Like it or not, we’re doing our best to educate our community about the wonderful world of the Mariners’ minor leagues this offseason, and as we approach the top 15 players in our LL rankings, we’re running into a lot more guys who have received big league camp invites this spring. You can catch up on #’s 50-19 here, but if you’d like to learn more about the man threatening to leapfrog Dan Vogelbach on the depth chart or a guy who grew up right in your dang back yard, read on!
Having landed with Seattle after being dealt twice in a six month span, Joey Curletta represents something that is very rare in the Mariners organization, and that is a prospect that struggled through the minors elsewhere whose development really took a turn for the better upon joining the system. While his prospect shine has lost its luster in some scouting circles due to the fact that he’s already played seven years of pro ball, he’s still just 24 and posted one of the stronger offensive seasons across all of minor league baseball last season.
A swing change and shift in plate approach resulted in his strongest season to date as he wRC+’d 135 through 129 games with the Double-A Travs. The change came on the heels of working with Phillies prospect Scott Kingery and taking notes from Aaron Judge. After leading the entire organization in homers, runs batted in, and walks, he took home Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year honors and has made himself into something of a household name among Mariners fans. While he’s absolutely earned his name being thrown into the hat for some playing time at first base, he’s got a little more to prove than the likes of E-5, RyON, and even Dan Vogelbach for that matter in that he’s going to have to prove himself both offensively and defensively. That said, the bar has been set pretty low on the defensive side of the ball, so if he’s able to replicate the skill set he flashed throughout 2018 while at big league camp this spring, it’s going to be difficult for management not to slide him a spot or two up the depth chart. Curletta is a converted corner outfielder with decent speed, and is at least an athletic match to Healy. They certainly haven’t given the reins to the position to anybody else, as we’ve heard pretty much all of the team’s 1B/DH type’s names floated around the rumor mill all offseason.
The likeliest assignment for Curletta to open 2019 remains as the everyday first baseman down in Tacoma, but his newly minted status on the 40-man roster makes him all the more likely to make his Mariners debut should Healy stumble out the gates or, likely at the very latest, when competing clubs come calling on Edwin Encarnacion. Should the 24-year-old slugger prove capable of hanging around as he starts to see big-league quality secondary offerings, he could well establish himself as another piece of the next competitive team in Seattle. -BT
Here are some Curletta blasts to get you excited about the tank show that’s coming to Tacoma:
While his selection in the third round of 2017’s draft was considered one of the greatest reaches of the entire draft, Wyatt Mills’ quick movement through the Mariners’ system has made it look like a relatively safe selection. His selection was essentially made necessary by the the Mariners choice to grab RHP Sam Carlson in the second round knowing full well they’d need to go overslot to sign him, but the sidearm slinger has lived up to his draft day status, tearing through the lower minors in 2017 before slowing down slightly in 2018.
The Gonzaga alum established himself as an elite run-preventer in High-A Modesto this season, but had already logged a career high 42.1 innings at the time of his promotion to Arkansas, upon which he showed some signs of fatigue. After slashing 1.91/2.53/3.01 with 10.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 for the Nuts, he turned in the occasional strong outing but never quite found his footing at the Double-A level as he allowed 12 runs on 18 hits through 10.2 innings. After limiting opponents to a 19.4% LD% in Modesto—a career worst for him at the time—that number jumped to 32.5% during his stint with the Travelers. Regardless, the club assigned him to the Arizona Fall League in hopes of finish on a little higher note. While he allowed just two earned runs through 9.1 innings of work, his strikeout rate plummeted to 6.8 K/9 and his walks crept back up as well.
Like many a right-handed sidearm hurler before him, Mills’s two-pitch arsenal easily keeps right-handed hitters at bay, but he can see his effectiveness wane when tasked with left-handers. Contrary to your prototypical sidearmer, his tight slider is a bit of a contrast from the big, sweeping breaking balls we’ve seen from the likes of Collin Kober and Jack Anderson, providing a unique wrinkle to what’s become something of a normality in Mariners minor league bullpens.
He’ll look to open the 2019 season strong, likely back in Arkansas, and prove that is was merely usage and not a lack of ability that were to blame for his struggles to close out his sophomore campaign. Should he be able to do so, a late-season Matt Festa-style promotion from Double-A straight to the big leagues wouldn’t be out of the question as the Mariners start hosting early auditions for their 2020 and 2021 bullpens. -BT