To say it's been a disappointing season for the Mariners and their fans would be an understatement. After trading for lefthander Cliff Lee and signing free agent Chone Figgins, the Mariners came into the season hoping to contend. But, with a record of 42-70 on Aug. 8, the only thing they'll contend for this year is the first pick in next year's draft.
Luckily for Mariners fans, help is on the way. In the short-term, the Mariners have two of the top 25 prospects in baseball at Triple-A Tacoma in second baseman Dustin Ackley and righthander Michael Pineda. But, there are also some potential impact players further down the organizational pipeline.
The Rookie-level Pulaski Mariners lead the Appalachian League East with a record of 26-19 and the team features three exciting players from the Dominican Republic . . .
Righthanders George Mieses and Richard Vargas are both 19-year-olds. Signed in December 2008, Mieses is listed at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, but has a stockier frame that is probably closer to 6 feet and 220 pounds. Vargas, who signed in August 2008, and has a leaner, looser body than Mieses, standing 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds.
"They're young kids, you know 19-years-old power arms and they're probably the best young arms we have in the organization and two of the best arms in the league," Pulaski manager Eddy Menchaca said.
Mieses started the second game of a doubleheader against Burlington on Aug. 6. He showed a fastball in the 92-94 mph range and touched 95 a handful of times with a lot of armside run. His secondary pitches are still a work in progress, but definitely showed potential.
His changeup was clocked at 88 mph and moved like a splitter.
"When he throws it right, it's a great pitch for him," Menchaca said. "As a hitter, you're seeing this guy come after you with a 93-96 mph fastball, so you're trying to sit on that, then with the same arm action and the same arm speed and, all of a sudden, he drops an 88 on you. There's kids that throw 88 mph fastballs and his is a changeup, so it's like, 'Whoa.' His curveball, that's something he has to work on. It's getting better, but he doesn't have that feel yet. He's coming around and I think instructional ball will be good for him."
Over his four innings of work, Mieses gave up one earned run on eight hits. He didn't issue any walks and struck out one. On the season, he is 3-3, 2.75 with 35 strikeouts and seven walks over 56 innings.
"I think yesterday was probably one of his worst outings, believe it or not," Menchaca said on Aug. 7. "As bad as it was, he only gave up one run. That just tells you how good he can be. He's not afraid to attack hitters—that's his biggest thing. His mentality is to attack hitters with his best stuff, which is his power fastball."
Vargas came into the game to relieve Mieses, making his first appearance since July 11 after being sidelined with an oblique strain.
He was a little wild and didn't show much in the way of secondary offerings, but showed another very live arm, with a fastball in the 93-96 mph range. With fastballs like that, Mieses and Vargas ooze confidence on the mound and love challenging hitters.
"That's a mindset that (pitching coach Andrew) Lorraine brings to the organization," Menchaca said. "Guys that have power arms like that don't smile. If you've got a power arm and you go after hitters, you don't need to smile. You need to go out there and show them that you're mean."
Both Mieses and Vargas are still learning how to pitch, but give the organization a lot to work with. But, it will take time.
"They're eager to learn," Menchaca said. "And if you tell them something today, they want to do it today, tomorrow and the next day, which is good, but they need to understand that sometimes it takes a while for them to actually get it. They're so hungry that they just want to do it all in one day, and it's just not going to happen."
Vargas, on the season, is 1-1, 4.09 with 17 strikeouts and seven walks over 22 innings. He is mainly a starting pitcher and the relief appearance on Aug. 6 was his first this season.
On the offensive side, the team is led by third baseman Ramon Morla, a 20-year-old from the Dominican Republic that signed in July, 2006.
"I had him last year in rookie ball and I had him in instructs the year before that, and he's a special player," Menchaca said. "He's a five-tool player. He can run, he can throw, he can hit. He has great range. He can hit for power—you name it and he's got it. The biggest thing for him, as far as development, is just letting him go out there and play baseball and correct him when he does something wrong, especially when he's trying to do too much."
Morla has a balanced swing with good bat speed and the ball really jumps off his barrel.
In the second game on Aug. 6, Morla obliterated a fastball from Burlington righthander Willian Avinazar about 450 feet to center field. It was a missile that looked like it was still rising as it sailed over the center field fence, 405 feet from home plate, just left of the batters eye.
"His biggest downfall this year is that there's times when he tries to do too much," Menchaca said. "He thinks, 'I can hit off this pitcher,' and in his mind, instead of hitting hard line drives, he's thinking, 'I'm going to hit this ball really far.'
"Yesterday, after he hit that home run, I asked him, 'Hey, what did you do different?' and he said, 'Nothing, I was just trying to hit the ball hard.' Not far—hard. Once you think you want to hit the ball far, your swing gets long, your head goes away from the zone. But when you think about hitting the ball hard, with his whip and the great swing he has, it's going to take care of itself."
The home run was Morla's 11th of the season, giving him the second-most in the Appalachian League. On the year, Morla is hitting .319/.358/.584 over 185 at-bats. In addition to home runs, Morla is also second in the league in stolen bases, with 12.
But, Morla is also third in the league with 48 strikeouts.
"I think sometimes he goes away from what he can do," Menchaca said. "This year, he's figuring out that he can hit the longball, so he's trying to do that more, instead of just trying to hit the ball hard. The kid can hit. He doesn't strikeout. This year, his strikeout rate has been bad, but if you look at his ABs, it comes down to swinging at a bad pitch."
In addition to his tools, Morla plays hard and shows aggressive instincts on the bases. He was also the player coming to the mound when either Mieses or Vargas needed calming down.
"He shows leadership on the field, which is great," Menchaca said. "He's not a big rah-rah kid in the dugout or in the clubhouse but, once he's in the game, he's an intense kid. He knows the game well and he's really advanced for his age. I've gone out there to get a pitcher and he's talking to the catcher and saying, 'Hey, why'd you call that pitch? This guy had a long swing, you have to go after him with a fastball.' So, the kid is really aware of what the hitters are trying to do, he reads swings pretty good and he knows what kind of stuff our pitchers have, which is good."