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State of the Farm, 6/23/21: Brandon Williamson, Taylor Dollard promoted, Penn Murfee earns Player of the Week honors

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We got promotions!

Okay but did Penn Murfee’s Player of the Week award come with a chain?

This is the last State of the Farm without all the minor league affiliates in action; the ACL starts real games next week (yes it’s now the ACL instead of AZL, yes it’s a stupid name). Also we’re just a few short weeks away from the MLB Draft, this year taking place at the same time as the All-Star Break as MLB desperately tries to make the Draft more of a marquee event along the lines of the NFL Draft. That will shake up the system considerably, as new talent is added—and much more than last year’s tiny five-round draft—and promotions will be coming down the line faster than we can likely keep up with them. For now though, we do have a handful of permanent promotions to talk about for the first time this season, so let’s get right into it.

Promotions:

  • LHP Ian McKinney has been promoted to Tacoma after dominating at Double-A, earning Pitcher of the Month honors while striking out almost 38% of batters faced. This is the first time McKinney, who was signed after being released from the Cardinals organization, has reached Triple-A in a minors career that stretches back to 2013. Congratulations, Ian! C David Sheaffer will join McKinney on the flight up.
  • LHP Brandon Williamson was promoted to Double-A Arkansas. Williamson was overwhelming in High-A, mowing down batters with a 47.6% strikeout rate and allowing a sub-Mendoza Line against. He’ll need to clean up some issues with walks and disposing of batters in a timely fashion to protect his pitch count and go deeper into games, but it’s really exciting to see Williamson, the most advanced of the 2019 crop of arms, progressing so quickly, and it’s a mark of faith the organization has in him that they’re giving him such an aggressive challenge despite pitching fewer than 50 professional innings.
  • Taking Williamson’s spot in Everett will be RHP Taylor Dollard, Seattle’s fifth-round pick in 2020. Like Williamson, Dollard overwhelmed batters in the former Cal League, fighting with BWilly for top strikeout honors in the organization every week. His 3.35 ERA looks good, especially considering the offensive environment, but even better when you note his FIP is almost a full run lower than that. Having more consistent defense behind him will definitely help Dollard, but he has shown some wildness in later stints he’ll also need to rein in.
  • OF Cade Marlowe has also been promoted to Everett, which for Marlowe will just be a homecoming after he played with the AquaSox in his draft year. Marlowe dominated offensively for Modesto in a surprisingly un-aggressive assignment. He’ll likely take Julio Rodríguez’s place in Everett’s outfield when Julio returns from the Olympic qualifiers, making J-Rod’s stint with the AquaSox a short but undeniably sweet one.

Transactions:

  • After doing hero’s work filling in at Tacoma for most of the season, LHP Max Roberts is headed back to Modesto, where he was originally assigned. Roberts pitched 11 innings for Tacoma in some of the bounce houses of the former PCL and mostly held his own against competition many years more seasoned than the 23-year old. Good job, Max! RHP Leon Hunter Jr., also pressed into service at yet another level, will join him on the plane ride to the Central Valley. RHP Evan Johnson came up from Everett to fill in in their places. OF Kennie Taylor also headed to Modesto from Tacoma, a more appropriate level for the 2020 draftee.
  • The Rainiers also put C Jacob Nottingham on the IL, probably with fatigue after he’s been bounced all over the country. They also signed old friend OF Alen Hanson.
  • RHP Tyler Herb, who has been pitching well for Arkansas, was placed on the 7-day IL after having to leave his last start in the first inning. Luckily, the Travs will get back RHP Ryne Inman, recently activated off the 7-day IL. OF Dom Thompson-Williams was also activated from extended spring training.
  • RHP Stephen Kolek has been re-assigned to Everett from Arkansas.
  • A rare call-up from the AZL/ACL: RHP Juan Burgos, signed in 2019, is with Modesto. We’ll see if he sticks or is a temporary call-up before the AZL season gets underway next week.
  • INF Justin Lavey has been activated from the 7-day IL for Modesto.

Tacoma Rainiers (22-18) split series with Las Vegas Aviators (OAK) (21-21)

Formerly the 51s, now the Aviators: both these names are appropriate because baseball in Vegas is played on the moon, so take the park’s outsize offensive factors into account when looking at how both the Rainiers pitching and offense fared in this series.

Game one: Rainiers steadily score runs, win 11-7

Ian McKinney’s first exposure to Triple-A didn’t go great, as he lasted just 2.2 innings and surrendered five runs against a power-packed Oakland farm team, who hit three homers off of him. Aaron Fletcher gave up another two runs in his 2.1 innings, and then the bullpen (Taylor Guerrieri, Keynan Middleton, Justin Grimm) held things down after that. On the other side, the offense doing their own damage against Vegas starter Matt Milburn and touched him up for five runs in just 1.2 innings. Again the major culprit was the long ball, with Jantzen Witte and Dillon Thomas each hitting two-run home runs. Tacoma didn’t take it any easier on the Vegas bullpen, however, scoring six more runs off the relievers; Donovan Walton had an RBI double, Cal Raleigh then drove him in with a two-run homer, and Jarred Kelenic capped off the day with a two-run homer of his own.

Game two: McCaughan spins a gem, Rainiers win 5-2

What outsized offensive environment? Darren McCaughan might be wondering, as he went eight innings, allowing just two runs on a solo homer and an RBI double. McCaughan’s low-strikeout but weak-contact stuff played well in the Aviators’ bounce house, and Brian Schlitter tucked the win away with a clean ninth inning. The offense didn’t light up the scoreboard, but did more than enough to secure the win thanks to a trio of RBI singles and the big blast, a two-run Luis Liberato home run.

Game three: Robert Dugger strong in first start back with Tacoma, Rainiers win 5-3

After a shaky return outing where he surrendered two runs in one inning as a reliever, today Dugger as a starter gave up the same number of runs but went four innings. The rest of the bullpen locked things down over the back nine, with Ryan Dull, Max Roberts, Wyatt Mills, and Daniel Zamora allowing just one run (by the youngster Roberts) and striking out a combined six batters. The offense scored two runs off starter and once upon a Mariner Paul Blackburn on a two-run single by Donovan Walton, and another two off promising but oft-injured prospect A.J. Puk on a two-run homer from Jack Reinheimer, who also added the Rainiers’ final run of the day on a ninth-inning RBI double.

Game four: Tacoma loses big, 3-14

A bullpen day for the Rainiers did not go well, while the offense was stifled by Oakland prospect Daulton Jeffries, who allowed just two runs over five innings. Dillon Thomas had a three-hit day in the loss, and Jack Reinheimer hit two doubles.

Game five: Another big loss for the Rainiers, 6-15

Logan Verrett’s tenure with the Rainiers has been up and down and unfortunately today was down, as he allowed nine runs on 13 hits in just five innings. Aaron Fletcher and Taylor Guerrieri allowed three runs apiece, digging a hole the offense couldn’t come back from, although they gave it a good college try with a three-run seventh inning. Raleigh and Kelenic both doubled, and Liberato, who really enjoys waking up in Vegas, had another homer.

Game six: Tacoma freefall continues, lose 6-14

The less said about the pitching in this one, the better; it’s a tough ballpark to pitch in, last game of the series for a taxed bullpen, we’ll give everyone a mulligan on this. In better news, Cal Raleigh absolutely tattooed a ball yet again:

Standings update:

Triple-A Tacoma:

Team record: 22-18 (.550), 2nd of 5 in Triple-A West - West

7th of 10 in Triple-A West in OPS (.838)

5.79 ERA (6th in Triple-A West), 1.49 WHIP (3rd), 395 Ks (4th)

Double-A Arkansas:

Team record: 22-20 (.524), 3rd of 5 in Double-A Central-North

.712 OPS (9th of 10 in Double-A Central)

3.90 ERA (4th), 1.33 WHIP (4th), 404 Ks (6th)

High-A Everett:

Team record: 25-16 (.610), 2nd of 6 in High-A West

.825 OPS (1st)

3.45 ERA (1st), 1.22 WHIP (1st), 448 Ks (4th)

Low-A Modesto:

Team record: 23-20 (.535), 3rd of 4 in Low-A West-North

.744 OPS (4th)

4.25 ERA (4th), 1.52 WHIP (7th), 509 Ks (2nd)

Leaderboard:

Batters:

wRC+: Carter Bins (A+), 160

AVG: Cal Raleigh, .353

HR: Jake Scheiner (AA), 9

BB/K: Jordan Cowan (AA), 0.87

Hits: Cal Raleigh, 48

Pitchers:

ERA (min 30 IP): Sam Carlson (A), 3.28

ERA, reliever (min 15 IP): David Ellingson (A+), 1.17

FIP (min 25 IP): Taylor Dollard (A+), 2.50

K%: Brandon Williamson (AA), 47.6%

Strikeouts: TIE, Brandon Williamson and Taylor Dollard, 59

K-BB%: Brandon Williamson, 39.5%

Saves: Darin Gillies (AA), 7

Prospect performer: Sam Carlson

It’s high time we give a little love to Carlson, pitching in his first full professional season and turning in reliably solid performances each time. Carlson doesn’t have the eye-popping strikeout totals of his compatriots in Modesto in Dollard or Phillips, and he can struggle with command (12% BB rate), but Carlson has been consistently going deeper into games as the season goes on; in three of his past four outings he’s gone six innings. For a young pitcher weathering his first full season as a pro, consistency is key, and each time Carlson improves on some aspect of his game, in ways that don’t always show up in the box score.

Name to know: RHP Penn Murfee

If you’ve read the site for a while, the name Penn Murfee is a familiar one to you, but if you don’t know of Seattle’s hippie cowboy, now is a great time to get on board. Murfee’s ascent to Double-A as a 33rd-round pick is itself remarkable; it hasn’t always been smooth sailing as he continues to figure out the level, but Murfee has carried his strikeouts along with him from High-A, and recently pitched his first career complete game shutout with eleven strikeouts, earning him Player of the Week honors for Double-A Central. Also, his coming set motion makes him look like a vampire and I love it.