Predicting the 2011 Roster (Part 1)

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My third-annual educated guess at the next season’s LumberKings’ roster begins today with part one, looking at potential players from the 2010 West Division Champs that could be back for the pennant defense. 

A warning first…these are my own thoughts and predictions and are based on no official reports from the Seattle Mariners.  Sometimes I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong.  Last year, I correctly named nine players from the 2009 roster that returned in ’10, although not all in the exact roles or timeframes I expected.  Also, in the event I’ve named someone who has been released, signed elsewhere or retired, feel free to correct me in the comments section below.  It’s happened before.

With that out of the way, here we go.

After a season as successful as last year, it’s safe to assume that most of the impact players will not return.  If you enjoyed watching Nick Franklin, James Jones, Vinnie Catricala, Mickey Wiswall, Mario MartinezErasmo Ramirez, Tom Wilhelmsen and Yoervis Medina at Alliant Energy Field last season, you’ll be more likely to see them all out in Adelanto, CA or Jackson, TN this year.  In the case of Wilhelmsen and Medina, you might sooner see them at Safeco Field.  Both are on the 40-man roster.

That’s not to say that there won’t be some experienced players back from last year’s team.  The one that I expect to return with the highest prospect pedigree will be catcher Steven Baron (pictured above).  Seattle’s supplemental first-round pick (after Dustin Ackley and Franklin) in 2009, Baron was in over his head a bit with his Opening Day assignment to the LumberKings’ roster, but as expected, you could never tell by his raw defensive ability.

The Mariners lured Baron away from Duke University because of his surprising skills behind the plate, some of which we saw last season out of the 19-year-old.  Baron nailed 27 of 64 attempting basestealers, a 42% rate.  While his passed balls total was a little concerning (a team-high 11 in 45 games), it was his bat that truly needed work.  Baron hit just .182 as a LumberKing, with just four of his 28 hits going for extra bases.  He struck out over 30% of the time, looking overmatched against older Midwest League pitchers.  At the All-Star Break, Baron was shipped down to short-A Everett to gain offensive confidence and did just that under hitting coach Scott Steinmann, hitting .253 with 12 doubles, three homers and 22 RBI in 53 games.  After earning the Northwest League’s Post-Season All-Star award and a NWL Championship ring with the AquaSox, Baron returned to the LumberKings during the playoffs and looked like a far more confident player.  I believe we’ll see him back as Clinton’s starting catcher in 2011 as he continues to grow as both a hitter and a backstop.


Continuing around the diamond to first base, it’s not likely we’ll see Wiswall back after his strong performance down the stretch (.301, 4 HR, 18 RBI in 33 regular-season games, .273, 2 HR, 5 RBI in 11 playoff games).  Again, citing the logjam situation at that same position, it might be possible that Tim Morris returns to Clinton.  Seattle’s 11th-round pick in 2009 out of St. John’s University, Morris hit .250 with 14 doubles, three triples, five homers and 46 RBI in 83 games last season.  Depending on how he performs during the spring, the Mariners could elect to send him back to Clinton.

Shortstop Gabriel Noriega could headline the up-the-middle defense for the LumberKings in 2011 now that he won’t have to shift to second base for Franklin.  Noriega was a sure-handed and strong-armed defender at both middle infield spots, but lacked poise at the plate until a hot month of August.  Even with that surge (.281, 10 RBI in 96 at-bats), the 19-year-old Venezuelan hit .227, scored 47 runs and drove in 28 in 112 games.  If Mariners’ 2010 second-round pick Marcus Littlewood doesn’t take over the position (Baseball America expects him to), Noriega might be sent back.

Versatile infielders Hawkins Gebbers and Carlos Ramirez also look like possible returnees.  Gebbers hit .255 with a pair of homers and five RBI during a 19-game stint with the Kings, but spent most of the year with Everett.  He hit .240 with 16 doubles, three homers and 22 RBI in 49 games.  Ramirez is most famous for his two-out, two-strike, game-tying RBI single in the 12th inning of Game 2 of the MWLCS.  Aside from that, he barely played at all in a Clinton cup-of-coffee.  Ramirez was the VSL Mariners’ MVP in 2009 after hitting .336, but struggled offensively in the AZL last year (.234, 12 RBI in 40 games).  I think we’ll see Gebbers and Ramirez both at some point in the year.

As for the outfield, I’ll mention only two names here from last year’s talented crop.  Kalian Sams had arguably THE hottest start in the Midwest League last year with 12 home runs in his first 44 games, but fell off completely when pitchers stopped throwing him fastballs.  Many folks in the Mariners’ system have called Sams the top power prospect in the organization (a definite honor considering Franklin, Greg Halman, Rich Poythress and Joherymn Chavez), but his .180 average and 132 strikeouts in 266 at-bats in his third Midwest League stint are more than a concern.  We know he can hit the ball a long way, but unless Sams can consistently put the ball in play this Spring, we might see him back in Clinton again.

Ryan Royster, the 13th round pick in the ’08 draft, might also finally settle in with the Kings with Daniel Carroll, Matt Cerione, Jones and Catricala all gone.  Royster was a huge boost to the offense two seasons ago when he hit .333 with two homers and seven RBI in eight games, leading me to bank on him becoming a regular in 2010.  That didn’t happen, as he played in just 10 games (.238, HR, 3 RBI) and was primarily with Everett yet again.  The Mariners have plenty in the outfield pipeline coming up, so we’ll see if that affects Royster again this year.

On the mound, there’s no surefire experienced starter set to come back the way Anthony
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Vasquez
did last year.  Sixth-round pick Tyler Blandford (pictured right) has a live fastball and plenty of promise, but the right-hander went 1-2 with a 3.67 ERA in seven erratic starts with Clinton last year before missing the bulk of the season with arm issues.  With all of the fantastic pitching that stepped forward throughout the system in 2010, Blandford now must improve his control (he walked 25 in 27 innings last year) and stay on the mound for a full year just to stay on the radar.  If healthy, I think he’ll get that opportunity in Clinton.

Another starter looking to get back on track from injury will be right-hander Nolan Gallagher.  A fourth-round selection in 2007, Gallagher missed all of 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was forced to shut it down in 2010 after experiencing soreness again.  His 0-4, 6.32 marks didn’t tell the full story…Gallagher logged five-plus innings in four of his five starts before going on the disabled list in late July and then got hit hard late in the year when he returned.  Maybe he’ll be back, rested and healthy as a veteran contributor in 2011. 

I liked what I saw out of right-hander Jonathan Arias in his two spot-starts (0-1, 2.25 in 8.0 IP) and gutsy relief performance in the MWLCS Game 2 marathon.  Does that prove he’s worthy of joining the rotation on a full-time basis this year?  The 2011 season will be only his third as a pitcher after he started his career behind the plate.  Either in the rotation or in the pen, I believe he’ll be a LumberKing again.

While the rotation is sure to look much different compared to last year, the bullpen should actually seem familiar.  Right-hander John Housey went 5-4 with a 4.35 ERA in 25 games, including three spot-starts with the Kings until a late-July demotion to Everett.  Aside from the occasional blow-up outing (he allowed four-plus earned runs in four appearances), Housey was a go-to reliever for a decent stretch of the season.  Right-hander Jorden Merry (0-0, 4.91, SV in 13 games) and left-hander Jason Markovitz (0-0, 4.50 in 9 games) both had similar stats in brief stints with Clinton, leaving plenty of room for growth if they’re back.


The star of the pen could very well be Mariners’ 2010 fifth-round pick, right-hander Stephen Pryor. His 97 mph fastball proved effective against Midwest League hitters as he struck out 29 in just 17 innings, but Pryor’s control became a problem come playoff time as he walked five batters in just 1.1 innings.  Baseball America 
has projected him as the 21st-best prospect in the entire system and a candidate for a big-league bullpen spot as soon as 2012, but it’s possible that he returns to hone his curveball.  Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part, but I’d love to see Pryor saving games in Clinton.

If he’s not, the Kings might still have high-octane heat in right-hander Fray Martinez, who also has an overpowering fastball but struggled through control issues.  Martinez went 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA in 12 appearances, walked 11 batters, hit one and issued four wild pitches.  The Santiago, Dominican Republic native was left off the playoff roster, but I think he’ll be back in the bullpen this year.  Right-hander Matt Bischoff could join him for his first full season after coming to Clinton for the playoffs.  Bischoff was dominant in his outings against Cedar Rapids and Kane County, but suffered through two tough relief performances against Lake County in the Championship Series, including a game one blown save and loss.  The Purdue product will get a chance to redeem himself as a go-to arm this year.


In addition to the 2010 returnees, we could also see several players from the ’09 season come back.  All-Star shortstop Terry Serrano (pictured left) hit .307 as a versatile everyday infielder for the AquaSox last year and could give Clinton a lift the same way Luis Nunez did last year.  Infielder-turned-pitcher Ogui Diaz has apparently dropped his arm angle down and went 4-3 with a 5.12 ERA in his first full season on the mound with Everett last year.  Names like Dwight Britton (.216 in 42 games with Everett) and Jetsy Extrano (.230 in 49 games with Pulaski) might pop up from time to time also.

Part two of my predictions on the 2011 roster will be posted next Tuesday.  Then, I’ll be going over some of the players you might expect to see donning the black and green for the first time.

-DL

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