2015 Jackson Generals Preview
We have made it to double-A and I have been typing for hours. Literally hours. But I don’t mind it so much because the Jackson Generals have been a good affiliate for us, very active in hyping up their various alums, and this year, look to have a very talented team. Their outfield is the second-most interesting to me, but it’s close, and their infield is likely the best and most balanced. I like a lot of what I conceive to be their rotation as well, though I would clarify that there are a lot of pitchers on the DL for them right now and on pure prospect watching, Bakersfield is easily better. Jackson just gives us an opportunity to see who we might add to future depth discussions. As for the roster’s liabilities, the bullpen is nothing special and the catchers are defensively-oriented, but otherwise this looks like a really solid group that could do some playoff damage down the line, provided the team stays intact. No promises.
Diversions? Some sour grapes of an international flavor, our last remaining South African player and references to the United Nations, my most frequently used Aqua Teen Hunger Force quote, left-handers who can’t get left-handers out, the elixir of life (in passing), big bats with position questions, utility player heartthrobs, BABIP vagaries, player reevaluations, and a section in which I copy and paste a player’s injury history. I still have no idea who pitches where in the rotation.
Tacoma will be up tomorrow. I don’t know when, but probably before they start play.
Rotation Candidates: RHP Matt Anderson, LHP Scott DeCecco, LHP James Gillheeney, RHP Stephen Landazuri, LHP Tyler Pike, LHP Misael Siverio, RHP Dylan Unsworth
I’m running into the speculative rotation issue again, which will be over with by the time I get to Tacoma, as Curto is a real pal. Of course, the bummer in all this, for both me and the members of the roster, is that there are that may guys above who have been mostly starters for their careers and I don’t have the least idea of how they intend to use them.
Thus, I’ll start with a personal favorite and hope it sticks. Landazuri! I’ve always liked Lando and thought that his low-90s fastball, curve, and change combo made him as good a sleeper pick as you were likely to find in the second tier of the system’s pitching prospects, particularly considering that he was good at avoiding the free pass. The hope was that the results would be there and everyone else would come around and see the light, etc. I feel like he’s a guy I’ve nearly talked to death at this point. The abbreviated version is that he was the most dominant pitcher in the league in April and then had an oblique strain. From there, I speculate that a core injury of that nature threw his mechanics off and that’s why the results were awful the rest of the way. It would be great if he got things straightened out.
The name no one is likely to recognize is stout, 5’9″ southpaw Siverio. He pitched for Villa Clara in Cuba from age eighteen through twenty-three, mostly as a starter, with sometimes interesting results. One of the cute things to come out of his defection was that his former manager almost immediately emerged with an “eh, he’s not that great” remark, which sounds like sour grapes, but who knows? Siverio was too old to qualify under the CBA international signing rules, which meant that he didn’t affect our pool any despite getting a contract that would reward him with bonuses if he got to the big leagues. He’s a four-pitch guy, fastball, curve, slider, change. The curve is probably the best of his offerings and he has a way of pitching backwards off of it, as those Cubans do. The fastball was 85-90 in Cuba, which isn’t bad for a left-hander, but now he’s had reports out of Mexico that have said he’s in the low-90s with more regularity now. If true, that’s a plus, but his being a shorter guy will always lead to doubters.
Those are the two that really interest me, but I seem to have seven names above and no guarantee that either of those guys will end up starting. Pike will likely get a second chance at the league after a weak showing in the second-half last year in which he walked more than he struck out. The results he’d had in the first half for High Desert were better, though not extraordinarily so as he still ran a 57/46 K/BB through 61.1 innings there. Basically, since his debut in Peoria, Pike has annually been trending in the wrong direction for both strikeout totals and walk totals. As one of those prototypical southpaws with a heater around 90 to slightly above, a plus change, and an all right curve, that’s not livable. Some say he doesn’t have consistent mechanics. Some say he nibbles too much. Neither are all that flattering. He’s been out of my personal top ten pitchers until I start to see more positive results.
Anderson has his fans in the organization and outside of it and one thinks that he could be on the short-list for bullpen duty. Folks seem to love his breaking ball and he has thrown in the mid-90s at times, making him appealing for that line of work. The thing is, Anderson hasn’t pitched all that much. In his early days in college, he was a two-way guy, spending most of his time at third before people started looking more closely at his arm and figuring that his strength there was more special than what his bat could conceivably provide. Do the Mariners think he’s a starter? Is this vaguely the Tom Wilhelmsen track where he’s just starting to make up for lost time? I don’t know. But thus far, the Ks haven’t been where you might expect given what the stuff is. Something to consider, I guess.
Unsworth is our lone remaining South African player and the United Nations appeal of baseball encourages me to keep pulling for him. Of his California League tour last year, it could be said that he survived. The ERA was weak at 5.90, but FIP and SIERA didn’t have a problem with him at all and he managed to maintain the good command he’s been known for even as his balls in play were sailing a bit further than they were previously. The ability to hit his marks is what make Unsworth special. Without that, no one is going to be telling you excitedly about his stuff. The fastball is below average, the curve and change are just there. Will command be enough to keep him afloat in the high minors? Why is anything anything?
Checking off the remaining names, I have DeCecco and Gillheeney. I saw DeCecco in Everett in 2012. I didn’t think too much of him at the time. He was of a league average age coming up through the various levels and has had results that were around that or worse as he’s come up. He gave up a lot of home runs for the Mavericks last year, twenty-seven in all, or ten more than Unsworth surrendered and three fewer than Jabari Henry hit. He just missed hitting the century mark in Ks despite leading the team with 140 innings pitched. I’m not a fan.
Gillheeney might also be on the shorter list for not starting given that his appearance here, after 105.2 IP with Tacoma last year, is a demotion. Gillheeney has already logged 203.2 innings at the double-A level and, curiously, his strikeouts here have been lower than anywhere else including triple-A by a fair margin. To date, he’s lived off a mid-to-high 80s heater, a plus change, a breaking ball, and just enough command to keep him out of trouble most of the time. It’s hard to imagine that there’s much to be gained by trying him out in relief given that he’s never really had splits to speak of, but then what’s to be gained from keeping him starting at the expense of one of the younger fellows?
Bullpen: RHP Moises Hernandez, LHP Kyle Hunter, RHP Trevor Miller, LHP Jordan Shipers, RHP Grady Wood, RHP Tony Zych
I think I’m more comfortable deciding that this is the relief group. There aren’t really headliners in the same way that there were for the Clinton and Bakersfield crews, so I’m just going to go about this in any old order. Hunter has done all right for himself considering he was 31st-round pick. He’s returning to Jackson having spent all of last year with the team. While the walk rates he’s provided have always been pretty good, the Ks have fallen as he’s climbed the ladder and now he’s primarily a contact-based pitcher. Last year, RH hitters were able to get some xbhs against him, but his command was worse against lefties.
Shipers split his season between advanced-A and double A and in double-A his command went sideways. For the Mavericks, he had 3.5 Ks for every walk. For the Generals, he had 0.61 Ks for every walk. I… don’t… know? Let’s examine some splits. LHB slash lines, High Desert, .296/.346/.375, Jackson, .333/.417/.667. RHB slash lines, High Desert, .313/.363/.400, Jackson, .265/.393/.368. So we have two left-handers in the bullpen and neither is better at getting out left-handers than they are at getting out right-handers. Baseball? Baseball.
Let’s move on. Miller was the team’s swingman last season, collecting thirteen starts out of thirty-one total appearances. I considered mentioning him among the starting candidates, but his relief numbers were noticeably better, with his average dropping close to twenty points and his strikeout to walk ratios going from 3:2 to 3:1. The stuff’s good enough so I think that he may worth checking in on now and then from the bullpen.
Wood has been a career reliever so far despite starting a bit in college. Up until his time in High Desert last year, he was known for having a groundball rate of 50%+, which he didn’t quite reach as a Mavericks. Still, 1.5 outs on the ground for every one in the air. He doesn’t walk a lot of guys and his strikeouts have never dipped into the worrisome range.
The new face on staff is Zych, who was traded over by the Cubs near the close of spring training. He’s kind of an oddball in that, if you knew nothing of their respective scouting reports, you might expect Wood had Zych’s repertoire and vice verse. Zych is great at getting groundballs and throws in the mid-90s, but has never been a big strikeout guy, possibly for lack of breaking ball development. He’s been the Southern League for parts of three years and each, his K and KS% have gotten worse. Maybe he’s a few tweaks away from being something better.
In preparing to write about Moises Hernandez, I opened the Wikipedia page on Immortality and then clicked around a bit, stopped. Does it matter what is said about Moises Hernandez? Does it matter what is done? He supposedly retired last offseason and now here he is again. If he wants to coach ever, you can bet that the organization will grant him that opportunity. Scout? Rove? Sure, whatever. Moises Hernandez is a Mariner for Life. You shouldn’t care why.
Catchers: Steve Baron, Carlton Tanabe
He did it! Steve Baron has finally made an opening day roster in double-A! This is an achievement. For those of you who have lost track, Steve Baron was drafted out of a commitment to Duke in 2009, also known as the Mike Trout draft, and has spent a good six years in the minor leagues. Through 166 games at the Class A level, he hit .211/.262/.319. Through 130 games at the Class A+ level, all with High Desert, Baron hit .221.265/.342. This includes last year’s more tolerable .254/.308/.359 which preceded a twenty-one game preview tour of the Southern League in which, hey, he hit better. Most scouts still seem to regard him as the best defender at the position in the system. The more time he spends in the high minors, the more conceivable it becomes that someone gives him a cup of coffee eventually. After all, Rene Rivera played 103 games for the Padres last year and had an OPS+ of 117, somehow.
Tanabe is younger than Baron and was picked down in the 24th-round of the same year. He’s made a minor league career of playing <50 games annually bouncing around between usually two or more levels and filling in as need and emergency might dictate. He's never been much of a hitter and has racked up a surprising number of passed balls at times, but his caught stealing percentages have always been pretty high. He finds himself in Jackson this year with Mike Dowd on the DL to start the season. If he ends up going into scouting or coaching after finally hanging it up I will be completely not-surprised.
Infielders: UTL Patrick Brady, 1B/3B Jordy Lara, 1B/LF Dan Paolini, 1B/3B D.J. Peterson, IF Jack Reinheimer, IF Tyler Smith
After some lulls, we’re back into interesting territory again. D.J. Peterson had an ISO of almost .300 with High Desert last year and it seemed like a shame when that dropped to .212 in his half-season in Jackson because as prospect watchers, you can often want it all. His plate discipline improved though, which isn’t all that surprising as pitchers at and above double-A tend to be more proficient strike throwers and older. I don’t know what I need to volunteer as information about him anymore. He has a lot of natural power. He doesn’t have the range for third really, which isn’t surprising. The arm is a plus, even if he’ll only get to use it on relays. He could stand to use the opposite field more. Whatever. My guess is he’s in Jackson for a few months and then in Tacoma and then WHO KNOWS.
Lara is a similar though somewhat inferior specimen relative to what we have in Peterson. Skeptics have been all “blah blah it’s only High Desert” but then you look at his stats and he walked more on the road and what’s forty points of slugging difference, really? I’m not even seeing any Lancaster home runs for him in the archives. Post All-Star in the Cal League, he hit .427/.468/.769 in thirty-five games before some obscure mercy rule went into effect and he had to promoted to double-A. He doesn’t have splits. He can hit to the opposite field. The arm is good, but the wheels are bad. If he were capable of playing anywhere outside of first, DH, and the spot start at the hot corner, I think people might be more enthusiastic about him.
So we have two guys without positions beyond first and might have two more. Paolini is one. After Playing 89 games at second his first two seasons, he’s only logged one since and was tried out in left or right field for almost a third of his games last year with the Generals. One thinks the attempt could be warranted in that he’s pretty good at taking walks, doesn’t strike out too much, and has a career ISO just under .200. He’s in that second tier of first base prospects within the system, but he does enough for a team and is good for some damage against left-handed pitching.
Patrick Brady doesn’t have a position because he doesn’t want one. If you’re going by games played in his minor league career, he’s a second baseman. If you’re going by ability, the only thing he hasn’t done yet is catch and I think that’s because no one has yet asked. He played everywhere but first and backstop last year and pitched a couple of frames while he was at it. He’s not a huge offensive threat, but he has some sneaky power and can punish the unsuspecting while not making himself a liability in the batter’s box. He’s basically Leury Bonilla, but from Kentucky.
Middle infield looks to be more settled between Reinheimer and Smith. Both are second or third-tier prospects with their enthusiastic supporters. Reinheimer is one of the better defensive infielders in the system, not so much on arm strength or range as alertness, aptitude, grittiness, intangibles, unquantifiables, and all that stuff that hopefully comes to the fore when one walks pleasantly about a slap hitter who has never topped a .700 OPS over a full season. The Generals team is a little banged up at the moment, but no middle infielders are on that list and so one could regard the promotion of Reinheimer to the squad after just twenty games in advanced-A as a sign of respect.
Tyler Smith is perhaps one of the least of our various Tylers although still good in his own right. He was a step ahead of Reinheimer last year, effectively having a similar split in how he was promoted with that time instead going between High Desert and Jackson. He has the better offensive profile of the two, showing more power and walking a whole bunch to boot. The strikeouts might be a little higher than one would like, but that could be a side effect of being patient. I don’t know how the defensive tools compare, but given that he was drafted as a senior where Reinheimer was a junior, I’ll guess that they’re somewhat inferior.
Outfielders: RF Gabby Guerrero, OF Jabari Henry, LF Julio Morban, OF Dario Pizzano
I’m partial to the Blaze’s outfield, but you can easily look at this and say, yeah, that’s an outfield, for sure. The Young Guerrerito is probably where most people would start off since it’s no longer a mystery as to where the name comes from. Heck, he even had a home run during the Cactus League season and everyone was pointing out similarities between him and his uncle. Fans of the otherwise insane, entirely physical approach that Vlad had should take heart that Gabby is basically the same and is never not swinging for the fences even if he’s getting slightly better at laying off pitches. You know what else is fun? Ten outfield assists. Dude just wants to throw every time you get him the ball. That was good enough for second in the league, tied with a couple of center fielders. Additionally, his walks increased last year, his Ks were static, and his home/road splits were less than a hundred OPS points apart. I was a Wlad Balentien fanboy back in the day, so I’m warming up to him after some initial concerns.
But then, Guerrero wasn’t even the team leader in home runs as that honor went to Jabari Henry, who also led the team in walks. It’s really difficult to know what to think of him, and I certainly had some trouble as I was developing my own prospect lists coming into the season. The results are there, but he was snubbed for promotion and few scouting outlets have wanted to commit to him. I don’t see any major red flags, except that he strikes out a bunch. His home/road splits had a .116 differential in slugging, but that isn’t the worst. A quick glance through game logs only finds him with three home runs at Lancaster. And if you’re faulting him for not quite having the range or arm strength for center field, what corner options are better hitters? Henry is still a bit old for the levels he’s played at, but not alarmingly so, and double-A would be an opportunity for him to establish himself as being a candidate for some kind of major league career.
And then there’s Pizzano, who had previously hit everywhere until the 80+ games he had in Jackson last year. I have to pull for the fellow Columbian, but a .228 average is rough, even if you’re drawing more walks than strikeouts and having 43.5% of your hits go for extras. Well, actually maybe it’s not that bad. If you’re looking at him from advanced metrics, he actually has something of a case for being in Tacoma already, given that he managed his numbers with a .233 batting average on balls in play. That’s something that just doesn’t look right unless he’s easily shifted and I don’t get that impression from what I’ve heard/read about him. If he ends up doing rather well this season, you heard it here, maybe not first, but probably not last.
Ending on Morban is one of those inevitable things that one still feels like pleading with. “But it didn’t have to be this way!” For his career, Morban has been 2-5 years younger than the average age for his level. Despite this, he’s been above an .800 OPS pretty frequently despite being less experienced than his competition. And his being less experienced isn’t just about the fact that he’s younger and grew up playing ball in the Dominican! Morban’s health sucks. Suuuuuuuuuucks. SUUUUUUCKS. Here are some notes from the media guide. 2010: battled a left hamstring strain most of the season. 2011: on disabled list: May 11-20 with a right oblique strain, June 1-15 with a left groin strain and June 27-July 24 with a right groin strain. 2012: on the DL April 22-May 7 with strained left hamstring, June 12-July 6 with strained left hamstring and Aug. 29-Sept. 9 with a right wrist sprain. 2013: placed on the DL Aug. 21 with a right tibula fracture… ranked 3rd in the Southern League in batting at time of his injury. Last season, he played in just 59 games while recovering from a right shin fracture. Morban, over the course of a season, had exceeded eighty games played twice and 350 plate appearances once. This is bad. Morban’s hitting abilities are good. His health is bad. Not quite Chris Snelling bad, but hell, Snelling played a hundred games once.