2016 Everett Aquasox Preview
While my current annual schedule could make the full-blown, four-team minor league previews impossible, the good news, if you’re an aficionado of giant walls of text, is that I’m almost certainly going to be free to do Everett Aquasox previews. I figure it’s helpful for a team that draws on the regional Northwest to have a team preview for their affiliate in the Northwest League.
As is typical of NWL rosters, this one has more players than you could shake a wood bat at, which makes projecting who ends up where tricky at times. I feel like I could maybe draw up the first five of a lineup card, but thereafter it would be scribbles and assorted ciphers. “SS Brigman, RF Filia, 3B Zammarelli, RF Lewis, DH/IF Greer, (wingdings) C Goldstein, LF Leal? (further wingdings).” I’m also not at all confident in my projection of the rotation and am using the precedent of not having college guys rank up too much extra mileage to presume that the whole rotation is former HS draft picks and an international signing. We’ll see, I guess.
But outside of what looks like a young rotation, the rest of the lineup has a pretty veteran appearance and looks like they’ll get on-base and swing bats. I would say that run-scoring isn’t a concern for me, but that the success of the team is likely to be dictated by how well the rotation performs under the circumstances. How I ended up writing in the neighborhood of 3500 words is also a mystery, but one of these mysteries will be resolved while the other will be nodded at and kept at a respectful, out-of-earshot distance. Read on to hear who the emergency catcher will be!
LHP Jake Brentz, LHP Luiz Gohara, RHP Ljay Newsome, RHP Michael Rivera, RHP Dylan Thompson
The rotation right now is rather speculative because about all I have to run on is that Newsome started the Everett Cup. Of course, that means he’s the fifth starter, but the rest is question marks and I don’t know where Ryne Inman or Jio Orozco or Cody Mobley are either, but we’ll get through this I guess.
Precedent would allow me to presume that Gohara will be in the rotation though. What was once an excitement of seeing the next great Mariners pitching prospect has dwindled into a vague disappointment. It’s startling to consider that he won’t even turn twenty until during the season, but after three years in the system, he’s made all of two starts in a full-season league. Sometimes repeating the NWL works out for guys but in Gohara’s case he walked 12.8% and struck out 19.8% in his first year with the Aquasox and had a 12.4% walk rate and a 24.0% K-rate in the second tour. His stuff is still great for a left-hander, but outside of a blip during spring training when he was reported to be doing yoga, his lack of conditioning has led to difficulties maintaining his delivery.
Brentz, on stuff and trajectory, is Gohara’s brother from another mother. He doesn’t have the raw velocity that Gohara can reach up and grab, but he’s still hit ~96 mph a few times and shares the not-totally-defined breaking ball. In Brentz’ case, I don’t know to what I ought to attribute the lack of control and command other than the rather obvious note that he was formerly an outfielder. He’s also three seasons into his minor league career without breaking through to a full-season team on a regular basis.
Without knowing the particulars of how the rotation will break down, Dylan Thompson could be the nominal ace. Thompson throws in the low-90s and complements it with a good slider. He’s still working on the change-up on the whole, but he’s about as polished in approach and mentality as you can hope for from a kid who was drafted out of high school in the fourth round a year ago. There’s a chance for him to develop more velocity down the line, but he’s pretty good already with the stuff and command he has.
Another possibility is Rivera, who was drafted out of an unusually thin group out of Puerto Rico last year. BA listed him as their 451 prospect in the national rankings, but Rivera had a commitment to Alabama State and slipped to 815 overall when we added him to our embarrassment of HS pitching riches, which, thinking about it and the risks involved, would you rather have those gold foil chocolate coins? Big kid, FB around 90 mph that’s hit 93, still working on defining the secondaries but he’s a competitor.
This leaves me writing about Newsome as the #5. Last year, he was the Maryland prep player of the year as a two-way guy. He’s not especially tall but he is solidly built and hit as high as 90 mph in prep tournaments, although he was more in the mid-to-high 80s. I think it’s curious that he got the selection over other higher profile arms, but again, I’m not really in the know as to whether or not those fellows are having issues, so instead I’ll note that Newsome has yet to walk a batter as a pro.
RHP Jack Anderson, LHP Joselito Cano, RHP Paul Covelle, RHP Kyle Davis, RHP Robert Dugger, RHP Matthew Festa, LHP Danny Garcia, RHP Marvin Gorgas, RHP Michael Koval, RHP Brandon Miller, LHP Lane Ratliff, RHP Brandon Stephens, LHP Elliot Surrey, LHP Tim Viehoff
The trend in the past has been that the Mariners would take college pitchers who had thrown a full season already and try to use them in relief once they got to Everett. I don’t know if that will hold true now that DiPoto/McKay are running the farm system, but I guess we’ll see. I don’t really know what the best method would be for parsing through this list, but let’s address the new names first in order of their being drafted.
Brandon Miller came out of Millersville University in Millersville, PA and I don’t know that I’m going to tire of that any time soon. McNamara has rather enjoyed dipping into the D-II ranks these past few years and Miller’s no exception here. Good command, ~90 mph FB, a good mixture of pitches conducive to starting long-term, which would be enough to intrigue on its own, except that he’s also taller and more sturdily built than you’d necessarily think given his velocity, which means there could be more in that arm.
Festa is also a D-II, PA type, but is older and doesn’t have the projection that Miller does. What he does have is strong velocity coupled with good command and I’ve heard that he has a good slider and sinker as well. I don’t know how committed they will be to getting him back in the rotation because at twenty-three, he may not look like a major investment to them and I think that he has the potential to be fast-tracked as a reliever if need be.
If you would believe it, Koval is another D-II arm, except from Cal Poly Pomona. He did well within his conference and has average to slightly-above velo on his FB, also appears to be a sinker/slider type. BA was reporting that he tailed off towards the end of the season and that leaves it somewhat unclear as to whether you’re looking at him as a starting option long-term.
Immediately following Koval in the draft was Viehoff out of Southern New Hampshire U. Since my previous exposure to SNHU was through online advertisements and long-distance education, you can imagine my surprise at discovering that there was a physical campus. Viehoff is another senior starter with good velocity for a left-hander and perhaps the arsenal to stick in the rotation. His college numbers C’d that there Z.
Davis is one of those draft enigmas because as a junior he was reportedly showing mid-90s heat and a great curveball, but decided not to sign as a 29th-round pick by the Blue Jays. The good news for him is that he was drafted fifteen rounds higher! The bad news is that his numbers and stuff were both worse and as a college senior he didn’t really have any leverage, so he just had to take the contract and get to work.
Marking the second of our possibly bullpen lefties, you have Danny Garcia. He served as one of Miami’s starters this past year after being a swingman previously. The velocity would be above-average regardless, but coming from a lefty, it certainly looks a lot better. As expected from a southpaw, his change-up is a bit better than his breaker. Since he had an easier time putting up numbers last year, I guess you question whether you want to keep him in the rotation.
Dugger was at Cisco Junior College for a while before transferring to Texas Tech and putting up some middling command numbers and more than a few wild pitches in relief. When he was a prep player, he was actually a SS first and a pitcher second, topping out at 88 mph, so you could drop that old line about focusing only on one thing leading to improvement.
Jack Anderson has neither started a game nor been drafted previously and has now remedied the latter, although he was pitching at a Big10 school all four years of college. It looks like he closed a bit for Penn State his senior year, but early on in his collegiate career, his walk numbers were quite bad. Submarine righty, I hear? Well, that’s more unconventional than his name.
Surrey is a lefty out of UC-Irvine and I intend to refer to him as often by his last name when possible because with a first name like Elliot, I’m going to have to double-check each time. Two Ts or one? Two Ls or one? Halp. Surrey started three of his four years and threw a few complete games in there. His junior year was better by K/BB than his senior year, but he also was hit quite a bit more. Quite a lot of wild pitches too? I could see him returning to the rotation pretty easily.
After that, we had Covelle out of Franklin Pierce College, the same alma mater as former Mariners farmhand Scott Savastano. Covelle pitched on the same college team as his younger brother, which is kind of cool, and like many pitchers, he started more as his college career went on. Good leadership skills, good command, probably not expecting much of him long-term.
That wraps the 2016 draft for us. I suppose we can move on to other drafts? Ratliff was a 2014 pick for us who has unfortunately reminded me a bit of Ryan Hortsmann, which is to say, good stuff for a lefty, but difficulty staying healthy due to elbow stuff. He started last year, with bad command, but relieved during the Everett Cup and I anticipate he’ll stay there.
Gorgas is another, somewhat later ’14 pick who showed good life on his fastball and had pitched competitively in both Puerto Rico and the Northeast as a prep, but had doubts due to his smaller stature. Then at the end of July, the year he was drafted, he had TJ surgery. Welp. He didn’t pitch much last year and remains an unknown commodity.
Brandon Stephens is also something of an unknown commodity. His brother Jake has pitched in the independent leagues, but it looks as if Brandon was formerly Jake’s catcher in the backyard growing up. A Georgia guy through and through, he was backstop for four years for the Bulldogs and never hit well enough to warrant being drafted. But apparently he can throw, and also is the Carter Capps Memorial Emergency Catcher.
Joselito Cano is not an unknown. He is instead the younger brother of Robinson Cano. His pitching coach is Moises Hernandez, the older brother of Felix Hernandez. Do you think that after the game, the two of them just get a six-pack and lean up against the walls of the stadium out by the parking lot, and shoot the shit for a few hours? A man wonders, and the wondering takes the shape of a short story he will never write.
Jason Goldstein, Johan Quevedo
Goldstein is more or less archetypal for what I think of when I think of a team wanting to draft a college backstop, some stout corn-fed kid from the Midwest who is touted for his leadership skills. Goldstein can hit a bit too (.800+ OPS last three years at Illinois) and had pretty good defensive skills from what I hear. He stayed in college to finish an engineering degree and seems to be a good kid. The depth of our catching internally immediately marks him as one of the better ones by default, which to some, are the two sweetest words in the English language.
Quevedo has spelled his name with a J and a Y and was a three-year guy in the VSL back when the VSL was a thing that actually existed (it doesn’t anymore). He was the starting catcher for the ‘Sox last year as well and OPSed .623, but the quick glance at the stats shows few errors or passed balls, so my guess is that he’s fine with the glove.
IF Bryson Brigman, 1B Kristian Brito, 2B Jordan Cowan, IF Ivan Gonzalez, IF David Greer, SS Johmbeyker Morales, SS Donnie Walton, 3B Nick Zammarelli
This is not the first time I’ve stared down the infield roster for the Aquasox and wondered whether the Northwest League instituted a policy of having eleven men in a lineup without my foreknowledge, as it would certainly help to explain why all the extra relievers are needed. Gotta get those thirty-three outs somehow.
The infield configuration is hard to nail down. Brigman will probably be a starter as the top draft pick on the roster, but he’s also been described less than positively about his arm strength. My experience has often been that even SSs with good arms pre-draft end up being questioned later. But because Brigman is an OBP guy who is still learning how to use his speed, it seems like they would want to keep him at the premium position long enough to make a determination as to whether the wheels might help offset things. If he doesn’t pass the test at short, I would probably test him in CF before committing him to 2B.
Walton is another possibility there and fits the general Tyler Smith mold that we have, although sometimes these guys surprise and you end up with more than you initially anticipated. To date, Walton has sounded like your basic “whole is more than the sum of the parts” shortstop who hits all right and defends just well enough. One of the neat things about this version is that he’s also a switch-hitter, which is not something that we’ve often had.
At the infield corners, I can see Zammarelli and Greer, possibly both. I threw out Nate Tenbrink as a comp for Zammarelli and I don’t know that it’s far off. Both were back end top ten picks, although Zammarelli comes in from Elon whereas Tenbrink was from Kansas State. He swings and misses sometimes, but has better speed than most third basemen, so I can see him at least being tested out in a more challenging position, just not SS as his arm isn’t all that great. Utility guys can be fun if they have enough tools to handle the defensive switches.
That brings us to Greer, for whom that has been somewhat questionable. He’s played everywhere but short, backstop, and catcher, and I don’t know that his speed would permit the same versatility allowed for Zammarelli. I would think that they instead try to work with him on his hands and arm and see where that leaves him. Instead, he’s a really good hitter, one of the best in the Pac-12 this past season, and you’re hoping that’s enough to carry him while you try to figure the rest out.
First base will presumably be filled at least part of the time by professional big dude Kristian Brito. Last year, Brito was in Clinton for a full season and had a sub-.600 OPS. In short, that seventy-grade power he was talked about having is harder to make relevant when you’ve never hit above .250 and strike out in more than a third of your at-bats. Lordy.
Covington’s own Jordan Cowan was a second baseman on the team last year, and the year before, which means he’s now here for a third season. Last season marked a significant improvement for him over the previous, gaining over a hundred points in OPS, but he’s still figuring things out or else he wouldn’t be here.
Morales spent three years in the summer leagues before debuting in the states last year and hitting .281/.306/.332 for Peoria in fifty games. The organization had him as their traveling middle infielder early this spring and he got thirteen at-bats apiece in Bakersfield and Clinton. He’s not a major int’l signing so far as I know, so I don’t know if he beats out Walton or Brigman for a regular spot on the infield, but I doubt it.
That leaves us with Ivan Gonzalez, who served as a utility infielder for three years for the DSL team and is presently making his stateside debut. On the whole, he was utilized more at non-SS positions, but those also tend to be easier to get at-bats at. 20% of his hits last year were doubles, so it looks like he can swing the bat a little, otherwise, I don’t know that they would have had him skip the Arizona League.
OF Gus Craig, RF Eric Filia, CF Austin Grebeck, LF Jose Leal, CF Kyle Lewis
Lewis on the outfield roster just generates a different feel for the overall level of enthusiasm. I don’t know what more I can say about the pick itself other than I liked it, I just wouldn’t have astronomical expectations for it just yet. BA is listing Lewis as a potential #1 in the system (I still prefer Tank O’Neill, he’s a dreamboat), but I do remember hearing some anecdotal stuff along the way about how he had a poor showing when he was trying out for HS teams and was trying too hard at the outset in BP at Safeco. None of this is intended as criticism, but mapping it out along a career trajectory, I can see highs and lows for him before he fully settles in and starts to become what we all want him to be, which is a CF/RF all-star type. Let’s be patient with him and allow him to learn as he needs to. I expect him to be a quick study, but none of us ever really know how these things are going to work out.
If not for the fact that Lewis has been talked about in center out of the gate, Grebeck would be the guy. Grebeck C’s the Z but he’s a small dude and does not hit for power pretty much at all, which limits what you can conceive of him doing. He’s also not a great base stealer and doesn’t hit for a high average. Staying in CF will help him have a career, but it behooves him to pick up some other skills as well and I would guess that slugging will never be that skill.
Filia is a possible RF and has hit better for his career in terms of average and (barely) power than Grebeck has. He’s also drawn thirty more walks in college than he’s struck out. He’s a fifth-year senior so I don’t really know how to project that other than to indicate that he seems to be able to hit and has a good batting eye.
Leal is one of the last remnants of what had been a rather sorry era for us in Latin American scouting. As I remember, we signed him for seven figures and then he debuted in Peoria and was awful before getting sent to the VSL for a year and then Pulaski and back to Peoria. His peripherals aren’t bad but he does strike out a bit and isn’t known for his ability to hit for average.
That leaves me with Gus Craig, whom I get to talk about coincidentally a day after quite belatedly attaching my Columbia alumni license frame to my car. Craig hit quite well in Peoria last year, but didn’t show much in his debut in Clinton this year, or not enough to warrant his sticking around. A drop in average in the neighborhood of a hundred points will do that. So here he is and here he will pick up what at-bats he can. His full first name is “Augustus.”