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. So far we’ve done the Low-A club, the Clinton LumberKings, and the Advanced-A club, the Modesto Nuts. Today, we get into the high minors with a dive into the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, who stumbled to a last place finish in the Texas League last season despite rotating through several interesting prospects.
The Starting Pitchers:
RHP Nathan Bannister, RHP Lindsey Caughel, RHP Chase De Jong, LHP Anthony Misiewicz, RHP Andrew Moore
The Travs open with what should be one of the more experienced rotations in all of Double-A, considering the 87.1 big league innings logged by the Moore/De Jong tandem in 2017. Additionally, Nathan “Big Game Banni” Bannister turned in a few passable starts for Triple-A Tacoma after being summoned straight out of Modesto when the Rainiers were hurtin’ for starting pitching. The return of Moore in particular comes as a surprise, but considering his rapid ascent through the minors coupled with a rough spring, the 23-year-old could likely benefit from being slow-tracked. The organization will likely be working closely with Chase De Jong as he looks to put an extremely rough 2017 campaign behind him in an attempt to recapture the near-elite prospect status he flashed as a member of the Dodgers organization in 2016. Former Indy-league Pitcher of the Year Lindsey Caughel will attempt to build upon an impressive second half with Arkansas while Misiewicz—the lone left-hander opening in the Travs rotation—makes his return to the org after being re-acquired from the Rays in Decmber just four months after being sent over as part of the package that netted Mike Marjama.
RHP Darin Gillies, LHP Spencer Herrmann, RHP Johendi Jiminian, RHP Scott Kuzminsky, RHP Stephen Perakslis, LHP Joe Pistorese, RHP Matt Walker, RHP Art Warren
The ‘pen for the Travelers features a mix of old-for-the-level arms and high-upside breakout candidates. 25-year-old right-handers Darin Gillies and Art Warren both landed in Arkansas following assignments to the Arizona Fall League over the offseason. Gillies, who mysteriously saw his strikeout rate drop from 10.1 K/9 in 2016 to 7.1 K/9 in 2017, struggled to put batters away for the Javelinas as his WHIP crept much closer to 2.00 than you’d like; he’ll look to build on his experience in the Texas League last year with better results. Warren, on the other hand, had a bit of a coming-out party during his stay in Arizona that bled into Spring Training, with only an unfortunately-timed injury keeping him from putting himself on the map as one of the elite relief pitcher prospects in the game. [Noted absence here is RHP Matt Festa, also part of the AFL crew; he’s rehabbing a hip/sciatica issue and should be back in action soon.]
Left-handers Spencer Herrmann and Joe Pistorese have interesting facets to their game as well. Herrmann, who was a 36th-rounder out of Fisher College back in 2014, thrived as a reliever last season before being converted to a starting role. He had mixed results making the switch, as he saw improvements in his ability to keep men off base via walks and hits, but he experienced a bit of a home run problem. Pistorese, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, was the recipient of a 50-game suspension in September of 2015 due to a misunderstanding that led to a positive drug test for Adderall, which the WSU-grad understood he was supposed to be taking. He’s maintained elite strikeout levels throughout his career; however, he uncharacteristically struggled with walks in 2017, as he posted a BB/9 of 4.1 after posting marks of 1.5 and 1.0 his first two seasons. A standout starting pitcher in college, Pistorese has the ability to give you multiple innings out of the ‘pen. He averaged 1.48 innings per appearance last season, something that should certainly help his rise through the system if the walk rate regresses back towards his career norm.
Joey Curletta, Adam Law, Chris Mariscal, Seth Mejias-Brean, Yonathan Mendoza
The Travs infield features exclusively imports from other organizations save for infielder Chris Mariscal, who the Mariners used a 14th-round-pick on back in 2014. Mariscal opened the season by tearing up the Advanced-A Texas League primarily playing second base for the Modesto Nuts before scuffling a bit to the tune of a .245/.316/.310 line through 40 games for the Travelers. He spent a majority of his time at short, but making a handful of appearances in the outfield for the first time in his career. Mariscal improved over his time in the Texas League and looks to continue to press forward at the level.
First base figures to be manned by Joey Curletta, who the M’s acquired just over a year ago from the Phillies in exchange for Pat Venditte. Curletta, who stands 6’4” and tips the scales at 245lb, took a step down upon being acquired by the M’s, reporting to Modesto after a stint with Philly’s Double-A club in 2016. The results indicated it was a smart choice by M’s brass, as Curletta and posted a 110 wRC+. It remains to be seen if he can parlay that offensive output into a strong season at Double-A, where he posted an 88 wRC+ in 29 games last time around. Keeping his strikeout rate closer to 25% as he did last season as opposed to the 35% mark he posted in the Dodgers system would go a long way.
Catchers: Joe DeCarlo, Joe Odom
The Travs appear set to go with 2012 2nd-rounder Joe DeCarlo as the primary man behind the dish, with just one full season under his belt as a catcher upon making the switch from third base following the 2016 season. DeCarlo—who has exclusively posted wRC+’s of 106 or better at every stop of his six year minor league career—received an invite to the join Travs teammate Braden Bishop on the Peoria Javelinas of the AFL. He was limited there as a taxi-squad player, but continues to show remarkable improvement for someone who’s only been catching a short while. For what it’s worth, DeCarlo also hammered late-inning Cactus League pitching in very limited opportunities over the last two Spring Trainings, including this shot last spring:
DeCarlo is projected to be backed by minor league Rule-5 draftee Joe Odom, who has failed to develop much of an offensive game since being selected by the Braves as a 13th-rounder in 2013 but has a reputation for being a strong defensive catcher whose experience will be invaluable to the still-learning DeCarlo.
Beau Amaral, Andrew Aplin, Braden Bishop, Dario Pizzano, Chuck Taylor
Like the rotation, the outfield features a pair of guys taking a step back in 2018. Beau Amaral, Aplin, and Pizzano have all received significant playing time in Triple-A in each of the past two seasons, while Bishop and Taylor performed admirably in a handful of at-bats in big league camp this year. The pair also had a productive offseason, with Bishop taking home a championship ring with the Peoria Javelinas of the prestigious Arizona Fall League while Taylor showed off a newfound plate discipline en route to a .333/.401/.412 slash line for the Cardenales de Lara of the Venezuelan Winter League. Former Cincinnati Reds 7th round pick-turned-Indy baller Beau Amaral (son of Rich) looks to impress after inking a deal with the M’s this past offseason, while Andrew Aplin looks to reclaim the prospect status that has evaded him the last few seasons. The outfield is one of the few areas in the Mariners system that features some depth, so all these guys will be competing for playing time at a fairly crowded position.