Results tagged ‘ Marcus Littlewood ’

Everett Roster Announced, Mariners Sign 21 Picks

News from elsewhere in the Mariners’ system today that will likely have an impact on the Clinton roster in the near future…

The defending Northwest League Champion Everett AquaSox announced their 2011 Opening Night Roster today, and it features two former LumberKings on the roster and one on the bench.  Manager Scott Steinmann’s (’09) crew includes infielders Jetsy Extrano (’09) and Marcus Littlewood (’11).  No sign of Ramon Morla (’11).

Interestingly enough, former Wisconsin Timber Rattler and Oak Creek (WI) High School product, left-hander Tony Butler is back in the Seattle system and with the AquaSox.  This is of course notable for Mariners fans that the 6’7″ Butler, a third-round pick in 2006 who was later dealt to Baltimore as part of the Erik Bedard deal, released by the Orioles, signed and released by the Milwaukee Brewers after a second brief stint with the Rattlers (he faced the LumberKings on 7/31/10 and gave up a three-run HR to Blake Ochoa) and signed again by the Mariners, has come full circle.  It’s notable for me, because I too am a graduate of Oak Creek High (class of ’01).  If only Butler and the West Allis, WI born right-hander Ben Versnik could make their way to the Clinton bullpen, it’d be a regular southeast Wisconsin reunion.

The Mariners also announced the signing of 21 picks from the recently-completed first-year player draft.  From the official press release:

“The Seattle Mariners Director of Amateur Scouting Tom McNamara announced today that the club has signed 21 players from the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, including infielder Daniel Paolini (10th), left-handed pitcher Cameron Hobson (11th), catcher Michael Dowd (12th), outfielder Jamal Austin (13th), right-handed pitcher Cody Weiss (14th), outfielder Nate Melendres (17th), infielder Dillon Hazlett (20th), right-handed pitcher Joe DiRocco (21st), infielder Kenneth Straus (26th), right-handed pitcher David Colvin (34th), right-handed pitcher Brett Shankin (28th), left-handed pitcher Kyle Hunter (31st), right-handed pitcher Alex Sunderland (38th), infielders Chris Andreas (39th), right-handed pitcher Trevor Miller (40th), right-handed pitcher Robert Shore (41st) catcher David Villasuso (42nd), right-handed pitcher Marcos Reyna (43rd), infielder Josh Corrales (44th), outfielder Charles Jimenez (45th) and right-handed pitcher Max Krakowiak (48th).”

Pulaski’s roster should also be announced soon, as the Appy League season starts June 21st.  I’ll post something about that as soon as I see it.

-DL

Kings Revamp Roster with Five New Players

Sams returns to Clinton from High Desert, Anston, Browning, Reed and Schlander join from Arizona

Clinton, IA – The Clinton LumberKings, in conjunction with the Seattle Mariners have announced the following changes to the Clinton 25-man roster, effective today:  outfielder Matt Cerione and right-hander Willy Kesler have been promoted to high-A High Desert, while shortstop Marcus Littlewood and third-baseman Ramon Morla have been transferred to extended Spring Training.  Outfielder Kalian Sams has joined the Kings from high-A High Desert, while infielders Matt Browning and Jake Schlander, outfielder Robbie Anston and left-hander Nathan Reed have been called up from extended Spring Training.

Cerione, 23, hit .200 with a double, six runs scored and five RBI in his second season as a LumberKing.  Seattle’s 13th round pick in 2009 out of theUniversity ofGeorgia, Cerione hit .287 with 12 HR and 42 RBI in 87 games withClinton in 2010.

Kesler, 23, went 1-0 with a 1.45 ERA and one save in eight relief appearances with the LumberKings this season.

Littlewood, 19,Seattle’s second-round pick out of Pine View (UT) High School in 2010 hit .158 with a triple, HR and six RBI in 27 games withClintonthis season, his first as a professional.

Morla, 21, hit .170 with three doubles, three triples and seven RBI in 28 games with the LumberKings this season.  TheDominican Republicnative had no home runs in that span after launching 17 for rookie-level Pulaski in 2010.

Anston, 23, hit .292 with 13 doubles, two HR and 24 RBI and also stole 15 bases in 24 attempts with short-A Everett last season.  Seattle’s 26th round pick in 2010 out ofBostonCollege also hit .333 with three doubles and three RBI for the AquaSox in the playoffs, helping them to the Northwest League title.

Browning, 23, hit .222 (4-for-18) with a triple and six RBI in five games with HighDesertthis season.  Seattle’s 43rd round pick out of James Madison University in 2010 hit .311 with four HR and 32 RBI in 47 games between the Peoria Mariners (AZL) and rookie-level Pulaski last season.

Reed, 23, was the Mariners’ 40th round pick out ofKutztownUniversity in 2010.  TheTemple,PA native pitched with both the Peoria Mariners of the AZL and high-A High Desert, going a combined 2-6 with a 4.95 ERA over 14 games, 12 starts. 

Sams, 24, hit .200 with six HR and 10 RBI in 20 games for the Mavericks this season after splitting last year betweenClintonand short-A Everett.  A native ofThe Hague,South Holland,Netherlands, Sams hit .180 with 15 HR and 46 RBI in 79 games with the LumberKings last year before finishing up the year with the AquaSox.  He hit .193 with five HR and 12 RBI withEverett.

Schlander, 22, hit .200 with six runs scored in 11 games with HighDesertthis season.  Seattle’s 31st round pick out ofStanfordUniversity in 2010, Schlander started his pro career in Pulaski last season and hit .259 with seven doubles, a HR and 25 RBI in 54 games.

The moves give the LumberKings a total of 25 active players with four listed on the disabled list.  The five new players are expected to be in uniform for tonight’s game against the Burlington Bees, but none have yet chosen uniform numbers.

-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

Tuesday Notes (4/12)

Usually when I don’t post an interview, that means the LumberKings played a rather uneventful game and probably lost.  By the very title of this post, you can already tell how last night’s game went without reading any further.

For the third time in three games, the LumberKings scored first, failed to widen the gap, let a costly error put the opponent back into the game and lost.  This time, it was a 7-2 decision at the hands of the Beloit Snappers in Clinton’s first road action of the season.  The Kings scored twice off left-hander Andrei Lobanov thanks to four-straight singles including an RBI single by Marcus Littlewood, but never scored again after the second inning.  Beloit scored on a pair of errors in the bottom of the second, then plated four runs over the 4th and 5th innings to send right-hander Seon Gi Kim to the loss in his LumberKings debut.

A 1-4 start isn’t exactly what we all envisioned, but it’s nowhere near time to be worried.  Especially since the top of the rotation comes around again tonight with right-hander Forrest Snow (0-0, 9.00) looking to bounce back from an abnormally-shaky Opening Night outing.  The offense, too, has not been as bad as it looks…the LumberKings pounded out 10 hits total last night – including 2-for-4 performances from Matt Cerione and Stefen Romero – but also left 10 on base.  They’ve been getting on, now it’s just time to get them in.

Tonight’s Game Notes:  4.12.11 kingsnotes

Manager Jesus Azuaje has shaken up the lineup today, we’ll see if that turns the tide of this three-game losing streak.

Lineups:

Beloit (3-2):  Daniel Santana/SS, Derek McCallum/2B, Lance Ray/RF, Oswaldo Arcia/DH, Michael Gonzales/1B, Daniel Ortiz/LF, Tobias Streich/C, Wang-Wei Lin/CF, Andrew Leer/3B, Manuel Soliman/RHP

LumberKings (1-4):  Julio Morban/CF, Marcus Littlewood/SS, Mickey Wiswall/DH, Stefen Romero/LF, Tim Morris/1B, Ramon Morla/3B, Kevin Rivers/RF, Carlton Tanabe/C, Anthony Phillips/2B, Forrest Snow/RHP

Hopefully the pregame interview will return for tomorrow.  Listen in tonight starting with the pregame show at 6:15 PM on 1390kcln.com.

-DL

Tonight’s Interview: Marcus Littlewood

We watched a lot of baseball on a chilly April night here at AEF last night as the LumberKings and Burlington Bees finished up the final five innings of Thursday’s suspended game and played seven more innings in the nightcap.  After fallling 9-5 in game one and trailing 2-0 in the third inning in game two, the Kings rallied for three unanswered runs to beat the Bees, 3-2.

You couldn’t tell by his 5-for-7, two-RBI performance, but shortstop Marcus Littlewood played his first two games as a professional last night.  He set up the game-winning run in the fifth, leading off with a single to right, taking third on a single by Ramon Morla and scoring on Mickey Wiswall’s smash single.  Littlewood, the 2nd round pick by the Mariners and the highest player ever drafted out of the state of Utah has already turned heads here in Clinton.  No doubt he’s filling some big shoes at Nick Franklin’s old position, but as you’ll hear on tonight’s interview, that’s not phasing the 19-year-old.

Listen to Littlewood’s first pro hit:  http://www.zshare.net/audio/88814098090121e2/

In my first conversation with Littlewood, we talk about the hot start, handling the duties of hitting second, learning the game from his father Mike — a former Milwaukee Brewers farmhand and veteran head coach at Dixie State University — his thoughts on the talented Clinton lineup, comparisons with Franklin and more.

Listen Here:  Littlewood Interview 4.9.11.mp3

Tonight’s Game Notes:  4.9.11 kingsnotes

Right-hander George Mieses makes his LumberKings’ debut against the Bees tonight in what should be a fantastic night for baseball.  Temperatures in the 70′s?  It feels like June tonight.

The Lineup:

Burlington (1-1):  Tyreace House/CF, Nino Leyja/3B, Douglas Landaeta/DH, Tony Thompson/1B, Jose Rivero/LF, Yordy Cabrera/SS, Wade Kirkland/2B, Royce Consigli/RF, John Nester/C, AJ Griffin/RHP

LumberKings (1-1): Matt Cerione/CF, Marcus Littlewood/DH, Ramon Morla/3B, Tim Morris/1B, Stefen Romero/2B, Julio Morban/RF, Steven Baron/C, Kevin Rivers/LF, Anthony Phillips/SS, George Mieses/RHP

-DL

Tonight’s Interview: Ted Tornow

Rain wouldn’t allow us to complete last night’s season opener against Burlington, so we’re finishing it tonight.  The LumberKings and Bees stand tied, 4-4 heading into the fourth thanks to an early comeback effort against right-hander Seth Frankoff.  Kings’ Opening Night starter Forrest Snow was touched up for four runs — three earned — over three innings, but was starting to settle in when the tarp went on.  An RBI triple by Julio Morban, RBI single by Marcus Littlewood (pictured right), RBI sac fly by Stefen Romero and RBI single by Steven Baron brought Clinton back from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits.  Littlewood singled again to left with two outs in the bottom of the third, but Tim Morris was thrown out trying to score by Bees’ left-fielder Douglas Landaeta to keep the game tied.

A lot of game left to go tonight, and it’s only the opening act.  We’ll also have a seven-inning game afterwards, in which 2010 Everett Pitcher of the Year and Northwest League All-Star left-hander Anthony Fernandez will make his first start in black and green.  It sounds like we’ll see right-hander Stephen Kohlscheen, the 45th round pick out of Aubur in 2010, in the resumption of the first game.  Those two will alternate starts anyways to begin the year, so the twinbill setup works perfect for them.

Read more about the action in tonight’s Game Notes:  4.8.11 kingsnotes

As for the interview, I caught LumberKings’ General Manager Ted Tornow tonight.  We talked about the beginning of the 75th anniversary of the franchise and what that means to everyone involved, improvements to Alliant Energy Field that fans will see this season, building stability with the Seattle Mariners and more.

Listen Here:  Tornow Interview 4.8.11.mp3

First pitch of inning #4 will be at 6:00 PM.  Listen online at 1390kcln.com.

-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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