It's been a busy week on the farm. Two top pitching prospects received a promotion, we got a little more exposure to 2016 Alex Jackson, and one team has emerged as the team to watch in the system. Let's get to it.
Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers (30-20, 1st in Pacific Coast League - Pacific Northern Division)
After having a pretty consistent roster for the first month of the season, injuries in Seattle have caused a lot of change on the Rainiers' roster. Mayckol Guaipe left and returned. Chris Taylor went to Seattle and was back before the grounds crew even managed to get the tarp on the field. Steve Johnson went off to pursue his destiny as an elite MLB reliever. Luis Sardinas was there for a little bit and will probably be back before long. And then Stefen Romero, who had turned into a bit of a Triple-A superstar, packed up and headed off for Seattle.
Despite all this change, the Rainiers have maintained their standing as the team to beat in the division (just don't look at their actual division record). Interestingly enough, every single team in the division posted a 6-4 record over the last 10 games:
Donn Roach, Spring Training sweetheart, has morphed into a dominant starter recently, allowing just two earned runs while striking out 17 over his last 20.2 IP. The bullpen, meanwhile, continues to be an unstoppable force, with Kraig Sitton (2.95), Guaipe (2.88) and Blake Parker (2.50) all posting sub-3 FIPs. Six different relievers have a sub-2.00 ERA.
Offensively, the team has hit a bit of a funk. C Mike Zunino has hit just .193/.314/.409 in the month of May after tearing his way through April. Rob Brantly, largely considered a bat-first catcher, has just two walks this season and is currently slashing .261/.283/.477. 3B Ed Lucas was released and is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks' Triple-A squad, the Reno Aces. The offense is by no means bad, it just currently isn't the wrecking ball it was in the beginning of the season.
Double-A Jackson Generals (32-18, 1st in Southern League - North Division)
If it wasn't official before, it definitely is now: the Jackson Generals are the team to watch in this system. The Generals are 8-2 over their last 10 games and have raced out to a 7.5 game lead in their division.
The biggest storyline out of Jackson this past week is the sudden resurrection of 1B D.J. Peterson. Peterson, a former top prospect who struggled all through 2015 and the first month of 2016, has slashed .359/.419/.667 since May 20th. His BABIP is an absurd .478 during that time, so there are reasons to doubt that he is totally fixed and that all is well, but this is the most locked-in I've seen him since he was in college (although, admittedly, I didn't watch him at all during his time in Everett/Clinton/High Desert). Not that long ago, Peterson was a dangerous hitter for Jackson who seemed destined to be in a Seattle uniform sooner rather than later. It's not crazy to think that he could become that guy again.
Joining Peterson in the carrying of the offensive load are Guillermo Heredia (.309/.425/.412, 145 wRC+ in May) and the always spectacular Tyler O'Neill (.315/.377/.558, 165 wRC+ in 2016). One could make an argument that Heredia should be manning center field for the Mariners while Leonys Martin recovers from a hamstring injury. Even if his bat is poor, he would immediately slot in as the best defensive outfielder on the roster. O'Neill, meanwhile, is still O'Neill: a tree trunk carved into the shape of a baseball player. He is a massive dude, and he is talented.
The arms of Jackson continue to be stellar, as well. LHP Ryan Yarbrough has surrendered just two earned runs in his last 25.0 IP, lowering his FIP to 3.16 in the process. RHP Edwin Diaz is yet to allow a run as a reliever and has given up just one hit in his last 5.2 IP. Diaz's command of his fastball has been stellar when I've seen him and his slider looks promising. RHP Ryne Harper's FIP sits at 2.14 and he's surrendered just one run in his last ten outings (13.0 IP).
RHP Andrew Moore made his Double-A debut last week, surrendering three runs on four hits and two walks in three innings. Moore struggled to command his offspeed pitches, but his changeup had some real filthiness to it at times.
High-A Bakersfield Blaze (23-28, 3rd in California League - North Division)
Bakersfield's already poor pitching staff took a big hit when staff ace Andrew Moore was promoted to Jackson, but a big week from the bats have helped keep them afloat in the California League standings.
SS Drew Jackson's bat went quiet this week, but his patience at the plate returned. Over his last ten games, Jackson has drawn ten walks, including a four-walk contest against Inland Empire on Sunday. His walk-rate now sits a little below his 2015 mark, while his k-rate (13.2%) is exactly the same.
25-year-old 1B Kyle Petty continues to be the driving force at the plate, slashing .330/.409/.490 so far in 2016. Chantz Mack has been another big riser for the Blaze, posting eight multi-hit games over his last ten and pushing his line up to .289/.393/.483.
OF Austin Wilson has shown brief glimpses of snapping out of his hitting funk recently, but he continues to strike out far too much and square the ball up far too little. He has pushed his OBP up to .313, but is slugging just .288.
RHP Lukas Schiraldi, who was recently called up from Class-A Clinton, has struggled in two starts with the Blaze. The 2014 15th-rounder has surrendered 10 runs on 11 hits and 7 walks in 5.2 IP.
Class-A Clinton LumberKings (26-24, 2nd in Midwest League - Western Division)
The LumberKings continued to come up just short over the past week; six of their last seven losses have been by one run. They've played just well enough to keep from falling too far back in the race and currently sit at 3.0 games behind the first-place Cedar Rapids Kernels.
Top prospect Alex Jackson, who has taken over as an everyday corner outfielder and middle of the order bat, has struggled in his return to full-season baseball. Through eleven games, the 20-year-old has slashed .105/.286/.342 with 3 home runs and a 107 wRC+. It's just 38 at-bats and a couple good games could easily get his numbers back up to a respectable level, but the 31.8% k-rate he's posted so far is a tad worrisome.
INF Conner Hale continued his sudden rise, going 14 for 40 over his last 10 games while pushing his line up to .255/.301/.358 on the year. Meanwhile, fellow SEC product Logan Taylor maintained his status as a reliable, middle of the order bat. In his last five games, Taylor has gone 10 for 19 with 2 home runs, 5 walks, and 9 RBIs. For the year, he's slashed .278/.402/.391.
RHP Nick Neidert, the Mariners' first pick in the 2015 MLB Draft, made his 2016 debut last Tuesday, tossing five innings of four-hit, one-run ball. He managed to top this performance in his second outing, firing five shutout innings on Sunday.