Names for the First-Round, 2014 Edition

May 23, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 13 Comments 

Edit: I had intended to let this one sit, but this morning’s mock draft from BA indicated that we were hot on two more prospects, which I have now added to the list. One of them I am rather keen on! The other I am not.

One of the positives I can take of last season’s poor record, as I am in the lemonade business, is that the Mariners ended up with a high, protected pick in a draft that most people seem to like. And it being that time of year of wildly casting energies about at all manner of likely and unlikely possibilities, I’m now here to write about some of them in that foolish way that hopefully obviates the need of my frantically writing the evening of the draft. It worked so well in the Hultzen draft.

This year is a pitcher-heavy year for the draft. Look through the top 100 prospects by BA and you’ll only see seven hitters in the top twenty, and a little over sixty pure pitchers on the list, not counting those two-way guys who could slide into the role. With the weirdness that we’ve already seen with regard to pitchers, it’s easy to imagine a lot of teams wanting to take advantage here. Whether they do or are scared out of it remains to be seen, but it’s not as if baseball can do without pitching. It’s good that they seem to be taking the initiative to try to figure out what’s going on. Imagine a sport that, I don’t know, risked traumatic brain injury on a routine basis, and imagine that sport just ignoring those injury risks and shrugging them off. Why, people would be up in arms! Not that the arms aren’t up now, in stiff casts and largely useless… You know, let’s just move on.

I don’t have any more special insight to what the M’s might bring to this draft than I usually do. That is, aside from that the 2nd round to date has been all position players, the 4th round entirely college players, and the third round skews towards prep players. Often in the last few days, we’ll get attached pretty solidly to a name this high and that will be that. As for who is most likely, Dave noted last June that since McNamara has been at the helm, four of the five top picks have been “safe” college players who were emphasized as sure major league contributors with sound fundamentals and high floors. “Contributors” seems key here because some of these fellows are still looking to have complete seasons. Shifting gears to the exception, and a considerable reach at the time, Taijuan Walker has had at least had the look of being the highest ceiling player of the bunch, going from live-armed curiosity moving off shortstop to one of the best prospects in the game, prior to the epidemic rise of injury and surgery.

As an addendum to Dave’s post, while the first round favors college, we’ve seen them mix both raw and experienced players in the top five rounds overall. On the side of rawness, Nick Franklin, Tyler Marlette, Edwin Diaz, and Patrick Kivlehan have all been boons; Joe DeCarlo, Marcus Littlewood, and Steve Baron, less so. Nor has experience been a sure-fire winner as, first-round aside, the additions of your Kyle Seagers and your 2013 Brad Millers and your Chris Taylors have been weighed against the faults of a Rich Poythress, or a John Hicks, or a Tyler Blandford. There have also been trends that suggest a love for shortstops and college pitching, so these are also probably givens in the early rounds of what is now a three-day oh godda-

Let’s just look at some names then. This will ease past some of the obvious ones, because in the unlikely event that Aiken, Rodon, or Kolek manage to drop somehow, you would have to give them strong consideration.
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1B Ji-Man Choi Suspended for 50 Games

April 18, 2014 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 4 Comments 

For a while now, I had thought about what kind of post I would write about Ji-man Choi when the time came. There seemed to be no lack of interesting material to cover. I could talk about how he was a third baseman in high school and how there was this big fuss when he signed because people were worrying about the KBO not being able to retain its homegrown products. I could talk about how the M’s converted him to catcher and even added an average-ish Korean pitching prospect so that he could have a battery mate.

I could talk about the Arizona League MVP he won, followed by the struggles catching, how his back locked up, and how they moved him to first base. I could talk about how they sent him to Clinton, not really intending to keep him there, and how he held his own and the next year moved up from High Desert to Jackson to Tacoma, all the while with limited expectations. I could talk about how he just kept hitting and walking until he forced his way into the discussion. It would mean that Smoak still didn’t get it together, or that one of the DH crew likewise couldn’t hold down, but it would be something new, a story of redemption, and a labored-for reward going to a prospect that I’ve just plain liked for years.

Well, if you liked the “redemption” part of that story, the good news is that he has even more to redeem himself from because there was an announcement yesterday that Choi would be suspended for 50 games due to a PED positive. I’d curse the Monkey’s Paw, but it’s been done, and with all the Bad News that has been Mariners prospects over the past couple of weeks, I just don’t have the levity to pull it off.

The Tacoma News Tribune got some quotes from Choi in response to the suspension. It’s the usual, “I don’t know what I could have taken that would cause this to happen, but I will serve the suspension, lacking any other explanation.” There was a time when you could lean on that old adage that one could be innocent until proven guilty, but after all that fun stuff with Ryan Braun in recent years, with all the talk of him staring deep into people’s eyes and saying things as sincerely as possible, I think some of the general naïveté has burned off. At this juncture, I can only be glad that the talk of worse suspensions, as have been floated in discussions lately, are not already in effect.

The substance detected in Choi’s system was methandienone. It has its own Wikipedia page, in which we learn that it was previously given to women as a tonic. Ah, mid-20th century science. More recently, it was something used by body builders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, prior to its being banned about thirteen years ago. As substances go, this is pretty serious stuff. This is a big boy steroid.

Here’s another consideration though. You can go down the list of PED suspensions over the last five years or so and what you’ll see, disproportionately, is that foreign minor league players are going down. Before you prepare your conspiracy tinfoil hats, the explanation is actually rather simple: other countries don’t have the same regulations on supplements that we do. Another consideration is that baseball organizations have warned their own for years that picking up a supplement at GNC or wherever is not necessarily the best course because we don’t actually know what’s in there. What we’re seeing often is a system of punishment tested against an under-regulated substance with little global oversight. Fun, huh?

As stated earlier, the usual offenders are Latin American prospects who knowingly or unknowingly get into this stuff either to recover from injuries or not. Have fun with that Punnett square of potential moral culpability, baseball. In Choi’s case, there are any number of places he could have ended up with something that was graded by different laws. Choi did some of his rehab work in the Australian Baseball League. He’s probably been in Korea sometime recently. He has a bunch of teammates who have been in other places, acquiring other things. Also there’s the stuff manufactured in the good ol’ U.S. of A. There’s no easy thread to pick up and follow to the answer, and even if there were, you’d have to then answer questions of intentionality. Enjoy.

Major League Baseball has convinced us at present that PEDs are morally wrong and something to be condemned with harsh punishment, quite unlike the future and blernsball in which steroid injections are mandatory. As a fan of and guy who sometimes still writes about baseball I’m supposed to unambiguously condemn this stuff even when a player I like is implicated. But minor league baseball is hard. Dudes are on buses most of the time, the per diem for food is pretty laughable even if you aren’t a professional athlete (PB&J, ahoy!), and it’s difficult to find offseason jobs when employers know it’s a temporary endeavor and players know they need to keep in shape. Without shadowing any doubt on one player or the next, I could see why a player might get into this sort of thing. We can all stand on our boxes and say we’d never do something like that, but without being in that position, it’s hard to say. Fortunately in my field, there aren’t performance-enhancing drugs, just regular drugs. *rimshot* Kidding, of course.

Choi has been suspended. He’ll be out until early or mid-June I guess. It sucks, but considering that his game has never been particularly about power, nor did he see any notable increase in his slugging, nor was he recovering from any weird injury that I know of, maybe it’s just some fluke thing. I’ll keep telling myself that as I can. Just keep walking and hitting doubles, and try not to get too down as Montero lumbers embarrassingly about the first base bag.

2014 Tacoma Rainiers Preview

April 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 9 Comments 

If you’re now wondering about this or that player whom you may not be seeing in these previews, I’d recommend starting here  and scrolling back through their archives to see who has been released lately.  Those not released are either in extended or injured in some way.  This year it was particularly a who’s who of “oh yeah, I remember that guy!  Man, whatever happened to him?”  Lots of guys who at one point were draft intrigues or ranked at the back end of top 30 lists based on an interesting thing or two that they could do. The Rainiers this year seem to be… average?  The rotation is uninteresting and uninspiring at the moment, but competent.  The bullpen fares better on the account of employing a couple Destroyers of Worlds and a few other guys who you could probably trust with a lead.  The catchers know how to catch and the infielders mostly know how to hit and the outfielders, if nothing else, can run a ball down.  It’s not a star-powered roster or anything but it can probably manage out there in the wilds of the PCL.

As for where the ramblings take us, we have schadenfreude, pica (sort of), everyone’s favorite rhetorical technique, guys who could be in Pantene commercials, the 188th most popular male baby name of the 1980s, dread and doomsaying, players the Oakland A’s would probably like, and repeated instances of name confusion and pointless conjecture.  Let’s get to it.

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2014 Jackson Generals Preview

April 3, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · Comment 

Good morning, people still on a high after sweeping the Angels for the first time since 2006. I can’t think of a more deserving group. This will be the third installment in which I address the state of our double-A Jackson Generals of the Southern League, formerly the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx. I miss those Xs sometimes, it’s nostalgic in a 90s sort of way. The digression machine this round takes me to the unreliability of the written word properly conveying tone, unpopular music opinions (I have MANY), splicing of data that the mind refuses to process, my preferences in hard liquor, a Wilson Valdez name check, things that seem really Irish, someone I describe as being a professional enigma (and translate into how unpopular my music opinions can be), the depression that follows an encounter with the sublime knowing that day-to-day life is going to fail to live up to it later, and… I think that covers it.

There’s not a lot of high-end talent, we’re talking one top ten guy, one on the fringe of that, a guy in the late teens, a guy or two in the twenties, and various thirty/forty-somethings. It’s better than High Desert, probably not quite the ceiling that the top guys have in Clinton, but you know what? This rotation looks good. The bullpen has some solid contributors and few weak points. The catchers are reliable. The infield has some guys that can drive the ball and the outfield has some that can cover ground and all of the starters out there can hit. Some of these players, even at this level, are still improving, still somewhat unknown to me, and with some things breaking right, they could really be a force.  Could be a middle of the road team, but there’s potential for a lot more.  I like this team. I like where it’s going. Let’s get to it.

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2014 High Desert Mavericks Preview

April 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 7 Comments 

Hello and welcome back to the second installment of oh crap I’m only halfway finished.  Among tangential meanderings in this round, games common to carnivals and fairs, pitchers of limited archetypes, forces of nature, Latin American magical realism, the Orestia, hipsters, people’s nicknames not making any danged sense, the Cartesian coordinate system, and bloodlines. What follows also contains reference to at least one Jabari. Go ahead and guess which. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Mavs look this year like a team that could threaten some serious offense, which seems like it could go without saying but between the core of the infield, the starting catcher, and the mish-mash of potential and results that you have in the outfield, I’m guessing some silly numbers are ahead of us. On both sides.  I like two of the starters all right but can acknowledge that they themselves might have issues and the rest of the rotation may fare no better. Likewise, a few names to like into bullpen and a whole lot of question marks and repeaters. Battleship Baseball, set sail!
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2014 Clinton Lumberkings Preview

April 2, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 4 Comments 

Hello and welcome back to a sometimes-annual round of previews concerning the full-season Mariners minor league affiliates.  For those unfamiliar with the process, I take the opening day roster of each team and try to write as much as seems relevant about each player and the result usually weighs in at a few thousand words despite my best efforts to curb it.  The spectrum tends to run from “informative” to “inane”, and so in addition to the topic at hand, I’ve drifted into early 2000s Mariners pitching prospects, architecture, aphorisms, surnames, etymology (real and pseudo), Pokémon, theory, actors with iconic mustaches, and fictional spies.  This all sounds considerably more interesting than the results, but as I’ve said before with regard to my baseball writing in contrast to my other writing, it trends extemporaneous and could easily be damned by Capote as typing and not writing at all.

To give the more distant overhead perspective on things, the rotation has a range of undersung to unknown, the bullpen has a few names to file away but isn’t especially inspiring, the infield is comprised mostly of mid-range guys who are either trying to make or re-establish a reputation, and the star power seems to be at the outfield corners.  The catching crew is elided in part due to my own lack of interest.  ”Top-heavy” seems the most apt descriptor for this squad because the players I’m interested in here, I’m really invested in, and those that I’m not, it’s part lack of familiarity and part lack of perceived impact talent.  If things break in the right direction on the infield and their offense, it could be a rather competitive team.  If not, not.  But bear in mind that these tend to be skewed by my own interests as an observer, and there have been teams that I looked at with a “meh” and went on to go deep into the playoffs.  It all depends on what your rooting interests are.

All the rosters were released yesterday afternoon, but I’m still typing away like a maniac so as to excuse myself from other duties.  The other three are forthcoming.

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Some NRIs Announced, Maybe More to Come

January 14, 2014 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 6 Comments 

A funny thing happened last Saturday. I’m not referring to my trip to a bar long after the game, where I think I saw a patron attempt to pay with a photograph of Russell Wilson (that did happen). No, rather, during the game I was at work and my boss had the national radio feed configured and I heard Dave Sims, calling the game with a chipperness I have not recognized in recent seasons. Later, switching to my own radio in the car, I picked up a reference by the announcers to Russell Wilson’s baseball career, noting that the last play looked like a ball flip that might be made by the second baseman to initiate a double play. Baseball was suddenly an impending thing again. My mind latched on to it and now I’m recollecting and wondering about various bits of roster minutae, both good (“hey, Nick Franklin rebounded in September sort of”) and not universally good but it’s still baseball (“oh right, Willie Bloomquist.”)

We also, this morning, got another sign of the coming spring with the announcement of NRIs, with more NRIs to come, one figures. A lot of this could have been inferred already, as we figured that RHPs Matt Palmer and Ramon Ramirez would be on the list, Humberto Quintero would be part of that backstop corps, and Cole Gillespie would probably get an invite for the outfield because why not?

Beyond that basic bit of bookkeeping, there are a few points of intrigue on the list. Sure, a lot of the invites fall under the “paid your dues” header (hey there, southpaws), but I can’t recall another year where internally developed players figured so prominently. Almost three-quarters of the NRIs were drafted and signed by the M’s and a few more were with the org last year. It could be that Tanaka has somehow managed to freeze the minor league FA market as well, but it looks more like the Mariners are trying to maintain the feeling of internal development even after the Cano signing.

Moving down the list, there are other things to note. Steve Baron is not part of this year’s backstop corps, and while he may end up joining later for split squads and travel days, he also might not with guys like Tyler Marlette around. The infield has a couple of 40-man also-rans in the bat-first Nate Tenbrink and Ty Kelly (walk-first, in his case) added to perennial gloveman in Gabriel Noriega and Chris Taylor, who hopefully can hit and field. D.J. Peterson is a noted absence, particularly when high picks often have NRI invites worked into their contracts, but it could be that they’re still trying to hold him back after that surgery on his jaw. Gillespie is also the only outfielder on the roster at the moment. No Travis Witherspoon. No Burt Reynolds and the opportunity for competitively-obscure Burt Reynolds references. Mind you, there are nine listed OFs on the 40-man already which does not include Morrison or Hart, so there may not be a need.

Probably the thing to watch as we get into March is what happens among the right-handed pitching NRIs. Dominic Leone and Carson Smith both got invites to compete and both are of the “hard-throwers of varying polish” group that has later seen mid-season jobs for guys like Stephen Pryor, Mark Lowe, Carter Capps, and Shawn Kelley. There’s also Stephen Kohlscheen to consider, a guy who has less stuff than either Leone or Smith, but has had great K numbers the past two seasons and was talked about as a potential Rule 5 selection during the winter meetings. Appearances by any of those three could be looked on as a preview of coming attractions. And this is a preview of that preview, which has now reached its conclusion. Think more on it, or don’t until you absolutely have to.

’13 40-Man Preview Extravaganza

November 13, 2013 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 22 Comments 

We’re presently in one of the offseason doldrums that precedes the winter meetings, a time of frenzied anticipation when we pretend as though things are going to happen and then they usually don’t. That means it’s time for me to step in and talk a bit about other forms of anticipation, namely prospects, and who we might see get added to the 40-man in preparation for the deadline, which is I think a week from now. Given that the M’s keep promoting these guys, I don’t know that it’s more or less interesting, given the obscurity of the players in the eyes of most.

The name of the game this year is last year’s game’s name moved up a digit: ’09 high school draftees and early international signings and ’10 college draftees need to be on the 40-man lest they be kidnapped by other organizations. The international portion of this is always the most dicey as players can “debut” in instructs the year they sign, but as I’m not seeing that from the media guide, I’m guessing that Guillermo Pimentel and Alexy Palma are not on the list, which is great because I don’t want to write about them now, or unless they’re doing things worth writing about. All advanced metrics are courtesy of StatCorner, your Corner for Stats (and nB%, if unfamiliar, is unintentional walks plus HBP)

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Dissecting a Box Score

June 29, 2013 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 8 Comments 

Yesterday was probably not an important day to many of you unless it’s your birthday in which case, oh gosh, I’m sorry. Or it may be if you’re a history buff, considering we have the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Treaty of Versailles, and the beginning of the Irish Civil War all happening on the same day in various years. Man, that is some history. But for me, today marks the four-year anniversary of one of the most bizarre minor league box scores I’ve ever had to talk about, which was the defeat of the High Desert Mavericks at home against the Lake Elsinore Storm by a final score of 33-18 in a game that lasted four hours and ten minutes.

Every few months, I go back and look this one up and each time I seem to uncover something new. Its depths likely aren’t endless, but that such a box score would have certain eccentricities goes without saying. This time around, I’ve decided to report on my findings on this particular trip down the rabbit hole. What follows is going to be a lot of fragments pertaining to what happened and, to a lesser extent, how it came about and what happened next for the players involved. I’m not going to try to re-construct a narrative from it because, for one thing, you can just follow the game log, and for another I would imagine that to be even more tedious. I’m also not trying to write “well” about this box score so much as relish in its oddities.

June 28th 2009 was a Sunday. A crowd of 1,054 was enduring a gametime temperature of one hundred degrees and the wind was blowing out to left at seven miles an hour. We certainly never expected what happened next.
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2013 Everett Aquasox Preview

June 17, 2013 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 6 Comments 

Even though I don’t write often here anymore, I still write a lot, and with the Aquasox being the team of local interest for me, I really can’t avoid this one.

I’ve seen a lot of Aquasox teams over the years and made various predictions based on roster composition and performance. This one, I just don’t have a good feel for. To broadly characterize the team, it’s composed of a lot of players who had high billing or showed elite physical abilities or flashes of potential at some point in the past, but who have yet to put it together or haven’t had the chance yet. This means a lot of potential for volatility. The team could have a bunch of breakthroughs and turn out to be amazing! It could also have a blend of good and lackluster performance and come out with a middling record. It could also continue along what has been more or less the status quo and just frustrate all of us. This is the scenario I least prefer.

To summarize what you’ll be seeing below, the bullpen arms are live and oft troubled, the catchers can catch and little else, the infield has a fair amount of hitting potential from a lot of the guys that we’re waiting to see in action, the outfield seems to be a mix of power guys and speed/defense guys, and the rotation is some sort of UN council.
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