’14 40-Man Preview Extravaganza
Here’s a point of perplexity for me: Every year, baseball does a great deal to improve the profile of the minor leagues through active promotion of the flashy components. We get the Futures Game, and we get the Arizona Fall League, and we get the Draft being put on the rack and stretched out to three days with a lot of televised hooplah on day one to get people excited about a player development system that has uniquely bad returns among the sports. And yet, in the offseason, when I’m looking up information on the important dates, I can’t find a single thing on when 40-man rosters are supposed to be finalized in the 2014 season, but I can find information on when the GM Meetings occur even though nothing relevant has ever happened during them. They just happened. You didn’t know it. Who cares? Why not mention a deadline? Why is that important vetting process, without which most prospects are useless, wholly ignored by the sport’s own website? How long would it conceivably take to throw just a line of information on your website? That’s it. I’m through. (storms off)
(storms back) Okay. So the name of the game this year: ’10 high school draftees and early international signings, ’11 college draftees. Those are on the chopping block for the first time. I’m going over more than just the likely candidates here, but if I omit a name that you think is relevant, ugh, I’m sorry, there’s only so many candidates that I don’t expect to be added to the roster that I can fruitlessly cover anyway. Part of the issue is that, with how the Mariners have recently operated their player development system, remarkable players get added far earlier and so this deadline becomes more surprising on average but less sexy. Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, and Carson Smith would be eligible for the first time— zowie!— if… they… hadn’t already been added to the 40-man some time ago. What we’re left with is sifting amongst the dudes who have not already been Mariners, which takes the enthusiasm out of it. Also looking at next year, which at least now, seems like it will be far more interesting.
As is custom in these updates, the following players have been snubbed from extensive write-ups:
Jamal Austin (lack of walks, excess of weed), Steve Baron (still not hitting enough), Leury Bonilla (beloved, but irrelevant), Patrick Brady (ditto), Yordi Calderon (nice in the VSL in ’13, but awful in Pulaski in 2014), Christian Carmichael (back-up C, never hit), Phillips Castillo (chronic disappointment, but not a disappointment because of the chronic), Min-sih Chen (injuries, never lived to potential), David Colvin (fringe candidate, but missed the last month+), Mike Dowd (batting line that would make Steve Baron blush), Jimmy Gillheeney (hits, dingers, walks, lack of stuff), Luke Guarnaccia (yet to take root outside of short-season ball), Cam Hobson (3.3 BB/9 to 4.9 K/9), David Holman (does not strike out guys), Kyle Hunter (contact pitcher), Seon-gi Kim (hasn’t done much outside of Clinton), Marcus Littlewood (could be turning into a viable catching prospect but I need to see more hitting), Jack Marder (injured the last month+, no standout skill), Nate Melendres (did not pass first double-A test), Brian Moran (recent TJ), Estarlyn Morales (great numbers, great name, never been above the Appalachian League), Ramon Morla (live arm got surgery in first pitching experiment), Jochi Ogando (nightmare walk rate), Guillermo Pimentel (hurt for almost entire year), Kevin Rivers (needed to impress in double-A, didn’t), Brett Shankin (great last-name-as-verb, but walks and few Ks), Forrest Snow (was better last year and hasn’t gotten younger since), along with an assortment of guys who are now minor league FAs.
My lack of a media guide this past season means I’m also possibly omitting guys who are still in the system but disappeared due to injury. A few others, I don’t know the status of because of their international standing. I don’t think Ketel Marte is eligible, for example, because he signed mid-August in 2010 and so I doubt it was for a same-year contract. But I also don’t feel like writing about him, so there’s that too.
There’s also a real possibility that guys like Anthony Fernandez, Carlos Rivero, and regrettably, Ji-man Choi could get flushed out before the deadline, so don’t act like the numbers we have now are actually relevant. They might not be.
OF Jabari Blash, 6’5″, 225 lbs, 7/4/1989
AA: 37 G, 163 PA (127 AB), 27 R, 30 H, 7 2B, 3B, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 35/28 K/BB, .383 wOBA (.236/.387/.449)
AAA: 45 G, 189 PA (162 AB), 23 R, 34 H, 8 2B, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 57/17 K/BB, .357 wOBA (.210/.312/.481)
Pros: Monstrous power, toolsy
Cons: Middling contact skills, tokes
Among the other minor league stories of the season, Jabari Blash, while playing baseball in a state that has legalized marijuana use, was suspended fifty games by the sport for said recreational drug usage, proving again that it doesn’t matter what the state says if your employer isn’t into it. So that was something that happened this year. Another thing that happened is that Blash has a slash line that was -.030/-.023/-.013 off his career averages. While it’s tempting to blame that on his “biting that apple,” as it were, he was making great strides in Jackson with his plate discipline (21.5% Ks, 17.2% BBs) before swinging himself into a crater in Tacoma (30.2% Ks, 9.0% BBs). I don’t know if the Mariners policy towards recreational drugs makes any more sense than their policy towards performance-enhancing drugs which, for the record, doesn’t.
RHP Mayckol Guaipe, 6’3″, 175 lbs, 8/11/1990
AA: 1-3, 40 G, 2.58 xRA (3.05 ERA) in 56.0 IP, 45 H (4 HR), 21 R (19 ER), 56/9 K/BB (24.8 K%, 5.3 nB%)
Pros: Always has had lively stuff, among the best results for relievers, perty command numbers
Cons: This is the first time you have ever heard his name.
Sometimes the mid-range foreign signings take longer to make good on what they have. Guaipe’s command numbers were flat-out bad despite his ERA for his first three seasons in the VSL and ultimately the experiment to see what they could get out of him in the rotation didn’t last too long because, even as the walk rate improved, the Ks were always on that threshold of acceptability. He could throw in the low-90s and had a neat little change, but he was never doing it consistently on account of wonky mechanics. His 2013 High Desert stint was his first year relieving almost exclusively, and while the results there were nothing special (command took a step back, circumstances), this year was leaps and bounds ahead of where he was, in part because he posted the lowest average against and walk rates of his career. He was murder against RHB for Jackson (.197/.228/.282), so I’d see a setup career for him, the question is if he’s better than what you’ve got.
C John Hicks, 6’3″, 180 lbs, 5/21/1991
AA: 53 G, 211 PA (189 AB), 29 R, 56 H, 10 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 25 RBI, 42/20 K/BB, .352 wOBA (.296/.362/.418)
AAA: 28 G, 112 PA (101 AB), 13 R, 28 H, 2 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 24/7 K/BB, .328 wOBA (.277/.330/.379)
Pros: Praiseworthy receiver, good offensive season in high minors, always need catching, hitting in the AFL
Cons: Back-up profile
If something so dire as a “loser” comes of the emergence of Jesus Sucre as a guy you can throw baseballs to maybe 30-40 games a year, Hicks is that loser. Thus, any talk of Hicks as an addition starts as a basic conversation between what we have and what we might have. Sucre can frame pitches and has a gun for an arm. More than once has he been at 40-50+% caught stealing for the season. But he has passed balls as a thing that happens to him, which implies that the glovework is fine, but the footwork isn’t. Hicks had two passed balls last year. I didn’t even know minor league catchers could do that, let alone Hicks, who had seventeen and twenty as previous full-season marks. He’s also a guy who historically has had high CS rates, 38% last year, but 54% in 2012 with no clean statistics for ’13. He’s also undeniably a better hitter, with better walk rates, better average, and more slugging, he just strikes out more. I’d take Hicks’ future over Sucre’s, but when you’re splitting hairs on probable back-up catchers, there’s only so much ground to be covered and also you should probably reevaluate life choices.
UT Ty Kelly, S/R, 6’0, 185 lbs, 7/20/1988
AAA: 134 G, 549 PA (456 AB), 81 R, 120 H, 19 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 80 RBI, 96/85 K/BB, .263/.381/.412 (.374 wOBA)
Pros: Still walks more than anyone else in the system
Cons: Have you seen what the Mariners value?
Ty Kelly got a full season in triple-A to do the things that he does and ultimately not have any decision-maker care that I know of. Why, he even pitched a bit? Talking about Ty Kelly on his own feels a bit fruitless because what he does well and what the organization values are so much at odds that I don’t really know how or why they acquired him. They gave him a lot of plate appearances this year, but when September rolled around, they didn’t have the least use for him even as a pinch-walker or whatever. And he still doesn’t really have a position still aside from spending most of his time at second and third, which, about that, you’re not unseating Cano or Seager. Sorry kid. The other thing is that Kelly walked at a lower rate this year, granted it’s only 15.5% to last year’s 17.1%, but it seems significant when the home runs you’ve gained might be nothing more than the translation of doubles into a phenomena wholly grounded in the PCL. I like Kelly. I want good things for him. I’m a realist. I don’t see the Mariners seeing the same value in him that I can hypothesize at.
RHP Andrew Kittredge, 6’1″, 210 lbs, 3/17/1990
AA: 6-1, 42 G, 3.48 xRA (4.35 ERA) in 82.2 IP, 91 H (11 HR), 47 R (40 ER), 112/25 K/BB (30.4 K%, 7.3 nB%)
Pros: Scouted well in the past, K-rate through the danged roof, locally sourced
Cons: Aside from the “wait, what?” effect, unproven in high minors and trouble with LHB
I don’t pay as close attention to the minor leagues as I used to, and Kittredge jumped out as a guy who I’d not thought about in much depth before but suddenly had reason to. Kittredge was both versatile and dominant in the Mavericks bullpen, the latter reflecting the strikeouts and the former reflecting that he had twenty-five outings of two or more innings plus another two split between in a brief Aquasox and Generals stints. He’s not new to relief or anything, he has just one start among the 113 appearances he’s made so far, but something clicked for him this year to where he became a force and since I’m no longer investigating these things, I guess no one else did either. Going off the stats, the .288/.351/.464 line he had against LHB leaves me less than happy (for comparison, Guaipe was .254/.311/.433), but how much of that is going to be High Desert? Everyone loved Kittredge’s arm in college, the knocks against him were just that he was undersized then and his academics got him un-qualified from the Washington baseball team. I hope to have reason to learn more in the future, but right now I’m just starstruck by that strikeout rate.
RHP Stephen Landazuri, 6’0″, 175 lbs, 1/6/1992
AA: 6-5, 19 GS, 4.06 xRA (4.33 ERA) in 95.2 IP, 78 H (13 HR), 51 R (46 ER), 79/39 K/BB (19.7 K%, 11.7 nB%)
Pros: Lively stuff (low-90s FB, curve, change), absolutely dominant early in the season
Cons: Recent non-pitching injury, sucked in the AFL, dingers?
I’ve gone over some of this before, but to reiterate, Lando ran a 30/3 K/BB and only allowed twelve through his first 23.0 innings spanning four starts. Immediately after that, he tweaked his back and never seemed to get mechanically right after that. Or, more directly, stats post-injury: 3-4, 15 GS, 5.08 ERA in 72.2 IP, 66 H (11 HR), 44 R (41 ER), 49/36 K/BB. Gross. The ‘Ners sent him to the AFL to recover some lost time, but he’s still been off w/r/t command and allowing hits, and without the proper delivery, getting innings is something of a formality. The version of Landzuri that survived the Cal League with good peripherals and marauded the Southern League for four starts is worth protecting, if you think he can do that healthy. If you don’t think that he can be healthy doing that or that this more recent version is the real one, then you’re not going to bother.
CF Leon Landry, L/R, 5’11?, 190 lbs, 9/20/1989
AA: 107 G, 450 PA (421 AB), 60 R, 118 H, 21 2B, 9 3B, 2 HR, 32 RBI, 48/19 K/BB, .280/.315/.387 (.313 wOBA)
Pros: Significant bounce back from last season’s disaster, cut back Ks significantly
Cons: Walks also declined, still the same speed/average skillset as before
You always need catching in the minor leagues, but secondarily, a guy who plays center field is also nice to have around. His first full year after we acquired him for Brandon League, Landry suuuuuccked, but this year he was at least all right and if you take out the April where he batted .147/.216/.162 over 77 PA, all the better (then his line is .305/.332/431!). But we have James Jones around already and he can do a lot of the same things, along with walking and hitting for more power, so I don’t know why I wrote even this much text other than Landry was formerly a part of a Mariners trade and someone could conceivably be wondering. The distant rattle you hear is the sounds of wheels spinning. Those wheels are mine.
1B/RF/3B Jordy Lara, 6’3″, 180 lbs, 5/21/1991
A+: 102 G, 447 PA (339 AB), 77 R, 141 H, 26 2B, 5 3B, 22 HR, 80 RBI, 82/38 K/BB, .409 wOBA (.353/.413/.609)
AA: 33 G, 138 PA (126 AB), 14 R, 36 H, 14 2B, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 19/8 K/BB, .350 wOBA (.286/.326/.492)
Pros: #3 home run hitter in system, #2 SLG, reminds you of Geordi La Forge
Cons: One season of success and faded in double-A, contact-heavy skillset, may be pronounced “Yordy”
Since Lara was a guy who made his name in High Desert, I’ll start with the obvious stuff. At home as a Maverick, he batted .351/.405/.629. On the road, he had more Ks, more walks, and a .355/.420/.589 line. Had I the hours to work on it, which I don’t, I would attempt to parse it out and figure out if he did a lot of his damage in Lancaster or wherever, but for now, let’s say that it’s less of a concern than it might be elsewhere. Likewise, the data is supported by some scouting evidence, Lara was a six-figure signing and I’ve heard that the main reason why he’s been at third for much of the 2014 season is that he was blocked there by better prospects (Peterson, Kivlehan). Lara still strikes out a lot, doesn’t walk too too often, but the power from a guy who could at least spot you now and then at the infield and outfield corners (I wouldn’t call it platoon, his splits are about even), he’s intriguing.
RHP Trevor Miller, 6’3″, 190 lbs, 6/13/1991
AA: 5-8, 31 G (13 GS), 4.42 xRA starting ,3.48 xRA relieving (3.81 ERA combined) in 111.0 IP, 100 H (5 HR), 59 R (47 ER), 86/43 K/BB (18.2 K%, 10.6 nB%)
Pros: Good stuff and good command in flashes
Cons: Not putting the whole package together, or starting full-time
Among the possible pitcher additions I’m talking about, I guess Miller is the least likely guy on the list. Two years ago, he had a 3.9 BB% with twenty-two starts in Clinton and another five in High Desert. No one was amazed by the Ks, but managers liked his command as among the best in the league and word was that his secondary offerings had improved to aid his already passable heater. Since then, his Ks have held about stationary but the walks have regressed to where he’s not interesting anymore. That was the thing he had going for him. Now it isn’t. He’s just interesting enough to warrant some consideration, but when there are twenty-nine other teams who might also have guys who are just interesting enough to consider, eh.
1B/LF Dan Paolini, R/R, 6’0?, 190 lbs, 10/11/1989
AA: 116 G, 476 PA (410 AB), 58 R, 110 H, 34 2B, 3B, 13 HR, 65 RBI, 75/56 K/BB, .268/.360/.451 (.352 wOBA)
Pros: Pretty consistently a .275/.370/.450 player
Cons: One craves dingers from a player who can’t play outside of first and left
While Landry and Paolini stand somewhat close to each other alphabetically and in my overall interest in protecting them, their route to value couldn’t be further apart. As contrast to Landry’s speed, average, and defense, Paolini is mostly a first baseman and left fielder who walks a lot and can sting a ball on occasion. I dig on the walks, definitely, and Paolini has never had a sub-.810 OPS, wow! But, where do you play him? Cano renders any capacity to play second moot, D.J. Peterson is more likely as the 1B of the future, and is he going to dislodge Ackley? I’m not questioning whether he can play left field, well, I am, but Michael Morse and Raul Ibanez. Paolini’s minor league numbers are like those of a poor man’s Edgar. The differentials between his batting average and his on-base percentage or slugging are fine, but the average has never been great and with the translation to the major leagues, what you’re likely looking at is a guy who provides value in fits and starts who, also, happens to have few viable positions. Maybe Lara is better for this general profile, even if his plate discipline is considerably worse.
RHP Jordan Pries, 6’1″, 195 lbs, 1/27/1990
AA: 1-0, 2 GS, 1.04 xRA (1.50 ERA) in 12.0 IP, 3 H (2 HR), 2 R, 9/2 K/BB (23.1 K%, 7.7 nB%)
AAA: 9-8, 24 GS (25 G), 5.68 starting xRA (4.06 ERA) in 142.0 IP, 135 H (14 HR), 66 R (64 ER), 111/53 K/BB (18.6 K%, 10.4 nB%)
Pros: Solid first half, probably the system’s breakout pitcher of the year
Cons: WHO IS HE? WHO.
One caveat as we get out of the gate here: Pries had one relief outing and it was awful. Six earnies, six hits, a walk and a K and a dinger in two-thirds of a frame. Remove those from the mix and he’s got a 3.69 ERA and you start to look at things like his .246 average against. Here are some other considerations I’d have. One, he had a second-half fade. Pre-ASB, he had a .239 avg against and gave up seven home runs in 93.2 innings. Post-ASB, .283 average against and the same number of home runs in only 48.1 innings. The second is that his SR is rather ordinary. His fastball is only average in velocity and the other pitches in his mix, a slider and a change-up, are unexceptional or else his Ks would be higher. It’s the command and a slightly better-than-average GB rate that keep him afloat. I see him as an emergency starter, although I am vaguely curious about how he’d be in relief. Also, he’s a Stanford grad and a switch-hitter. Good for him.
LHP Jordan Shipers, 5’10”, 170 lbs, 6/27/1991
A+: 2-1, 15 G, 5.19 xRA (2.84 ERA) in 31.2 IP, 39 H (HR), 10 R, 35/10 K/BB (24.3 K%, 8.3 nB%)
AA: 0-3, 12 G (GS), 6.69 xRA relieving (6.55 ERA combined) in 22.0 IP, 25 H (2 HR), 20 R (16 ER), 11/18 K/BB (10.0 K%, 16.4 nB%)
Pros: Now distant positive reports from high school, more recent positive results from Cal League
Cons: Relieving, xRA still hates him, unestablished in high minors
I didn’t expect to be doing this again, but here we are. You know what there is to know about Shipers’ arsenal and signing bonus and vertical challenges, so this year our new data to address is as follows. He started out in double-A and was terrible. He dropped down to High Desert and was great, at least from a runs allowed and K/BB vantage even if xRA just did not jibe with that, which I guess I could see why. Shipers’ line against as a Maverick was .305/.357/.391 and his ERA was below three. Does that make sense to you? It does not to me. On the other hand, his BABIP was .400 while he was there which is way, way, way out of line with career norms which have him hovering below .300 almost everywhere. If I were in charge, which I am not for the record, I would be looking for something from a LH reliever that suggested he could really get LHB out, and sadly, Shipers’ splits are closer to what you’d get excited for out of a starter. So, uh, pass?
RHP Dylan Unsworth, 6’1?, 175 lbs, 9/23/1992
A+: 6-9, 26 GS, 3.92 xRA (5.88 ERA) in 119.1 IP, 153 H (17 HR), 87 R (78 ER), 119/19 K/BB (22.4 K%, 4.7 nB%)
Pros: High-end command, beloved by non-ERA metrics, struck out more this year, “Sharkie”
Cons: Greg Maddux until he’s Mike Maddux
One wants some good things to come of one of the few South African prospects we have left. Unsworth has pitched his way into opportunities thanks to being able to spot the ball wherever which, hilariously, resulted in him having a 56/2 K/BB over 72 innings in 2013. His numbers weren’t so silly this year, but he was also pitching in a rather unpleasant High Desert situation and still managed to increase his strikeouts. He was also much better in the second half (70/6 K/BB in 56.2 IP, .283 avg against) than the first (49/13 K/BB in 62.2 IP, .332 avg against), which is generally what we’ll take as a positive trajectory. It may be that his offspeed pitches have taken those steps forward into being legitimate offerings. But the fastball may also be no better than the mid-to-high 80s it was prior to this year, and if that’s the case, I like him, sure, but he’s not the type of prospect that gets much attention in the Rule 5 anyway.
So, now, I’m supposed to make an evaluation of all this right? I figure Hicks to be a lock. Guaipe, Kittredge, Landazuri, and Lara are in the next tier there, with marks against the two relievers for their split issues and limited utility. Paolini is in a spot just after that. I would be surprised if Unsworth, Pries, Shipers, Miller, or Landry were protected. Blash and Kelly remain wild cards based on organizational priorities.