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Seattle Mariners 2022 affiliate preview: Double-A Arkansas

Some of Seattle’s top pitching prospects highlight this crew

photo credit: Arkansas Travelers

It’s that time of year where we bring you an overlook of every Mariners MiLB affiliate for the upcoming season. In previous years we’ve started at the lowest levels of the system and worked our way up, but this year we’ll be starting in the high minors—the Rainiers (Triple-A) yesterday, and the Travelers (Double-A) today—and working our way down. The reason for this is twofold: first of all, MiLB Opening Day for Triple-A is Tuesday, April 5, as in today; all other leagues (except the ACL and DSL) open this Friday, April 8, so like a bunch of former honor students with senioritis, we’ll be gradually shedding A’s throughout week. Secondly, because of the owners’ lockout throwing off the timing of everything this off-season, we don’t yet have a firm roster for who will be assigned to which level. We’ll be making our best guesses based on current rosters and general patterns noted through watching who was assigned where during minor-league camp, and will update each roster accordingly when we have the correct info.

If you’ve been reading the FanPosts you’ll have seen that Ian Wiltamuth did a roster preview for each level based on some observations with specific info on each of the players; we won’t be going as in-depth on every player as Ian did, so definitely give his articles a look. We’ll link to the relevant one in each preview.

2022 Arkansas Travelers

Link to Ian’s roster preview

2021 Season in Review:

After thumbing their nose at history (the Texas League as we know it came into existence in 1902, but has roots in the late 1880s, making it one of the oldest leagues in baseball, next only to our own Northwest League), MLB smartly decided to change the dreadful name “Double-A Central” back to the Texas League this year, as they should. No one calls it a Double-A Central-er, after all. Who cares that fully half the teams in this ten-team league are based outside Texas? When I go to Baskin-Robbins I don’t demand they show me all 31 flavors in stock at once, even if the logo says “31” right in it. Anyway, 2021 was a frustrating year for the Travs, who wound up in third place in their division despite losing just one more game than their bitter in-state rivals the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, which is extra-frustrating because the North division was far more competitive than the South division, where the best team in the division had the same record as the Naturals. It’s frustrating as well because this is a league constantly dominated by the Tulsa Drillers, the Dodgers affiliate, who have been a perpetual-motion machine of top prospects over the past few years, but Seattle missed out on the chance to have their affiliate crush over the years they were moving up some of the top prospects in the game, and now have to face some stacked farm systems in Amarillo (ARI), Northwest Arkansas (KC), and Round Rock (TEX). On the bright side, there should be plenty of fun prospect matchups to watch this year.

2022 Schedule:

Find the complete 2022 Travs schedule here. This year the team will play six-game series, beginning Tuesdays and ending Sundays, aside from the opening series at Frisco (three games). Mondays are off-days, and the Texas League All-Star Break will last from Monday July 18th - Thursday July 21st. The regular season ends at home on October 18 against Corpus Christi (HOU).

2022 Coaching Staff:

We covered the Arkansas coaching staff, including a promotion for hometown favorite Shawn O’Malley, here.

Roster:

You can view the current Arkansas Travelers’ roster here. This is the lineup we have/are best able to predict, although things are complicated this year by the fact that spring training will still be going on due to the owners’ lockout pushing back the timeline, while the minor leagues will open on time. An asterisk (*) indicates a player on the 40-man roster.

Update: here is the Travs’ current roster. We have updated the article accordingly; updates are signaled in italics.

Infielders:

Jose Caballero, Patrick Frick, Kaden Polcovich, Joe Rizzo, Jack Scheiner, David Sheaffer, Connor Hoover, Taylor Featherston, Riley Unroe

Woowee, this is a lot of infielders. Caballero is a solid defender at 2B, SS and 3B, though he’s spent most of his time at the latter two. He has good speed, is the proud owner of a career .816 OPS, though health has not been his friend - he’s yet to play more than 70 games in a season, and played just 20 last year. Frick was the Mariners’ 14th round draft pick in 2019 out of Wake Forest. He impressed in his first 60 games as a Mariner, hitting .302 his first summer. The light-hitting utility infielder will continue his Arkansas career, as he was called up to join the Travs last summer after lighting up Everett for the first half of the year. Polcovich rejoins Arkansas after a rough first stint in the Natural State following a promotion of his own from Everett in 2021, his first full professional season. The second baseman was drafted in the third round in 2020 out of Oklahoma State. If it seems like Rizzo has been around forever, it’s because...well, he has. Drafted in 2016 out of high school, this will be his sixth season in the organization. At one point, Rizzo was considered a top prospect in the organization: in 2018, MLB Pipeline had the third-baseman as the sixth-best prospect for the M’s. He’s been slowed by a slower-developing bat in the upper minors and being pushed off a consistent third base assignment to first/DH roles. Scheiner, acquired from the Phillies org in exchange for Jay Bruce, spends a lot of time smashing the living daylights out of baseballs. His lowest ISO for a season so far is .174, and last year he ran an ISO north of .205. So, you can probably venture a guess if his K% is north or south of 30% (Answer: it’s north - dude strikes out a lot). He has impressed at spring training this year, earning this nice little write-up from Zach for his monstrous walk-off home run against the Brewers last week. Sheaffer, signed as an un-drafted free agent in 2018, has been a real traveler, if you will, for the last couple seasons. In 2019, he spent time at West Virginia, Modesto, Arkansas, and Tacoma; last year, he played at Everett, Arkansas, and Tacoma. He’s a catcher by trade, but has been moving around a bit at spring training this year, and put in some innings at first base last season. Speaking of, Hoover is our first and only real first baseman of the group, although he’s played all over the diamond. He is another ball-basher, and is the owner of a career .197 ISO. Strikeouts were a problem last season - if he wants to take the next step in his career, cutting down on strikeouts will be a must. Featherston you might remember from a brief role with the Angels in 2015, along with two other MLB stints, and Unroe is a long-term Atlanta farmhand who signed a minors deal with the Mariners with an invite to spring training; he’s a former second-rounder (TBR, 60th overall in 2013) who is a light hitter but above-average defender.

Outfielders:

Zach DeLoach, Jack Larsen, Cade Marlowe, Tanner Kirwer, Trent Tingelstad

If you note that the infield group there is pretty heavy and this group—which includes Kirwer, who might wind up assigned to Tacoma—pretty light, well, blame it on the Mariners’ love of positional versatility and also their equally abiding love for college pitching. DeLoach is theoretically the star of this group, but after faceplanting at the level last year (to be fair, after an aggressive promotion after just 58 games of pro ball in Everett) and faceplanting harder in the Arizona Fall League, a nice slow play might be what’s in store for him. Not needing as much of a slow play: Larsen, who is another level-repeater on his second partial year at Double-A at the ripe old age of 27. Larsen has big power but also big strikeouts; to move up to Tacoma, he’ll need to show the plate discipline improvements he made that finally busted him out of the California League last year are here to stay. The unheralded Marlowe had a breakout season followed by a strong showing in the same Fall League that gave DeLoach fits; that kind of thing tends to portend success at the Double-A level, and Marlowe could be the quickest riser in the group. Tingelstad takes an aggressive promotion here, but after walking 17% of the time in Everett in his first short-season go-round and 16.6% of the time at High-A, it’s likely he needed to see some tougher pitching, as well as get out of his hometown (Tingelstad is a Marysville-Pilchuck HS alum) for a bit.

Catchers:

Jake Anchía, David Sheaffer, Matt Scheffler

It will not be shocking to tell you that this crew of catchers is more renown for their defensive rather than offensive abilities, although all of them have some sneaky power, especially Anchía, the most feast-or-famine of the three.

Starting Pitchers:

George Kirby, Emerson Hancock, Levi Stoudt, Taylor Dollard, Juan Then*, Adam Hill

As it has been in past years, the strength of the Travelers will be in their starting pitching. Kirby, Stoudt, and Hancock will all be looking to build their innings counts—all have been slowed by some combination of health, organizational caution, and the pandemic—and while Kirby has the inside track on a job in Seattle, Stoudt shouldn’t be too far behind, nor Hancock, once he’s finally healthy, behind that. Dollard pitched most of his season at A-Modesto before being sent up to High-A; he’ll likely return to that level once the dust settles at the beginning of the seaon. Hill, acquired in the Omar Narváez trade, played just five games in Everett before being shuttled up to a more difficult challenge at Double-A last season; in repeating the level, he’ll look to continue missing bats at an impressive rate while limiting walks and hard contact. Nick wrote up the lone 40-man member of this group, Juan Then, for you here. 2019 supplemental second-rounder Isaiah Campbell will likely join this group sooner rather than later.

Relievers:

Dayeison Arias, Devin Sweet, Travis Ray Kuhn, Michael Stryffeler, Stephen Kolek, Ben Onyshko, Collin Kober, Jake Haberer, David Ellingson, Bryan Pall, Peyton Alford, Braden Shipley, Connor Jones, Rob Kaminsky

If relievers are fungible, older relievers recently off a COVID-wiped-out-season are maybe the most fungible. Many of these guys are set to repeat either full or partial Double-A seasons, along with a healthy infusion from the 2021 Everett AquaSox bullpen. Kuhn is a quick riser to keep an eye on; the Mariners sent the UCSD product to the Fall League this year as he’s now pumping mid-to-upper 90s to pair with a nasty slider. There’s a burgeoning bottleneck in here though and Tacoma remains light on pitchers, so expect to see some of these guys—especially Sweet and the reliable Ellingson and Stryffeler—fast-tracked to Tacoma. Shipley signed an MiLB deal and was given an invite to spring training; it looked like he’d make the Tacoma roster, but an unimpressive spring training performance has landed him here for now. Jones could also be a quick mover, as someone with extensive Double-A experience; the Mariners signed him after the Cardinals released him. Alford is a 2021 UDFA who is likely here to fill out the roster and will return either to Modesto or Everett.

Injured List:

Scott Boches

After a promising 2019 under the tutelage of pitching coach Rob Marcello, Boches lost the 2020 season to the pandemic and 2021 to an injury. He had promising stuff before he went down, though, tallying 104 strikeouts in just over 84 innings.

Other names to know:

RHP Connor Jones, RHP Mike Mokma

The Mariners signed Jones after he was released by the Cardinals organization (the same way they came across Ian McKinney) and Mokma after he was released by the Dodgers. Neither have sterling stats, but Mokma is 6’7” and was drafted only in 2019, but didn’t pitch because of an injury, and then didn’t pitch in 2020 because pandemic. Neither are officially listed on any roster yet, but reading through their MiLB pages and considering the state of the organization, this seems to be an appropriate level for either.

MLB Pipeline Mariners top 30 prospects at this level:

Kirby (3), Hancock (4), Stoudt (7), DeLoach (12), Polcovich (24), Then (25)

MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects at this level:

Kirby (32), Hancock (82)