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Midshipmen’s Log 4/28/22: Modesto’s young starters shine, Travs cruise behind Kirby again, Stuart Fairchild makes strong first impression

An up-and-down opening to this week’s slate of minor-league games

Stuart Fairchild #4 seen in action during the opening day... Photo by Ty O’Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s another week down on the farm, highlighted by some especially strong pitching performances early in these series. Let’s check in and see how things are going for the affiliates:

Modesto opens series with split vs. San Jose Giants

Last week I said this series would be a good test for Modesto’s young hitters to see how far they’ve come since their last meeting with the Giants and their tough pitching staff. So far, early results are mixed, as the Nuts have mirrored their results of the opening week series, once again winning Game 1 and losing Game 2. The Nuts secured their Game 1 victory on the strength of another solid outing from RHP Michael Morales, the Mariners’ 2021 third-rounder and a surprising third straight prep prospect taken in that draft. Each outing, however, Morales shows why the Mariners prized him so highly, this time lasting 5.2 innings and giving up just two runs on six hits with seven strikeouts and just one walk. Morales isn’t the hardest thrower, sitting in the low 90s, but his command of the zone and secondary pitches are very advanced for a young player, and he improves each outing.

Meanwhile the Nuts offense gave Morales plenty of run support. Harry Ford and Edwin Arroyo each had two hits, and Jonatan Clase blasted his second home run of the season, a tape-measure shot to dead center:

In Game 2, however, the Modesto offense would again falter at the hands of Giants 2021 first-round pick Will Bednar, who held the Nuts hitless over five innings. On the bright side, this time they were able to get a few runs across against 23-year-old Seth Lonsway, who had completely shut them down back in the opening series with six strikeouts across four scoreless innings of work, mostly by taking advantage of some walks and shoddy play by the Giants, and if not for some equally shoddy fielding on Modesto’s end had a real chance to win this game. That was mostly due to another fantastic start from William Fleming, the 2021 11th-rounder out of Wake Forest and reigning Cal League Pitcher of the Week making a bid for back-to-back awards. Once again, Fleming went six innings and struck out eight, with the only damage against him coming on a two-run home run.

At 23, Fleming is older for the level, but he’s doing exactly what you’d want to see him do here—dominating younger and less-experienced opponents. He should be making the journey to Everett very soon to test his mettle against a higher level of competition.

Everett AquaSox (5-11) offer demonstration of Good, Bad, Ugly, drop opening two to Spokane Indians (9-8)

The Frogs continue an early-season skid at home. The pitching remains equal parts flashes of brilliance and unsightly big innings, and the so-far-dormant offense is starting to show signs of life. Everett put on a masterclass in containing multitudes - let’s examine them!

Game One: Everett drinks too much coffee, starts strong, suffers severe caffeine crash, loses 14-6

The Good:

Isaiah Campbell/Leon Hunter: Campbell and Hunter both threw three dominant innings on Tuesday night. I am unable to find out why Campbell was pulled after three innings and just 34 pitches, hopefully not due to injury. He gave up just one hit, a solo home run, dropping his ERA for the season down to 1.50 over his four starts. Hunter came into replace him, recording a clean sheet and three strikeouts in the process. At 25, Hunter is certainly old for the level, but as a 2019 draftee who then lost 2020, this is only his second season as a professional, and has impressed so far.

Noelvi Marte: Ahh, how good it is to watch Noelvi be a Good Baseball Boy. Marte notched a pair of singles and a double en route to going 3-for-5 on the night. We are still cursed by a lack of video, fan or otherwise, in Everett. This may force my hand if it does not change, causing me to drive from Bellingham to Funko Field on a nightly basis.

The Bats in General: Everett seems to have forgotten everything outside of the solo home run - Spencer Packard, Charlie Welch and Dariel Gomez, hitting in the two, three and four-holes, respectively, each notched one. This made it a three-game homer streak for Welch. Outside of those three and Marte, 2019 J2-signee Axel Sanchez contributed two singles, one knocking in 80-grade name Trent Tinglestad.

The Bad:

Clutch Hitting: To expand on my point above, I am counting ten solo home runs between Thursday-Sunday and Tuesday’s game, out of seventeen runs scored in general. Of the remaining seven runs, three were not earned runs or recorded as RBIs. This is bordering on pseudoscientific, and I’m not complaining about home runs, and clutch hitting is not considered to be a “skill,” or repeatable (come on, give me your takes about why that’s stat nerd bullshit - you know you want to!). BUT. This Frogs squad would be in a better place if they were able to get some more timely knocks. They’ve generated plenty of traffic - the big hits are just coming at the wrong time.

The Ugly:

The 7th and 8th innings:

bone-hurting juice, coming right up

A game that ended 14-6 was never going to be mostly good. Max Roberts likely took the mound in the seventh with a goal: put in a scoreless inning of work. That did not happen. Roberts’ line was .2 innings, with one strikeout, two walks, five hits and seven earned runs. While this is pretty brutal, it’s not quite as ugly as it seems - he gave up four runs before leaving the bases loaded for Evan Johnson. Johnson, then, uh, let all of those inherited runners score before giving up another six runs of his own between the 7th and 8th innings. That, as they say, will do it.

Game 2: Sox fall behind early, try to play catch-up, are not fast enough, lose 3-9

The Good:

2000 Games: Pat Dillon, the voice of the AquaSox, called his 2000th game Wednesday night. This is a remarkable, phenomenal achievement. Pat started his Northwest League broadcasting career one year before I was born, back in 1995. His first game was for the Bellingham Giants, visiting at the newly-renamed Everett AquaSox. Assuming 2.5 hours per game, Dillon has spent about 208 full days broadcasting Northwest League baseball. Congratulations, Pat!

Traffic: Traffic, in the good column? Base traffic, that is! *crickets, painfully loud* Well, as mentioned above, the Sox are doing a great job of getting men on board. They collected 10 hits in this one, though they earned just one walk (shout-out Victor Labrada!). Eventually, the good timing will come. For now, it’s encouraging to see three multi-hit games (Marte, Packard, Parker).

Speaking of Packard...: Last week’s player to watch, Packard, hit another home run, this one a three-run bomb to score all three of Everett’s runs. It’s me, again, cursing the lack of video. Packard is now running a .286/.394/.571 slash line, and his .293 BABIP suggests minimal monkey business behind the scenes.

Twinsies!: Though they’ve not described themselves as twins, per say, Berto and Noelvi really twinned it up this game. They both collected a double, and now sport matching 15-for-58 records so far this year, good for .259 batting averages. Marte claims a higher OPS (.779 to Berto’s .735), though both figure to see those numbers improve as they heat up.

The Bad:

Adam Macko’s outing: Macko struggled for the first time this season, though he still managed to grind through 4.2 innings. How badly did he struggle? He nearly matched his season total for hits (9 on Wednesday vs 10 in his three other starts). His six runs allowed match how many he’s given up the rest of the season, and his four walks are more than he’s given up all season combined. He also recorded a season-low in strikeouts, taking home just five. It’s possible this is the worst outing we see all year from Macko.

The Ugly:

Listen, not everything has to fit perfectly into a neat little narrative, as satisfying as that would have been. Honestly, there wasn’t as much ugly to this game, and I don’t want to harp again on the woeful RISP performance (which is what I planned for this section), so, on to....

Player to Watch: Charlie Welch

“I doubled my hits!” “From what, 5 to 10?” “Yup.”

I mean, Welch has been raking this week. As mentioned above, he hit home runs in three consecutive games, and has seen his bating average rise from .188 to .313 in the last week. A 2021 19th-round pick, Welch is off to a ripping hot start in his first full pro season. His BABIP is an unsustainable .350, though if he continues to rip the hide off the ball, he could expect to maintain a BABIP above what we consider “normal”, maybe in the .320 range at this level? So, will he maintain his .313/.463/.688 slash line? Probably not. But even some regression from that line is fantastic, especially for a catcher! Also, consider, if BABIP represents his uncontrollable outcomes, his controllable outcomes are also impressive - he’s walked as often as he’s struck out this season. He showed an advanced eye at the plate throughout college, and this should help him maintain some of this hot start.

Arkansas Travelers (9-8) offense continues to heat up, split the opening two games to Wichita Wind Surge (9-8)

After looking lifeless to open the season, the Travelers bats have come alive over the last week. Despite Zach DeLoach no longer playing like 2004 Barry Bonds, the Travs have gotten contributions from up and down their lineup. Yet another strong George Kirby start gave them a series-opening victory, and the offense was almost able to rally to pick up a down Levi Stoudt start.

Game One: Travs cruise to 10-4 win, Kirby continues hot start

I am not an expert, but I don’t think it’s an awful night at the plate when every hitter reaches base at least once. The Travelers offense may finally be hitting its groove after a tough couple of weeks to start the season. They are averaging over six runs per game over their last six games games. On Tuesday night, Tanner Kirwer led the charge with three hits, a triple shy of the cycle, and three RBIs. We’ll go deeper on the 2017 20th round pick on the prospect to watch section (spoiler alert) because Kirwer is on fire right now.

Jack Larsen and Riley Unroe made their lone hits count, both going deep. Cade Marlowe picked up his first triple of the season. Marlowe also had a bunt single. Love the Double-A camera angles that don’t always show how impressive a triple actually is.

Zach DeLoach has cooled off a fair bit since his scorching start, but he was able to pick up a base knock his first time up. The Travis scored twice in the second and four times in the fourth, which was more than enough for George Kirby.

The Mariners might potentially be in a very tricky situation with George Kirby. On the one hand, he has proven that he is significantly better than his Double-A competition. His 1.37 ERA and 0.92 WHIP are good enough to at least consider moving him up, but it is tough to know exactly how his stuff will translate. There’s also not much use to promoting him to Triple-A because of the absurd offensive numbers in the PCL.

When Matt Brash was dominating Double-A late last year, it was easy to look at his wizard pitch and know that it could work against superior hitters. Kirby is going to be good, but he doesn’t have something like that to point to. He dominates on control and limits hard contact. His fastball is probably the closest pitch you could look at, but even then, it is not to Brash’s level because barely any pitch is.

However, Randy Ramierez lining a ball off of Marco Gonzales on Wednesday night could potentially make that decision much easier for the Ms. It is tough to say if Kirby is ready to face MLB hitters right now, but you also won’t know until he is doing it. It sounds like the Ms avoided a more severe injury, and even if Marco misses a single start, you aren’t going to call Kirby up if he is not going to be a mainstay in the rotation.

But, the dilemma will persist if Kirby continues to deal like this against obviously inferior competition. I guess we should probably get into what Kirby actually did on Tuesday night, huh? He was once again stellar. He went five innings for the third time this season. He gave up just three hits; unfortunately, one was a solo home run, and he walked two and struck out five.

He is scheduled to take the mound again in the series finale on Sunday.

Game two: Stoudt shaky, rally falls short in 7-4 loss

It is with a heavy heart that I must report, for the first time this season, Levi Stoudt was not great in his most recent start.

He started out his typically dominant self, striking out the first two batters he faced.

However, he ran into trouble as the game went on. He gave up three runs in the second inning, thanks to two walks, two singles, and an error. The Wind Surge kept the pressure on in the third and the fourth inning, scoring one off Stoudt each inning. The third inning was much of the same, with two singles, one of them off of Stoudt himself. He also gave up another walk and a sac-fly.

Wichita’s only solid contact off Stodudt came on an Edouard Julien solo shot in the fourth inning on a 2-0 pitch that Stodut left over the plate after getting squeezed on the previous two pitches.

what more do you want from me dot gif

Stoudt’s final line of four innings, five runs, six hits, three walks, and four strikeouts looks quite different from what he has shown this season. However, the relative lack of solid contact and his ability to still battle through four innings is a pretty good silver lining and leaves no real cause for concern.

The offense, apparently in the same funk that Stoudt was in, didn’t really show up much for most of the game. They were scoreless until a Joe Rizzo home run made the score 7-1 in the sixth inning. The Travs made a genuine attempt at a comeback in the eighth inning. Despite two quick strikeouts to open the frame, the Travs looked to rally. Kaden Polcovich opened things up with a double; he was 3-5 on the night. Matt Scheffler drove in the 2020 third-round pick with a single. From there, the Travs stood in the box and took what Wichita pitcher Steven Cruz gave them with three straight walks and an HBP to bring Rizzo up with a chance to take the lead. Unfortunately, he could not capitalize, and the Travs couldn’t get much going in the final frame.

Arkansas will continue the series against Wichita through Sunday.

Prospect to Watch: Tanner Kirwer

You won’t find Tanner Kirwer on any prospect lists. His selection in the minor league portion of the Rule-5 draft in December probably didn’t make a ton of waves outside the Matt Brash residence; the two were teammates at Niagra. But Kirwer is raking to start his Mariners career. The Ms selected the 26-year-old outfielder from the Blue Jays partly because of his elite speed; he stole 43 bags in 83 games last year. The biggest problem for the Canadian native up to this point in his career is his proclivity for striking out. He has struck out at least 19.4% of the time in every season before this, often approaching or exceeding 25%. Regardless of his speed, if he can’t get on base, that won’t matter. However, this year Kirwer is down to just a 15.8 K% through the first few weeks of the season. Sure, his .400 BABIP is unlikely to stick, but his speed at least gives him a chance if he is able to put the ball in play as often as he has this season. The Mariners clearly saw something that Kirwer could unlock. It is still early, but his .344/.447/.500 slash line suggests he may have just unlocked it.

Rainiers split first two against Las Vegas Aviators (OAK)

Bless the Rainiers, who, in seeing the big-league club rob their pitching staff once again, just decided to produce all the offense instead. The Rainiers woke up in Vegas with a vengeance in Game 1, a 12-5 victory that should have looked more lopsided if not for three runs the Aviators scored in garbage time. Daniel Ponce De Leon provided a strong start, going six innings and striking out seven, while the offense jumped all over a rehabbing James Kaprielian, scoring five runs off of him in four innings. The offense was paced by Stuart Fairchild making his system debut; the Seattle native went 4-for-5. Leadoff man Sam Haggerty had two hits and three RBI, and Erick Mejia produced a key two-run double:

The Rainiers were almost able to pull off a win in Game 2 but were forced to deploy Juan Mercedes, currently on loan from the Modesto Nuts, in a crucial spot in the game; Mercedes comported himself admirably, hanging tough for three innings of work, but did surrender what would eventually be the game-winning run as the Rainiers fell 5-6 to put them an abysmal 6-14 on the season. Poor Tacoma. One day you will have pitching. In the meantime, here’s a stellar catch by Stuart Fairchild, already making a name for himself with his new club: