In case you missed it, the Travelers ended their season yesterday, losing to the Tulsa Drillers in a decisive Game Five. That’s a bummer for the team, which started the season strong, winning the first half, but faded down the stretch; however it’s good news for those of us without MiLB TV subscriptions who would like to see some of the next wave of prospects in pleasing high-def. So far, we know OF Kyle Lewis and INF Donnie Walton are getting called up. That might change with time AND IT HAS: Both RHP Justin Dunn & Art Warren are joining the Mariners as well.
(no one from Arkansas’ powerful bullpen would likely be available to pitch immediately, for example, and Ian McKinney, Justin Dunn, and Ljay Newsome all pitched during the playoffs this weekend) We’ll keep everything updated here.
Of course, every dream coming true has an equal and opposite (sad) reaction. In bringing up Lewis and Walton, the Mariners will need to make space to get them at-bats. We’ll have that news updated here as well as soon as we have names.
For now, here’s a brief primer on the prospects getting the call to the Show, as well as what we will be looking for out of each of them at the next level:
OF Kyle Lewis
Kyle’s alma mater spilled the beans on Twitter last evening, something I think they were definitely Not! Supposed! To Do! but it’s okay because also his former roommate tweeted out a screenshot of the text saying he got called up, and also don’t tell your secrets to people! People are terrible at secrets!
People are almost as terrible at secrets as hookah and liquor are terrible for you!
I gotta be honest I’ve been all-in on Kyle Lewis Rebound SZN ever since this video (wine is aight, that’s all I needed to hear. Thanks Kyle! ) pic.twitter.com/PNkI1YmLMf— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) January 30, 2019
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but: DRINK SOME WATER, MAN!
Anyway, KLew’s season has been...a bit of a mixed bag. He was blistering-hot in Spring Training, looking poised to take the Texas League by storm, and then got off to a slow start, posting an OPS of just .584 in May. John did a deep dive on Lewis’s struggles and determined yes, he was being victimized by the evil Dickey-Stephens Park, but also was putting the ball on the ground way too much.
But Lewis bounced back to post a strong June (.313/.414/.410, the slugging number probably should be handicapped because DSP) and an even better July, where away from the ball-eating monsters of DSP and in some decidedly hitter-friendly ballparks, he slugged .547 and knocked four homers, more than he had in the previous three months of the season combined.
Uh so the Mariners game, not so great.— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 13, 2019
Here's Kyle Lewis smacking an 11th-inning go-ahead double. pic.twitter.com/SDVI8MrIEo
Unfortunately, August was another slump month for Lewis—as it was for most of the Travs, to be fair—and his average came crashing towards the Mendoza Line as he struck out 37 times in just 93 at-bats. This might have been the result of Lewis pressing, and/or possibly have the return of a bad habit. We’ve noted at various times that Lewis’s hands pre-pitch have gotten “loud,” with a lot of excessive bat-waggle, which seemed to be something he had gotten in check over Spring Training but seemingly returned over the month of August. Happily, KLew bounced back just in time for the playoffs, rising to the occasion with a .389/.450/.667 line with two doubles and a home run as he valiantly strapped the sluggish Travs offense to his back and attempted to carry them to the championship series.
What we’ll be looking at with Lewis: Does he have a plan at the plate?
KLew struck out an alarming 29.4% of the time this season, perhaps partially out of a frustration factor with DSP and desire to get his power numbers up. We’ll want to see if he’s able to maintain his approach against big-league pitchers, something he did a decent job of while facing upper-level arms over Spring Training.
INF Donnie Walton
So remember that part about not telling secrets to people who are terrible at keeping them? That does not count if you are telling secrets to ME, a responsible source-protecting journalist. A little birdie (a few of them, actually) let me know that Donnie Walton was getting the call to the Show yesterday, and I willpoweringly resisted tweeting that information. Tell me your secrets, sources! I promise to take good care of them until the time is right. Walton is maybe a bit of a surprise pick to get the call, but he’s Rule 5 eligible this winter and destroyed the Texas League this year, the first year he has been both a) healthy all year and b) at the same level all season.
We should probably be talking about Donnie Walton more as a prospect, and by we I mean everyone. Here he is turning around 99 mph for a two-run double deep in the gap. pic.twitter.com/WXS5JyZi5d— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 1, 2019
Walton’s calling card is his ability to make contact like a madman (earning Walton the nickname “Barrel Monkey”), and his wildly good plate discipline: this season, he walked (11.3%) almost as often as he struck out (12.9%). He also bopped a career-high 11 homers and finished the season as just one of five batters in the Texas League who hit .300 or better.
Walton spent most of his season at shortstop but can also play second. He’s an able defender who committed just two errors in 900+ innings at short this season, and can make some splash plays like this one:
Donnie Walton has been watching that J.P. Crawford play, it seems, as he makes this excellent play that both ends second inning and bails out Justin Dunn from having a run score after a runner reached second on a two-base error: pic.twitter.com/gxgMSZ5rfH— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 31, 2019
What we’ll be looking for with Walton: Can he hang with MLB pitching?
With his career year, Walton has stormed in from the fringes of top prospect lists and demanded to be taken seriously, dangnabit, and he wasn’t exactly facing pushover pitchers in the Texas League—in fact, he homered off Dustin May, who is now up with the Dodgers. However, he hasn’t had the extended Spring Training looks and trips to the Futures Game and extensive scouting reports and other things top prospects get, so Walton is still a bit of an unknown quantity. It’s worth noting as well that Walton has struggled when he’s moved levels mid-season—once in the transition to High-A and once in his first go-round with the Texas League—and he’s coming in with no Triple-A experience, so this will be quite a jump for the 25-year-old. I love a hit tool and a contact monster, so I will be rooting for him.
There are some other players who might still be summoned to Seattle, especially those who are Rule 5 eligible, meaning another organization could snap them up this off-season.
Other Rule 5-eligible Travs who might still get the call: RHP Art Warren, LHP Ian McKinney, RHP Jack Anderson, RHP Ljay Newsome
Travs who will most likely not get the call since they aren’t Rule 5 eligible or for other reasons: RHP Sam Delaplane (although it’s tempting to see if his spin-wizardry fools MLB hitters); 1B Evan White (boooooo but also go rest your hamstrings and get ready for your wedding, bud); RHP Logan Gilbert (on the IL technically, had some fatigue at the end of the year); RHP Jake Haberer (a pending free agent who probably would have except he’s also on the IL, boooooo); LHP Ricardo Sanchez (already on the 40-man and was fatiguing badly down the stretch for Arkansas).
Seattle’s 40-man roster was at 37 prior to this, so if only Lewis & Walton are headed up no moves will be necessary. There’s one more free spot before Seattle has to do some shuffling, which we looked at a few weeks back. At this point, Keon Broxton seems most vunerable to a DFA, having played sparingly and performed spooringly. Ryan Court is also a fringy fellow, but may make it to the end of the year, if not through the winter. Whether anyone ultimately is DFA’d or not, the important news of the day is those arriving today, hopefully to stay. Congratulations to Lewis and Walton, a pair of 2016 draftees who we will hopefully get to see almost nightly in the final few weeks of the season.
UPDATE 8:30 AM PT - Justin Dunn gets the call as well
RHP Justin Dunn
Because we’ve heard it from enough public and private whispers (couldn’t keep a lid on it, Kettleers?) we’re going to add Dunn to the list here with confidence. Justin Dunn put together an impressive 2019 campaign with the AA-Travelers, making 25 starts and compiling a 3.55/3.43 ERA/FIP. While he lost out to teammate Darren McCaughan for the Texas League Pitcher of the Year award, Dunn’s results and tools are what made him a top-100 prospect who continued creeping up rankings this season. The fastball is of the big-league variety, working 92-95 in his starts and leaning on a plus slider heavily. The last two years saw Dunn focus heavily on his changeup development to ward off bullpen concerns and avoid platoon issues. Lefties still handled him better than righties this year, but he still averaged over a strikeout per inning against them. Most appealingly, Dunn was able to get hitters whiffing consistently, causing swings-and-misses on 12.3% of his pitches. That’ll happen when your slider bites late like this:
Justin Dunn walks 2 in the 3rd but escapes without allowing a run. Travelers down 1-0. pic.twitter.com/x74xe8K9CV— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) September 6, 2019
Dunn has made an impression as a vocal, thoughtful presence for the Travs, and heaping praise on his teammates via interviews and more manual methods:
Which of course means it's time for Professional Hype Man Justin Dunn: pic.twitter.com/qWDqUoOK5a— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) September 8, 2019
The second, less gaudy but still gorgeous jewel of the Canó trade has been just about exactly what Seattle could’ve hoped for, pushing the reliever-only concerns further away and taking the ball every turn with steady competence. Now he’ll get to take a crack in the bigs, though with only 10-15 innings left on where Seattle probably wants his arm to be this year, it’s unclear if he’ll be put in the rotation or used in the bullpen on occasion.
What we’ll be looking for with Dunn: Efficiency and/or consistency.
Dunn’s numbers are good, but he’s occasionally struggled with getting deep into outings. 131.2 IP in 25 starts equals out to just a shade under 5.1 IP per start. A bit of that is the occasional scheduled shorter outing, but Dunn made it through 6+ innings in just nine of his starts this year. His walk rates are low because he executed well in a lot of 2-2/3-2 counts, but the margin for error is slimmer in the big leagues. If Dunn starts, don’t expect long outings for him regardless this fall as he approaches his innings limit, but do look to see how he fares in getting ahead and staying ahead of hitters. Hopefully the soon-to-be 24 year old gets off on the right foot and sticks nicely going forward.
UPDATE 11 AM PT - Art Warren will also be called up
RHP Art Warren
Welcome to the show to friend of the Lookout Landing Podcast, Art Warren. The righty reliever has gone from possibly never being able to pitch again due to shoulder issues to becoming a dominant bullpen arm in AA and earning his big league call-up. The recipe to doing that despite an injury history? Throw fastballs like this...
Arkansas wins, again. Art Warren closes it out dealing 97-99 mph heat coupled with a nasty curve for a 1-2-3 9th with 2 Ks. This bad boy was 98 mph: pic.twitter.com/xgS1AG8NHM— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 2, 2019
...and breaking balls like this:
Art Warren slams the door for his Texas League-leading fourth save: pic.twitter.com/ThYex2iNbd— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 16, 2019
Mix them together and viola, you get strikeout stew. Warren’s cooked it up frequently this year, striking out just shy of 1/3rd of the batters he’s faced. While he’s walked hitters at a decent clip too, his ability to miss bats has gotten him out of trouble more often than not. His 1.71/2.50 ERA/FIP has sparkled as a high-leverage option for the Travelers, typically in the closer’s role, and his stuff would slot in nicely there too. Like Dunn, this will be his first time using the juiced ball AAA and MLB have, so there may be an adjustment period in finding his command, but after all the setbacks his body has faced it’s great to see the 2015 23rd rounder make it all the same.
What we’ll be looking for from Warren: Whiffs to outpace the walks.
The big righty is a prototypical high-leverage modern reliever, with upper-90s velo, a pair of biting breaking balls, and a somewhat elevated walk rate. Pitchers who can strikeout opponents are often able to mitigate walks more easily, as baserunners can’t typically score when the ball doesn’t even make it into play. The 26 year old slipped through the Rule-5 draft last year and has made it to the M’s 40-man at last, and whether Seattle views him as a long-term bullpen piece or a showpiece to trade to a contender after a hot debut, everyone will want to see Art keep painting the corners.
Additionally, with at least four players being called up, there will indeed need to be a roster move. That could involve a DFA of a player like Broxton or Court, or Seattle could delay the move by shifting Mitch Haniger to the 60-day IL. If they choose that latter option, they’ll need to reinstate him after the World Series, along with a few players who could be kept or non-tendered like Chasen Bradford, Ryon Healy, and Connor Sadzeck.