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State of the Farm: 6/21/16

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In which we discuss the LumberKings' clinching of a playoff spot and the resurrection of Jesus Sucre and Danny Hultzen

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Another week, another string of good news for the Seattle Mariners' farm system. Did you hear about Brayan Hernandez tearing it up in the Dominican Summer League? Did you know that Danny Hultzen threw actual baseballs in an actual game with actual players yesterday? Did you know Jesus Sucre is still a thing that exists? Did you know that one Mariners prospect had the chance to participate in a home run derby aboard an aircraft carrier?

We have a lot to get to. Sit back, relax, grab a can of Mountain Dew Code Red, and listen to the soft whispers of minor league goodness that will temporarily distract you from the state of the Seattle Mariners.

Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers

(39-31, 1st in Northern Division)

The Rainiers now sit in a tie atop the division with the red-hot Reno Aces. While the Rainiers have slumped recently, going 4-6 over their 10 games, the Aces have looked close to unbeatable. The Rainiers have in no way been helped out by their parent club, who had been snatching away pitchers left and right before shipping off one of the best hitters in the lineup to the insufferable land of Los Angeles.

  • SS Chris Taylor's time as a Mariner is officially over after he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers this weekend for RHP Zach Lee. His final 2016 stat line for the Rainiers: .312/.387/.457, 130 wRC+, .146 ISO.
  • RHP Emilio Pagan finally received a mid-season promotion! After riding his fastball/slider combo to a dazzling 1.17 ERA in 18 appearances with the Generals, Pagan is now officially one step away from being in a Mariners uniform. He's had one appearance with the Rainiers so far: 2.1 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 2 BB, 3 K. With the Mariners moving the bullpen around left and right, it's not crazy to think he could be in Seattle within the next couple months, especially considering the fact that they've shown zero interest in promoting...
  • RHP Blake Parker. Parker suffered through one rough appearance against the Aces on June 11th, but aside from that he's been as reliable as ever. In the last week alone he's struck out six and allowed just one hit in 3.0 IP. The command is good and the stuff is decent. His biggest weakness at the moment is not being on the 40-man roster.
  • C Mike Zunino continues to be a perfectly fine hitter in Tacoma this year. The walk-rate is all the way up to 9.9%, the highest it's been since he wore an AquaSox uniform, and the k-rate is at a respectable 19.4%. Most importantly, he made it out of his first major Triple-A slump alive, showing the ability to adjust and not overdo things. Now, let's all watch him hit a home run:
  • RHP Donn Roach has quietly morphed into a reliable starting pitcher for the Rainiers. Roach tossed eight shutout innings on Sunday and now has a 2.62 ERA over his last ten starts. If the Mariners need another starter, it probably comes down to him, Cody Martin, or Lee.
  • Speaking of RHP Cody Martin, he has also turned things around recently. Martin tossed seven innings of one-run ball against the Grizzlies on Monday and now has a 3.06 ERA over his last 10 appearances.
  • INF Patrick Kivlehan is doing his best to keep up maximum levels of "let's all point and laugh at the Leonys Martin trade". He's hitting .308/.333/.500 since rejoining the Mariners' system.
  • 3B Zach Shank has been bounced around like a pinball between Tacoma and Jackson the last few weeks, but he continues to be a steady bat in whatever lineup he finds himself in. With Taylor gone, I expect him to remain in Tacoma for a longer duration this time.
  • CF Boog Powell's .356 SLG% is the lowest it's been since he played in rookie ball in 2012 and his walk-rate is way down from anything we've ever seen from him, but he continues to mash out singles at a consistent rate. In June, he's hitting .303/.347/.394 with a 100 wRC+.
  • LHP Paul Fry has struggled in recent weeks, surrendering 13 hits, 5 walks, and 5 runs over his last 9.0 IP. He has struck out twelve in that time, but he hasn't looked like the quick-moving reliever we saw from 2013-2015.
***

Double-A Jackson Generals

(46-24, 1st Half North Division Champs)

The Generals made franchise history on Sunday, picking up their 46th win of the season in a 4-0 win over the Tennessee Smokies. The win total is the most ever posted by a Generals team in a single half of a season. And while the entire first half was a mesmerizing display of all-around dominance, they were never more impressive than they were at the very end. With the first half ending on Sunday, the Generals were in need of five consecutive wins to close out the half in order to clinch the record. They took on the challenge with ease, pummeling the Smokies in every way imaginable. They did it with their bats, scrapping out a 9-8 win on Saturday. The phenomenal pitching staff flexed their muscle, shutting out the Smokies in two separate contests and allowing a total of one run in Friday's doubleheader. Everything worked, and the Generals ended the first half with the best winning percentage in the entire Southern League.

  • RHP Dan Altavilla received a last second bid to join the Northern Division All-Star team, replacing former teammate Emilio Pagan, who was recently promoted to Triple-A Tacoma. Altavilla had some initial struggles when he switched to the bullpen in 2016, but he seems to get more and more comfortable with each passing appearance. His stats since May 4th: 11.17 K/9, 1.86 ERA, 2.67 FIP, 19.1 IP
  • RHP Andrew Moore scattered nine hits across 5.1 IP on Friday to lower his ERA in Jackson down to 3.10 (3.31 FIP). He struck out six in the effort and continues to hold his own against tougher competition since making the jump from High-A Bakersfield.
  • RHP Kyle Schepel is back up with the Generals for the second time this season. The 25-year-old tossed two scoreless innings in the Generals' final game of the first half.
  • OF Tyler O'Neill ended the first half with an eight-game hitting streak, giving him a line of .321/.386/.550 heading into the break. The 22.8% k-rate will worry some, but he's been far better than any of us could've hoped this year. The 9.4% walk-rate has been a pleasant surprise, as well.
  • C Marcus Littlewood has quietly been a force in the Generals' lineup this year, slashing .301/.365/.388 in the first half. His BABIP sits at an unsustainable mark of .383, but it's nice to see the second-round pick hitting again.
  • LHP Ryan Horstman tossed 2.2 perfect innings in a relief appearance on Friday. The command has been better recently and the stuff he's throwing is encouraging. He could be in Tacoma before the year is over.
  • Let's all watch 1B D.J. Peterson swat another home run because my goodness has he been fun this year.

***

High-A Bakersfield Blaze

(37-33, 3rd in North Division)

The Blaze ended the first half on a high note, scoring 40 total runs in a four-game sweep of the Lancaster Jethawks. The Blaze's early season struggles put them in too deep of a hole to climb out of, but they were slowly becoming the most entertaining offense in the system down the stretch.

  • OF Chantz Mack had the most noteworthy performance in the series, hitting for the cycle on Sunday. Mack finished the first half with a line of .304/.388/.486. I'd expect a trip to Jackson for him soon, considering he's nearly three years older than the league average player.
  • OF Gareth Morgan made a cameo in Bakersfield for a couple games because of an injury to Austin Wilson. Morgan went 4-10 with 3 doubles and 6 strikeouts. Yes, that is a 1.000 BABIP. No, I am not sure if that will hold up. The club's second-round pick in 2014 has since been placed on the AZL Mariners roster.
  • 1B Kyle Petty clubbed two homers in one game on Friday. He then proceeded to hit home runs on a freaking aircraft carrier during All-Star Events on Monday.
  • SS Drew Jackson posted three multi-hit games in the four-game set, finishing the half at .274/.344/.374. It wasn't anywhere near the level of performance he enjoyed in Everett last year, but it's hard to poke too many holes in his game at the moment.
  • RHP Tyler Herb struck out 10 in six innings on Friday. He surrendered five runs, but they were all unearned. Herb might've had the most surprising first half in the entire system.
  • RHP Lukas Schiraldi's struggles continued in High-A ball. The 22-year-old surrendered three runs on eight hits and four walks in 4.1 IP in his most recent appearance. Since joining the Blaze, Schiraldi has surrendered 17 runs in 19 IP.
***

Class-A Clinton LumberKings

(39-31, 2nd in Western Division)

Clinton's late run for the division title came up just short, with Peoria besting them by just a single game, but the LumberKings still managed to notch a playoff spot. They went 7-3 over their final 10 games to lock down the position.

  • Things have begun to click for OF Alex Jackson. After seeing his batting average plummet into the territory of the unspeakable early on, he has gone on a tear the last couple weeks to raise his line to .209/.281/.391. It's still not much to write home about, but since June 5th, he's done this: .305/.328/.458, 132 wRC+, and a .153 ISO. The strikeouts and walks still aren't pretty, but he's been squaring the ball up much more consistently lately, and that's exciting.
  • OF Braden Bishop has been fairly quiet down in Clinton this year, but his bat is starting to catch fire. In the month of June, he's hit .324/.367/.338. The pop in his bat has been noticeably absent, however.
  • OF Luis Liberato echoes Bishop's performance, posting strong OBP marks in June without any power. His SLG% is way down from the .453 mark he posted in Everett last season.
  • RHP Zack Littell's ERA moved into sub-3.00 territory with a one-run, six-inning performance on Friday. Over his last three starts, Littell has surrendered one earned run in 20.0 IP.
  • RHP Pablo Lopez's strong debut marched on. The 20-year-old tossed seven innings of two-run ball for the LumberKings on Friday.
  • RHP Nick Neidert turned in his second-consecutive quality start, surrendering three runs in six innings on Wednesday. The second-round pick struck out five and walked just one.
***

Low-A Everett AquaSox

(2-2, 1st in North Division)

Take the first place standing with a grain of salt; not only have the AquaSox only played four games, but literally the entire division is currently tied for first place. Something tells me this division race is far from over.

  • Kyle Lewis is now four games into his professional career. His batting average sits at .143. Everyone panic. No, but seriously, he is very good and once he is settled, he is going to start hitting some baseballs to that one city that is a reasonable distance from Everett (I've only been living in the Pacific Northwest for a few months please cut me some slack).
  • RHP Ljay Newsome tossed seven shutout innings in Everett's 10-0 win over Vancouver last night. Last year's 26th round pick surrendered just two hits while striking out six in the effort.
  • 6th-round pick Brandon Miller debuted on Sunday and was roughed up a bit, surrendering five runs on six hits in two innings. Miller had a very Dipoto-esque college stat sheet, striking out 115 while walking just 13 in 107.2 IP, but many are interested to see how he'll handle the jump from a lower-tier of college baseball to professional ball.
  • LHP Luiz Gohara made his 2016 debut on Saturday, striking out seven over 4.1 shutout innings.
***

Rookie League AZL Mariners

(1-0, Unquestioned rulers of the Arizona League West Division)

Despite it being a rookie league, a whole bunch of stuff went down in the AZL Mariners' one and only game:

  • C Jesus Sucre is alive! Sucre, who's been injured all year, was the designated hitter for the Mariners and collected a RBI single.
  • SS Christopher Torres, an exciting prospect out of the Dominican Republic, went 1 for 5 with a walk and two runs scored.
  • LHP Danny Hultzen is also alive! Hultzen started for the Mariners, surrendering a hit and a walk and nothing else in his lone inning pitched.
  • Back in 2012, the Mariners drafted Nick Halamandaris with their 8th round pick. Halamandaris decided to go to college instead. Four so-so years at Cal later, he is officially in a Mariners uniform as an UDFA. Most surprising is that he was used as a pitcher last night. It wasn't pretty; he surrendered three runs in his only inning pitched, but it was something rather peculiar. You can probably go ahead and forget it's even a thing, but I'll be keeping my eye on it.
  • RHP Jio Orozco had the most impressive debut, striking out seven hitters and allowing just one earned run over five innings. Orozco had a strong 2015 with the AZL Mariners, statistically, but most appearances were brief. It appears this year we'll be getting a longer look at all of those prep arms the Mariners scooped up in the draft last year.
***

Rookie League DSL Mariners1

(11-3, First place in South Division)

  • 18-year-old Brayan Hernandez has been fantastic so far in this young season, slashing .333/.367/.614 in 57 at-bats. Hernandez was the No. 3 international prospect back when the Mariners signed him out of Venezuela in 2014, but struggled in his first year of pro ball. He's a toolsy, switch-hitting outfielder who has the potential to be a special player.
  • 18-year-old SS Osmy Gregorio has hit .324/.531/.500 over his first 34 at-bats. There isn't a whole lot of information out there on Gregorio, aside from the fact that the Mariners signed him on 3/15/16.
  • 20-year-old C Geoandry Montilla has posted a 1.023 OPS so far. Catchers that rake are neat! He's close to two years older than the average player in the league, however, so take it with a grain of salt.