While the farm system this year didn’t quite live up to last year’s “Oprah distributing cars but the cars are playoff berths” performance, there were still enjoyable moments across the farm. The A+ Modesto Nuts played well for most of the year, slumping a little after some midseason callups and trades, but rebounding at the last minute to sweep their way to a California League Championship. The AZL Mariners were knocked out early on, but did make the playoffs. The AquaSox just missed out on a playoff berth. Double-A Arkansas struggled all year but finished strong, winning 7 of their last 10 games. Tacoma’s season was derailed by a constantly shifting cast of players, including pitchers called up from lower levels of the organization who literally had to get on planes to fly to the games, arriving hours or minutes before game start. Amidst all this turmoil, many players turned in strong years; some had breakout seasons. With all due respect to the short-season clubs, I’ve kept this particular list to players from A ball and above. Today I’ll do the infield, and tomorrow, outfielders and pitchers.
Catcher: Joe DeCarlo, A+ Modesto
In DeCarlo’s first year making a difficult positional switch, his offensive numbers fell slightly, as he lost about 20 points off his wRC+. However, his plate discipline numbers remained steady and his .240/.346/.415 line looks fine, especially coupled with double-digit home runs (13). The Mariners were smart in splitting DeCarlo’s time between catching and being the DH, allowing him to continue to develop both sides of his game. DeCarlo will be a taxi squad player in the AFL, where he’ll gain even more experience. For an organization that’s perilously thin on catching, DeCarlo’s performance is encouraging.
First Base: Nick Zammarelli III, A Clinton
First base continues to be a thin position in the organization, and Evan White’s hamstring injury deprived us of seeing much of the Mariners’ number-one draft choice this year. Vogelbach put up the best numbers of any first baseman in the organization but I’m disqualifying him from this spot because he’s currently with the MLB club, and also, I can do what I want. Nick Zammarelli, drafted in 2016, put up a blistering line with the AquaSox last year, but had a slower start in his first year of full-season ball. He steadily improved, however, and ended up with a respectable wRC+ of 114, thanks in part to an August where he just tore the cover off the ball, slashing .343/.383/.454. Just look at the difference between the first and second halves of his season:
First half: .247/.331/.373
Second half: .305/.358/.428
His plate discipline numbers remain fairly consistent, as well, suggesting that the 23-year-old is able to both make improvements without abandoning his process at the plate.
Second base: Chris Mariscal, Double-A Arkansas
Chris Mariscal gets no prospect love, and it’s a shame. After a strong debut in short-season ball in 2014, Mariscal, like many young prospects, struggled next year in his first full season. He repeated the level in 2016 and performed much better, improving his wRC+ from 85 to 131, but didn’t earn a mid-season promotion. He was sent to High-A Modesto to begin this year and flourished back in his native California, slashing .305/.392/.446 over 85 games before being promoted to Double-A. Mariscal struggled initially in the Texas League, collecting just three hits in his first ten games, and then proceeded to record at least one hit in all but 9 of his final 30 games. He had multihit games in 11 of those final 30 games, and at one point had a 10-game hit streak. Mariscal has been playing shortstop for the Travelers after they lost Joey Wong to Tacoma, but his best home is at second base, a position that’s fairly thin for the Mariners. He’s a player to keep an eye on.
Third base: Joe Rizzo, A Clinton/High-A Modesto
The Mariners’ second-round draft choice from last year, Rizzo was considered a risky pick due to his age and some questions about his defensive abilities at third base. After spending most of the year in Clinton, putting up okay but not eye-popping numbers (104 wRC+), Rizzo was a surprise late-August promotion to Modesto to aid the Nuts in their playoff chase (at the time, he was being outplayed by teammate Zammarelli, who can also play 3B). All Rizzo did in the playoffs was go 7-for-13 with two doubles and a home run, coming a triple shy of the cycle in Game One of the Championship Series, and earning the MVP award. More importantly, Rizzo, who was playing high school baseball just a little over a year ago, got to experience professional championship baseball and the sense of brotherhood fostered in Modesto this year, positioning the nineteen-year-old to become a leader within the organization.
Shortstop: Louis Boyd, A Clinton
This is maybe the most subjective of the names on this list, but the fact is unless you’re willing to count Chris Mariscal as a shortstop (I thought about it) or count Taylor Motter here, there’s just not a lot at this position. Injuries cut down Shawn O’Malley in Tacoma and Donnie Walton in Modesto for the better part of the year, and Tyler Smith was lost on waivers to the Rangers. I’m fudging the rules here a little to include Boyd, who finished at Clinton but spent the year ping-ponging all over the organization, starting in the AZL—familiar territory for the UA product—before being bounced to Everett for all of five games and then finishing at Clinton. Boyd is first and foremost a defensive talent, routinely making difficult plays look easy, but hopefully with a full year where he gets to stay in one place and work with a consistent coaching staff the bat will perk up. His plate discipline numbers went a little wonky when he moved to Clinton, so he’ll need to get that in line in order to improve. However, there is an argument that Boyd may be the best defensive shortstop in the organization:
Welcome back Louis Boyd! In his first game back from injury, the shortstop makes a dazzling play. https://t.co/iF4rtA4Cwy— Arizona Baseball (@ArizonaBaseball) March 30, 2017
I considered Kevin Santa for this spot as well, who can also play plus defense, although Boyd outhit Santa slightly. If he’d been healthy this year, I would have split 2B and SS between Donnie Walton and Mariscal, as both are probably more second basemen who can play shortstop in a pinch. I also considered plugging Eric Filia in at first base, since that’s what he’ll be playing in the AFL, but decided to keep it to positions they’ve actually played as Mariners.