Possible 2018 LumberKings
Ahhh baseball is in the air. The pitchers and catchers have reported and you can even begin to hear the popping of mitts and cracking of bats. Here in Iowa, that can be tough to believe. When you look outside and see blankets of snow and then feel the eight degree temperatures on your face baseball can fell like the farthest thing away, but it is coming.
In order to warm ourselves in these cold winter days we look to baseball and the Clinton LumberKings who are currently gathering in Peoria, Arizona for Spring Training. At this early juncture it is difficult to accurately call which players will likely spend part of their 2018 season in Clinton, still we can speculate.
From conversations, readings, and the old rumor mill we can guess on a few players that will likely be making their way to Clinton at some point this season. Last year, nine players from the 2016 team returned to the LumberKings with four of the returners being pitchers.
The returners are usually the rumors you hear first, and at this year’s LumberKings hot stove banquet, Seattle Mariners General Manager Jerry Dipoto mentioned a few names that will likely be returning to Clinton in 2018.
First, is 2017 Opening Day starting pitcher Ljay Newsome. Newsome, 21, will enjoy what will likely be his best Spring Training of his young career this year. The right-hander will open his baseball season in Big League camp with the Mariners. Newsome earned his invitation to Big League camp after winning an in-organization contest among Mariners Minor League pitchers that measured a pitcher’s ability to throw first pitch strikes.
Newsome spent his entire 2017 season in Clinton, but will not look to repeat his Opening Night outing against the Kane County Cougars a year ago. In last year’s season opener, he struggled to get out of the first inning, allowing seven runs on seven hits. Newsome rebounded from the ugly opener to become the Midwest Leagues stingiest pitcher when it came to issuing walks. The Maryland native walked the fewest batters per nine innings, and ranked fourth in the league for fewest amount of base runners allowed per nine innings.
By seasons end Newsome was the most stable presence in the LumberKings starting rotation, he and Nick Wells were the only two from the Opening Day Starting Rotation to remain in place by season’s end. In the third season of his professional career he went 8–9 with a 4.10 ERA, 111 strikeouts, and 129.2 innings pitched, all career-highs.
Then there are the bullpen arms. Last season the LumberKings received two power arms from the Mariners following the June draft. Seth Elledge and Wyatt Mills impressed in their limited time in Clinton. Elledge, with a power fastball went a perfect 3–0 during his time in Clinton to go with five saves and a 3.24 ERA. Mills, another college arm taken by the Mariners in the ’17 draft, was sharp over his 11 appearances with the LumberKings last season. He went 0–1 while converting all four of his save opportunities and posting a microscopic 1.35 ERA. Dipoto, in mentioning the hard throwing relievers, spoke of how impressed the Mariners front office were with how they had handled their first season of pro ball. Both pitchers rank highly among Mariners prospects and Dipoto only sees one of them possibly beginning the season in Clinton which he imagines would be a short stay at that.
On the other side of the ball, the LumberKings could be seeing a second season with Bryson Brigman up the middle. The infielder split the majority of his time in 2017 between second base and shortstop with the LumberKings. Brigman, 22, still holds a top 30 prospect spot with the Mariners farm system despite some struggles at the plate in 2017. He spent all of his last season in Clinton where he played in 120 games, 102 of which came while hitting out of the first or second spot in the lineup. Despite Brigman’s struggles at the plate he led the team in hits with 109, and played to his scouting report of a disciplined hitter at the plate who works counts.
One possible returner is a player that fans may have a hard time remembering being in Clinton in 2017, Joseph Rosa. Rosa is ranked by Baseball America as the Mariners 25th best prospect. The Dominican native is coming off a season where he spent time at four different levels in the Mariners organization. Although Clinton was his last stop in 2017, Rosa appeared in just four games for the LumberKings before suffering an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. Still Rosa’s season was somewhat of a success. He spent the majority of his season with the Everett Aquasox in low-A where he made the Northwest League All-Star team. The switch hitter could be double play partners with Brigman when the season opens in Kane County on April 5th.
The New Faces
While there will be a longer list of returners when the Opening Day Roster is announced in about six weeks, the majority of the 2018 LumberKings will be new faces. One of the take aways from Dipoto’s visit to Clinton was his mention of Evan White, the Mariners number one pick in ’17, likely skipping Clinton and beginning his season in high-A Modesto. Still, it looks as though the LumberKings could receive a top five prospect in the organization as right-handed pitcher Sam Carlson is projected by Baseball America to work his way to Clinton in 2018. Carlson is thought by many to have the best changeup/secondary pitch in the Mariners farm system, but will be pitching in his age 19 season. Of-course last season the Midwest League was set on fire by an 18 and 19-year-old, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerro Jr.
Carlson is a Midwest native, hailing from Minnesota. Being from a cold weather area, he slipped in the draft to the second round where the Mariners took him and eventually signed him for $2 million. After being drafted, the Mariners sent Carlson to the Arizona League where he regularly hit 96 MPH with his sinking fastball. In addition to his fastball and changeup, Carlson throws a slider that registers in the mid 80’s. Last season, he went 0–0 with a 3.00 ERA over three innings in the Arizona League and will likely begin the season in extended Spring Training so the Mariners can monitor his innings before possibly being assigned to Clinton at some point in 2018.
Another arm that is speculated to come to Clinton this season is lefty Oliver Jaskie. Jaskie, 22, was another one of the Mariners 2017 draft picks. He was taken in the 6th round out of Michigan where he was teammates with 2017 LumberKing outfielder Johnny Slater. In ’17 he made his professional debut with the Everett Aquasox and spent the entire season there. He went 0–1 with a 6.82 ERA making three appearances out of the bullpen and ten starts. Jaskie is expected to continue his work as a starter, where he to reach Clinton in 2018, even though the Mariners may see him as a bullpen arm in the long run. His fastball ranged between 87–90 MPH which was down from his velocity while pitching for Michigan. Fans should be able to easily spot the 6’3” 210 pound left-hander as he sports a distinct three-quarters delivery.
Lastly there is right-handed pitcher Tommy Romero. Romero, 20, was taken in the 15th round in the 2017 MLB draft out of Eastern Florida State. Despite being taken in the later rounds, he ended his collegiate career with a phenomenal season, going 9–4 with a 1.55 ERA. Romero fits the mold of pitchers the Mariners like to take. Known for his control with the fastball, Romero’s fastball clocks between 88–92 MPH with cut. The fastball works off a curveball and changeup with scouts thinking the curveball is his best secondary pitch and the changeup needing more work. Romero’s baseball IQ is considered very high and was believed to be a big reason for his success during his inaugural season of pro ball. In Everett last year he went 5–1 with a 2.08 ERA over 13 appearances, two starts, while logging 43 innings of work.
Waiting is the Hardest Part
With players descending upon Arizona and Florida for Spring Training the wait is almost over! A lot can happen between now and April but these are the guys that we have made educated predictions that we will see them in Clinton at some point during the 2018 season. We also reserve the right to wrong on every single player mentioned. Enjoy the baseball that is starting up!