to a close and are now trying to make their way in the life of American baseball. It makes me wonder about the future of our seventh affiliate, what with the life of the VSL in jeopardy and the draft shrinking by ten rounds, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another time.
Pitching Staff: RHP Matt Brazis, RHP Domingo Brazoban, RHP Min-sih Chen, RHP Levi Dean, RHP Nolan Diaz, RHP Rigoberto Garcia, RHP Isliexel Gonzalez, RHP David Holman, LHP Blake Holovach, RHP Lars Huijer, RHP Charles Kaalekahi, LHP Nate Koneski, LHP Wander Marte, RHP Jochi Ogando, RHP Ricardo Pereira, RHP Luke Taylor, LHP Nick Valenza, RHP Ernesto Zaragoza
“Does this roster really have eighteen pitchers?”, you might ask. Well, the Pulaski M’s twitter account posted a picture labeled 2012 Pitching Staff and I see eighteen bodies, so yes, I think that there are eighteen pitchers here. This is going to be long isn’t it? Sigh.
Edit: The available probables tell me that the rotation is going to be Ogando, Kaalekahi, Garcia for the first series, so assuming Marte as a given, that’s four names. This does not account for the possibility of the Mariners going with a piggyback style rotation or otherwise changing it up.
I have no idea what the rotation is going to look like, but my easy assumptions are that the rotation won’t include recently-drafted college guys. One of my guesses as to actual names is Marte, who was the starter in the exhibition game (which the M’s lost). Marte will be twenty in a couple of weeks and spent two years in the VSL with a low number of hits (opposing batting averages at .155 and .136) and a high percentage of strikeouts (30.8% and 33.1%) with dwindling walk totals (20.9% to 10.1%). He led the team in strikeouts despite pitching a little more than half as many innings as the team’s leader. You may be getting so excited by these numbers that you are not thinking clearly anymore about what they signify. These are the kinds of numbers put up by any left-hander with a passable change-up pitching in a Latin summer league. Don’t freak out until you actually know whether his fastball is any higher than 91.
My other guesses for the rotation? One would probably be Nick Valenza, who got $140k from the team last year. He’s a smallish lefty, the only guy on the staff below six feet and it’s between him and Pizzano who is the shortest on the team. The arsenal is just fine, since he pitches in the low 90s and his breaking ball and change show well at times, but the strike against him was that he didn’t have good control of any of the above [in addition to being short]. Sure enough, he had eight more walks than Ks, a 20/28 K/BB in 27.1 innings last year for Peoria.
Chen might be another guess for the rotation because he started eleven games in Peoria last year. He’s our most recent Taiwanese signing and I believe the most recent Pac Rim signing as well. We picked him up about a year into his pitching career, signing him in late 2010, after he hadn’t panned out as an outfielder. He’s another low-90s guy who has topped out around 94 according to earlier accounts. His issue has been elbow health so far, as he had to sit out early in his pitching career due to inflammation and there were rumors going around that the M’s tried to sign him for $350k in July two years ago, but then reduced the offer by $200k after there were physical issues.
Other possibilities? That’s harder to speculate on. For domestics, I’d look at Kaalekahi and Zaragoza. Kaalekahi was in the AZL the past two years after being a 15th round pick in 2010. His second year he was a starter more often, but had fewer Ks and more walks. I would guess that he possesses an average-ish or better fastball in terms of velocity, but the stuff PG had on him was two years old when he was drafted and velocity tends to jump those last two seasons. Zaragoza was one of the picks out of California last year who didn’t have a whole lot of scouting cred, but was hitting 91+ on the gun according to PG his junior year. He only made two starts in 2011 before getting shelved.
For imports, there are four guys I’m looking at as candidates. Gonzalez is a four-year VSL guy who spent the final year as a starter, going from a strikeout to walk ratio of ~1:2 his first couple of years to 3:1 his final year. That’s an improvement of command more than stuff as his K% was 16.5% that last year. Ogando got called in from the DSL after one year and has had issues with walks, with a walk% of around 20% last season and a less impressive 12.1% K-rate. Garcia was in the DSL this time last year and at 6’5″, he’s tied for second tallest on the roster as far as they care to measure. He K’d 15.4% in his first and only DSL season and walked 12%. The one non-Latin candidate for the rotation is Lars Huijer, who was the team’s Dutch signing from not too long ago. He pitched in the AZL last year where he provided not enough information to comment on, but generally a contact-oriented approach. I have nothing in my archives that tells me what or how he throws.
There are other former summer leaguers hanging around too. Pereira was another four-year VSL guy. He started a bit his final season and was second behind Gonzo on the IP leaderboard, but he’s never K’d more than 12.7% in a season. Brazoban was in the DSL for four years, splitting his time between the Phillies camp and the M’s one, but he’s older than you might expect and will turn 23 in August. He’s pitched 111.1 innings for his career, low even for the context, and has topped out at 18% Ks with a walk low of 5.4%. He’s never started consistently. Nolan Diaz somehow held on to his job despite walking 14.5% of the batters he faced in Everett, maybe because he struck out 21%. He’s a guy that I feel like has been around forever, but realistically, he was only in the VSL for one year, and then for Pulaski two years following that before going up to Everett. The fact that he’s in Pulaski again suggests they think just enough of him to keep him around.
The domestic bullpenners are mostly from this year’s draft. Brazis was our 28th-round pick and was a bullpen guy at Boston College. His command got worse his junior year and then rebounded his senior year when he had arguably his best season, with a 25/7 K/BB in 17.0 IP and a .237 average against. It’s generally considered that to that point, the stuff and the results had never quite seen eye to eye. Levi Dean is from Centralia and went to Lower Columbia College before transferring to Tennessee and then Tennessee Wesleyan, where the statistics are more limited and only give me a 4.83 ERA in 63.1 innings, eighteen appearances, and a record to go on.
Holovach started at Missouri, not that he did especially well with it this season, running a 44/34 K/BB and a .312 average against in 79.2 innings. His profile on the Mizzou site makes mention of the fact that he didn’t start pitching until the summer before his senior year, so there may be more there than we yet know. Koneski was the Cape Cod League’s Top New England Prospect in 2011, but wasn’t drafted until this season as a senior at Holy Cross. He led the rotation there with a 2.54 ERA in 74.1 IP and ran a 82/26 K/BB with a .221 opposing average. His numbers are easily the most interesting of the bunch which makes me think he might shift back to starting next year.
The two wild cards are Holman and Taylor. Holman is of the pitching Holmen and was a NDFA signing last year having been drafted twice previously by the M’s in draft rounds that no longer exist. He had a 19/7 K/BB in 30.1 innings for Peoria last season. Taylor had twelve of thirteen starts in Pulaski last season and walked slightly more than he struck out, which has been a problem throughout his career so far. He was a ninth-round pick two years ago, is the tallest pitcher on the roster and another converted infielder. He’s dealt with various growing pains in being a starting pitcher and I don’t know if he gets pushed back to the rotation when healthy.
Catchers: Toby Demello, Franklin Diaz, Tyler Marlette
Holy crap, I don’t have to talk about pitching anymore. Marlette is one of the big prospects on the roster after being drafted in the fifth round last year. He’s got good athleticism behind the plate and his power is pretty darned good since he was able to hit it out of Petco in showcase and repeated the performance at Safeco. If this kid can pull it over the left field wall, surely Justin Smoak can as well, right? Marlette’s issue, in addition to figuring out whether or not he can catch, is that he’s prone to slipping into fits of pull-happiness and struck out thirteen times without walking once in 45 PAs with Pulaski last season. He caught three of seven runners trying to go on him though, so that’s positive.
Diaz was another guy who ran out of his summer league tenure in Venezuela and is now here. His best season was in 2010 when he hit .281/.385/.337. He doesn’t have much power, but power doesn’t show well there anyway and he’s been better than one might expect at drawing walks. Given his not-exciting credentials (he barely kept above Mendoza his final season) and the fact that he has experience at the position, we may see him at first base for need of anyone out there.
Demello was drafted in the 29th round out of St. Mary’s, where he was teammates with Troy Channing who was drafted by the M’s in the 40th round in 2008 and went undrafted this year despite being the all-time St. Mary’s home run leader, surpassing the previous leader by eleven. Huh. Channing was the catcher then, and Demello is the catcher now. Demello hit .219 his senior year with a .278 slugging percentage. Defense was what got him drafted, since he managed to catch 60% of runners trying to go on him. Edit: Apparently Channing was exclusively a corner infielder with St. Mary’s. That would explain it.
Infielders: SS Bryan Brito, IF Felipe Burin, 2B Brock Hebert, 3B Jordy Lara, IF Martin Peguero
Mostly Latin guys again! The big name is probably Peguero who was initially handed the largest bonus the Mariners ever gave to an international player at $2.9 million before it was reduced to $1.1 million for unspecified reasons. Recently, the son of his former trainer, former Mariners prospect George Soto was accused of falsifying age documentation, which followed various other unsavory allegations of the same trainer. Ruh-roh. Peguero hit .279/.309/.382 in Peoria last year, well below what was expected of him as one of the top international hitters available, though over a quarter of his hits went for doubles. He was also sloppy on the field, making twenty errors in twice as many games.
All the other guys are at least somewhat interesting though. Lara, for example, had 46.7% of his hits go for extra-bases last year, 17.8% for home runs and mostly doubles for the rest. He had a .217 ISO as a twenty-year-old, which would be exciting if not for the fact that Pulaski hitting numbers have been suspicious over the years. He also struck out in over a quarter of his PAs. I’m listing him as a third baseman at the moment because he’s got 76 career games there, but he played first in all but one game last season, so who knows?
Burin is our guy from Brazil who walks an awful lot. In 2010, his K/BB was 18/40, and last year it was 58/42 splitting time between the VSL and Peoria. He has a career average of over .300 and is mostly a doubles hitter where power is concerned. His defense will get you mixed reviews and there is some doubt as to what he can do at higher levels with his bat, particularly if he ends up at second or third. He’s from Brazil though, so I root for him as a curiosity.
Brito is another guy who got one year in the DSL and has been touring short-seasons since then. His first showing in Peoria was awful, as he hit just .157/.212/.179. Last year in Pulaski, he was more competent, hitting .227/.245/.292. He strikes out an awful lot for a guy with a questionable bat. I had previously heard that his defensive game was supposed to be decent, seeing as how he’d been a career shortstop, but then the Lumberkings used him more as a utility infielder when he was up with them and now I don’t know what to think.
The only domestic is Hebert, our 14th-rounder our of Southeastern Louisiana. As speed goes, he ranks second to McGruder in this draft and provides leadoff type offense with lots of liners, a high average, walks, and hits by pitch. Like McGruder, he was also a second baseman in spite of possessing what one would think is plus range on the field, though he gets better defensive marks than McGruder and BA seemed to think that he could be tested out at short. Yeah, why not?
Outfielders: LF Phillips Castillo, RF Jabari Henry, LF Gilmer Lampe, OF Reginald Lawson, OF Dario Pizzano, CF James Zamarripa
I’ve mentioned Marlette and Peguero already, but there are good odds on Castillo actually being the best prospect on the roster after he hit .300/.366/.482 in Peoria last year as a seventeen-year-old. That’s better than Pimentel managed at the same stage and with more walks to boot, though Castillo managed to strike out in 31.4% of his PAs, which is higher than even Pimentel’s totals. Comparing the two a little further, Pimentel is supposed to have better raw power and is a lefty while Castillo has better contact skills, defensive tools, and reports on his work ethic. I really hope his follow-up act is good.
The rest of the prospects, I don’t really know how to rank. Henry would give the team another Jabari in right field. His profile sounds like our other Jabari, with dingers, strikeouts, a good arm, and walk totals that may result largely out of fear of giving him anything to hit, though I think Blash is supposed to have better speed. Henry hit .301/.425/.563 his last year at Florida International and had more dingers than doubles and triples combined. Outcomes ahoy!
On personal interest, I like Pizzano because he and I went to the same university and if Jeff can get excited about James Wood [back when he was in the system], I can get excited about Pizzano. For the Lions this past season, Pizzano hit .360/.471/.547 and seems to have doubles power, or so I say because he went from twelve home runs as a freshman to nine as a sophomore and four this year despite everything else staying more or less the same (except K/BB, which trended positively). He’s been first-team all-Ivy the past three seasons. He and I probably never had classes together, nor do we have mutual friends on Facebook. Nonetheless, it seems weird.
Zamarripa is the other Z-last name on the roster and was an off-radar pick last year in California who was signed despite a commitment to San Diego. Of his tools, the defense is what gets talked up the most and I would expect that between the arm, the speed, and the instincts, he’ll probably be the starting CF for the Pulaski team. In Peoria last year, he hit .266/.329/.331 and initiated three double plays, which is one more double play than the rest of the outfield combined for. Neat.
Lawson is supposed to be some kind of physical player, or so they tell me. The results haven’t shown up yet and he hit .226/.266/.308 for Peoria last season while running a 43/5 K/BB in 169 ABs. He signed as a NDFA two years ago out of a California JuCo where he was redshirting anyway. Maybe the M’s are on to something here. Maybe he’ll take time to develop. Maybe some other suppositions could be made.
Lampe rounds out the group, an Aruban who was in the VSL for a long time before coming up here. In 2010, he hit .292/.384/.433 for Aguirre and followed it up by hitting .300/.317/.500 in 2011 before getting flown into Peoria. In the AZL, he hit .233/.263/.370 in twenty-two games. He’s been a first baseman, a corner outfielder, and rarely a third baseman over his minor league career. I don’t quite know what to expect of him, but the bulk of the playing time is not one of the things I would expect.