2018 Clinton Lumberkings Preview

Jay Yencich · April 2, 2018 at 11:15 am · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues 

For the first time in a while, I found myself without a normal venue with which to collect baseball thoughts. Grand Salami, after twenty-two years, suspended operations and while I was grateful to not puzzle over a top ten with the system as it presently is, there was also the feeling that something was missing or lacking. I don’t expect this to be a great year for the system, but interesting things will be happening nonetheless and we’re in one of those “nowhere to go but up” spots. So, here I am again, writing too many words on a fair number of players in the hopes that someone finds it useful.

The Lumberkings this year are working with certain deficits we see system-wide, and some of the strengths as well. The rotation has the early look of being somewhat interesting and the bullpen looks to build on good returns from the previous season. As for the lineup, there are a handful of position players looking to build up prospect credentials, notably the second baseman and part of the starting outfield, though catching is once again a problem spot for the offense. I see this team as presently configured to be “pitching and outfield defense” and not really living up to what you would think from the mascot name.

Beyond this point lie too many words and wild speculation on a variety of topics, including overlaps between the Founding Fathers and baseball, who is suffering an allergy attack in their team photo, who aspires to be a Flow Bro, and a fair number of utterly preposterous AZL performances now getting vetted in a non-joke league.

RHP Ryne Inman, LHP Oliver Jaskie, LHP Raymond Kerr, RHP Tommy Romero, LHP Nick Wells

Jaskie, I could see as lining up as the team’s ace as he’s been favored by the prospecting lists. That being said, he had a 6.82 ERA in 30.1 innings and was likely lagging after a heavy college workload last year. He both gave up a lot of hits (forty-three) and a lot of walks (thirteen), but he also had more Ks than IP. In terms of profile, the Michigan product fits the template of some of the system southpaws of yore: FB in the low-90s, excellent change, trying figure out that third pitch. He’s also allegedly got a little funk in the delivery, which adds to the deception and Ks. We’ll see how long he can ride that quirk out. The expectation would be more in line with back-end innings-eater than the numbers, good and bad, might otherwise suggest.

If you’re interested in hearing about Romero, you can tune into the LL podcast with him where you will discover such amusing details as him trying to strike out literally everyone because he didn’t trust the defense and could at least control that side of the game. One could say he maintained that mentality in Peoria, when he K’d fifty-one in 43.1 IP, which would be neat on its own, but wow, a sub-Mendoza opposing average? In the AZL? That’s wild. Romero’s a big kid who has gained velocity over the years and improved his conditioning substantially over the offseason, so he’s the sneaky pick to be good and probably had a better billing than your typical 15th rounder. I mean, he struck out ten in 3.2 innings on August 19th last year, who DOES that?

The rotation features two 6’5” former prep draft picks from each side of the mound. The righty one is Inman, who split last season between Clinton and Everett. While in Everett, he suffered from a dinger problem, cutting into what you’d otherwise think was respectable at a .241 average against and a 37/10 K/BB in 35.2 IP. In Clinton, he had the yips and gave up significantly more hits and walks, including a three-start stretch where he walked four in each game and didn’t make it past the fifth. The physical tools are interesting, though the results have never been in line with them.

That last line of Inman’s write-up could just as easily define Wells’ career, though his status as a southpaw earns him a handful of “Continue?” credits beyond what other dudes might get. Three years in a row now has he spent some time at Clinton and we’re waiting for the BB/9 to drop below three for him, or the average to drop below .280, or the Ks to be in line with what the stuff says it should be. Given that some guys internally have had some success doing Driveline and other such more forward-thinking programs designed to improve on velocity, mechanics, and the like, one wonders what Wells might be able to do with a similar tear-down-and-rebuild approach.

Kerr is among the roster’s biggest mysteries outside of having a name like an antihero and/or double agent in a spy movie. Makes sense that he’s a sinister southpaw. To boot, PerfectGame has no idea who he is and there’s a two-year gap in data from when he was at Mendocino College to when he was at Lassen CC. All we know is that he struck out two in a frame in Peoria last year and had some modest strikeout numbers in his CC days. But where was he during those two lost years? Conducting psyops missions somewhere, no doubt.

LHP Chris Castellanos, RHP Clay Chandler, LHP Matt Clancy, RHP Adonis de la Cruz, Sam Delaplane, RHP David Gerber, RHP Austin Hutchison, RHP Collin Kober

Last year’s media guide had the concise description of Clancy’s previous, one-inning season as “2016: Spent.” While that has since been removed, we now know that he was on the DL with a right shoulder strain, which is perplexing for a LHP? This year’s media guide lists him as a switch-pitcher, though I suspect that’s merely a swapping of his B/T. In any case, I would certainly welcome another amphibious pitcher. He split time between Everett and Clinton last year and I will tell you in advance that it is not a typo when I write that he struck out sixty-five in 44.1 innings even if that looks insane. He gives up his share of walks, however, and gave up quite a few hits in his last tour of the MWL.

Delaplane has been a guy with a bit of buzz, having been on the replacement squads during ST, though he did not pitch. He was our 23rd round pick last year (the highest drafted bullpen guy here) and got 31.0 innings in with, again not-a-typo, a 47/8 K/BB, which would seem to attest that he didn’t much belong in the Arizona League. He also ended up with two frames of work in Tacoma where he struck out three and gave up a run on three hits. Perfect Game lost him in the sea of other California preps, but he was a four-year swingman at Eastern Michigan where he racked up some good Ks numbers with iffy command in moments. I imagine that with signing Jaskie as a top-ten pick, we probably saw him a fair bit in our scouting rounds.

Once again, the main gift of having de la Cruz on the roster is knowing that we have a player named “Adonis” in the system. He’s a convert to pitching after debuting in system as an outfielder and has proven to have a loose arm, since he averaged about a couple of innings per outing last year. The command was spotty, but he held on okay despite jumping from the DSL to the NWL with all of two years of pitching experience. I suppose that they were comfortable enough with his performance, but the rawness is present, both in the free passes and the balks (three of them?) and the wild pitches (six) in 35.2 innings. But hey, better than the debut year when he hit ten dudes in 47.2 innings. That’s Wild Thing territory there.

The rest have less data for me to work with, but 2017 draftees or NDFAs predominate as a theme. Castellano is the other southpaw, from Stanford this time this time (I’m more amenable to drafting Stanford pitchers than hitters). He’s under six feet, which may have contributed to his dropping to the 33rd round, but he was a good sport about pitching at multiple levels and, to add to the list of fellows who had silly, video game-esque numbers in Peoria, 37/1 K/BB in 21.1 innings down in Arizona. That’s a zone that’s not only controlled, but downright submissive. The early samples suggest that despite his height disadvantage, he induces a good number of groundballs.

Gerber also got some time with the Cactus League squad, though not with favorable results: He had three runs charged to him on four hits in a third of an inning. He spent just 12.1 innings on the mound last year as a pro after being picked in the 29th round, and most of those were between Peoria and Everett where he had a combined 16/1 K/BB in 11.1 innings. Briefly the Aquasox closer, he was 3-for-3 in save ops. This could be a sign of things to come, as he logged twenty-five saves during his time at Creighton after taking most of his freshman year off. I’d expect to see him in the later innings, at the very least.

Kober has the MiLB profile picture of a man auditioning to be a Flow Bro. Beyond that mane attraction, he was a 27th round selection out of McNeese State, adding to the list of colleges that I don’t know the locations of because McNeese is plainly a name, not a state. His small sample consisted of 17.2 innings in Peoria with a 21/5 K/BB, which I suppose would be impressive were it not for the other fellows written above. He closed for the Cowboys off and on and thus could see further high-leverage opportunities.

The necessary roles of swingman / game two starter for the inevitable MWL weather-induced doubleheader could go to Chandler, who was a two-year starter after transferring from a community college to SE Missouri State. It was a similar role that he played for Peoria and Everett down the stretch, and his command seems sufficiently good to get him through a few innings without issue. One blip on the radar for him, and likely why he was a NDFA as opposed to a draft selection, is that his senior year was plainly inferior to his junior year, with 12.1 fewer innings, twenty more hits (including six more dingers), eight more runs, one more walk, and thirty-two fewer Ks.

Hutchison was a draft pick out of the same college which gave us beloved short-term Mariner reliever / emergency catcher Carter Capps, though the two never overlapped there. Like others before him, a late draft status (26th round) likely contributed to his bouncing around multiple levels, except Hutch has already seen four of them and perhaps skipped Everett entirely, which is a shame as it’s a nice place to have a ball game. He started mostly started at Mt. Olive (though he did notch two saves) and he could also, in theory, be okay as the swingman / game two guy if it comes to it, as he went over a hundred innings one year and came close the next.

Ryan Scott, Nick Thurman

In a more perfect world, we might be talking about Banuelos here or in Modesto, but the system’s catching depth being what it is, we’re now looking at two 23+ backstops splitting time, hoping to guide the pitching staff. Scott is the right-handed batting one, having signed early last year. Originally, he was drafted a HS backstop by the Dodgers in the 30th round in 2013. Looking over his numbers, it’s hard to find much to be eager about in the profile. He has a career .477 OPS, only played seven games at the full-season level in four seasons with the Dodgers, and last year’s thirty-eight games split across four levels was a career high for him by nine. That usually presages some defensive prowess if he’s hung on this long, but the CS% is nothing special at around 28% and the passed balls seem a bit high. Perhaps he is the best framer of pitches anyone has ever seen?

More likely, the left-handed hitting Thurman takes on the starting job. He served as backup last year, and at least had a CS% above a third although the passed balls look to remain an issue with sixteen in fifty-five games. He was a NDFA signing for us a couple of years back out of Louisiana-Lafayette and has a bit more going on offensively than Scott, though he enters the season with the devil’s own career OPS. Probably the most curious thing about the general profile is that he has two seasons in a row of exactly as many RBI as walks? He has a bit of a strikeout problem and can back-up first if it comes to it, though that seems unlikely as there are no other catchers on the roster.

SS Johnny Adams, IF Louis Boyd, 1B Ryan Costello, 3B Eugene Helder, 2B Joseph Rosa

Rosa was one of the more intriguing hitters debuting on the Aquasox roster last year and I think that holds after he batted .296/.374/.531 there. That being said, the NWL can be a rather offensive-friendly league and Rosa had some pretty extreme splits, batting .330/.421/.692 at home vs .261/.323/.364 on the road. The 21-year-old looks now to be an offensive-minded second baseman since he’s lacking the arm to play regularly on the other side of the bag. The range is generally okay, but you can tell where he’s had his priorities on the field over the years. Figuring out how to make better use of his wheels would probably be the easiest way to improve his profile on both sides of the game.

Another back-end guy on some lists, Adams hails from Massachusetts and I’ve been waiting all this time to hear whether he’s related to the former presidents. In any case, he neither wears wigs nor seems especially likely to be played by Paul Giamatti, son of former MLB Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti, in a HBO miniseries. Adams hit .316/.374./.445 for the ‘Sox last season (the froggy ones not the Red ones), and had similar though not nearly as extreme success at home as Rosa. Would it surprise you to discover that he is one of those “more than the sum of his parts” guys who is known more for good instincts and high skill level than physical ability?

I’ve pegged Costello as a potential 1B since he played there in Peoria a little, though the Mariners called him as a third baseman when he was selected in the 31st round last year out of Central Connecticut State. Go Blue Devils, although I wasn’t aware of Central Connecticut’s need for a NCAA D-I university. Costello had more walks than Ks his last two years of college and mashed a bit, which carried over to his time in Peoria when he hit .331/.430/.634 with a 38/26 K/BB in forty-four games. They wouldn’t have skipped him over Everett if they didn’t believe in the bat.

Helder served as Everett’s third baseman and had previously played all around the infield, so I expect him as more likely there. The only Aruban listed in this year’s media guide, Helder got lost in the list of good offensive performers from last year’s Aquasox. Likely, it’s because he’s his power skews to doubles and his value follows his average, though he seems to have wheels and can leg out some triples now and then. Similar to Rosa, my own speculation is that making better use of his speed (forty-one career steals, fourteen times caught) would be one of the better ways of shoring up his offensive profile, but the more realist take is that Rosa’s the superior hitter playing at a more demanding position.

Boyd has played all over the infield for various minor league teams after we picked him up in the 24th round last year. I hadn’t noticed it previously, but he’s from Vancouver B.C., so I imagine before he was playing college ball in Arizona, we were aware of him as a prep north of the border. Like Costello, he lit up Arizona League pitching with a .321/.378/.468 line in 119 PAs before batting .261/.292/.290 in 72 PAs with the Lumberkings from mid-August on. While not wanting to be overly sour, I suspect the time in Clinton was more representative and it’s easier to see him as the team’s utility guy.

LF Griefer Andrade, CF Billy Cooke, CF Jack Larsen, LF Dimas Ojeda, RF Ariel Sandoval

It’s hard to say who is the most interesting outfielder, but if I’m being a literalist and using the criteria of “playing the outfield,” then Cooke? You may have noticed him during spring training games. He is…. So fast. In fact, in the pause that ellipses created, he probably already got to first base. He’s up there with Bishop as the best outfield glove in system, but whereas Bishop’s star rose because he figured out how to hit better and with more authority, last year’s sample for Cooke was not good: .156/.273/.213. The differential in average to OBP is good, but he also struck out forty-five times in forty-two games, which seems suboptimal for that profile, likewise the stolen base efficiency of six swipes in eleven attempts. Both were fine in college, but pro ball is often not the same. There are dizzy bat races between innings, for one.

The player I most frequently think has been traded for international bonus money or some blasted thing but actually hasn’t been is Andrade. After bouncing around the infield for his first three years, 2017 marked his first pro season playing the outfield corners, though that’s where he had been as an amateur. While he was not the beneficiary of home park in the way that some others were, his halves were quite different as he slugged .500 before and .376 after. Since the Ks also climbed and his batting eye was not especially discerning (57/5 K/BB overall), I suspect pitchers found ways to exploit his aggressiveness and it’s on him to adjust to that. His profile picture with the Aquasox also makes it look like he was having a horrible allergy attack, so get some antihistamines, buddy.

Ojeda is listed as an outfielder and spent all of last year there, though he’s had some first-base experience in the past. His 2017 was entirely in Clinton, logging just under four hundred plate appearances, though it was not necessarily distinguished as he batted .248/.284/.333. He had one fewer walk over 106 games than he had in fifty-one games in 2016. Of course, he’s also the winner of the 2017 Dan Wilson Community Service Award and the press release singled him out for early mention as a returning “fan favorite.” This is surely in-line with everything I was reading about him before the draft too.

Larsen is the final of the Peoria Performers (not a new team name), being a college senior NDFA out of UC San Diego. He was a solid hitter there, albeit in a D-II setting, and followed that up hitting .312/.472/.541 in thirty-four games. That on-base percentage is intriguing, though it came in the form of a 33/33 K/BB and the strikeouts are higher than you’d anticipate from “excellent eye.” One wonders if, instead, he’s quite passive at the plate much of the time and relies on the pitcher to give him something to hit, which is less of a sure thing down in the desert. We’ll see how they want to use him soon enough, though NDFAs often are lower priorities to get into the lineup.

Last on the list and likely the guy who could take over right, Sandoval. If you don’t recognize the name, it’s because he was only acquired somewhat recently as a cash deal from the Dodgers, because our depth is such that we’re actively buying up other team’s minor leaguers who might otherwise be released. Sandoval is no stranger to the area, as he played half a season for Great Lakes in 2016, but his offense has only rarely been viable and in his best season, as a nineteen-year-old in the Arizona League, he had three walks to forty-nine strikeouts while batting .325/.337/.520. It hurts us. Some intriguing power and athleticism are there, but he’s remained quite raw and has now dropped back to the Midwest League after spending all of 2017, or sixty-one games rather, in the California League.


3 Responses to “2018 Clinton Lumberkings Preview”

  1. Westside guy on April 2nd, 2018 2:06 pm

    I always look forward to reading your thoughts on the minors, Jay – thank you!

  2. flightrisk on April 2nd, 2018 3:05 pm

    Cool. Thanks for some names we can follow. May the baseball gods smile on about a half-dozen of these guys!

  3. Barnard on April 3rd, 2018 10:09 am

    Thank you so much for the minor league write-ups, outstanding level of detail you just don’t see in many places.

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