Frog out, y’all
Hey kid, wanna get into minor league baseball? I’ve got absolutely exceptional news, the 2021 Everett AquaSox are here. Kate previewed the newly Low-A Modesto Nuts yesterday, and today I’m thrilled to bring you the High-A affiliate of the Seattle Mariners. The AquaSox have, without exaggeration, what may well be the most talented minor league team in all of minor league baseball this year, and one of the strongest concentrations of talent of any Mariners affiliate. Ever.
Everett AquaSox and High-A West: What’s Changed
Like Modesto, Everett remained with the same affiliate club (the M’s), but switched levels, and they are now a full season league instead of a short season club mostly used for recent draftees and the first big test for international signees. The entire Northwest League did not make the move, but it did not add any new clubs, and is one of the less altered leagues on the whole beyond the level jump from Short Season A, past Low-A, all the way up to High-A:
The Northwest League was formed in 1955, as an effective rebranding of the Western International League that ran from 1937-1954, offering a low-to-mid minors level of play for the region and predominantly feeding the mighty Pacific Coast League. Just as the PCL eventually shifted in the late-50s and early 60s into affiliation with MLB, so too did the Northwest League. It has ranged from four to eight teams in its history, and will have six clubs in 2021, shedding its traditional North/South divisional split for a division-less orientation. This, along with a new minor league structure with off days every Monday, means the entire AquaSox season will be made up of six-game series’.
The Boise Hawks (affiliated with COL prior to 2021) and Salem-Keizer Volcanoes (SFG) were victims of MLB’s culling of minor league clubs, though both clubs are operating independent league seasons now. Remaining in High-A West are five clubs alongside the AquaSox, who’ve been affiliated with the Mariners since their inception in 1995. Four of the clubs are located along the I-5 corridor, with the Vancouver Canadians (TOR) continuing their apt affiliation with the Blue Jays, though they’ll play their games this year in Hillsboro, OR. They’ll share that space with the Hillsboro Hops (ARI), who remain affiliated with the Arizona Diamondbacks in their blessedly MiLB.TV-friendly park just west of Portland. Furthest south, there’s the Eugene Emeralds (SFG), who have operated since the league’s inception in 1955 across 10 different affiliations but are now San Francisco’s new affiliate in the league after the Chicago Cubs ended their affiliation post-2020. Heading east, the Tri-City Dust Devils (LAA) have shifted from the rich Padres system to a more stars and scrubs Angels system, but the Pasco-based club is still offering affiliated ball to Central Washington and Northeastern Oregon which is great to see. Last but not least, the Spokane Indians (COL), who have shifted from the Texas Rangers to the Rockies in affiliation, but retain their sharp uniforms and design, created in concert with and at the support of the Spokane Tribe.
The AquaSox begin their 120-game season TONIGHT, May 4th, at 6:35 PM PST at the Hillsboro Hops. If you are an M’s fan in the state of Oregon or Southwestern Washington, Ron Tonkin Field is a gem and absolutely worth checking out over the next week. If you’re not close enough or able, the Hops and the Eugene Emeralds are fortuitously the only two clubs in the league to offer live MiLB.TV broadcasts of their games, meaning you can tune in to see the season debut tonight if you’re a subscriber and you have internet access. Everett’s home opener is next Tuesday, May 11th at 7:05 and they’ll have a six-game homestand against Tri-City. Single-game tickets are being sold for the first series at Funko Field in pod style with social distancing implemented.
Everett AquaSox Opening Day Lineup:
Zach DeLoach LF
Julio Rodriguez RF
Austin Shenton 1B
Tyler Keenan 3B
Kaden Polcovich 2B
Carter Bins C
Jack Larsen CF
Mike Salvatore DH
Patrick Frick SS
Matt Brash SP
— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) May 4, 2021
View the current Everett AquaSox roster here.
OF Julio Rodríguez is here, and with good reason he is the most eye-catching name in the position player group. More likely than not, manager Louis Boyd (friend of the LL podcast) can print his lineup cards with Seattle’s jovial prodigy pre-filled into the No. 2 or 3 spot in the order. Listed still at his signing measurements of 6’3, 180, Julio is closer to 6’4, 225 by recent accounts, and could easily be promoted to AA-Arkansas within a month, depending on what the Mariners want to see from him at the level he briefly finished 2019 at. Rarely if ever have fans had the opportunity to see video of a prospect of Rodríguez’s caliber from such a young age, so early and often throughout his development, but as someone who has seen Julio play in person a handful of times now, I can assure you he is worth the trek alone.
He’ll be joined, however, by a few prospects of note in the lineup. He’ll share the outfield with Seattle’s 2020 2nd and 3rd round picks, OF Zach DeLoach and UTIL Kaden Polcovich, who both got some play in big league spring training and will be making their affiliated debuts. On the dirt, Seattle will juggle play time for Polcovich, who can fill in at every spot but is most natural at second, along with a pair of 3B/?? in Austin Shenton and 2020 4th rounder Tyler Keenan. Shenton has drawn rave reviews from scouts at the plate, something I will heartily echo in my looks at him, as his bat speed and pitch selection are quality enough to lead him to the bigs so long as he can find a home defensively. Keenan has the Beef Boy starter kit, though he’s slimmed down at High Performance Camp and is fairly fluid at the hot corner, which would take pressure off his bat. Behind the plate, C Carter Bins will get another go at Everett, having handled short season ball well as to be expected of a well-rounded college slugger. High-A will be a good test for Bins, whose profile is fairly archetypical of the modern catcher: strong body that yields plus power, albeit with subpar contact and hopefully above-average glovework.
The Frogs have a roster rounded out by some older players for the level, though with the condensed rosters across every system and the loss of the 2020 season that’s not quite the demerit it could sometimes be against players. SS/INF Patrick Frick is one to watch with a bit of intrigue, as the unassuming 14th rounder from 2019 lit up Everett the last time he was there and earned an invite to Seattle’s fall development camp where he impressed once again. The M’s are short on well-regarded middle infield prospects, so a pop-up performance from Frick or perhaps SS/INF Joseph Rosa would be quite well received, but both 24 year olds have much to prove with the stick.
Projected pitching staff:
Y’all, look at this.
We have probables! Here’s the @EverettAquaSox six-man rotation for the opening series in Hillsboro:
5/4: Matt Brash – RHP
5/5: Levi Stoudt – RHP
5/6: Emerson Hancock – RHP
5/7: George Kirby – RHP
5/8: Brandon Williamson – LHP
5/9: Juan Then – RHP
— Pat Dillon (@AquaSoxRadio) May 3, 2021
TINSTAAPP, of course, and let us not forget it. But this is a six-man High-A rotation of pitching prospects that all have every reason to be expected to be big league contributors. It also does not even include RHPs Isaiah Campbell and Tim Elliott, who will likely be piggy-back partners with the names listed above as the club works to stretch as many of their prospects as possible out as starters and develop them in that fashion as long as viable.
But the big names are clear. RHPs Emerson Hancock, George Kirby, Juan Then, Matt Brash, and Levi Stoudt are joined by southpaw Brandon Williamson to form a rotation that may not dip beneath 93 mph many nights. It does not matter what night you snag a ticket to see this AquaSox club, you’ll be getting a look at top level pitching talent. Hancock is the obvious headliner, making his affiliated debut as the No. 6 overall pick in 2020, but fellow first-rounder Kirby is right there with him in enthusiasm, having ticked triple-digits in a few innings down in Arizona this spring. Kirby, Then, and Williamson all spent time in Everett back in 2019 and looked exceptional, but this will be an important test to see them stretched out to full starting length. Brash was the return for reliever Taylor Williams from San Diego and is no slouch himself, working a modern approach that our Joe Doyle looked at.
The bullpen should be a good mix of hard throwers and length-givers. Friend of the pod RHP Jarod Bayless will be bringing the heat, as will 2019 10th rounder RHP Kyle Hill and a number of undrafted free agents and late round picks like RHP Brendan McGuigan, LHP Benjamin Onyshko, and RHP Bryan Pall. I cannot overstate how promising this pitching staff is likely to be.
MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospects at this level:
Julio Rodríguez (5), Emerson Hancock (26), George Kirby (81)
MLB Pipeline Mariners Top 30 prospects at this level:
Julio Rodríguez (2), Emerson Hancock (3), George Kirby (5), Juan Then (9), Brandon Williamson (10), Isaiah Campbell (12), Zach DeLoach (13), Levi Stoudt (14), Austin Shenton (19), Kaden Polcovich (26), Tyler Keenan (29), Matt Brash (30)