2017 Everett Aquasox Preview(-ish)

Jay Yencich · June 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues 

Having earlier opted not to conduct an on-time preview of the Everett Aquasox, I now turn in one for the second, rather brief homestand feeling justified. The draft happened. Four days after it concluded, some twenty-seven players were announced as signed, almost entirely from the college ranks. College players typically end up in the Northwest League. We’re through the looking glass here, people.

Suffice to say, things have changed a bit since the initial games and so I don’t think we can really project a record based on what’s already happened. As per usual, I’ve typed up in excess here and made reference to things, mostly literary, as it interested me to do so. The overall scope of the team is that the outfield should make people happy offensively and defensively, the backstops are as good as we’ve had in a while, the infield has three listed first basemen (one of them is even good!) and a strong performer at second, the rotation has some potential and dudes we’re trying to get a better sense of. The bullpen? Well, there are a lot of relievers too and a fair number of them could slip back into starting next season. Pitching had been a sore spot for the team in the early goings, but I expect that the new additions will help.

RHP Randy Bell, RHP Ryne Inman, LHP Oliver Jaskie, LHP Michael Suarez, RHP Andres Torres

Inman was component to one of our deep dives into HS pitching in the 2015 draft, which… hasn’t actually turned out all that well for us. A one-time high school teammate of our first pick that year in Nick Neidert, Inman hasn’t had the same impact. As a prep, he threw in the mid-to-high-80s and had good slider and some manner of changeup, but given that he’s 6’5” and 215 lbs at listing, you to figure that the Mariners were betting a bit on his physical development. What he showed in the AZL wasn’t all that much, with a lot of hits in year two and a step back in his K/BB, though his rate stats were never great. His first start in the NWL was rather disastrous as he gave up three dingers, but the second start was better and moreover dinger-free, as was his third.

Ranking second in the rotation is Suarez, who was a four-year guy in the summer leagues. Suarez tests the limits of stat-based scouting of such leagues because you look at his performances and wonder how it took three straight years of averaging a strikeout an inning for him to get to the states. The command doesn’t look bad and, given the conditions, who even knows what wild pitches mean? Like Inman, he also has two very different-looking starts, although reversed in their ordering. He took home the first win of the season after one-hitting the Hops through five and running an 8/1 K/BB, but next time up against the Canadians, he was out before the third ended and gave up five hits with a 1/3 K/BB. Tune in this evening to see if any manner of consistency is achieved.

Jaskie made a relief debut with the Aquasox, and I figured that would be it since he was coming off 93.0 innings already with Michigan where he had a 119/31 K/BB. However, from the looks of it, they’re listing him as a probable starter on the schedule. Perusing the various online scouting reports you have available, there are phrases like “funky delivery” mentioned, which is something more acceptable in Cuba than it is in MLB-affiliated ball. I’m not one to advocate for change in the name of conformity, so I’d ride it out and see what he can do, average southpaw velocity and all, but there may be some insist that he ought to be reliever. Given that his change-up ranks ahead of his slider, I can’t see much utility in it, but this is yet one more player development judgment call.

Bell has yet to take the mound and as I’m seeing it, it’s because he’ll be in the rotation. He started for two years in community college and then two more at South Alabama, being around or above eighty innings each time out. I tried looking up info on him at one point and found a reference to a 132-pitch outing which is equal parts interesting and worrisome, thinking of a shorter and perhaps stockier pitcher. What we do know about Bell otherwise is that he was a third baseman and right fielder in high school, touched 84 mph then, and was signed for way under slot, to the extent that many who came after him made quite a bit more. If nothing else, the draft is interesting for how a closed system operates under specific constraints, says the guy who wrote three or four sonnets in the spring. Derp.

Torres also remains in the rotation after starting twice already. He doesn’t follow the traditional summer leaguer trajectory because he was in the VSL, then the AZL, then the DSL, and now he’s in the NWL. If you expected the rate stats to make any more sense, well, he had worse command during his time in Peoria, but he was also an extreme groundballer there whereas he’s been neutral elsewhere. I don’t know if it was coaching trying to get him to do something different or what. Below the Northwest League is a subterranean sea of numbers without much context to guide how one navigates or makes sense of them. Draw conclusions at your own peril.

RHP Matt Clancy, RHP Adonis de la Cruz, RHP Seth Elledge, RHP David Ellingson, RHP Ted Hammond, RHP Carlos Hernandez, LHP David Hesslink, RHP Wyatt Mills, RHP Steve Ridings, RHP Jose Santiago, LHP JP Sears, LHP Tyler Watson

Of all the players in this class, though he signed on a discount, I could see Mills as the first to break into the majors, but it depends on a few factors. The funk in his delivery and the pure velocity makes him interesting as a right-on-right guy even if ROOGYs are not really a thing. What we often see is an unusual delivery either leading to dramatic splits or command issues or both. There isn’t a clear trajectory he’s been on, as freshman and junior years saw walk rates of around five per nine, while strikeouts have steadily climbed throughout. I don’t regard Mills as having achieved the adjective of “consistent” yet, but since he’s operating on the basis of a quirk, it seems like you can ride that quirk out as long as it’s effective.

After years of drafting guys around rounds four and five who were max-effort college starters and would move to relief as they got closer to the big leagues, Elledge may be a pick in the other direction. Or he may not be? Elledge was exclusively a reliever for Dallas Baptist and recorded twenty-seven saves over the last two seasons with them. His command is sometimes there, sometimes not, but few seem to square him up well and his college K/9 goes all the way up to nearly eleven. Low-to-mid-90s heater, power curve, it all looks like a reliever except that the delivery isn’t violent, which led the talking heads on draft day to say things like, “why not try him out as a starter and see what happens?” You know, outside of the fact that he doesn’t have a third pitch that’s been mentioned. I’m intrigued, but I’ll defer to the organization’s judgment with whatever they do.

Some of what could be said about Jaskie could likewise be said about Sears, except that while Jaskie is 6’3” and 210 lbs, Sears is 5’11” and 180 lbs, which makes the long-term endurance a bit more of a question. In Sears’ favor, his delivery is less weird and his slider is probably better at present than Jaskie’s, which makes that potential move to relief sound more rewarding. It appears that his command is a little better as well, with the warning that he’s stayed around the strike zone more and was quite hittable his first couple of seasons at The Citadel. Somehow, I also feel as if competition was at a higher level in the Big Ten than the Southern Conference even if they both are D-I. It’s as though these classifications are weird.

I mentioned Hesslink previously under the assumption that this was a courtesy pick and he might not need to sign seeing as how he’s already employed by the Mariners. I mean, he’s only the fourth selection out of MIT ever. He signed, so I’m left trying to figure out what to say about him as a baseball player. He was 24-10 with MIT, had 177 Ks in 268.1 innings, ERA around three, all-time wins leader, was the conference pitcher and rookie of the year his freshman year, etc. It’s kind of cool that he’s going up there because you wonder what he’s going to do during his downtime or whether he’s pulling double duty, both playing for and scouting his own team. But hey, at least he’s got a job lined up for the offseason already, unlike others who are likely to wind up in temp work.

Before Mills came in, Ellingson was the team’s closer, an odd choice given that he was a 34th round pick last year and his college track record had him walking a guy every other inning if not more. On doing a little digging, I found out that he came out of a baseball hotbed in Texas that produces every year and that he was touching 90 as a prep, which isn’t bad at all, and he’s now taller and heavier and might throw harder for all we know. You could speculate that he might have been left in extended to work out some of the kinks in his command that never went away when he was playing at Georgetown.

Ridings was plugged into the rotation after the mass group of players was brought in over the weekend, which is perplexing given that he a) was drafted last year (29th round at that) and b) had been with the team (and scattered other stops) and c) it looks to be a one-time thing. What limited data we have on him involves him being a starter for Messiah College in the D-III Middle Atlantic Conference. Archival results are not forthcoming and beyond the 99/21 K/BB he had in 83.2 innings of his senior season, there’s not a whole lot I can tell you. The college’s athletic site is titled “Go Messiah” which seems like one of the stranger chants you’d have except they are the Falcons and not the Messiah Messiahs. That would be a bit much.

Watson is a tricky one to figure out because at twenty-four, he should be somewhere higher than the Northwest League. Through four outings, he’s also pitched 7.1 innings and, frankly, multiple inning relievers aren’t something you see happen regularly. He’s had a 13/2 K/BB in that stretch which makes you think that even under the less conventional usage, he has to be doing something right. A third variable is that his dad is the director of pro scouting for the Royals, which makes Watson more visible as a player or perhaps more valuable since he understands certain things about the game from exposure that most players have to piece together on their own. While he’s doing this well, who are we to complain or speculate?

Matt Clancy was last with the Aquasox in 2015 and followed up that campaign by pitching one inning in the AZL last year. Since I wouldn’t expect a college graduate and draft pick in the teens to disappear without reason, I looked up the media guide and found this description of last season “2016: Spent.” What more needs to be said? He only pitched an inning because he was spent. Clancy is one more St. John’s guy we’ve drafted and he’ll be sometimes forming a battery with another St. John’s guy in Dixon. How often does that happen?

De la Cruz, if nothing else, gives us a player in the system with the name “Adonis,” which is its own reward. He signed with the organization as an outfielder except that he struggled to make contact, good or otherwise. Year one, .155/.276/.217 slash, year two, .229/.300/.347 slash, Ks in about 20% of plate appearances overall. For year three of his DSL tenure, they got the bright idea to try him out on the mound and kept him there for year four, mostly as a reliever throughout. By his second year on the mound he stopped hitting guys at an egregious rate and so they punched a ticket for him to go to the Northwest League and see what he could do there.

Santiago would have been one more speculative addition to the rotation since he started once and piggybacked another time. He had eleven starts of thirteen appearances with the Aquasox last year although, lamentably, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to get a sense of im. I can say that through his various short-season stops, his career has been characterized by poor command. The strikeouts almost get him to one per inning, but the walks which come every other inning are not so hot and take some of the shine off his rather low opposing averages. If he’s been retained this long, you’d figure there’s something there, but repeating the Northwest League is rarely a sign of a great things to come, and rotation spots are harder to come by for those returning.

Carlos would be the second-best Hernandez on the roster, a title held by him even when Anjul was still filling in with the rest of the pre-draft group. He pitched both in the rotation and in relief his two years split between the VSL and the DSL, but the trend has been more towards the bullpen since he’s been in the States. A few scattered observations about his profile: lack the command issues that plague rawer hurlers of the region, strong flyball tendencies but has kept it in the yard, and last year’s splits show that he was extremely tough on left-handed bats whereas right-handers ate him up. Perhaps he’s a bit heavy on the change-up?

Rounding out the relief corps is Local Guy Ted Hammond, who went to Shorecrest HS, followed up at Seattle U, and probably gets to drive home every night and sleep in his own bed without worrying about waking up the host family. He was a NDFA signing after last year’s draft and spent his time as a Redhawk mostly starting his freshman and senior years and mostly relieving his sophomore and junior years. There was only an eighteen-inning sample to work with in Peoria last year, but he struck out four times as many as he walked and that’s generally a positive.

David Banuelos, Juan Camacho, Troy Dixon

Before talking backstops, it could be helpful to take inventory. The Mariners drafted a catcher in the ninth round last year, Jason Goldstein, who was flipped to the A’s for the now-gone Dillon Overton. He was the one catcher signed out of that draft. In 2015, the catcher we signed was a late-rounder and released after the season. The 2014 draft brought in three catchers, none of whom survived their second year in the system. The catcher we brought in through the 2013 draft just retired. If you were to ask me to name the three most interesting backstops in our minor league system, two of those would have begun their careers on the left side of the infield. Everything has been patched together with marginal Latin American prospects and minor league FA signings.

Banuelos is not a new catcher, nor is he a liability on either side of the game. Furthermore, the day two highlights cited him specifically as a guy the Mariners were surprised to get, having him ranked higher than other backstops picked earlier. He’s both a game-caller and a threat to would-be base thieves. He’s had an OPS above .800 in the Big West Conference the last two years, with this past season seeing him sell out a bit of average and contact in favor of greater power numbers. Finding some way to mediate those two factors would render Baneulos the best catching prospect in system in quick order, but he’s probably already one of the best behind-the-plate leaders as it stands. He can make it on defense alone, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt that optimistic about any catcher.

Camacho effectively stuck the rough landing in the league or did enough to merit his staying around (home runs never hurt). As a prospect, he interests me primarily because we’ve done little to scout Mexico over the years and thus anyone who appears signed out of there will have novelty on his side. In Peoria the past two seasons, he’s had a ~.600 OPS and then an ~.800 OPS and the media guide informs me that he led the AZL in caught stealing percentage in his debut year, although “among qualifiers” is the usual caveat. A 38.1% percentage doesn’t seem all that robust, nor does “second in the league in 2016” seem wowing when it’s a 27.6% mark. Camacho has played a smidgen of first base in his career and would have a case to start there on occasion if not for the fact that Evan White is around along with more first basemen that I’ve seen on any roster since the 2010 Tacoma Rainiers.

For whatever else he has going for him as a 20th round drafted college senior out of a cold weather college n St. John’s, Troy Dixon has the kind of name that just sounds like a backstop. Dixon was the primary catcher for the Red Storm the last two seasons, helping guide a younger pitching staff this past year, and hit cleanup this year when he mashed a .394/.473/.525 line. If I’m looking for foundational elements, Dixon’s been good at making contact as well as displaying a solid batting eye and over his four years in college ran a 62/58 K/BB. The senior line is out of character for what had previously been a series of high-.600s OPSs with an average in the .250s, but he also had a .962 OPS during a summer collegiate circuit last year. Whether he’s coming into his own or merely performing well against flawed competition is for time to figure out.

SS Johnny Adams, 3B Eugene Helder, 1B Jonas Lantigua, 1B Onil Pena, MIF Joseph Rosa, UT Joe Venturino, 1B Evan White

White takes up as the system’s top first base prospect, usurping spots held recently by converted 3B D.J. Peterson and the more DH-in-build Daniel Vogelbach. To talk about the system’s depth there seems peculiar because first base hasn’t a consistent position in the long-run since, I don’t know, John Olerud? Alvin Davis? Many options have been tried without much production and the minor-league level is little different. Peterson has taken some steps backward since college and has had a good June, but limited consistency. Vogelbach doesn’t fit the organization’s defensive priorities and moreover has been strangely helpless against southpaws this year. A lot is riding on Mr. White to be the defensive stud he’s been at the collegiate level, but also pick up the finer points of hitting in a way his bat-first predecessors have not. It’s a rather tall order to begin with, but the organization has vetted him thoroughly and has put their faith in his abilities, resisting the temptation others had to move him to the outfield to take some pressure off the bat.

After White, it’s hard to know exactly where to dig in since this is not particularly an infield that impresses me. On performance, I’d certainly go with Rosa, who has the background of being born in NYC and moving back to the Dominican Republic before becoming eligible to sign. Rosa has batted over .300 everywhere he’s been so far and has done so as a switch-hitter, hardly easy. He was also the leading offensive threat for the team coming into the weekend, with an OPS in four digits, and had hit two home runs already, which doubled his career total. The thing is, whereas I’ve heard bits and pieces about other DSL prospects, Rosa has been both a performer and a guy who doesn’t come up a whole lot, perhaps because he’s already twenty and was not among the younger, high-dollar signings.

Helder has spent most of his time at the hot corner for the Aquasox and given how the roster is presently configured, I’d expect him to stick. One of our more recent Aruban signings— not that we scout there much anymore— Helder did his time in the summer leagues for three years with OPS marks around .700 before crossing over to the states this year. I’ve seen statlines that make more sense than his, as he had sixteen doubles in 2015 and then three last year, has gone back and forth on his plate discipline, and then more than doubled his stolen base total last season because why not? The organization might think something of him by placing him in Everett and keeping him there, but he’s one more older Caribbean signing and is roughly league-average in age.

One conundrum of the roster’s post-draft update is that you have Evan White on the roster along with two guys who can’t do much else other than play first. Onil Pena is the younger, right-handed version of that, and can catch if we need a fourth one of those. Pena was in the DSL for two years and performed solidly there. If I’m noting one thing from his line, it would be that he hit five home runs there which is not especially easy to do, but during the same season he struck out in nearly a sixth of his plate appearances. He floundered in the AZL last year and was punched out more than every third at-bat, but the early returns for him in Everett have been okay if still strikeout-heavy.

The other first baseman is Lantigua, and at 6’5” and 205 lbs as listed, he’s a big one. The left-handed hitter spent his first four years split between the DSL and AZL affiliates of the Padres and then was released by them in spring training in 2016, after which we picked him up. He then had TJ surgery later that year and so he’s not officially seen plate appearances with us until showing up in Everett. He’s one of those guys where it seems like it would be now or never for him, but given that the Mariners and the Padres share training complexes, they probably saw something they liked while spying on them.

With colonial era history in the deeper recesses of my mind, as soon as Johnny Adams name came up on my screen I thought, “man, that sounds like the name of a shortstop for Boston College or something.” Right on both accounts. Adams played four seasons for the Eagles after graduating from Walpole High School— what, you were expecting Braintree?— and was named team captain for his senior year. While he did all right as a junior, batting .284/.342/.379, such was not the case when he returned as a senior and hit .211/.309/.294. I expect leadership ability, sacrifice bunts, and a modest career in politics to follow.

The returning infielder on the roster is Venturino, a pick last year out of Ramapo College in New Jersey. You learn so much about higher education in this country by following the draft. Venturino played thirty-nine games for Everett last year with an OBP forty-two points better than his slugging, which should tell you a fair bit about him. He was primarily the squad’s second baseman, but with Rosa around he’s been playing a bit of everything so far except first, shortstop, catcher, and center. I don’t know what to expect from a small college 36th-round pick in this draft era but playing two seasons in a row of pro ball is already better than many get.

LF Griefer Andrade, CF Billy Cook, CF Austin Grebeck, CF Brayan Hernandez, OF Johnny Slater

Longtime readers of my work know that I’m an outright sucker for international signings. It’s a source of lamentation that we’ve all but abandoned our Pacific Rim and European efforts, as they at least gave us something to talk about (but hey, we scout Brazil!). Our more conventional signings have likewise been a wasteland for some time, millions invested on with not a whole lot going on. Hernandez is no less of a toolsy, long-range project than his predecessors, but he’s had decent returns so far, with an OPS in the mid-.700s between the DSL and the AZL last season, and he’s not as reliant on his bat to make his status as others have been, since most figure him to stay in center field.

With Andrade, I’m following the lead of the roster to list him in the outfield. Truth be told, he was an outfielder as an amateur, but then his first three years in the system he played exclusively on the infield, mostly up the middle although profiling better at second. Now he’s being used in the outfield again, specifically left. Has the experiment ended, or are they doing as they did with his countryman Luis Rengifo over in Clinton and saying, “why not have him as a utility player at the low levels rather than forcing him to do it as he gets closer to the majors?” What about his pitching performance last year? Do I have a new Leury Bonilla? What we can say is that so far Andrade has been one of the leading hitters on the team and has been a high-average guy for most of his time in the minors so far.

Billy Cooke hails from Coastal Carolina University where the team mascot is the Chanticleer. Having just gotten out of a semester where I read and taught “The Nun’s Priest’s Tale,” the temptation was rather strong for me to compose a player review in rhyming Middle English couplets, but I’ve been caught short of time and, while I can read the stuff just fine, I can’t summon the spelling quirks on command. It ys what it ys. Cooke, I would describe as being something of an archetypal outfielder for the organization as we’re now interested in speedy play-makers out there and there’s no shortage of video of Cooke laying out for a ball. He’s not exactly a power hitter, but he has a good batting eye (near even K/BB for his career, more walks than Ks this season) and seems to be a guy who could bunt for a base hit (only one GIDP his whole career, wow!) or stretch a double when needed. One thing I do notice is that his stolen base efficiency approaches 80% but could stand a little bit of improvement.

Grebeck returns to the squad after hitting .241/.346/.332 in Everett last season. The walks were certainly a plus, but contact was an issue for him at times and he struck out in over 20% of his plate appearances last season. He also had a stolen base efficiency mark that would have hit two-thirds, had he been successful once more. Yet these marks were in line with what he’d done in college, where over three years at Oregon his slash line was characterized by mid-.200s averages, good on-base percentage, not much power. He’s a good fielder as I remember and leaves the squad in position to take care of their flyball pitchers no matter who is out there, but when a college player repeats the NWL, it doesn’t bode well.

Something of a mystery man, Johnny Slater has the unusual distinction of being in the BA draft database under his high school listing despite being at college in Michigan for four years. He’s listed as a CF by their site and his stolen base totals have been immaculate the last three seasons. He also had a slash line off .299/.377/.493 his senior year. It was curious because he had not been much of an offensive threat in college. While searching for info, I found that PerfectGame had him listed as a prep left-hander, hitting 86 mph on the gun. The past few drafts have indicated we like guys who have converted to pitcher recently, but in Slater’s case, he didn’t take the mound for his entire college career, and the counterargument would suggest he hit well his senior year because of all that time focusing on only doing the one thing.


7 Responses to “2017 Everett Aquasox Preview(-ish)”

  1. bookbook on June 27th, 2017 5:34 am

    Thanks for this!

  2. LongDistance on June 27th, 2017 11:03 am

    This is great. On a completely tangential aside … me, I’d like to believe the party line that the club now defines development (more) in terms of something holistic rather than as added-value Z-era bargaining chips. And yet, looking over your listing, hard to cherry-pick a tendency either way. Which means nothing, since I’m no good at it. I know you don’t like to do it, but if you ever felt like giving a summary opinion, I personally wouldn’t hold you to it. All caveats permitted. I’d just be interested.

  3. Westside guy on June 27th, 2017 12:59 pm

    I enjoyed this – thank you, Jay.

  4. Jay Yencich on June 27th, 2017 1:35 pm

    On a completely tangential aside … me, I’d like to believe the party line that the club now defines development (more) in terms of something holistic rather than as added-value Z-era bargaining chips. And yet, looking over your listing, hard to cherry-pick a tendency either way. Which means nothing, since I’m no good at it. I know you don’t like to do it, but if you ever felt like giving a summary opinion, I personally wouldn’t hold you to it. All caveats permitted. I’d just be interested.

    I’m not sure if this is an answer to the question that you’re asking, but in retrospect, we can say that the Zduriencik player development system lacked a larger vision and was characterized by instilling an every man for himself mentality in the players. If they individually did enough to warrant their promotion, they would move up. DiPoto’s system takes the opposite tack on both fronts, in that there is a larger vision and an expectation that what you hear from a coach at one level is the same thing you’d hear from a coach at every other level, and players, when talking about themselves, seem more invested in talking about the dynamics of the team and helping each other out. This became really clear to me when I was reading various articles on the Modesto squad as they were heading into the Cal League All-Star Break. Whatever your philosophies are on the whole thing, more individualist, more team, whatever, DiPoto’s group is doing their thing more effectively than Zduriencik did his thing.

  5. Jay Yencich on June 27th, 2017 2:48 pm

    Huh, Slater and Cooke just got called up to Clinton. Well then.

  6. LongDistance on June 28th, 2017 11:46 am

    Thanks Jay. That was indeed the answer to the question. And given that response, it was also interesting your final thought, that regardless of the approach, DiPoto has a better handle on what he’s trying to do. It’s been a while since I’ve heard someone say that concerning the M’s farm system. As far as I can tell, the mainstream, and even off-mainstream, media is still hanging fire concerning the DiPoto system, and still has Seattle ranked at the cusp of the bottom third in terms of farm systems. Although, as well, the way the demi-monde of baseball sites looks at things, there seems a tendency to look at the quality of the farm system through the optics of stud-acquisition, rather than bootstrap development. I do like the idea of team dynamics, and try to imagine how this could work from the foundation upwards … in the long run. It’s a pretty deep running approach, and I can understand how it might not appeal to everybody. For that, although I know you have a lot on your plate, I hope you have time to provide these great insights into the farm system … and keep a tab on whatever you might detect.

  7. Jay Yencich on June 28th, 2017 2:59 pm

    A bit more on the rotation from the Herald…

    “Acevedo said the AquaSox will go with seven starters for the time being with two “piggy-back” pairs where one pitcher starts and goes four-plus innings before the next starter comes in to pitch four innings. The No. 3 spot will feature Randy Bell and Jose Santiago, while Oliver Jeskie and Steve Ridings will comprise the No. 5 slot.

    Ryne Inman and Michael Suarez are the Nos. 1 and 2 starters and Andres Torres is in the No. 4 role.”

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