The Peoria Javelinas help kick off the 20th season of the Arizona Fall League today at 11:35am Pacific Time with a home game against the Salt River Rafters. Manager Pedro Lopez, Hitting Coach Alonzo Powell (from Tacoma) and Pitching Coach Arthur Adams will certainly try to win as many games as possible in the six team league for Peoria, but wins and losses are not the primary goal of the league and its players.
The Javelinas roster is filled with 37 players from the Mariners, Padres, Cardinals, Mets and Brewers systems including these seven Mariners: Adam Moore, Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin, Chih-Hsien Chiang, Steven Hensley, Brian Moran and Forrest Snow. All of them should see plenty of action during the 38-game schedule, and each of them has specific things to work on that landed them in this league.
Mariners Director of Minor League Operations Pedro Grifol said of the group, "Its seven different guys so they have seven different needs analyses, but as a group, we're going to continue to play the game the way it needs to be played, with respect, with pride and the things we do in a Mariner uniform. But individually, they're going to have their things to work on."
Moore was once considered one of the top prospects in the Mariners system, and one of the better catching prospects in the game. His strength was always thought to be his bat, but his ability to hit hasn't materialized at the big league level. With Josh Bard a free agent and Chris Gimenez not really a long-term option as a catcher, Moore will have every opportunity in 2012 to be Miguel Olivo's primary backup.
That was going to be his role in 2011 before the injury. But in order to see significant playing time and build for a bigger role in 2013 when Olivo is a free agent, Moore needs to prove that he can hit the ball and hit it with authority. His .303/.368/.482 career line in the minor leagues has translated to just a .197/.231/.295 line in the big leagues. His SO:BB ratio went from 2:1 in the minors to 9:1 with the Mariners. Perhaps most telling, Moore has put the ball in play to his pull side just 22 times in 248 plate appearances. He needs to become more aggressive at the plate and more sure of his abilities with the bat.
For Hultzen, this is his first taste of pro ball--his transition from the college game and aluminum bats. His goal is to really learn about himself and learn how his pitches will work best against professional hitters. That doesn't mean he's starting over, but he will be making changes to what has been successful for him to this point. He has been throwing with the M's since shortly after his signing and 'show-and-tell day' in Seattle, but the AFL action will be his first true test. He is supposed to be a fast-track prospect, so statistical results will mean something for Hultzen, but most important is the process of learning himself and professional hitters and their tendencies.
For Franklin, the AFL is serving a double purpose. First off, he missed a lot of time and only accumulated 352 at bats in 2011, so the AFL is a chance for him to simply get more work under his belt. Secondly, Franklin still needs to work on cutting down his strikeouts--being more selective to find those pitches in his zone. He will play primarily shortstop as he is one of just two on the roster (St. Louis' Ryan Jackson is the other), and I'm sure the Mariners would love to see him be more fundamentally sound defensively, too.
Chiang really struggled after his trade to the Mariners as he hit just .208/.255/.262 in Jackson after hitting .340/.402/.648 in Portland. Word is he got very pull happy and was getting himself into bad counts because he was jumping at pitches a lot. Chiang needs to return to the approach that was making him successful in Portland and spray line-drives to all fields while getting his confidence back in Arizona as he looks to rebound for Seattle in 2012--probably back in Jackson.
Hensley made 18 starts for Jackson this season but really struggled at times despite repeating the level. The fourth round pick in 2008 for the Mariners works with decent stuff but he tends to nibble too much. Despite being right-handed himself, right-handers tore him up in 2011: .341/.384/.549. Many think he'll be a bullpen arm soon. That transition may start here in the AFL, but he may pitch as a starter, too. He actually performed very well to end the season posting a 3.18 ERA and 1.39 WHIP with a 2.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his final seven starts. His goal is to work to get outs earlier in the count and to use his slider more effectively against righties.
Moran is a left-hander out of North Carolina where he was a walk on turned All-ACC pitcher when he teamed with Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. Much like Hensley, he had a reverse split in 2011 for Jackson, allowing lefties to hit .348/.425/.478 in 80 plate appearances while holding right-handers to a .218/.271/.370 line in 179 plate appearances. He also ended strong with 39 strikeouts, just 10 walks and a 1.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP from July 1st on. He has MLB-potential as a lefty reliever...if he can get lefties out. He doesn't throw hard and his walks nearly tripled this season. He has a bit of a herky-jerky motion and a tough arm angle that creates a lot of movement, so despite rarely touching 88, he can get people out...he just needs more of those people to be left-handed.
Snow was a 36th rounder in 2010 out of UW. He pitched fantastically at two levels last season (0.60 ERA, 0.73 WHIP in 45 1/3) and made it through three levels this season. The results weren't nearly as impressive (5.09 ERA, 1.31 WHIP in 143 1/3) but the process improved. He struck out 36 in 35 1/3 for Tacoma while making nine appearances (two starts) and can get his fastball up to the mid-90s out of the bullpen. Rainiers manager Darren Brown said at the end of the season, "If I had three games to win and had to choose three pitchers, Snow would definitely be one of those pitchers." That is certainly a nice endorsement, but Snow needs to harness his fastball command, learn when to best use his plus changeup and continue to improve his breaking stuff to get more consistency.
There you have it. Seven players, seven individual focuses for improvement. Each of these guys have great potential, which is why they were chosen to participate in the AFL. Hopefully at least a couple of them can find keys to unlocking that potential this fall.