TACOMA, WA. — The minor-league season came to an end Sunday in the Mariners’ organization when Double-A Arkansas lost a decisive fifth game to Tulsa (Dodgers) in the Texas League North Division finals.
That’s our cue here at KLAY (1180 AM) to select our player- and pitcher-of-the-year awards for each of the organization’s seven affiliates along with an overall minor-league player and pitcher of the year.
The Mariners will announce their own awards later this month, but their choices tend to focus more on prospect potential. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the KLAY citations seek to recognize the best performers at each level.
For example, right-handed reliever Shawn Armstrong turns 28 on Tuesday and and has 44 big-league appearances on his resume. So it’s hard to classify him as a prospect, but he compiled a 1.77 ERA this season in 49 games at Triple-A Tacoma.
Armstrong is our Tacoma pitcher of the year.
For our team citations, we only considered a player’s performance for that particular affiliate. Those players who split time at multiple affiliates were, however, eligible for our system-wide awards.
First, a disclaimer: The Mariners’ system is generally regarded as the weakest in baseball. That stems, in no small part, from general manager Jerry Dipoto’s willingness to trade prospects in order to bolster the big-league roster.
Even so, as our awards suggest, there is some talent here, starting with:
KLAY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: First baseman Evan White, a first-round pick in 2017, slashed .300/.371/.453 in 124 games, primarily at Hi-A Modesto, while showing some late-season pop in finishing with 11 homers and 66 RBIs.
White, 22, is a plus-plus defensive player who is capable of shifting, if needed, to a corner outfield post. While he remains more of a line-drive hitter, scouts believe his power will come. He is also a plus runner and a definite prospect.
KLAY PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Right-hander Darren McCaughan, 22, also spent most of the season at Modesto, although he pitched well in two spot starts at Tacoma.
A 12th-round pick in 2017, McCaughan topped with organization with 149 innings while going 7-11 with a 3.07 ERA. It he really a prospect? We’ll have a better idea a year from now.
TRIPLE-A TACOMA: First baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach hasn’t quite aged beyond prospect status — has he? — but he turns 26 in December. So it’s close.
Either way, Vogelbach was the Rainiers’ best hitter in slashing .290/.434/.545 over 84 games with a club-leading 20 homers and 60 RBIs. It will be interesting to see if/where he and Armstrong fit in the organization’s future plans.
DOUBLE-A ARKANSAS: First baseman Joey Curletta, 24, was the Texas League player of the year after slashing .282/.383/.482 with 23 homers and 94 RBIs in 129 games.
That sounds great, but Curletta is a seven-year pro. So it’s tough for him, too, to be classified as a prospect.
But right-handed reliever Matt Festa, 25, is a legitimate prospect and could make a push next season for a big-league job after going 5-2 with 20 saves and a 2.76 ERA in 44 appearances. He also struck out 67 and walked just 12 in 49 innings.
HI-A MODESTO: White and McCaughan.
LO-A CLINTON: Outfielder Jack Larsen, a left-handed hitter, struggled after an early August promotion to Modesto, but he had a .384 on-base percentage with 17 doubles, five triples and 12 homers in 88 games for the LumberKings.
Signed in 2017 as a non-drafted free agent, Larsen, 23, still has much to prove.
Right-handed reliever Sam Delaplane, 23, was 4-2 with a 1.96 ERA in 39 outings along with 10 saves in 11 chances. But what draws attention is he had 100 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings.
SHORT-A EVERETT: Switch-hitting catcher Cal Raleigh, a third-round pick in June, slashed .288/.367/.534 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 38 games. Look for him this winter when Baseball America and other organizations compile prospect lists.
Lefty Michael Plassmeyer, a fourth-round pick in June, had a 2.25 ERA in 13 games with 44 strikeouts in 24 innings.
ROOKIE ARIZONA: The club went 16-38, so the pickings were slim, but while catcher Dean Nevarez, a 19th-round pick in June, batted just .237 in 41 games, he had a .357 on-base percentage.
Right-hander Erik Espinal, 21, is a Dominican who signed in 2016. This was his first Stateside season, and he had a 3.23 ERA in 14 outings while holding opposing batters to a .205 average.
DOMINICAN ACADEMY: Outfielder Julio Rodriguez, 17, began validating the $1.75 million bonus he received in 2017 by slashing .315/.404/.525 with five homers and 36 RBIs in 59 games. He also stole 10 bases in 10 tries.
Right-hander Juan Mercedes, 18, was 4-2 with a 2.42 ERA over 52 innings in 13 games, including nine starts. He also struck out 41 and walked nine while allowing just 0.942 walks and hits per innings pitched.