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State of the Farm: 4/25/19

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The organization has gotten a little antsy and started moving players around.

We continue to see a surprising amount of movement throughout the system before the minor league season is even a month old, but it’s a welcome development as it’s a result of production exceeding expectations from numerous players.

Click here for a sortable list of stat lines on all the system’s top 30 prospects, per MLB.com’s Prospect Pipeline.

(AAA) Tacoma Rainiers

Team Record: 7-13 (3rd in Pacific Northern Division)

.271/.349/.430, 5th in PCL in runs scored

7.92 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, Last in PCL in ERA and WHIP

Crawford’s Streak Ends But Bat Staying Hot

Although his hitting streak ended at 15 games on Monday, SS J.P. Crawford has now reached base in 16 consecutive contests after walking in his 0-4 effort. While his .309/.397/.412 line through 17 games is inflated by his .370 BABIP, there’s no smoke and mirrors behind the 16.7% strikeout rate, which is his lowest since his first stint at Triple-A back in 2016. The average may fall as the summer wares on, but as long as he maintains the bat-to-ball skills and speed on the bases he’s shown so far—he’s on pace for 19 stolen bases over a full 162-game season—there will be a spot for him in the bigs before long.

Markel Makes Move to Tacoma

It took just 7.2 innings in the Texas League for RHP Parker Markel to make it clear he didn’t need a trip back to Double-A despite last appearing in affiliated ball in 2016. He’s logged 2.0 perfect innings for the Rainiers since being promoted, and now sports rates of 20.5 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9 through 9.2 innings, has allowed just four runners to reach base.

Nola’s Breakout Continues

Veteran backstop C Austin Nola continues his quest for a PCL Triple Crown as he remains near the top of the league leaderboards with his .423/.500/.788 slash line, which includes a PCL-best 10 doubles. He’s gone 4-16 with a pair of walks since his massive 4-5 day last week that featured 12 total bases.

Taking minor league batted ball data for what you will, but the 29-year-old is pulling the ball at a lower rate than any point of his eight-year career, posting a Pull% of just 26.2%. His 31.0% Cent% is a career-high, and his 42.9% Oppo% is the second-highest of his career, and the highest since 2015. He’s also hit the ball on the ground less frequently than ever before, doing so at a 38.1% clip.

(AA) Arkansas Travelers

Team Record: 13-6 (1st in Texas League North Division)

.226/.324/.334, Last in Texas League in AVG, SLG, and OPS

2.97 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 2nd in Texas League in SB

Rotation Remains Strong-Point

Despite being without front-end starter Justin Dunn, the Travelers rotation has kept on truckin’ over the last week, receiving strong performances from LHP Anthony Misiewicz, RHP Darren McCaughan, and LHP Ricardo Sanchez.

The true gem of the week came from Misiewicz, who used a career-high 109 pitches to limit Frisco to just one run over 9.0 innings. He struck out nine in the outing while allowing just six hits and notably issuing no walks. The outing makes it 10 of his last 11 outings without allowing more than two earned runs, dating back to July of last season. A significant portion of the former 18th-rounder’s success has been forcing the opposition to hit the ball on the ground. After posting a GB% of 41.7% and a FB% of 33.7% in 2018 that were right in line with his career norms, he’s posted marks of a 59.0% GB% and a 24.6% FB% this season as well as LD% of just 16.4%, all of which would be career bests.

McCaughan, who had a rough start on Friday in which he surrendered six earned runs through 5.0 innings, bounced back in a big way in his Wednesday outing. The right-hander posted a season high 7.0 innings over which he allowed just five hits and on earned run without walking a batter. He also added seven strikeouts to his season total, giving him 23 through 24.0 innings on the year.

Like Misiewicz, Sanchez is a left-hander who has found success keeping the ball on the ground. He’s got his GB% all the way up to 67.2% and opponents are virtually never hitting the ball in the air off of him as they’ve posted a FB% of just 13.4%. His 1.08 ERA is currently tops in the Texas League, as is is four wins on the season.

Fraley Collecting Multi-Hit Games

After seeing his average dip as low as .250 back on Friday, OF Jake Fraley has been collecting hits in bunches since, including a 3-5 performance Wednesday in which he homered and doubled in addition to turning in an outstanding defensive performance in center field.

He’s got his season-long slash line up to .286/.359/.457 through 17 games and has walked seven times while striking out in 19 trips to the plate. He’s running a 123 wRC+ and a .367 BABIP that will be tough to maintain, but his value on the basepaths—he’s tied for the organization lead with six stolen bases—adds a dimension to offensive game.

Lewis’ Bat Coming Along

Following a scorching hot finish to the 2018 season and a strong performance during Cactus League play, OF Kyle Lewis opened 2019 by slashing .170/.278/.362 with 17 strikeouts through his first 12 games. Just when things were starting to look all too familiar for the former first-rounder, he flipped the switch and has gone 11-23 in six games since and is now running a 103 wRC+.

The strikeouts remain an issue for Lewis, who has fallen victim to the K in 16 of 18 games this season, and while his strikeout rate is on pace for a career-high, his current walk rate of 13.6% would be a new career high as well.

(A+) Modesto Nuts

Team Record: 10-10 (2nd in California League North Division)

.232/.323/.364, 5th in Cal League in OPS

3.46 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 2nd in Cal League in strikeouts

Modesto Bullpen Continues Nutty Success

It’s been another extremely impressive stretch for the men out in the Nuts bullpen. The combination of RHP Reggie McClain, RHP Sam Delaplane, RHP Joey Gerber, and RHP Kyle Wilcox (accepting group nicknames in comment section) has combined for 13.0 innings over the last week, racking up 22 strikeouts over that period and allowing zero earned runs, three hits, and four walks.

That group’s efforts have been a significant portion of the reason the 10-10 Nuts have remained competitive this season and actually lead the Cal League in WHIP despite receiving little contributions from their starting pitching rotation outside of RHP Ljay Newsome.

Newsome Continues Dealing

Breakout RHP Ljay Newsome was spectacular again on Friday, tossing 8.0 innings of six hit, one run baseball, striking out eight without walking a batter. His 38 strikeouts on the season keeps in first place across all of Minor League Baseball, and continues to be a welcome surprise to the organization this season. Through his first four starts of the season, he’s posted a pitcher’s slash of 1.09/1.65/1.70 and the his .314 BABIP against indicates that his success is more than dumb luck.

At just 22 years old, his newfound velocity and continued command and control of his arsenal have quickly made him a legitimately exciting prospect, and one that has the potential to move quickly through the system at that.

Liberato Looking Primed for Promotion

It’s been another strong week for Modesto’s hottest hitter in OF Luis Liberato. The 23-year-old was absolute torture on the Stockton Ports in their recent three-game series during which he posted a line of 6-11, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 3 BB, SB.

This is the Domincan outfielder’s third season spending a significant portion of the year at High-A, so it was absolutely pivotal for him to impress early, and that’s exactly what he’s done to this point, slashing .292/.373/.600 with a 164 wRC+ through 17 games.

(A) West Virginia Power

Team Record: 12-6 (3rd in South Atlantic League North Division)

.244/.330/.355, 2nd-fewest strikeouts in South Atlantic League

2.75 ERA, 203 K’s in 160.1 IP, 2nd in South Atlantic League in ERA, 3rd in Ks

Kelenic Picking Up the Slack

It was a blow to fans and players alike when a wild fastball ran inside and caught Julio Rodriguez on the hand, causing a hairline fracture that will sideline him for at least a few more weeks. Fortunately, his partner in the Mariners dream outfield of the future has been locked in. Jarred Kelenic has looked every bit the mature, balanced player that made him stand out among prep bats. He’s now rocking a .328/.438/.478 line through his first 80 PAs with a 173 wRC+, and looking able to stick in center field defensively.

Red-Hot Rosa

Joseph Rosa is a tough hitter to peg. His FanGraphs page is tricky to peg, as he’s already played at every level of the Mariners minors a month past his 22nd birthday. His defensive versatility, handling both middle infield positions capably, makes him a classic UTIL or infielder profile if the bat can only get there. So far this year, the bat has indeed been present. In his first 71 PAs, Rosa is walking 9.9% of the time and striking out just 14.1%, letting his bat do damage to the tune of a .355/.423/.452 line and a 160 wRC+. In Clinton last year, Rosa struggled with contact, but he’s cut his strikeouts down thus far, and his excellent contact (32.7% line drive rate) makes his .404 BABIP look like the product of good process and not pure luck.

Inman Impressive Again

The reason the Power have been winning so many ballgames has been because of their pitching, end of story. At each level, the Mariners have had a starter impressing after seemingly hitting their developmental ceiling. For Modesto, it’s been Ljay Newsome. For Arkansas, Darren McCaughan. In West Virginia, it may be Ryne Inman. The 22-year-old righty has always had decent strikeout numbers, but they’ve been coupled with high walk rates. This year, the good has gotten great and the bad has been rare. A 41.6%|7.8% K|BB% through the first four starts (and 20.1 IP) is eye-catching. It’s Inman’s third go at the level, so it’s to be expected he’d have success, but he’s also generating groundballs at an astronomical (55.3%) rate compared to last year (32.7%), suggesting something may have changed or improved. Worth keeping tabs on regardless.

Bullpen Keeps Racking Up Whiffs

The West Virginia bullpen is short on high-profile prospects, but they’ve been the strength of this group. Jamal Wade, Devin Sweet, Bryan Pall, and Dayeison Arias have combined for 49 SOs in just 29.0 IP out of the bullpen. Arias and Sweet are both just 22, while Wade and Pall are atypical 23-year-olds. Wade was an outfielder converted to pitcher at the end of college, while Pall missed the last two seasons with Tommy John surgery.

Gilbert Continues to Dominate

It’s been quite a while since the Mariners have had a homegrown top-100 pitching prospect. When midseason rankings come around, Logan Gilbert will likely arrive on many evaluator’s lists. He’s still working his innings up, but through three starts he’s gone 14.0 IP, with a 44%|8% K|BB% rate. Gilbert has looked phenomenal, healthy, and his velocity has been consistent through each appearance. He won’t run a 0.64/2.26 ERA/FIP all season, but until he gets a challenge at a higher level he might get real close.

Notes:

  • Despite shaky command in AAA, Justus Sheffield will be called up to piggyback Yusei Kikuchi’s next start. It won’t be an official start, but functionally it’ll be Sheffield’s first extended MLB work.
  • Former 2nd-round pick OF Gareth Morgan was released. The physically imposing 23-year-old was hitting .074/.219/.185 in Modesto, striking out 62.5% of the time. Last year in 334 PAs in Modesto he had as many HRs (19) as singles, but nearly 10 times as many strikeouts (180). Rainiers OF Tito Polo was also released after a pair of spiking incidents threatened to ban him from PCL play for the rest of the season. 25-year-old LHP Danny Garcia was also released from High-A Modesto.
  • INF Cal Hernandez retired this week. The 23-year-old was a 26th-round pick in 2018, and moonlighted in AAA for a few games despite mostly working in the AZL last year.
  • 2018 draftee RHP Damon Casetta-Stubbs has been assigned to West Virginia. His first start last night went about as well as possible.
  • After frustrating times in both Seattle and Tacoma, Dan Altavilla has been demoted to Double-A to refine his command. His first two outings have been smooth and walk-free.
  • A bevy of moves were made to bolster pitching depth in the high-minors. RHP Tyler Cloyd has been inked to a minors deal. You may remember him from 2017, where he appeared in one game with the Mariners and emerged with the win. His acquisition is paired with a move to help the struggling Tyler Danish get back on track.

Cloyd is joined by another familiar face. RHP Christian Bergman returns for his third Rainiers campaign. Both join the Rainiers rotation immediately.

  • Adding to that Rainiers staff are another pair of veterans. RHPs Aaron Northcraft and Parker Markel have joined Tacoma. The 28-year-olds each have had a few blushes with AAA between them, but neither had pitched in affiliated ball since 2016. Northcraft hasn’t missed many bats, but his sidearm angle helps him get grounders at an extreme rate. Markel looks nigh unhittable so far, striking out 22 and walking just two in 9.2 innings between AA and AAA. He throws his impressive slider as a primary pitch, only occasionally working in a low-to-mid-90s fastball.
  • After missing nearly two weeks due to injury, 1B Evan White Returned to the Arkansas Travelers lineup Wednesday, going 0-5 in his first game back.
  • Early reports were that we could expect OF Julio Rodriguez back in action sometime this week, but it was instead announced that Rodriguez was placed on the Injured List retroactive to April 12 with a hairline fracture in his left hand. The expected timeframe is 4-6 weeks from the time of the injury, so we’ll hopefully see Julio back by late May.
  • While there’s been no official word on the reasoning yet, the hope is that RHP Justin Dunn had his most recent start at Double-A Arkansas skipped over simply to manage innings. Dunn set a career high with 135.1 IP last season, which was his first season working exclusively as a starting pitcher.