Yesterday the Mariners announced their minor league awards, and while we’re always supportive of all the winners, yesterday’s awards-winners demonstrated how far the system has come since just last year. Last year’s Ken Griffey Jr. “Hitter of the Year” award-winner, Joey Curletta, is no longer with the organization (Curletta was claimed on waivers by the Red Sox after the Mariners removed him from the 40-man this season); nor is 2017’s winner, light-hitting fan favorite Ian Miller. Last year, the Jamie Moyer Pitcher of the Year award was won by a reliever, Matt Festa, and the year before that it was Nick Neidert, who was dealt away that off-season. This year the major awards were given to players we’ll likely actually see don a Mariners uniform some day, as well as some players/staff with whom you might be less familiar.
All the winners will be at T-Mobile Park on Friday, September 27th, to be honored in a pre-game ceremony (assuming this includes Jarred Kelenic and Penn Murfee, although they will be at the Arizona Fall League at the time).
Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year: OF Jarred Kelenic
The Mariners were aggressive in challenging Kelenic in his first full year as a pro, and he responded at every level, soaring up to reach Double-A by the end of the season. While Kelenic was clearly too dominant for the South Atlantic League (A), where he squashed Sally League pitching to the tune of a .309/.394/.586 slash line, he encountered the first real adversity of his young career at high-A Modesto, starting out well but struggling when he came back from a brief stint on the IL after jamming his wrist sliding into a base. By that point teams had been able to figure out an attack plan for Kelenic, throwing him sliders and off-speed off the plate that the normally-disciplined Kelenic would chase, striking out almost 30% over the month of July. But Kelenic showed why he is a top prospect in making an adjustment and earning a promotion to Double-A, where he carried over that adjustment against tougher pitching, lowering his K% to 18.5%, much more in line with his career numbers. Kelenic also showed some increased pop even against tougher pitching/in the offensive-suppressing environment of Arkansas’ Dickey-Stephens Park, hitting as many home runs (6) as he did in Modesto in about half the plate appearances. He’ll head off to the Arizona Fall League later this month to continue his advanced studies.
There were nine players who hit 30+ doubles, 20+ homers and stole 10+ bases this year. Just two did it without playing a single game with the juiced Triple-A ball:— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) September 11, 2019
21-year-old Jeter Downs #Dodgers
20-year-old Jarred Kelenic #Mariners
Jamie Moyer Minor League Pitcher of the Year: RHP Logan Gilbert
It says something about Gilbert’s season that he was named to Baseball America’s All-League team, made it on to most Top-100 lists, and took home the Mariners’ minor league pitcher of the year award and still may be getting short shrift. Logi Bear trekked from West Virginia to Modesto and finally Arkansas, never once misplacing his precious can of whup-ass that he hand-delivered to nearly every hitter he faced. A 2.13/2.67/3.15 ERA/FIP/xFIP across the three levels in 135.0 IP and 26 starts is a helluva way to kick off what was functionally Gilbert’s debut season. His 165 strikeouts trailed only Ljay Newsome and Ian McKinney despite 15-20 fewer innings than each. Early in the season especially, he was handled cautiously, building up his workload until he was humming. He allowed more than three runs in an outing just twice, and struck out fewer than a batter per inning just four times. The 6’6 Stetson man showed growth on and off the field, giving Seattle hope for an impact arm their stepback will need desperately.
Logan Gilbert so nasty. He strikes out the side in the 5th to tie his Double-A high of 8 strikeouts. pic.twitter.com/s47aT6HBwX— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 18, 2019
An added emphasis on using his off-speed was valuable in AA, as his fastball/curveball/slider/changeup array continued to bloom into four unique, dastardly offerings. Several pitchers in the Mariners system this year had exciting, impressive seasons, but as Kate put it recently, it was a pleasure watching Logan Gilbert this season.
Alvin Davis “Mr. Mariner” Leadership Award: INF Joe Rizzo
The general rule not to meet your heroes thankfully doesn’t apply with Alvin Davis, who is a being made of light who remembers everyone’s name at every minor league stop, from the top prospects to the press box interns, and thus the award named after him is given to a player who is a great teammate on and off the field. After struggling some last year in Modesto, Joe Rizzo bounced back to become the Nuts’ most consistent hitter, a steadying force in a lineup that often struggled to create offense. Rizzo raised his slash line by at least fifty points across the board, with the most encouraging uptick coming in his slugging percentage, boosting him to a career-high .127 ISO while not selling out for power (16.5% K rate while maintaining a strong 8% walk rate). By the end of the season, Rizzo led the organization in hits, with his 153 just edging out Donnie Walton’s 144. He also put in scads of work defensively, showing up in all kinds of weather to put in early work with infield coach Louis Boyd, and reports from scouts say his defense has improved from well below-average to average. Despite all this improvement, the 21-year-old Rizzo never got the call to Double-A, with the organization opting to leave him in Modesto to try to help spur the Nuts to a playoff berth along with dynamic teenager Julio Rodriguez, a decision Rizzo accepted with grace. Rizzo will be a taxi squad player in the Arizona Fall League this month, where he’ll continue to work towards regaining some of the prospect shine his down year cost him in the same diligent, humble manner that earned him this award.
Dan Wilson Minor League Community Service Award: SS Donnie Walton
This award goes to the player who does the most community service, and while I can think of a dozen or more prospects who would have been good candidates for this award thanks to a system-wide focus on community service, it seems right that Donnie Walton, who was overshadowed by the bigger names in Arkansas despite posting not only one of the best seasons in the Mariners system but one of the best seasons in all of MiLB, gets a chance to shine.
Something meaningless but hilarious from researching a piece last week, from BP's level-adjusted leaderboards, by WARP:— John Trupin (@JohnTrupin) September 11, 2019
1. Mike Trout – 9.1 (at MLB)
2. Cody Bellinger – 7.6 (at MLB)
3. Alex Bregman – 7.3 (at MLB)
4. Donnie Walton – 6.6 (at AA)
5. Christian Yelich – 6.4 (at MLB)
Edgar Martinez “Rake Report” Award: 2B Connor Hoover
They still can’t find a good name for this one, huh? Known as the “PTPA” award in previous years for Productive Team Plate Appearances, this award recognizes the position player who best adheres to the Mariners’ Control the Zone philosophy. The most significant aspect of this award is it comes with an invitation to big-league Spring Training, which is a strong motivator (financial and otherwise) to young players. Glancing at Connor Hoover’s FanGraphs page, you would be forgiven for thinking he’s a multi-year MiLB vet headed for the Rule 5 draft this off-season, until you notice the year inscribed next to each minor-league stop. The 2017 draftee played for every stateside affiliate this year, so it’s a little difficult to amalgamate his results into a cohesive picture, but he’s being rewarded with a chance to sit in the big-league clubhouse this spring.
“60 ft. 6 in.” Award: Penn Murfee
No Mariners legend’s name is attached to this award, probably because no one wants it to be. The most awkwardly-named award of the bunch, this is the PTPA award, but for pitchers (the name refers to the distance between the pitching rubber and home plate). William Penn Murfee was one of the most pleasant surprises in the minors this year; a 2018 draftee who was a so-so reliever in Everett last season (FIP of 6+, yikes), Murfee transitioned to a starting role in Modesto, skipping A ball entirely, where under the watchful eye of pitching coach Rob Marcello Jr. he blossomed into a key anchor of the Nuts rotation. Despite pitching for longer stints, Murfee almost doubled his strikeout percentage (near 30%!) while slashing his walks, resulting in an FIP of 2.48 in the offense-favorable California League. Murfee’s performance earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League and now an invite to big-league Spring Training, although sadly he will have to leave his dreams of working on a cattle ranch this summer aside for now.
Dave Henderson Minor League Staffer of the Year: Rob Marcello Jr.
Casual fans might not recognize his name, but Modesto pitching coach Rob Marcello’s fingerprints are all over this organization. Marcello was working with top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert at his academy in Florida before he had even been hired by the Mariners, and continued his work with the lanky righty when Gilbert reached Modesto before ascending right on up to Double-A Arkansas in his first pro season. Probably the greatest testament to Marcello’s work is the rate of attrition for pitchers in Modesto; under his tenure, Ljay Newsome, Logan Gilbert, Ian McKinney, Sam Delaplane, Joey Gerber, Scott Boches, Jake Haberer, and Kyle Wilcox were all promoted to Double-A Arkansas at some point in the season; however, the strikeout numbers the staff posted are pretty gaudy, as well. Modesto was one of two teams that broke a decades-old California League record for strikeouts, and while they were beaten to the mark by Dodgers affiliate Rancho Cucamonga (who also beat them in the season total for strikeouts, by five), Modesto’s pitchers did it while walking over one hundred fewer batters than Rancho, with a WHIP of 1.3 to Rancho’s 1.4. But the most important testament to the work Rob does is to listen to what the players themselves say about him; they speak about him in tones respectful bordering on reverent, and at least one player is on record crediting Marcello with saving his career. It’s one thing to work with a top draft prospect like Logan Gilbert and see improvement; it’s another thing to coax career-altering results out of players who had been released by other organizations (McKinney), came from indy ball (Haberer), were undrafted (Ray Kerr, who was scraping triple digits by the end of Modesto’s season) or were picked in rounds 20 and up (Newsome, Delaplane, Boches, Collin Kober, basically most of Modesto’s staff). Dear Mariners: pay Rob Marcello whatever it takes to keep him a member of this organization, thanks good talk.