By Jason Hall
Since joining the Jackson Generals staff in February, I have studied the projected roster for the 2014 extensively in preparation for the upcoming season.
One of the potential returning players I am looking most forward to seeing play in person is Jabari Blash.
Blash is coming off a season in which he spent limited time– 29 games—in Jackson, however, managed to leave his mark offensively. The 24-year-old hit for a .309 average, nine home runs and 21 RBIs while in a Generals uniform in 2013.
Baseball America rated the 6-5, 224 lb prospect No. 19 overall among Seattle’s farm system and gave him a grade of 50 (Extreme). They also praised his athletic build and multiple set of tools including “big-time power potential”, an ability to run the bases well and a “plus arm”.
BA also mentioned that many scouts see Blash’s potential skills as comparable to former Cincinnati Reds great Eric Davis, who enjoyed a decorated MLB career that spanned 17 seasons.
Blash received an invite to participate as part of the Mariners’ 40-man roster during Spring Training and went .250 with two hits, two RBIs, two walks and a .400 OBP in 10 plate appearances.
But the biggest splash Blash made in Peoria came in an intrasquad game held on Feb. 25. Blash hit a long home run off of right-hander Logan Bawcom that, not only cleared two fences beyond the left-field wall, but also caught the attention of Mariners brass and media alike.
“”I thought it was going to hit my car, that’s why I jumped up,” Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon told MLB.com “But it actually went over the car. That was pretty impressive.”
Ryan Divish, Mariners beat writer for the Seattle Times, tweeted:
Adding to the already impressive shot is the fact that Blash shook off a hit-by-pitch earlier in the at-bat before taking Bawcom yard several pitches later.
The development of Blash should be a treat for Generals fans to witness this season should he start in Jackson. However, fans may want to act quickly as it will only be a matter of time before the left-handed slugger finds his way to AAA Tacoma en route to a likely MLB career.
Today was my final day here in paradise and since it was a short trip, I spent it taking in the sights and sounds of the White Sox and Mariners big league game. It is always fun to hang out with the Mariners broadcast team. Rick Rizzs, Aaron Goldsmith, Shannon Drayer and Kevin Cremin are always gracious with their time and giving me an opportunity to be a part of a Major League broadcast.
It was a special treat today as Tony La Russa dropped by the broadcast booth. Ironically, Rizzs and La Russa were together in the Southern League in the late 70’s when Rick was broadcasting for the Memphis Chicks and Tony was managing in Knoxville (then a White Sox affiliate). La Russa is making the rounds for MLB, checking on how the instant replay process is going. La Russa said things were going better than expected. Hearing Rizzs and La Russa exchange stories was a treat.
It does appear that 2013 Generals’ All-Star starter Roenis Elias will be in the Mariners opening day rotation. Or, at least he seems to have a leg up on the competition. The Mariners rotation will likely feature Felix, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez, Randy Wolf and Elias. That will be until Iwakuma and Walker are ready to re-join rotation.
I have been asked time and time again this trip about Elias and what to expect. Obviously, most have seen him by now, but he has big league stuff and it is not surprising to see what he has done.
Brad Miller and Dustin Ackley continue to be locked in this spring, which is terrific for the Mariners. Stefen Romero got a start today after his walk-off homer yesterday and is in line possibly for the last roster spot. With so many lefties, his right-handed power bat could be just what the doctor ordered.
Today was the first day I had been through the new Mariners facility here in Peoria. I was absolutely blown away. They truly have gone from a glorified high school facility to a plush MLB facility. The training area is massive and can occupy over 100 players at a time. Brad Miller told me that a lot of times minor league guys would have to get in at 4 a.m. to get a workout in whereas now, that is not the case. The minor league side used to be a packed cluster of metal lockers in which some shared spaces. Now, the minor league guys have wooden lockers and a lot more space. Also, the MLB and MiLB sides have their own chefs and each side gets the same type meals each day. (No more cold cuts every day for minor league guys). Each side has brand new video rooms with massive TV screens. There are large offices, conference rooms and even a larger media work room.
I caught up with Stephen Pryor, who was putting the new perfomance portion of the training facility to good use. The Tennessee native is in terrific shape and he said he has lost about 30 pounds. We will just have to wait and see how many of these rehab guys might come to Jackson (if any). It all depends on the weather and schedule. But, Walker and Pryor have a good history in Jackson and would feel comfortable getting work in there.
It has become a bit of a tradition to write scripts and get Mariner players to record liners for the radio broadcast. Most are gracious enough to do it which is greatly appreciated. This year I added broadcasters Rick Rizzs and Aaron Goldsmith to the mix and hopefully you will enjoy their voices on the broadcast opener and closer throughout the season.
Tacoma broadcaster Mike Curto made it camp today and amazingly we never crossed paths, but here is his blog post from the back fields today.
Ironically, one of the first players I ran into at the Peoria Sports Complex Sunday was Stefen Romero. That was at 10 a.m. Five hours later he blasted a 3-run, walk-off homer to help the Mariners defeat Oakland’s split squad club, 6-4. It has been a year since I had seen Stefen last, and I have to say he is in the best shape I’ve ever seen him. He says he is healthy and these spring training numbers show it as that was his third homer. Romero’s bat could be a huge charge in Seattle’s lineup.
Most of the day was spent on the back fields and watching several future Generals. The following were the lineups today for the suede Jackson and Tacoma squads.
SS Ketel Marte
2B Jack Marder
3B DJ Peterson
LF Dario Pizzano
1B Pat Kivlehan
DH Mickey Wiswall
RF Jabari Henry
C Steve Baron
CF Travis Witherspoon
P Victor Sanchez
2B Ty Kelly
SS Chris Taylor
DH Rich Poythress
1B Jesus Montero
RF Cole Gillespie
3B Carlos Triunfel
C John Hicks
LF Dan Paolini
CF Leon Landry
P Andrew Carraway
Victor Sanchez is a beast. He is listed at 6-0, 255 which could be accurate I suppose, but he looks like he could play full back for the Seahawks. Sanchez is just 19 years old. His line today was 4 IP, 1 run, 2 hits, 3 K’s, no walks and somewhere around 50 pitches. He passed the eye test and was around 88-91 when I asked the guys charting pitches. He works extremely fast and pounds the strike zone. What more could you ask for? He does feature a little bit of that Felix twist on his delivery. His changeup had opposing hitters off balance and I cannot remember a three-ball count. It seems he may start the year in Jackson. Tyler Pike and Edwin Diaz are not far behind.
D.J. Peterson can flat out rake. While I was watching the AA game, he was 1-for-2 with a broken bat single, but watching him in batting practice, he looks the part. He still wears the protective face guard to protect his jaw from when he got he by the pitch last year in Clinton. It seems as though Peterson may open the season in High Desert because of numbers, but his time there will be short.
Speaking of beginning the season in High Desert, the same could go for Patrick Kivlehan. He blasted an impressive opposite field home run early in the game. No doubt he and Peterson will be in Jackson together at some point, but with Morla, Proscia, Choi, Poythress, Paolini, etc. it may take a little extra time. I could be wrong though. We will see.
One other pitcher that stuck out Sunday was Jochi Ogando, who is listed at 6-5, 210 and seems much taller due to being pretty lanky. He is just 20-years-old and from the Dominican. He threw a couple of nice innings and was in the mid-90’s with the fastball and a nifty 12-6 hook. He had great strikeout totals in Clinton last year. That is a name to keep an eye on.
Chris Gwynn indeed confimed it was official news that Mike Kinkade will be Jackson’s hitting coach. Kinkade was going to be the hitting coach in Low-A Clinton, but will now be in Jackson. He played parts of six seasons in the Major Leagues from 1998 through 2003 as a utility player, including stints with the Mets (1998-1999), Orioles (2001), and Dodgers (2002-2003). He joined the Mariners as a coach in 2011 as a manager with Everett. He finished up his playing career with Tacoma in 2008.
Tomorrow I will have more from Mariners camp and likely take in the big league game against the White Sox. Opening day is just 10 days away for the Generals.
Below are archived interviews from the March 17th show.