Fall/Winter League Update

marc w · October 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

The Arizona Fall League’s about 10 days into its season, and the Caribbean Leagues have begun, so let’s check in on the progress of the M’s prospects. It’s so obvious I hesitate to even remind you, but the statistical lines are, at most, in the 25 at-bat range, and the levels of competition vary wildly. The results themselves don’t mean a whole lot, but *may* indicate areas of improvement and weakness. And if you’re sick of pieces detailing the collective character failings of another Yankee dynasty-that-wasn’t – analysis that is both zeitgeist-y and yet an annual tradition, looking at, say, Gabriel Noriega’s batting line can feel therapeutic.

If you’d just like a compilation of the stat lines of M’s prospects in the AFL, the Venezuelan League and the Dominican League, mlb.com has you covered, and this video report from Jonathan Mayo has video of Zunino/Paxton/Franklin. If you’d like to read more, there’s more analysis/extrapolation after the jump.

With apologies to James Paxton and Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino was always going to be the focus of the M’s winter leaguers. This has to do both with the quantity and quality of his professional at-bats to date – we’ve only seen the kid play a couple of months, but Zunino made an impact. So far, the catcher has 28 plate appearances, and five of his eight hits have gone for extra bases. That Zunino has power isn’t a huge surprise, but I think the effortless way his power translated from college to wood bats is somewhat surprising – it took quite a bit longer for Dustin Ackley to demonstrate gap power after hitting a bunch of HRs at UNC, and we don’t really need to dwell on Jeff Clement’s transition from college slugger to professional enigma. He’s shown power, speed and he’s only K’d five times against a pretty good assortment of high-minors arms (his HR on Wednesday came off of Ryan Perry, a Nats player who’s played portions of every year since 2009 in MLB).

The most puzzling aspect to his performance thus far has been his defense. Pretty much every article written about him after the draft called him an excellent defender. This News Tribune article includes quotes from Jack Zduriencik that focus squarely on his pitch-blocking, and note that it’s his defense that make him a candidate to move quickly in the M’s system. Zunino’s played one game at DH, leaving him with five starts at catcher in the AFL. In those five games, he’s allowed three passed-balls and five wild-pitches. After throwing out the first runner who tried to steal a base, baserunners now have been successful on their last five attempts (not including a steal of home). Again, the sample’s absolutely tiny, and we should expect more wild-pitches and passed-balls when catchers are dealing with pitchers they’ve never worked with before. But they’ve come on the heels of 9 passed-balls (and 4 errors) in 31 pro games, so it may be that Zunino has some work to do on this aspect of his game. As frustrating as Miguel Olivo (and every other M’s catcher of the past few years) was to watch, pitch-blocking isn’t the most important aspect of a catcher’s defense. It’s just odd that the M’s singled out for praise the one aspect of Zunino’s game that doesn’t quite look MLB ready. I’m hopeful that this gets cleared up and it’s yet another short-season and AFL statistical mirage, but for now, observers think his defense is more of a work-in-progress than MLB-ready.

Nick Franklin’s repeating the AFL, and working much more at 2B than SS. He had a brilliant season in AA in 2012, before scuffling in his first taste of AAA. Strikeouts were something he struggled with going back to his Midwest League debut, but he had his K% under 20% in 2011, then under 16% as a young-for-the-league middle infielder in AA. But the Pacific Coast League proved more challenging, and Franklin worked his K rate down to 23% after starting off in the 30%+ range. It was a testament to his unbelievable work ethic and intense competitive streak, but problems remained. He hit zero HRs from the right side, and struggled mightily against lefties, even at AA Jackson. His overall line at Tacoma was encouraging based on his age, but was a tad disappointing given what he’d done in the Southern League.

So far, Franklin’s been excellent in the AFL, showing signs that his pitch recognition’s improving – he’s got three extra-base hits to only two strikeouts in 16 at-bats thus far. He’s still not faced many lefties, so it’s way too early to see if he’s improved that aspect of his game, but for a guy whose upside depends on his ability to destroy RHPs, he’s doing a pretty good job of destroying RHPs. It’s not a whole lot to go on, but I think his performance helps his stock, and goes a little way towards removing some of the questions I had after seeing him in June/July.

James Paxton needed to show that his stuff, command and stamina weren’t affected by his mid-season disabled list stint for a sore knee. He’s pitched only twice, but I think the first two items aren’t questions any more. He touched 95+ in his first start, striking out 5 in 3 innings. He got into a jam in the first inning of his second start, but escaped allowing only a run after two strikeouts. He’s got 10 Ks and only 2 BBs in 6 innings, so at this point, he’s not been allowed to demonstrate much stamina, but it’s encouraging that his velocity didn’t dip between the 1st and 3rd IP in his first start. Paxton’s been dazzling, and I’d love to hear if any scouts would put him ahead of Hultzen at this point (I think I would).*

Vinnie Catricala and Stefen Romero have played somewhat sparingly, with Romero’s solid hit-tool in evidence in the handful of games he’s played and Catricala’s bizarre funk continuing. It’s less than 20 at-bats, so Voros’ Law applies, but a .059/.053/.059 line doesn’t inspire confidence. He’s got 7 Ks and no walks as well. Something seems wrong here. Romero’s plugging along, and we’ll see if he’s the pop-up guy who makes a run at a bench spot in the spring of 2013.

The M’s also sent a number of relief arms to Peoria, and, as you might expect, we’ve got almost no stats to go on. Bobby LaFromboise has gone 3 1/3 innings, and has been used primarily against lefties. Given his arm-slot and arsenal, he’s tough against left-handers, and he’s continued that in Arizona – 7 batters faced, 3 Ks, 3 GBs. Logan Bawcom had one horrible appearance punctuated by a long HR by A’s prospect Max Stassi, but he’s touched 93-94 with an interesting slider. He’s not missing a lot of bats, but the control problems that appeared when he moved to Jackson haven’t bothered him either. Carson Smith was perhaps the most eagerly anticipated of the M’s relief corps, but he’s been unremarkable thus far. A starter in college with above-average velocity, I was quite surprised to see his fastball at or maybe a tick below Bawcom’s. He’s touched 94 somewhat regularly, so it’s not like he’s a junkballer, but some had put him in the Carter Capps/Stephen Pryor class, whereas he appears to be more akin to Shawn Kelley.

The Venezuelan League hasn’t played as many games thus far, but then there’s a whole lot less to check in on. Luis Jimenez is the only player on the Cardinales to have played for Seattle, and even that needs an asterisk. The most interesting prospect on the team may be Danny Farquhar, which tells you all you need to know. The lefty picked up in the Ichiro deal was impressive down the stretch for Tacoma, and he’s been solid for Lara as well. The best prospect in the VWL as a whole is 3B/CF Francisco Martinez, at one time the big prize in the Doug Fister trade. Martinez suffered a rough 2012 which saw his slugging percentage dip below .300 in the Southern League. Athletic and quick, the M’s have toyed with moving him to CF, but he’s back at 3B in Venezuela (though most of his work has come as a pinch runner/substitute). It’s too soon to give up on Martinez, but the M’s saw a regression in his power this year instead of the assumed improvement. His stats in Venezuela won’t matter, so we can only hope that he’s able to come into 2013 more comfortable. Mauricio Robles pitched one forgettable inning in Lara’s opening game, and hasn’t pitched since. If the M’s need 40-man space, Robles is probably the guy to get DFA’d.

In the Dominican, the only notable player is Carlos Triunfel, who’s played a couple of games for Licey. Triunfel again got M’s fans hopes up early in 2012 only to go through a horrendous slump that he never quite recovered from. I’d expect he’ll be back in Tacoma in 2013; it’s still amazing to think that’s he’s just 22, and will turn 23 just before spring training.

* I’m aware that Hultzen pitched brilliantly in the AFL last year, and even-more-brilliantly in AA this year. It’s just hard for me to un-see, or just explain, what I saw in Tacoma.

** I mentioned Kevin Quackenbush, the Padres prospect who put up a great statistical line in the Cal League last year, in the AFL preview, but the deceptive righty is continuing his two-year long hot streak in Arizona. He’s the closer for Peoria and has 7 Ks in 4 innings, and he’s yet to allow a base hit. The M’s had two guys who made a run from AA to the majors last year, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Quackenbush did the same for San Diego next year.


22 Responses to “Fall/Winter League Update”

  1. stevemotivateir on October 19th, 2012 3:51 pm

    Great post, Marc! I was glad to see you mention the success Zunino’s having with wood bats. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player (from any organization) make the transition look so easy (you know, because it’s not!).

    I’m curious if Romero really does have a shot at making the roster out of spring and whether or not that would actually be good for him.
    He might be the position player, other than Zunino, that intrigues me most.

  2. 9inningknowitall on October 19th, 2012 5:34 pm

    Having watched Zunino play in person this season I have to believe that his passed ball numbers are an aberration even during the summer. He moves well behind the plate and does drop down well to block balls.

    The big thing with Zunino is his bat and we all know it. As I mentioned in my blog today about Zunino he just has so much control when he is batting that it is impressive. His first home run that came against the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes would of cleared the old fence at Safeco with plenty of room to spare. It was an absolute shot.


  3. ivan on October 19th, 2012 7:32 pm

    I’m curious why you would expect Triunfel to be in Tacoma next year, instead of being given a chance to take Kawasaki’s spot on the roster. He has played 2B and 3B at Tacoma, and if he can hit better than Kawasaki can, which I’d consider at least somewhat likely, barring a trade for another backup infielder, why couldn’t he play here if he showed anything at all?

  4. Rainiers_fan on October 19th, 2012 9:58 pm

    I can’t speak for Marc, but Triunfel has defensive issues and he didn’t hit all that well at Tacoma. So the Mariners might want him to work on a few things while playing full time instead of spending most of his time on the bench at the MLB level.

    He is a player I spend quite a bit of time watchig and although he is still young and has a chance he just doesn’t seem to be developing the way I hoped.

    FYI, he split time between SS and second for the Rainiers. I don’t remember seeing him at third.

  5. maqman on October 20th, 2012 1:46 am

    Catricala’s total failure to launch is puzzling, what a difference from 2011. The Australian Baseball League is to kick off on November 1st. Do you know if the M’s will be sending any players down this year?

  6. marcus_andrews on October 20th, 2012 9:26 am

    Just a couple things about Nick Franklin.. one I believe he had a stretch of 6 straight at bats with a hit which is nice. Two, this was preceded by an 0-5 start (again not positive if this is the exact number) and during that rough start he actually went up left handed against a lefty pitcher. It seems to me like this is at least a slight indication that there’s some thought being given to stopping his switch hitting and making him a full time left handed hitter.

  7. djw on October 20th, 2012 9:40 am

    I’m curious why you would expect Triunfel to be in Tacoma next year, instead of being given a chance to take Kawasaki’s spot on the roster.

    Because he can’t field and he can’t hit? I really don’t get where the optimism about him comes from. Yes, he’s still young: that’s a reason to keep trying in the minors; every once in a while a busted prospect turns it around and keeping him in the organization is a no-cost move. But after 5 years of lack of progress, where he’s only managed to approach mediocrity at the plate when repeating levels, and his defense seems to be if anything regressing, I’m absolutely baffled that people think he’s a candidate for a major league roster spot. There’s simply nothing in his track record to suggest he’s a replacement level MLB player right now.

  8. Westside guy on October 20th, 2012 1:22 pm

    Thanks for the info, Marc! I always enjoy reading your stuff.

    I’m hoping, like everyone else is, that Zunino’s defensive numbers are just noise – but let’s face it. What annoyed us about Olivo is that in almost ALL aspects of the game his skills are poor. If Olivo had been putting .850+ OPS on the board, we probably wouldn’t gripe nearly as often about his bad defense. Of course there are exacerbating factors as well – he seems to be yet another crappy catcher in a string of Mariners crap catchers, and the fact he gets praised by certain media folks for skills he doesn’t actually have also raises our ire.

    If Zunino can come up and mash, good defense will just be gravy. Now I really LIKE gravy, and am a greedy bugger to boot – so I want Zunino to be the stellar backstop everyone seemed to expect. But if he can hit, it’ll be a lot easier to deal with mediocre defense.

  9. Rainiers_fan on October 20th, 2012 1:45 pm

    I pretty much agree on Triunfel DJW. I was trying to be as polite and positive as I could but after a year of seeing him in Tacoma there isn’t much hope left. He might surprise but I doubt it, every game I see him play is more of the same. Franklin on the other hand I can see making it and contributing. He is much smaller than his listed size but has some pop and good contact skills and can field either 2nd or SS.

  10. Miguel on October 20th, 2012 2:28 pm

    NCAA switched from the old aluminum composite bats to BBCOR certified metal bats in 2011 IIRC. Basically the BBCOR bats have about the same pop as wooden bats. But what’s more interesting is an article about Zunino said normally when you make the switch to wood or BBCOR bats the numbers will usually decline. At any rate Zunino didn’t suffer much of a decline in 2011 with college. Zunino had a year jump on transitioning anyways before the pros.

  11. Miguel on October 20th, 2012 2:41 pm

    Here’s one link but there are other scouting reports that mention his using the new bats at Florida for the last 2 yrs of college.

  12. msfanmike on October 20th, 2012 5:50 pm

    Catricala has a hit! I think you are correct, Mark. Something does seem wrong, very wrong. It has seemed that way for quite some time.

    I saw some video of Franklin recently and his swing from the left side looks an awful lot like Adam Kennedy. No complaints, … Kennedy was a solid player for years. If he could stick at SS, it would be great – but it does not seem likely that he will. I saw his swing from the right side, too – and I thought it looked pretty bad. It was a clip of 2 different AB’s at the AA level, but it looked bad. No extension. Could not hit a breaking ball. SSS comments certainly apply. Hopefully he improves or switches to LH exclusively.

    I think Romero is one if the “exception” players and is limited to 2 games per week.

  13. ivan on October 21st, 2012 6:39 am


    Look, I don’t have any “optimism” about Triunfel because I haven’t seen him play enough to make any informed judgment — not that my informed judgment is any better than anyone else’s anyway. I’m curious about him, that is all.

    He’s on the 40-man roster for now, and as of today I expect him to come to spring training, compete for a job, and rise or fall on his merits, whatever those are or aren’t.

    I watched Kawasaki play here for a year, and as cute and as funny as he was, I don’t want to see him here again. They need a better player to fill that roster spot. If Triunfel is worse than Kawasaki, then they should have released him already. But they haven’t.

    Ditto Peguero. I think they should let him go to Japan and mash, like Balentien. But he’s still here, too. I have heard Jack say that no one on the roster has more upside than Peguero has. I understand what he means, even though I hold Peguero in about as much regard as you hold Triunfel.

    See, here on these blogs we get all caught up in ourselves, but the fact is Jack doesn’t give a rip what you think, or what I think, or what Dave or Marc thinks. I have heard him say “We have seen no evidence that Triunfel can’t play shortstop at the major league level.”

    You will please pardon me if I am curious to see if that is true. Every day in every way, for the past 60-plus years, baseball has demonstrated to me how little I know about it, and how full of shit I am, so maybe my curiosity will be wasted, and this will be another one of those cases.

  14. bookbook on October 21st, 2012 7:27 am

    My best bet on Triunfel: not currently as good as Kawasaki.

    I think by the time he’s 26, he’ll probably be a good enough bat to be a 2b/3b utility guy and pinch hitter worth 200-250 PAs for a National League team. (He could sub at SS now, but four years older? Probably marginal.) Is that worth a 40-man roster spot for the M’s? At the moment, probably. But they won’t be much hurt if he’s DFA’d.

  15. heyoka on October 21st, 2012 8:13 am

    Triunfel, the next Wille Ballgame? Seems appropriate that he be somewhere between AA and the majors at this moment. Must take clown lessons from Kawasaki.

    Nick Franklin going from switch hitting star to not switch hitting superstar?

    Peguero, every team needs a Balentin in AAA.

    Zunino: too good not to get injured while in the M’s system.

    Hot Prospect Luis Jimenez* – the future of Mariners’ First base. You got a better candidate?

    Vinnie Catricala needs to start going by Vincent as in Vincent Price. Vinnie sounds to much like Winnie, which makes me think of Winnie Cooper. Going by Vincent will reignite his career.

    Look at Stefen Romero’s stats, he’s clearly the next Vinnie Catricala. After a poor showing at Tacoma next year, Stefen will have to consider exchanging the ‘f’ in his name. It makes baseball sense.

    Robles will be yet another pitcher where if the M’s let him go, he’ll suddenly wind up with the Atlanta Braves and be unhittable.

    Hultzen’s performance in Tacoma was merely to toy with our minds. He can do whatever he wants; he just enjoys Tacoma and wants to stay there for a while.

    It is almost time for Miguel Olivo to find another team to play for so that he can do marginally well and get resigned later with the Mariners for a third stinky time. His veteran passed ball presence is irreplaceable.

  16. stevemotivateir on October 21st, 2012 9:09 am

    “I have heard Jack say that no one on the roster has more upside than Peguero has.”

    You didn’t hear that. I’m not trying to pick on ya, but what you heard was that he has the highest ceiling. Huge difference.

    As far as Triunfel goes, Rainiers_Fan probably answered your question best. It would likely benefit him much more to play every day than to sit on the bench like Kawasaki did. Maybe Rodriguez would be a better fit for that role if someone from outside the organization isn’t brought in? For all we know, Jack could find another shortstop and make Ryan the back-up.

    I understand your concern. Heading into next season with both options for SS hitting below .200, isn’t too appealing.

  17. ivan on October 21st, 2012 11:23 am


    Thanks for the correction on Peguero. I take your point.

  18. Westside guy on October 21st, 2012 12:07 pm

    Peggy’s out of options, isn’t he? The team’s going to have to make a call on several of these guys, including Carp.

    If they were to keep Peggy on the 25-man, I suspect a large chunk of whatever fan base they have left would throw up its hands and walk away – and I’d probably join them.

  19. Westside guy on October 21st, 2012 12:13 pm

    I’m wrong. The players that are out of options are

    Mike Carp
    Franklin Gutierrez
    Josh Kinney
    Trayvon Robinson
    Brendan Ryan
    Jason Vargas
    Casper Wells

    (Thanks to Jeff Evans via Ryan Divish)

  20. The_Waco_Kid on October 21st, 2012 2:17 pm

    Seems likely Trayvon gets DFA’d.

  21. thurston24 on October 21st, 2012 5:46 pm

    In regards to Paxton, I had a twitter conversation with Jason Churchill who said Paxton could end up better than Walker or Hultzen

  22. SonOfZavaras on October 21st, 2012 9:39 pm

    In regards to Paxton, I had a twitter conversation with Jason Churchill who said Paxton could end up better than Walker or Hultzen.

    I think so, too. But his command MIGHT be the worst of the three. It’s kinda funny…in terms of physical talent, I think Walker. Polish? Hultzen.

    Paxton doesn’t approach a game like Hultzen does at all…but he kinda seems like a mash of the two’s best assets.

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