After a brief two week break from watching Mariners’ players in action, the 2018 Arizona Fall League gets under way today. A total of eight (8) Seattle farmhands are set to open the season with the Peoria Javelinas, who open the season with a 12:35 pm PT game this afternoon. Pitchers David McKay, Wyatt Mills, Anthony Misiewicz and Matt Walker are joined by position players C Joe DeCarlo, INF Chris Mariscal, 1B Evan White and OF Ian Miller. The rosters for today’s game include both Miller & White!
Typically, AFL rosters are made up primarily of several organizations’ top prospects from the full season minors levels, along with a few depth guys or injury-shortened season sufferers to fill out the fringes of the roster. The six teams will play nearly every day of the week save Sunday from now through November 15, followed by a Championship Game between the East and West Division leaders on November 17. A handful of players will be selected to participate in the Bowman Hitting Challenge, which strangely takes place four games into the season, as well as the Fall Stars Game, which will take place Saturday, November 3.
While the six coaches selected to manage the AFL teams are obviously trying to win ballgames, major league teams simply want their players to get additional reps and continue development above all else throughout the duration of their AFL experience. In recent years, the Mariners have assigned some of their top-performing position player prospects to the AFL to gauge their development by having them consistently face top pitching prospects, but have shied away from sending top starting pitching prospects there to add to their innings totals (although you could argue that may be due to a lack qualified candidates). As our own John Trupin pointed out, the AFL is offense-heavy by nature—it does take place in Spring Training ballparks after all—and as such may not be ideal circumstances for your pitching prospects to build confidence.
That being said, the players the Mariners have tasked with extending their 2018 campaign by ~5-10% aren’t being asked to do so by random chance, as the club likely has specific things they’d like to see from each of their players on the Peoria roster, and I definitely do.
RHP David McKay
Goal: Keep dominating.
If you followed State of the Farm throughout the season or checked out the minors season recaps, you’ll know I’m fully on board the McKay hype train, so you can imagine my delight when I saw he was assigned to the Arizona Fall League. After posting 12.6 K/9 and a 3.34 xFIP through 50.2 Double-A innings, i’m anxious to see his stuff tested against almost exclusively top hitting prospects. Having worked as a starter in 2017 and logging over 80.0 innings, he should have plenty of bullets left for the AFL, as he’s thrown just 59.1 in 2018 to date. It’s fairly uncommon for even established starters to receive very lengthy outings in this league, but just purely out of curiosity, i’d love to see the 23-year old open a game for the Javelinas. Fun fact: over the last four professional starts McKay made before being released by Kansas City (8/20/17 - 9/7/17), he posted the following line: 4 GS, 4-0, 25.0 IP, 28 SO, 3 BB, 3.24 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 3.95 FIP.
RHP Wyatt Mills
Goal: Lock the control back in.
Mills no doubt has the most start power of any pitcher the Mariners assigned to the AFL, being a third round pick in 2017. The sidewinding reliever was lights out during his first professional season, and continued his dominance upon being promoted to High-A Modesto to open the 2018 season, posting a 1.91/2.53/3.01 ERA/FIP/xFIP through 42.1 innings with the Nuts despite his strikeout rate dropping from 12.8 K/9 to 10.4 K/9. Things took a serious turn for the worse for Mills when he was moved to Double-A at the start of August, as he saw that line inflate to 10.13/3.83/5.02 and the strikeout rate fall again, this time down to 8.4 K/9 through 10.2 innings. There was never any indication that he was pitching through an injury, so the M’s may just want to give him a chance to head into the offseason on a higher note, and the organization would obviously like the peace of mind that one of their highest picks in recent years can get batters out beyond A-ball, and the AFL will be the perfect test.
LHP Anthony Misiewicz
Goal: Eat innings with quality.
Per MLB.com’s Prospect Pipeline, Misiewicz is the Mariners’ top left-handed pitching prospect, but that’s more by default than merit. After being selected by the Mariners in the 18th round back in 2015, he was traded to and then reacquired from Tampa Bay (within four months!) and pitched essentially all of 2018 with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers. The Mariners have remained steadfast in using the 6’1” southpaw as a starter despite his slow ascent through the system, although it’s certainly possible his assignment to Arizona could be the beginning of a transition to a bullpen role. He flashed some seriously interesting upside through the month of August, during which he he posted a line up 5 GS, 27.0 IP, 30 SO, 7 BB, 2.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 2.60 FIP. His ending to the season would have left a significant impact had he not been knocked around in his final two outings of the season, during which he surrendered 12 earned runs on 17 hits and three walks. Worthy of note, he’s posted significant reverse-platoon splits in three of his four professional seasons to date, likely due to his reliance on his curve and fading change-up being increasingly effective against right-handed hitters.
RHP Matt Walker
Goal: Brainstorm a more memorable nickname.
Despite heavily following every level of the Mariners’ minors throughout the entire season, I have exactly zero discernible memories of Walker, who was totally fine at a pretty challenging Double-A level last season. The reliever saw his average innings per appearance (I really want to make IPA a baseball stat) increase for the third consecutive season, topping out at nearly 1.2 IPA (there, I did it). A former 36th rounder coming of a career high 62.0 innings, it’d be surprising to see him receive much work in games, but his presence puts him on the map for 2019.
C Joe DeCarlo
Goal: Keep developing & adapting defensively.
Entering essentially his second full season as a catcher, DeCarlo’s bat didn’t miss a beat, continuing his seven-season streak of posting a wRC+ north of 100. The 2012 2nd rounder is accomplishing the rare feat of returning to the AFL, however he saw action in just seven games last season, going 3-23 (.130). He’s the oldest of the three catchers being rostered by Peoria, and considering one of them in just 19 years old, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see Joey Deeks receive a little more action this go-’round. He’s been a pretty disciplined hitter throughout his career, and has flashed interesting pop from the catcher position the last couple seasons, but is likely in Arizona to continue working on his defense, and he’ll have plenty of his 2018 Travelers battery-mates to continue working with.
INF Chris Mariscal
Goal: Build versatility, steal Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s bat.
Mariscal took a big step forward in 2017, setting a new career high in runs (67) home runs (8) and RBI (63) while posted a career-low strikeout rate, but struggled to follow that up in 2018. His 97 wRC+ and 10.0% walk rates were improvements over the 79 and 8.2% marks he posted in a 40 game Double-A stint to end 2017 however. The 25-year old split time between second base and shortstop evenly last year, and even saw significant time at third base, flashing the kind of defensive versatility that would make teams willing to overlook his underwhelming bat. He’s closer to the bottom of the Javelinas’ infield depth chart than he is to the top of it, but there should be enough at-bats to go around over the course of the season. He’ll look to continue receiving reps all over the infield—I wouldn’t be shocked to see him deployed in the outfield just to see how far we can stretch his utility status going forward—while looking to cut back down on the whiffs and re-find some extra-base power he’s showed in the past.
1B Evan White
Goal: Continue to elevate & celebrate.
Coming off a red hot finish to his 2018 campaign that saw him post a .320/.400/.512 slash line and a 147 wRC+ through 64 games, White should receive a majority of at-bats at first base for the Javelinas, as he’s flanked at the position by a duo with little prospect pedigree. There’s zero question about his glove at first base, so the M’s will likely just look for him to continue building upon his hot second half.
OF Ian Miller
Goal: Bring giant sign that says “I will teach Guillermo to steal bases if you put me on the 40-man, Jerry” to the plate with him for every at-bat.
It was a bit of a surprise to see Miller listed among the Javelinas’ roster as he’s a bit older (26) than most guys in the AFL. That said, his speed on the basepaths is an asset to any club at any level, and kudos to Miller for wanting to continue receiving reps as he looks to get over that final hump and make his big league debut in 2019. The lefty hitting speedster has consistently walked at a fair clip (9.0% in 2018) and has never once surpassed a 20.0% strikeout rate, but will likely look to add a little more gap power as his offensive contributions have been limited mostly to singles throughout his career. While that’s by no means abnormal for a guy with his baserunning ability, if he can manage to put a few more balls in the alleys, his 70-grade speed would allow him to leg out double and triples with regularity.