As the Slowest Offseason of All Time™ finally gave way to the 2018 Major League season last Thursday, organizations started assembling their rosters for the looming onset of the Minor League Baseball season.
All four of the Mariners four full-season minor league affiliates open their seasons Thursday night, and in advance of the season officially getting underway, we’re going to preview each of the M’s affiliate rosters, beginning with the Clinton LumberKings. Clinton was perhaps the least exciting of the M’s affiliate teams last season, and they also happened to post the worst record among the group at 64-73, missing the playoffs. The ‘Kings will be helmed by a new manager this year: former Twins great Denny Hocking, who will hopefully bring some passion to the frozen tundra of Clinton, Iowa.
When I was 15, MLB was on the verge of a strike & in my fury, I wrote every team. Only one wrote me back - @bigleagueswings - and it has been hanging in my house ever since. I’m 31 now, and the magic of baseball has never eluded me thanks in part to guys like you. Thank you. pic.twitter.com/wJzZWYVKqE— Liz Melahn (@rockieslizard) February 6, 2018
The Starting Pitchers:
LHP Oliver Jaskie, LHP Raymond Kerr, RHP Ryne Inman, RHP Tommy Romero, LHP Nick Wells
The rotation returns two starters that produced suboptimal results for the LumberKings last season in Ryne Inman and Nick Wells, each of whom posted xFIP’s north of 4.50. The remainder of the rotation gives fans a lot more to be excited about, including recent podcast guest and 2017 draftee Tommy Romero, who will be skipping the Short Season-A level after he burst on to the scene with an impressive debut with the AZL Mariners last summer. He’ll be joined by collegiate strikeout-monster Oliver Jaskie, who somehow managed to allow an opponent BABIP of .409 in 30 innings for Everett en route to an ERA that was a full 3.00 higher than his xFIP. The rotation will be rounded out by lefty Raymond Kerr, who the Mariners signed after he was undrafted coming out of Lassen Community College, where he was named 1st Team All-Conference as a two-way player for the Cougars. After a fairly pedestrian collegiate career, Kerr played his way into a contract with the M’s by impressing in a nine-game stint with the Peninsula Oilers of the Alaska Summer League.
RHP Austin Hutchinson, LHP Chris Castellanos, RHP David Gerber, RHP Clay Chandler, RHP Sam Delaplane, RHP Collin Kober, RHP Adonis De La Cruz, LHP Matt Clancy
The Clinton bullpen is made up exclusively of late-round draftees (no earlier than the 13th round) or undrafted guys, many of whom have showed off some extreme strikeout upside in small sample sizes. Of that group of pitchers with a pension for the punchout, left-handed Chris Castellanos and righty Sam Delaplane stand out at the most intriguing. Both guys played all four years of college ball. Neither one quite cracks six feet tall, and despite neither one ever establishing themselves as a strikeout pitcher in college, they both topped 13.0 K/9 in their first taste of professional baseball, where they each tossed more than 30 innings. Additionally, both guys were called upon for emergency outings in Tacoma last season, giving them an ever-so-brief taste of the PCL. Another guy who has flashed when given the opportunity is Matt Clancy, who missed essentially the entire 2016 season after an impressive debut in 2015 that followed his selection in the 13th round out of St. John’s. After 32.2 solid innings serving as Everett’s closer, Clancy struggled upon his promotion to Clinton, where he posted a .514 BABIP against through 11.2 innings. Even with his lack of batted-ball luck upon joining the LumberKings, the left-hander struck out batters at an alarming rate, as he finished the season with 13.2 K/9 through 43 innings. It will be interesting to see if some of the same unheralded-reliever-magic we saw with standouts Art Warren, Matt Festa, and Michael Koval strikes again in Clinton.
Ryan Costello, Joseph Rosa, Johnny Adams, Eugene Helder, Louis Boyd
Catchers: Ryan Scott, Nick Thurman
The LumberKings return both their catchers in Scott and Thurman, as well as several other players who had short stints at Clinton due to injuries and promotions. The infield will be anchored by 2017 draftee and Arizona product Louis Boyd, a plus defensive shortstop and all-around great guy who was also a recent podcast guest. Aruban prospect and AquaSox standout Eugene Helder will get his first full season above the Rookie level, as will fellow 22-year-old Joey Rosa. Third baseman and 2017 draft choice Johnny Adams will look to build on his strong season at Everett, where he posted a 132 wRC+. First baseman Ryan Costello got rave reviews from his teammates in the AZL, where he posted a 175 wRC+, and was a consistent answer to the question “what player aren’t people paying attention to who they should know about?”
Greifer Andrade, Billy Cooke, Jack Larsen, Dimas Ojeda, Ariel Sandoval
Along with new faces Jack Larsen (signed as a FA) and Ariel Sandoval (acquired from the Dodgers), fan favorite and winner of the Dan Wilson Award for Community Service Dimas Ojeda returns to the LumberKings’ outfield, along with Greifer Andrade and Billy Cooke, who did this during his brief cameo in a Spring Training game:
While there’s not a ton of power projected in the lineup, Clinton should play strong defense and the pitching staff, who mostly played together in the AZL, should help them hang tough in close games. Due to weather, geographic isolation, and the smell of pet food that reportedly permeates the town, Clinton is probably the least desirable of the affiliate assignments; it will be interesting to see what new manager Denny Hocking can bring to a club that hasn’t won a championship since 1991 and struggled with leadership last year.