Yesterday we looked at the state of the low-minors two months into the season. Today we'll do the upper. It's got a strange symmetry to it, and you'll notice that we don't have a ton of great pitching what with Hultzen, Walker and Paxton on the DL/rehab to greater and lesser degrees and Maurer getting bounced to the pen. I expected to do more with arms in the draft to help this, but when you get the opportunity for two great teen hitters I guess you just have to take em. I'm not complaining - but the system looks a little weird right now up top. For example...
Jackson top 3 hitters:
Patrick Kivlehan - I've been a self-professed Kivle-fan since we drafted him. Just a great story to root for, somebody who gave up baseball for half-a-decade to play football and is using some incredible natural gifts to catch up. He started with 38 Ks against one walk in his pro debut and still make the NWL All-Stars. His eye has climbed from .2 to .4 to .5. 21.4% Ks is fine for a slugger, and the RH Kivlehan is that with a 42% XBH rate this year. He's lost some homers in Jackson after his early promotion (.280/.380/.420 in AA in 100 ABs) but is more patient at the plate, and is getting better (according to him) at squaring up balls rather than just putting them in play. He's 24 but in Jackson that's actually age-appropriate. Give him another thousand at-bats and who knows where he'll be? The majors, hopefully.
He's not a third baseman though (despite logging most of his time there in AA) and they've still refused to play him even one game in the OF - which I find weird for a guy with his arm and wheels. At 1B, his upside is limited, but he's giving himself the best chance he can to succeed.
Ketel Marte - all the RH does is slap balls around the field (.300/.335/.390), but he keeps doing it. He's 20 years old, his defense is improving at SS after a rough start to the year, and he's a doubles machine so far in AA (2nd in the league with 18). Ketel is the second-youngest player in the Southern League - the youngest hitter by about a year. He's a contact player who likes to run but doesn't get good jumps on base yet, and if he can stay at short he will get to the bigs at some point. I wish he walked more or had even a hundred points of power, but right now he just needs to continue to work on the glove, take his singles and doubles, and see where it can take him. The Ms are pretty big fans of his - and so is the Southern League, which named him an All-Star.
Dan Paolini - I was gonna go with Pizzano here, but Paolini gets even less love, so here's some for him. A former prep pitcher who got injured and received just one scholarship offer as a hitter (from Sienna College) Paolini made himself into a 6-foot slugger. With a .280/.375/.450 AA line, he's tied with Marte for 2nd in doubles in the league, and his batting eye the last year and a half is 1:1. His homers are down thus far but doubles are up - XBHs are good either way, and Paolini is at 40% for his career. That's legit sluggling. I called him a Dan Uggla type coming out of college, but he hasn't played 2B in two years. As a 1B/OF and age 24, he is the one-year-older, righty version of Pizzano with some more HR pop. Pizzano feels steadier. I wish both guys luck - this is where you hope for a Matt Carpenter-style mid-20s hit.
---others to mention---
Dario Pizzano - Everybody favorite lefty from Columbia U just kept hitting doubles and getting on base in High Desert, earning himself a promotion to AA. His BABIP is creaking around .180 right now so his average looks bad in AA, but his walks are still there as they've always been. He has more walks than Ks for his career with an OBP around .400 - who doesn't want that? He'll never be a HR guy so you have to "settle" for 35 doubles a year and a high OBP. There actually aren't a lot of 35-40 double / 10-15 HR guys with high OBP playing left field. He's trying to be like Matt Lawton, basically - and I would be perfectly happy to have that happen.
Jack Marder - His batting eye has made a huge turnaround this year, from .4 his first 2 years in the system to 1.3 (!) this year. He missed half of last year due to injury and had a pretty forgettable season. This year's .265/.385/.380 is a nice start. I hope he can continue it - his utility-man profile is much enhanced with the extra on-base skills he seems to be picking up.
Also, John Hicks is having a .290/.350/.400 campaign so far in Jackson, and as a backstop that's more than fine. His job is to take care of the pitching staff and control the running game (50% CS for his career) and he's doing that. After last year's rough go of it in AA I'm glad to see him get back on the horse so far.
Jackson top 3 pitchers:
Stephen Landazuri - Stephen has lost half the season to injury so far, which is a shame because the right-hander's first month was stellar. He's shortish (6') and a slight-ish (180 or so) but gets it up there at 90-94. His change and curve both can be plus, and after striking out 9 per in High Desert last year I was looking forward to his AA debut. 4 starts, 30 Ks / 3 walks and I was giddy. Then he pulled an Oblique and has been out since May 1. Full seasons have been a problem for Stephen. He was about to come back when he cut his finger opening beans in his house (seriously?) so his simulated games are a little delayed. Hoping to see him back before the month is out. Landazuri has been my Next Wave guy for years, and I'm not backing off that now. Just needs to stay healthy. Take up yoga or something, buddy...
Victor Sanchez - He's still a beefcake at 6', 250. His arm talent is exactly what it's been - RH low-90s fastball he can hump up occasionally, changeup, and some sort of slider-in-progress. At 19, he's the youngest player in the Southern League by a year (to Ketel Marte). Victor is having a weird problem with home-runs right now - he's given up 10 homers (against 9 walks) and missed a month of the season with a minor injury. He's on a pitch count and not going deeply into games (only his latest start has gone more than 5) but his control is still there with 7.5 K against 2 BB per 9. He's just catching too much of the plate and getting extraordinarily hurt by it. It's a learning experience for a teenager with all kinds of upside (if he can stay under 3 bills). Give him some time.
Stephen Kohlscheen - a 6'6 RH bullpenner, I expected Stephen to begin at AAA this year, but they left him in the Southern League. AA is angry about this. He's posting a 2.40 ERA, 9 K and just over 1 BB per 9, and working as a part-time closer now. He doesn't throw that hard (90-92) but his breaker is tough to pick up even if it lacks great movement and he's extremely accurate. I still think he needs a better changeup, but he's been tweaking it this year I hear to better results. If I'd written this piece before he got blown up for 6 hits and 4 runs over 2 innings earlier this week, he'd look even better. I like Kohlscheen's potential for the Ms pen.
---others to mention---
Mayckol Guaipe - a 6'3 Venezuelan who's always had good arm talent but is a slow learner. It took him 4 years to get out of the VSL, and his mechanics still waiver. Last year in High Desert he finally started getting the strikeouts he should get with his good fastball low-to-mid 90s fastball, but this year he's really taken off. His control is back as his form seems to be much more consistent, and he's been practically impossible to hit for the first time ever stateside. 1.85 ERA, 8 K / 2 BB and 6 hits per 9 is pretty stellar. If he's finally becoming a pitcher instead of an arm, that bodes very well.
Tyler Olson - we drafted Olson in the 7th round last year, and have thrown him up the ladder ever since. He's a 6'3 lefty who doesn't throw all that hard (86-90), but as a lefty he doesn't have to. He has a very nice curveball, good change and demolishes lefties (24% K rate and 1.93 FIP against lefties career). He can be a LOOGY at some point if this starting thing doesn't work out, but so far his accuracy and change-eye-level game is letting him stay in the rotation - even rushed he's keeping his hits under 9 and running a 3:1 control ratio. An interesting Gonzagan.
Jackson Verdict (TL:DR version starts here):
- hitting promotions from High Desert are looking positive, and some of the longshot college guys are putting up decent numbers
- the only really young bat is Marte, but the Ms like him and he's rewarding their faith in rushing him up the ladder.
- Nagging injuries have slowed some of the young promising pitchers, but they've still looked good in limited action
- several more bullpen options that are panning out against older hitters who can hit breaking balls.
Tacoma is a little weird this year with all the injuries and rehab and bouncing back-and-forth. Beavan and Hultzen are DLed, Pryor is still struggling with that injury, and most of the pen arms have struggled. Paxton and Walker don't count here as they are big-leaguers rehabbing, so I'm not including either - which will make the pitching depth look awfully awkward. Such is life.
Tacoma top 3 hitters:
Nick Franklin - I'm pretty sure everybody knows what they need to about Franklin. He's still demolishing AAA (.350/.460/.580/1.040 with a 1:1 eye and some nice MIF power). He hasn't gotten it rolling in the bigs. Even with Brad Miller hitting basically nothing, it looks like Franklin isn't gonna get another serious chance here, as we don't think he's a SS or at least not a better option than Miller. He's the biggest system trade piece we would realistically trade, and right now he's just sitting around waiting for us to make that trade. I love Nick and wish we had a place for him, but the $240 million man took his roster spot and he simply hasn't been able to seize the SS position from Miller when given the opportunity. Hope to see him break out in his next destination, which also will hopefully be in the NL.
Chris Taylor - that broken finger is a bummer. Chris was starting off really well and he actually IS a shortstop. He was hitting .370/.450/.595 before the injury, and maintaining his steal-tastic ways (83% on steals for his career, 9-for-11 in about 6 weeks this year so far). Chris is another guy who didn't walk quit as much as in A+ or AA, but he's shown the ability - and when you're hitting .370 I'm sure not swinging at ball 4 is tough. His minor league line is .325/.410/.475 with a .7 eye. Kyle Seager hit .325/.400/.475 in his tour of minor-league duty with us. Taylor is obviously faster (11 triples last year and 5 already this year) and is never gonna have 20 HR pop, but a Seager-type-at-SS is a nice piece to have, regardless of the slash boost from half a season in High Desert.
Jabari Blash - he's got his batting average back over .200. The power is still there in spades (16 of 26 hits for extra bases). He hasn't recovered his even batting eye from AA, sitting at .3 right now and a 30% K rate, but that's just a small greed adjustment. He's struck out quite a bit in his career, and might just be a Peguero-who-walks - but that would be a step up. The real problem for Jabari has always been contact. He can work a walk, or hit for power, but his average remains low. Jayson Werth was like that, with less power than Blash. Jabari came to us as an extremely raw hitter from the Virgin Islands - he's doing quite well for himself even as the Mariners push him a little faster than I think he should go. He's about to turn 25, so I suppose they want to know this year how he'll deal with more advanced pitching. The next couple months should be telling.
---others to mention---
Ji-Man Choi came back in AA for a bit of a softer landing, but he started in AAA so I'm leaving him there for this breakdown. Not much to say about the lefty at this point with just a few games played: his hitting talent is there (.400/.500/.550 over his first ten games), he got suspended for steroids (whether accidentally, since they're in Korean breakfast bars, or intentionally taken is immaterial at this juncture) and got two hits and a walk after being off for 50 games. He should be back in AAA shortly and if he continues to hit then I hope we find a place for him. Choi has always been a hitter, and we need all of those we can get. Glad to have you back, Ji-Man.
Jesus Montero. Unlike Choi, Montero does not always hit. Or take the game seriously. He also got popped for roids though, so they have that in common. Montero is posting a .270/.340/.455 line in Tacoma this year, and still killing lefties in limited attempts. He's terrible everywhere in the field and slower than molasses rolling uphill, so it's hard to see him as a non-DH, but there's some kind of value in a DH who can be your emergency catcher and 1B option, I guess. I expect the Ms to leave him in Tacoma to try to hit his way back onto the menu, but so far after a huge April he's been pretty pedestrian for a bat-only dude. He'll need to step it up to get included in the future of the Mariners.
I know some people want me to mention Gaby Noriega, who was Ketel Marte before Marte. But his 2:27 eye and .380 BABIP makes his .335/.345/.435 line slightly less appealing to me.
Julio Morban, our elusive RF OF, is injured again (what else is new?) and has missed basically the entire season. Can't be a prospect if you can't be on the field to learn. He's like a mythical snow leopard, rarely sighted on a baseball diamond. His time with us is running out unless he can play - a lot.
Ty Kelly is an oddity. He's a 25-year-old switch hitting 2B/3B, and all he's ever done is hit and walk. More walks than Ks for his career, and a .390 lifetime OBP should get him a shot SOMEwhere. He's not fast enough to swipe bags and his stroke is too flat for power, but he hits the same versus lefties or righties, which is odd for a switch-hitter funnily enough. His flat line-drives are consistent and as a heavy groundballer he's not hitting nubs. With Seager and Cano each being 160-game men it's hard to see him getting a shot here, but I'd like to see him get it with someone.
Tacoma top 3 pitchers:
Jordan Pries - The righty's not a big guy at 6'1, 195, and as a 30th round draftpick you don't expect a lot. He's got late life on his 88-91 mph fastball, and a good curve to go with a slider and change, is equally hard on both righties and lefties and is just hard to hit. He went through the tornado of High Desert without changing his approach one bit, and got immediately bumped over AA to Tacoma early this year. His ERA is under 3 and is still impossible to put in play (which he's been everywhere but HD). His walks are up to 3.5 so far but he's striking out 7. He's a funny guy. I don't really know what to expect from him, but he just keeps settin' em up and knockin' em down. Regardless, he's been the best Tacoma starter this year and one of the better starters at every level he's tried. No sense ignoring that.
Brandon Maurer - Brandon is in the pen in Tacoma, striking out a ton early, and not giving up hits. That's what I want. If he's done as a starter for a bit, then 14 K per 9 against 7 hits is okay with me. I don't have a problem with the Ms putting him in the pen to try to harness that high-90s fastball and breaking stuff, to get him pitching instead of rushing. To have him dictate instead of letting guys hit him all over the yard for no good reason. He's got way better stuff than his results in the bigs would indicate - let's see if we can move that needle the other way. Even if that means dropping him to a pen arm.
Erasmo Ramirez - I still have faith in Erasmo, but can't help but wonder if he's hurt (like everyone else). He's giving up a ton of hits, his Ks are below career average let alone his previous AAA sample, and he just doesn't seem to have the same bite on his offspeed stuff. He's the Ms #8 starter anyway, so they just need him to be a placeholder but he's struggled to even do that. I hope he's all right and can right the ship this year, but right now he's looking like another Beavan type who just doesn't have the nastiness in his stuff to be a major-league starter. Once Walker replaces him in the rotation he'll be back to AAA to try to work out the kinks.
---others to mention---
Carson Smith missed about a month of the season (join the club, right?) and has been EXTREMELY hittable, which is weird for a mid-90s sidearmer with a wipeout slider. Ks are way down, hits are through the roof, and his ERA is ugly. But he's the same dude, and the Ms are leaving him at the back of the pen and giving him save opportunities. He's still the same heavy RH option he was to start the year - just needs to get back to dominance. Hopefully he doesn't go the way of Ruffin, Bawcom, Arias and crew.
Tacoma Verdict (TL:DR version starts here):
- Not including Paxton or Walker even though Walker's started his rehab.
_ leaving off Hultzen and Pryor as well creates a pitching hole at the level - but it's a real hole.
- The absence of Choi for most of the year hurts the hitting evaluation, but our infield contingent and Blash Splash make up for it.
- Not a lot of surprises - only Pries has shown up to impress amongst pitchers and most of the non-prospect hitters were AAAA to begin with.
System breakdown, hitters review:
Austin Wilson - stud in low-A, due a promotion shortly
Tank O'Neill - showing VERY well as a power-hitting teen in the MWL prior to injury
DJ Peterson - stud in high-A, see: Wilson
Jabari Henry - the "other" Jabari is showing off his power and OBP skills to great effect
Gabe Guerrero - still raw, but has had very impressive flashes in the Desert
Ketel Marte - the little AA baby who could (just hit) - growth while that much younger than level is great
Patrick Kivlehan - handled his promotion to AA well when plenty of others have crashed, uncertain position
Dario Pizzano - OBP and doubles game still going well, despite a BABIP blip
Dan Paolini - power is holding up but short, RH 1B of no particular pedigree are rare
Nick Franklin - still killing AAA and waiting for his trade freedom
Chris Taylor - SS with lots of nice bat skills, slowed by a busted finger
Jabari Blash - still really raw, low contact, but man do they look nice when he catches em
Ji-Man Choi - time to get back on the horse, we need you
That doesn't include Littlewood or some others who still have a ways to go, but seriously - add in Jackson, Morgan and Cousino to that (since I assume they'll all sign) and it's a fairly impressive grouping across the age and farm levels.
System breakdown, pitchers review:
Ed Diaz - Named like an MMA fighter, built like a scarecrow, throws like a bull. Doing fine in full-season
Lars Huijer - good built, still has projection, satisfactory results as he learns to be a pitcher stateside.
Emiliano Pagan - nasty bullpenner who is a position-player conversion, still learning and fine-tuning
Tyler Pike - has lost control of his stuff as he tries to do a hundred things at once. Simply and improve.
Jochi Ogando - Still not in control of that body yet, but working on it in the Desert.
Matt Brazis - just needed health in his pro career, and has had it. Mowing people down
Grady Wood - doing what Brazis is doing, but wasn't worried about health
Dylan Unsworth - his underwhelming stuff is undoing his superior control in HD.
Stephen Landazuri - terrific stuff, improving command, just got hurt (again). Stop that.
Victor Sanchez - youngest player in the Southern League is still learning how to pitch.
Stephen Kohlscheen - another bullpenner who is throwing his name in the hat for the 2015 Ms pen.
Jordan Pries - surprising BOR starter option - all he does is get people out.
Brandon Maurer - hoping that the bullpen conversion will finally unleash the beast
Erasmo - someone find me my nasty offspeed stuff again before it's too late.
The pitching doesn't look nearly as good with the Big Three all out of it and Maurer shoved in the pen. But we knew that would happen. There was a gap between the Big Three and the next wave of help, and rushing the young arms is not a good idea. They have a lot to learn about pitching. Landazuri, Sanchez, Ogando, Pike and Diaz is a very nice Starting Five of options, and we still have Gohara and others about to hit short-season.
After the Big Three (of which I still hope Hultzen can be one someday), we're still a couple years off from the next wave. I'm hoping that surprises like Pries can handle any emergencies in the meantime, and that the lightbulb will go on for one or two of the young turks and their value will skyrocket. Or Landazuri will just freakin' stay healthy. Whatever. Until then, our bullpen options are still there (and we added a few more in this draft as well) so the pen should stay reasonably cheap for the forseeable future.
Hope you enjoyed the look - let me know if there's anything else you wanna talk about half-way through the minor-league season.