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State of the Farm, 6/2/21: Dillon Thomas, Vinny Nittoli, Cal Raleigh make their MLB call-up cases; Nuts keep crushing

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Also: Everett’s pitching staff gets back on track

MiLB: MAY 30 Inland Empire 66ers at Bakersfield Blaze
from the Bakersfield Blaze to the Tacoma Rainiers
Photo by David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was odd to have a Memorial Day with only one affiliate in action, but it was fun to see the various Mariners minor leaguers posting their off-day adventures to Instagram and having a regular holiday weekend for the first time probably in their pro careers. Also, Tacoma did a good job of snatching up the system-wide glory with a decisive win over Reno that I sort of half-watched in between marveling in the glory of Tom Murphy’s Crazy Eyes.

As a reminder, our minor-league coverage now publishes twice a week: Mondays are an in-depth look at how every affiliate except Triple-A Tacoma performed over the previous week’s series, and Wednesdays cover Triple-A’s latest series as well as a broad overview of the farm as a whole.

Promotions:

We’re still in mostly warm-body promotions rather than merit-based ones, but here are the movements this week:

  • The latest lower minor leaguer getting a chance to test his mettle at the highest level of the minors is RHP Robert Winslow. Winslow was a 2019 UDFA signing who hasn’t pitched above A ball; he’s assigned to Modesto, where he’ll return after his stint in Tacoma is over. Winslow had a strong first outing with Tacoma, giving up just one hit and no runs in four innings, walking none and striking out three. RHPs Fred Villarreal and Bernie Martinez return to Everett after their turn serving in Tacoma’s patched-together bullpen.
  • RHP Leon Hunter, acquired for cash from Texas in late April, has been promoted to Arkansas from Modesto. Hunter is 24, so Modesto feels a little low for him, but Arkansas feels a little abrupt for someone who was pitching in the Northwest League in 2019 and still has some command issues to work out—6 BB in 9 IP in Modesto. However, he also had 14 Ks, so clearly he’s ready for a grander challenge, wherever that may be. SS David Masters, who has been holding things down in Tacoma’s infield before the signings of Ty Kelly and Travis Blankenhorn, has also been assigned to Arkansas.
  • Whoops about Travis Blankenhorn, he has been claimed off waivers by the Mets, so don’t get too attached when you see his name in the Tacoma writeup.
  • RHP Michael Limoncelli, a 6th-round prep pick in 2019 who didn’t get to pitch in his draft year because he had TJ, made his pro debut the other day for Everett, filling in for the again mysteriously-missing George Kirby. He only pitched an inning and will likely head back to the AZL for now, but it was great to see another player get to make his pro debut. 2018 prep arm LHP Holden Laws is currently hanging out in Arkansas after spending some time in Everett; Laws, who is just 21, is probably a better fit for Modesto long-term once the bullpen shuffle settles down some.

Signings:

  • Another day, another former Met. The Mariners signed CF Kennie Taylor on May 19, four days after he was released from the Mets organization. He’ll hold down center field in Tacoma while Trammell and Kelenic are up with the big club. Read more about Taylor, who was the Mets’ fourteenth-rounder in 2019, from our friend-site Amazin’ Avenue.

Injury Updates:

  • 3B Tyler Keenan, the Mariners’ 2020 fourth-rounder, has been placed on Everett’s 7-day IL.
  • Bad news for Arkansas’ already thin rotation: RHP Ryne Inman has been placed on the 7-day IL.
  • Shed Long Jr. is back on a rehab assignment with the Rainiers, and he’s pretty excited about it:

Triple-A West West: Tacoma Rainiers (13-11) drop series to division-leading Reno Aces (16-8)

The Biggest Little City in the World also has a ballpark where the ball flies, so consider any game where the Rainiers offense scored fewer than four runs an off-day for the offense, and adjust all pitching performances accordingly.

Game one: Bullpen day goes poorly, Rainiers lose, 4-11

Another bullpen game, another loss, as every member of Tacoma’s pitching staff except Jimmy Yacabonis gave up at least two runs with none clearing two innings. I’m sorry, I misspoke—position player Jantzen Witte, pitching in the 9th, was also the only other pitcher to turn in a clean inning. Home runs from Dillon Thomas, Luis Torrens, and Sam Travis, as well as a double from Cal Raleigh, couldn’t come close to repairing the damage done by the pitching staff. Oh, also, Cal Raleigh, who was DH’ing, played first base in the ninth when Witte went to pitch.

Game two: Rainiers drop game in extras, 7-8

Rainiers starter Darren McCaughan gave up six runs, four earned, in six innings in Reno’s offensively punishing environment, but the Rainiers offense actually hung in there until the bitter end of this game thanks to a three-run homer from Cal Raleigh and a double and a solo shot from Fraley, as well as two doubles from Luis Torrens (playing first base!). With the courtesy runner rule in extras, the visiting team wants to score multiple runs in their half-inning; unfortunately, the Rainiers scored no runs, unlike the Aces, who walked it off in the 10th.

Game three: Rainiers roar back, win 7-1

A bullpen game, but...good? Vinny Nittoli has been solid for Tacoma this season, with a 40% K rate, and is likely the next man up out of Tacoma when the big-league bullpen gets gangrene or dysentary or measles or whatever. He was followed by Emergency Pitcher Max Roberts, who was solid for his two innings of work, not allowing a run and earning his first win outside short season/Rookie ball. New Rainier Brian Schlitter, signed May 26 after being released by the A’s organization, also pitched two scoreless innings. The offense was led by four home runs (Thomas, Raleigh, Trammell, Blankenhorn); Travis Blankenhorn had a three-RBI day.

Game four: five-run 9th inning sinks Rainiers, 6-7

Let’s ignore Williams Jerez imploding in the ninth and allowing five runs to blow a 6-2 lead and instead focus on the good here: Shed Long returns! Luis Torrens, Cal Raleigh, and Dillon Thomas all homer! Emergency call-up Robert Winslow doing journeyman’s work over four innings and not allowing a run! These are the things to focus on.

Game five: Rainiers get loud, win 11-4

New signee Logan Verrett, who was recently pitching in indy ball, was sterling over seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits while striking out four (and the run was on a solo HR in Reno’s ridiculous HR-happy park). Meanwhile, every batter in the starting lineup had a hit, and Sam Travis had two home runs. Cal Raleigh went 3-for-6 with a double and no strikeouts, and Taylor Trammell had two hits and stole a base.

Game six: Tacoma ends series strong with 8-4 win

José Marmolejos and Dillon Thomas did their best Taylor Trammell impression and carried the offense with three hits each including a pair of homers; Shed Long also doubled twice and Cal Raleigh had a double as one of his three hits on the day. Every Rainiers player reached base except for CF Kennie Taylor, starting his first game with Seattle after being released from the Mets organization. Another recent signee, 36-year-old RHP David Huff, held down the fort well against his former organization, allowing just two hits and no runs over four innings, and the bullpen (Wyatt Mills, Williams Jerez, and Yohan Ramírez, who had a clean 1-2-3 inning with one strikeout and no walks) held things down after that; Brian Schlitter, recently signed after being released by Oakland, struggled a little in the ninth, but the seven-run lead the offense had built provided ample cushion.

Prospect performer: Cal Raleigh, .351/.411./688, 5 HR, 161 wRC+

This series: 13 H, 3 2B, 3 HR, 2 BB, 2 K

Fun fact: both those strikeouts came in the same game, and both came off of Corbin Martin, the former Astros second-rounder who has seen MLB time with both Houston and Arizona.

Finally, a moment for Cal Raleigh to shine. Take Reno’s outrageous offensive environment into account, but Raleigh has been absolutely raking of late (a redonkulous .318 ISO), and doing so without striking out, like ever (12.9%!). Obviously the quality of pitching in Triple-A is Not Good, generally, but you have to wonder how much longer Raleigh will be down there before they give him a chance to struggle against some harder pitching, because right now, he’s making this level look easy.

Name to know: OF Dillon Thomas

I don’t know if Thomas’s strikeout issues will resolve themselves enough to where he gets a big-league shot; he’s currently striking out 27% of the time, and that’s somehow lower than his career numbers. In 2019 with Milwaukee’s AA club (the fun-to-say Biloxi Shuckers), Thomas hit on a power surge, boosting his ISO to a career-high .169; he’s almost doubled that this year, at .324. Even with the strikeouts, he’s jumped ahead of Trammell for the team lead in OBP (a Trout-ish 1.159), and he’s tied with Trammell in home runs (6). For a team as power-starved as the Mariners, especially if KLew’s injury is season-ending, I would like to see the athletic outfielder get a shot if he can hit like this outside of Reno as well.

Standings update:

Tacoma’s 50-point boost in team OPS proves a little Reno does a body good, even if it comes at the expense of the team ERA rising above 5, which still moves them up in the rankings because Triple-A pitching is ridiculous. They also retain their title as King of Triple-A West in strikeouts. Meanwhile, the Travs’ drubbing at the hands of the Drillers results in them tumbling in all categories, while Everett’s pitching staff gets back on track this week.

Triple-A Tacoma:

Team record: 13-11 (.542), 2nd of 5 in Triple-A West-West

2nd of 10 in Triple-A West in OPS (.862)

5.01 ERA (4th in Triple-A West), 1.37 WHIP (2nd), 259 Ks (1st)

Double-A Arkansas:

Team record: 12-12 (.500), 4th of 5 in Double-A Central-North

.695 OPS (6th of 10 in Double-A Central)

3.61 ERA (3rd), 1.35 WHIP (7th), 234 Ks (6th)

High-A Everett:

Team record: 16-9 (.640), tie for 1st (EUG) of 6 in High-A West

.814 OPS (1st, by a lot; #2 is .725)

3.18 ERA (1st), 1.13 WHIP (1st), 281 Ks (2nd)

Low-A Modesto:

Team record: 17-8 (.680), 1st of 4 in Low-A West-North (also 1st in all of Low-A West)

.767 OPS (1st)

3.46 ERA (3rd), 1.42 WHIP (5th), 339 Ks (1st)

Leaderboard:

Batters:

wRC+: Jack Larsen (A+), 196

AVG: Taylor Trammell, .384

HR: 3-way TIE, Taylor Trammell, Jake Scheiner (AA), and Dillon Thomas, 6

BB/K: Victor Labrada (A), 0.87

Hits: Cal Raleigh, 33

Pitchers:

ERA (min 10 IP): Luis Curvelo (A), 0.00 in 11.2 IP; ERA (min 20 IP): Ian McKinney (AA), 1.17 in 23 IP

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

Strikeouts: TIE, Taylor Dollard (A), 39 in 19.1 IP; Brandon Williamson (A+), 39 in 20 IP

K-BB%: Luis Curvelo (A), 45%

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

Prospect performers:

Cal Raleigh (see above)

Names to know of the week:

Batters:

Dillon Thomas (see above)

Pitchers:

LHP Max Roberts (currently at AAA): 0.82 ERA, 13 Ks in 11 IP (5 BB)

After a long injury layoff followed by a long pandemic layoff, Roberts is being tested out by the organization at its highest level and acquitting himself well in Triple-A as an emergency fill-in. Roberts doesn’t overwhelm with velocity but has some advanced feel for his off-speed pitches and should move up quickly now that he’s fully healthy.

RHP Vinny Nittoli (AAA): 2.70 ERA (3.10 FIP) in 13.1 IP; 40.4% K rate

After originally being drafted by the Mariners way back in 2014 (that’s him in the Bakersfield Blaze uni as the header picture), Nittoli has a good shot to prodigal-son his way into the next Mariners debut this season, although Nittoli I think will be the next reliever summoned from Tacoma, although they’ll have to find a 40-man spot for him. This, however, this will play in the bigs: