2018 Arkansas Travelers Preview

Jay Yencich · April 2, 2018 at 3:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues 

Since early season roster news comes out somewhat erratically (really wish I had a full Modesto roster to talk about), I found myself writing about the Travelers immediately after the Lumberkings. Having never written about this affiliate before, I also took some time to familiarize myself with the mascot. I am informed that “The Arkansas Traveler” is a folk song and formerly the state’s official song. Good to know. Yet, to the original point, perhaps it was just the easy centerfielder comparisons, but I found myself thinking that the two teams seem to be organized under similar philosophies. The rotation is built out of flyball pitchers backed up by a likely elite outfield defense. Add in a bullpen with interesting components, and you’re looking at a team that would figure to be built around run prevention. Yet, looking at probable lineup configurations, I think that the lower you get on the card, the more trouble you find yourself in. Perhaps they’ll mitigate that by having an OBP-heavy guy at ninth, or having a non-conventional number three hitter with better contact skills than power, but there’s definitely some give to the projected six through eight spots.

Below the jump, I will hold forth on several guys known as Joe, namedrop Driveline a few times, make note of one aspiring second-generation baseball player and another third-generation one, talk up a local dude, reference one of Yahoo! Answers’ most famous questions, and nearly indulge in a Simpsons reference but stop slightly short.

RHP Nathan Bannister, RHP Lindsey Caughel, RHP Chase de Jong, LHP Anthony Misiewicz, RHP Andrew Moore

This is my best guess at a rotation based off historical precedent, though I imagine that some of these fellows anticipated pitching in triple-A. Moore, likely foremost among them, having been a top-five prospect in the system earlier. Of course, he was initially in the discussion for who might spot for Erasmo, but dropped out after posting a 9.72 ERA through four Cactus League appearances, 8.1 innings, thirteen hits, a 11/4 K/BB. What’s telling about it is that the command wasn’t there in the same way even if the Ks were high. However, Moore is also a known tinkerer with his approach and what he tries. Was there something different he was attempting, or was he having trouble getting back into form, or was there something else going on, knock on wood if you can? I suppose we’ll be finding out soon enough.

De Jong was similarly cast-off from the Good Ship Mariner and the Pretty Good Ship Rainier. He didn’t have Moore’s poor Arizona showing, but he hadn’t gotten as many opportunities either and seemed to have a fair bit of contact with only one walk and two strikeouts in six frames. Word was that he had worked with the Driveline dudes over the off-season, which is smart, as anything that will help him increase his margin of error will be great, but we should also bear in mind that de Jong is an extreme flyball type and this outfield stands to make him look good. I’ll be hesitant to draw conclusions if he ends up doing really well out of the gate, but having had roughly an ERA of six along three different levels last year, just getting confidence back could be important for him.

Why not something positive as a little breather here? Bannister probably shouldn’t be in the TL either, but he is, and that’s great for him. He was a pretty good prospect as a prep player out of Arizona and ended up going to school in-state for four years where he only got to start at the tail end of that. Drafted in the 28th round, he went on to spend the rest of the year on the DL with an elbow sprain before getting tossed to Modesto in an emergency to make his pro debut. He held on well enough for the organization to never see a point in demoting him and ended up taking home a ring as part of the Nuts’ championship team. We’re still trying to figure out what he is, but the general profile looks to be pitch-to-contact with some Ks sprinkled in. He also looks to be a guy who gets his outs in the air and you know what that means.

Two guys who had been in double-A previously and are making return tours are Caughel and Misiewicz, whose name I just Ctrl + C’d just in case. Caughel’s no stranger to the area, as he was with the Travs all the of last season. It was his first taste of double-A at the age of twenty-six, not usually a good sign, but he was perfectly fine out there with a 10-10 record and a 3.71 ERA in 157.2 innings, 116/38 K/BB. Would it surprise you to learn that he is yet one more flyball pitcher being put in front of a premium outfield defense? It seems to be a thing.

Misiewicz had also been with the team for seven starts before going to the Rays in August for Marjama, only to come back a few months later in exchange for int’l slot money. So much for learning your new teammates’ names, or them learning how to spell yours. His command was better during his five-start stint in the Southern League, though it’s hard to make too much of it. The profile on Misiewicz reads as average FB velocity, good curve, good change, and people seem to be on the fence as to which of the two secondary offerings is better. Likely, as he moves up, he’ll be exposed a little more and his probable ceiling as a back-end starter will become more apparent. But hey! Not as severe a FB pitcher as everyone else.

RHP Darin Gillies, LHP Spencer Herrmann, RHP Johendi Jiminian, RHP Scott Kuzminsky, RHP Stephen Perakslis, LHP Joe Pistorese, RHP Matt Walker, RHP Art Warren

Oh man, this bullpen… I mean, generally, you figure opposing teams will be hoping to get to the starter because this is not a pleasant experience. Among the least pleasant, Warren, who will probably close it out for the team after shifting to full-time relief work last year. The fastball is the calling card, with velocity ranging from the low-to-high 90s with good movement. Being a former starter, he also has a good breaking ball and the ability to mix in a slider and a change-up when he needs it. It all sounds great, though the command isn’t always there and the oomph in the delivery means that he doesn’t always know where it’s headed, which limits his overall reliability.

Gillies possibly plays setup to that, though his conversion to relief work started in college ball at Arizona State and has completed as a pro. He’s a holdover from last year’s Travelers squad, but it doesn’t take a whole lot of digging to figure out why. The hits weren’t it, but instead, after walking 7% of the batters he faced in 2016, that jumped to 9.8% last season, while the Ks went from 29.2% to 18.5%. Relative to Warren, Gillies is more the deception type with a more relief-oriented arsenal of two pitches, the low-90s FB and the low-80s slider. Improvements to his command will likely make the difference for whether he makes it or doesn’t.

Herrmann, I could see being a left-handed setup type here, since he’s newly a reliever and had a .226 average against fellow southpaws last season. That’s not to say that his strikeout numbers are particularly bad against right-handers, he had sixty-four in 67.2 innings last year, but they seem to have an easier time hitting him. On the other hand, lefties squared him up better and walk more readily as a trade-off. It feels weird to be talking up a former 36th-rounder like this, but after Warren, you feel like you don’t want to make assumptions on draft round alone when a change of roles could be the key to success. I’ll be interested to see how he develops, since the command already took a big step forward last year.

The other late-inning lefty would be Pistorese, who is now a couple of years removed from his amphetamine suspension. The WSU product spent all but June with Modesto, giving us forty-odd innings to scrutinize. The splits play out a bit differently for him: Against left-handers, he gets the strikeout far more readily, but also turned into an extreme groundball pitcher, which could account for the average being higher. He’s still good against right-handers, though more of a flyball pitcher. The more major blip is that while he showed good command his first two partial seasons, you had him walking over 10% of the dudes he faced last year which is not good at all. It only gets tougher with the more selective types in double-A and above.

Jiminian is one of the new and less familiar ones, though he was around for the Cactus League season and got 6.1 innings in with three home runs and a 5/4 K/BB. Formerly of the Rockies org, the 25-year-old Dominican has never had great command, it was just especially bad last season as he had a 41/41 K/BB and ten home runs allowed in 63.1 innings. It was also his second year as a reliever, and he had previously been just fine in double-A the year before that, so how you might choose to weight these things is up to you. In any case, the suspect control numbers make you less keen on him in the spotlight.

Another new and very recent addition is Perakslis, formerly a 21st rounder of the Cubs organization. I can’t say I know all that much about him except that he played college ball in Maine of all places and got more chances to start as his career developed, the same as his time as a pro. He’s been a pitch-to-contact type with acceptable K numbers, save his time this winter starting for Aragua in the LVBP when he stopped striking anyone out and then saw his hits spike.

If you want a local dude to root for, there’s Kuzminsky, a Puyallup HS and Bellevue CC grad. He pitched his last two years of college eligibility at Hawaii, but didn’t get picked up by anyone and thus spent two-and-a-half years gutting it out as a high-strikeout reliever in three different independent leagues. Removed as we are from the heyday of Sherrill and Madritsch, I don’t easily have a way of figuring out how the competition compares, and he’s logged all of eleven innings in affiliated ball plus five-and-a-third more in the LVBP over the offseason. I seem to remember him also being linked with Driveline, and he did get a couple of Cactus League games in, I just don’t know if this is his final destination.

Walker is one more late-round pick made good, now in double-A two-and-a-half years after getting popped in the 36th round. Perhaps it’s the inauspicious quality of being a pitcher named “Walker,” but I have trouble remembering him even as he’s had a K/9 of over ten at all three stops in his career and logged thirteen saves in fifteen attempts as a member of the Lumberkings in 2016. However, he is a bit of a wild one and uncorks one WP every four innings or so, and so some of those strikeouts could be “not only he knows where the ball is going.” The good news is that double-A is a good place to collect some relevant data and we’ll likely know what’s up soon enough.

Joe DeCarlo, Joe Odom

You know, couple of average…. Joes… And there’s a possibility for a Joe/Joe or Jo/Joe battery on any given bullpen trip, to say nothing of the Joey manning first. DeCarlo graduates to double-A ball after two tours of the Cal League. His numbers last year were inferior to the year before (.240/.346/.415 vs. .265/.379/.454), but you see there what he’s become known for, which is to say, limited contact with good secondary numbers bringing up the overall value. Last year was his first season behind the plate, which resulted in eighteen passed balls over forty-nine games and a 25% caught stealing mark, but I don’t have “splits” in the same way for fielding so I can’t tell if he improved or the struggle was relatively constant. As one of two guys catching, I don’t see him getting much of a break to DH or play the infield corners as he has in the past.

Speaking of, Odom, as one of our minor league Rule 5 picks to shore up catching depth, has only topped ninety games once and hit sixty-five as his next highest, so I don’t know if he’ll be expected to take on the larger share of the catching either. Since the media guide was of little help there, I took a peek at his transactions via MiLB and his being limited to twenty-eight games last year was largely a product of DL stints. There’s not much on the record before that though, so your guess is good as mine. He hits like a catcher, but beggars can’t be choosers here.

1B Joey Curletta, IF Adam Law, SS Chris Mariscal, 3B Seth Mejias-Brean, IF Yonathan Mendoza

This isn’t exactly a star-studded infield, but likely will get the job done. Curiously, it’s a lot of guys brought into the org later. The only one drafted by the Mariners is Mariscal, who returns to the team after a month-and-a-half to end the season. He proved useful for Modesto, with a career-high line of .305/.392/.446, but the Texas League wasn’t nearly as kind and he lost a large chunk of the slugging that had made him a surprise contributor for the Nuts. He’s one more in a line of utility infield types who grit it out to the best of their abilities.

Acquired when we traded away Pat Venditte, Curletta moved to first full time for the Nuts last year and while his third year in the Cal League wasn’t extraordinary, he did manage career highs in doubles (thirty-seven) and walks (sixty-two), the latter of which was a big jump from the forty-one he had in 2014. Of course, he was also among the leaders internally in Ks and didn’t improve in the second half. The physical abilities remain intriguing and he’s still somewhat young, but probably an org guy unless something big changes.

Mendoza… okay, I just did the McBain scream in my head… So, Yonathan, is a new signing, formerly of the Cleveland org, who got out as soon as his initial contract was up. He’s only seen thirty-four games in double-A so far, so this will be somewhat of a new challenge for him. Previously with roughly a season’s worth of games in advanced-A, he managed a line of .308/.385/.365, which should give you an idea of what he’s like. He’s only good for a home run or two annually, though he can control the zone quite a bit better than a lot of former summer league prospects. Defensively, he’s always played around the infield, though the preference has been to keep him on the left side. I’ll guess that he has an adequate arm based on that input.

Traded early in the season from the Reds org, Mejias-Brean is back in Arkansas after seventy-four games with the squad last year. Another draft pick out of Arizona (feels like a theme lately), he’s spent the bulk of his pro career in the high minors playing the infield corners without ever really producing the power that you expect of the position, despite striking out a bunch. He had good walk totals his first few seasons with fifty-five to seventy-six annually in the stretch from 2013 to 2015, but that’s since gone away and the power numbers have been in decline for a few years now. It’s unfortunate insofar as he didn’t have a lot to give up in the first place.

Law came into the org back in 2016, when our double-A affiliate was still in the Southern League. In the process of trying to figure out what his deal is, I discovered, or re-discovered that his grandfather Vern Law won the Cy Young for the Pirates in 1960 and his dad, Vance, played parts of eleven years in the majors including an all-star appearance for the Cubbies in 1988. It would be cool, if unlikely, if he managed to join the three-generation likes of the Boone and Bell families. Anyway, he only played in seventeen games last year as he first had an ankle injury and then an oblique one. He got another thirty-five games of winter ball in where he was good for Lara in the LVBP, and not so good for Obregon in the MPL. He’ll play wherever you put him, but has been primarily in left, at third, and at second in that order.

CF Beau Amaral, CF Andrew Aplin, CF Braden Bishop, LF Dario Pizzano, LF Chuck Taylor

If nothing else, they’re not lacking for dudes that can cover ground. Bishop, being the most prospect-y, would probably get first dibs on being the field general. He already spent a month+ there last season with a lovely 15/15 K/BB and a .336/.417/.448 line overall. It’s possible that he could benefit from pitchers who are around the zone more, but the main thing is refining his work on the basepaths. Despite having plus speed, last year marked a career high twenty-seven attempts for him and he got nabbed on five of those. Likewise, it figures that someone of his wheels should be able to get more than four triples, which was also a career high. We’ve seen some of the improvements we’d look for in a developing offensive profile, we’re just looking for the next steps. Scaling back the Ks couldn’t hurt either.

Taylor also returns despite being All-Star Chuck Taylor last season. Truthfully, it was probably his second half that did it and knocked him out of contention for a 40-man spot in the winter. You look at the samples from first to second and the ratios are almost exactly the same, but one resulted in a .313/.407/.464 line and the other, a .235/.331/.332 line. How is BABIP formed, you ask? Well, from the looks of it, .368 in the first act, .275 for the second, with the caveat that I didn’t have numbers on the two sac flies and split the difference. While not the burner that Bishop can be, Taylor also has more that he could be doing to take advantage of the tools there and one reason for the lag in the second-half slugging was the lack of triples.

Andrew Ahyim Aplin is no longer playing in triple-A and that seems criminal to me. Particularly because from 2015 on, he’s played the majority of his games in triple-A anyway, but hey, early in the season, roster configuration, who knows? The 27-year-old has a .244/.346/.355 career line in triple-A though, and that falls short of his marks elsewhere in the minors by about .070-.080 points of OPS. He was above career averages in Tacoma and Fresno last year, where he had been before the Astros DFA’d him and we decided we had need of any live body we could get for depth. Still, Perkins, Niewenhuis, Miller, and Andreoli in Tacoma, and you can see how both these last two guys ended up playing lower than they might otherwise.

Pizzano has ended up with a similar profile: Fine at double-A, stalled somewhat at anything more challenging. He roughly has half the sample in triple-A for the time being, with a .248/.300/.380 line relative to the .265/.353/.414 line he has in double-A, but the big thing is that while he’s succeeded in drawing more walks than strikeouts at the lower level, it’s 61/27 at the higher one. Also a mid-.700s OPS probably won’t cut it from a corner outfielder? Yeah, that too. I’ll make excuses when I can for a fellow Lion, but his odds at making it are getting longer all the time.

Finally, Rich’s son. Rich’s son was a 7th round pick by the Reds back in 2012 and spent his whole career with them up until midway through last season when he was cut loose and ended up in the Atlantic League for a spell. As is the growing trend on this list, he’s not had good times in the high minors, but in his case we’re looking at a sub-.600 OPS across the double- and triple-A levels. So, what can he do? Well, he’s played a lot of center field and uh… also got in two innings on the mound last year? You never know what you may be called upon to do.


One Response to “2018 Arkansas Travelers Preview”

  1. Westside guy on April 3rd, 2018 10:47 am

    Thank you, Jay. It’s always interesting to read about the mix at this level of the minors.

    Incidentally, I love this team’s name – it may be named after the state song, but it makes me think of a group of barnstorming players from the Depression.

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