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State of the Farm: 6/27/19

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Complete with your AZL and DSL updates!

Our first (last? Man that took a long time) full-minors State of the Farm is here! With a large portion of this year’s draft class now assigned to a team, we’ve got plenty of new talent to keep you up on in addition to all of your usual favorites.

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: 36-42 (3rd in Pacific Northern Division)

Fraley Slugging Post-Promotion

It didn’t take long for OF Jake Fraley to endear himself to his new ballclub following his much-deserved promotion to Tacoma last weekend as he went 2-for-3 with a home run and a stolen base in his debut. He has cooled off slightly since, but has reached base in each of his five PCL games and has provided excellent outfield defense.

Markel and McKay Mowing ‘Em Down

The Rainiers pitching staff continues to be carried by a bullpen that’s packed with guys who can rack up the strikeouts. It’s now been six appearances since RHP Parker Markel allowed a hit, and he’s logged 12 strikeouts while issuing just three walks through 5.0 innings over that span. It’s excatly that type of pitching that recently earned the 28-year-old PCL all-star honors, although the walk issues will likely have to stay at bay for him to earn another call-up to the bigs.

Fellow-reliever RHP David McKay has been nearly as impressive over his last four outings, compiling 14 punchouts over 7.2 scoreless innings, although he’s scattered five hits and equally as many walks. The 24-year-old’s strikeout rate has increased slightly from 33.7% last season to 35.5% this year, but his walk rate has ballooned from 10.0% to 15.1%. The walks haven’t ever really been this big an issue for him, even dating back to his days as a member of the Royals organization, so hopefully some mechanical intervention can get him back on track moving forward.

Newsome Steps Up in Spot Start

Following 77.0 dominant innings for the Modesto Nuts, Cal League strikeout king RHP Ljay Newsome received a spot start for the Tacoma Rainiers on Sunday and did not disappoint, tossing 5.2 innings of four-run, 10-strikeout ball. After cruising through the first four innings, he was tagged for four runs in the fifth but rebounded nicely to record a strikeout in the sixth before being yanked. He’s already been reassigned to Modesto, but it’s possible his performance in Tacoma strengthened his case for a promotion to Arkansas before long.

(AA) Arkansas Travelers

Team Record: 48-26 (1st in Texas League North Division)

Strong Performances from Starting Pitching

What’s one way to even further strengthen a team that just wrapped up a first-half division title? Well add a top organization prospect that had been pitching at a higher level of course! LHP Justus Sheffield joined the Travs on June 15 after struggling with walks in Tacoma, and he’s been brilliant in two starts since. After recording seven strikeouts, allowing just one run and issuing two walks in his 5.0 innings Arkansas debut, he scattered eight hits over 7.0 one-run innings and managed to avoid issuing a single walk for the first time in 14 starts this season. You’d think he’ll only make one or two more starts before rejoining Tacoma—assuming they go nearly as well as the first two have.

The system’s 2018 minor league leader in innings pitched RHP Darren McCaughan has actually seen his game improve upon making the jump from High-A to Double-A in 2019. His typically strong control has been elite this year as he’s issued just 0.7 BB/9. He’s issued more than one walk in just one of 14 starts this season, and has issued none eight times. He’s now spun seven consecutive quality starts, posting a 1.53 ERA and 3.27 FIP through 47.0 innings over that span.

Like Sheffield, 24-year-old Columbian RHP Nabil Crismatt joined the Travelers after a stint with the Rainiers, and he too has found success in doing so. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in any of his 11 outings with Arkansas, including seven quality starts in his last nine. His most recent appearance came in relief—the addition of Sheffield has temporarily bumped him to the bullpen—but he was excellent there too, striking out two over 2.0 flawless innings. A minor league free agent signing back in January, he’s had a slight fly ball leaning with Arkansas, posting a 41.8% GB%. His 3.6% walk rate in 62.2 innings with Arkansas is a career best mark, and his 1.9 BB/9 is the sixth-lowest among Mariners minor league starters.

Big Bats Fueling Strong Start to Second Half

What a month it has been for Travs INF Donnie Walton. Since June 4, the Oklahoma State product has slashed .477/.545/.615 with a 222 wRC+, nine walks, and seven strikeouts over 16 games. He’s managed to post a career-best 138 wRC+ and eight home runs already this season despite hitting the ball on the ground 54.7% of the time—more than ever before. Particularly considering he spent 62 games in Arkansas last season, it wouldn’t be a shock if he didn’t stick around much longer.

After posting a wRC+ of 100 or better in each of his first three seasons as a pro, 1B/OF Nick Zammarelli appeared to be in jeopardy of seeing his streak snapped this year as he boasted a mark of just 75 through the season’s first two months. Thanks to a June in which he’s slashed .349/.414/.556, he’s gotten over the hump once again and is currently sporting a 103 wRC+. He’s hitting more line drives than he has at any point during his professional career, and while he appeared overmatched with the challenge of a new level through the first half of the season, all signs seem to point towards an adjustment that could lead to strong finish for the former 8th-rounder.

It’s been quite the month of June for many a Travelers hitters, and OF Kyle Lewis has been no exception. Recently securing Texas League Hitter of the Week honors, the former 1st-rounder has slashed .368/.470/.485 through 19 games, wRC+ing 168 and lifting his season-long number to 111. It’s been an extremely streaky season for Lewis, and riding his current one a bit longer would be a big step. He hasn’t flashed anything close to the power he showed coming out of Mercer three years ago, but he’s compensated nicely with impressive patience at the plate as he’s posted a 13.7% walk rate.

While it was his teammate that took home the league’s weekly hitting award, 1B Evan White poses a real threat to Hitter of the Month honors. Through 18 games this month, he’s posted a slash line of .370/.393/.691 and swatted seven home runs, nearly matching his 120-game total from last season. The power is a recent and surprising development, but adding that component to his game would make him a legitimate five-tool threat. It’s hard not to tether the club’s rebuild tightly to whether or not White and Kyle Lewis develop into starting caliber big league players.

Bullpen Aces May Not Be in Arkansas for Long

In a system full of intriguing position-playing prospects whose names have been on the lips of prospect experts for years now, the fastest-rising player in the system over the last year has been RHP Sam Delaplane. The 2017 draftee toes the rubber at a generous 5’11”, but that hasn’t kept him from racking up strikeouts at an alarming rate. At the time of his promotion to Double-A Arkansas on June 4, he was near the top of the Cal League strikeout list with 62 in just 31.2 innings of relief action, and he’s somehow gotten even better with the Travs. Through his first 8.2 innings, he’s got a .037 OPP AVG and 0.23 WHIP and is running a strikeout rate of 64.3%. Through 133.0 career innings spanning three levels as a pro, he’s never posted less than 13.7 K/9 or an xFIP higher than 2.43, and he continues to get only better each year. Although he’s spent less than nine innings above the “A” levels of the minors, it’s starting to look more and more like the 24-year-old has got a real shot to reach the majors by the end of this season.

Mariners fans have been heard the name of RHP Art Warren being tossed around since his breakout in the fall of 2017 when he generated some buzz by tossing 11.1 scoreless innings during the prospect-laden Arizona Fall League. In two seasons since, he’s combined to throw just 29.1 innings, all of which coming with the Travelers. The 26-year-old opened the 2019 season strong, but hit the injured list on April 29 and missed more than a month, being activated back on June 8. Since coming off the IL, he’s allowed just four hits and one walk while striking out nine over 5.0 innings. He’s now got a 1.32/1.89/2.31 pitcher’s slash this season, and may need only to prove he can stay healthy to be rewarded with a promotion—to Tacoma or perhaps even Seattle—in the near future.

(A+) Modesto Nuts

Team Record: 32-44 (4th in California League North Division)

Gilbert Continues to Impress

We’re now 14 starts into RHP Logan Gilbert’s professional career and he’s still yet to allow more than three earned runs in an outing. Last year’s 1st-rounder turned in a quality start in each of his two most recent outings, fanning eight over 6.1 innings on June 15 before striking out three through 6.0 innings on Monday. His 11.7 K/9 trails only Ljay Newsome amongst Mariners minors league starters and his 2.06 ERA and 0.96 WHIP are tops among qualifiers. He’s had an extreme ground ball-leaning profile since joining Modesto, and coupled with his demonstrated strikeout abilities, he’s shaping up to be just the ace the Mariners ordered when using their first pick on him last June.

Raleigh Raking in June

With his pair of home runs on Wednesday, C Cal Raleigh tied Jake Fraley for second among Mariners minor league home run hitters, trailing only Jarred Kelenic. The switch-hitting Florida State product has been a surprisingly strong defender this season, gunning down 24 of 61 attempted base-stealers while also showing off impressive blocking and pitch receiving skills behind the plate. He seems to be quieting the concerns about his ability to stick at the catcher position and appears to have more than enough bat for the position. Through Wednesday, he was slashing .299/.372/.567 during the month of June and looks to be getting only more capable of handling Cal League pitching.

Rizzo Recapturing Prospect Status

Despite turning 21 just days before Modesto’s first game of the season, it’d been easy to sense frustration growing among Mariners prospect hounds with INF Joe Rizzo. He’s making any concerns look premature this season, slashing .297/.365/.435 and running a career-best 123 wRC+ entering Wednesday. He’s also trimmed his strikeout rate from 21.3% in 2018 to 16.5% here this season while increasing his walk rate from 7.9% to 9.5%. After looking like a blown early-round pick at times over his first three professional seasons, he’s starting to look like his floor is as a useful utility infielder in the majors some day.

(A) West Virginia Power

Team Record: 40-37 (4th in South Atlantic League North Division)

Healthy Julio Hitting

After being shelved for nearly two months as a result of being hit by a pitch in the hand, OF Julio Rodriguez has picked up where he left off, slashing.320/.414/.480 with a 158 wRC+ through 13 games. While the lack of power this season is a bit alarming—he’s gone deep just twice in 22 games— it’s a positive sign that they’ve both come post-injury, indicating that the injured hand isn’t going to sap his power. Considering it took his Baby Bash Brother Jarred Kelenic 50 games of dominating the Sally League to receive a promotion, it wouldn’t be a huge shock to see the 18-year-old slugger stay put with the Power until late this season regardless of how he’s performing.

Sweet Succeeding as Starter

The Mariners have found success in 2019 on the lower levels of the farm in transitioning relievers into starting roles, and RHP Devin Sweet has been the latest experiment. The 2018 undrafted free agent signing has posted 11.2 K/9 and a 3.09/2.59/3.27 pitcher’s slash through 46.2 innings. His last three appearances have all come as a starter, and he’s making the transition flawlessly, posting a line of 16.0 IP, 3 ER, 12 H, 8 BB, 14 SO. His strikeout rate as a starter (7.9 K/9) is down quite a bit from where it sat when he was coming out of the bullpen (12.6 K/9), but he’s been more efficient at limiting runs. He may have more upside as a reliever moving forward, but he’s proving valuable as an innnings-eater right now.

Moyers Making Most of Chances

Although he initially struggled through his first two months as a full-time starting pitcher, LHP Steven Moyers has been coming on strong of late, posting a 3-0 record with a 1.88 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 3.03 FIP in the month of June. The 25-year-old has recorded quality starts in his last five starts and seven in his last eight. He matched his career high on Saturday, fanning nine over 6.0 two-run innings. In a system that’s been starved of left-handed pitching prospects, his recent success may ticket him for a promotion before the season’s end.

(A-) Everett AquaSox

Team Record: 5-7 (2nd in Northwest League North Division)

Shenton Checks in With Pair of Multi-Hit Games

With a three-hit game on Saturday and a two-hit game on Tuesday, 3B Austin Shenton has proven worthy of his 5th-round selection so far, pushing his slash line up to .343/.425/.400 through 10 games. He’s walked twice and struck out eight times, but hasn’t struck out in any of his last four games.

Casetta-Stubbs Strong Through Two Outings

After making 10 starts for the Power to open the season, RHP Damon Casetta-Stubbs has been excellent in two starts since joining the AquaSox, posting a line of 10.2 IP, 2 ER, 7 H, 3 BB, 11 SO. At 6’4” 200lb, he’s got the prototypical ace build and will likely be brought along slowly despite making appearances already for West Virginia and Modesto considering he was pitching in high school this time last year.

Fisher Compiling K’s in ‘Pen

The M’s dipped into the pool of undrafted talent to sign Nebraska alum LHP Nate Fisher, and the returns to date have been excellent. He’s struck out at least three in each of his four relief outings, totaling 13 K’s in 7.1 innings. He’s posted a 3.68 ERA and 1.09 WHIP to open his professional career.

(AZL) AZL Mariners

Team Record: 3-4 (5th in Arizona League West Division)

Castillo Collecting Hits in Bunches

Switch-hitting Dominican INF Osiris Castillo has been the hottest hitter for the AZL M’s through the club’s first week of play, posting four multi-hit games and slashing .435/.458/.478. In 61 games in the DSL last summer, he recorded 68 hits—59 singles and nine doubles. Of his 10 hits so far this season, he’s recorded nine singles and a double.

Lepre Leading Club in Homers

28th-round selection C Anthony Lepre has jumped out to the team lead in homers with two through five games. The 22-year-old just wrapped up a season at The Masters University in which he swatted 28 homers in 80 games. He’s 4-for-19 so far this season, with his other two hits being singles.

Curvelo Picking Up Punchouts

Also making the jump from DSL ball to AZL ball this summer has been RHP Luis Curvelo, who registered seven strikeouts and allowed just one hit through 5.2 scoreless innings. The Venezuelan hurler posted a 1.17 ERA and 0.95 WHIP through 30.2 DSL innings in 2018. Each of his two outings this season have come in relief.

(DSL) Dominican Summer League Mariners

Team Record: 8-14 (5th in Dominican Summer League Northeast Division)

Marte Living Up to Hype

17-year-old SS Noelvi Marte checked in with a three-hit game on Wednesday and also stole three bases in the contest, increasing his total to nine steals without being caught. He’s now slashing .311/.369/.500 on the season, leading the team in both hits and stolen bases. Defense continues to be an issue for him as he’s committed 11 errors through 18 games on the season, but all things considered, it’s been a strong debut season for the highly-touted prospect.

Mercedes Racking Up K’s

It was another impressive showing from LHP Anderson Mercedes on Friday as he tossed a career-high 5.0 innings, striking out eight without allowing a run. The 20-year-old now boasts a pitcher’s slash of 3.24/2.91/1.73 through 16.2 innings and is looking like a drastically different pitcher than he wast last season, when he worked exclusively in relief.

Pietemella Packing a Punch

The DSL Mariners have gotten quite the contribution from C Ortwin Pietemella so far in 2019. The 20-year-old Venezuelan had a forgettable nine-game stint with the team last season, but has slashed .310/.487/.517 through 12 games so far this year. Most impressive is his 10:4 walk-to-strikeout ratio, demonstrating good plate discipline. He’s thrown out just four would-be base-stealers in 19 tries.

Notes:

Gerber Promoted

2018 draftee RHP Joey Gerber was promoted to Double-A Arkansas on Tuesday. The 8th-rounder out of the University of Illinois had posted a 3.46/2.05/3.22 line through 26.0 innings for Modesto this season.

Stoudt Signs

The Mariners’ 3rd-round pick from earlier this month RHP Levi Stoudt has inked a deal with the club and also need Tommy John Surgery.

Court Begins Rehab Assignment

31-year-old INF Ryan Court has appeared in two games for the Everett AquaSox on a rehab assignment. The minor league vet had slashed .328/.429/.586 through 17 games this season with Tacoma.