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Ljay Newsome wins California League Player of the Month, plus other assorted minors notes

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We really need some new Ljay pictures

MLB: Seattle Mariners-Media Day
you should probably have a doctor look at that thing growing out of the side of your head Ljay
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Cal League can be a tough place for pitchers, as Ljay Newsome experienced in his last start against a prospect-laden Stockton Ports team. Ljay has been cruising through the Cal League this year, but in this outing the Ports jumped on Newsome, knocking him around for five runs in just three innings with a home run, although he did collect five strikeouts. Even with that rough start on his ledger, Newsome still has a K/9 of over 13, meaning he’s striking out over 38% of batters, while walking less than 3%. And that terrible start? It pushed his FIP just over 2.0 (ERA: 2.5, an excellent mark for the offensive-happy California League; it was 1.47 before his start against the Ports).

Newsome doesn’t just lead the Cal League in strikeouts and innings pitched, but all of Minor League Baseball—that’s all levels, plus the Mexican League. And he’d have an even more substantial innings pitched lead except the Mariners are hard-capping all starters in the farm system this year at 95 pitches. In fact, there’s a good chance he could have gone for a complete game against those same Ports on April 19, when he threw eight innings of one-run ball against the Ports, collecting eight strikeouts and finishing his day just under the wire at 94 pitches. (Newsome has already faced the Ports three times in quick succession: on April 14th, then just five days later on the 19th, and in his most recent start, because the Cal League is tiny, so maybe the Ports found that the third time was the charm with Ljay.)

Newsome’s strong performance has earned him April’s Player of the Month Award for the California League, an award he shares with top prospects like the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez, who won for the PCL, White Sox prospect Luis Robert, who won the award for the Carolina League, and the the RedsJosh VanMeter, who was just called up by the Reds from Triple-A Louisville. We’ve documented Ljay’s improvements on the site, but the Cliff’s Notes version: after struggling in the Cal League last year (4.6 FIP, close to his ERA of 4.87), Newsome went to the Mariners’ “Gas Camp” this off-season, designed for pitchers who command the zone well and have strong secondaries, but whose stuff might play up with a few extra ticks in velocity. That’s been the case for Newsome, who struck out around 10.5% of batters he faced in the Cal League last year; not a bad mark for a starter, especially one who can induce weak contact, but his numbers this year have been extraordinary. This might be the last Cal League POTM award Ljay has a chance to win, as a promotion to Double-A Arkansas should be in his future sooner rather than later.

Other notes from the minors:

  • West Virginia closer Nolan Hoffman is headed to the IL. RHP Deivy Florido, who made a spot appearance for Tacoma a few weeks ago, will come up from extended spring to replace him.
  • The Mariners signed J.R. Davis, whose name is listed on his MiLB profile as “David Davis” (?), and assigned him to West Virginia after a spot appearance in Tacoma. Davis is a 24-year-old who was drafted out of Oklahoma State in 2016 in the 15th round by the Cardinals who can play 2B and CF, who will provide some help to the Power outfield while Julio Rodriguez continues to recover from a broken wrist.
  • Eric Sanford’s pet prospect J.T. Salter has been added to the Nuts’ bullpen. He replaces RHP Matt Walker, who returns to the injured list.
  • RHP Gerson Bautista has been sent to Modesto for a rehab assignment as he works his way back from a pec strain. He joins another rehabbing big-leaguer in Sam Tuivailala in the Nuts’ bullpen.
  • Justus Sheffield earned his first win in Tacoma last night against the Rockies’ affiliate, going just over five innings and collecting five strikeouts, giving up one run (a solo homer), and walking three. There’s still room for improvement but it’s an encouraging upgrade from his last start against Salt Lake, where he only made it into the third inning and walked more batters than he struck out.
  • J.P. Crawford was sensational again last night for Tacoma, with a four-hit night including a three-run home run. He now has hit in 26 of the 30 games he’s played as a Rainier, with eight of those games being multihit games.
  • West Virginia lost again in an early morning contest as their road struggles continue. They have a much-needed off-day today and start a new homestand tomorrow. The Nuts were off last night and the Travelers were hailed out in Amarillo, so it was a quiet day on the farm. The Travs doubleheader today has also been canceled, so they won’t play again until tomorrow back home at Dickey-Stephens Park.