Hello and welcome back to another edition of State of the Farm!
Joining me again this week is Ben Thoen, who will be filling you in on the latest happenings in the upper minors (Tacoma, Arkansas, Modesto). I’ll be taking the lower minors (Clinton, Everett, AZL, DSL) this week.
Let’s get to it!
(AAA) Tacoma Rainiers
Team Record: 61-64 (3rd in Pacific Northern Division)
O’Malley Debuts at 1B
As Ethan noted in last week’s SOTF edition, Pacific Northwest native and Mariners cult hero Shawn O’Malley joined Tacoma recently, seemingly completing his rehab assignment. On Tuesday, O’Malley did something he’d never done in his 987 game professional career: play first base. It’s worth noting that this wasn’t some kind of fluky late game defensive switch following a pinch running appearance or something. He started there and played there the entire game. Current Mariners utility infielder Danny Espinosa has appeared at first base twice already in his sure-to-be forgotten stint with the team, so one would think the M’s are grooming O’Malley to reclaim his role with the big league team.
Motter’s hot hitting
Speaking of utility infielders, Taylor Motter has been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball since joining the Rainiers just under a month ago. He’s slashing .328/.405/.719 through 16 games in August, and has walked more than he’s struck out (13:12). Unless the organization feels Motter needs continued consistent playing time to sustain his recent success, he could certainly be a candidate to replace Espinosa as well.
Mitch Haniger started for the sixth straight night for the Rainiers while rehabbing. During that time, Haniger has gone 4-21 (.191) with Tacoma, but the performance apparently hasn’t had any effect on whether or not GM Jerry Dipoto feels he’s ready to return to major league action:
It’s safe to assume Haniger will slot right back into his starting role, so it’ll be interesting to see who is the odd man out when the time comes. Our John Trupin points out that Ben Gamel (-19 wRC+ in August) has made a strong case for himself to be sent south on I-5.
Gomez and Frieri
Jerry Dipoto clearly forgot about my birthday last Thursday, and rushed out to Rite (On-The-Cusp-Of-Indy-Ball)-Aid at the last second to pick up veteran relievers Ernesto Frieri and Jeanmar Gomez. Both have a track record of success as major league closers—Frieri having a successful run from 2010-2013 and Gomez being a successful reliever as recently as 2015—but have struggled mightily in the bigs as of late. Frieri got blown up for four runs in 1.1 innings last night, while Gomez actually had a solid debut, tossing two scoreless innings back on Sunday. You can think of them as Jean Machi and Mark Lowe 2.0 for the time being.
(AA) Arkansas Travelers
Team Record: 23-30 (3rd in North Division)
Lindsey Caughel wants a promotion
After an understandably rough start to the season coming off of shoulder surgery(2015)/being released/playing indy ball, Caughel started to right the ship in June. In his nine starts since the Double-A All-Star Break, he has gone bonkers:
9 GS, 5-2, 57.2 IP, 1.87 ERA, 3.63 FIP, .187 BAA, 0.91 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
What I like even more than that line though is that he’s averaging a hair over 6.1 IP per start. At 27 years old, he isn’t really considered a "prospect" in the traditional sense of the word. Who knows how many bullets that reconstructed shoulder has left in it, but they’re being wasted in Double-A when there’s a pressing need for innings pitched now at Triple-A and above.
Braden. Bishop. Will. Not. Quit.
No. 6 Mariners prospect (MLB.com), OF Braden Bishop, opened the season with High-A Modesto, where he showed off an improved approach at the plate that resulted in a career-high 10.9% walk rate and 118 wRC+. Since being promoted to Double-A Arkansas, his BB% has dropped a hair, but he’s cut his K% almost in half and has seen a significant boost across the board offensively. His .359/.431/.500 slash line in August is leading to mentions of his name alongside names like “Haniger”, “Gamel”, and “Heredia” sooner than expected.
De Jong’s continued struggles
After three straight quality starts on the heels of an eight run outing, RHP Chase De Jong coughed up seven earned runs through six innings on Wednesday, four of them coming on a grand slam. De Jong was acquired last offseason in hopes of providing much-needed depth to an injury plagued starting rotation, but he’s taken a step backwards in almost every pitching category, struggling particularly to keep batted balls in the ballpark in the hitter-friendly PCL. A strong showing to finish out the season could go a long way in positioning himself favorably among the the starting pitching depth that is Gonzalez/Moore/Whalen/Gaviglio.
Mejias-Brean’s single parade
3B Seth Mejias-Brean is 20-59 (.339) so far through August. One of those hits was a double. The other 19 have been singles.
(Editor’s Note: Insert Tinder joke here)
(A+) Modesto Nuts
Team Record: 27-27 (1st in North Division)
Reggie rebounding nicely
After a four game stretch over which RHP Reggie McClain surrendered 28 earned runs in 20.1 IP, the 24 year Missou alumni has allowed just 3 runs over his last 17.2 IP. Throughout his up-and-down back half of the season, one thing has held consistent for McClain: he’s walked just one batter over his last 32.2 IP. While the limited free passes are no doubt winning the heart of the M’s front office, you could easily make the case that he’s hung around the strike zone a bit too frequently.
Donnie Walton returns from AZL
2016 5th round pick SS Donnie Walton was activated from a rehab stint in the Arizona league on August 9th, and has recorded multi-hit games in five of his nine games since his return. The switch-hitting Oklahoma State product has some pretty severe lefty-righty splits through 100 career minor league games.
So it’s not surprising that after his hand injury, Walton is now exclusively batting from the left side:
All as a LHH after giving up switch hitting following his hand injury. https://t.co/qK9MemFLZj— Keaton Gillogly (@Gillogly) August 12, 2017
Here’s a video of the speedster while down on his rehab trip in Arizona:
Donnie Walton on a rehab assignment with the AZL Mariners. https://t.co/O4zfmiskOb— Shaun Kernahan (@ShaunKernahan) August 7, 2017
Kyle Lewis on the mend
It’s taken a bit longer than expected, but Mariners #1 prospect OF Kyle Lewis is back to playing regularly. While he’s been playing exclusively as a designated hitter, just being in the lineup consistently is a big step in the right direction for Lewis. After setting the world on fire in July (.364/.400/.727), the bat has cooled quite a bit in August (.229/.327/.354). That said, at this point, just finishing out the season without another DL stint and heading into the offseason injury-free would have to be considered a big success for Lewis. Keep an eye out to see if he makes his return to the outfield in the near future.
(A) Clinton LumberKings
Team Record: 23-30 (7th in Western Division)
Gareth Morgan walk-off helps LumberKings stay hot
The Clinton LumberKings continued their hot streak in the most fashionable of ways on Thursday night, receiving a walk-off funk blast from outfielder Gareth Morgan.
The shot lifted the LumberKings to their fifth win over their last six games, arguably their most impressive stretch over what’s been a relatively subpar season. With the blast, Morgan is now hitting .239/.332/.428 on the season (115 wRC+). There are still far too many strikeouts and he is still so far away from getting back on the radar, but from a prospect standpoint, you can do a lot worse than a 21-year-old with a 115 wRC+ and an endless cache of raw power in the Midwest League.
Ljay Newsome continues to be the rotation’s anchor
With Brandon Miller getting shipped to Miami and several other starters struggling with consistency, Ljay Newsome has emerged as the most reliable starter in the LumberKings’ rotation. The 20-year-old fits the mold of the typical Dipoto pitcher: strike-throwing, fly-ball pitcher with average stuff, and I expect him to be a name we start hearing more often over the next year, primarily due to the current state of pitching prospects in the system (which should read as “very, very, very bad”). In 111.2 innings with Clinton this season, Newsome has managed the following: 3.72 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, 7.82 K/9, and 1.21 BB/9.
The bullpen really enjoys striking hitters out
This is more general observation than anything, but the LumberKings have had eleven players come through this year who’ve averaged more than a strikeout per inning:
They are small sample sizes, obviously, but it’s nice to see that the LumberKings are doing something well this year. Standouts include JP Sears, Seth Elledge, and Wyatt Mills, all of whom were just picked up in the 2017 MLB Draft.
Louis Boyd becomes the latest shuffler
Louis Boyd is the latest 2017 draft pick who’s been subjected to wild movement throughout the system. After spending some time with the AZL Mariners, he was bumped up to the AquaSox. After just six games with the AquaSox, he finds himself in Clinton. Pack lightly, Mr. Boyd.
In three games with the LumberKings, Boyd has gone 3-for-10 with a double.
Would YOU like to manage the LumberKings?
With David Macias resigning on August 9th, the LumberKings are now on their third manager of the season (Tony Arnerich). Pat Shine was fired earlier in the season and has since moved on to an assistant coaching role at Cal. Reset the clock.
(A-) Everett AquaSox
Team Record: 12-10 (2nd in North Division)
AquaSox find their footing
After struggling through most of the season, the AquaSox have recently managed to string together strong performances, winning four of their last five and going 10-5 thus far in the month of August. The wins have come in a variety of ways, with Everett emerging victorious in shootouts, pitching duels, blowouts, etc...
Eugene Helder stays hot
We’ve discussed Helder before, but I just want to reiterate how pleasant of a surprise he’s been this season, performance-wise. In his stateside debut, he’s slashed .314/.363/.434 with 11 doubles, 5 triples, and 2 home runs, bringing much needed life to the AquaSox lineup. He’s not on the prospect radar at all and it will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future, but in a season where big performances in the lower minors have been hard to come by, I am all for some Eugene Helder.
But not as hot as Greifer Andrade
Greifer! A bat-first prospect who has shifted to the outfield this year, Andrade is finally translating all of his raw hitting tools to results. In 39 games with the AquaSox, he’s slashed .320/.331/.473 with 11 doubles and 4 home runs. The lack of walks are concerning and the offensive numbers are far from elite, but this year has been a positive step forward for Andrade. Over his last ten games, he’s gone 15-for-41 with a walk.
Oliver Jaskie might (hopefully) be getting on track
I was intrigued by Jaskie when the Mariners grabbed him out of Michigan with a sixth-round pick. His changeup was good enough and his command was dandy enough and his fastball was just fast enough and I expected him to immediately establish himself as the best left-handed starting pitching prospect in the system. A couple months of struggle behind us, that sentiment may finally be coming true. Over his last four outings, Jaskie has done the following: 14.0 IP, 16 K, 3 BB, 2.27 FIP. Now, admittedly, he primarily takes over as the best left-handed starting pitching prospect in the system because there honestly might only be two others and they’ve all struggled this year, so take this with a stein full of salt, but, yes: Oliver Jaskie looks like the best left-handed starting pitcher in the system (miss you, Ryan Yarbrough).
(Rk) AZL Mariners
Team Record: 8-7 (3rd in West Division)
It dawns on me
I’ve mentioned it before, but I just want to reiterate how darn old this team is. Here is a list of the hitters they’ve had this year, sorted by OPS:
If we’re being casual about this, how far down the list (after top prospect Chris Torres, who is currently in Everett and was only in Arizona for rehab) do you think you have to go to find a player who is right on the dot of the league average age or below it? Seven spots? Ten spots? Twelve spots? Well actually...
You have to go allllllllllll the way down to Osmy Gregorio in the No. 19 spot. There are one or two guys who are within a few months of the league average above him, but Gregorio (-0.7) is the first to be right at league average or below. The AZL Mariners’ average age of 20.9 is tops in the league, and nearly two full years higher than several other clubs hovering in that 19.0-19.3 range. Only one other club (Chicago White Sox, who are actually just a smidge under them at 20.8) is remotely close. Interpret this as you will.
(Rk) DSL Mariners
Team Record: 26-35 (7th in Baseball City Division)
17-year-old Alexander Campos is doing fun things
Campos, a speedy shortstop out of Venezuela, is making his professional debut with the DSL Mariners this season. In 51 games, he’s slashed .294/.422/.379 with 2 home runs, 7 stolen bases, and 9 doubles. Additionally, he’s walking (17.3%) more than he’s striking out (15.0%). This is promising, especially for a 17-year-old. Campos was one of the more higher-profile international signings made by the Mariners over the last couple years and will likely start picking up steam as a prospect over the coming years.
17-year-old Luis Veloz struggles
Luis Veloz was a top-30 international prospect when the Mariners grabbed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2016. In his debut season, things haven’t been great. He’s hit .177/.265/.177 and is striking out nearly 20% of the time. In this case, the Mariners are banking on him improving as he grows into his large frame. The raw tools are there, but Veloz and Campos are pretty great examples of how much developmental paths can differ with the incredibly young international prospects.