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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
Since I started blogging about this possibly-not-stupid stuff, I’ve been able to set aside draft day to sit down, analyze, and more often than not wait for a rather long time between picks because the Mariners are disinclined towards acquiring supplemental round selections and the early part of the draft is unbearably long. This year, however, the first day of the draft coincides with my most recent graduation (UW, MFA, poetry), and if the process starts up at 4 pm PDT and the ceremonies start at 5 pm, it’s hard to see me sticking around to cover any of this. [I also might not be at my cognitive best the next morning, when more draft happens.]
What I’ve tried to do here is profile some of the names I see floating around. Picking twelfth is in some respects easier and some respects more taxing: easier because the investment is not quite so large, more taxing in that there are more names that should be known, what with the vagaries of the draft. Something weird could easily happen and one of the two top prep outfielders, Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier, could land in our hands simply because other teams think they need pitching more. Or we could see the Mariners pick someone not on the public radar, as they did when they picked Taijuan Walker [after being rumored to the end to be looking at Marcus Littlewood with the same pick]. A not-infinite number of things could happen and undoubtedly one of them will.
I won’t take it personally if anything I say here does not come to fruition. I’m not really in the business of casting baseballs into the fire and then reading how they pop along their seams. I’m only here to apprise you of certain possibilities and leave the rest the results-based analysis. Certainly, someone will come in posting after me once the pick actually happens. Here are ten names in no particular order, not even the one that they were written in.
Marc posted his own minor league introduction last week while I was busily filling out paperwork that had nothing to do with baseball, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I can’t also post something of my own that I will actively tell myself won’t go on for too long, but then will totally go on for way too long, you guys. Editor’s note: oh it went on all right
Here are some narratives that I’m looking at in the upcoming minor league season, translated as three questions for each team. Some of the questions are related to the development of actual prospects, but some are just things of general minor league interest. I’ve tried throughout to avoid certain things like “If Zunino wants to continue catching then he should improve on the things that the catching job entails”-type analyses, but in some cases it seemed pertinent to address some specifics. I write a lot, but prefer not to be wasteful, or to fail at being somewhat thorough. Here come nearly five thousand words written mostly yesterday.
By my reckoning, we have entered the offseason period of the Doldrums. I, for one, have been driving my little car for quite some time and Tock is nowhere to be found. Just wait though: the mere fact that I’m coming out of hiding to post anything at all almost certainly promises some major move later in the day to push this down the page. Things are looking up!
One of the moves to occur recently with very little mention is that the Mariners brought in Eddy Toledo to lead their Dominican operations, taking over the job that formerly belonged to Patrick Guerrero. At the time, when Guerrero and Engle were both leaving, there was concern over who would be filling that fairly large void. While Engle we knew would be hard to replace due to his years of scouting experience and connections, what we understood of Guerrero was more speculative. He had been instrumental in a number of the Latin American signings, but as Marc and I were discussing recently, those signings hadn’t done a whole lot for us. To rattle off a short and incomplete list of guys given seven-figure bonuses who didn’t do much: Mario Martinez, Jharmidy de Jesus, Carlos Triunfel (may yet be a major leaguer), and more recent enigmas like Guillermo Pimentel, Phillips Castillo, and Alexy Palma (Jose Leal gets a bye for this year). The list of high-profile hitter signings that had followed through with what was expected of them might be limited to Julio Morban, health permitting. The last guy who exceeded expectations might’ve been Luis Valbuena or Juan Diaz, who both went to the Indians, who liked what we did on the international front. Assuming that hitters ought to be safer, something we were doing appeared to be systemically wrong, relative to our level of regional investment. This was probably the justification for giving Guerrero the ax, though none of us knew what qualifications his replacement might have or if there were better options available.
Scouts who are hired to fill such positions are often not as visible within an organizational hierarchy, making it difficult to know who is even on the market. Managers and general managers tend to draw from defined pools of applicants and the profile of their role means that we know ahead of time who is even interviewing. Fellows like Toledo and Guerrero are only names that nuts like me might recognize within their own organization. Now, from the article on the hiring, we know that Toledo isn’t exactly a slouch with regards to what he’s accomplished. He’s been in baseball for thirty+ years and among the players to his credit we have Jose Reyes, Nelson Cruz, Octavio Dotel, Guillermo Mota, Hector Carrasco, Carlos Gomez, Fernando Martinez, Elvin Ramirez, Alex Colome, Braulio Lara and assorted other major leaguers. Toledo had been with the Rays since 2006 and glancing over the Baseball America prospect list, I see that he’s responsible for two guys on their top 10, Colome and Enny Romero, both pitchers. He was also the one who signed Leslie Anderson after he defected from Cuba. Going after our Pacific Northwest players, Rays? Well, we’ll just steal your Dominican scout and sign players that are geographically closer to you! Take that!
Given that the Mariners are reputed high-rollers in the international world and the Rays aren’t really, one of the things that’s easy to talk about is how Toledo, provided with more resources, might be able to make a more visible impact on his new organization. That’s a seemingly reasonable estimation though, considering development delays stemming from age and relative experience, the net change in return will take us a bit longer to get a decent gauge on. That also doesn’t begin to address the new CBA changes, which could either drive players away from the sport or lead to greater parity in the signings. In the short term, not to be presumptuous, it at least looks like we have an upgrade rather than a mere replacement.
Toledo and his superior, new international director Tim Kissner, got to work pretty quickly, signing Dominican OF Luis Liberato, who has a name going for him at the very least. Liberato inked for $140k, a decent sum of money, and the scouting report we have on him at least seems positive. Among the pluses in his column (let’s call it “Colome”), left-handed bat, “mature approach”, and a potential center field future with a sufficient arm for right field. So, something like a lesser Julio Morban with a better arm. Among the negatives, a tendency to swing too hard for power at times, center field being less than a certainty, and the fact that a lot of scouting reports for these types of players read alike and there’s very little available to corroborate any of the information. Our new scout is doing stuff! You may never hear this player’s name mentioned again!
And that’s where we are in the realm of small-ish moves made by the Mariners that are still probably worth noting. Remember, we’re less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting and time continues to pass.
So, I suppose it’s time for me to roll the boulder away from the mouth of my cave, stumble out into the world, bleary and unshaven, and do what I otherwise do proficiently, haggard appearance aside. I’ll tell you all about the probable 40-man additions (due Nov. 20th) and spend some time in idle speculation covering more material than is actually meaningful to cover because I’m abnormal in that way. I probably have some kind of brain thing. This year, what we’re looking at is ’08 high school draftees/early international signings and ’09 college draftees, which means that this marks the first year that we’ve been taking into account the Zduriencik era. You might be thinking all kinds of things about how long we’ve been in this particular rebuilding process, but you’re wrong! Baseball takes up so much time.
This round, the Mariners’ likely additions are more pitching-oriented than hitting-oriented, to the dismay of those of us now who really had no idea what things would have looked like four years ago. Actually, we haven’t have hitting for a while. Whatever. Next year is going to be something of a crunch. Why, we’ll be looking to add guys such as Stefen Romero, Leon Landry, Logan Bawcom, Forrest Snow, Tyler Burgoon, and Jordan Shipers, along with a whole slew of international prospects. Won’t that be fun to write about? It might be. We’re not there yet.
This time I’ve started to group things based around what I think will happen as opposed to just lumping all the names together. I’m making things more efficient! For you, not me. This is still ridiculous overall as an exercise.
This is the final wrap of the year and also the last wrap I intend to do. As others before me, I have discovered that sports blogging as a hobby and grad school aren’t really reconcilable. I could conceivably stagger it out to another couple of years, but from my own standpoint, I’d rather bail before the extent of my half-assery becomes apparent and instead devote my five months of writing energy to, I don’t know, writing. I regard this largely as typing. Lots of typing. Anyway, I’ll still be around the Mariners internet scene and presumably will throw out an article every now and then, but my contributions will be without set timetable or specific definition.
Let’s have a links run, shall we? You didn’t hear about the Arizona Fall League rosters here because I posted that at Lookout Landing and don’t have anything additional to add. John Sickels decided to add to his Mariners focus by determining that IF Dan Paolini was worth writing about. The Baseball America notebook that focuses on the Mariners spotlighted something new to me, in that it talked about RHRP Matt Brazis who retired twenty-nine in a row at some point during this season. Usually they only talk about things I’ve long since been familiar with, so this is fun! Also at BA, Victor Sanchez made the last Prospect Hot Sheet of the year , with Hultzen as not-so hot, and RF Gabriel Guerrero as a helium watch, and there’s news that we’ve signed left-handed hitting Dominican third baseman Leurys Vargas for $400k. They talk about his bat speed and power as being selling points. This may or may not be the last you hear of him.
There are also league honors being announced. For example, the Southern League Postseason All-Star Team gives us a lot to think about, like Jesus Sucre being the catcher pick and Brandon Maurer being the right-handed starter selection, which can only mean that they don’t accept partial seasons oh wait Carter Capps is the reliever. Welp. The equivalent California League Post-Season All-Star Roster not only has Hicks at catcher, Landry in the outfield, Proscia as utility (whaaaat), and Elias as one of the pitchers, but has Grifol as Manager of the Year and Roy Howell as coach of the year. And they offer a Rookie of the Year Award? How many good players repeat the Cal League? The Northwest League roster featured a number of Aquasox, like Kivlehan at third AND as the league’s MVP, Zunino at catcher, and Ard as both first baseman and designated hitter which means he’s twice the prospect he once was, or two identical halves of the same prospect, or nothing has changed but it’s a nice honor. Boise has a player who is hitting .356/.435/.490, but as it turns out, no one likes him. On the Appalachian League roster, the picks were obviously C Tyler Marlette and OF Dario Pizzano. I also heard that CF Jesus Ugueto was the MVP of the VSL, but it’s only four teams now and he’s been around for four years, so any excitement you have is probably unwarranted.
And playoffs? Jackson starts a series against Chattanooga on Thursday, High Desert gets a bye until the wild cards resolve, which is Saturday I think, Clinton gets to start their series against Beloit on Wednesday, and Everett lost on Monday against Vancouver after they got one-hit. It continues, in Everett, tonight and hopefully tomorrow.
To the jump!