We covered the Mariners' prospects that were originally slated to head to the AFL back on September 1st, but with the season set to get underway tomorrow, there has been one change to the list of players attending -- as well as a number of changes in the front office -- and that gives us a good chance to update.
First off, the player change. Right-handed reliever Tony Zych has been removed from the roster. Zych got into 13 games for the M's in September, pitching 18 1/3 innings and posting a great 2.45 ERA (2.04 FIP), striking out 24 while walking just three, holding opposing hitters to a .239/.289/.338 slash in their 76 plate appearances against him. That big league work gave Zych 66 2/3 innings in all for the 2015 season. That number represents a new single season regular season high for Zych, besting the 61 1/3 IP that he threw back in the 2012 regular season. Interestingly enough, Zych pitched in the AFL after that 2012 season while a member of the Chicago Cubs' organization, getting into 13 games and throwing 14 innings for Mesa that October and November. Zych worked with a moving, mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider to impress in September, and the club has confirmed that the innings total was the reason for removing him from the roster.
Replacing Zych on the Javelinas' roster is another left-hander -- making all four of the pitchers Seattle ended up sending lefties -- in reliever Ryan Horstman. Horstman, who like Zych was a 4th round pick, threw just 13 2/3 innings this season and has tallied just 22 1/3 innings in all since being drafted in 2013. Horstman has pitched very well at every installment of his brief exposure, covering the Arizona Rookie League, Northwest League and Midwest League, striking out 30 of the 88 batters that he's faced overall while allowing just one earned run to date. This season left-handed hitters went just 1-for-17 with eight strikeouts against Horstman. The lefty worked in fall instructs for the club and was consistently hitting 93 with his fastball and showing a great breaking ball according to staff there.
The other three left-handers from Seattle on Peoria's roster are James Paxton, David Rollins and Paul Fry. Paxton endured yet another injury-plagued season in 2015, throwing just 67 innings in 13 starts for Seattle and another 6 2/3 in three appearances for Tacoma. This will be Paxton's second time as a member of Peoria's pitching staff as he made five starts for the team back in 2012. Paxton threw just 74 big league innings in 2014 because of injuries, so the club is wanting the 26 year old to get more innings this fall. Rollins had an eventful first season in the M's system, coming to the club via the Rule 5 Draft last December from the Houston organization before being suspended for 80 games for a violation of Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in March. Once he returned from that suspension and to the big league club, Rollins struggled in his first MLB action, giving up multiple runs in six of his 20 appearances and finishing the year with a 7.56 ERA (4.21 FIP) in 25 innings. Fry, recognized by the organization as the 2015 Relief Pitcher of the Year, already worked a career-high 80 innings in 2015, but the 23 year old showed a lot of promise and the club wants to see him get more exposure to advanced hitting talent ahead of the 2016 season.
Right-handed hitters D.J. Peterson, Tyler O'Neill and Tyler Smith round out the list of prospects that will be playing on Peoria's roster for Seattle. Peterson has been in Arizona for a while working with M's staffers as he tries to overcome the issues that led to a very disappointing season in 2015. O'Neill, the breakout offensive player from this season, is the second youngest player in the AFL this season. He tied for second in the minor leagues in home runs on the season with 32 (with fellow Seattle outfield prospect Jabari Blash). Smith, who took over the primary shortstop responsibilities for Double-A Jackson when the organization traded away fellow shortstop prospect Jack Reinheimer in the Mark Trumbo deal, ranked second in the system in BB with 61 while picking up the seventh most hits in the organization. The 2013 draftee out of Oregon State has played well defensively and always gets good marks for his baseball smarts and baserunning from people around the game.
A change at the top in the organization, with new GM Jerry Dipoto taking over for Jack Zduriencik and several other front office members and minor league coaches already gone, too, it seems that there will be a conscious shift in the way that player development is handled within Seattle's minor leagues. Dipoto mentioned the need to be more athletic, and really only Smith fits that blueprint on the hitting side here. When the new Director of Player Development is in place to take the departed Chris Gwynn's spot, we'll have a better idea of the M's plans in that regard, but up to that point, this group in the AFL will likely be operating for Peoria with their previously assigned plans of attack for this fall season.
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