2018 Everett Aquasox Preview(-ish)

Jay Yencich · June 17, 2018 at 8:47 am · Filed Under Mariners 

This is a bit late, but I’ve also been bouncing back and forth between time zones with various levels of service and that seems like a plausible enough excuse. That’s going to continue, by the way, so don’t anticipate me being quick on the reply.  This year the Aquasox have a pretty normal looking roster out of the gate hahaha wow amazing when the draft has already happened. I mean, I dog pretty regularly on the contemporary draft for being less compelling with the drawn-out selection process and the hard caps on pools, but the Mariners were never much to indulge in the first place and we now sign players pretty quickly without that added bargaining room.  That broadly seems appealing, but I also still miss the quirks of the draft-and-follow process.

I’m not sure what to think of this staff overall, partly jet lag, admittedly. The outfield core group, I would expect to be the part of the offense that really carries the team and the catching situation will be interesting to see how it settles. I know who’s supposed to be starting in the short term, but there aren’t too many that I’m enthusiastic about and the relief corps probably come out as more experienced and reliable.  Not all of them will be relievers after this year either, although the ones that only recently began pitching probably will stay in the bullpen. The infield…. There are just too many players and most of them are listed as second basemen, because that’s what the draft did for us. Good luck with that, Jose Moreno.

RHP Jheyson Caraballo, RHP Ivan Fortunato, RHP Carlos Hernandez, RHP Ulises Perez, LHP Orlando Razo, LHP Max Roberts

With the caution of “we won’t know how Gilbert fits in until he does,” Roberts has started out the season as the staff ace. To generalize a little about where he fits in the scheme of recent drafting tendencies, the Mariners sometimes like to grab JuCo guys have intriguing physical abilities and are in line to transfer, in the hopes that catching them early is equivalent to investing early in what will become a higher draft pick in a year or two. Roberts is such a dude, as a 6’6” left-hander. That being said, as of last year, he didn’t have the velocity anticipated from his frame nor the polish in secondary offerings that one might like, so it was a logical move to keep him in extended as they tried to work out a proper plan of attack for him.

Having finally gotten the rotation confirmed via the stand-up folks at the Everett Herald, I’ll just tackle this one in a somewhat normal order. Hernandez is nominally but not alphabetically next. I had the feeling of “hasn’t he been around for a while?,” but he was a two-year developmental case in the summer leagues (turned league) and has only been pitching in the states since 2016. Last year’s showing was clipped at 4.1 innings in Everett due to shoulder tendinitis. Thus, what we have to go on presently are VSL, DSL, and AZL stats, which are never much to project by. For example, thirteen of forty-three career appearances as starts and shoulder troubles, but sure, plug him into the rotation. He appears to have decent strikeout numbers and okay command.  He got utterly destroyed in his first start though.

Razo started much of his sophomore and all of his senior season at UC Davis after missing the junior year to injury. He was flown into both Modesto and Clinton to make spot starts earlier n the year and went five frames each time, which was surely a great relief to his managers. I can’t say I know much about his offerings other than fastball, curveball, change. His strikeout numbers aren’t anything to give you pause, nor do his walk rates look elite, but he seems to manage anyway and has been tested in a legitimate conference in the Big West.

If you’re not familiar with Caraballo, you wouldn’t be the only one. Chalk that up to his spending the first couple of years of his career with the Astros. They released him in December, and three days later, we picked him up. I imagine he fits our standing preferences of older, more developed fellas as he first signed with Houston as a twenty-year-old. Things that immediately stand out in his profile are that he’s a flyball pitcher with weak command numbers and he gives up a lot of hits. It doesn’t sound like much, but I’ve seen plenty of Latin American signings who were given up on early go on to be legitimate contributors for their second organizations.

You may have noticed I have six listed above and we are being graced with the glorious Piggyback Start, though not in a “Mecha Shiva!” Venture Brothers sense where two dudes are throwing while riding each other’s shoulders. In this case, one has a very Russian name despite hailing from Latin America and the other references classical literature, so, swoon. Fortunato must be well-liked because 1) he was signed as soon as he was eligible and 2) he’s now in Everett despite having all of 11.1 pro innings. With such a small sample size and no listed injuries to go on in the media guide, all I really have to work with here is the intrigue of the organization making him a priority signing.

Perez came to us as a slightly later signing, cursed to have been born slightly too late to be available on July 2nd the year he turned sixteen. Another Venezuelan, he has more of a track record with us having logged 130.2 innings coming into the year. The trajectory is atypical though, in that he was promoted to Peoria late in his first year, spent all of his second there with just-awful command numbers, and then was bounced back to the DSL in 2016 prior to getting all of two innings in Peoria in 2017, thanks to an earlier fractured elbow. Prior to a quick one-inning appearance in the opener, he had a career 91/66 K/BB, so “command: bad” would be a hot take with the added suggestion that they don’t keep around bad command types without reason.

RHP Grant Anderson, RHP Dayeison Arias, RHP David Ellingson, RHP Joey Gerber, RHP Tyler Jackson, RHP Cody Mobley, RHP Penn Murfee, LHP Michael Plassmeyer, RHP Jamal Wade

To insert the annual disclaimer, bullpen work is not necessarily indicative of future role in Everett. For example, we could foresee Plassmeyer being a starter from here on out given that he was a 4th round pick out of a good school in Missouri, he’s got three pitches already, and he Cs much Z, with a 103/17 K/BB this past season. He also really seemed to take a step forward in logging 91.0 innings where he’d previously been in the mid-50s in workload as usually-a-starter. There could be more development there in terms of velocity, but if it doesn’t totally pan out as expected, one draft note has been that his slider is better than his change-up and that makes him more unique in relief. He also has a brother who is a year older and is a LHP so sign him as a NDFA, why not, I say.

As actual relievers go, Gerber’s the annual pick of “guy in Everett who will probably be in Modesto next year,” or something to that effect. Like Wyatt Mills before him, there’s also no ambiguity about whether or not he’ll be a reliever, having done so exclusively for the Illini.  The delivery and profile corroborate. He’s a mid-90s FB / slider guy who has sometimes used a third pitch, but doesn’t necessarily need it. Most outlets project him as a setup type who could’ve gone far earlier than the eighth round, and I guess that’s something considering how badly we missed out on the high school ranks.

Another guy whose potential intrigues me is Wade, who was an outfielder for much of his college career at Maryland before moving to the mound as a junior. He was at a 27/9 K/BB in 19.2 innings for Peoria and I like I assume others were, though “yes, please, more,” yet he didn’t break season with any full-year affiliates and I seem to recall him being listed on the DL of one of them. I hope that he’s able to move a bit after getting settled in Everett, but watching minor league baseball has sometimes instructed me that not every player’s body can handle a switch to an unfamiliar position.  At least he isn’t catching?

I go into each year hoping the best for Mobley and not quite getting it. With three years, now working on his fourth, he has 59.1 innings and a 40/29 K/BB in that span. Moreover, it seems like he’s going to be mostly a reliever from here on out unless proven otherwise. I wish I had any notion of why he’s pitched so few innings at times, i.e., one, in 2016. Alas, the media guide is not at all helping me on this front. To reiterate things previously known: good if not great curveball, low-mid-90s velo, wonky command.  He pitched a bit of mop-up Saturday night.

I’m going to tackle the rest alphabetically since roles aren’t exactly firm yet. Anderson pitched at the not-helpfully-named McNeese State, which is not in McNeese, which is also not a state, but instead is located in Lake Charles, Louisiana. He relieved his first two years in the Southland conference, but started ten out of his eighteen appearances this past season and climbed up to 81.2 IP, more than his previous two years combined. Glancing at the lines, he doesn’t appear to have the standard plus command we seek out, far from it, but from the looks of it, he was also a catcher and first baseman in high school, so slack may be cut.

Arias figured prominently among the photos in the team preview in the Herald. Does it mean something? Does it not? Arias was in the DSL for one year, but is yet one more older signing at 21 to start the year. His DSL time, for whatever you make of it, was entirely in relief with a few save opportunities, a 36/9 K/BB and a .222 average against. Once again, we’re in the spot of thinking “they must like him or else he’d be in Peoria instead.”  Even with dire times for low-minors pitching depth, we did just restock.

Ellingson has hung around even though he was a 34th round pick out of Georgetown back in 2016. Despite being in Everett last year, much of the early press has been about the returning hitters, which would follow insofar as Ellingson’s 20.2 innings with the squad in 2017 were undistinguished: Average approaching .300, 21/6 K/BB, too many hit batters at one every four innings.

Jackson serves as something of an elder statesman, a 24-year-old who was signed as a NDFA last year. Curiously, he spent 45.0 innings, all of them starting, in Modesto last year, where he posted a 36/9 K/BB with a .261 average against. Even though he did fine treading water there, he’s logged 27.0 innings at various stops, Modesto, Arkansas, Tacoma, this season without landing in a regular spot. Admittedly, the command and average against have both been far worse in the limited sample size.

Murfee’s last name is apparently a real one, but I imagine that if I typed “Murphy” into the usual search boxes, I’d get some hundreds of responses whereas in this case I only get the one, even without the uncommon given name. Murfee was more of a hitter as a prep, profiling mostly along the left side of the infield, and even though he was at a respectable .290/.351/.377 at Vanderbilt as a sophomore, he moved to pitching full-time as a junior then transferred over to Santa Clara to pitch as a senior. Would you expect him to have good command? Well, he’s lacking there, but they seemed to like his curve when he was in the prep ranks so something’s going on.

Jake Anchia, Troy Dixon, Geoandry Montilla, Rainis Silva

Four backstops seems hardly ideal, and who knows what they do once Cal Raleigh signs but if they sent him to Clinton instead I would say, “fine, whatever.” Anchia looks to be the primary backstop on draft status and is mainly known for breaking a bunch of J.D. Martinez home run records while at Nova Southeastern. This past season, he really found his power stroke and ended up going yard enough to get him a .713 slugging for the season. Among the bits of narrative you’ll find around him, you’ll pick up that he’s the son of Cuban-Americans (so, potential language fluency) and that he stepped into the leadership role after the former starting catcher broke a finger during the D-II College World Series. He was also an outfielder in high school part-time and could be improving as a receiver since making it his primary gig.

Dixon is the holdover and his ability to hit left-handed makes him a unique strategical element on the Aquasox roster. While he showed a fine batting eye for a hit-for-contact approach, he hit like a catcher his first three years of college and resumed doing as much in his time in Everett. I have no data on his abilities as a backstop from then, but if I’m looking at his fifteen games behind the plate last year, I see a 44% catch rate and only one error and one passed ball, which seems fine to me. Perhaps the team has a good sense of his fielding and is trying to figure out if he can hit, and maybe play multiple positions since he also ended up in left last year? That’s a relatively uncommon switch.

Montilla has a name that I’d give at least a 55, maybe 60 grade, which would also rate it as one of his best tools? He’s one of the last remaining low-level guys who was signed from Venezuela and saw time in the VSL. His switch to catcher was more back-and-forth, as he was a primary first baseman his second year and played more outfield than catcher the same season. The rates don’t look too hot and the strikeouts seem a bit excessive, yet it seems that he has a far better eye than is typically credited to Latin American signings and that could merit keeping him around, it’s just a bit of a roster crunch right now.

A fun way to think of Silva is to factor in that he was acquired for pool money from the Twins, so one could potentially view that as effectively a Silva and int’l dollars for Banuelos in terms of shuffling depth around and exchanging short-season catchers is honestly kind of funny. He raked in 101 at-bats in the Appy League last year, but if I remember anything about having an affiliate there, it was a caveat emptor approach to offensive numbers. The defense from a CS% perspective more than a PB perspective (still needs polish there) honestly looks good enough to start so I’m not entirely certain why he’s listed for the Aquasox or what that entails, other than confirmation that this is the next logical step for him offensively.

2B Cash Gladfelter, 3B Bobby Honeyman, 2B Connor Hoover, 2B Connor Kopach, 2B Ryne Ogren, 1B Onil Pena, SS Nic Rodriguez, SS Matt Sanders

At the outset here, while I’m fairly sure that the team will be all right (they aren’t lacking for options), the infield is less star-studded than other areas of the squad and I’m not sure how it will shake out. A given would probably be Sanders at the six spot. If I were being lazier about this, and I’m trying not to be, I would make comparisons to myriad drafted senior collegiate shortstops of yore, but Sanders’ skillset is somewhat different from the others. He lives by getting on base, having even ratios his sophomore year and more walks than Ks as a junior and senior, and he seems of late to be tapping into the above-average speed that led him to steal more bags as a senior than in his previous three years combined. His arm isn’t optimal for short though, so expect incessant grousing about that.

Any other defensive arrangement is purely speculative on my part, but I’d guess Ogren at the keystone since he’s the next highest pick. We like drafting dudes from Elon and Ogren hails from there, so it stands to reason he’s been observed and accounted for. He walked more than twice as much as he K’d in his junior year and seems to be a competent hitter for average, albeit with doubles power. He doesn’t seem much the stolen base type, but he has pitched 3.2 slop innings over his career and not so poorly, so could we see him in a blowout? Could Ryne Ogren one day relieve Ryne Inman in an outing? I mean, I don’t want it to happen for the implied direness of circumstances, but my years of Mariners fandom have left me eager to root for the weird thing in the absence of the good thing.

Since he was called out as a 3B, I’m guessing that’s where Honeyman sits. He played at SUNY Stony Brook for four seasons and was modest in the returns until his senior year when he had twenty extra-base hits, previous high twelve, and a sweet-looking 7/17 K/BB, which pushed him to five more walks than Ks for his collegiate career. The only sticker here is that I’m looking at the stats and do you want a corner infielder who has about 2% of his career hits fly, fly away?

Pena can do that at least while manning first base. He went yard ten times for the Aquasox last year and had a .270/.369/.465 line to finish the season. He also had about a .200 point difference in OPS from home to road and from first half to second. I anticipated that he would have broken in with a full season squad, but he was listed as on the DL for one of them (I think?) and never showed up, so perhaps this is an opportunity to prove himself healthy. I don’t exactly know who would play first in his absence, but there are enough dudes on the infield who seem to want it.

How the rest of the depth shakes out seems like guesswork. Gladfelter played for the Shippensburg Raiders until he was drafted as a junior, but was one of those fellows with the misfortune of having a better looking sophomore than junior season, when his average and his OBP were around fifty points higher. He gained some slugging this past season and seems of the build, listed 6’4” and 200 lbs, that’s atypical for a middle infielder. He’s also the squad’s tallest position player.  He played third base in game two and I was not surprised.

So, there are two guys named Connor on the roster and they both play second, but one bats lefty and the other bats righty. Hoover is the lefty and played in the D-II Peach League before getting drafted by the Mariners, appearing on their radar because he walked and he walked a lot. He also walked a lot in Arizona. He had more walks than hits, by eight. He did not have more walks than Ks, as he fell below that mark by three, but if you’re the nB% type, he did get himself plunked eleven times and was only intentionally walked once, so that beats out the K numbers. Let’s see if he continues to run an OBP higher than his slugging, c’mon, it’ll be fun.

Kopach is the right-handed batting Connor and hails from Southern Illinois at Carbondale, which I hear has a decent baseball team although I honestly only know it for the MFA? Despite being drafted this year, he’s the older Connor and got to be there an extra year after redshirting his age-20 season. He’s not quite the extremely patient hitter that Hoover is but he did have sixty-six stolen bases with seventeen times caught over his last two seasons and the Mariners appear to be newly interested in dynamic presences on the basepaths after long drafting guys who were fast but only on defense.

Rodriguez is sometimes listed as Nick and sometimes listed as Nic, but regardless, he was our 22nd round pick out of UNLV, which also has a good creative writing program, and why would one need to know this? He appears to have been a four-year starter for the Rebels and is not the on-base threat that some of the other infielders are, nor is he quite speedy, but he can play short and he can slug, trading some Ks for power in his senior season. To play a little with it, because why not, 18.2% of his at-bats resulted in Ks the first three years and his XBH% was 23.2%. Senior year, 21.3% Ks, 34.5% XBH, all the while not walking as frequently.

RF Ryan Garcia, OF Charlie McConnell, LF Keegan McGovern, OF Jansiel Rivera, RF Ronald Rosario, CF Josh Stowers

The “hot take” style of draft reaction doesn’t have the same real pith it formerly had, or appearance of pith. For example, the Mariners picking up Stowers in the second round is not going to be your idea of a good selection if you’re looking at earlier reports while ignoring tournament play. As I said before, relative to some other guys like Bishop, Stowers isn’t a game-changer in center, but he could be good enough if he develops right. The separator here is that he combines good hitting ability and eye numbers, plus he was able to tap into power a bit during the ACC tourney after struggling out of the gate with it. From there, you can form your own mental Punnett Square of outcomes: Finding use of both his power and speed would be the dream, power could have him work in left, speed in center, and neither condemns him to “tweener” status. He could merit the more aggressive draft status.

Willacoochee’s own Keegan McGovern similarly fits the bill of a guy who took longer to figure stuff out. He was a fine prep prospect, albeit not one you’d necessarily project out to CF, but in college his conditioning lapsed in spots and the numbers were nothing too exceptional until he decided to slug .644 in his senior year. His previous high had been .413, which was the only time he had cracked .400. I see him as roughly a six- or seven-hole hitter who will strike out, but should walk enough and could hit for the power to make him a fit in left field. Since that’s his plus tool, it will be something to keep tabs on, but the fact that he’s a lefty combined with Everett Memorial’s short porch in right could also mean our sense of him may be artificially-inflated in the short-term. Some have complained about his lack of wood bat experience, but I’m not sure if that’s as huge a deal since the switch to composites.

Speaking of home park quirks, Rosario? Like others, I became fast enamored with him after he hit .294/.355/.516 last year, and while the home slugging was, sure, .085 higher, it wasn’t so glaring that you would say it’s unsustainable. But you might wonder about his seeming all-or-nothing approach on the road, with a 24/3 K/BB and three home runs among five total XBH. You might also consider the .626 OPS vs. southpaws or how, using the NWL’s ASG as a cut-off, he had a 1.075 OPS before and a .733 after. Rosario remains interesting, yet you can some up with rationales for why he could have been held back whether he was healthy out of the gate or not.

Beyond those presumed starters, I could see McConnell as the presumptive back-up CF. Curiously, he was called as an outfielder whereas The Baseball Cube lists him as an infielder. Dee Gordon, mk. II? I doubt that his efficiency was as good as TBC claims, but he stole seventy-six bases in college and I get the impression from the prep scouting that he’s more “smart about picking his spots” than on the upper end of footspeed projections. Combined with a contact-heavy but reasonably disciplined approach, seems like a guy you could have in the nine spot to make things happen as the lineup turns over.

If not him, Rivera, who has been touring full-season affiliates in need of an outfielder this spring, having already made stops in Modesto and Everett. Rivera’s career trajectory has been, in a word, uncommon: He lived in the Dominican Republic for a while and most teams didn’t know he was draft-eligible in Maryland, so year one he split his time between Arizona and the DSL. He was in Everett for twenty-five games last season, but the results weren’t all that inspiring as he hit .192/.244/.397. The tools remain interesting and he’s a LHB to boot, but he hasn’t really found a level that he’s thrived at yet even though on the surface, it seems like he draws his share of walks.

Garcia’s a bit of a wild card here, since he too was left behind in extended for reasons not wholly defined for us. What we do know is that he played a bit if right field and first last year, may be exclusively an OF/DH on this roster, and oh yeah, had a OPS of 1.000+ averaged from his sophomore through senior years in D-II ball on the west coast. He can hit, he can walk, he did both in Peoria, but amidst that he also saw his Ks tick up to a quarter of his ABs and he couldn’t muster much of an average. The hitting tools seem intriguing, albeit with boom or bust potential. Just how good is the Pac West conference by D-II standards? Maybe he plays first once Pena hits his way out of the NWL?


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