The Arizona Fall League, which plays its annual "Rising Stars" game today, is the premier offseason league for prospects. One of the primary reasons is such a popular league is because its the only league where play happens in the Continental U.S., in front of the eyes of the most scouts possible. This season the Mariners are getting a great debut from 2011 No. 2 overall pick Danny Hultzen, who will be starting the Rising Stars game for the West squad, but it is a couple of late-round relievers left off the roster that are impressing the most for Seattle.
Left-hander Brian Moran, a 7th round selection out of the University of North Carolina in 2009, and right-hander Forrest Snow, a 36th round pick out of the University of Washington in 2010, have shown the Mariners, scouts and baseball operations personnel from around the league--as well as the hitters in the league--that you don't have to be picked in the first few rounds to find success in pro ball.
Moran, now 23, was a walk-on when he first arrived at the University of North Carolina before turning into an All-ACC performer. The 6-foot-3, 185 pound left-hander has a 3.10 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his 3-year pro career over 104 games and 156 2/3 innings of work. He comes at hitters with a bit of a herky-jerky motion and a tough arm angle that creates a lot of movement, so despite being 86-89 with his fastball, he owns a 9.9 SO/9 rate as his stuff--which includes a good changeup--plays up through deception to get hitters out. The primary focus of his assignment to the Arizona Fall League was to work on getting left-handers out more often. Lefties hit him hard this year, posting a 23.4% line drive rate while accumulating a .348/.425/.478 slash in 80 plate appearances in 2011. Meanwhile he held right-handers to a more pedestrian 14.2% line drive rate and a .218/.271/.370 mark in 179 plate appearances.
Of secondary focus for Moran is efficiency: He averaged 3.96 pitches-per-plate appearance in Jackson this year, a number the Mariners want to see come down with all of their pitchers. Pedro Grifol told SeattleClubhouse earlier this year that the Mariners were looking for pitchers to get "contact or outs made in three or less pitches. We want guys attacking the strike zone."
Moran is succeeding on both accounts thus far for Peoria: lefties have managed just two singles and two walks in 15 plate appearances (.154/.267/.154) and his pitches-per-PA number is down to 3.2. Overall for the Javelinas he has a 1.74 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, a .139 OppBA (2nd best mark among all Mariners playing in Winter Ball) and he has a win, a save, nine strikeouts and four walks allowed in eight games spanning 10 1/3 innings.
Snow is a local product out of private Lakeside High School (where Bill Gates and Paul Allen went) in Seattle and the University of Washington. He had a rather nondescript college career for the Huskies making 40 appearances (15 starts) in all and posting a 6.30 ERA in 2010. Nevertheless, the M's--who had selected Snow in 2007 out of high school--drafted him again in 2010 in the 36th round and put him to work in the Everett AquaSox bullpen after he signed. The 6-foot-6 right-hander quickly showed a lot of promise, posting a 0.00 ERA and 0.67 WHIP in 25 1/3 innings before earning a promotion to Clinton where he continued to shine. This season he started off in the rotation in Clinton but he again moved quickly, pitching at three levels. At the end of the season, Tacoma manager Darren Brown said that Snow was one of his three best arms.
Snow has continued to improve his command and is attacking the zone in the AFL, and he currently leads the league with a 0.00 ERA and a 0.34 WHIP, having allowed just four baserunners and one unearned run in 11 2/3 innings of work while gathering 12 strikeouts. He's been very efficient, averaging just 13.7 pitches per inning. He's yet to allow a hit to a lefty and yet to walk a right-hander and his overall line against is just .051/.098/.077.
Snow is doing his damage primarily off of his fastball, which has been sitting 92-93 in the AFL, though he can get it up to 95. He also has a plus changeup with good depth. He throws a curve ball and an occasional split-finger, but he's really a fastball/changeup pitcher right now, and that is working just fine for him.
In a league that is filled with the top talent from throughout the minor leagues, these two late-round relievers are showing that they have what it takes to be successful professional pitchers. What Moran and Snow may lack in skills that allowed them to slip outside of the top few rounds, they are both making up for in pitching smarts. Both have a mental approach the game and understand pitching sequences and tendencies very well. And both have a real shot at big league bullpen jobs in 2012 if they continue on their current paths.
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