2014 Clinton Lumberkings Preview
Hello and welcome back to a sometimes-annual round of previews concerning the full-season Mariners minor league affiliates. For those unfamiliar with the process, I take the opening day roster of each team and try to write as much as seems relevant about each player and the result usually weighs in at a few thousand words despite my best efforts to curb it. The spectrum tends to run from “informative” to “inane”, and so in addition to the topic at hand, I’ve drifted into early 2000s Mariners pitching prospects, architecture, aphorisms, surnames, etymology (real and pseudo), Pokémon, theory, actors with iconic mustaches, and fictional spies. This all sounds considerably more interesting than the results, but as I’ve said before with regard to my baseball writing in contrast to my other writing, it trends extemporaneous and could easily be damned by Capote as typing and not writing at all.
To give the more distant overhead perspective on things, the rotation has a range of undersung to unknown, the bullpen has a few names to file away but isn’t especially inspiring, the infield is comprised mostly of mid-range guys who are either trying to make or re-establish a reputation, and the star power seems to be at the outfield corners. The catching crew is elided in part due to my own lack of interest. “Top-heavy” seems the most apt descriptor for this squad because the players I’m interested in here, I’m really invested in, and those that I’m not, it’s part lack of familiarity and part lack of perceived impact talent. If things break in the right direction on the infield and their offense, it could be a rather competitive team. If not, not. But bear in mind that these tend to be skewed by my own interests as an observer, and there have been teams that I looked at with a “meh” and went on to go deep into the playoffs. It all depends on what your rooting interests are.
All the rosters were released yesterday afternoon, but I’m still typing away like a maniac so as to excuse myself from other duties. The other three are forthcoming.
Rotation: RHP Tommy Burns, LHP Eddie Campbell, RHP Edwin Diaz, RHP Carlos Misell, LHP Jake Zokan
This rotation is official as I’ve heard it, though I’ll be writing in a different order from how they line up. Edwin Diaz starts out as the Lumberkings ace. If you don’t yet have a player crush, I might recommend him. He’s drawn Pedro Martinez comps, but is taller. He and Felix are buddies. BA ranked him as the #5 prospect in the system. But that’s enough about abstractions, so let’s get to more concrete things. He throws in the low-to-mid 90s and throws a great slider. In his debut year, he was erratic and had not-so-good command, with a 20/17 K/BB in 19.0 innings. This past year, they moved his arm up so that he was throwing a bit more over the top and he was running a 79/18 K/BB in 69.0 innings after that. He’s not a finished product, since ten of those walks came in just three starts, but then he only K’d fewer than five on three occasions and cracked double-digits twice. It could go wrong for him. His build could mean he never develops the proper endurance to start and goes to that purgatory of future closer that dogged all early-2000s Mariners pitching prospects. It could go right for him, he could fill out a little, gain velocity, and turn into a #2 type starter. I’m as or more excited about him as any pitcher in the low minors for us.
With Janelfry Zorilla released at the end of spring training, Jacob Zokan is now alphabetically the last guy in your media guide. I think. I don’t have one yet. Zokan is the non-changeup-reliant model of your basic, solid LH pitching prospect, average velocity, possibly plus breaking pitch, good change-up, nothing too exceptional as of yet. Where he could stand out is he seems like he can get grounders, and I’m accustomed to this type of pitcher being more flyball-oriented. Then again, he was a little below the mean in Everett while being well above it in Pulaski. Some things I’d watch for in him: is he giving up dingers? He gave up a lot in Everett last year, which torpedoed him in the various RA metrics. Is his command still holding up? He was at 4.15 Ks per walk last year, but a lot of guys can do that at the lowest levels without carrying it on. He’s a good back-end rotation option if he hits his ceiling, but gosh, why do we insist on talking about things that are so far distant in time? And who would want to hit the ceiling? Injuries! Home repair! Cathedral ceilings for all and to hell with the heating costs.
Campell isn’t far off from the model of Zokan, though the curveball is more extreme and he seems to lack command. He walked and struck out a lot of guys last year, having one of the highest K-rates among Appalachian League starters last year and finishing just out of the top ten in starter walks. It doesn’t seem right to compare three starts on proximity and extremity, but in a span in August he had a 1/3 K/BB in 2.2 innings, a 5/5 in 4.1 innings, and a 12/1 in 6.0 innings. But for a little lacking consistency, he could be an interesting baseball prospect, said the evaluator, about the majority of players associated with the game professionally.
The last two guys I can’t tell you much about. Burns was a JC guy and a 22nd-round pick last year after being a 34th-round pick by the Brewers the year before, which is less time between the associations than we’ve usually had. He gave up a lot of hits in Everett last year and had nearly as many walks as Ks. He does not seem like he would have been my first choice for a rotation spot, but I know nothing about the progression of the minor league camp nor the general rationales for these things.
Misell is Venezuelan, but near as I can figure he’s been playing ball at JCs and on travelling teams in the U.S. for a while. He was suspended for PEDs, which is why he debuted late last year, when he had a 13/1 K/BB in 7.2 innings between Peoria and Pulaski and didn’t generally allow hits. Such was not the case in the LVBP over the offseason, as he had awful command and over a .300 average against, but such would be expected with his level of experience crashing into that level of competition. I look forward to learning anything at all about him, given the surrounding mystery.
Bullpen: RHP Mark Bordonaro, RHP Ramire Cleto, LHP Blake Holovach, RHP Lars Huijer, LHP Leoncio Munoz, RHP Emilio Pagan, RHP Rafael Pineda
Huijer is our latest pitching Dutchman and one of the better players we’ve sign from there since… no, I don’t think I want to finish that sentence. Huijer was in short-season ball for three years running, which really has him moving level-to-level. Some good things that have come of that is that his GB% has bumped up every year (61.7%! with Everett) and his Ks have also increased, though between Peoria and Pulaski, I mean “increased” in the most minute sense. He has the three expected offerings and all of them are average or so, though there’s some potential. I see that he also ranked third in the league in hit batters and was one of three in double-digits last year, so he’s not without some wildness. August was also his worst month by a good margin, including his only dingers, a jump in walks, and his BABIP going up over .400. Also the .929 OPS against after months of sub-.550. Full-season ball is a test he’s due for, but it may still be a test. He could easily switch back to the rotation.
For now, I’m just assuming Pagan is in the bullpen for the foreseeable future. Pagan has better-than-average heat and life on his fastball and the curve gets good reports. Talk of the change-up is quiet, which may support the reliever theory. People are probably most interested in the fact that he didn’t allow any runs in the Appalachian League, but as usual the buzzkills of SIERA and FIP and tRA are all “I don’t think so…” even if they still rather like him. He gave up more runs in Everett and saw his line drive rate jump by about ten, but then his BABIP also doubled so there’s that. Despite the last name, his twitter account indicates firm religious convictions. No Angel Pagan, but it is something.
Pineda, despite the name, is an American and a Texas product, so don’t get confused now. He’s a 30th-round pick who like a lot of these guys did some time with Pulaski yesteryear. He had almost six Ks for every walk while with the Pulaski M’s. His statline curiosity is a 1.3% BB% against RH and a 14.3% against LH bats in those insignificant sample sizes that I have to work with sometimes. He has good command so far and is a big guy, but I don’t know if that translates to velocity in any way. If it did, it would seem like he would be drafted higher.
Holovach is the pen’s domestic southpaw and one of the few guys returning on the pitching staff. He was a starter his first year, but last year he finished more games than he started and was likely just one of the guys they brought in for doubleheaders so as not to upset the rotation order. You can look at his line and be unimpressed, but thirty-five (twenty nine earned) of his runs scored in August alone. He had thirty-six runs score against him in May, June, July, and September combined. He also had as many home runs allowed in August as in all other months combined. Curiously, the K/BB didn’t change much from July to August except that he pitched more innings in August than any other time. Perhaps he was just overused or getting tired.
Munoz is the foreign southpaw. He was in the DSL for three years, but started out a little late and is already twenty-three. Reason enough to move him up. Last year he didn’t allow a single home run in the Appalachian League, which is more meaningful than not allowing home runs in the DSL, but he’s not an extreme groundballer, or a groundballer at all. He just seems to be difficult to square up, and combines that with Ks and a dearth of walks. That could be interesting, but one suspects that if he were more interesting, he would already be higher up in the minors and, you know, talked about.
Bordonaro, like Holovach, is coming back after spending the second half of the summer in the Midwest League. I’m looking through his game log and it seems like his command comes and goes. Here’s a four-walk inning, here’s a three-walk third of an inning. Amidst these, long stretches of ones and zeroes. He strikes out enough fellows to keep hitters honest, so imagine him as a pitcher divided between hits and walks with Ks taking up nearly half of an outcome pie, well, there you go.
Cleto deviates from the established theme, not in the lack of Pulaski tenure (he was there) but in that he was most recently a starter and his extreme K/BB ratio trended towards the more depressing end of the extreme. He also gave up hits and is younger than some of these fellows. I don’t know what the plans are for him or if he’ll start at a later date (let’s say no), but maybe he’s the long-man in the short term, and maybe he’s the piece that’s there as they wait for guys like Gohara and Horstman to become healthier and/or earn their promotions.
Catchers: Christian Carmichael, Marcus Littlewood
So Littlewood is back, and could take on more of the catching duties now that he’s no longer in a time share with Marlette. I wish there was more data available on catcher defense, but B-R only gets me as far as his 2012 season in Everett when he caught 30% stealing. That is, if I want much more than passed ball data. The recent years of Littlewood’s career have taken him from an extreme K risk to a guy who still walks without striking out much. However, as is sometimes the case leaving the comfy Northwest League, his HR power has translated into doubles power. He’s still switch-hitting, and last year marked the first instance of him being noticeably better as a RH bat than as a LH. Huh.
Carmichael might go by Keanu, but I forget. He had a PED suspension two years back and since then has struggled to live up to his sixth-round billing. The good news for him is that he’s finally made a full season team and may still be better versed on the finer points of catching than the guy he’s sharing time with. Otherwise, I feel like this is easily the least of our full-season catching corps, which means that they won’t have to do much to exceed my expectations. That’s… good?
Infielders: 3B Joe DeCarlo, SS Lonnie Kauppila, IF Martin Peguero, SS Jack Reinheimer, 3B/1B Justin Seager, IF Zach Shank, 1B Jeff Zimmerman
It’s hard to know where to start here because there are several players who are trying to build their case and others who were once esteemed but since lost some lustre. Eh, let’s go with Seager as a familiar name. He’s the middle Seager brother despite that would-be know-it-all co-worker you have suggesting that he’s the youngest/best because he was drafted most recently. CORRELATION =/= CAUSATION. He’s also the only one to bat right-handed and is somewhat lacking in the same offensive flare as his brothers. Not to discount him: while he did finish around league average in his batting line, he was miserable in July, hitting just .194/.261/.306, and the rest of the time he batted above .300, though the walks and slugging came and went. He kills LH pitching at least.
I don’t know if this Zimmerman is any relation of the other, major league Jeff Zimmerman or his brother, former Mariner Jordan Zimmerman, but let’s say no since it’s too easy a connection and not yet substantiated. This Zimmerman was a 19th-rounder last year and was one of Pulaski’s best offensive players last year with a .305/.361/.494 line. You might also remember his appearing briefly in spring training though he did little that would make you continue to remember him. I’d say that his performance gives something for us to feel good about on the infield, but we’ve learned the hard way about some Pulaski hitters of the past (distribute this grain of salt to the rest) and the minuscule, entirely-too-early returns had him struggle against left-handers.
Reinheimer was the first shortstop drafted last year, lasting until the 5th round, which is a record for the Zduriencik administration as they usually can’t get past round two without grabbing one. He has the on-base prowess to score a lot of runs, with an OBP ninety points higher than his average last year. He ranked fourth in runs last year in the NWL, so there’s that. His average is less than good and his slugging was below his OBP, thus, he seems to me more like an eight or nine hitter than a leadoff. Defensively… I feel like I read this profile all the time with the players the M’s have been drafting, but the scouts don’t think that the player can stick at the most challenging position because the tools aren’t quite elite BUT the player compensates for that shortcoming by being extremely instinctual, hustling, and positioning themselves well to anticipate where the play will need to be made. Does that make sense? You can basically copy and paste that for any middle infielder we draft and some of the outfielders.
The double play partner, or the guy likely to split time with him at short would be Kauppila, whose present claim to fame is that he was teammates at Stanford with Austin Wilson. Good to know we’re still drafting teammates. Kauppila has all the defensive tools you’d want to find among your elite shortstop prospects except that he had a bit of a knee injury and consequently is not the speediest man on the paths. Everything else he does, he does well. It seems like a bit of a shame to waste the arm at second, since that’s where he was playing in Everett. He wasn’t an especially good hitter in college, and his time in Everett did nothing to dispel that notion. But then maybe that all turns out to be a lie and he becomes amazing as our mostly-glove shortstops have become, right? There has to be some dregs of magic dust around here somewhere.
In my opinion, Peguero’s star started to fall around the time he stopped going by Esteilon. I see what I did there. He was also with Clinton last year, but only after opening in Everett and torching it in five games. That leaves my analysis slightly vexed though I wasn’t at all impressed by him hitting .232/.246/.276 in the longer run. No, I don’t know why all our Latin signings from that era were cursed. No, I think Castillo and Pimentel are just injured. I wish I had more to say on Peguero, I really do, but none of it is going to be positive right now aside from the youth aspect of things, but we were all young once and prodigy is only a few letters away from prodigal. Different Latin roots though.
If not Peguero or Seager, DeCarlo is a guy whom we could see at third. He was better regarded coming into last season and seemed to be in everyone’s list of top ten minor league hitters for the org, but his time in Pulaski was limited and not especially confidence-inspiring. I’ll admit myself to souring on him in a hurry, but now as I look at it his OPS was a good hundred points over league average and the peripherals were nice with the glaring exception of his striking out in more than a third of his at-bats. That’s pretty awful at any level regardless of age and experience. His ability to walk so well that it makes me wonder if he’s too passive up there, but that’s entirely speculation on my part. The tools are all there, offensively and defensively since his rep as a former shortstop speaks well to his arm and hands, but he’s not putting things together. If nothing else, an assignment here suggests they think something of his progression.
Shank is a player that I know little about, and free association would just take me from his last name to “meat cut” or “improvised object used for criminal stabbing.” Neither helpful nor flattering. He’s probably a good guy. Just think the meat cut and it suddenly becomes more benign unless you’re a vegetarian in which case, whoops. He played for Marist (Go Red Foxes) and in limited time last year, he showed some doubles and triples power, a little speed, plus plate discipline, and not much in the way of average. Defensively versatile though. I’m assuming he’s slotted as a backup right now since the team may have less invested in a senior, 28th-round pick.
Outfielders: CF Aaron Barbosa, CF Ian Miller, LF Tyler O’Neill, OF Burt Reynolds, RF Austin Wilson
While you still can (if you still can, aw heck, just use Minor League Central), check out Austin Wilson’s month-to-month splits from last year. You’ll not that the first month he was flopping around a bit and then by the end of August he was one of the most dangerous hitters in the league. I wanted an analogy to describe his evolution, but then that word and the fact that people are playing around with the Google Maps addition made me just think Magicarp -> Gyarados, which is neither fair nor original and I stepped out of my analogy wagon at that point. Wilson was thought to be potentially cursed by the Stanford swing and he looked well on his way to recovering from that stigma by the end. I like his physical abilities, I like the progress he’s made, I’m positive enough on him overall to grant that he could move fast once everything syncs up for him and believe that he probably has some all-star caliber seasons in him. Just don’t ask me for player comps, because I tried, and I’m not good at it. (For the record, Raul Mondesi seemed the closest before I gave up on it).
Among the aggressive assignments I didn’t anticipate, O’Neill. It’s been tradition that when the Mariners draft an inexperienced Canadian hitter, said hitter gets some time in Arizona and maybe breaks with Everett next year and blah blah. O’Neill hit .310/.405/.450 in Arizona and out of the gates, the Mariners said “why not?” or something more colorful and put him on a plane to the Midwest. At present, I think his claim to fame is that his father was a pro bodybuilder. Secondarily, he was one of two nominal catchers drafted by the M’s in the first two rounds who never saw so much as a game behind the plate. Right now, O’Neill is supposed to be rough, and as a guy whose athleticism is primarily derived from cartoon-y muscles and not the measurable but more benign traits of arm strength and speed, it seems just weird to toss him to the wolves of the Midwest League, their muzzles caked with icicles, and say “figure out how to hit!” But then he must have done some fine thing in spring training to put that bug in their ears in the first place, so cautiously optimistic whatever.
That settles the corners rather nicely, but center is a mystery to me at the moment. Whoever is out there is going to be faaast and bat left-handed and will presumably be one of those odd “my OBP is higher than my SLG” types. It could be Miller, who was the 14th-round pick last year. He split Pulaski and Everett and finished out the year with a 35/20 K/BB. Of the two, he’s the less accurate… that’s not a good term for it, less successful base-thief. The super-small sample size have him hitting quite a bit better against fellow left-handers, but this isn’t significant data even if I can look at a .577 BABIP and recognize its abnormalities. He’ll probably run high BABIPs anyway on account of position in the batter’s box and speed.
The alternative is Barbosa, who is pretty similar overall but is a couple of inches shorter, had more walks than strikeouts, hit better, and was considerably more successful on the basepaths. He also didn’t have reverse splits, but whatever. If you’re looking at the numbers, Barbosa provided the better returns in most categories, and the only reasons I had for not writing about him first were that, again, small sample of 123 PAs, hardly enough to adjust one way or the other, and he was a NDFA. That’s not to say good players aren’t NDFAs, plenty are, but they might be held in different esteems from their drafted brethren. It’s sort of a class structure. I’ve read too much theory.
Burt Reynolds is most easily understood as the low-minors, outfielder analog to Moises Hernandez, also presumably Mariner for life. For those who hadn’t been following along in spring training and the offseason, he’s Cano’s cousin or something. Former Rays product, three-year indie league veteran, never been able to hit for a good average or not strike out a ton, but he has slugged now and then, can also play third base, which probably speaks well of his throwing arm. Plus, he provides an opportunity to make Magnum P.I. and Smokey and the Bandit references if you’re mainstream, or Gator and White Lightning references if you’re a die hard and/or Sterling Mallory Archer.