Checking In on the M’s Fall/Winter Leaguers
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, MLB.com has it here.