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Mariners affiliate catch-up: the Modesto Nuts

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The headliner remains Noelvi Marte, but there’s plenty of interest on this Modesto club

Dan Rogers

With just about a month left of the minor-league season, we’re checking in with all the various Mariners minor-league affiliates to see who is where and how they’re doing. This series started off with the Arkansas Travelers, at one time the least prospect-laden affiliate in the system and now the most. Arkansas has moved back into a tie with the Tulsa Drillers (LAD) for second place in the division, but head into a tough series with the division leaders this week while Tulsa gets a chance to beat up on the weakest team in the league. From there we moved over to the affiliates’ best chance at a playoff team, the Everett AquaSox. The Frogs continue to cling to their half-game advantage over the Eugene Emeralds (SFG) despite dropping a series to Spokane, thanks to Eugene laying an egg against the league’s worst team in their own series; the AquaSox will move on to play the Canadians while the Emeralds have to contend with the Hillsboro Hops. You can read more here.

Today we turn our attention to the once-upon-a-time High-A Modesto Nuts, now members of the Low-A West League, which is not as catchy or simple as just calling it the “California League.”

Modesto Nuts

Current standings: third of four in Low-A West North division

Like the Texas League—sorry, sorry, Double-A Central—the zombie California League is wildly imbalanced and the Nuts unfortunately have gotten the short end of the stick. Third-place Modesto’s winning percentage of .549 would rank first in the South division of the league, but sadly the Nuts are stuck with the Giants’ superteam of prospects as well as Colorado’s new affiliate the dominant Fresno Grizzlies, who could probably give the team at Coors a run for their money. At 10 games back in the division, there’s not a lot of hope for Modesto to see post-season action, unfortunately.

Latest additions:

Like Everett, the Modesto club has lost some talent over the season to injuries and promotions. At the beginning of the season, Modesto’s rotation was stacked with a dominating pitching staff backed up by a lights-out bullpen. Now, prospect graduations plus some wear and tear on that pitching staff, as well as the kinds of inconsistent performances you’ll typically see from young prospects at this level, have dragged Modesto’s team ERA up to near 5.

Modesto did get some reinforcements in the form of college draftees taken in the 2021 draft. LHP Peyton Alford (UDFA) was with Modesto briefly before being sent to Everett, and Baylor catcher Andy Thomas, taken in the fifth round, was just sent up to Everett this past week. The other 2021 draftees currently at Modesto are:

  • RHP Bryce Miller (4th round, Texas A&M)
  • OF Colin Davis (7th round, playing with fellow Wofford College alum Brett Rodríguez)
  • SS James Parker (8th round, South Carolina)
  • OF Spencer Packard (9th round, Campbell)
  • RHP William Fleming (11th round, Wake Forest)
  • OF Corey Rosier (12th round, UNC Greensboro)
  • RHP Andrew Moore (14th round, Chipola College)
  • RHP Jimmy Kingsbury (17th round, Villanova)

It’s limited sample size for all of these guys, of course, but over about 80 plate appearances Corey Rosier has been on a tear, slashing .397/.469/.564 with just 12 strikeouts to 13 walks as well as swiping 12 bags. Colin Davis is hot on his heels, also with a similarly impressive K:BB ratio, as the two battle for the top spot on Modesto’s offensive leaderboard. On the pitching side, William Fleming has only pitched seven innings of relief, but has eight strikeouts in that time; Jimmy Kingsbury has 20.2 and has struck out 23 in that time. Recently-promoted Bryce Miller has the smallest sample size of all, but has struck out five in four innings.

Injuries:

Modesto has weathered the injury bug better than many other clubs in the league, especially regarding their young arms, an area many other teams have struggled with. Modesto has also been fortunate to avoid a massive COVID outbreak which has afflicted other teams; the Stockton Ports currently can’t even play their scheduled games as they’ve lost so many players to the COVID IL. The Nuts have had some pitcher health problems with players going on and off the injury list (currently it’s diminutive lefty Jorge Benitez who just hit it); while promising young lefty prospect Adam Macko hasn’t been officially IL’d, he missed all of June and part of July with a nagging shoulder issue and hasn’t pitched since August 4th as the Mariners are restricting his innings.

Offensive standouts:

Obviously this is the part where we talk about superprospect Noelvi Marte, who is of course a fearsome presence at the dish, but actually Modesto’s current offensive leader isn’t Marte but his BFF, OF Alberto Rodríguez. After getting off to a slow start, the stocky outfielder has been coming on hot the past few months and currently leads Modesto’s qualified batters with a .289/.383/.481 slash line. He only has 9 homers to Noelvi’s much more impressive 17, and the thicc Rodríguez isn’t going to be a threat on the bases like Marte (just 11 SB to Noelvi’s 22), but he makes solid contact, controls the zone well, and hustles his heart out every day, which has also shown up in a leaner, more trim frame than when he came over from the Blue Jays in the Taijuan Walker trade.

He’s also got a surprisingly strong and accurate arm which is continually under-scouted in the league and it’s fun to watch other teams think they can run on him.

The only other player for Modesto with double-digit homers besides Marte is 1B Robert Pérez, the only human on the field who can make Noelvi look short; Pérez has socked 12 dingers, each of them impressive light-tower shots. (Look, the camera work in Low-A West is just abysmal, just trust me, they’re impressive.)

Speaking of Noelvi, obviously everyone wants to know when or if he’ll be summoned to Everett to help in their playoff push. Much was made of the fact that Marte didn’t play Saturday or Sunday, but it’s likely the poor air quality in Fresno had more to do with that decision. A-Rod also sat out on Saturday, although he returned to the lineup on Sunday—and had three hits. It’s my gut feeling that the Mariners wouldn’t move Marte up to Everett without his buddy by his side, and truthfully, Alberto deserves to be there on the basis of his baseball abilities and the improvements he’s made this season just as much as Noelvi does.

Pitching standouts:

RHP Sam Carlson has been Modesto’s most reliable starter, faithfully taking the ball every week, and honestly has pitched a lot better than his line indicates, having been let down by defensive miscues behind him, bullpen implosions, and having his command occasionally up and leave him, which again, isn’t uncommon at this level, especially not for a pitcher who hasn’t pitched a professional season yet. Carlson comes out ahead thanks to his maturity, hard-won over years of lonely, boring rehab, and once he’s able to get his mechanics consistent he’ll be zipping along through his minors career just fine. If it wasn’t for the inning drain on his arm—he’s closing in on the century mark—I’d say he’d be an excellent candidate for the Arizona Fall League.

RHP Connor Phillips started off the year guns blazing but his ERA has steadily crept up over the season as he too has battled inconsistencies while attempting to harness his stuff. Walks were a problem from the jump but became a more and more pressing issue as batters started to gain familiarity with his repertoire, and as Phillips wore down over the course of a long season. It’s important to remember that he is still very young, and when he’s got his stuff all pointing in the same direction it looks as nasty as any other front-end starter in the league, as his 30% K-rate indicates.

Modesto’s de facto closer, RHP Luis Curvelo, deserves mention here for his 35% K-rate; with a fastball pushing upper 90s and a nasty slider, the 20-year-old Venezuelan has at times looked like a rehabbing vet against the batters in this league.

LHP Brayan Perez has better command and similarly good strikeout numbers, although as a diminutive lefty his stuff isn’t necessarily going to blow anyone away at the upper levels. The Mariners have used Perez as both a spot starter and a reliever as he’s logged the fourth-most innings on the team, although if that’s by necessity or design is unclear. One other name to know: RHP Matthew Willrodt, whose mustache might suggest he’d like to sell you artisanal cider, but whose breaking ball buckles hitters’ knees: