Farm Stuff – 6.23.06
Posted by Jason A. Churchill on June 24, 2006
Since my e-mail in-box is full of questions about so many things, from 'what is wrong with Felix Hernandez' to 'where can a non-drafted prep talent get noticed', I thought I'd fill the Farm Notes with those responses, as well as my thoughts on Mike Wilson, Jeff Clement's defense and timetable as well as the Everett roster, which is really interesting.
First of all, there is nothing wrong with Felix Hernandez. Nothing at all. He's always fallen off the mound like that – it's not a major issue. He's pitching well right now – including the start versus the Dodgers in which as many as five of the hits he gave up were simply well-placed. In other words, luck got the best of him.
But notice that all 11 of the hits he surrendered were singles. That's a sign that his pitches are working. They didn't hit the ball hard off of him and he didn't walk a batter.
Outfielder Mike Wilson — yeah, he's interesting, and his two-game jump in the Texas League is really quite fun to follow. Scouts still worry about his ability to hit for power consistently and to cover ground defensively. He's had one decent year and two mediocre seasons since being drafted in the second round.
He was a football player and has a linebacker's body, which isn't necessarily bad, but he really should try and avoid the Emiliano Fruto physique, because the next stop on the road to a job selling lawn fertilizer to apartment dwellers or life insurance to the deceased, is the Bartolo Colon school of nutrition – and that's not a good sign.
Wilson has a lot of natural tools and he seems to have gathered enough of them to put up very good numbers in the California League, but he is 23 already and has less time to get where he's going than, say, Wladimir Balentien, whose upside is much higher, at least offensively.
Wilson could be figuring things out, however, and if he is, he'll continue to hit in Double-A San Antonio and begin the 2007 season in Triple-A Tacoma.
One scout said this of Wilson's half in Inland Empire:
"I don't know if anyone is sure what to think of him, to be honest. Maybe not even Seattle. I saw him in Arizona (rookie league) a lot and thought he looked like a fish out of water. Than in short-season (Everett), he looked disinterested, out of shape and closer to the end of his career than the beginning.
"He's just cut out a lot of the bad habits at the plate, even between April and now… not a bad thing to see from a bat. Who knows what he's going to do up there (San Antonio) since this league (Cal) is down a lot this year, especially in the pitching department."
Another scout added this:
"He reminds me of Jermaine Dye in that he doesn't look like he's going to hit the ball very hard, but you look up and it's a gap double or one of the harder ground balls hit all year. His power is intriguing. He's probably a DH or a reserve, unless he can do something about his lax glove. He can throw pretty well."
Jeff Clement, on the other hand, has all the work ethic, strong attitude, leadership skills and baseball intelligence to be the best player in the history of the game. His physical skills won't follow, of course, but for a catcher, he fits right in.
Offensively, it's just a matter of time and timing. He'll get comfortable in Tacoma pretty soon and start scorching balls off the wall and into the gaps.
Defensively, I see no reason why he can't be Jason Varitek… really smart, gutty, has enough arm and accuracy to not let clubs run all over the M's and he'll get better at blocking balls in the dirt every day until he retires.
Clement is a sound receiver. He doesn't lunge at pitches and appears well-balanced and capable of moving quickly out his crouch to chase down a bunt or pop-up. He'll need more work on his throwing technique, but his arm strength is fine and his accuracy will improve as he refines his mechanics.
Until he learns the pitchers in Tacoma, he'll get the pitches from the dugout, but that shouldn't last too long. He's a dedicated catcher.
I'd put his chances at remaining behind the plate at 75% and the chances of Clement becoming Jorge Posada with the bat at about 80%.
So, I guess if Jeff Clement is Jorge Varitek, than Rob Johnson is Dan Ausmus. Not bad, eh?
The Everett AquaSox have their best roster since 2002 when Bobby Livingston, Troy Cate and Ismael Castro put up huge numbers in the Northwest League.
The outfield of Greg Halman, Kuo-hui Lo and Jose Graterol was fun enough and then Gavin Dickey joined the roster to add more athleticism and a toolsy look to the group.
Lo, pictured above with M's scout Jamey Storvick, is a very patient, selective bat who projects as a 280 hitter with 20+ home run power. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, Lo runs well and can handle center field in the minors, but projects as a prototypical Safeco left fielder. Above average arm and solid instincts to go with strong fundamentals make Lo more than interesting.
Halman is just a beast, and why he's leading off right now, well, that's beyond me. He's a future run producer and at 18 years of age, he should probably be protected in that lineup, rather than exposed as the inexperienced player that he is.
Halman is listed at 6-4 and 192, but there is no way he's under 210 pounds. He's a right-handed bat, as is Lo, with unlimited raw power and an advanced understanding of the strikezone. But he's a bit of a free swinger anyways and will need to shorten that swing a bit. But the bat speed is there, as is the athleticism to be an above average defensive player.
Jose Graterol, formerly known as Oswaldo Graterol, is another righty stick, but he lacks the natural gifts of Lo and Halman. But Graterol is more polished and is probably more likely to put up good numbers in Everett.
Graterol has medium power and average defensive abilities. His throwing had a rep for being on the plus side when he signed, but not many scouts see his arm being much more than average for a corner outfielder.
Other than the outfield, Everett's roster is littered with talent, particularly on the hill. Right-handers Michael Schilling and Doug Fister are interesting arms, but both are long shots to remain starters past High A ball.
RHP Kameron Mickolio stands 6-9 and weighs in at 260 pounds, so he's interesting in a projectable fashion.
Southpaws Greg Nesbitt and Steve Uhlmansiek, both 23, have tossed up stellar debuts in 2006. Uhlmansiek is finally healthy after TJ surgery in 2004. He was the M's 12th round selection that June but many clubs had him graded among the top 70 players in the draft before the injury.
As the season progresses, I'll make the trip to E-town to get a closer look at these guys myself, and I'll certainly cross that with a few scouts and report accordingly.
By the way, can't forget 19-year-old backstop Jair Fernandez. "Keep an eye on him," says M's catching coordinator Roger Hansen. "He'll catch and if his bat can keep up, he's going to be a good one, too."
Perhaps the funnest arm to watch in Everett is side-arming reliever Austin Bibens-Dirkx, the M's 16th rounder out of Portland. He's a true side-arm thrower, not a submariner. It's very odd to see the ball come out at that angle, but he's very effective. Besides, he has one of the best names in sports.
Programming Note Update: I'll be joining Everett's play-by-play man Pat Dillon on 1380 AM for some pre-game stuff soon – I'll update when I find out more. Also, there will be some video up soon. May get it up by Tuesday, including a little bit from Livingston and LaHair among others.
Also, on top of the exclusivity of the video I will be adding, I'll also have some audio ready to go as well as some digital photos of the pitching grips of some of the arms in Tacoma – even Francisco Cruceta and that splitter he uses.