Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mariners Minor League teams, parks and meta

While not necessarily a Seattle Mariners blog, Dead Cat's Bounce will feature daily coverage of the Mariners’ minor league organization. Each day, I will recap games within the system, and sometimes delve into details concerning certain players and organizations.

Other web resources also contain additional insider information from scouts and other personnel. Two such helpful resources include Jay Yencich’s Mariners Minors (which also includes daily recaps, more general but with more inside info as Jay gets it) and Jason Churchill’s Prospect Insider. I will admit I don’t possess the insider contacts of these two, and welcome you to read them both in addition to my recaps to learn more about our organization’s prospects.

I will also write with and participate in discussions on Mariner Central, a comprehensive message board focused on thoughtful discourse between members about the Seattle Mariners organization. I invite you to participate if interested.

We can’t know who to currently expect to join the minor league squads, because prospects and other players have yet to be allocated and may not be so up to each team’s respective Opening Day. Part of the idea with Spring Training is to shake out who should play where, if there is any indecision. Some prospects, especially top prospects, already know what level they will play at, even if we as fans aren’t aware of where.

To start out, below is a basic primer of the home parks for the Mariners’ affiliates, along with the typical scoring environment for each league:

Tacoma Rainiers (AAA): Cheney Stadium is pitcher friendly for the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League. Hitters’ numbers won’t necessarily depress, as they’ll still play half their games in the other hitting-friendly PCL parks, the spacious outfield can allow for a greater chance at extra base hits, and best of all… PCL rotations and bullpens are full of tomato cans:

1) Past their prime veterans trying to salvage their careers (Recent local example: Denny Stark)
2) Minor league veteran never-weres who have maxed out and are too good for the lower ranks, but nowhere near good enough for the majors (Recent example: Sean White)
3) Younger prospects in a level over their head, whether overpushed due to excellence at the lower levels, being challenged by their organization, or thinness through the organization’s highest ranks forcing their promotion (Recent example: Joe Woerman).

West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx (AA): Pringles Park is one of minor league baseball’s more neutral parks. We did see some good hitting at home from the Diamond Jaxx prospects, but the team also had some talented hitters (Prentice Redman, Michael Saunders), and the comfort of the home park, whether statistically discernible in general, cannot be discounted. The Southern League is fairly neutral in itself due to its humid locale near the Gulf and the Tennessee Valley… making it a good AA environment to see where your prospects stand.

High Desert Mavericks (A+): Mavericks Stadium is one of minor league baseball’s biggest launchpads, almost laughably so. The hot dry air of Adelanto, CA combined with the smallish dimensions of Mavericks Stadium makes home games a hitter’s dream and a pitcher’s hell. The org actively avoided sending most of its top prospects to High Desert, tried and failed to switch High A affiliations after last season and now remains in a place ill suited to developing hitters or pitchers: Pitchers of course can get destroyed (few put up an ERA that doesn’t look like the cost of a fast food dinner) and it can be tough to develop a pitcher while retaining his morale or gaining an accurate judgment of pitchers’ abilities. Hitters with any power hit so far better than they typically would that it’s likewise difficult to gauge how actually capable hitters are, plus there’s a similar ego risk of a player gaining an inflated sense of his own abilities as a result of the spike in XBHs and HRs. At the same time, this is a problem throughout the Cal League, most of whose teams play in higher altitude desert climates and thus see offense-friendly conditions.

Clinton Lumberkings (A): The new home of the full season A ball Mariners affiliate, after moving from Appleton, WI (which wanted to affiliate with the nearby Milwaukee Brewers). Most Midwest League parks trend similarly towards pitching and defense, and the end result is typically low offense, with hitters producing depressively low lines and pitchers putting up deceptively strong numbers. Expect the same in Clinton, with minor trend shifts indiscernible to casual fans.

Everett Aquasox (A-): The short season Northwest League (which starts a couple months after the above leagues, as do the leagues below) tends to slide towards offense in general, with a few outliers (Vancouver’s home park is nearly impossible to homer in, and the Tri Cities home park is very pitcher friendly for whatever reason). Everett Stadium, meanwhile, is very offense friendly, though many pitchers still capable of pitching well in offense friendly parks due to the fledgling power and hitting ability of most NWL players, many of whom are in their 1st and 2nd years of pro baseball. After the Mariners complete the 2009 Draft, a lot of those players will end up here.

Pulaski Mariners (Rk+): The Appalachian League tends to feature a lot of offense, and Pulaski is no exception. Like the Northwest League, a lot of Appalachian League hitters are young, new to pro ball and struggle in general, let alone against pitchers of reasonable ability. But pitching numbers tend to come out a bit more inflated in the App League, as do hitting numbers. Again, you’ll see a lot of draft picks land here.

Peoria Mariners (Rk): The Arizona Summer League is hitter friendly due to its presence in the dry, high-altitude Arizona desert. Most of the more ho-hum draft picks will end up here, as will rehabilitating players from higher levels and newly transplanted foreign prospects from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other locales.

DSL Mariners (Rk): Dominican Summer League teams often share a complex with several other teams, and only play games against other teams in the complex unless they win their division. The Mariners share the Santo Domingo North complex in Yamasa, DR with four other teams. Being 18-19 years old, DSL pitchers tend to exhibit erratic control, which bloats the walk rates and OBP of most DSL hitters. This is where the Dominican catchphrase, “You don’t get off the island with a walk,” comes from. It’s easy for players to sport high OBPs just from taking pitches, but to impress scouts, they have to hit and show some power. Few do.

VSL Mariners (Rk): The Mariners play in the 8 team Venezuelan Summer League out of the small town of Aguirre. Pitchers here tend to put my impressive numbers due to the undeveloped 17-19 year old hitters they face hitting mostly groundballs and trying to run them out. These pitchers also tend to walk fewer batters: whether that’s from better control or Venezuelan kids swinging at more pitches than their Dominican counterparts isn’t clear. That said, VSL pitchers should be taken with a grain of salt when they run impressive lines. Some hitters do run decent looking lines, but rarely show great power. And it doesn’t necessarily get them out of South America either, though that could be attributed to the difficulty of granting visas and exporting players from the hostile nation.

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