For the low minors (below AA), the regular season has come to an end, and sadly, none of the Mariners affiliates have advanced to the post-season. So as each affiliate’s season comes to a close we will be highlighting each team: how their season went, and the standout performances from both highly-touted prospects and some sleepers to keep an eye on. First up is the A level Modesto Nuts.
Final record: 66-66, 3rd in the California League North
After a 30-36 start in the first half, the Nuts reversed their record and went 36-30 in the second half. They might have snuck their way into the playoffs if not for a decline at the end of the season that knocked them out of contention. Despite a run differential of +102, compared to South division winners Inland Empire’s +48, Modesto just wasn’t able to win enough games against a world-beating Fresno Grizzlies (COL) team. Modesto ends with an OPS of just .769, 5th of 8 in the California League, ranking middle-of-the-pack in team average, OBP, and slugging. Pitching-wise, Modesto showed out a little better, ranking third in the California League for ERA for the year; they only ranked 5th in strikeouts as a staff but were the best team in the league at not allowing walks, which is significant at this level, where pitchers often struggle with control. Modesto’s pitching staff allowed 20 fewer walks than the next-closest club. That number also helped them rank second in the California League for WHIP.
The trade that brought Luis Castillo to Seattle was thrilling at the big-league level, but fairly damaging for Modesto, who lost top prospect Edwin Arroyo, the team’s second-round pick in 2021. Arroyo led the team statistically in most offensive categories through much of the year, showcasing an enticing speed and power blend while also playing an above-average shortstop.
Also damaging the Nuts offense was the promotion to Everett of slugger Robert Perez Jr., who honestly probably should have been sent up earlier but was part of an early-August wave of call-ups. “Bobby Bombs” led the California League in homers for most of his time in Modesto.
In that wave of early August call-ups, Modesto also bade goodbye to lefty bullpen arm/closer Jorge Benitez, a ninth-rounder out of Puerto Rico back in 2017; between the loss of Benitez and fellow closer Andrew Moore, also traded to Cincinnati in the Castillo deal, Modesto’s bullpen took a huge hit that cost them down the stretch run.
With the loss of Arroyo the Mariners promoted another young shortstop prospect, the 19-year-old Axel Sanchez. Sanchez has been billed as a glove-first hit-tool prospect but immediately made his impact known in his first time outside of complex ball. In addition to hitting for more power than expected, Sanchez displayed solid strike zone awareness for such a young player, walking almost half as often as he struck out, although his strikeout rate rose precipitously towards the end of the season as other teams had more of a book on him. Still, it was a dazzling full-season debut for a player who largely hasn’t gotten much love on prospect lists, and his .300/.400/.600 line should ensure he gets some more love over the off-season.
He’s slick with the glove, too, and showed a strong, accurate arm:
Great play Axel Sanchez. pic.twitter.com/DVTnpxPaSZ— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) August 13, 2022
The Mariners are famously slow to promote players, but did bring up one of their top-5 prospects, Gabriel Gonzalez, shortly after the All-Star Break. “El Dron” showcased excellent strike zone discipline for such a young player, rarely striking out, and showing good bat-to-ball skills. The next step will be harnessing his power in the sunny California League.
The Mariners also promoted top 2022 draft pick Cole Young at the tail end of Modesto’s season to give him a taste of non-complex baseball. In a very limited look, the young Young seemed at ease with higher-level pitching, chasing infrequently, working his walks, and making solid contact, all while playing a very solid shortstop. It will be exciting to watch him and fellow 19-year-old shortstop Axel Sanchez come up together.
The Nuts roster was also bolstered by the addition of some other 2022 draftees. 2022 seventh-rounder Hogan Windish, who blew up the Cape the summer before the draft, was a senior sign whose calling card is excellent bat-to-ball skills, and he came as advertised, hitting .336 during his time in Modesto and producing doubles like prime Edgar Martinez. Tyler Locklear, taken in the second round by the Mariners this year at slot value, didn’t make quite the immediate impact Windish did, but the power hitter still managed to slug over .500 for the 29 games he played in Modesto.
Team MVP, offense:
2021 first-rounder Harry Ford had a bit of a slow start to the season after getting injured, but rebounded slowly but steadily over the course of the season to finish with a 132 wRC+. And while his power stroke came around a little slowly, he still hit 11 homers in addition to swiping 23 bases, which gives you a little clue that Harry is more athletic than your average catcher. He showed off that athleticism behind the dish, as well, cutting down runners with a panther-quick movement out of his crouch, one of the fastest pop times in the organization. Beyond all that, Harry is Team Cheerleader, always gassing up his teammates on social media, and led through service, making an impact on young people in Stanislaus County. Hooray for Harry, an excellent ambassador for the game.
Harry Ford cuts down a runner trying to steal. Ford has been really impressive behind the dish this season: athletic, agile, and accurate with his throws. pic.twitter.com/38MyGvthqC— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 12, 2022
Jonatan Clase actually tied Ford for homers, with 11, which is even more impressive when you consider his league-leading 55 swiped bases this season. Clase is a speedster but he can hit as well, and he’s good at figuring out what pitches he can do damage on and then inflicting that damage. With his elite speed, he’s able to turn singles into doubles, doubles into triples, and record that MiLB favorite, the inside-the-park home run.
Jonatan Clase INSIDE-THE-PARK HR! pic.twitter.com/Br7scgEbFC— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) August 28, 2022
Team MVP, pitching staff:
Joseph Hernandez was the best pitcher in the Cal League this year, and it wasn’t particularly close. Among qualified starters, he had the best ERA—3.39, almost a full run lower than the next closest. He also led all pitchers in the Cal League with 143 strikeouts. Aside from a slight issue that caused him to miss a couple turns in the rotation, Hernandez was a workhorse for Modesto this year, logging 116 innings, fourth-most in the Cal League, which is especially impressive for a more diminutive (6’) starter. But it doesn’t matter how tall you are when you can make the baseball do this:
11 strikeouts for Joseph Hernandez tonight, who now has 115 on the year so far and is the California League K leader. pic.twitter.com/0DEv0rEmWN— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 12, 2022
One of the three pitchers ahead of Hernandez in the Cal League this year for innings pitched is his teammate Michael Morales, who is even younger, having just had his 20th birthday. The Mariners’ third-round pick in 2021 was a durable workhorse for Modesto this year, and although his overall season numbers might not look impressive, he steadily improved from outing to outing, never getting away from his identity as a strike-thrower who commands the zone and challenges hitters. It will be interesting to see how Morales continues to improve as he moves up through the system, something local fans should get to see firsthand next year when he’s with the Everett AquaSox.
An unheralded player to have on your radar:
Aside from some of the other players who have been mentioned here who might not light up top prospect lists—Windish, Locklear, Hernandez—Freuddy Batista is one to add to the list. Freuddy has been with the Mariners for a long time, but just got his first full stateside season this past year. He strikes out a fair amount but also walks a lot and can swing for some big power, all while playing plus defense behind the dish and handling his pitching staff well. The Mariners love Batista’s leadership skills and team-focused approach, and he’s one of the nicest guys in the whole system. If you’re on the backfields at spring training this year and see a guy with an enormous shock of black hair crouching behind the plate, taking beatings and smiling through it all, that’s Freuddy; make sure to say hi.
Freuddy Batista spent almost 2 months on the IL and is still putting up these MONSTER numbers— Brent Parsons (@Over_the_Plate) August 18, 2022
.270AVG / 7HR / 39RBI / .815 OPS@justfreuddy @ModestoNuts@LookoutLanding @MarinersONtap @BaseballFarm @MiguelCabrera @barstoolsports @ProspectsWorldW @MiLBMariners @EverettAquaSox pic.twitter.com/cGXC3TlLnp