2018 Modesto Nuts Preview

Jay Yencich · April 3, 2018 at 12:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues 

Sure, after I stopped writing on a regular schedule, the Mariners hooked up with Modesto (they even put a ring on it the first year!) after I had been shipping them for years. All that time, it seemed like a perfect match: Pitcher-friendly park, west coast affiliate, but they just kept signing up with the Rockies who weren’t even particularly suited to that style of play. Well, now the Mariners finally have a legit Cal League affiliate, years after they were sent packing by San Bernardino, and with an ownership stake in the team, they’ll be around for a while. We’ll have baseball stats we know what to do with, all at the cost of occasionally having to look at an unsettling, California Raisins-inspired set of mascots.

This affiliate in particular looks a little snake-bit by injuries, and I don’t know how firm a lot of my immediate projections are. The starting pitching could run into some trouble if it’s not careful, but the bullpen will shut down the opposition if they’re handed a lead. The catching will be yet one more offensive void, but I can see the infield and outfield both producing on offense, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this team went to the playoffs for a second year.

I found a lot of vague and general comps to former Mariners players and farmhands, but the content was less wide-ranging and more focused than I’d often expect, although I can’t be expected to help myself around the puns.

LHP Danny Garcia, RHP Darren McCaughan, RHP Ljay Newsome, RHP John Richy, LHP Colin Rodgers

It’s hardly a common thing for a late-round HS pick to get a NRI invite to Spring Training, but Newsome did as reward for one specific skills: He is quite excellent at abstaining from the free pass. The 20-year-old had a 111/16 K/BB in 129.2 innings last year. That’s a walk rate of 3%. I was trying to come up with a comp for him in the offseason as a fire hydrant-shaped dude with excellent command, but limited hype coming up and ended up with Ryan Divish’s cousin. Sure, Newsome is more of a flyball pitcher, but otherwise the MWL lines look eerily similar despite them playing many years apart. Hopefully Newsome can add some velocity as he moves up just as Cousin Erasmo did.

Richy was formerly a third-round pick by the Dodgers, who got flipped to the Phillies in the Chase Utley trade and then was released this past July after some time in double-A. While he was a pretty good prospect at UNLV, he’s never been successful for an extended stretch as a pro and has seen just about everything trending in the wrong direction for him the last couple of years as he’s moved up the ladder. I don’t know what he did with the second-half of his summer or what he was up to much of the spring, but the Mariners will take a shot on his ability to sop up some innings at the advanced-A level as a veteran presence.

Beyond those two, I’m taking educated guesses at who will fill out the rest of the spots. Because he logged two seasons at Long Beach State of 100+ innings, my guess is that McCaughan fills one spot. The other bit would be the general profile: “Feel” pitcher, rounded arsenal, solid command of his offerings. Like some of the dudes in the Clinton bullpen, he was also quite nasty against Arizona League competition and recorded a 18/3 K/BB in 12.0 innings. Two things I’d have to watch with him are 1) Whether he sticks, as he’s vaulting over two levels right now and 2) Whether he can add velocity late, as he’s listed at 200 lbs but has below-average heat.

Another guess would be Rodgers, who was picked up from the Royals. This is a tougher call because he’s already spent two seasons in the Carolina League and his former org wasn’t totally committed to him as a starter, and in fact he saw a significant improvement in a small sample as a reliver the last two years. In favor of his rotation case, he was a former 3rd round pick as a prep and boasted good velocity for a southpaw while favoring the curve over the change-up. The absolutely lazy suggestion, which I would not endorse, is that he’s lacked success because he’s not tall enough, but it seems more that he’s been dogged by inconsistent command as the walks have always presented a problem for him.

Garcia’s profile is flipped a little in that it’s his change that’s the better pitch and he’s got college experience, but the success hasn’t been there for him either. He had an average against of over .300 in the Midwest League last year and I can’t imagine that’s easy to do. His lowest monthly average against was a .287 mark in April. Mixed in with that are the ups and downs of command and he seems to have good months and bad while the Ks and average remain around the same. Well, at least you know what you’re getting out there.

RHP Jack Anderson, RHP Seth Elledge, RHP Michael Koval, RHP David McKay, RHP Jeffeson Medina, RHP Wyatt Mills, RHP Kyle Wilcox

Well, this could certainly help shorten some games. Mills spent a bit of time with the team in the Cactus League season and notched a save, with three innings pitched and three runs on three hits with a 4/1 K/BB. While he’s notable for being both a ‘Zag and a third-round pick, the sidearm profile and stuff (low-to-mid-90s FB, slider) lead to strong strikeout numbers, and he’s the newest reliever on the fast track internally. As is typical with submariners, there are a couple of blips though: Two balks in just twenty and a third innings, and a walk rate of 11.25%. One could also comment on L/R stuff, but let’s give it a full season before rushing to judgment on how he can be used.

Elledge fits the bill of historical draft approaches. “Between the fourth and sixth rounds? Time to draft a high-effort, hard-thrower from Texas!” The career saves leader at Dallas Baptist, he’s got plus velocity and a curve to work as a secondary offering. As might be expected from the general approach, his command isn’t there all the time, but he handled himself well in Clinton with a 35/6 K/BB in 21.0 innings. It’s something of a tough call to decide whether you pencil in him or Mills as the nominal closer.

Wilcox moves up after a second year in Clinton where he worked hard on some of his more glaring deficiencies. From one year to the next, his average against went from .258 to .210, strikeouts dropped from 18.6% to 14.3%, and Ks took another step forward from 21.9% to 35.4%, which almost seems insane to type. One would still prefer fewer free passes, but strikeouts in that strata will lead a team to regard some of the worse stuff as a more distant concern. The big worry here is that he was out of commission from the end of June onward with a rotator cuff sprain.

One of our beloved D-II ballers, Koval did his college work at Cal Poly Pomona, where he stepped into the rotation his junior year. He handled himself, but seems better suited to take on an inning or two in the relief role, in terms of his own stamina more than the arsenal itself. Mind you, Koval doesn’t have the “pop” velocity of the first three dudes on this list, but he does one thing exceptionally well and that is keep the grounds crew busy. In Everett, he nearly had three groundballs for every fly. That dipped to 1.77 over the last season in Clinton, but regardless, he looks to be a guy you can count on to come in and have the chance to get you a double play, significantly more so than Julio Mateo.

Let’s divert for a second to talk about a couple of guys who I could also see in the rotation, yet have penciled in as long and middle relievers based on pure conjecture. Bell is one of the increasingly common—and somewhat frustrating—picks that land in the top ten rounds so that they can sign under-slot and free up money elsewhere. He was a senior pick having spent two years in community college and two at South Alabama, where he took on more starts. Still, the CC experience suggests “multiple-inning reliever” as his IP totals remain consistent regardless of starts. His command was good as a member of the Aquasox rotation, but hits were an issue as he had a .300+ average against.

McKay also firsts a “maybe starter?” role. He’s another exile from the Royals (does that make him a pretender to the throne?) who formerly got $100k to sign with them after a few years at Florida Atlantic. Oddly, he’s only ever briefly played above rookie league ball and gave up an awful lot of home runs and hits during his tour of the Pioneer League last season. That doesn’t seem to be the type of profile you want to rush to a hitter-friendly league, so my guess is that he’s one of various early-season fill-ins that are saving a spot for when someone else gets healthy.

Moving back to the surer bullpen arms, Anderson is getting another shot at the league after twenty+ lackluster innings after he moved up from Clinton last year. Quite simply, it was easier to get on base against him in California: More hits and walks and a WHIP that jumped from around one to around one-and-a-half. Use and role will be another question to answer with him as he’s a sidewinder and lefties have had a far easier time squaring him up for that reason.

Lastly, there is former starter Jeffeson Medina, whose name will never have an R in it no matter how much you want it to be there. From 2013 through 2016, Medina bounced around the lower-level affiliates, sometimes starting and sometimes not. His first attempt at Clinton in 2015 yielded a gross 82/63 K/BB in 103.2 innings. Last year, making his third real attempt at the league, he was a perfect 7-0 with a 1.94 ERA, but the only major change in his profile was that he stopped giving up so many hits, and there was no marked improvement in either walks or strikeout numbers. StatCorner was skeptical and so am I.

Tyler Baker, Manny Pazos

Baker joined the org as a minor league Rule 5 pick, pilfered from the Diamondbacks, who had drafted him in the 15th round in 2014. He was up-and-down at Wichita State and only really had a solid season as a sophomore. Being that the rosters came to me slightly out of order, I find myself using a refrain that you can expect to see later when I post the Rainiers: He hits like a catcher. After x years doing this I can basically look at a stat line and say, “yes, that’s a catcher,” much like I have also learned that professional baseball players have puzzlingly similar-looking wives. Behind the plate, Baker appears to have good caught stealing rates at above one-third generally.

While not listed on the MiLB roster as the other catcher, safe bet that Pazos is it, having been listed as a catcher in the media guide and played the position at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s one of those Miami area dudes who was born in Cuba and came over later and built up a solid reputation in the domestic prep circuit. What’s interesting about the dude is he can sort of do the Chris Gimenez thing, in that he spent eight games behind the plate in Peoria, but then between there and Everett also saw six games at third, twelve at second, eleven in left, and two in right. He’s never hit anywhere, but that’s a fascinating defensive profile.

MIF Bryson Brigman, IF Jhombeyker Morales, 3B Joe Rizzo, IF Kevin Santa, IF Donovan Walton, 1B Nick Zammarelli

Rizzo is no stranger to the league or fans after he was named the Championship Series MVP during Modesto’s title run, hitting .421 and slugging .684. Some looked at him as coming into his own during that stretch, but when you look at other samples like the hundred and ten games in Clinton where he hit .254/.354/.346, maybe not? You don’t see much in the second half or even late individual months to suggest a sustained breakout. Then there’s the swing-and-miss part of the game that leads to less power, and the rumors that he could move down on the defensive spectrum, though some want to move him up to catcher and it wouldn’t be the first time we did that to a former second-round infielder (cough, DeCarlo, Littlewood… Does Nick Franklin count if he’s doing it in another org?).

I expect Zammarelli to take on first-base duties, though he’s physically sort of a toolsy Nate Tenbrink type who I can see playing infield and outfield corners as needed. I can’t easily remember the number of Ms and Rs and Ls in his name so I’ll just call him “Zamm” since that’s part of his twitter handle. Zamm Zamm hit .342/.425/.590 as a junior at Elon and carried that performance over into his time at Everett. Being colder and less cozy, the MWL was less kind and he traded some home runs for doubles over the course of the season. I find him to be intriguing as an athlete and hitter with potentially good power, but similar to the guy across the diamond from him, the “swing hard” approach has not yet yielded dingers.

The media guide this year is listing Walton as “Donovan,” and not “Donnie,” so… all right. Walton returns to Modesto without having spent much time there, just sixty-seven games with a .269/.349/.368 batting line. He missed much of the year with a sprained wrist, which is the peril of being the gritty guy who dives for stuff, too rarely spoken of. The register says “shortstop” more often than not, though the arm strength reportedly says “second baseman,” so there’s the expected “good instincts” and “plays above tools” lines that help him collect the numbers that he does.

Santa was drafted last year in the 19th round and split the summer between Peoria where he hit a ludicrous .394/.481/.545, and Modesto, where he hit a more… okay, I’m not going to say “Modest,” but less impressive .244/.320/.311. He seems to have gotten a better handle on his tools relative to his time as a prep in Puerto Rico, having spent a couple of years in junior college at Chipola and then another two at D-II U of Tampa, with gaudy numbers at both spots. I wouldn’t expect much power form him, but the combo of on-base ability, speed, and defensive versatility could yet make him interesting.

Potentially, that line of thinking also brought Brigman into the org as a third-round pick, but the rest hasn’t quite happened yet. He hasn’t slugged over .300 over a full season and tailed off in the second half rather than improving. He got better at his overall SB efficiency, but made fewer attempts. His strikeout rate improved, but he walked less frequently than he did in 2016. If Brigman is to get by as a middle infielder with very limited power, then he needs to figure both those things out and develop in his ability to hit for average. Thus far, we’ve had a fair bit of hype and not much in the way of results.

Morales has no known connection to our former back-up catching Manbearwolf. Through three seasons on the domestic side of things, he’s been unusually reliable for an OPS of roughly .630 and maybe one home run annually. Though he started out plying his trade exclusively on the middle of the infield, he has since branched out and it also known to share time at third and, in rarer instances, play first base and right field.

CF Anthony Jimenez, RF Gareth Morgan, CF Jorge Solano, LF Logan Taylor

Jimenez had the early look of a potential break-out guy in the MWL last season, but like his pitching counterpart in Wilcox, he went on the DL at the end of June and never came back to the league. It’s easy to say that Wilcox comes off looking worse for being a pitcher with an arm injury, but Jimenez had a knee injury as a speedy center fielder who had been leading the league in stolen bases, so that’s not so hot either. The then-21-year-old had a .300/.361/.489 line in limited action, but as good as his contact skills are, he does strike out at an above-average rate. Refinement of that and his stolen base efficiency will be key for him.

Taylor returns to the league despite being a year older. I suppose we’ll see about being a year wiser? With the new change in management, we’ve understood one of the major priorities to be strike zone control. Taylor did not succeed at that in 2017, and relative to his 2016 campaign, we see drops in walk rate from 12.3% to 6.7% and a bump in K-rate from 24.2%, not good to begin with, to 29.9%. How much you’d attribute that, if at all, to the shift from the hot corner to left is up to you, but with the stockpiling of upper-minors outfielders in the event that injuries hit, you can see where it may have been easier to push Taylor out.

Morgan has proved to be more Kalian Sams than Greg Halman in baseball skills and struck out 185 times last season. I just tried to figure out where that would rank in the Midwest League and B-R has the top strikeout hitter only at 144. Draw what conclusions you will. He also somewhat miraculously collected fifty-three walks, which would have ranked seventh on the list, and the seventeen home runs would have tied him for third. I had previously wanted to write him off, but putting him in the Cal League has the potential for stupid results, we just don’t know if it’s “stupid great” or just the regular insipid kind.

A man of baseball mystery, Solano is most easily described relative to Patrick Kivlehan: Like Kivvles, he went to school on a football scholarship (Fordham) and decided to give baseball another go after that. I don’t have any news about him on the diamond and can’t even tell if he played the indy leagues, but Tommy Romero likely vouched for him as they were teammates in high school. I wouldn’t expect him to be long for the Cal League and he’s probably just holding it down until Kyle Lewis gets back.


6 Responses to “2018 Modesto Nuts Preview”

  1. Westside guy on April 3rd, 2018 4:59 pm

    Okay, the “Divish’s cousin” link isn’t working for me… and I really want to know who it is!

  2. Jay Yencich on April 3rd, 2018 5:41 pm

    Fixed it, and even chose a better link this time.

  3. Jay Yencich on April 3rd, 2018 6:18 pm

    It’s important to me that I also note that there are two players on the roster with the middle name of “Wyatt”: Mills and Newsome. This could be a new inefficiency the team is trying to exploit, right-handers with the middle name of Wyatt.

  4. bookbook on April 3rd, 2018 8:49 pm

    Awesome series. I was about to note that there’s been no mention of Lewis, Carlson, or White, our only three prospects with a realistic, if long, shot of collecting 20+ WAR in their careers. But there’s Lewis, limping into the corner of the frame at the last possible moment. Keep hope alive!

  5. Westside guy on April 3rd, 2018 9:43 pm

    Haha, I guess I’m just gullible – I thought it really was gonna be Divish’s cousin. And I should’ve figured it out from context.

    However it was all worth it just to see Erasmo dancing in a onesie.

  6. Jay Yencich on April 4th, 2018 7:01 am

    Yeah, Lewis has been targeted as the beginning of May, White is supposed to be out another week or so with a minor groin strain (I don’t know if he goes MWL or CAL), and there’s not much reason to drop Carlson in the MWL immediately, particularly when so many early-season games get canceled due to weather. If Neidert is a predictor, Carlson could end up in the MWL by the end of May.

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