Last year, the Mariners renamed their minor league awards after former Mariners greats and created/re-categorized some awards to better fit with the current organizational philosophy. You can read about the specific changes, and see the list of last year’s winners, here. The honorees will be recognized in a pre-game ceremony at the September 22nd game against the Athletics, so come out and clap for them.
The Ken Griffey Jr. Award (Minor League Hitter of the Year) - Ian Miller, OF, Double-A Arkansas/Triple-A Tacoma
Last year this award was taken home by power-hitting Tyler O’Neill, and there’s probably no larger contrast to the barrel-chested slugger than the slender, speedy Miller (or as I like to call him, “my slender adult son”). However, what Miller accomplished this year between Double-A and Triple-A is undeniable. He led the organization in hits at the Double-A level or above, and finished second only to Eric Filia in total hits. Batting mostly leadoff, he still finished second in the organization in runs scored. A swing change this year unlocked some new power for Miller; in Double-A, he hit four home runs, or four times his career total, and a career-high 18 doubles. He finished in Arkansas slashing .326/.382/.430 before being moved up to Triple-A Tacoma. Even as he struggled some to adjust to pitching at the Triple-A level after being promoted at the end of July, Miller found a way to get on base, at one point sustaining a twenty-game hit streak between Arkansas and Tacoma. In just over a month at Tacoma he stole 13 bases, giving him a total of 43 on the season while only being caught 5 times. Really, what the organization needs to do is invent a Ricky Henderson award for being a terror on the basepaths, because that’s what Miller does better than anyone else, to the point where I’ve nicknamed his single/stolen base combo the “Ian Miller Double.”
The Jamie Moyer Award (Minor League Pitcher of the Year) - Nick Neidert, High-A Modesto/Double-A Arkansas
Neidert’s overall season line stands at 11-6 with a 3.45 ERA, but he was dazzling in the hitter-friendly California league, accumulating a 10-3 record with a 2.76 ERA/3.39 FIP. He struck out 26% of the batters he faced and walked just 4% of them while posting a minuscule 6.4% HR/FB rate in the moonscape of the Cal League. Neidert pitched just 23 innings in his taste of Double-A and wobbled a bit against the Texas League hitters, seeing his strikeout rate carved in half and his BB/9 rise slightly, but his 6.56 ERA is belied by a 5.20 FIP. Controlling the walks and continuing to get ground balls, even in such a small sample size, is a good sign for a young pitcher, and Neidert seems to have taken a big step forward this year in maturity, both on and off the field. (In an adorable development, he was “adopted” at the AA level by fellow pitcher Ralston Cash, who launched a social media campaign aimed at getting the single, slightly awkward Neidert a date. No word on how that shook out.) Neidert was named the California League Pitcher of the Year, as well as earning a spot on Baseball America’s High-A All-Star Team. He’s still just 20 years old.
The Alvin Davis “Mr. Mariner” Award - Chris Mariscal, INF, High-A Modesto/Double-A Arkansas
The Alvin Davis award is presented to the player who puts his team ahead of himself and does whatever the organization asks him to do, and while I don’t doubt young Mr. Mariscal is a great team player, it seems a little weird to recognize him for his character and not his offense. Mariscal was a 14th-round pick in 2014 who spent two years grinding in Clinton—and honestly, they should give him the award just for that, I guess—earning himself a promotion to High-A Modesto this year after putting up a wRC+ of 131. Mariscal took to the Cal League well, improving on his numbers from Clinton, as he pushed his walk rate to double digits and shaved six points off his strikeout rate. Mariscal was part of the fearsome top third of the Nuts’ lineup that featured Braden Bishop, Mariscal, and Eric Filia, which was probably the best 1-2-3 in the Cal League over the first half. Mariscal found some pop in his bat, too, hitting seven home runs, which equalled his career total. Not career high. Career total. Mariscal was promoted to Double-A Arkansas in late July where he slashed .296/.347/.365 over the month of August, at one point carrying a nine-game hitting streak. Mariscal is a utility infielder who can play anywhere on the infield, and served as Arkansas’ shortstop after the promotion of Joey Wong, which is maybe why he was tabbed for the Alvin Davis award. Bobby DeMuro over at Baseball Census has a great writeup of him here.
The Edgar Martinez PTPA (Productive Team Plate Appearance) Award - Jordan Cowan, INF, High-A Modesto
In the crowd of intriguing players at Modesto, it’s easy to forget Jordan Cowan, drafted in the 37th round by his hometown team in 2013. Cowan has spent most of his career as a Mariner yo-yoing all over the place, but stepped in this year to replace the injured Logan Taylor, out for most of the season. Cowan’s 533 PAs were more than he’s ever had at any level, and he acquitted himself just fine with them, slashing 271/.345/.335 while running a 9.4% BB against a 16.5% K rate. Despite not hitting for much power, Cowan is nonetheless on the runs scored leaderboard (7th, tied with Mariscal), a credit to his ability to get on base. He’s also been a spark in Modesto’s playoff run, batting .282 over the last 10 games, and hit this no-doubter home run to help the Nuts secure a victory in the first game of the series.
Check out @Jcow4show's home run last night as the Nuts beat the @stocktonports in Game 1 of the North Division @CalLeague1 Playoffs! pic.twitter.com/CdpqjNlUO0— Modesto Nuts (@ModestoNuts) September 7, 2017
“60 ft. 6 in. Award” - RHP Ljay Newsome, A Clinton
A new award this year, the unfortunately-named “60 ft. 6 in. Award” recognizes the pitcher in the organization who does the best job at controlling the zone. Ljay Newsome is quietly one of the most interesting pitchers in the system right now. The LumberKings were bad this year and Ljay’s sub-.500 W-L record doesn’t look impressive, and nor does his 4.10 ERA or 32% GB rate. However, with an FIP of 3.61 and—most importantly—a durable arm that allowed him to pitch almost 130 innings, the young righty is seeming more and more like a dependable back-end starter. The most exciting thing about Ljay (pronounced L-J, like Ray-J) is his sterling K-BB% of almost 18%. Despite a modest 21% K rate, Ljay walked just 3.0% of the batters he faced, a tremendous accomplishment for a 20-year-old in A ball.
Dan Wilson Minor League Community Service Award - OF Dimas Ojeda, A Clinton
I confess to not knowing much about Dimas Ojeda other than his offensive stats, but by all accounts, he is a Very Good Dimas who attended McLennan Community College, which is rightfully proud of their alum:
Sp proud of former Highlander Dimas Ojeda! Doing great things in the Mariners organization. Dimas gets it! #WeOverMe #McLennanFamily #Serve https://t.co/x5qPFuRpgq— McLennan Baseball (@mccbaseball1) August 30, 2017
Only hearing good things about our Dimas:
.@LumberKings' Dimas Ojeda wins Dan Wilson Community Service Award for @Mariners farm system. Well deserved. One of the nicest. #MiLB— Zach James (@ZacharyWJames) August 29, 2017
Here he is reading to some kids:
RELEASE: Congratulations Dimas Ojeda 2017 @Mariners Dan Wilson Community Service Award winner! https://t.co/TQs7qjqO8f pic.twitter.com/m81SF5earC— Clinton LumberKings (@LumberKings) August 29, 2017
Dave Henderson Minor League Staff Member of the Year Award - Cesar Nicolas, AZL Mariners
Mitch Canham has a good argument for this spot, but as he’s already been honored as the California League Manager of the Year and won this award last year, it’s nice to see the Mariners change things up a little. Other than the Nuts, the AZL Mariners were the only team to see any postseason action, so the honor is well-deserved. Like Canham, Nicolas is a full participant in the McKay-driven “People and Process” mindset, and it’s good to see this culture being built at the lower levels of the organization.
Congratulations to these 7 young men on graduating from high school today! I'm honored to be a part of a First Class organization!! https://t.co/Cc8IQnFqm2— Cesar Nicolas (@Cesar_Nicolas3) March 3, 2017