The Tacoma Rainiers were supposed to be the only thing standing in the way between the Mariners top four prospects and the big leagues. It turns out that they did more than just stand in the way, they proved to be difficult ground for one of the team's major building blocks and two of the four were not able to advance at all. Overall, Tacoma was not a pretty team to watch and nearly all of the Mariners top prospects seemed to fail there.
They finished 63-81 in the PCL North, good for last place. They hit .264 as a team, good for 14th in the PCL. Their 4.97 team ERA was 12th. They committed a league-high 139 errors. There's not much good that head coach Daren Brown could say about the Rainiers as a team, but as Mariners fans we aren't really interested so much in how the team does as how the individuals do.
That's what I'm going to go over here with you today, how did the M's prospects fair for the Rainiers, not how the team did. Well, I've got bad news for you because usually when a team does bad that means that they had bad individual performances. I wish I had better news.
Here are the prospect reports from the Seattle Mariners AAA-affiliate Tacoma "That's where the aroma is really coming from these days" Rainiers.
Danny Hultzen, LHP
The report on Hultzen coming out of Virginia when the Mariners surprisingly selected him with the number two overall pick last season was that he might not have the highest ceiling in the draft but he was polished and near-ready. Hultzen had a decent fastball and okay slider but his change-up could already be a major league pitch that could advance him through the ranks fast. He was a lefty with a great build and maybe at best he "only" becomes a number two or three starter, but few people imagined that he didn't have a long major league future.
Hultzen seemed to prove the doubters embarrassingly wrong during his debut at AA Jackson. He made thirteen starts and was grossly, disgustingly effective: 75.1 innings, 38 hits, 1.19 ERA, 79 K, 32 BB, 2.80 FIP, 50% groundballs. He was essentially unhittable with all contact being weak contact. Hultzen allowed just eight extra base hits and while his walks seemed a little high (3.82 BB/9) it wasn't a major concern.
And then he got promoted and it became a major concern.
In his first AAA start, Hultzen went 3 innings at Colorado Springs and allowed five runs (much like he had allowed five runs in his first AA start before dominating) with three strikeouts and five walks. Based on runs allowed, he seemed to settle down after that, allowing just four earned runs total in his next four starts. But the control became out of control.
Hultzen walked no less than two batters in any of his twelve AAA starts. He allowed four walks or more in half of his starts. He went six innings just one time. He went fewer than five innings seven times. He was wild and ineffective and while he did strike out 10.54 batters per nine innings, he actually struck out fewer batters per plate appearance than he did in Jackson (23.8% compared to 27.2%) because he was facing so many damn batters.
At the end of the year, Hultzen's AAA numbers are scary in a bad way: 48.2 innings, 49 hits, 5.92 ERA, 57 K, 43 BB, 4.76 FIP, 38% groundballs.
He allowed all kinds of contact. He allowed 13 extra base hits. In about 2/3rds as many innings as he pitched in Jackson, he faced only fifty fewer batters. While Hultzen was more effective at home (3.16 ERA in Tacoma compared to 9.00 on the road) he still wasn't very effective. He walked 19.8% of batters on the road and still walked 16% of batters at home. His 38% groundballs were the same on the road and at home. Everything good that Hultzen did in Jackson was erased by how awful he was in Tacoma.
There are plenty of excuses you can make. Hultzen was new to the league, in his first pro season, possibly trying new stuff, and possibly tired by the end of the year. The Mariners started to give him more rest between starts to try and soften the blow. But at the end of the day, this will leave a sour taste in many mouths. Hultzen needs to find out how to find the strikezone without allowing hits again or all of those "high floor" expectations that made people believe he'd at least be in a major league rotation for awhile, could be gone.
Years from now, people might point to the fact that Hultzen was drafted ahead of Trevor Bauer, Dylan Bundy, Bubba Starling, Anthony Rendon, Archie Bradley, and Francisco Lindor among others. But I'll remind everyone that Bundy was likely to only sign with the Orioles or go to college. And it's far too early to say who the winners of the 2011 MLB draft were, but I have to admit the wind has been taken out of my Hultzen sails.
Let's hope that he comes back strong and in control in 2013.
Nick Franklin, SS, Switch-hitter
Another player that impressed at Jackson, got a promotion, and then sort of broke my heart was Nick Franklin. He was one of the best middle-infielders in the Southern League and doing it at 21:
.322/.381/.502, 4 HR, 17 2B, 4 3B, 9 SB, but most encouraging was his improvement in plate discipline. As a breakout player for the Mariners in 2010, Franklin hit 23 HR and stole 25 bases for Clinton, but he struck out in 21.4% of his at-bats and walked in just 8.7%. That was an area that we'd really like to see improvement in. He lowered his strikeouts to 18.9% and raised his walks to 10.8% in 2011 with the High Desert Mavericks, but his power surprisingly disappeared.
That changed with Jackson: 15.9% strikeouts, 10% walks, and an Isolated Power of .180 (compared to .136 with HD. More standard-y would be to say that he raised his SLG from .411 with the Mavs to .502 with Jackson.)
That's the kind of hitter we wanted to see. So we did and he got promoted to be one of the youngest players in AAA. Then it all seemed to disappear.
Franklin struck out at a ferocious rate to begin his career with the Rainiers, striking out in 34.1% of his 41 June plate appearances and 28.2% of his 117 July appearances. However, he calmed down to end the year and struck out in just 15.2% of his final 138 plate appearances, but still didn't walk a lot. He did hit four home runs in August however.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about Franklin though is his insistence to be a switch-hitter. Franklin has never hit left-handers well and he's still not doing it. With Tacoma he came up against a lefty 63 times and hit .206/.292/.333 compared to 204 at-bats against righties when he hit .255/.315/.441.
His overall line was .243/.310/.416.
It's really not anything we can know much about though because he just might not be able to ever hit a southpaw, no matter what side of the plate he stands on. There is still plenty to be encouraged about with Franklin though. He maintained 17.8% line drives in Tacoma (17.8% in Jackson) but hit fewer balls on the ground (33% compared to 40%) and got more in the air. His power still seems pretty good for a shortstop and if he can stick at the position he could start taking reps with the big league club next year at 22.
I think that my expectations for Franklin have gone down a significant degree since 2010 but I don't think that is a terrible thing. Expectations of 25 HR and 25 SB were probably too much to put on him and he'd still have significant value as a major league shortstop that can hit 15-20 home runs with a decent batting average and 10-15 SB. I'm also encouraged by his continued adjustments at every level to get better. He got off the ground running and so some of us might expected it to only get better, but Franklin has continued growing pains. However, he seems to work through his growing pains each and every time to get better.
I think that Franklin could be with the Mariners by next season and he very likely could struggle at first but I think he'll work through it to become a fixture at the position for awhile with some All-Star potential in him when he taps into that power. He's got to figure out what to do against left handers though or he's doomed to be a forgotten man on those days, if not in a mini-platoon.
My feelings for him are probably the same as they were entering the year, but if I can be Franklin, they are lower than they were at midseason. His stock goes up and down like a booty shakin' contest.
Vincent Catricala, 1B/3B/DH, Bats:Right
The one thing we didn't have to worry about with the Big Cat was the Big Bat. Even if he played defense like an actual cat, there was nothing that would have stopped him from getting a call to the majors this year if he had just continued to hit, especially with how badly Justin Smoak played this year. Unfortunately, he hit like a kitty cat too.
After hitting .341/.424/.636 in a half-season for Jackson last season (and .351/.420/.574 in a half-season with High Desert) Catricala went numb at the plate this year for Tacoma.
He hit .229/.292/.348 in 507 plate appearances with 10 HR, 23 2B, 88 strikeouts and 37 walks. His BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play, essentially a stat that tries to isolate how "lucky" a hitter gets) did drop from .403 (really high) to .263 (pretty low) this year, but that's not going to save him from the absence of power. He finished the year with a .640 OPS, far below the league-average.
His best month was June when he hit .256/.343/.400 and that's not a really great month for a guy that's only a hitter.
Unless he stuns everyone with a really solid spring training in 2013, it's pretty much guaranteed that Catricala will repeat AAA and maybe he'll finally make those adjustments to become a dominant hitter again, but we can't rely on that. As of now, he's not one of the team's top prospects.
Alex Liddi, 3B, Bats:Right
The Italian Stallion got an early-season cup of coffee with the Mariners and basically struck out all of the time. (42 K in 114 plate appearances.)
He got sent back down to Tacoma and struggled early (.198/.271/.311 in July) before finishing the year on a higher-note and hitting .328/.347/.563 with 6 HR in August and an absolute tear to end the season, hitting .405/.409/.810 in his final ten games. But the problem with Liddi is apparent in the fact that his OBP is hardly higher than his average.
He doesn't walk and he strikes out too much. Liddi would essentially have to either improve his plate discipline or profile to hit 30+ homers at the major league level, none of which are all that easy to do. Liddi has been a good hitter in Tacoma but he's going to have to be a better hitter to be a major league regular.
Carlos Peguero, OF, Bats:Left, Strikesout:A Lot
His numbers are phenomenal. And by that I mean, it's phenomenal that a guy can strike out in 51% of his at-bats in the majors with one walk and some fans still expect him to contribute.
It doesn't matter if he can hit the ball a mile, Peguero struck out 25 times in his major league at-bats this year and walked once. Major league pitching is fine with seeing Peguero at the plate. He led the Rainiers in OPS by hitting .285/.366/.562 with 21 HR, but he struck out 103 times and walked 29 times in 281 at-bats.
It's doubtful at this point that he'd ever actually be able to hit .285/.366/.562 against major league pitching and not AAA-pitching, which is made up of a lot of guys that couldn't cut it in the majors.
Carlos Triunfel, SS, Bats:Right
Triunfel was Baseball America's #62 prospect in 2008 and #89 in 2009, but has never developed like we had hoped. Despite that, he just got his first call to the majors for September roster expansions. One wouldn't say that he's having an especially good season, but it's not especially bad for a still-only-22-year-old shortstop.
He hit .260/.308/.391 this year with 10 HR, 31 2B, 89 K/23 BB in 131 games. It's weird that he stole 30 bases in 2008 but just 11 total in the three years since. He hits much better against RHP than LHP:
.344/.377/.574 against LHP
.233/.286/.332 against RHP
That's something that could keep him around as a utility infielder for southpaw starters, but not much more. It's not what we expected when he was so highly-regarded as a teenager, but you have to acknowledge that a lot can go wrong when a player is more projection than production and has years to go before a major league callup. It would be nice if he could stick around the bigs as a useful role player.
Luis Antonio Jimenez, DH, Bats:Left, Large:Yes, InCharge:Definitely
He's hardly what you'd call a prospect but Jimenez is making his major league debut at 30 after over a decade in the minor leagues, which is another good story for the Mariners. He could also be pushing 300 pounds.
He hit .310/.394/.514 with 20 HR, 32 2B, (TWO TRIPLES?!), 97 K and 64 BB in 536 plate appearances.
It's not likely that Jimenez will stick, but stranger things have happened. He is really old for any minor league team but he hasn't done anything to not prove himself a case for a shot.
Adam Moore, C, Bats:Right
Remember him? Moore was the #83 prospect in baseball going into 2010, one of the M's only legit prospects before Jack Z started to turn things around in the farm system. Injuries have kept Moore shelved for most of the time and the team went out and got catcher-happy to make him expendable.
He hit .209/.247/.372 in 24 games for Tacoma before being selected off waivers by the Royals in July. He is hitting .296/.381/.443 in 35 games for their AAA-affiliate Omaha.
Darren Ford: .273/.326/.385, 26 SB/14 CS in 329 plate apperances
Luis Rodriguez: .296/.389/.452, 12 HR, 15 2B in 422 plate appearances
Mike Wilson: .239/.343/.452, 12 HR in 268 plate appearances
Trayvon Robinson: .265/.331/.409, 9 HR, Seattle Mariner now, Defense
Scott Savastano: .259/.331/.371 in 250 plate appearances
Chih-Hsien Chiang: .245/.265/.321 in 168 plate appearances
Andrew Carraway, RHP
He was the opening day starter for AA Jackson ahead of the three-headed monster but proved himself quite capable and went seven starts with a 2.61 ERA and 32 K/7 BB in 38 innings before getting promoted to Tacoma.
His ceiling was probably still that of a #5 starter but Carraway's overall numbers at Tacoma are not very good:
20 starts, 4.66 ERA, 112 innings, 69 K, 30 BB, 114 hits, 15 HR, .265 average against. He walked more, struck out fewer, and posted a FIP of 5.14. If there is a silver lining though, it's that he pitched much better at home:
Road: 57.1 innings, 12% K, 7.9% BB, 7.06 ERA
Home: 54.2 innings, 18% K, 4.4% BB, 2.14 ERA
He got rocked in several starts and was solid in several starts. If Carraway were to ever find a way to hone his good skills on a more consistent basis, he could have a future as a long-reliever or spot starter, but at 26 (Happy Birthday Yesterday!) he doesn't have much time left to develop.
Erasmo Ramirez, RHP
I think he proved himself capable of pitching in the major leagues, even if he'll never be spectacular. Ramirez even went 8 innings against Oakland on June 25th and struck out 10 with one walk, three hits, a one run in a 1-0 loss.
He was essentially up and down in fifteen starts for Tacoma and like Carraway, pitched much better at home.
ROAD: 29.2 innings, 13 K/11 BB, 6.98 ERA, 46 hits, 4 HR
HOME: 47.2 innings, 45 K/7 BB, 1.70 ERA, 35 hits, 1 HR
The home version of Erasmo is a 22-year-old control-artist that could profile as a number three starter in the bigs. If he manages to hone that, he could definitely make a home for himself in the major league rotation and at 22, he's got a lot more time to do that than Carraway does.
Chance Ruffin, RHP, Relief
Ruffin was the sure-thing relief pitcher acquired from Detroit for Doug Fister but he's been anything but. Well, he's definitely been a relief pitcher, just not a very good one. Ruffin finishes the year with a 5.99 ERA in 70.2 innings over 50 appearances, and that's actually a significant improvement with how he started the year.
Ruffin posted an ERA over 7.00 in each of his first three months of the year and then settled down for an ERA of 2.87 in July and 2.19 in August. He still doesn't especially excel in striking people out or limiting walks and with the Mariners bevy of good relievers, Ruffin might not make it with the Seattle bullpen.
However, relief pitchers come and go, improve and get worse, and can get better out of nowhere or implode out of nowhere. Either way, it's not that big of a concern and at least he got a little bit better after being a total disaster.
D.J. Mitchell, RHP
Acquired from the Yankees in the Ichiro trade, Mitchell significantly improved his numbers, albeit in a small sample size. With the Yankees affiliate, he had a 5.04 ERA in 85.2 innings with 72 K and 29 BB. After coming to Tacoma he made 8 starts and posted a 2.96 ERA in 48.2 innings with 33 K and 19 BB.
Mitchell doesn't seem to strike out enough or walk few enough to be considered a major league starting pitching prospect at age 25, but if he pitched one inning for the Mariners it would be considered a success for getting something in return for Ichiro at this stage in his career.
Bobby LaFromboise, LHP, Relief Pitcher
He's a 26-year-old relief pitcher but LaFromboise is coming off of a career year after being drafted by the Mariners in the eighth round of the 2008 draft. He was promoted to Tacoma after posting a 1.01 ERA in 26.2 innings with Jackson and continued to do well:
39.2 innings, 1.59 ERA, 38 K, 16 BB and 30 hits. He will be going to the Arizona Fall League with seven other Mariners and he's probably just happy that the M's know he exists. It's very possible that LaFromboise could squeeze himself into the major league bullpen at some point next year.
Brian Moran, LHP, Relief Pitcher
Another challenger for a bullpen spot could be Moran. He had an exceptional 2010 season before a disappointing 2011 campaign.
He was really good for Jackson (1.14 ERA, 29 K/6 BB in 31.2 innings) before a promotion to Tacoma that saw him strike out 53 batters in 37 innings with 12 walks allowed. He did also give up six home runs in AAA.
Brian Sweeney: 4.63 ERA, 55 K/24 BB in 95.1 innings
Jeff Marquez: 6.69 ERA, 47 K/36 BB in 79.1 innings.
Hector Noesi: 5.74 ERA, 55 K/22 BB in 64.1 innings.
Anthony Vazquez: 6.53 ERA, 31 K/21 BB in 60.2 innings
David Pauley: 2.43 ERA, 41 K/15 BB in 59.1 innings. Suspended 50 games for violating drug policy.
Forrest Snow: 8.42 ERA, 56 K/38 BB in 56.2 innings. Demoted to AA.
Jarrett Grube: 9.26 ERA, 43 K/20 BB in 46.2 innings
Cesar Jimenez: 5.75 ERA, 39 K/19 BB in 40.2 innings
Blake Beavan: 2.61 ERA, 15 K/9 BB in 38 innings
Steven Hensley: 6.27 ERA, 22 K/20 BB in 37.1 innings
Danny Farquhar: 3.65 ERA, 22 K/11 BB in 24.2 innings
Mauricio Robles: 9.86 ERA, 19 K/22 BB in 21 innings. Demoted to AA.
Anyways, that's it. Yep, that is all I've got. Sorry for not giving you much information, I like to keep my recaps short and sweet as you can tell and there wasn't much to say about the Rainiers this season. They weren't very good and they had quite a few disappointments but there might be a few useful bullpen arms in here, Franklin showed a few positive signs as the year went on, and it's too soon to give up on Hultzen though it sucks that he sucked all the sucks.