Results tagged ‘ Jabari Blash ’

Tonight’s Interview: Jabari Blash

It took four lead-changes and a season-high 16 hits to finally put away the Fort Wayne TinCaps for a long-overdue first series sweep of the year, but the LumberKings finally took a permanent lead with back-to-back doubles by Steven Baron and Jabari Blash (listen: Blash RBI double in 9th 6.2.11)  in the ninth and held onto it as right-hander Keli’i Zablan induced a 6-2-3 double play from Rymer Liriano with the bases loaded (listen: Zablan Induces 6-2-3 Game-Ending DP 6.2.11), giving Clinton the 9-8 win last night.

Blash finished 4-for-5 on the night with two doubles and two RBI, Baron went 2-for-4 with a double, home run and an RBI and Kalian Sams went 2-for-5 with a two-run homer (listen: Sams 2-R HR (#5) 6.2.11) and three RBI to give the LumberKings just their second three-game winning streak of the season.  Clinton outscored Fort Wayne 19-15 in the three games, winning 4-3 (10 innings), 6-4 and 9-8.

My interview guest tonight is Blash at long last, following a 6-for-11 series that included a home run and four RBI.

Listen Here:  Blash Interview 6.3.11

Tonight’s Game Notes:  6.3.11 kingsnotes

The Daily Roster Move:  NONE!

Starting Lineups:

LumberKings (17-38):  Jorge Agudelo/2B, Mickey Wiswall/1B, Tim Morris/DH, Kalian Sams/RF, Kevin Rivers/LF, Jabari Blash/CF, Carlos Ramirez/3B, Anthony Phillips/SS, Carlton Tanabe/C, Jandy Sena/RHP

Lake County Captains (25-29):  LeVon Washington/CF, Carlos Moncrief/RF, Giovanny Urshela/3B, Anthony Gallas/LF, Alex Monsalve/C, Jesus Aguilar/1B, Ronny Rodriguez/SS, Alex Lavisky/DH, Nick Bartolone/2B, Kyle Blair/RHP

As you’ve already gathered, the LumberKings are back in Lake County for the first time since the 2010 Midwest League Championship Series last September, when the Captains took the deciding Game 5 by a 3-1 score despite a complete-game effort from right-hander Yoervis Medina.  I’d be lying if I said my heart didn’t hurt a little coming back to this place, but I’m one of the few…only hitting coach Terry Pollreisz, pitchers Jonathan Arias and Forrest Snow, catcher Steven Baron, infielders Tim Morris, Carlos Ramirez and Mickey Wiswall were here for the MWLCS.  

No rings on the line this time, but still plenty of reasons to join me for the broadcast at 6:00 PM central time on 1390kcln.com.

-DL

Memorial Day Notes (5/30)

It’s back to blogging today as the only action taking place at Alliant Energy Field yesterday was that of the front office staff (myself included) moving about an inch of water out of our office after a torrential downpour dropped several inches on us in roughly an hour.  The warning track from left to right-center was also submerged, making it impossible to play the scheduled 2 PM game with the Snappers.

It’s a tired old phrase, but what a difference a day makes.  No rain in the forecast, 90-degree temperatures and most importantly, a dry field and an office dry enough to work out of.  We’ll play two today with the Snappers starting at 12 PM.

I had hoped to catch Jabari Blash for the pregame interview following his two-run triple that capped a five-run fifth inning in Clinton’s 6-4 comeback win against Beloit two nights ago.  Time won’t allow me to do that today, so hopefully Blash has a huge twinbill so I can interview him tomorrow.

Saturday’s highlights:  Sams RBI single 5.28.11  |  Wiswall 2-R single 5.28.11  |  Blash 2-R triple 5.28.11

Today’s Game Notes:  5.30.11 kingsnotes

Left-hander James Paxton (1-1, 2.22), 1-0 with a 1.62 ERA and 29 strikeouts over his last four starts, gets the game-one nod today.  Right-hander Forrest Snow (1-7, 4.45) will try and end his five-game losing streak in the second game, hoping to revisit his 6.0-inning no-hit effort against the Snappers back on April 12.

Listen to both seven-inning games on 1390kcln.com.

-DL

Friday Notes (5/27)

The LumberKings won just their third series all season and first in the month of May last night as right-hander Taijuan Walker and relievers Nate Reed and Jessie Nava combined for a six-hit shutout in a 2-0 win over the Cedar Rapids Kernels last night.  Walker went 5.0 innings and allowed just two hits, improving to 2-2 on the season and 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in his last three starts.  Stefen Romero and Jabari Blash drove in Clinton’s runs with a single and double, respectively.

Listen to the RBI hits:  Romero RBI single 5.26.11  |  Blash RBI double 5.26.11

Tonight, it’s back home to start a four-game series against the slumping Beloit Snappers, losers of nine-straight.  Right-hander George Mieses will hope to revisit his last start against the Snappers (a 7.0-inning, two-hit, scoreless effort) as he attempts to snap a three-game losing streak (0-3, 10.80 during that span).

Tonight’s Game Notes:  5.27.11 kingsnotes

Today’s Roster Move:  NONE!

Starting Lineups:

Beloit Snappers (21-26):  Jamaal Hawkins/2B, Wang-Wei Lin/CF, Nate Roberts/DH, Michael Gonzales/1B, Daniel Ortiz/LF, Lance Ray/RF, Kyle Knudson/C, Andrew Leer/3B, Daniel Santana/SS, Manuel Soliman/RHP

LumberKings (13-35):  Julio Morban/CF, Mickey Wiswall/1B, Stefen Romero/2B, Kevin Rivers/DH, Matt Browning/3B, Steven Baron/C, Jabari Blash/RF, Anthony Phillips/SS, Robbie Anston/LF, George Mieses/RHP

It’s a 6:30 start time tonight at Alliant Energy Field, listen online at 1390kcln.com.

-DL

Wednesday Notes (5/18)

Despite another ninth-inning comeback attempt and home runs by both Jabari Blash and Mickey Wiswall, the LumberKings could not extend a winning streak to two games last night, falling 8-6 to the Burlington Bees in the opener of this 10-game road trip.  Wiswall belted a two-run shot in the ninth off right-hander Drew Tyson that brought the Kings to within two, but Tyson then retired Stefen Romero leaving the potential tying run — Carlos Ramirez — in the on-deck circle.

Listen to the blasts:  Blash Solo HR (#2) 5.17.11   |   Wiswall 2-R HR (#2) 5.17.11

Clinton is now 3-13 in the month of May, dropping their season record to a MWL-worst 10-29.  Not many ways to sugar-coat it, but chew on this statistic…of the 13 May losses, the Kings have had the tying or winning runs either at the plate or in the on-deck circle in their final at-bat nine times and have scored eight runs total in the ninth inning.  They’ve lost by three runs five times, two runs five times and one run four times in that 13-game span. 

More encouraging factoids just like like that one in tonight’s Game Notes:  5.18.11 kingsnotes

The “no starting lineups” thing didn’t work two games in a row, so here you go…

LumberKings (10-29):  Shaver Hansen/2B, Kevin Rivers/LF, Tim Morris/DH, Stefen Romero/3B, Mickey Wiswall/1B, Jabari Blash/CF, Kalian Sams/RF, Steven Baron/C, Jake Schlander/SS, Edlando Seco/LHP

Burlington Bees (28-9):  Royce Consigli/RF, Nino Leyja/2B, Tony Thompson/3B, Josh Whitaker/DH, Yordy Cabrera/SS, Douglas Landaeta/LF, AJ Kirby-Jones/1B, Tyreace House/CF, John Nester/C, Tyler Vail/RHP

Notice anything different about those lineups?  Kevin Rivers is starting for the first time since April 25 vs. Peoria and lefty Edlando Seco makes his first start since game one of the Northwest League Playoffs when he suited up for Everett against Oakland’s low-A affiliate (and many of the Bees hitters) in Vancouver.  Seco hasn’t allowed a run over his last 8.0 innings as a reliever and steps up to fill the vacated rotation spot left by right-hander Brandon Maurer.

Should be an interesting one tonight.  Listen online at 1390kcln.com.  First pitch is at 6:30 PM.

-DL

Tonight’s Interview: Eddie Menchaca (Vol. 2)

For the second-straight game, the LumberKings’ offense stormed out to a 7-0 lead on Beloit.  Unlike Sunday, the offense kept rolling late and the bullpen survived meltdown as Clinton won by its largest margin of the season, 13-6 over the Snappers.  Ramon Morla (2-for-4) and Carlos Ramirez (3-for-3) each drove in three runs apiece and Jabari Blash went 1-for-2 with a double and two RBI to lead the offense, all backing 5.0 scoreless innings from right-hander Stephen Kohlscheen.

With the offense finally starting to produce, the starting rotation coming back strong (3-0, 0.75 over the last four games) and the addition of two new arms to the roster — including one very high-profile right-hander that you’ve likely heard about already), it’s the perfect time to catch up with LumberKings’ manager Eddie Menchaca for the second time this season.

We talk about the offense including Morla and Ramirez, Julio Morban, Tim Morris and others, the additons of right-handers Taijuan Walker and Jandy Sena, Chaca’s “win the inning” philosophy and more.

Listen Here:  Menchaca Interview 5.3.11

Tonight’s Game Notes:  5.3.11 kingsnotes

Starting Lineups:

Beloit Snappers (13-9):  Jamaal Hawkins/SS, Andrew Leer/3B, Nate Roberts/DH, Michael Gonzales/1B, Daniel Ortiz/LF, Lance Ray/RF, Kyle Knudson/C, Wang-Wei Lin/CF, Derek McCallum/2B, Logan Darnell/LHP

LumberKings (8-17):  Julio Morban/LF, Carlos Ramirez/2B, Stefen Romero/DH, Mickey Wiswall/1B, Matt Cerione/CF, Ramon Morla/3B, Jabari Blash/RF, Marcus Littlewood/SS, Steven Baron/C, Anthony Fernandez/LHP

First pitch is once again at 6:30 PM, listen online at 1390kcln.com.

-DL

Tonight’s Interview: Steven Baron

In a tale of two games yesterday, the LumberKings built a 7-0 lead on offensive days from Steven Baron (3-for-4, two doubles, HR, 3 RBI), Jabari Blash (3-for-5, HR, RBI) and Mickey Wiswall (1-for-5, 2 RBI), all backing seven scoreless, two-hit innings from right-hander Brandon Maurer.

It wouldn’t last.  Beloit scored nine runs on the beleaguered Clinton bullpen in the eighth inning to take a sudden 9-7 lead and would go on to win 10-8.  Rather than wallow in the 17th loss of the season and fourth at the hands of the rival Snappers, I’m emphasising the growth we saw yesterday from this offense, particularly Baron.

Yesterday’s Highlights:

Seattle’s supplemental first-round selection out of high school in 2009, Baron struggled with the LumberKings in the first half.  He’d be sent down at midseason to the short-A Everett AquaSox, where in working with former Kings’ manager Scott Steinmann, Baron would grow into a Northwest League Postseason All-Star.  He’d win a ring with the Sox before returning to Clinton for the Midwest League Championship Series.  This spring, Baron was a mainstay in Major League camp with the Mariners, hitting .500 (7-for-14) with a home run and three RBI.

All of that for a guy who is still learning to be consistent at the plate and still working on the finer points of handling a pitching staff.  The 20-year-old Baron talks about his breakout offensive day yesterday, catching Maurer, what he does as a catcher when a pitcher is struggling (as we saw in the 8th yesterday), his wild 2010 season, his Cactus League experience and more.  Note…the wind plays a bit of a factor in the audio quality at the latter half of the interview, but I didn’t want to cut that part. 

Listen Here:  Baron Interview (Full Edition) 5.2.11

Tonight’s Game Notes:  5.2.11 kingsnotes

Starting Lineups:

Beloit Snappers (13-8):  Jamaal Hawkins/SS, Gunner Glad/2B, Lance Ray/RF, Michael Gonzales/1B, Daniel Ortiz/CF, Josmil Pinto/C, Nate Roberts/LF, Andrew Leer/3B, Derek McCallum/DH, BJ Hermsen/RHP

LumberKings (7-17):  Julio Morban/LF, Shaver Hansen/2B, Tim Morris/DH, Mickey Wiswall/1B, Matt Cerione/CF, Ramon Morla/3B, Jabari Blash/RF, Steven Baron/C, Carlos Ramirez/SS, Stephen Kohlscheen/RHP

First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 PM, listen online at 1390kcln.com.

-DL

Tuesday Notes (4/26)

Hidden deep within last night’s 14-3 loss to Peoria were a few bright spots.  Shortstop Marcus Littlewood hit his first professional home run in the second inning, taking Chicago Cubs’ first-round pick Hayden Simpson deep to the Lumber Lounge in right for a solo shot.  Right-hander Willy Kesler lowered his ERA to 1.38 with 4.0 scoreless innings of relief including two strikeouts.  Matt Cerione went 3-for-4 with his first RBI of the season and is now 5-for-8 over his last two games.   Tim Morris recorded his third multi-hit game in the last four games, going 2-for-4 with a run scored.

Listen to the not-so-little blast: Littlewood solo HR (first of career) 4.25.11

Aside from that, last night was tough to watch.  The Chiefs batted around and then some on right-handers George Mieses and Jonathan Arias during an eight-run second inning, the second eight-run frame Clinton pitchers have allowed in the last three games.  The offense went just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and have scored Mieses just three runs of support in four starts.

But, there’s more new blood on the roster today with the addition of outfielder Jabari Blash.  He and fellow new arrival Shaver Hansen are both in the lineup tonight for the middle game of this three-game set against Peoria.  Right-hander Brandon Maurer (1-1, 3.00) has lost his “tandem” tag and is now a full-time starter…he lost his last time out against Cedar Rapids on 4/20 despite giving up just three runs over 5.0 innings.  Maurer will be on the hill tonight for start #3.

Read more in tonight’s Game Notes:  4.26.11 kingsnotes

Starting Lineups:

Peoria (9-8):  Matt Szczur/CF, Rubi Silva/RF, Greg Rohan/3B, Richard Jones/1B, Micah Gibbs/C, Elliot Soto/2B, DJ Fitzgerald/LF, Anthony Giansanti/DH, Arismendy Alcantara/SS, Austin Kirk/LHP

LumberKings (5-13):  Matt Cerione/CF, Shaver Hansen/2B, Julio Morban/LF, Mickey Wiswall/DH, Ramon Morla/3B, Tim Morris/1B, Jabari Blash/RF, Marcus Littlewood/SS, Steven Baron/C, Brandon Maurer/RHP

First pitch is once again at 6:30 PM, tune in online at 1390kcln.com.

-DL

Blash Arrives from AZ, Rivers Heads to DL

Mariners’ 8th round pick, outfielder Jabari Blash joins LumberKings

Clinton, IA– The Clinton LumberKings, in conjunction with the Seattle Mariners have announced the following transaction for the Clinton 25-man roster: outfielder Kevin Rivers has been placed on the seven-day disabled list and is replaced on the roster by outfielder Jabari Blash, called up from extended Spring Training today.

Rivers, 22, hit .276 with two doubles, a home run and seven RBI in 17 games for the LumberKings this season.  He exited last night’s 14-3 loss toPeoria after an eighth-inning at-bat in which he was struck in the hand by a ball that ricocheted off his bat.  Rivers later drew a walk and stayed in the game, but was replaced defensively for the ninth inning.

Blash, 21, hit .266 with six doubles, five homers and 20 RBI in 32 games for rookie-level Pulaski last season. Seattle drafted him in the eighth round out of Miami Dade Community College in 2010.

The moves give Clintona total of 25 active players with two on the disabled list.  Blash has not yet chosen a uniform number, but will be available for tonight’s 6:30 PM game againstPeoria.

-DL

Predicting the 2011 Roster (Part 2)

Thumbnail image for 2011previewpart2.jpg

Left-handers Anthony Fernandez (left) and Edlando Seco (right) finished 2-3 in the Northwest League in ERA last season.

Part two of my third-annual educated guess at the upcoming LumberKings’ roster is today, with a look at players who I think will make their Clinton debuts at some point in 2011.  Again, my disclaimer…I have no advanced knowledge of the roster via the Seattle Mariners at this point in the year, thus this is just my opinion.  If anyone I’ve mentioned is no longer with the Mariners’ organization (trade, release, retirement, etc.), please feel free to update me in the “comments” section below.

It’s easy to get excited about the crop of talent coming up, given that four of the five teams below low-A advanced to the playoffs last year.  Everett, the team we’re likely to see the most players from, won the Northwest League title last season under the guidance of Jose Moreno and newly-named LumberKings’ pitching coach Rich Dorman.  Pulaski, the other top feeder team, advanced to the postseason under current manager Eddie Menchaca.  The players coming up from those two squads will already be well versed in what it takes to win, and they’ll be working with a staff that is more than familiar with their skillset.  That should be a solid recipe for success here in Clinton.  Now, let’s take a position-by-position look at some of the players who could be wearing black and green in 2011.

Catcher

As I said in part one of the preview, 2009 supplemental first-rounder Steven Baron, who split his first pro season between Clinton and Everett, should be the everyday catcher here.  He started 50 of the AquaSox’ 76 games behind the plate and was named the NWL’s top catcher. Cal State Fullerton product Billy Marcoe (.153, 0 HR, 3 RBI, .383 OPS) appeared in 11 games for Everett as Baron’s backup last year.  He could be filling that role again.  Pulaski’s catching corps included Venezuela native Larry Gonzalez (.267, 1 HR, 17 RBI, .700 OPS), Dominican native Hassiel Jimenez (.229, 0 HR, 8 RBI, .541 OPS) and Seattle’s 32nd round pick out of Vanderbilt, Andrew Giobbi (.291, 2 HR, 12 RBI, .764 OPS).  Seattle’s highest-drafted catcher in 2010 was sixth-round pick Christian Carmichael, who needs a season at short-A before he’s ready for the Midwest League.  Carmichael, drafted out of Mililani High School in Hawaii, hit .100 in just 11 games in the AZL.  It’s anyone’s guess at this point who the other catcher (or second and third catchers) will be, but I’d put my money on Gonzalez or Giobbi and bank on Carmichael in 2012.

First Base   

Evan Sharpley, the Mariners’ 50th-round and final selection of the 2009 June draft, was better known as the backup quarterback to Jimmy Clausen at Notre Dame when Seattle selected him.  After solid efforts in the AZL in ’09 (.333, 7 HR, 29 RBI) and Everett in ’10 (.231, 6 HR, 42 RBI, .706 OPS), Sharpley has proven he belongs in pro baseball.  Granted, .231 with a .318 OBP isn’t lighting up the Northwest League, but he still started 64 of Everett’s 76 games last year and can provide power from the left side of the plate.  Pulaski had a first-base platoon situation with Hofstra product and 35th round pick Ethan Paquette (.236, 3 HR, 19 RBI, .643 OPS) splitting time with Matt Browning (.330, 4 HR, 24 RBI, .947 OPS), the 43rd round pick out of James Madison.  Paquette is the only natural first-baseman of the group with Sharpley and Browning both moving over from third base, but I think this spot ultimately goes to Sharpley.  I projected in my previous post that Tim Morris should return, but we’ll see who emerges this Spring.

Second Base

LumberKings’ alums Hawkins Gebbers and Terry Serrano handled most of the second-base duties for Everett last year, and either one could be back on the Clinton infield.  Since this post is about new faces, I’ll focus elsewhere.  Menchaca’s Pulaski team featured an intriguing second-baseman named Jorge Agudelo, who ripped 16 doubles and legged out seven triples in just 59 games while hitting .287.  The Caracas, VZ native also exhibited a knack for baserunning, stealing an Appy League-high 24 bases in 31 attempts.  The Kings haven’t had a true speedster at the top of the lineup since Engel Beltre in ’08, so it’d be great to see Agudelo flying around the bases.  Unless Gabriel Noriega repeats the league and isn’t the starting shortstop (more on that later), I think Agudelo has the inside track on the second base spot.  Gebbers, Serrano and Carlos Ramirez are all solid utility choices, while 30th-round pick Derek Poppert (.242, 8 doubles, HR, 11 RBI) could be in the mix also.    

Third Base

When Menchaca was in for the Hot Stove Banquet in January, he raved about third-baseman Ramon Morla whenever he was asked about his players from Pulaski.  The 21-year-old San Pedro de Macoris product was a near Triple Crown winner in the Appy League, blasting a league-best 17 homers in 62 games while hitting .323 (2nd) and driving in 49 runs (2nd).  Only Elizabethton’s Oswaldo Arcia (who figures to be big in Beloit this year) led more offensive categories than Morla.  He won’t be Mario Martinez on defense, given that he committed a team-high 21 errors at the hot corner last year, but his offensive numbers are exciting enough to forgive that fact.  The Mariners’ used their 12th-round pick on Oregon State third-baseman Stefen Romero, but he was unable to play last season after fracturing his arm in late May.  Romero was hitting .326 with 13 homers and 41 RBI with the Beavers prior to the injury.  Director of Amateur Scouting Tom McNamara is high on Romero, but you can’t argue against Morla’s MVP-like season.  I say, let’s see them both.  Someone’s got to DH.

Shortstop 

No question, the shortstop position will be the biggest shoes to fill in the eyes of most LumberKings’ fans.  Nick Franklin enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons in club history last year and emerged as the #3 prospect in the entire Seattle system.  With respects to Pulaski’s Jake Schlander (the 31st-round pick out of Stanford, hit .259, one HR, 25 RBI, .671 OPS) and Everett’s Anthony Phillips (.204, 2 HR, 12 RBI, .627), 2010 second-round pick Marcus Littlewood should be a more-than-capable replacement to Franklin.  The 19-year-old Littlewood was drafted out of St. George High School in Utah and didn’t play for an affiliate last year, yet was ranked the #8 prospect in the system by Baseball America.  Like Franklin, Littlewood has Team USA experience, suiting up with the 16-and-under National Team at the 2008 Pan Am Youth Games (they won gold) and the 18-and-under squad last year.  BA projects him to hit for average and put up 10-15 home runs as Clinton’s everyday shortstop in 2011.  How can I disagree?

Outfield

Two of Everett’s top four hitters resided in the outfield, with left-handed hitting right-fielder Kevin Rivers leading the way.  Rivers, signed as a non-drafted free agent in 2009 out of the same school that produced Scott Savastano (Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire), shook off pedestrian numbers in the AZL and hit a team-best .332 (3rd in the NWL) with 11 blasts, 48 RBI, a league-best .466 on-base percentage and a 1.022 OPS for the AquaSox.  Centerfielder Robbie Anston also had a productive year for the AquaSox after a 26th-round selection out of Boston College, hitting .292 with 13 doubles, two homers, 24 RBI and 15 steals in 23 attempts.  Anston was one of Everett’s top playoff hitters, batting .333 with three doubles.

Menchaca’s Pulaski team was also anchored by powerful outfielders, most notably Venezuelans Jose Rivero (.295, 7 HR, 35 RBI, .817 OPS) and switch-hitting Mario Yepez (.231, 12 doubles, 6 HR, 27 RBI, .652 OPS).  Left-handed hitting James Wood, the 47th-round pick, hit .291 and had a .794 OPS in 28 games.  The one I’ve heard most about, however, is the eighth-round pick out of Miami Dade Community College, Jabari Blash.  Originally from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, Blash looks like the heir apparent to James Jones in right field.  The 6’4″ Blash is just about the same size as JJ, plus he hit at a similar clip (.266, 5 HR, 20 RBI, .839 OPS) over his 32 games in the Appy League.  BA rated Blash the fastest player of the Mariners’ 2010 draft class, and we’ll see if he can cover JJ-like ground when he patrols right-field.  I expect him to be joined by Rivers in left and Anston in center, with Rivero, Yepez, Kalian Sams and Ryan Royster fighting for the fourth spot or stepping in to the DH role.  In regards to Menchaca’s lineup, I’d like to see Anston and Rivers in the 2-3 spots with Blash protecting Morla around the five spot. 

Starting Rotation 

One thing the Mariners have always supplied the LumberKings since the affiliation began in 2009 is brilliant starting pitching.  The 2009 club led the Midwest League in ERA at 3.35 and featured league ERA champion Kenn Kasparek, while the 2010 team ranked second in ERA at 3.66 and sported the league’s top right-hander (Erasmo Ramirez) and second-best left-hander (Jimmy Gillheeney).  Will the rotation live up to the standards of the last two years?

Looking just at the top three starters in Dorman’s Everett rotation, it looks like the 2011 starters should be outstanding.  The AquaSox posted a Northwest League-best 3.22 ERA thanks largely to a pair of southpaws, Edlando Seco and Anthony Fernandez.  The duo finished 2-3 in the league in ERA, with the Calabozo, VZ native Seco going 3-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 14 starts while Fernandez, from Santiago, DR went 8-3 with a 2.59 ERA over 15 starts.  Fernandez finished atop the league in fewest baserunners per 9.0 IP (10.26), tied for first in wins (8), second in WHIP (1.12) and third in fewest walks per 9.0 IP (1.94) while Seco held opponents to a league-low .169 average, finished third in WHIP (1.20) and third as well in strikeouts per 9.0 IP (9.52).  Simply put, the lefties put on a show for the eventual champs.

Yet, they weren’t the only stellar starters for Everett.  Right-hander Chris Sorce, Seattle’s 26th-round pick out of Troy in 2009, made the move from the bullpen to the rotation this season and was fantastic in 15 starts, going 8-2 with a 3.64 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.  I had him projected to be in Clinton’s pen last year, but there’s no doubt in my mind he should be in the Kings’ rotation this season.

Pulaski has an ace of their own to offer up.  Right-hander Tim Boyce, the 44th-round pick out of the University of Rhode Island, won an Appalachian League-best nine games (9-3) and had the league’s 10th-best ERA of 2.98 over 13 games, eight starts.  In the mold of Ramirez, Boyce is a control artist — he walked seven while striking out 42 over 47.1 innings as a starter and had a paltry 1.03 WHIP, fourth-best in the Appy League.

Continuing with Pulaski…right-hander Jessie Nava (4-3, 4.36 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) was a reliable starter aside from his propensity to give up home runs (a league-high 8 in 13 starts).  Righty George Mieses went 4-4 with a 3.45 ERA and the league’s third-lowest walks per 9.0 IP average (1.19) over his 13 starts.  Right-hander Stephen Kohlscheen went 3-0 with a 2.51 ERA in seven games, five starts after his 45th-round selection.

All of those pitchers could quickly be overshadowed if Seattle’s supplemental first-round pick, 18-year-old right-hander Taijuan Walker, comes to town.  Walker was the 43rd player drafted last year despite having more experience as a high school basketball player than as a pitcher.  That’s because of a large frame (he’s 6’4″ according to most reports) and a live arm (his fastball has touched 95 mph, and he backs it up with a decent slider and change).  Walker went 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA and a stingy .087 opponent average over his four appearances in the AZL last year, a very encouraging start to a career that might take a few seasons to develop.  The Mariners are in no need to rush Walker here to Clinton, but I think he’ll factor into the rotation once the weather gets warmer (much like Kasey Kiker and Blake Beavan did in ’07 and ’08).

Even if Walker doesn’t arrive this year, the Kings could be in for some other surprises from the Dominican Summer League and the Venezuela Summer League much like Ramirez was in 2010.  Left-hander Henry Perez went 7-1 with a 0.86 ERA in 11 starts in the DSL, striking out 76 while walking only 10 (can someone say Erasmo-like?) and limiting opponents to a .187 average over 73.0 innings.  He’s not particularly young (he’ll turn 22 after the season), meaning he likely can handle the jump to the United States.  Left-hander Brandol Perez might be more likely to stay in the DSL despite going 7-0 with a 0.19 ERA (yes, you read that right) over 11 games, six starts last year…he’ll be 18 in August.  Right-hander Vicente Campos was the DSL Mariners’ top starter, going 8-2 with a 3.16 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and .231 opponent average in 12 starts.  Campos will turn 19 in July, leading me to believe we’ll probably see him in 2012.

If the Clinton rotation features any combination of Walker, Seco, Fernandez, Boyce, Sorce and Perez this year, we could witness the most dominant LumberKings’ staff in recent history.  Given all that we’ve seen as a Seattle affiliate, that’s saying a lot.

Bullpen

Things certainly look promising for the first six-to-seven innings, but will the Kings’ bullpen be able to finish things off?  A lot of Everett’s bullpen made their way to Clinton and were sent back down, but there’s a few arms out there we haven’t seen.  Right-hander Willy Kesler, the 18th-round pick out of the University of New Mexico, went 3-2 with a 1.47 ERA in 19 relief outings and held NWL opponents to a .213 average.  Kesler led the team in holds (5) and was tied with Jason Markovitz and Stephen Pryor for the saves lead (4-for-4).  Right-hander Austin Hudson, the 27th-round pick in ’09, went 4-2 with a 2.92 ERA over 20 games (including seven starts) but was just 3-for-6 in save attempts.  New York, NY native Eric Valdez was also impressive in seven relief outings for the AquaSox, going 0-0 with a 0.64 ERA and a .192 opponent average.  Right-hander Tyler Burgoon, the 10th-round pick out of Michigan, had decent numbers outside of a 4.40 ERA…his 0.98 WHIP ranked third on the team amongst pitchers with eight-plus outings.

Back over to Pulaski, right-hander Bryan Leigh (2-0, 1.71 ERA, 3-of-3 in saves, 1.05 WHIP, .203 opponent average) was their most reliable reliever.  Right-handers Lance Abbott (0-0, 2.25 ERA) and Preston Vancil (2-1, 2.84 ERA) also checked in under the 3.00 ERA mark, although they had just one hold and one save combined.  I’m pulling for right-hander Ben Versnik, the 38th-round pick out of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, to make the roster.  Versnik, born in West Allis, Wisconsin (my birthplace as well) went 0-0 with a 3.38 ERA in six outings. 

The AZL offers up a few names as well, including left-handers Kody Kurowski (1-3, 4.30, 5-for-7 in saves) and Scott Ronnenbergh (0-1, 2.13, 1-for-1 in saves) and right-handers Danny Cruz-Ayala (1-0, 4.05, 3-for-4 in saves) and Jandy Sena (4-2, 4.01, 1-for-2 in saves).

As you can see, there’s no clear-cut closer amongst the players I’ve named, but we might not know who fits into that role until well into the season.  It will be fun to see how it all pieces together, especially with a lot of returnees to the pen from last year’s playoff club.

Whew, that was a long one.  If you’re still reading by this point, congrats…you’ve stuck with me until the end of this preview and you’re truly a diehard LumberKings’ fan.  Feel free to share your own thoughts in the “comments” section below, I’d be interested in hearing what others think.  Of course, we won’t know for sure until just prior to April 7 when the team arrives from Peoria, AZ.  Check out this blog and LumberKings.com around that time to find out the official word on the Opening Night roster.

-DL

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