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State of the Farm: 8/21/18

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Top prospects are heating up as the 2018 minor league season comes down the stretch

After our first wave of minor league promotions, the Mariners’ affiliate clubs are coming down the stretch with two clubs (Arkansas and Everett) already punching their tickets to the postseason. As the season wraps up, it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how minor league playoff races affect individuals’ opportunity to finish the season with a promotion.

(AAA) Tacoma Rainiers

Team Record: 61-64 (3rd in Pacific Northern Division)

.260/.353/.393, 3rd in PCL in OBP

4.54 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 6th-fewest walks allowed in PCL

Beckham Continues Offensive Breakthrough

It’s not often that you see a “breakout” campaign from a guy on the wrong side of 30, but it’s hard to deny that we’re seeing just that from INF Gordon Beckham. After hitting .340 with 11 runs scored, 11 RBI, and a nearly even 6:7 walk:strikeout ratio in the month of August, his wRC+ stands at 137 through 82 games with Tacoma this season, his best he’s posted since a mark of 140 through 38 games in Double-A back in 2009. It’s far from uncommon to see an MLB vet dominate minor league pitching, but Beckham’s peripherals suggest a change in his plate approach. After failing to ever see his walk rate reach double-digits, he’s got it up to 14.1% with Tacoma, which you may notice is higher than his strikeout rate, which sits at a career-best 12.4%. It’s hard to imagine the big league team is going disrupt the clubhouse chemistry and make the switch from Romine to Beckham for what’d be at best a marginal two week upgrade, but he absolutely seems primed for a September call-up, during which it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him playing more often than Romine.

Vogelbach Still Triple-A Babe Ruth

With Robinson Cano now back, we can all but close the door on seeing 1B Dan Vogelbach receiving an extended look with the M’s this season, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to torch the PCL, as he’s done all season. The slugging first baseman has reached base in 73 of his 80 games with Tacoma this season, and while his inability (or perhaps more appropriately, lack of opportunity) to have his offense translate to the big league level has been well documented, this has been his strongest of many strong minor league seasons, providing more optimism than ever that the bat can make the jump if or when he finally gets a long look.

Armstrong Building on Strong Season

As the reliever carousel continues to spin in Seattle with a handful of familiar faces receiving an opportunity to soak up innings for the major league club, RHP Shawn Armstrong continues to turn in impressive outing after impressive outing for the Rainiers. The 27-year-old is riding a 9.0 inning scoreless streak, and is up to 12.8 K/9 on the season. He’s been Tacoma’s longest tenured closer of the season, converting 14 of 16 save opportunities, and posting a 1.83 ERA. That said, he’s also walked hitters at a higher-than-ideal rate, posting 4.2 BB/9, which has led to a 3.55 xFIP. He figures to get a chance to make his Mariners debut when rosters expand next month, and could proivde some valuable innings to a banged-up bullpen.

(AA) Arkansas Travelers

Team Record: 64-61 (2nd in Texas League North Division)

.268/.350/.380, 3rd in Texas League in hitting

4.34 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 5th in Texas League in WHIP

Festa Perfect as Travs’ Closer

Mariners fans got a glimpse of what RHP Matt Festa has to offer when he made an appearance for the big league club back in mid-July, tossing 0.2 scoreless innings. That was quite the leap for the 25-year-old, who was pitching at High-A Modesto this time last year. He’s adjusted nicely to his promotion to Arkansas this season, however, and is a perfect 18/18 in save opportunities for the Travs with a 2.78 xFIP, 12.1 K/9, and 2.1 BB/9. Considering he’s already on the 40-man roster and has made his big league debut, Festa figures to factor into the conversation for the 2019 bullpen and could even be back up to eat innings for the M’s down the stretch.

Goudeau Strong in Back-to-Back Strong Starts

It’s been a season of transition for RHP Ashton Goudeau, who has now made five starts for Arkansas after serving as a relief pitcher up in Tacoma for a majority of the summer. After three shaky starts, the 6’6” former 27th-rounder has worked 7.0 scoreless innings in each of his last two starts, allowing just eight hits. The ceiling is still fairly low for the 26-year-old, but turning an ineffective reliever into a useful innings-eating starter is interesting nonetheless.

Lewis Adjusting in August

It was a bit aggressive to push the system’s #1 prospect OF Kyle Lewis to the Double-A level considering he was running a wRC+ of 95 at the time of his promotion, but in his third professional season, he’s been moving through the system slowly and had begun to fall a bit behind schedule for his career trajectory, albeit at no fault of his own. While his 40 wRC+ through his first 24 games with Arkansas seems to indicate he was indeed rushed, he’s managed to increase his walk rate and decrease his strikeout rate since making the move. Additionally, he’s shown signs of life since the calendar turned to August, as he’s slashed .216/.250/.353 with a 56 wRC+ after posting a .158/.238/.184 line with a 19 wRC+ through his previous ten games at the Double-A level. It’s not what you want to see out of your top prospect—and he may not hold that title much longer—but it’s nice to see Lewis adjusting after struggling so badly through his first 10 games.

(A+) Modesto Nuts

Team Record: 53-73 (4th in California League North Division)

.248/.320/.365, Last in Cal League in AVG/SLG/OPS

4.46 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, fewest walks allowed in Cal League

White Working On Strongest Month as Pro

After a perfectly average first few months of the season offensively over which he sported a 100 wRC+ through 97 games played, 1B Evan White has been as hot as they come since August 1. Through 14 games this month, the 2017 1st-round-selection (17th overall) is running a 176 wRC+, pumping his season-long mark up to 113 and his slash line to .291/.357/.423. There’s never been any question about his defense, but his recent success at the dish eases some concerns as to whether he’ll ever hit enough to contribute in the near future at the big league level.

Liberato’s Adjusting Approach to Open August

It’s been a slow rise for OF Luis Liberato, who signed with the Mariners back in the winter of 2012 and is currently in the midst of his sixth season in the organization, but having debuted at the ripe age of 17, he’s still actually younger than league average as a 22-year old in High-A. The speedy Dominican left-hander has cut his strikeout rate by 11.0% from last year—it sits at 17.3% on the season currently—but it hasn’t necessarily translated to production at the dish, as his wRC+ is down to 92 through 72 games after he ran a 97 wRC+ in 68 games at the same level last season. It’s worth noting that he’s been the victim of some real poor batted ball luck, as he’s BABIP’d just .264 despite his 70 grade speed (he posted a .341 BABIP last season). While he’s never been particularly susceptible to striking out, “Libby” also doesn’t collect many free passes, consistently striking out at least twice as often as he draws a walk. With that fact in consideration, it appears he may be undergoing a change in his approach lately, as he’s drawn 11 walks and struck out just eight times over 15 games in the month of August. His patience is paying off, as he’s slashing .333/.452/.451 with a 154 wRC+ over that span.

Anderson Quietly Stringing Together Strong Season

Any time a pitcher surrenders multiple runs without escaping an inning, it leaves a lasting impact on his stat line, so it’s no surprise to hear the RHP Jack Anderson has had his baseline statistics inflated by a pair of outings in which he allowed four and five earned runs in 0.2 and 0.1 innings. As a result, the submarine-throwing reliever boasts a 2.68 ERA despite posting a 1.02 ERA through his last 35.1 innings of work. During his first full season at the High-A level, he’s posted a 2.46 FIP and 3.11 xFIP through 47.0 innings while posting career-bests in both strikeout rate (9.8 K/9) and walk rate (1.9 BB/9). The Penn State alum has made a habit of outpitching his peripherals since the Mariners selected him in the 23rd round of the 2016 draft, and nicely fits the mold of highly effective strikeout relief arms with the ability to work multiple innings that the organization seems to be churning out at such an alarming rate these days. With Modesto firmly out of the playoff race and Double-A Arkansas ticketed for a postseason appearance, don’t be shocked if he sees a late season promotion as the Nuts season winds down.

Hutchison Handling Move to Rotation Well

After being selected in the 26th round out of Division II Mount Olive in 2017, RHP Austin Hutchison was used as a starter in just three of his first 38 career appearances. Each of his last six outings have been in a starting role, and he’s made the transition pretty seamlessly after spending a majority of the season in a multi-inning relief role. He’s averaged 5.2 innings, and has posted a 2.57 ERA, 2.88 FIP, 10.3 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9. His most recent effort—a 6.0 innings shutout during which he allowed just three hits, no walks, and no runs while striking out 11—was rewarded with Cal League Pitcher of the Week honors. The 23-year-old was a starter in college, and while he wasn’t necessarily dominant, he was an elite run-preventer, posting a 1.82 ERA in 14 starts during his final collegiate season. Hutch’s fastball hangs out in the low 90s with plus command, and he can throw it with a Nick Vincent-esque amount of rise for swinging strikes, but it’s his sharply biting curveball that’s his big weapon:

(A) Clinton LumberKings

Team Record: 64-62 (6th in Midwest League Western Division)

.235/.315/.363, last in Midwest League in hitting

4.11 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 4th-worst in Midwest League in ERA

Wilcox Continues Dominance

*knocks on wood* This is the most impressive stretch of command and control we’ve seen from RHP Kyle Wilcox this season, as he’s continued to limit walks of late while continuing to blank the opposition. After a four-walk outing on July 7 (his sixth multi-walk outing in 21 appearances), he’s walked just just three batters over his last nine outings spanning 15.1 innings and hasn’t had a single multi-walk performance. Over that span, he’s posted a 0.00 ERA, 1.18 FIP, .096 BAA, 0.51 WHIP, 15.5 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9. That hot streak has his season-long walk rate down to a career-best 4.0 BB/9, but the recent results indicate he’s done something to address what’s been holding him back since joining the system as an 8th-round selection back in 2015.

Delaplane Mowing ‘Em Down

While Wilcox has been dominating lately, fellow reliever RHP Sam Delaplane has had an extremely strong sophomore campaign, and has had an impressive run of his own lately. Through his last 12 outings, he’s allowed just one earned run—a solo home run— over his last 18.0 innings, posting a line of 0.50 ERA, 2.20 FIP, .203 BAA, 1.11 WHIP, 13.5 K/9, 3.0 BB/9. The San Jose native spent his senior season at Eastern Michigan University as a starter, but has seen his stuff play up significantly as a reliever since joining the professional ranks.

Gerber Adjusting to Jump from College

Following the 2018 draft, where the Mariners used their 8th-round selection on RHP Joey Gerber out of the University of Illinois, the 21-year-old was assigned to Short Season-A Everett, where he thrived as the AquaSox closer for 13 games before being moved up to Clinton. It’s been a little more of a mixed bag of results for Gerber with the LumberKings, surrendering three earned runs and walking four through his first 3.0 innings. His last two outings have been a different story, however, as he’s thrown two clean innings, striking out the side in each appearance. His stuff has been just as advertised so far, as he’s running a mark of 14.7 K/9 to open his professional career, although he’s been fairly hittable recently, potentially showing signs of fatigue—he’s totaled 47.2 innings between college and the pros in 2018 after previously topping out at 33.0 innings in college.

(A-) Everett AquaSox

Team Record: 30-31 (2nd in Northwest League North Division)

.256/.330/.389, 3rd in NWL in hitting

4.25 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 3rd-most earned runs allowed in NWL

  • Quickly establishing himself as one of the top left-handed starting pitching prospect in the system, 4th-rounder LHP Michael Plassmeyer continues to dominate in limited samples. Over his last two starts, he’s gone 2.0 innings in each outing and surrendered a total of one hit and no walks while punching out six. Through 20.2 innings, he’s running strikeout rate of 15.7 K/9 and a 1.01 xFIP.
  • 23 rounds after the Mariners select RHP Logan Gilbert in the first round of the 2018 draft, they selected his college teammate LHP Ben Onyshko out of Stetson University. After a shaky start to his pro career, he’s continued struggling with walks but has managed to post zeros in each of his last six appearances. Over that six game span, he’s logged 11.0 shutout innings, striking out 13 and walking five.
  • The M’s 18th-round selection in June’s draft was used on Harvard RHP Noah Zavolas, who has been a model of consistency out of the ‘pen for Everett. After a successful senior season as a starter, he’s averaged 2.1 innings per appearance for the AquaSox in relief. He’s posted a 2.92 xFIP for Everett on the back of 10.2 K/9 and just 2.4 BB/9.
  • Emerging as the breakout reliever of the season for Everett, RHP Dayeison Arias has stayed hot recently, holding opponents scoreless through his last 12.0 innings. During that timeframe, he’s posted a 2.09 FIP while running a 16:4 strikeout:walk ratio. His strikeout rate has “dropped” to 13.0 K/9, and his 3.0 BB/9 indicates he’s more than just an impressive arsenal.
  • The Northwest League has been hardly a challenge for switch-hitting C Cal Raleigh, who has already homered six times through 25 games with Everett. He carried a 160 wRC+ into Monday night’s contest, and that was before he connected for a double and a home run. There’s not much in the way of prospects blocking his path through the system, so he could move particularly quickly, especially considering he spent three years hitting the cover off the ball in the ACC.

Notes:

Rollins Signed

The M’s brought back a well-traveled familiar face in LHP David Rollins, who was immediately tabbed for a start for the Rainiers. It...did not go well.

Andreoli DFA’d

Feel-good-story OF John Andreoli was designated for assignment and claimed by the Baltimore Orioles. While he’s got an interesting skillset, he was blocked in the Mariners’ system, and that problem was only made worse when they acquired Cameron Maybin at the deadline. His story looks to have a happy ending at least, as he’s already been called up by Baltimore, where he should have a much easier path to playing time.

Mazza Joins Travs

Three months after being released by Miami, the M’s scooped up RHP Chris Mazza. The 2011 27th-rounder has made 26 starts at the Double-A level last season, and posted a 3.86 xFIP. He tossed 6.0 solid innings for the Travs in his debut, allowing two earned runs and striking out six.