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Let’s Go Nuts: 2019 Modesto Nuts (A+) preview

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Can the Nuts challenge for a second California League championship in the three years since becoming a Mariners’ affiliate?

Art Warren

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. This week we’ll be continuing our preview series introducing you to projected rosters for each of the minor league affiliates; so far we’ve covered the top two levels of the organization, the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers and the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, both of which shape up to have some really exciting prospect talent. High-A Modesto might not have quite the snap of some of the other levels, but there are interesting role-players here, a few sleepers, and maybe even a star or two.

2018 in review

2018 record: 62-78 (3rd of 4 in the Cal League North; 7th of 8th overall); 4.31 ERA (5th of 8); 4.25 runs per game (last in the league).

Modesto was a rotating cast last year of rehabbing big-leaguers, injured prospects, spot starters, and promotions/graduations, both hurried and unhurried. As a result, the team never really developed an identity, and even a late-season hot streak from Evan White couldn’t push the team into the playoffs.

Notable departures

Evan White and Kyle Lewis have both moved on to Double-A, sapping the Nuts’ lineup of most of its star power. With top 2018 draft pick Logan Gilbert getting a slow start to his pro career, the Nuts will have to wait for an infusion of prospect juice as players prove themselves at A-West Virginia.

Also departing is Nuts skipper Mitch Canham, who earned a promotion to the Double-A team, where he’ll be the second-youngest manager in the entire Texas League. Former big-leaguer Denny Hocking, who previously managed the Mariners’ A-level affiliate, will move up to replace him. Hitting coach Jose Umbria, winner of the Mariners’ minor league staffer of the year award last season, will also move up alongside Hocking. Joining them will be a new hire, pitching coach Rob Marcello Jr. (not the noted metal guitarist Rob Marcello). RMJ has his own academy, Top Level Athletes in the Orlando area, where 2019 draft standout Matthew Allan trains and where Astros pitching coach Brent Strom was also an employee.

Projected Lineup

Projected Lineup, 2019 Modesto Nuts

Position Name Age Highest Level 2018 wRC+
Position Name Age Highest Level 2018 wRC+
C Cal Raleigh 22 A- 149
1B Matt Sanders 22 AA 56
2B Joseph Rosa 22 A 72
3B Joe Rizzo 20 A+ 71
SS Ryne Ogren 21 A- 101
LF Jack Larsen 24 A+ 144
CF Anthony Jimenez 23 A+ 87
RF Keegan McGovern 23 A 144
DH Gareth Morgan 22 A+ 68

Names to watch, position players

We’re going out on a bit of a limb here by projecting 2018 draftee Cal Raleigh to Modesto, but hear us out: Raleigh was getting reps with the High-A squad at Spring Training, and got a long look with the big-league club, as well. He more than held his own against tough competition this spring, and combined with his 144 wRC+ at Everett, we think the team will give him a challenge. Our condolences to the North Carolina-based Raleigh clan, who had hoped to see Cal close to home in West Virginia, but we figure a fast track to a potential big-league career might make up for that. Even if Raleigh is assigned to West Virginia, we don’t expect it will take long for the talented backstop to get bumped up.

Joseph (née Joey) Rosa took a step back last season after making steady progress through the lowest rungs of the system; he was lacing the ball around the fields at ST with some authority and looks poised to have a strong season in his fifth year in the system. As far as his double play partner, we’re being a bit aggressive in projecting 2018 draftee Ryne Ogren to Modesto after a merely okay season at Everett, but strong plate discipline and an ability to hold down multiple positions across the infield make him a solid candidate, especially because we’re not so sure about projecting Matt Sanders, who got sent all over the system in his pro debut, to first. The other member of the infield is a lock: Joe Rizzo is still just 20 years old, and while his 2018 in Modesto was largely forgettable, the plate discipline numbers are solid. He has time to keep working on developing his power and perfecting his skills at the hot corner—although maybe not that much time, as 3B Bobby Honeyman, who led the NWL in hitting before earning a brief promotion to High-A, will look to be pushing for a promotion from West Virginia sooner rather than later, and got plenty of looks with the big-league club this spring.

In the outfield, Jack Larsen struggled after a late-season promotion to A+ last year after tearing up the lower minors; at 24, he’s under some pressure to recapture the flash he showed in A-ball. Keegan McGovern was a 2018 senior sign who tore through the NWL and the Midwest League; with low hands, a speedy bat path, and big power, he could conceivably put up an ISO pushing .250+ in the hitter-friendly Cal League. Anthony Jimenez has struggled with injuries throughout his career thanks to a slight build and a high-energy playing style that introduces him to more than his fair share of outfield walls; when he’s healthy and on the field, he’s much better than his somewhat disappointing line from last season.

Projected Pitching Staff

Projected Pitching Staff, 2019 Modesto Nuts

Role Player Age Highest Level FIP
Role Player Age Highest Level FIP
SP Zac Grotz 26 A 2.83
SP Austin Hutchison 23 A+ 3.41
SP Scott Boches 24 A 2.84
SP Nick Wells 23 A+ 3.84
SP Ryne Inman 22 A 4.11
RP Sam Delaplane 23 A 2.43
RP Collin Kober 24 A+ 1.98
RP Kyle Wilcox 24 A 2.28
RP Nolan Hoffman 21 A- 3.28
RP Ben Onyshko 22 A- 3.6

Names to watch, pitching

The starting pitching at Modesto is endemic of the overall weakness of that position throughout the system, leading to moves like acquiring 26-year-old Zac Grotz, an indy ball vet, who was most recently a reliever with the Mets and whom the Mariners hope to convert to a starter. Grotz looked good in his last spring turn, when he held down the Angels farmhands over three innings in a “big league” game, and has embraced the analytics of which the Mariners are fond. As with other rescue pups from the Mets pitching system (hello Chasen Bradford), look for Grotz to ascend the ladder quickly as he combines his talent and experience with instruction tailored to his arsenal. Austin Hutchison, Scott Boches, and Nick Wells should be credible-if-not-electrifying starters, but things get murky after that, if they aren’t murky enough to begin with.

Where Modesto has a chance to shine is in the bullpen; the Everett bullpen was a strength of that club, and we project there’s enough talent to scatter among both West Virginia and Modesto. We like Ben’s favorite and official Short King Sam Delaplane for a spot in the bullpen, along with Big Easy native and Big Flow-haver Collin Kober. Like Kober, Nolan Hoffman is a college sidearmer who is polished enough to leap over West Virginia. Logan Gilbert’s Stetson teammate and fellow 2018 draftee Ben Onyshko is a maybe for the level, as relievers tend to move more quickly, but we could just as easily see a flip with high-ceiling fireballer Joey Gerber to be Modesto’s closer. However, with Modesto being sort of a “tweener” for prospects outside of Raleigh, it’s possible the Mariners will seek to clump their highest-ceiling players together, making Modesto somewhat of an island of misfit toys— which, it should be noted, is sort of an identity in and of itself.