Checking In on the M’s Fall/Winter Leaguers

marc w · November 15, 2012 at 5:10 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Last time, we focused on James Paxton and Mike Zunino for obvious reasons, but Carson Smith’s adding his name to the discussion by dominating the AFL at times. In my last update, about a month ago, I noted that Carson Smith hadn’t really dominated like I thought he might (after a brilliant second half performance for High Desert). The following day, Smith began a dominating run, with 15 Ks and no walks in a bit over 10 innings. He gave up a pair of walks this afternoon, and his velocity was more in the 91-93 range as opposed to 92-94, but he’s demonstrated that he could be an intriguing bullpen arm for the M’s very soon.

I’d heard about Smith’s velocity, but unlike with Carter Capps or Stephen Pryor, Smith doesn’t have the pure pace to blow fastballs by hitters. Instead, he throws a very tough sinker. Brooks Baseball has some edited velocity/movement readings here, and what stands out is just how much sink Smith gets on a 93mph pitch. He’s right in line with some of the most well-known sinker-balling relievers, from Ronald Belisario (who throws a tad harder) to Sean Burnett (who throws much slower, and from the left side). Just eyeballing it, Smith seems to be a lot like Jared Hughes of the Pirates, who put together a decent year for Pittsburgh by keeping the ball on the ground and out of the zone (yes, OUT of the zone). To be sure, Hughes has been better at getting grounders, but there’s no real reason Smith couldn’t, and Smith could generate more K’s if his change-up gets a bit better. Jared Hughes isn’t an elite pitcher, but he’s quite useful, and he brings something to the table that most of the M’s bullpen doesn’t. K’s and GBs are always a great combination, and Smith’s skillset would look good in the M’s potentially dominant bullpen, where the only two GB guys were moved to the rotation by the end of the year.

Staying in Arizona, Nick Franklin continues to rake (from the left side). With his sixth double of the year today, he’s got his slugging percentage over .500 and has reportedly been solid defensively at 2B. The stats are fine, but I was more interested in his strikeouts. I saw Franklin several times in Tacoma, and came away a bit worried about the swing-and-miss in his game. He struggled mightily in his first couple of PCL months, striking out in 30% of his plate appearances in June/July. But his relentless work in the cage seemed to pay off a bit, as his K% dropped to 15% from August through the end of the season. Of course, these samples are miniscule, but visually, he often looked overmatched against good pitchers. In the AFL, Franklin’s contact rate looks pretty similar to his August numbers, and he’s posting an even K:BB ratio from the right side. The platoon splits are still an issue, as every one of Franklin’s extra base hits have come against right-handed pitchers. The move to 2B seems fairly clear as well, so it’s not like this AFL campaign has been an unalloyed success, but I didn’t think Franklin looked ready to help the M’s in early 2013 when I first saw him, but he’s changing my mind.

Stefen Romero’s still hitting well in limited action; the 2B/3B/DH hit his second AFL HR yesterday, and the M’s 2012 Minor League Player of the Year continues to rake (and move around the diamond). Vinnie Catricala’s been playing a lot of LF/DH, but hit bat is finally heating up, as he’s got his AFL batting line back into respectable territory. Still, a move down the defensive spectrum’s coincided with a year-long slump, and that’s not good for a guy looking to get a 40-man spot in the next few weeks.

James Paxton was shut down after he reached his innings-limit, so the M’s replaced him with Seon-Gi Kim, who had been tabbed to play in the Australian League. Instead, he’s made a couple of appearances in Arizona – the first was a disastrous partial inning in which he gave up three runs in 1/3 of an inning, but he came back with a scoreless inning the other day. He featured a 91-93mph fastball and a hard slider (that he often struggled to control). Kim was a fairly big signing back in 2009, but he’s struggled a bit in the Midwest League, so facing AFL hitters is quite a step up for him.

Mike Zunino remains solid at the plate, and a bit questionable behind it. After several games without a stolen base allowed, he (and his pitchers, to be fair) gave up four today. I could complain about his somewhat elevated K rate, but it’s really nit-picking. Zunino’s bat has been much better – sooner – than expected, and that gives the M’s some tough calls to make next spring.

In the Caribbean Leagues, the best stat line belongs to Carlos Peguero, who put together a very good 28-AB line for Gigantes in the Dominican League. Of course, he put together a solid line for Gigantes last year, and then put up an eerily similar line for Tacoma. You know who Carlos Peguero is. Everyone knows who Carlos Peguero is, and there’s essentially nothing he could do in a handful of at-bats in the Dominican Winter League that would appreciably change that impression. That said, I look forward to seeing him in Tacoma again next year, both because dingers are fun, and the M’s don’t really do that sort of thing, and because it’s fascinating to see how much mileage Peguero gets out of his approach in the PCL. There are many ways to be a “AAAA” player, and there are many ways to describe the gulf between AAA and the majors, and Peguero is a living embodiment of one of them. AAA hurlers can make him look foolish at times, but they offer up enough mistakes that he’s able to turn the tables on them fairly often. MLB pitchers, apparently, do not make those mistakes.

Roenis Elias has scuffled for Lara in the Venezuelan League – he lost some time to a visa issue, but has pitched in two games thus far, most recently on Tuesday. Cesar Jimenez has been solid, but the odds that he returns to the M’s is minimal – though he would have the chance to add to his record of playing for Tacoma in more separate seasons than anyone. He’s at 7, and I’m pretty sure he’s not itching to make it 8. Danny Farquhar continues his push for a 40-man spot with solid relief work in Venezuela. The small righty improved his K rate and his command in 2012, and could get picked up in the Rule 5 draft if he’s not protected.

There’s not much to go on, but Carlos Triunfel and Francisco Martinez – two young prospects who could really use a breakout performance after so-so seasons – haven’t done a whole lot in the Caribbean. Martinez’s power is still AWOL; the ex-Tiger prospect slugged below .300 for Jackson this season which necessitated a move to CF. He’s playing CF in Venezuela, albeit sparingly, and still hasn’t shown a lot of pop. Triunfel was used primarily as a pinch-hitter/pinch-runner, so there’s essentially nothing to go on statistically. His versatility make him a candidate for the 25th man on the M’s bench, but the M’s could conceivably go with Nick Franklin to swap offense for defense. I can’t believe he’s still just 22 years old.

As always, if you’d like a complete list of M’s prospects in the AFL/Australia/Venezuela/the Dominican, has it here.


16 Responses to “Checking In on the M’s Fall/Winter Leaguers”

  1. Novler on November 15th, 2012 6:01 pm

    Appreciate the work here, Marc. Every time.

    This Franklin-at-2nd seems pretty concrete. Do you think the Mariners would entertain using Dustin at 1st (if Smoak struggles), then use Franklin at 2nd? Or do you think he gets shipped off this winter?

    There are probably many other options I’m not considering here. What’s your take?

    All the best, bro.

  2. 9inningknowitall on November 15th, 2012 7:22 pm

    It is encouraging to see players in the Mariners system starting to stand out. I’m also really excited to see what decisions the Mariners make next spring with some of these young guys, especially Zunino. I don’t think he is ready just yet for the major league level but at the same time having Zunino and Jaso as the teams two catchers might be fun.

  3. BackRub on November 15th, 2012 7:49 pm

    How have Zunino PBs been? I know he got off to a bad start with that…

  4. Westside guy on November 15th, 2012 8:02 pm

    Thank you Marc!

    Maybe it’s too much to ask, but can’t we get a catcher that’s good both offensively AND defensively? 😀

    Also I am not personally looking forward to another year of Carlos Peguero lurking in AAA…

  5. SonOfZavaras on November 16th, 2012 12:34 am

    I am pretty sure that nobody in the Mariners org is going to have more eyes on him in Spring Training than Mike Zunino.

    I don’t want him rushed…but jeez, if he can keep up this propensity for raking wherever he goes…

  6. stevemotivateir on November 16th, 2012 9:24 am

    Has anyone heard anything about a possible move to the outfield for Romero?

  7. msfanmike on November 16th, 2012 10:05 am

    Marc: If it comes down to the organization having to make a 40-man roster decision between Martinez and Catricala … who do you think it will be?

    The reports on Zunino’s defense are (and have consistently been) a bit unsettling, but not altogether surprising. I think he will definitely improve, though. His current defensive issues might turn out to be a blessing because it may prevent any reason for the organization to want to ‘rush’ him or for fans to over-estimate his abilities. His bat and glove both need more time to develop. If he is a September ’13 callup – that would be an extraordinarily quick path through the system and a great accomplishment on his part.

  8. msfanmike on November 16th, 2012 10:29 am

    “Has anyone heard anything about a possible move to the outfield for Romero?”

    My friends son got a call-up to finish out the AFL season with Peoria. He ended up playing in 9 or 10 games (started fast, finished slow). He is due back in town early next week. I told him I wanted his ‘scouting report’ (and on Romero specifically), when he returned. The only thing he has said so far (through his Dad) is that the Mariner prospects “are for real … they are all good.”

    From what I know about Romero, he is an infielder. More likely to be a 1B or a 3B than a LF … probably.

    I am not sure if Romero even played a single inning at either 1B or LF during the AFL season. He was initially limited to only being able to play on Wednesday’s and Saturday’s – and then a ‘bug’ of some sort went through the team whereby several guys got sick late in the season. Romero went a week without playing until he hit his 2nd home run of the AFL season the other day.

    The old adage of “if he can hit, they will find a place for him,” probably applies.

    I have just used a lot of words to say “I dont’ know, Steve.”

  9. stevemotivateir on November 16th, 2012 12:54 pm

    Thanks anyway Mike. I know he played some left field in Clinton, but stayed at second this last season. Split time at third the year before. I thought I saw him listed at third for at least one game in the AFL.

    Anyway, I’m just curious where he might stick. Every where we look, there’s someone in line, with exception to the outfield.

  10. SonOfZavaras on November 16th, 2012 1:21 pm

    I am hoping that one of the things that Spring Training accomplishes is that the org tells Stefen Romero “You’re a (position on the field), have a good season.”

    I’ve heard first base, second base, third base, left field and right field for this guy. If his leather isn’t fine Corinthian at any of them just yet, then the right thing to do is choose ONE position for him and then let him figure it out from there.

    Moving around all over the diamond is only a benefit to those who’ve got one position on lock and they’re capable of getting you through the night at another.

    Myself, I say: Make him a left fielder. If he has enough range to play second, he probably won’t kill the big club over there- even if we do have a pretty hefty amount of real estate in left field. I’ll probably like him better than I liked Ibanez or Carp or Liddi, defensively.

  11. Mariners35 on November 16th, 2012 1:21 pm

    If there continue to be questions and murmurs about Zunino’s work behind the plate, I wonder how long it will be before Cameron wants to move him to 1b or DH too.

  12. msfanmike on November 16th, 2012 2:48 pm

    Hey buddy, you can never have enough 1B, catcher, DH types. Bring them all, I say … at least until we have 3 that are truly productive.

    I kid because I care.

    In 40 man roster news related to what this team will not have: Melky signed for two years and $16M with Toronto. I think Dave and others predicted an $8M one year value contract for him. Toronto might have been the only team to offer the same AAV but for more than one year. We will probably never know that answer. Apparently, the Blue Jays have a plan and are not shy about implementing it. They have sure filled a lot of holes this week. And the free agent pool of outfielders that we might actually want, is getting thinner. Hamiltons price probably just went up. Not up from 175m, but up from whatever the most recent range of reality was – that his agent was working with.

  13. Westside guy on November 16th, 2012 10:44 pm

    I suspect, with Zunino, there may very well be a small sample size problem. Does anyone remember seeing any scouting reports where anyone was concerned about his defense?

    Usually this is the sort of thing I’ll lean on what the scouts think – until we’ve got a couple of seasons evidence to the contrary, anyway. They just drafted the kid in June, for Pete’s sake.

  14. stevemotivateir on November 17th, 2012 5:49 am

    Yeah, I never heard anything negative about Zunino’s defense coming out of college. I think you’re spot-on about the small sample size, Westy. It’s kind of ridiculous to worry about his defense now, considering his professional career is just getting started, and he has yet to play a game above AA.

  15. MrZDevotee on November 17th, 2012 11:49 pm

    Zunino 3-5 with 2 runs driven in in Peoria’s 4-3 AFL Championship win.


    (Franklin 0-5 with 6 men left on base… Boo.)

  16. bluemoonking on November 20th, 2012 12:40 pm

    I saw Zunino play the first week of the AFL. The scouts that I talked to said that his bat was impressive but his defense needs some work. Mainly because he has not caught pitchers with the kind of stuff they have in AAA or even AFL. From the impression that I got was that Zunino would play one year (maybe less) in Tacoma.

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