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2017 Season in Review: Arkansas Travelers

[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. Ethan started us off with the AZL Mariners, followed by the DSL Mariners, followed by the Everett AquaSox and then the Clinton LumberKings.]

Welcome back to our Mariners’ minors Season in Reviews! After Ethan brought you up to speed on the M’s four lowest level affiliates, he’s deferred to me to take on the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, who just wrapped up their first season as a Mariners minor league affiliate. For many organizations, the Double-A level usually features a selection of their top prospects, who oftentimes end up making the jump straight to the big leagues, bypassing the Triple-A level. That was not the case for the Travs this season, who instead served as a landing spot for many of the M’s depth pieces that have experience at Triple-A—or even the majors in some cases—but simply got squeezed out of Tacoma. Unfortunately, that track record of upper-level experience all over the diamond did not translate to “W’s” in the win-loss column.

Overall Record: 65-75, 4th in Texas League North Division

Playoff Record: N/A

Season in Review

One year after former M’s Double-A affiliate Jackson rode the arms of Ryan Yarbrough, Andrew Moore, and Paul Blackburn, as well as the bat of (former) top prospect Tyler O’Neill to an 84-55 record and went on to win the Southern League Championship, the the M’s new Double-A affiliate struggled mightily and finished second-worst among all Texas League teams. After scorching hot starts to the season for outfielders Ian Miller and Chuck Taylor that saw the pair duking it out atop the league leaders in batting average, the former eventually pulled away before being promoted to Triple-A Tacoma, while Taylor faded in the second half, particularly from June 12th—the day I interviewed him—through the rest of the season:


As a team, the Travs finished in the middle of the pack in both batting average and OBP, but struggled largely due to posting the second-highest team ERA in the league, despite walking the fewest batters. At least they C’d the Z!

Top Position Player Performances

Braden Bishop, OF

Despite appearing in just 31 games after being promoted from High-A Clinton, you couldn’t help but be impressed by what Bishop did in his limited time. Not only did he continue to run a BB% north of 10% for his first season of his career, but he managed to do so while cutting his K% from 15.8% at High-A to 10.3% at Double-A. There was a very obvious change in the University of Washington product’s plate approach this season that, combined with 2016 first round pick Kyle Lewis losing essentially an entire calendar year due to injury, is making Lewis’ status as the organization’s top outfield prospect a little less obvious.

Ian Miller, OF

If anyone was thinking of trying to stick the best base-stealer in the Mariners minor league system in Double-A again in 2018, think again. The left-handed hitting speedster used his legs to find his way on base 38% of the time, a number that was helped out by his .382 BABIP. While that number is likely to dip a bit as he moves through the system, he’s shown an ability to keep it up over an extended period of time before, posting at mark of .376 at High-A back in 2015. His obvious base stealing ability—he had 40+ for the third straight season—could be his ticket to the bigs if he’s able to produce another hot season with the stick in his first full season of duty at the Triple-A level in 2018.

Kyle Waldrop, OF/1B

The Mariners signed Waldrop to a minor league contract back in December, and after appearing in 15 major league games in 2016—albeit for the Reds—it was a bit surprising to see him assigned to the Double-A level to open the season. That said, he took the opportunity to prove himself and ran with it, posting his highest walk rate since 2012 en route to a mid-season all-star selection and Texas League Player of the Month honors in July. With Yonder Alonso and Danny Valencia both ticketed for free agency, and a combination of D.J. Peterson’s departure from the organization and Dan Vogelbach’s struggles handling the position, Waldrop seems like as a good a bet as anyone in the system to be kept around as first base depth heading in to 2018.

Honorable Mentions:

Chuck Taylor, OF - Slashed .347/.437/.523 with a 172 wRC+ through 52 games before I interviewed him on June 12th. Slashed .221/.318/.305 from then on. My bad guys.

Dario Pizzano, OF - Posted a 127 wRC+ and walked (9.0%) more often than he struck out (8.7%) in 72 games at Double-A after starting the season at Triple-A for the second straight year.

Top Pitching Performances

Lindsey Caughel, RHP

After spending a season in indy ball, where he won pitcher of the year honors, Caughel’s return to organized professional ball started a little rough. That said, you’d be hard pressed to find a pitcher anywhere that out-pitched him in the second half of 2017, when he did spun 90.2 innings of 2.08 ERA, 0.93 WHIP baseball over 14 starts, although he out-pitched his peripherals a bit. Regardless, Caughel’s second half of the season cemented him as the staff ace.

Dylan Unsworth, RHP

After battling injuries each of the last two season, Unsworth was bit by the injury bug again in 2017. Before being placed on the disabled list on August 7th, Unsworth had a stretch of 13 starts from May 17th to July 23rd where he racked up 11 quality starts, and allowed just four runs in each of his two non-quality starts in that span. After posting a 2.33 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 3.23 FIP through those 13 starts, the South African righty made one four run, 5.0 inning start before being shut down until tossing two scoreless innings on September 2nd to round out his season. His success despite a steady decline in his strikeout rate since his last stint in High-A ball makes one wonder what could have been had he stayed healthy.

Tyler Herb, RHP

Herb started 16 games for the Travelers this season, and was running an xFIP of 3.27, his best over any significant stretch of starts, before being shipped to the Giants in order to complete the Chris Heston trade of last offseason. Herb went on to post a 3.71 xFIP for the Giants’ Double-A squad, and saw his strikeout rate dip from 8.08 K/9 to 6.61 over 10 starts.

Honorable Mentions:

Max Povse, RHP - After an impressive showing in spring training, Povse struggled to find his footing in the Travs rotation, averaging just under 5.0 innings per start before moving to the bullpen. His walk rate more than doubled, jumping from 1.53 BB/9 at Double-A in 2016 to 3.23 at the same level this season.

Peter Tago, RHP - For the third year in a row, Tago flashed impressive strikeout upside, matched by an almost equally impressive lack of control. At age 25, and with a strikeout rate of 11.1 K/9, Tago retired unexpectedly mid-season.

Other Notable Prospects

Nick Neidert, RHP

After seeing his strikeout rate jump from 6.8 K/9 at A-level Clinton in 2016 to 9.4 for High-A Modesto in 2017, Neidert saw that number dip all the way down to 5.0 over six starts at Double-A to round out his 2017 campaign.

Thyago Vieira, RHP

Vieira’s 3.7 BB/9 at Double-A matched his mark from High-A in 2016, and is a huge step in the right direction for the flamethrowing reliever, and helped guide him to his big league debut in 2017.