Game 8, Mariners at Royals – Two Very Similar Pitching Staffs

marc w · April 9, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Jakob Junis, 5:15pm

The M’s head to Kansas City to take on the struggling Royals today. For all of the issues with projections and the whole “you can’t predict baseball” trope, people have noticed that the 2018 Royals were probably going to suck for about 2-3 years. Here we are in 2018, and…yeah. The Royals position players rank dead last in total WAR, in a near tie with…wait a minute, Cleveland? That doesn’t fit my narrative, so please ignore it for now. With Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer leaving for greener pastures and free agent riches, the Royals have jury-rigged a team together, though having Mike Moustakas drop back into their laps when no one wanted him certainly didn’t hurt. All told, the Royals are tied for the fewest home runs in baseball, with just 2, and they’ve squandered a great K% with a terrible BABIP. They’re hitting .205 as a unit, but it’s worse than that: it’s an exceptionally empty .205.

Their pitching staff is no great shakes either, but they’re perfectly fine. To date, they’ve been remarkably similar to the Mariners’ hurlers. They rank 24th and 25th in K%, and 18th and 21st in BB%. Both groups are extremely fly-ball oriented, ranking 25th and 27th in GB%, and that’s a partial reason that both staffs are running very low BABIPs – they rank 27th and 29th in that metric. Thanks to James Paxton, the M’s staff as a whole throws a bit harder, but limit it to relievers, and they have the exact same average fastball velocity. The Royals have had slightly better results to date, and that’s thanks to the longball. The M’s staff has surrendered the highest HR/9 mark in baseball, and it’s not close. Some of this may be due to the opponents each club has played, as KC got to deal with the equally abysmal Detroit Tigers to start the year, but then, the M’s have played a few frigid games at home and in Minnesota, then two in HR-suppressing San Francisco. As always, the M’s HR troubles bear watching as the season moves along.

In all, Kansas City’s a park that favors pitchers a bit. The spacious OF paired perfectly with their defense-first style, and it’s interesting to see them recreate that approach on a budget, with Jon Jay swapping in for Cain. Paulo Orlando and Alex Gordon are holdovers from the Royals heyday of 2014-15, and are glove-first guys, helping to balance out the arrival of sluggers like Jorge Soler and Lucas Duda. The Royals pitching approach of trying to elicit fly ball contact makes some sense, then, and to date it’s worked decently. The M’s staff hasn’t been bad, per se, but they continue to struggle in balancing the desire for fly balls and a low BABIP with the need to avoid the long ball. Maybe KC’s a place where the park effects will handle that balance for them.

So the two clubs are similar at a macro level (at least for pitching; on offense, not so much), and today’s probables are mirror images of each other. They’re not *identical*, as Jakob Junis doesn’t throw a change-up more than 2-3 times a game and there’s the matter of his right-handedness. But he’s got two different fastballs and a slider that he’ll throw to righties and lefties alike. He throws from the same lowish-3/4 arm slot as Marco Gonzales, albeit flipped towards the 3rd base bag instead of 1st. Importantly, Junis disguised his slider quite well in his first start of the year, a game that saw him pitch 7 scoreless. Gonzales had a solid outing, but he’d like to avoid the 2 dingers he gave up in San Francisco.

Like last year, Gonzales seems to have a very different release point for his signature change-up than he does for his fastballs, and that may be one of the reasons his change has never quite had the kind of on-field results you’d expect from such a good looking offering. Last year, his average horizontal release point with his four-seamer was 2.08 feet, but for change-ups, it was way over at 2.61 feet (these are the distances from the center of the rubber). That seems pretty noticeable to me. Junis’ four-seam release point is 2.48′, and his slider is a near dead-on 2.49′. More like that, Marco! To his credit, the gap was a bit lower this year, as Marco’s slightly lower arm slot has pushed his four-seam release point out a bit – it’s still not all that close to the change, but it’s in the same zip code, I guess.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Haniger, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Vogelbach, 1B
7: Heredia, LF
8: Ichiro, DH
9: Freitas, C
SP: Gonzales

Ryon Healy injured his ankle in a postgame workout the other day, so he joins Zunino/Cruz on the 10-day DL. RP Chased Bradford’s up from Tacoma to take his spot on the 25-man roster.

Tacoma tried to get in a double-header yesterday at rain-soaked Cheney Stadium; they finished the first, then pushed the second game to tonight. So, in Game 1, we’ll get our initial look at Max Povse, who faces off with 2017 Rainier/Mariner Chris Heston. In Game 2, Lindsey Caughel, just called up from AA Arkansas, will make his AAA debut against wily veteran TBD for Sacramento. Neither Tyler Herb nor Rob Whalen were all that effective last night, but the R’s bullpen outdueled Sacto’s, with Erik Goeddel getting the win after John Andreoli walked it off with a 7th inning HR. Andreoli’s off to a hot start, as is IF Zach Vincej.

Arkansas got out to a 7-0 lead against Corpus Christi and then held on after the Hooks scored 5 in the 9th to make it interesting. Johendi Jiminian was great for 5 2/3, giving up just 1 hit and 1 walk (0 runs) with 5 Ks. Spencer Herrman was charged with all 5 runs in relief, though a couple scored after he gave way to Matt Walker. Tonight, Nathan Bannister leads the Travs against Cionel Perez and Corpus Christi. The Astros signed Perez out of Cuba before last season, and the young lefty was decent but unremarkable across three levels.

Modesto got blitzed 14-9 by the Lancaster JetHawks last night, as Danny Garcia struggled early for the Nuts, and then new-to-the-org reliever Colin Rodgers struggled late. Rodgers is one of several pitchers the M’s got from the Royals org near the end of spring training in a minor trade. Logan Taylor doubled and homered for Modesto, while rehabbing Ben Gamel went 1-4. Tonight, Darren McCaughan makes his season debut. McCaughan was a 12th round pick out of Long Beach State last year, and pitched all of 12 innings in the Arizona league; this is a “push” assignment, similar to the one Nathan Bannister had last year.

Clinton had a double header yesterday, and both games were shutouts. They lost the first 1-0, with Tommy Romero the hard-luck loser after striking out 8 and giving up just 2 hits in 5 2/3. The bats came alive in the nightcap, though, and Oliver Jaskie and two relievers K’d 11 Kane County Cougars in 7 innings. CF Jack Larsen hit a grand slam. Speaking of unknown hurlers, tonight’s starter is Raymond Kerr, an undrafted free agent signed out of Lassen Community College last August. Kerr pitched all of one inning in the AZL, and now takes the hill in the Midwest League. At age 23, he’ll need to move quickly.

Game 7, Mariners at Twins

marc w · April 7, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

Mike Leake vs. Jose Berrios, 11:10am

Another day, another day game. This has been the strangest start to a season I can remember, purely from the logistics and scheduling of it all – and that doesn’t even get into the eagle alighting on James Paxton the other day. Not sure what it all means, but I’d like to think it’s keeping the players fresh. I just wonder how they’ll react once the standard schedule kicks in and they’re playing night games pretty much every day.

Mike Leake turned in one of the most impressive performances of the year so far from a starter last Sunday in Seattle. He held a very good line-up in check for 7 innings, and showed a bit more bat-missing stuff than he’d shown previously. The M’s will need him to build on that, as the top of the rotation has shown some signs of weakness. Paxton was mostly great two days ago, but HRs have resulted in a couple of brief starts. Felix…let’s not talk about San Francisco.

The M’s face tough righty Jose Berrios, a righthander who throws two fastballs, a change, and a death-dealing slurve/curveball from a low 3/4 arm slot. His release point is way over towards third base, and he generates an obscene amount of run and break on his pitches. As a result, he can start his curve at a RHB’s hip and it’ll break over the plate or even off the plate away. He can throw a sinker that starts well wide, but might catch the outside edge by the time it gets to the plate.

With a sweeping breaking ball and sinking fastball (even his four-seam has run to it), you’d expect Berrios to have platoon splits, and that’s exactly what we see: his career FIP is under 4 vs. righties, but over 5 vs. lefties. He’s improved after a disastrous initial call-up in 2016, so his true talent splits may not be THAT wide, but there’s no doubt that his breaking ball is way, way ahead of his change, and thus he’s going to be much tougher against right-handed bats.

One thing that might help him reduce those platoon splits is to refine his pitch mix to lefties. His four-seam fastball’s been pretty effective against both LHB/RHBs, but that running sinker has tailed on to the barrel of many lefties. They’ve destroyed the pitch, and thus, widened those platoon splits. This makes sense: a sinker has high “natural” platoon splits; it’s common for them to be much more effective against same-handed batters. Even though it’s not Berrios’ primary FB against lefties, it’s been so bad that it’s sunk his overall numbers against lefties. This would be an easy change, of course…maybe one he can make in some other game.

Berrios tossed a complete game in his season debut, going 9 without giving up a run, and striking out 6. He only walked one, which is a good sign considering the trouble he had with walks in 2016. He’d brought his walk rate down last year, but if he can bring it down still further – without a corresponding increase in dingers – he can really help stabilize a rotation that could use solid innings.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Haniger, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: Healy, 1B
8: Ichiro, LF
9: Marjama, C
SP: Leake

Tacoma got beat 8-2 last night, but the won their season opener on Thursday 5-0. They face Sacramento again today with Erasmo Ramirez getting a rehab start opposite ex-M’s prospect Tyler Herb. It was a bullpen day yesterday, as Josh Smith got the start and went 4 IP, giving up 3 runs on 3 solo HRs. He gave way to new guy Ashton Goudeau who gave up 3 runs in 3, and then Pat Light went the final 2, giving up 2 runs of his own. New C Garrett Kennedy hit his first AAA HR for Tacoma, while Ian Miller led off and went 0-5 with 4 Ks; that’s 5 in 7 ABs now, which is odd, as he’s not been a big swing-and-miss guy in the past. Christian Bergman was the star of Game 1, throwing 5 2/3 shutout and striking out 8 – one shy of his career high in Ks. The R’s didn’t need more than 5 hits, as they controlled the zone to the tune of 7 walks drawn to 6 strikeouts.

The Arkansas Travelers won their season opener 3-1, with Andrew Moore outdueling Padres top prospect Cal Quantrill, who walked 5 in less than 4 IP. Moore K’d 7 and walked 1 in 5 2/3 solid innings, and then Darin Gillies got the win with 2 1/3 spotless IP in relief. The Travs were rained out yesterday, but they’ll try and get in a doubleheader today, with Anthony Misiewicz and Chase de Jong starting.

Modesto lost their opener 9-7 despite a dinger from Gareth Morgan, as Ljay Newsome gave up 7 earned in the first two IP before settling in a bit. Yesterday, a similar scene unfolded, as rehabbing Ariel Miranda gave up 5 runs in the first two, before settling down and eventually earning the win as the Nuts came back against Lancaster, 7-5. The Nuts got HRs from Anthony Jimenez and the unlikely pair of Donnie Walton and Bryson Brigman. No word on their starter today.

Clinton would very much like to play, but haven’t been able to yet due to the snowstorms in the midwest.

PCL Preview/Tacoma Home Opener

marc w · April 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

You’ve read JY’s great overview of the Rainiers, you’ve seen Mike Curto’s preview, you can scan the roster here – if you’re still in the mood for more Rainiers coverage, particularly after that unfortunate M’s loss, you’re in luck. As in past years, I’ll run through the Rainiers, who might make it up later in the year, and some of the notable prospects who’ll come through Tacoma at some point in 2018. I love the M’s and all of their affiliates, but the Rainiers will always be my favorite, a product of growing up in Tacoma and then close to Cheney as a fledgling M’s blogger.

So it pains me to say that the Rainiers look a bit like an independent league team. I’ll love them nonetheless, but the Rainiers have 12 pitchers, and exactly none of them were drafted by the Mariners. Hell, four of them have been in the organization for less than a month. That’s as many players who pitched in the M’s org last season. The Rainiers two catchers joined the organization on March 29th and March 23rd. All told, 10 of the R’s 23 active roster spots joined the Mariners organization after New Year’s day. It’s AAA, and you don’t always have the luxury of watching a cohort of prospects move up the ladder en mass, but fans, coaches, bloggers – we’re all still trying to learn who’s who. The Rainiers have been where the org has felt the impact of Jerry Dipoto’s free wheelin’ ways the most, and as a result, they’ve been a club in constant flux, from the beginning of 2017 right up until a few days ago, when the club’s starting catcher, a gentleman named Garrett Kennedy apparently, joined the organization.

Now, just because a club is full of guys who started with other organizations, that may not make them a poor team – indeed, hiring a squad of AAAA veterans is often a way to put together a competitive club. It’s hard to know how this lot will fare, but if they succeed, it’ll be due to a tremendous job of coaching by manager Pat Listach and pitching coach Lance Painter. Holdovers from 2017, the two are accomplished coaches, but had little to no continuity with any of their charges last year; Painter had the pleasure of coaching a jaw-dropping 52 pitchers last year. So no matter what their record, this season will be a success if they actually get to do a bit of development work with some of these newcomers.

As JY mentioned, the most prospect-y group on the roster – which is not saying a whole lot – is the pitching staff, with Max Povse, Rob Whalen and newcomers Dario Alvarez and Erik Goeddel. All have MLB experience, but not a ton of it. Alvarez and Goeddel seem quite close to becoming big league relief arms, while Povse and Whalen will get the chance to start full time; the R’s won’t be repeating last year’s role-change with Povse. Josh Smith just joined the org as a free agent having pitched for Oakland last year, but his stuff’s a bit behind Alvarez/Goeddel.

None of the position players are currently on the 40-man roster, which is pretty amazing, frankly. The best chance to crack the roster probably goes to Gordon Beckham, who managed that feat last year, and then re-signed with the org after his opt-out this March. Former Reds IF Zach Vincej had an interesting year in the minors last year, but easily cleared waivers when the M’s outrighted him after acquiring him from Cincinnati. Local product Matt Hague will start at 1B, and while his road to the active roster is a tough one, Ryon Healy’s start reminds you that it’s not impossible. The outfield is a pair of minor league FA signings in Kirk Nieuwenhuis, John Andreoli, a waiver claim in Cam Perkins, and the one M’s draft pick/fringe prospect, Ian Miller. Miller’s a speed/defense savant with next to no power. That’s a similar profile to AA CF Braden Bishop, who’s generally seen as the better pro prospect, but Miller’s got the easiest path to the big leagues, as his baserunning and defense would make him a perfectly reasonable 4th/5th OF right now if any teams still wanted to carry 4th/5th OFs instead of 8 or 9 relievers. Former indy leaguer Danny Muno’s back in Tacoma, and he’ll play 3B, with Vincej at SS, Beckham at 2B, and Hague at 1B.

Cheney’s a great place to see a game, so put the thought that this club is half waiver claims and half minor league free agents (plus Ian Miller!) and just go. The club opens up with traditional divisional rival Sacramento tonight, the AAA affiliate of the SF Giants. The RiverCats have a few interesting prospects on their roster, with ex-Mariners prospect Tyler Herb and ex-Red Sox/Padres prospect (and one-time two-way player) Casey Kelly. Herb was sent to the Giants org in exchange for Chris Heston, and who should join Herb in the RiverCats rotation this year but Heston himself? CF Steven Duggar’s the Giants’ 4th-best prospect, and he’s flanked by their 3rd best in OF Austin Slater. If you miss them in the opening series, Sacramento returns on April 21st for another series.

In mid-April, the Albuquerque Isotopes head to Tacoma, and the Rockies’ affiliate has several players worth watching. Org #10 prospect Yency Almonte’s on the pitching staff, while OFs like David Dahl and Raimel Tapia are extremely talented players who’ve yet to quite lock down a role with the MLB club. It’s early yet for org #1 prospect Brendan Rogers to head to AAA, so in the meantime, the club has former Rainier and long-time M’s farmhand Anthony Phillips around. Phillips was one of the first, maybe THE first, prospect ever signed out of South Africa. He played in the AZL 11 years ago, but he’s still just 27. Like with the RiverCats, you’ll have two chances to catch Albquerque, as they’re in Tacoma for series starting on April 17th and then again on April 30th.

On May 17th, the Mets’ club, the Las Vegas 51s, head to Tacoma. The 51s are led by former phenom Zack Wheeler, who’s still trying to regain the form he had in 2013-14, when he was one of a myriad hard-throwing Mets prospects who’ve since lost serious time to injury. Old friend Ty Kelly’s back with the 51s for another tour of duty, having played in several orgs since he left the M’s org a few years back. 1B Dominic Smith’s the team’s best prospect, and he’ll start the year on a rehab assignment with Las Vegas – we’ll see if he’s still in AAA by the time May rolls around. If not, the Mets could call up one of their top prospects in Peter Alonso from AA. Their OF has tons of AAA experience, and includes the HR derby champ from last year’s all star festivities in Tacoma, Bryce Brentz.

The El Paso Chihuahuas finish off that mid-may homestand, and the Pads affiliate’s been shockingly successful in their four years of existence. The club’s got several organizational prospects, including SS Luis Urias (who’s just 20), IF Javy Guerra and OF Franmil Reyes. The Pads have several top prospects in AA, including Cal Quantrill, who starts tonight’s opening day in the Texas League, and Fernando Tatis, Jr. Ex-Rainier Jonathan Aro’s in the Chihuahua bullpen.

We close out May with a visit from the Salt Lake Bees, the Angels affiliate. The Bees have quite a bit more former M’s-farmhands than the Rainiers themselves, with pitchers Vicente Campos (part of the legendary Michael Pineda trade) and Osmer Morales (lost in last year’s minor league rule 5 draft) joined by OF Jabari Blash, who moved from the Padres to the Yankees to the Angels orgs this winter. They’ve also got prospects Eduardo Paredes, SS David Fletcher, OF Michael Hermosillo, and org #6, pitcher Jaime Barria.

In mid-June, the Rainiers welcome the Omaha StormChasers, the Royals’ affiliate, to Cheney. Omaha has a roster full of pitching prospects rounded out with MiLB vets in the OF. Pitchers Josh Staumont and Richard Lovelady are the biggest stars on the mound, but Heath Fillmyer’s not too far behind. Former 1st round pick Hunter Dozier starts in the IF, while former Rainier Abe Almonte fights for the starting CF job with long-time PCL speedster Billy Burns. Speaking of speed, Royals pinch-runner extraordinaire, if any pinch runner can truly be called extraordinaire, Terrence Gore, is on hand too.

The Rainiers finish off this midwestern homestand with the Iowa Cubs. The Cubs look pretty barren from a prospect standpoint, though SP Dillon Maples is around #10 in the Cubs lists. Randy Rosario is a fringey guy for the Cubs, and I suppose you could still count Mariner-for-a-week Jacob Hannemann in that camp, too. They’ve also got ex-M’s farmhands Efren Navarro, Chris Gimenez, and Mike Freeman around. The Cubs have pushed a few prospects past Iowa to the bigs (like Victor Caratini), but they could see some reinforcements from AA, including pitcher Adbert Alzolay, their #1 overall prospect.

After seeing Las Vegas again, the Rainiers host the Reno Aces to close out June. The D-Backs affiliate is paced by a trio of pitching prospects: Braden Shipley, Jimmy Sherfy, and #3 D-backs prospect Taylor Clarke. Their staff’s rounded out with MLB vets Neftali Feliz and Kris Medlen. SS Jack Reinheimer’s an ex-M’s draft pick, sent to the desert in the Mark Trumbo deal a while back, and Kevin Cron – an M’s draft pick who didn’t sign – will man 1B when he comes off the DL. The OF includes Jeremy Hazelbaker, who had a great first month with the Cards, ill-fated Cuban signing Yasmany Tomas, and the excellently-named Socrates Brito.

Tacoma finally plays host to Fresno in mid-July. The Astros affiliate is perhaps a bit light on prospects, but matches up well with essentially every other team in the league. The pitching staff has guys who’ve reliably struck out a ton of batters at this level, like Francis Martes, James Hoyt, and Brendan McCurry. Cuban signed Rogelio Armenteros is the big prospect, and he could be joined by Forrest Whitley, one of the minors’ top arms, by July. Garrett Stubbs, their catcher, is in the Astros’ top 20, but the team’s offense is paced by two former prospects, slugging 1B AJ Reed and 3B Tyler White.

After the Grizzlies leave, the R’s welcome the Bees back, and then play host to the Oklahoma City Dodgers to start August. The Dodgers club should include their top hitting prospect, OF Alex Verdugo, and top arm Walker Buehler. If that wasn’t enough, they’ve got a ton of ex-Rainiers, from Edward Paredes, who pitched for Tacoma back in 2010, and Brian Moran, who was great for Tacoma in 2012-13. Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte’s around as well. The OF has Andrew Toles, who looked like he was going to be a fixture in the Dodgers OF before injuries and trades closed that door.

On August 4th, the Rainiers host Colorado Springs for the last time. As Curto reports, the club is leaving the PCL, and the ownership group will move them to AA. Meanwhile, Colorado Springs will get a Pioneer League (rookie league) club instead. The SkySox, a Brewers affiliate, have a few prospects, like the delightfully-named SP Bubba Derby, C Jacob Nottingham, and CF Keon Broxton, who’s been the starter in Milwaukee for a few years before being displaced by Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. They also have Brett Phillips, the team’s #6 prospect. 1B Ji-Man Choi’s the club’s ex-Rainier; the Korean slugger nearly made the big club, and may have if not for a last-minute signing. Like many of these guys, he could be in Milwaukee by the time the SkySox head to Tacoma.

The Rainiers end their home slate with return visits from Fresno, Reno and El Paso.

So, hey, it’s opening night! It’s a little damp, but it looks OK as of posting time.

Your initial 2018 line-up:
1: Andreoli, CF
2: Beckham, 2B
3: Nieuwenhuis, RF
4: Hague, 1B
5: Perkins, DH
6: Vincej, SS
7: Muno, 3B
8: Kennedy, C
9: Miller, LF
SP: Bergman

Game 6: Mariners at Twins, Frozen Tundra

marc w · April 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Kyle Gibson, 1:10pm

This is the M’s 6th game, and they’ve played a single night game. This early season schedule is wild. Case in point: the Twins are trying to get their home opener in today despite tons of snow on the ground and frigid forecasts. Bundle up, M’s.

James Paxton’s first start didn’t go to plan, so I hope we see a bit more from him today, starting with more variety in his pitch mix.

Kyle Gibson, the veteran ground baller, was so ineffective last year that he suffered a surprise demotion to AAA. It’s a testament to baseball’s unpredictability and the Twins’ young offense that the Twins somehow won a wildcard despite Gibson, Phil Hughes and Hector Santiago all pitching awfully. Since he arrived in the Twin Cities, Gibson throws more of his four seam FB as opposed to relying on his sinker, and he’s starting to rely more on his curve rather than his slider as his primary breaking ball. He throws a change, too, but none of these offerings are whiff pitches; they’re designed to get weak contact, though obviously that didn’t happen last year.

Target Field has large dimensions, but it’s seen more barreled contact than most parks, which is a big reason it’s seen a lot of home runs (the approach of Santiago/Hughes is another). Of course, with temperatures hovering near ‘permafrost’ the ball may not fly very far no matter how it’s struck.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Haniger, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Vogelbach, DH
7: Healy, 1B
8: Ichiro, LF
9: Freitas, C
SP: Paxton

It’s opening day in the minor leagues today. I’ll have more on that later, but re-read JY’s posts, and then check out Mike Curto’s post on the Rainiers and the PCL at his blog.

Game 5, Mariners at Giants

marc w · April 4, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

King Felix vs. Johnny Cueto, 4:10pm

Happy Felix Day! The King’s Privy council finds themselves in first place after a series and a half, and the M’s kick off a series against wild card rivals Minnesota starting tomorrow. For now, they’ve got one more game against the Giants and their struggling offense.

Marco Gonzales pitched pretty well yesterday, generating some weak contact and not walking a batter. As Jake Mailhot at LL wrote, we had a lot to look out for in this start: 1) How did his cutter look? 2) Was his fastball velocity more in the 92-94 it was in the spring, or 89-91 it was last year, and 3) What was the velocity gap between his FB and change up?

The first answer was an unqualified success, as he used the cutter frequently, and got ground balls off of it. It’s not a swing-and-miss pitch, but then, that’s not really Marco’s game. He was willing to use it, he threw strikes with it, that’s success. The other two questions were a bit less positive. He averaged about 90 with his two FBs, and while he used his four seamer more, it’s not like he had more power on it. As a result, the gap between his fastball and cambio was just ~6 MPH. All of that said, he faced a righty line-up and kept them mostly off balance. He didn’t miss bats, but he was successful anyway, ala Michael Fulmer or another contact manager. I’d love to see his velo creep up, but it’s still barely April, so it quite likely will.

One of the very few concerning things to come out of the first week has been Juan Nicasio, the set-up man that was essentially Seattle’s sole foray into the free agent market. He’s shown sharply lower velocity in his first few outings, and has been hit fairly hard. His velo was up a bit yesterday, but he still got hit. Interestingly, he too seems to be on the Marco Gonzales plan: he’s dropped his arm angle this year. I’m hoping this is an experiment that’s not quite working rather than an unintentional sign of arm trouble.

Today, the M’s face Johnny Cueto, who, like Felix, had an exceptional first start. The veteran righty throw a four-seam and sinker, and then makes liberal use of a slider and change. He famously adjusts essentially all of these pitches by varying his delivery from pitch to pitch. He’s down to a near 50:50 mix of fastballs and non-fastballs at this point. With a decent pitch to throw to

Felix’s curve was the star on opening day, so we’ll see if he sticks with it, or features his change up more this time.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Haniger, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Vogelbach, 1B
7: Marjama, C
8: Ichiroooo, LF
9: FELIX.

2018 Tacoma Rainiers Preview

Jay Yencich · April 3, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues

Tacoma write-ups are usually a little bit harder for me to do despite the proximity and accompanying interest. Part of it is fatigue by the time I get to this point, but in this case, you can look up and down the roster and see a lot of guys who have spent some time in the majors and are known commodities in that respect. There’s not much left for me to do in the way of projection or speculation and their value is mostly determined by the needs of the major league team over much that they’re able to prove individually. This proves especially true in thin systems, which is where the organization is at presently.

The rotation is certainly interesting for what it could provide in the near and longer terms, likewise the ‘pen, though that has a less prospect-oriented look to it. Still, where the depth looks to be right now is far better than where we were a season ago, much as we like to make fun of Jerry for his near compulsive trading. The look of the infield is likely to change a little in the coming days, but the outfield I imagine is pretty set and will feature more guys who can run things down. We’re quite far removed from the 2010 Rainiers and I can’t imagine our current front office putting up with playing first basemen in the outfield because dingers.

It’s the last preview and gets a little loopy in spots, but I remain composed during talking about the interesting starters and almost brand-new bullpen. Then it’s broken hitting stats, Batman, dogging on the Mets, and trying to ascribe a D&D alignment to some poor dude’s baserunning.
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2018 Modesto Nuts Preview

Jay Yencich · April 3, 2018 · 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.
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Game 4, Mariners at Giants

marc w · April 3, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Ty Blach, 1:35pm

It’s Tuesday, the M’s have had two off-days in the past five days, and they’re playing a day game. Feels like an NBA schedule so far, which, frankly, I could get used to.

The M’s are sending Marco Gonzales to the mound for his first start of 2018, while the Giants counter with their opening day starter, Ty Blach. Gonzales looks to build on an eye-opening spring, and while the bar is decidedly low, I don’t think there’s ever been as many fan/team expectations placed on a 4th starter coming off a bad year as there are on Gonzales this year.

Meanwhile, the hitherto unremarkable Blach is coming off an opening day duel with Clayton Kershaw that saw the Giants win 1-0. Blach’s K rate last year was under 11%, a mark I wondered was against the rules in 2017. He wasn’t awful, so let’s spin the wheel of old Mariner pitch-to-contact lefty prospects and see who Blach compares to. There we go…slowing down now…ooh, Bobby Livingston! Livingston had a good change, and that’s a pitch Blach features to righties and is his best pitch overall. Blach’s fastball comes in 90-91 or so, and misses no bats. He’s got a slurvy curve ball that somehow gets fewer whiffs than his FB. All in all, it’s a profile that can only succeed with good command and a thumb on the scale to prevent HRs. Blach provides the command, while his home park helps hold down HRs.

1: Gordon, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Haniger, RF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Heredia, LF
8: Freitas, C
9: Gonzales, SP

Perhaps it’s not a surprise with the M’s kicking off an inter-league series, but the M’s placed hobbled DH Nelson Cruz on the ten-day DL after he sprained his ankle on the dugout steps. Taylor Motter is up from Tacoma to take his place on the active roster.

Gonzales was a great hitter at Gonzaga; should be good to see him hit against an eminently hittable guy like Blach.

2018 Arkansas Travelers Preview

Jay Yencich · April 2, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues

Since early season roster news comes out somewhat erratically (really wish I had a full Modesto roster to talk about), I found myself writing about the Travelers immediately after the Lumberkings. Having never written about this affiliate before, I also took some time to familiarize myself with the mascot. I am informed that “The Arkansas Traveler” is a folk song and formerly the state’s official song. Good to know. Yet, to the original point, perhaps it was just the easy centerfielder comparisons, but I found myself thinking that the two teams seem to be organized under similar philosophies. The rotation is built out of flyball pitchers backed up by a likely elite outfield defense. Add in a bullpen with interesting components, and you’re looking at a team that would figure to be built around run prevention. Yet, looking at probable lineup configurations, I think that the lower you get on the card, the more trouble you find yourself in. Perhaps they’ll mitigate that by having an OBP-heavy guy at ninth, or having a non-conventional number three hitter with better contact skills than power, but there’s definitely some give to the projected six through eight spots.

Below the jump, I will hold forth on several guys known as Joe, namedrop Driveline a few times, make note of one aspiring second-generation baseball player and another third-generation one, talk up a local dude, reference one of Yahoo! Answers’ most famous questions, and nearly indulge in a Simpsons reference but stop slightly short.
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2018 Clinton Lumberkings Preview

Jay Yencich · April 2, 2018 · 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.
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