Minor Matters: West Tenn Diamond Jaxx
While the Mariners are managing to hold their own lately, overall, it’s been a nightmare season in Seattle. It’s best to turn our attention to the team’s future, so with this in mind we’ll take a look at some of the players currently toiling for the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, Seattle’s Double-A affiliate.
The team’s bullpen had been cruising in June, but this month, hasn’t quite enjoyed the same level of success. Take Marwin Vega, for instance. Converted from starter this season, the 21-year-old Columbian righty was rock solid last month, but he’s been hit hard in three of his four appearances in July, getting scored on twice, including one very ugly outing when he was charged with five earned runs in one inning, allowing a 7-2 lead to slip away. Vega’s young, but having already flamed out as a starter, and dealing with serious command issues this year, I have my doubts about his future prospects.
The Diamond Jaxx took home the first half division title, thus guaranteeing themselves a spot in the four-team Southern League playoffs. It’s a damn good thing, because West Tenn has struggled to a 6-16 start in the second half, finding itself in dead last in the North Division. Having lost three Southern League All-Stars (RHP Rich Dorman, closer Mumba Rivera and 2B Luis Valbuena) plus C Luis Oliveros and OF Mike Saunders – all promoted to Triple-A Tacoma — the club has dropped six straight and has managed just one win in its last ten games. Ironically, Tennessee, the first-half cellar dweller, is now the front runner in the North.
Pitching has really been killing the club in the second half, with an average of 6.6 runs against through the first 14 games. Compare that to its first half performance of 4.4 runs allowed per game and it’s easy to see why this team has gone from first to worst. Of course, the fact that Dorman, who led the team in wins, and Rivera, who paced the Jaxx in saves, were promoted is a big part of this trend. Injuries have hurt as well. Veteran minor leaguer Anderson Garcia, who made his MLB debut with the Phillies last year, was promoted from High-A to either start or perhaps close, but he landed on the DL with shoulder problems. Another veteran, Denny Stark, who made 64 appearances over five big league seasons, has had his return from two Tommy John procedures stalled. Pitching professionally for the first time since 2005, he struggled with his command in seven starts and then landed back on the DL a few weeks ago. At the age of 33, the pitcher who went 11-4 for the Rockies in 2002 may be just about done.
We all know about Jeff Clement, who may or may not stick behind the plate in Seattle. But down in Double-A, 24-year-old backstop Adam Moore continues to impress with his powerful stick. Seattle’s sixth round pick in 2006 broke through last year, earning California League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star honours as well as making the Topps Class-A All-Star squad thanks to a massive season (.307, 30 doubles, 22 homers, 74 runs, 102 RBI and 41 walks with a 914 OPS in 115 games). Moved up to Double-A this season, Moore isn’t quite putting up the same numbers, but he’s not far off the pace with a .303/.375/.474 line and 21 doubles, nine homers, 45 runs, 49 RBI and 25 walks. If Moore continues his hitting exploits, the Mariners are going to have a good kind of problem with two very gifted offensive catchers on their hands.
Shawn Kelley, a 24-year-old right-handed reliever taken in the 13th round last year, has whipped through the system quickly. He pitched at two levels in 2007, and is already working on his third level of 2008. After fanning a dozen batters in just 7 2/3 IP at Wisconsin of the Class-A Midwest League, Kelley was promoted to the High-A Cal League, where he limited opposing batters to a .186 mark in 12 scoreless outings. Since arriving in Double-A, he’s also been flawless – until Sunday, that is, when he took the loss after surrendering his first earned run in 16 innings of work. Clearly, Kelley is a man on the fast track, so should the Mariners need bullpen help in the second half, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him get the call.
Brodie Downs was taken in the 23rd round in 2007, and he’s also moved very quickly. But let’s bear in mind that he will be 29 years old next week, so I’m not big on his prospects of having much of a career. He pitched very well in a set-up role at Double-A last year, and despite control problems in a brief look at Triple-A, held his own. But shifted to a long relief role this year, he’s been more hittable. On the plus side, the 6’4”, 235-pound Downs has been moved into the rotation for a pair of starts and has yielded just two earned runs in 11 combined innings. If he can improve his command as a starter, perhaps Downs will earn himself another look at Triple-A before the season ends.
Converting relievers to starters has been a common occurrence in West Tenn, by the way. Of its first 14 games in the second half, eight were started by converted relievers.
Marshall Hubbard, an eighth rounder in 2004, is enjoying a breakout season, in this, his third go round at Double-A. The All-Star first baseman recently returned after spending over a month on the DL with a strained oblique, and he’s struggled to regain his first-half form. His overall numbers, however (.329/.441/.561 with 26 runs, 16 doubles, six homers, 35 RBI and 29 walks in 164 at bats), indicate he’s ready for Triple-A action. The former Tar Heel is already 26, so I can’t see much more than a future bench player here, but stranger things have happened. Hubbard, by the way, was a 2004 third team All-American outfielder. Before he got hurt, he was near the league lead in BA, runs and RBI.