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Mariners affiliate mid-season catch-up: the Everett AquaSox

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The Arkansas Travelers’ gains have been the AquaSox’s losses, but Everett chugs along in playoff position anyway

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Attentive readers will have noticed this series title is a misnomer; it’s not really a “mid” season catchup as the various affiliates are closing in quickly on the ends of their seasons. But it is, with the new date of the MLB Draft, sort of a mid-checkpoint after that infusion of new talent to the system, and that will get even more relevant as we burrow down into some of the lower levels of the system. For those of you who missed the first installment on the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, you can find that here. Since we last left our pals in Arkansas, the Travs have slipped to third place in their division and now trail the second-place Tulsa Dodgers by a game, but on the bright side I watched George Kirby pitch for the Travs the other day and he was sitting a cool 96-97 and per the broadcast ran it up to 99, and also Matt Brash carried a no-no into the seventh, and Julio continues to rake, so, you know, trade-offs.

Hopefully you didn’t miss your chance to see that wave of talent pass through Everett, but even if you did, fear not, as the AquaSox are still in the midst of a playoff push as Seattle’s most successful affiliate this season.

Everett AquaSox

Current standings: 1st of 6 in High-A West

To be fair, that’s a very shaky first, as the Frogs (56-39) are virtually in a tie with the Giants-affiliated Eugene Emeralds (57-40), and they just dropped a series to Eugene, five games to two. The AquaSox now have to go on to play Spokane, the third-best team in the division, while Eugene gets a cushier draw of playing the cellar-dwelling Tri-City Dust Devils (LAA). If you’re able, the AquaSox are at home this upcoming series and this would be a great time to pack the stands and cheer them on to their playoff push.

Latest additions:

It’d be more appropriate to talk about subtractions for this team, as Arkansas’ gains have sadly been Everett’s losses, but there are some new fresh Frogs in town who have replaced the likes of Kirby, Williamson, DeLoach, and J-Rod. Unfortunately, the name everyone eagerly anticipates—that of star prospect Noelvi Marte—hasn’t yet been scribbled on the whiteboard on the stadium wall at Funko Field, even as Modesto is well out of playoff position in their division, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen; you’ll recall in 2019 Seattle promoted Julio Rodríguez for a few short weeks to help with a potential Modesto playoff run.

The players who have been sent up from Modesto are a little more seasoned. OF Victor Labrada was promoted in late July; like most Cuban prospects, he’s a little older, at 21, and has continued to bring his strong on-base skills at High-A even if the bat has slowed some. Kirkland native and 2020 free-agent signing C Matt Scheffler has filled in well for the now-traded-away Carter Bins, with close to a .300/.400/.500 slash line since being summoned from Modesto. 1B Dariel Gomez, another older player (25, signed as an MiLB Rule 5 draft choice in 2019), has brought some much-needed power with the departure of Julio; he’s slugging .567 since being promoted. OF Kennie Taylor, drafted by the Mets in 2019 and released in May and picked up by the Mariners, has also been a consistent offensive producer since being promoted to Everett in late July; his .317 average leads the team, and he brings plus defense in the outfield, as well.

On the pitching side, there have been warm bodies shuttled up throughout the season from the Peoria complex; the most recognizable name who has been promoted to Everett is righty reliever Nolan Hoffman, a fifth-rounder in 2018 who missed most of the 2019 season with an injury. The AquaSox have also gotten a couple 2021 draftees assigned to them in RHPs Peyton Alford and Jimmy Joyce. Joyce has pitched five innings since being summoned from the ACL, and struck out eight in that time while allowing only two hits.

Injuries

Injuries besetting the pitching staff have had the AquaSox running a round-trip-special on flights from Phoenix. Most recently, Travis Ray Kuhn went down with a season-ending injury after just being promoted to Everett; Evan Johnson, Kyle Hill and Reid Morgan have all been recently sent to the IL, as well. On the bright side, RHPs Jarod Bayless and Brendan McGuigan have recently been activated after missing lengthy stints; also you might remember McGuigan (“Guiggy Smalls” as per his Twitter handle) missed some time with the club to pitch for Team Canada in the Olympic trials.

Offensive standouts:

Outside of Kennie Taylor’s average or Dariel Gomez’s power, the current iteration of the AquaSox hitters mostly aren’t going to blow you away with power stats. Cade Marlowe, Justin Lavey, and Tyler Keenan all have power, but Keenan has been injured and Marlowe and Lavey are new to the level and still seeking consistency in the box. Generally speaking, the AquaSox hitters are more a group of .250-ish hitters who simply live on base. Everett’s team OBP is 20 points higher than any other club; they have taken 80 more walks as a team than the next-closest club, and their OPS is a full 100 points higher. All that controlling of the zone has led Everett to a league-high +164 run differential, something the big club couldn’t imagine in their wildest Ty France-led dreams.

Pitching standouts:

Sadly, Everett’s once-almost-unfairly-dominant pitching staff is no more, having been packed up and shipped to Arkansas. They’ve slipped into third place for team ERA, although it should be noted they’re still walking the fewest batters in the league while striking out the second-most, showing that the “control the zone” mantra infects the pitching staff as well as the hitters. RHP Fred Villarreal has done yeoman’s work for the AquaSox and the Mariners in general, accepting emergency assignments all over the system while returning to Everett to pitch 40 innings with a 2.52 ERA and a 44:11 K:BB ratio across those innings.

RHP Stephen Kolek’s ERA of 5.40 isn’t pretty, but his FIP is a full run-and-a-half lower, and he’s striking out almost 30% of batters he faces as a starter.

Seattle has a pattern of promoting prospects to be involved in playoff pushes, so the AquaSox roster might still see an infusion of fresh faces down the stretch run. If so, run-don’t-walk to Funko Field to get an eyeful of Noelvi Marte if he’s summoned, as well as some of the other exciting players in Modesto you’ll hear about in the next installment of this series.