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Another Travelin’ Song: 2019 Arkansas Travelers Preview

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Look no further than Little Rock, Arkansas to find some of the highest-ceiling prospects in the system.

Minor League Baseball: California League-All Star Game Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since at least 2013, the most important developments in the Mariners organization will be in the minor leagues, not in the majors. Following John’s bang-up preview of the squad down in Tacoma on Tuesday, today we preview the Arkansas Travelers, who enter their third season as the Mariners’ Double-A affiliate in 2019.

2018 in Review

71-68 (.511), 2nd of 4 in the Texas League North Division, 4th of 8 in the Texas League

One of just two Mariners’ affiliates to make the postseason in 2018, the Travs rode a highly disciplined offense lead by league-MVP Joey Curletta to a first-half division title. The club played host to two of the biggest breakout campaigns across the entire organization in Curletta and outfielder Braden Bishop, but also received significant contributions from players who have since exited the organization

Notable Departures

1B Joey Curletta, OF Braden Bishop, 1B/OF Eric Filia, OF Chuck Taylor, INF Chris Mariscal, C Joe DeCarlo, RHP Chase De Jong, LHP Anthony Misiewicz, RHP Williams Perez, RHP David McKay, RHP Matt Festa, RHP Art Warren

As often expected at the mid-levels of the minor leagues, many of last season’s contributors won’t be back next season. While a handful of offensive performers—namely Joey Curletta, Braden Bishop, Eric Filia, Joe DeCarlo, and Chris Mariscal—and pitchers Anthony Misiewicz, David McKay, Matt Festa, and Art Warren are gone by way of promotion, a significant portion of Arkansas’ 2018 roster has left the organization entirely. Included in that group is Chuck Taylor, Dario Pizzano, Chase De Jong, and Williams Perez.

The entire Travs coaching staff was overhauled over the offseason, including Manager Daren Brown getting the bump to Tacoma. His replacement, Mitch Canham, joins Arkansas after managing the High-A Modesto Nuts for the last two seasons, including guiding them to a Cal League Championship and winning Manager of the Year honors in 2017. A Richland, Washington native who graduated from Lake Stevens High School and attended Oregon State University, Canham was a 1st-round selection by the San Diego Padres back in 2007. He went on to appear in 541 career minor league games, topping out at Triple-A, where he appeared each season from 2010-2013.

Following Canham from the Modesto coaching staff is former Nuts pitching coach Pete Woodworth, who will assume the same position with Arkansas. The Florida Gold Coast University alum was teammates with Chris Sale in college, and to this day is tied for the all-time school record for wins.

Taking up the role of the Travs hitting coach is Kyle Wilson, who played a pair of seasons for NC State before being drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 24th round of the 2010 draft. Wilson comes to the Mariners organization after serving as the General Manager and Director of Baseball at The Performance Academy in Apex, North Carolina for the past seven years.

Projected Lineup:

One of the most prospect-laden lineups you’ll find anywhere on the farm, the Travelers’ lineup—particularly the top of it—is expected to wreak havoc on Texas League pitching. The bottom half of the lineup is composed of guys who have at times shown the ability to perform at an above-average level, and with each of them at just 23 or 24 years of age, any of them could pop given regular playing time this season, as Curletta did in Arkansas last summer.

Projected Lineup:

CF Jake Fraley

LF Dom Thompson-Williams

RF Kyle Lewis

1B Evan White

DH Nick Zammarelli

2B Donnie Walton

3B Jordan Cowan

SS Kevin Santa

C Manny Pazos

Bench:

OF Luis Liberato

INF/OF Logan Taylor

C Ryan Scott

C Joseph Odom

Of the group destined for bench duties, Liberato stands out as a guy who still has a solid chance to develop into a major league regular. While he hasn’t to date lived up to the dreams the organization had for him when he signed out of the Dominican Republic back in 2013. Taylor has also shown some impressive skills at the plate at times, and has displayed defensive versatility that provides value to the organization. Scott and Odom both profile as organizational depth types at this point in their careers, but should see plenty of opportunity for at-bats considering projected starting backstop Manny Pazos also looks to serve as a primary backup infielder for the team.

Names to Watch (Position Players):

Despite being a step further from the big leagues, the case could be made that the offensive talent at this level a step ahead of the bats up at Triple-A. While the M’s need badly to cash in on a majority of the top prospects currently in their system, that holds true perhaps no more anywhere than at the top of Arkansas’ lineup. Particularly given their performances this spring, much stock has been placed in Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis, and Evan White. Any of those three could earn themselves a September call-up with a strong showing this summer; however, the organization certainly has the time to take it slow with each of them, and perhaps they should given they all missed time in 2018 due to injury.

OF Jake Fraley - Prospect Profile

A newcomer to the organization, Fraley opened some eyes during Cactus League action this spring. A dynamic new swing that incorporates more loft and fully engages his lower body to maximize all the power in his compact frame wasn’t given a chance to truly shine as Fraley opened the year on the IL, missing the first two months of the season. To make up for lost time, he went down unda’ and dominated the Australian Baseball League before being dealt to the Mariners this past offseason. At a somewhat advanced age playing his age-24 season, expect the M’s to be aggressive in promoting Fraley if he shows well.

OF Kyle Lewis - Prospect Profile

After an underwhelming early campaign compounded by a premature promotion for the former top prospect due to a Braden Bishop injury, Lewis finished the Texas League season as perhaps the hottest hitter in the system. He’s looked mighty impressive (and...taller?!) this spring, and should make a formidable middle-of-the-lineup partner for Evan White.

1B Evan White - Prospect Profile

You’ve heard by now, but some scouts say White already possesses defensive skills that could make him one of the all-time greats at the first base position, and he’s only been a pro for two seasons. The bat finally came around last season following a slight tweak to his hitting mechanics, and he’ll look to put together a strong full season at the plate in 2019.

OF Dom Thompson-Williams - Prospect Profile

Like Fraley, DTW is a newcomer to the organization this year who familiarized himself to fans with an invite to big league camp. Coming off a 20-20 season at High-A in the Yankees system, he’ll look to replicate last year’s success as he takes the next step in his career.

Projected Rotation:

The Travelers rotation figures to take a significant step forward from last year’s squad, which finished in the bottom half of the Texas League in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. The front-end starters profile as legitimate prospects, and each of the back-end guys have proved dependable at the lower levels of the minors.

RHP Justin Dunn - Prospect Profile

LHP Ricardo Sanchez - 40 in 40 & Prospect Profile

RHP Darren McCaughan - Prospect Profile

RHP Ljay Newsome - Prospect Profile

RHP Reggie McClain

Projected Bullpen:

RHP Wyatt Mills - Prospect Profile

RHP Jack Anderson - Prospect Profile

RHP Marvin Gorgas

RHP Robin Leyer

RHP Nabil Crismatt

RHP Jorgan Cavanerio

RHP Bryan Bonnell

RHP Darin Gillies

LHP Matt Tenuta

Names to Watch (Pitchers):

The headlining pitching piece of the return the Mariners received for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, RHP Justin Dunn will be the focal point of the Travelers’ rotation in his first season with the organization. After opening the 2017 season with the Mets’ High-A affiliate, his peripherals declined just slightly upon making 15 starts in Double-A following a midseason promotion. While questions remain in some scouting circles regarding his ability to stick as a starter, the Mariners front office is confident he can contribute to a big league rotation. The same can be said, for now at least, regarding young left-handed Ricardo Sanchez, who also enter his first year in the org. Formerly a well-regarded prospect in Atlanta’s system, he’ll look to take a step forward in his first full season at Double-A.

Don’t sleep on the back end of the the Travelers’ rotation either, as Darren McCaughan, Ljay Newsome, and Reggie McClain have each flashed an ability to eat innings throughout their young professional careers. Of that group, McCaughan has shown the greatest upside, having flashed a serious ability to prevent runs through 25 starts for the High-A Modesto Nuts last season.

Out in the bullpen, right-handers Wyatt Mills and Jack Anderson will look to take one step closer to the majors this year. A true sidearm pitcher, Mills has moved fairly quickly since being selected out of Gonzaga in the third round back in 2017; however, his performance has decreased with each promotion. He’ll look to reestablish his status as high-end relief prospect in 2019. Conversely, Anderson, who is of a more true submarine delivery, has had a slightly more gradual ascent through the system. Now 146.1 innings into his professional career, he’s yet to yield a home run to an opposing hitter. Both guys have the opportunity to make a name for themselves this upcoming season and potentially make the jump to the highest level, as Matt Festa did last year. Robin Leyer made the most of his big league invite this spring, and while he was used sparingly, he contributed strong performances each time out—including an outing in yesterday’s game against the Cubs which featured back-to-back swinging strikeouts of Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo. Armed with a heater that can reach the upper-90’s, he’s coming off a strong season at Double-A in the Reds’ system, he could be one of this year’s minor league free agent signings that really pays off.