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State of the Farm: 5/2/19

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We...have...good pitching prospects?

There’s been a few more transactions this week, including the club bringing back a handful of familiar faces to help provide pitching depth at the top of the organization. There’s activity at the lower levels as well, where some of the system’s top talent has been on display.

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: 10-16 (4th in Pacific Northern Division)

.269/.344/.428, 5th in PCL in hits

6.98 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, Leading PCL in strikeouts

McKay Racking Up K’s Despite Walks and Bad Luck

Continuing a trend that he established last season when he posted a strikeout rate of 12.9 K/9, RHP David McKay has relied heavily on retiring opposing hitters via the punchout as he’s opened his first full season at Triple-A. Through his first nine outings of the season, he’s running a 14.7 K/9 strikeout rate and is currently riding an eight-game streak of multi-strikeout performances in relief.

Somewhat characteristically, he’s struggled badly with his control as he’s issued 4.9 BB/9 after walking 3.3 per-nine last season. On the bright side, he managed to avoid issuing a free pass in either of his last two appearances, spanning 3.2 innings, over which he’s struck out seven. He’s also been plagued by some bad luck, both in the form of the batted balls and the choice by the PCL to switch to Major League Juiced Baseballs. His BABIP against is all the way up at .424 and his home run rate is way up at 1.2 HR/9 after he allowed just three dingers all of last season, good for a rate of 0.5 HR/9.

If his recent outings are an indicator of a mechanical correction and not just dumb luck, he should see his surface-level stats start to come back to Earth as his batted ball luck regresses to the mean.

Rain Assists Milone in 6.0 Inning CG Shutout

As the Mariners continue their search for depth at the starting pitcher position, LHP Tommy Milone made a solid case for himself on Tuesday night. In a rain-shortened game, Milone went the distance, holding Salt Lake scoreless over six innings, limiting them to just three hits and no walks while striking out five.

The MLB vet who experienced marginal success with the A’s and Twins bookended a pair of rough outings in which he combined to allow nine runs on 19 hits with a pair of outings that saw him combine for 13.0 shutout innings over which he allowed just six hits and one walk.

The 32-year-old has been brilliant at times, but has yet to demonstrate the consistency the club is likely looking for before DFAing somebody to add him to the 40-man roster.

Markel Allows First Run But Continues Building Upon Strong Season

It took until his ninth outing and 13th inning of work, but RHP Parker Markel finally allowed his first earned run of the 2019 season. The former indy-baller has been a revelation for the organization, racking up 27 K’s through 12.1 IP while limiting opposing hitters to a .095 average and posting a 0.65 WHIP.

He was saddled with the blown save on Sunday, but picked up his first PCL save as he worked 1.2 innings, allowing a hit and walk while striking out two.

The Mariners bullpen continues to be one of the worst units in the league, combining for -0.4 fWAR to this point in the season. There appears to be no shortage of DFA candidates—a bunch of whom have less upside than the dearly departed Shawn Armstrong—on the 40-man, so Markel very well could Ride the Wave to the bigs sooner than later.

(AA) Arkansas Travelers

Team Record: 16-9 (1st in Texas League North Division)

.232/.326/.343, Tied for fewest runs scored in Texas League

3.00 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, fewest walks in Texas League

Lewis Back on Track

After stumbling out of the gates to open the season, OF Kyle Lewis has officially corrected course. Over the last week, he posted the following line: 7-21, 5 R, 2B, HR, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 4 SO. His 14.7% walk rate he’s currently running is higher than a season total in any year of his career, and while the strikeouts are up as well, it’s nice to see him limit them substantially over the last week. His wRC+ is at it’s highest since his electrifying debut season with Everett back in 2016 as well.

He’ll be challenged with maintaining results over an extended period of time as he moves forward into the summer, but the fact that he’s simply staying on the field is a huge development in the resurrection of what a prospect that was inching dangerously close to “bust” status.

Defensively, he’s been splitting time equally between right and center field, but has shown the ability to man all three outfield positions.

Sanchez Continuing Breakout

In a season full of breakout performances from pitching prospects, perhaps nobody has outperformed expectations more than LHP Ricardo Sanchez.

Through five starts, he still stakes claim to the Texas League ERA title, boasting a 0.84 ERA that is nearly half the next-closest guy’s mark. On top of that, the one Texas League pitcher ahead of him in the WHIP column is a guy he shares a rotation with: Darren McCaughan.

The 22-year-old left-hander has continued to find success in forcing the opposition to hit the ball on the ground as he is currently sporting a GB% of 65.5% which is more than 10% higher than any other stop in his career.

The lack of strikeouts—7.3 K/9 is nothing to write home about—is slightly negated by his ability to avoid issuing walks and has allowed him to still produce impressive peripheral numbers in his 2.72 FIP and 3.32 xFIP.

Walton Taking Advantage of Opportunity

With INF Chris Mariscal still on the shelf, INF Donnie Walton continues to get plenty of run up the middle for the Travelers. He’s been particularly hot over the last 11 games, slashing .333/.417/.571 with 3 HR, 7 RBI, 4 BB, 4 SB.

After playing second base almost exclusively last season, he’s being used primarily as Arkansas’ shortstop this year. The former 5th-round pick is running a 131 wRC+ through 22 games after posting a mark of 83 through 62 Double-A games last year.

Until last season, Walton had been a switch-hitter, but he has since ditched his right-handed swing and now exclusively swings it from the left side.

Grotz Succeeding In a Variety of Roles

While his exact role remains in flux, RHP Zac Grotz continues to produce results in whatever position he finds himself used. After making three starts at the beginning of the season, the 26-year-old was summoned for one inning of relief duty in a game last week in which the Travs held a seven run lead. Four days later, he made a start—11 days after his last start—and struck out six over 3.0 scoreless innings of work.

Over his last four outings, he’s worked 13.0 innings, striking out 21 without issuing a walk. His advanced age and Tacoma’s desperate need for pitching help might just be the perfect combination to fuel a promotion for the multifaceted right-hander.

DTW Thriving at Heart of Travs Order

Kyle Lewis isn’t the only Arkansas outfielder who is heating up. OF Dom Thompson-Williams has been on a tear of his own lately, slashing .361/.465/.417 and swiping five bags over his last 10 games. While he’s seeing results lately, his results are in spite of how he’s hitting the ball rather than because of it. His 48.2% ground ball percentage is an all-time worst for the former Yankees farmhand, and his home runs and extra-base hits are down a bit as a result of it.

While his seven stolen bases through 23 games are more than on pace to surpass the 20 he posted last season, he’s going to need to start elevating the ball again if he wants to reach the 20 home run threshold once again this year.

McCaughan Solid Again

Making his fifth start of the season on Monday, RHP Darren McCaughan impressed once again, hurling 6.0 innings of two-run ball. For the second start in a row, he struck out seven without walking a batter.

The 23-year-old is currently the Texas League strikeout king, having fanned 30 over 30.0 innings of work. He’s walked just two batters on the season, which allows him to boast the league’s best WHIP despite having allowed the 8th-most hits in the league.

(A+) Modesto Nuts

Team Record: 12-14 (2nd in California League North Division)

.233/.326/.364, 2nd in Cal League in walks

3.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, most strikeouts in Cal League

Rizzo on Fire

2016 2nd-rounder 3B Joe Rizzo has been a driving force in the Nuts lineup lately, batting .366 over his last 10 games and driving in seven runs. Of Rizzo’s 15 hits during that span, 14 have been singles, but the fact that he’s reaching base so frequently is huge for the 21-year-old.

His walk rate (13.3%), strikeout rate (19.0%), and wRC+ (117) are all career bests, and while he’s got just four extra-base hits on the season, he’s showing signs of improvement that are impressive for a player of his age at this level.

Newsome Pacing Minors in K’s

This just continues to be the craziest story in the system this season. RHP Ljay Newsome extended his Minor League Baseball lead in strikeouts on Tuesday, tying his season low with eight strikeouts over an impressive 7.0 innings of work.

With his most recent masterpiece, he’s got his slash line as 1.47/1.84/1.98 and his strikeout rate up to 13.3 K/9 on the year. Considering he made 26 starts at High-A last season, it would be a little surprising to see him stick around in Modesto much longer.

This Bullpen is Actually Insane Though

As if this Nuts bullpen weren’t strong enough already, it received further reinforcements this week with the addition of 2018 26th-round pick RHP Penn Murfee, who joins the team after a handful of appearances for a depleted Tacoma squad.

Including recent recently-promoted RHP Reggie McClain, the seven-man unit including Murphy, McClain, RHP Sam Delaplane, RHP Joey Gerber, RHP Collin Kober, RHP Kyle Wilcox, and RHP Jake Haberer has racked up 134 strikeouts in 84.2 innings for Modesto. That same group has also posted a 2.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP on the season.

(A) West Virginia Power

Team Record: 16-7 (3rd in South Atlantic League North Division)

.231/.327/.358, T-3rd in South Atlantic League in home runs

2.59 ERA, 249 K’s in 205.1 IP, Fewest home runs allowed in South Atlantic League

Kelenic Setting Sally League Ablaze

After looking like he didn’t belong at this level through his first seven games, going 2-25 to start the season, OF Jarred Kelenic still looks like he doesn’t belong here, although for a much different reason. Since that point, he’s gone 27-61 (.443) with five home runs, 13 runs scored, 14 RBI, and a 276 wRC+ over 15 games.

The 19-year-old, who was the sixth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, has been on a special tear lately, slugging four homers in his last four games for the Power. While he hasn’t necessarily experienced success over a long period of time in A-ball, the degree to which he’s produced results over these last couple weeks has starting raising some questions about his readiness for High-A. The organization will likely handle him carefully considering their glut of outfielders are the upper levels of the minors and how young he is relative to league average, but he may just force their hand if he keeps this up much longer, although they may not want to disrupt his MiLB-leading 17-game hitting streak.

Chandler Continues Stinginess With Runs

He may not have been the West Virginia pitcher to receive a promotion this week, but RHP Clay Chandler is certainly making his case to be bumped to Modesto. Through 29.0 innings of work on the season, he’s allowed just one earned run, good for a league-best 0.31 ERA and earning him Pitcher of the Week honors.

His latest start came last Friday, when he held Asheville scoreless through 7.0 innings, surrendering just six hits and striking out five. The undrafted free agent signee hasn’t done much in the way of the strikeout, but he’s managed to find success as a fly-ball pitcher, running a 51.4% FB%.

Kelenic’s Not the Only Impressive Teenager

While it hasn’t garnered nearly as much attention as his fellow teenage teammate, RHP Damon Casetta-Stubbs has been quite the revelation himself through his first trio of outings in 2019. After an appearance for Modesto, the 2018 11th-round pick was assigned to West Virginia, where he’s worked 5.0 scoreless innings in each of his two starts.

At just 19-years-old, he’s already tipping the scales at 6’4” 200lb, and he’s putting that projectable frame to good use. The strikeouts haven’t quite been there yet, but he’s running a .163 opponent’s batting average and has posted a 0.81 WHIP through 12.1 innings across the two levels, and while he doesn’t record many Ks, he does induce tons of weak contact; his infield fly ball rate is currently at an eye-popping 25%.

Notes:

Mallex Joins Rainiers

OF Mallex Smith was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma on Monday with OF Braden Bishop joining the big league club. Smith has had a slow start to the season after missing most of spring training with an arm injury.

Gilbert Promoted

After making just four starts with West Virginia, RHP Logan Gilbert received the bump to High-A Modesto. He’s been a strikeout machine for the Power, posting 13.7 K/9 through 19.2 innings, but he’s had a hard time working real deep into games, but his stuff should absolutely play at the level.

Tuivailala Sent Out on Rehab Assignment

The bullpen took a large step towards shaping up on Wednesday with RHP Sam Tuivailala reporting to High-A Modesto on a rehab assignment. The M’s got 5.1 of impressive work out of the 26-year-old last summer before injuring his achilles and being forced out of action for the remained of the season. The Mariners acquired him from St. Louis in exchange for relief ace RHP Seth Elledge last July.

Davis Inks Minors Deal

A report from @MilbMariners on Twitter stated that the Mariners signed OF J.R. Davis. Davis is a 24-year-old outfielder who was picked in the 15th round out of Oklahoma State by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016. He was released by the Cardinals on Sunday. He’s got an interesting offensive profile, rarely striking out and far more rarely drawing a walk. He’ll turn 25 this August and has yet to advance past A-ball, but the club signed him mere days after he was released, so they must see something they like in his skillset.

Wells to Miss Time With Broken Hand

LHP Nick Wells was hit by a comebacker during what was shaping up to be a nice start last week. Unfortunately, he has broken his left wrist and will be out of action for some time. Wells is the last remaining piece in the four-player trade that sent RHP Mark Lowe to Toronto back in 2015.

Misiewicz Promoted for Piggyback Duty

Fresh off of perhaps the strongest outing of his career—a complete game one-run effort in which he fanned nine—LHP Anthony Misiewicz was tabbed to follow Jon Niese in his organizational debut in Tacoma back on Sunday. He impressed yet again, throwing 4.0 scoreless in relief. He was reassigned to Arkansas following the game and is set to rejoin the Travs rotation.

McClain Finally Exits Modesto

After pitching in High-A Modesto for the third season this year, RHP Reggie McClain, who is making the switch to the bullpen this year and doing a damn good job of it, received a promotion to Double-A Arkansas. First however, he was moved to Triple-A Tacoma where he filled in for a spot start and held his own. Reggie has been yet another breakout relief arm this season after attending “gas camp” this off-season and getting his velocity up into the mid-90s. He will get a chance to provide a boost to the Arkansas bullpen.