[Editor’s Note: With the minor league season winding down, we’ll be giving a rundown of how each affiliate’s season went. We’ll take a look at a different affiliate each day, starting with the rookie ball teams and eventually working our way up to Triple-A Tacoma. We started with the AZL Mariners, followed by the DSL Mariners, followed by the Everett AquaSox.]
Welcome back to our second week of Season in Reviews! We’ll be kicking things off this week with a review of the Clinton LumberKings, the Mariners’ Class-A affiliate located in Clinton, Iowa. The LumberKings set the bar high after a thrilling 2016 season in which they captured the division title. With several players returning and several players popping on over from the 2016 Everett AquaSox team that nearly won a league title themselves, things seemed to be setting up for another successful season.
Overall Record: 64-73, 6th in Western Division
Playoff Record: N/A
Season in Review
The LumberKings never really found their footing in 2017, finishing 5 games under .500 in the first half and 4 games under in the second half. Their misfortune wasn’t a result of a totally incompetent roster or anything of that nature–the roster actually held quite a bit of talent–but more of a consequence of lacking any specific team strength. Until a cluster of recently-drafted relievers arrived towards the end of 2017, the pitching was okay at best. The lineup had bright spots, but several players struggled with consistency and their biggest offensive threat (Anthony Jimenez) landed on the disabled list in late June and never returned. The defense had their moments and the team as a whole stole bases like madmen, but ultimately, yes, the LumberKings’ middle-of-the-road-ness made it incredibly difficult for them to sustain hot streaks all year long.
Top Position Player Performances
Anthony Jimenez, OF
Jimenez busted out in 2017–his first year in full season ball–emerging as the most reliable hitter in Clinton’s offense. Over 256 plate appearances with the LumberKings, Jimenez hit .298/.362/.482 with a 138 wRC+. The performance helped Jimenez establish himself as a legitimate prospect to watch in the organization, landing at No. 15 on MLB.com’s reranking of the Mariners’ farm around midseason.
Gareth Morgan, OF
After endless struggles in rookie ball, Morgan finally made the jump to a full season league this year. He surprised everyone, putting together his finest year as a professional while consistently being one of the two or three-best hitters in the Clinton lineup at any given point during the season. His 110 wRC+ was third-best on the LumberKings and his 11.5% walk-rate ranked in as fourth-best. His undeniably thrilling raw power also provided several exhilarating moments throughout the season. The road ahead for Morgan is long and full of necessary improvement demands if next steps are to be taken, but 2017 was a pleasant first step for the power-hitting Canadian.
Nick Zammarelli III, INF
The LumberKings were nearly a full month into their season when Zammarelli joined, and I’d be lying if I said he immediately inserted himself right in and took over as a driving force in the lineup. The start for Zammarelli was slow and full of bumps, but he recovered nicely in the second half of the season. From June on, the corner infielder slashed .314/.368/.443 with a 130 wRC+, essentially morphing back into the juggernaut he was last season with Everett.
Luis Liberato, OF – Posted a 109 wRC+ before getting bumped up to Modesto in June. Also provided outstanding outfield defense, as usual.
Joe Rizzo, INF – 19-year-old second-round pick from 2016. Performed admirably for someone his age in such a pitcher-friendly league. Ran a 104 wRC+ and a 13.1% walk-rate in 480 plate appearances.
Top Pitching Performances
Ljay Newsome, RHP
I pegged Newsome as the most reliable starter in the LumberKings rotation at the early stages of the season and this ended up holding true all throughout 2017. The numbers aren’t spectacular–3.72 xFIP, 3.61 FIP, and 7.70 K/9–but considering it was his first year of full season ball and he was every bit of a comforting presence in a generally awful rotation, it was a hell of an effort from Newsome.
Jack Anderson, RHP
Jack Anderson is a submarine machine and he can do no wrong. In 51.1 innings with the LumberKings, he cruised his way out to a 2.77 xFIP and 2.39 FIP with 54 strikeouts. The Greek God of Sidewind anchored the Clinton bullpen for months before getting the call up to Modesto.
Robert Dugger, RHP
Dugger played many roles for the LumberKings in the first half of the year and he filled all of them well. Whether he was starting, working short relief, or lasting long relief, Dugger performed, finishing his time in Clinton with a 2.00 ERA and 2.97 FIP over 72.0 innings. The performance ultimately earned him a promotion to Modesto in mid-July.
The Short Stint Brigade of Wyatt Mills, Seth Elledge, and JP Sears – The trio of 2017 MLB draftees immediately established themselves as some of the more talented relievers in the system, bumping up to Clinton after a short time and making life a living hell for Midwest League hitters. If we do away with innings limits, the trio finished second, third, and fourth on the team in xFIP. Elledge and Sears both finished with a >15 K/9. Mills’ was a measly 12.15. It was a ridiculous combination, and it will be fun watching them rise through the system together.
Other Notable Prospects
Bryson Brigman, UTIL
Brigman’s defense was as good as advertised at second base, but a severe lack of power at the plate continues to hinder his development. The 22-year-old slugged .296 over 518 plate appearances with the LumberKings.
Nick Wells, LHP
Continues to flash intriguing raw stuff, but Wells was once again unable to put it all together in 2017. In 123.0 innings, the lefty posted a 4.52 xFIP and 5.02 FIP. He was expected to take some kind of step forward in his second full season in Clinton, but aside from slight improvements in his strikeout and walk numbers, not much changed.