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State of the Farm: 5/12/17

Let’s check in on the top prospects from each affiliate

Spring Lambing Begins In Brecon Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Week Five of State of the Farm is here! The bad news is that two of the affiliates have drastically slipped in the standings and, barring a sudden talent influx, are probably already out of the race in the first half. The good news is that we’re starting to arrive at a large enough sample to understand who is making legitimate strides, who is taking legitimate steps backward, and who is keeping up their same old ways.

This week, we’ll be checking in specifically on the top prospects from each affiliate, with a few extra guys who’ve surprised tacked on.

(AAA) Tacoma Rainiers

Team Record: 20-11, first in Pacific Northern Division, Pacific Coast League

Team Hitting: .251/.336/.389 3rd-lowest SLG% in PCL

Team Pitching: 7.7 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 3.63 ERA. 3rd-best ERA in PCL

Despite a constant shuffling of their roster, Tacoma hasn’t missed a beat, going 7-3 so far in the month of May. It’s been a combination of successes for the Rainiers, as both the bats and arms have contributed over the course of their hot streak.

Top Prospects

  • RHP Andrew Moore: Moore is officially up in Tacoma, earning the call-up after a strong showing in Double-A Arkansas. Kate was at his Triple-A debut and did a write-up about it, diving deeply into his 5.2-inning, three-run performance.
  • RHP Rob Whalen: Whalen has had an interesting season thus far. After going on the disabled list to start the year, he came back, started a single game for Tacoma, was called up to Seattle, never threw a pitch and then returned to Tacoma, where he is now. In eight innings in Triple-A this season, Whalen has surrendered four runs on eleven hits and five walks. Not the prettiest of starts, but the guy hasn’t exactly been working from a place of stability.
  • 1B D.J. Peterson: Peterson’s slow start has continued. The 25-year-old is currently slashing .227/.274/.382 with four home runs. He isn’t even hitting lefties particularly well right now.
  • 1B Dan Vogelbach: Vogelbach continues to look like the same guy we expect him to be: a patient spray hitter who keeps the walks up and the strikeouts down. I’m not sure what else there is to say about him at this point in time. We know he can demolish minor league pitching. The question now is whether he can perform against major league pitchers, something we’ll never get an answer to as long as he’s in Tacoma.
  • OF Tyler O’Neill:

/points out the window

Oh wow, is that Bigfoot over there?

/Hides Tyler O’Neill’s .193/.260/.342 slash line from sight while you’re distracted.

Guys picking up stock

  • UTIL Tyler Smith: Smith is currently running a 102 wRC+. A few weeks ago I never would’ve thought there’d be room for him on the 25-man roster, but ‘Mike Freeman: Pinch Hitter’ keeps happening, so who the hell am I to say what is and what isn’t possible. Smith’s value stems from his ability to play multiple positions very well. As long as he isn’t a disaster at the plate, he has value. So far, he’s actually been quite fine at the plate.

(AA) Arkansas Travelers

Team Record: 12-19, last in North Division, Texas League

Team Hitting: .249/.325/.338, lowest OPS in Texas League

Team Pitching: 8.4 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 4.30 ERA, second-worst ERA in Texas League

That whole lack of prospects thing is starting to catch up to the Travelers, who are currently sporting a six-game losing streak. If that wasn’t bad enough, they just had one of their best players (RHP Andrew Moore) shipped up to Tacoma. Things aren’t great in the first year of this Mariners-Travelers relationship.

Top Prospects

  • RHP Max Povse: Povse hasn’t quite been able to generate as many weak grounders as he has in the past, but a bump in strikeouts has helped him out to a successful start this season. Any ugliness in his numbers is likely due to his April 30th start, in which he surrendered 7 runs in 3.2 innings. The appearance sticks out quite a bit:

Aside from that one game, he’s been stellar and could be up with Moore in Tacoma fairly soon.

  • RHP Thyago Vieira: Vieira is back to having severe command issues, which isn’t great for anyone involved. His walk-rate is up to 6.57 BB/9 and hasn’t shown any signs of getting better, unless you want to put a ton of stock into his last two innings pitched (two perfect frames with three strikeouts). Strikeout numbers are still great and the stuff is still Tesla-like, but yeah, he just can’t seem to put the baseball where it needs to go at this particular moment.

Guys picking up stock

  • OF Ian Miller: I’m not sure there’s another player in this system people ask about more than Ian Miller. He is fast and fun and now he is suddenly hitting the ball hard, slashing .317/.348/.425 for the season. The changes in approach at the plate are obvious: he is sacrificing contact for power, with his strikeout-rate and power numbers seeing big jumps this season. I’m interested to see how this plays out over the course of the season and whether Miller can transform himself into somewhat of a late blooming fourth outfielder candidate, something I never would’ve imagined this time last season.
  • RHP Peter Tago: Tago keeps striking guys out (13.14 K/9) and the walk rate is slowly moving south. I like his raw stuff and believe he has the ability to help Seattle out in the near future, which is quite an accomplishment for someone who appeared to be a lost cause in 2013.

(A+) Modesto Nuts

Team Record: 20-14, first in North Division, California League

Team Hitting: .265/.349/.382, third-best OPS in California League

Team Pitching: 8.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.23 ERA, third-worst ERA in California League

Aside from narrowly avoiding a perfect game being tossed against them on Thursday night, the Nuts have continued their run of success. They’re 6-4 so far in the month of May, with series wins over Lake Elsinore and San Jose.

Top Prospects

  • CF Braden Bishop: Bishop has cooled off a teensy bit over the last few games, but he’s still running a .318/.399/.419 slash and has continued his trend of putting the ball in the air more, resulting in a big power boost. Even more interesting, the adjustments haven’t led to any sort of increase in strikeouts or decrease in walks. It’s been quite the opposite, actually. All of this, plus his outstanding defense and athleticism make for a fun time.
  • RHP Nick Neidert: If Neidert can continue at his current pace, I may not shut up about him this season. Through 34.2 innings, he’s managed a 9.35 K/9–easily the highest mark we’ve seen from him in his career–while maintaining a low walk-rate. He’s had some unfortunate BABIP luck so far, but he’s still a 20-year-old dominating California League competition, which is pretty freaking exciting.
  • RHP Pablo Lopez: Lopez has recovered nicely from his stumble out of the blocks. In his first three starts, he surrendered 15 runs in ten innings. In his three starts since, he’s allowed just six runs (five earned) in 16.1 innings. His 3.33 FIP and 3.75 xFIP are both second-best amongst Nuts starting pitchers, behind only Neidert.

Guys picking up stock

  • OF Eric Filia: Similar to Lopez, Filia has bounced back well from a brutal first couple weeks. Over his last 92 plate appearances, the UCLA product has slashed .321/.402/.432, good enough for a 136 wRC+. This all coming after Filia skipped over Class-A Clinton and went straight to Advanced-A Modesto. He’s still pretty old for the level, but we’re starting to approach ‘okay, Filia can legitimately hit’ territory. His biggest test will come when he makes that leap to Double-A.

(A) Clinton LumberKings

Team Record: 11-20, last in Western Division, Midwest League

Team Hitting: .237/.302/.341, sixth-lowest OPS in Midwest League

Team Pitching: 8.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 4.75 ERA, third-worst ERA in Midwest League

Things haven’t been great for the LumberKings. After getting it together and sitting near .500 a little over a week ago, they’ve completely collapsed, dropping eight of their last nine games. The problems remain the same: the team just really doesn’t have any particular strength, and it’s hard to win consistently in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League when your pitching staff is surrendering close to five runs a game.

Top Prospects

  • 3B Joe Rizzo: Last year’s second-round selection has been perfectly fine in the middle of the order, slashing .271/.353/.339 over 68 plate appearances. The power hasn’t shown up yet, but a 19-year-old hovering in that 110-120 wRC+ range in the Midwest League is a big positive.
  • 2B Bryson Brigman: Brigman’s ability to walk and put the ball in play a ton continues to somewhat cancel out his total power outage (.298 SLG%, .020 ISO). His strategy is simple: put the ball on the ground and use his plus-speed to get on. At some point he’s going to have to start barreling the ball up, however.
  • OF Luis Liberato: Liberato enjoyed mild success in Clinton in 2016, but he’s yet to build on that in the early stages of the season, running a .200/.300/.379 line through his first 28 games. The toolsy outfielder is just 21, and he appears to be in the middle of a shift in approach, looking to put the ball in the air more frequently, so he could just be working through some adjustments.
  • RHP Brandon Miller: Miller has been hit harder than anticipated in the early stages of 2017. This, mixed with the small surge in his walk-rate, has led to a 4.12 xFIP through his first 29.2 innings. He hasn’t been bad, necessarily, but he’s the exact kind of pitcher you expect to dominate this league and level (older, polished, fresh out of college arm). Let’s all hope he gets back on track.

Guys picking up stock

  • OF Gareth Morgan: Say what you will about the guy, but he hasn’t folded against the competition the way I’m sure many expected him to. Since his rough first couple weeks, Morgan has actually been one of the more reliable bats in the LumberKings’ lineup, posting a 147 wRC+ and .190 ISO over his last 65 plate appearances. The strikeout numbers are still alarming and it will be hard to ever take this totally serious until he can get it in that <30% range, but in a vacuum, a just-turned-21-year-old doing all of this in the Midwest League is fun.

Notable Transactions

  • INF Gianfranco Wawoe promoted to Double-A Arkansas: Wawoe and his 133 wRC+ will hopefully bring some needed support to the Travelers’ lineup.
  • RHP Justin De Fratus signed to a minor league contract: the veteran righty has reported to Double-A Arkansas.
  • RHP Tyler Cloyd has contract purchased: Cloyd had sixteen strikeouts in twelve innings for the Somerset Patriots.
  • RHP Casey Lawrence claimed off waivers: Lawrence has been brilliant for the Blue Jays’ Triple-A team this year and will report to Tacoma.