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There Could Be Something Interesting In Tennessee

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I've been to Tennessee one time, when my plane was diverted from Philadelphia on account of a snowstorm. I arrived in the late afternoon, took a shuttle to a hotel, ate there, went to bed, woke up, took a shuttle back to the airport, and left. As such I think I'm qualified to declare that Tennessee is the blank white t-shirt of the United States.

But hold on - it looks like there could be some excitement coming to the area. And not thunder-and-lightning excitement, or driver-from-Kentucky-who's-badly-lost excitement; I mean entertaining, buy-tickets-for-the-family excitement. Conor Glassey:

Obviously, there's nothing confirmed, but based on Conor's tweet, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker could all begin with the Jackson Generals. I don't know Conor's source, but this would be a weird thing to lie about.

Let's just assume for now that this is correct because it makes the rest of this post easier to write. Hultzen has never pitched in the minors. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League, and he's pitched in spring training, but in terms of his playing record, he has zero professional experience in meaningful games. Paxton got up to Jackson last year, but he made just seven starts before he was shut down (not for health reasons). Walker made 18 starts with single-A Clinton and was pretty dominant.

The idea with Walker would be that he's good enough to deserve an aggressive promotion. This would skip him right over advanced-A, but advanced-A means High Desert, and while we don't know what effect the California League can have on pitcher development, it doesn't seem like a horrible idea to let Walker bypass it completely. For anybody who doesn't know, that league is extremely hitter-friendly, and that can get in a pitcher's head. For reference, let's look at the three advanced-A leagues in 2011:

California League: .779 OPS, 4.89 ERA
Carolina League: .700 OPS, 3.76 ERA
Florida State League: .716 OPS, 3.92 ERA

High Desert's home ballpark is at something like 3,000 feet. The park factors are hysterical. It's...not an impossible situation, and Felix started 15 games in the same league in 2004, but Felix was in a different, friendlier stadium. Michael Pineda would've been a better example. Pineda appeared in ten games for High Desert in 2009. He was awesome. Pitchers have survived and pitchers have flourished, but pitchers have also been wrecked. Walker probably has the stuff for double-A.

With Hultzen and Paxton, I'm left to guess, but perhaps the Mariners want them beginning the season in a warmer climate than Tacoma. Easier on the muscles, easier on the arms. And there could be additional factors. Again, Hultzen has never pitched in the minors. Paxton wasn't in double-A for long. The Mariners could see a benefit to having Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker develop together, so they can bond, and so they can challenge one another. They're usually grouped together in prospect lists; now they could be grouped together in the same starting rotation. This is one of those things I could never hope to analyze, but that probably isn't completely irrelevant.

If these three guys do start in double-A, I don't know how long they'll stay in double-A. I suspect that would be determined by their performances, and while you'd think Hultzen might rise the fastest, what if Walker shows up and dominates the most? You never know. It could be an exciting time for the Jackson Generals, and it'll also be nice to have some high-level performance data for Walker, since double-A is where I start to take minor league numbers seriously. I love Taijuan Walker like every other Mariners fan, but if he can excel in double-A, he could reach a higher level of affection. Yes, there's a higher level than love, and hopefully Ms. Jeff hasn't read this far.