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State of the Farm, 5/26/21: new faces in Tacoma, Modesto is best in the west, Trammell pummels pitching

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Also somehow Tacoma’s patched-together pitching staff is leading all of Triple-A West in strikeouts. Call that the Rob Marcello Effect.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees
Meet Logan Verrett! and a bunch of other dudes!
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The minors season has only been operational for less than a month, but already it feels like we’re starting to get an idea of the depth of the talent in the system, and it’s very exciting. As a reminder, the minors schedule this year runs in six-game series, with every affiliate but Triple-A Tacoma finishing their rotation on Sundays. On Mondays you can read the Midshipmen’s Log report, which will give you an in-depth look at every affiliate from Low-A to Double-A, and on Wednesdays you can check out Triple-A’s performance over the week as well as a broad overview of the standings for each level, plus news about promotions, injuries, and signings.

Promotions:

Again, it’s a little early to be discussing permanent promotions. There was some shuffling this week as the Mariners send warm bodies around the system trying to fill pitching holes:

  • RHPs Travis Ray Kuhn and Max Roberts returned to Low-A Modesto after briefly filling in Tacoma’s depleted bullpen. Kuhn pitched an inning and struck out two; Roberts pitched two innings, striking out three and walking two. In their place, RHP Bernie Martinez was assigned to Tacoma from Everett. RHP Fred Villarreal remains with Tacoma after being assigned there from Everett last week.
  • INF Joseph Rosa also returned to Everett after playing for Tacoma. Rosa had three hits in 17 PAs, including a home run.
  • The AquaSox got a pair of pitchers from the AZL: Julio Dilone and Blake Townsend. Dilone was a low-profile international signing this off-season; Townsend is also an international signing, from Australia, who has been working his way back after an arduous TJ recovery.
  • Arkansas has been assigned LHP Ray Kerr from the “developmental list,” which basically means Kerr was at extended spring training. Kerr is an exciting live arm who can hit triple-digits, but command has been a bugaboo for him. In his place, Raul Alcantara, who never got into a game with Arkansas, will head back to the AZL. The Travelers also got Reid Morgan, who’d been covering innings for Tacoma, back this week.

Signings:

The Mariners signed two former big-league pitchers out of the indy-ball American Association, RHPs Logan Verrett and Zack Weiss, and assigned them to Tacoma, as well as LHPs Daniel Zamora and Williams Jerez. They also signed infielders Travis Blankenhorn and Ty Kelly and assigned them to Tacoma. Verrett is, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, a former Mets draft pick (2011) who also spent big-league time with the Rangers and Orioles, as well as in the KBO with the NC Dinos in 2018. Zamora is also a former Met; the Mariners scooped him off waivers when the Mets DFA’d him on May 21.

Injury Updates:

  • Tacoma got hit with the same bad bullpen injury luck that’s plagued the big-league club; RHPs Jaime Schultz and recently-signed Brooks Pounders have both been placed on the 7-day IL. On a positive note, OF Jake Fraley has started a rehab assignment with the Rainiers.
  • Modesto reliever Kelvin Nuñez has been reinstated from the 7-day injured list.
  • AquaSox reliever David Ellingson, who’s collected 10 strikeouts in just 8.1 innings of work so far this season, has been played on the 7-day IL. He joins INF Mike Salvatore, who was placed on the IL last week.

Triple-A West West: Tacoma Rainiers (10-8) almost sweep Round Rock Express (TEX) (10-8)

Despite a pitching staff constantly in flux with injuries and shuffling with the big-league club resulting in inexperienced relievers being thrown into the fire from Low-A Modesto, Tacoma batters did enough damage to secure a decisive 5-1 series win.

Game One: Tacoma bullpen can’t deliver a win, Rainiers lose 10-5

Bullpen games go about as well in Triple-A as they do with the big-league club. Jaime Schultz, who went on the injury list shortly after this game, and Brian Pall put the club in an early seven-run hole, and this one ended with position player Jantzen Witte pitching (and actually looking quite capable at it). A bright spot: Vinny Nittoli pitched 1.1 scoreless innings, walking no one and striking out four. The Rainiers actually made this a little interesting in the seventh, beating up on former Mariner speedster James Jones (who’s a pitcher now!); they scored two runs on a Cal Raleigh double and another on a Taylor Trammell single, cutting the deficit almost in half, but couldn’t do any more than that.

Game Two: Rainiers start to fix run differential, win 6-1

Last week Darren McCaughan got taken deep by Jo Adell for a two-run shot in his first inning of work; this week, he again gave up a first-inning run, but held the line after that for a strong six-inning start where he didn’t allow another hit for the rest of the game. He struck out six and walked two. Reid Morgan and Travis Ray Kuhn, filling in from Arkansas and Modesto, respectively, carried the almost-no-hitter on; Morgan struck out four in two clean innings and Kuhn struck out two, with neither pitcher walking a batter. Offensively, Cal Raleigh led the charge with a home run and a double; Trammell, Dillon Thomas, and pitching sensation Jantzen Witte, who had two hits on the day, all had doubles, as well.

Game Three: Rainiers continue to fix run differential, win 9-5

The Rainiers jumped all over former Mariner Sam Gaviglio, tagging him for seven runs on 11 hits in just four innings. Another former Mariner, Nick Vincent, also gave up a run for the Express, as did former Athletic Jharel Cotton (remember him? Also that run was on a solo shot by Tacoma’s own two-way sensation Jantzen Witte). The Express started out the game with back-to-back solo homers off Tacoma starter Hector Santiago, but the Rainiers answered back with back-to-back jacks of their own off the bats of Jake Fraley and Luis Torrens. After that it was death by a million cuts as Raleigh, Trammell, and Sam Travis all singled to push across another run. Another solo HR for Round Rock in the third tied the game up again, but again the Rainiers came to the defense of their pitcher, stringing together doubles and singles to push four more runs across in the bottom of the third. A couple more insurance runs made a Leody Taveras two-run HR (given up by Jimmy Yacabonis) in the ninth little more than a box score note.

Game Four: Rainiers squeak past the Express, 7-6

After a solid first where the only damage was a Trammell bunt single, Round Rock starter Brock Burke had a nightmare second inning where three straight batters reached, with one run knocked in on a Ty Kelly sac fly; then with the bases re-loaded on a Jake Fraley walk (of course), Luis Torrens hit a grand slam. Taylor Trammell would add a solo homer to keep the good vibes going. The Express kept chipping away, though, and finally broke through against one of Tacoma’s many fill-in arms in Ben Onyshko, drawing to within a run in the eighth. With runners on the corners and no outs, Vinny Nittoli came in and got two strikeouts and a lineout to cap the damage there, and new Rainier Zack Weiss locked things down in the ninth to secure at least a series split.

Game Five: Rainiers run over the Express, 7-3

The Rainiers didn’t do a lot to help out their new teammate Logan Verrett initially, but Verrett was able to keep Round Rock at bay, giving up just one run over 5.2 innings, which gave Tacoma’s offense time to wake up. The Rainiers scored two runs in the fifth and another four in the sixth to make a winner of their newest teammate, with the major damage coming on a grand slam from another new Rainier in Ty Kelly. The law firm of Dull, Zamora, and Grimm held things together on the back end to secure Verrett’s first win in affiliated ball since 2019.

Game Six: Tacoma secures a 5-1 series win with 4-2 game win

Another day, another bullpen start, another free-agent signing for Tacoma over the past month getting a start. This time it was RHP David Huff, a grizzled PCL veteran who is probably happy to call Tacoma his home park after playing in Reno and Salt Lake the past few seasons. Somehow the combination of David Huff, Taylor Guerrieri, Zack Weiss, Max Roberts, Williams Jerez, Vinny Nittoli, and Jimmy Yacabonis, despite giving up eight hits, only gave up two runs on two solo shots while striking out 11. Look, I’m not saying Tacoma pitching coach Rob Marcello is a pitching-whisperer genius, but also, yes, that’s what I’m saying. The Rainiers offense small-balled their way into getting four runs; Trammell had a double and David Masters homered, but those were the only two extra-base hits.

Prospect performer:

It almost looks like he feels sad for these pitchers he’s torturing. Almost.

Also, like, poor Cal Raleigh. First it was the Kelenic show, now it’s Trammell Time. But Calboy is quietly putting up some of the best numbers of his minor-league career with his lowest-ever strikeout numbers (15.5%!) and his highest-ever average of .311, a band Cal Raleigh has almost certainly never heard of. As soon as he starts sending just a few more balls over the fence his numbers will start to catch up to his staggering Cal League slugging numbers. He got off to a good start this week:

Standings update:

Both Everett and Modesto cooled off some this week and are duking it out with other very good teams in their divisions for control; Everett is battling it out with Eugene, and Modesto has to fend off San Jose’s excellent pitching staff and Lake Elsinore’s big-slugging lineup, although neither team are as complete as Modesto on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, look at Arkansas sneaking into first place in their division as they just keep winning. Also, Tacoma continues to strike the entirety of the zombie PCL out, which is what one would expect from a Rob Marcello-coached pitching staff; Modesto did the same thing under his tutelage back in 2019.

Triple-A Tacoma:

Team record: 10-8 (.556), 2nd of 5 in Triple-A West-West

6th of 10 in Triple-A West in OPS (.818)

4.86 ERA (5th in Triple-A West), 1.33 WHIP (2nd), 208 Ks (1st)

Double-A Arkansas:

Team record: 12-6 (.667), 1st of 5 in Double-A Central-North

.755 OPS (2nd of 10 in Double-A Central)

3.37 ERA (2nd), 1.29 WHIP (4th), 172 Ks (7th)

High-A Everett:

Team record: 13-6 (.684), tie for 1st (EUG) of 6 in High-A West

.818 OPS (1st, by a lot; #2 is .756)

3.30 ERA (t-1st), 1.12 WHIP (2nd), 222 Ks (2nd)

Low-A Modesto:

Team record: 14-5 (.737), 1st of 4 in Low-A West-North (also 1st in all of Low-A West)

.775 OPS (2nd)

3.05 ERA (2nd), 1.41 WHIP (5th), 256 Ks (1st, and it’s not close: 2nd (SJ) has 232)

Leaderboard:

Batters:

wRC+: Taylor Trammell (AAA), 229

AVG: Taylor Trammell, .478

HR: TIE, Taylor Trammell and Julio Rodríguez (A+), 5

BB/K: Eric Filia (AAA), 1.67

Pitchers:

ERA (min 10 IP): Luis Curvelo (A), 0.00 in 10.2 IP; FIP: Taylor Dollard (A), 0.40 in 13.2 IP

K%: Brendan McGuigan (A+), 51.5%

Strikeouts: Taylor Dollard (A), 29 in 13.2 IP; Ian McKinney (AA), 29 in 17 IP

K-BB%: Taylor Dollard (A), 45.6%

Saves: Travis Ray Kuhn (A/AAA), 4

Prospect performers:

OF Julio Rodríguez: .325/.413/.600, 170 wRC+, 5 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR

It’s another solid week for Julio, whose slugging fell off just a little as he didn’t add any extra-base hits to his total from last week. The strikeout rate remains a touch high, so those of you panicking about having missed him in Everett probably have a little more time to get up there and see Julio—not much, though.

RHP Emerson Hancock: 9.1 IP, 11 K, 4 BB, .096 ERA

The organization has really been throttling down how much their young arms are throwing, and with no video, it’s tough to get an idea of how Hancock is doing. The walks are a little concerning, however, and something we hope to see get smoothed out as the season goes on, but Hancock does a good job of working himself out of jams, self-created or not.

Names to know of the week:

Batters:

INF Jake Scheiner (Double-A): .338/.405/.606

C Matt Scheffler (Low-A): .300/.349/.525

Seattle native Scheffler, who signed with the Mariners as an UDFA in 2020, is besting Oakland’s first-rounder Tyler Soderstrom to be the second-best catcher in the California League (first belongs to SF’s Ricardo Genovés). At 23, he’s old for the level, so you’d hope he’d be doing exactly what he’s doing, which is walking a lot, not striking out much, and punishing mistakes. He’s also been great behind the dish, handling Modesto’s young and raw pitching staff with aplomb; he’s a very good receiver with soft but strong hands and shows the ideal leadership qualities with a young pitching staff, slowing pitchers down when they start to get out of whack and directing his staff well.

Pitchers:

Luis Curvelo (Low-A): 0.00 ERA, 17 Ks in 10.2 IP (1 BB)

A 2018 signing out of Venezuela, the Mariners have brought Curvelo along more slowly than pitching staff-mate Josias De Los Santos. While Travis Kuhn has been in Tacoma, Curvelo has emerged as the Nuts’ primary closer, converting all three of his save opportunities this season. His mid-90s fastball mows down batters at this level, but there’s some promise in his secondaries, as well, and he controls his stuff well considering how little stateside experience he has.

RHP Brendan McGuigan (High-A): 0.90 ERA, 17 K in 10 IP

Team Canada’s newest member, McGuigan, an UDFA signing in 2019, is old for the level (25) and it shows in the way he’s been dominating NWL batters. Get this man to Arkansas!