Holy Ibañez, y’all, I did not realize how long it has been since we did a minor league preview series until I started Googling around to find the last one we did to use as a template and realized Kyle Lewis was the centerpiece of the writeup. We are so, so happy to have the minor leagues back after a long layoff and to bring you in-depth coverage of Seattle’s minor league teams, which will look a little different this year. As you may have noticed from the title, this year we’re kicking off the MiLB preview series with Modesto, which is now the A-ball affiliate of the Mariners, a title (too) briefly held previously by the West Virginia Power (RIP Toastman), and the Clinton LumberKings for a good long while before that. From Modesto we’ll hop over to Everett to look at the High-A AquaSox (phew, that is going to take some getting used to) before traveling over to Double-A Arkansas, and then finishing our journey amongst the aromas of Triple-A Tacoma, all during this week in preparation for minor-league Opening Day, scheduled for May 4th for most clubs (Tacoma opens a few days later, on the 6th). When we get rosters for the AZL and the DSL we’ll certainly preview the Rookie levels as well, and we’ll do some kind of mid-season update after the draft, since there’s no more short-season ball where teams can send college players, something that must frustrate the matriculation-happy Mariners. But on to Modesto!
Modesto Nuts and the Low-A West: What’s Changed
Normally we would kick this preview off by doing a “season in review” section, but there was no 2020 season in the minors, and also, Modesto was a High-A affiliate at the time of our last preview, so instead, here’s the lowdown on the new-look “Low-A West” (formerly known as the California League):
The Cal League (as we knew it) operated as a High-A affiliate from 1990 to 2019. The new version, called “Low-A West” (for now, hopefully they come up with a snappier name) will consist of most of the teams from the old Cal League. The South division is unchanged, with the Visalia Rawhide (AZ), Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAD), Lake Elsinore Storm (SDP), and Inland Empire 66ers (LAA) making up half the league. In the North, Modesto (SEA), the Stockton Ports (OAK), and the San Jose Giants (SF) all return, but the Lancaster JetHawks (COL) and their ridiculous, homer-prone stadium (nicknamed “The Hangar”) are currently out of affiliated baseball. Replacing Lancaster will be the Fresno Grizzlies, formerly an Astros Triple-A affiliate (and a Washington Nationals affiliate in 2019). For those of you who aren’t California geography junkies, Fresno is actually further south of Modesto and more inland, halfway between Modesto and Visalia, so adding them as a league partner doesn’t inconvenience Modesto in any way. It’s actually much closer to Modesto than Lancaster, so if anything, it’s an improvement for the Nuts.
The Nuts will begin their 2021 season at home on May 4 against Stockton. For a more detailed schedule and ticketing information click here. Also, Modesto is just a 12-hour drive from the Seattle area and a quick search on Orbitz tells me you can get a round-trip ticket there for under $200. Just, you know, food for thought.
View the current Modesto Nuts roster here.
Why would I encourage you to be fiscally (and potentially health) irresponsible and go visit Modesto, CA vs. like...anywhere else? Because there are some things in Modesto that you have not seen anywhere else, and it starts with top prospect Noelvi Marte as a mainstay in Modesto’s lineup. Not only will this be his first time playing professionally stateside in a standings environment, but it will also be Noelvi’s first exposure to full-season ball. I will be watching to see how his bat holds up against more seasoned competition, and if he can hack it at one of the most difficult defensive positions on the diamond.
The other interesting bat to watch here is Noelvi’s childhood friend, outfielder Alberto Rodríguez, acquired in the (second) Taijuan Walker trade. Alb-Rod (sorry, A-Rod is taken) is mostly a mystery, as he has equal amounts of inexperience stateside but has been doing it not-under our noses as he came up with Toronto, who doesn’t share any spring training or minor league facilities with Seattle. He’s built for power so should provide some offense, even in Modesto’s relatively run-suppressing park. Post-hype prospect SS Juan Querecuto will also be here, as will defensively-gifted but light-hitting shortstop Cesar Izturis Jr. and prodigious-slugging outfielder Robert Perez Jr., giving the Nuts a significant amount of young Venezuelan talent. On the other end of the spectrum, Kenosha-born Louisville product INF Justin Lavey, signed as an UDFA in 2020 and well-seasoned in one of baseball’s toughest conferences, will be around to provide some relatively veteran experience.
Projected pitching staff:
Outside of Marte, the other big reason to buy a ticket to Modesto is another great unknown on the pitching staff: RHP Sam Carlson, signed in 2017 as a rare early-rounds prep selection. Injuries have waylaid SCarl’s pitching career, but the tall, powerful righty is finally healthy and ready to log some innings for Modesto. He could be the biggest riser in a system loaded with young, exciting pitching talent. Joining SCarl will be some familiar names for those prospect-watchers—RHP Damon Casetta-Stubbs, the large lad from Vancouver, WA; Puerto Rican lefty and sleep champ Jorge Benitez; short lefty king and John Trupin favorite Brayan (B.J.) Perez; and some A-level repeats like Josias De Los Santos and Luis Curvelo—and also some rehab warriors freshly freed from the injury list, like RHP Nolan Hoffman and RHP Max Roberts. There will also be some fun new faces here too, like 2020 draftees Connor Phillips and Taylor Dollard, newly-acquired RHP Leon Hunter, and LHP Adam Macko, who attracted some national buzz while throwing in the fall development league and minor-league spring training. This isn’t a pitching staff that will get the kind of national love Everett’s big-name staff will, but it will be a really interesting one to watch, nonetheless.
MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects at this level:
Noelvi Marte (94)
MLB Pipeline Mariners Top 30 prospects at this level:
Noelvi Marte (7), Connor Phillips (11), Adam Macko (15), Alberto Rodríguez (17), Sam Carlson (25) (lol)