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Mariners Notebook: Seattle prospect a big hit in Venezuela

Johermyn Chavez has impressed scouts with his bat and his arm

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By Kirby Arnold
Herald Writer
While Dustin Ackley, Nate Tenbrink and other Mariners prospects put together a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League, there’s another M’s minor leaguer doing well for himself in Venezuela.
Outfielder Johermyn Chavez, a 21-year-old who put up big offensive numbers this year at Class A High Desert, entered Thursday batting .314 with a .422 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage in 70 at-bats for Magallanes in the Venezuela Winter League. He has hit two home runs, driven home 11 runs and eight of his 22 hits have gone for extra bases.
Chavez, obtained from the Toronto Blue Jays last winter in the Brandon Morrow-Brandon League trade, is just 21 and hasn’t played a game above the Class A level. But the Mariners have a hard time holding back their enthusiasm about the 6-foot-3, 190-pounder.
At High Desert, Chavez hit 32 home runs, drove in 96 runs and posted averages of .315/.387/.577/.964. And, depending on who you talk with from the Mariners, he might have the strongest arm in the organization.
Darin Garner, the Mariners’ minor-league infield coordinator who managed High Desert the final five weeks of the season, isn’t bashful when he describes what he saw in Chavez.
“The first half of the season, when I would be there, he was figuring some things out,” Garner said. “And then right after the second half started, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’”
Garner gives a lot of credit to Tommy Cruz, the High Desert hitting coach who’s a master at helping hitters mentally as well as mechanically.
“Tommy did a nice job getting him to believe and trust what he wanted him to do,” Garner said. “Once he did that, he was squaring (the ball) up consistently. He has elevated his game. He stayed short, he stayed quick. He stayed with what they were working on.”
It’s wise to cast a wary eye at offensive statistics in the California League, especially with the southern teams like High Desert because the air is dry and the ball carries. Garner says it probably didn’t matter where Chavez was playing because most everything he hit in the second half was on the sweet spot.
“High Desert or no High Desert, it was very impressive,” he said. “There was some pretty good pitching in the Cal League this year. Against the closers, guys with pretty decent stuff, and he didn’t change.”
And what about that arm? Chavez showed his arm strength from the beginning, although he often rushed his throws and lost accuracy because of it.
“He was trying to do too much, probably,” Garner said. “I told him the same thing I tell the infielders, ‘You’ve got to see what you’re doing. Be aggressive but be under control to make the play.’ Once he started doing that, every throw he made to third or home was right on the money.
“I told him at the end of the season, ‘This is where you want to be. You slowed the game down and your arm makes up for a lot. You don’t have to panic. Earlier, you were panicking.’ It’s the same thing with Ichiro. He doesn’t just throw it in the direction (of the play). He gathers it and is looking at what he’s doing and is trusting what he has. I told Chavey, ‘Trust what you have. That’s a special tool. Not everybody has that.’”
After playing A-ball the past three seasons, Chavez is ready for his biggest test next year at Class AA Jackson, Garner said.
“He’s a guy that every year I think he’s going to get better,” Garner said. “When I was there early, we talked about slowing the game down, not just hitting but everything — the defensive part, situational, baserunning. He did that. He’s ready to go to the next level.”
Managing, evaluating from the other side
Last week, the Mariners hired former All-Star catcher and baseball executive Ted Simmons as special advisor to general manager Jack Zduriencik.
Tuesday night in Peoria, Ariz., Simmons found himself in the unique position of managing the Peoria Saguaros against a Peoria Javelinas team filled with Mariners prospects in the Arizona Fall League.
Simmons, 61, was the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 1967, played 21 big-league seasons with the Cards, Brewers and Braves, and was an eight-time All-Star at catcher. After retiring as a player in 1988, he has remained in baseball in nearly every front-office capacity, including GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993. Zduriencik was his scouting director with the Pirates.
“I’ve known Jack for over 25 years. We go way, way back,” Simmons said. “When he was in Milwaukee drafting all those kids and building their program over there in the scouting department, I went there three years ago as the bench coach for Ned Yost. We’ve been friends for so long and know each other so well that this is about as good a fit as there is on the face of the earth as far as I’m concerned.
“I might see amateur players pre-draft or I could see free-agent guys in the spring. I’ll be here at spring training with Jack. I’ll be doing any number of things. My experience is such that I’ve done anything. There are very few ways I can’t help him.”
Simmons has gotten a good look at the Mariners’ future in the Fall League, at least in terms of the players he’s been able to see across the field with the Peoria Javelinas. Two players stood out to Simmons — second baseman Dustin Ackley and relief pitcher Josh Lueke.
“The Ackley kid looks like he’s a hitter,” Simmons said. “And the Lueke kid looks like he’s a major-league pitcher.”
Of note
Despite multiple reports last week, the Mariners did not place a bid for Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. John Hickey, who covered the Mariners for the Seattle P-I and is now with AOL Fanhouse, wrote that based on sources with connections to Japan. Other baseball sources have since confirmed Hickey’s report. Teams are prohibited from commenting on the posting process. ... The next Japanese player who may be posted for bidding is middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka of the Chiba Lotte Marines. He’s considered a more polished second baseman. A Los Angeles Times report this week said Nishioka prefers to play on the West Coast with the Dodgers, Giants, Padres or Diamondbacks. No mention of the Mariners. ... Baseball Prospectus has produced its rundown of the Mariners’ top minor-league prospects and, to no surprise, pitcher Michael Pineda and second baseman Dustin Ackley are in the five-star list. BP’s overall review is this: “A couple potential impact players at the top but an overall shallow system where the talent level drops off quickly.” ... Pitcher Tom Wilhelmsen’s strong Fall League performance with the Peoria Javelinas took a painful turn Tuesday when he was hit on his left foot by a line drive. He was immediately pulled from the game and was sore the next day, but the Mariners didn’t expect Wilhelmsen to miss more than a few days. ... Mariners outfield prospect Greg Halman and former Mariner Adam Jones are among a group of players conducting clinics and charity work in the Netherlands. Halman is a native of the Netherlands, as is Orioles pitcher Rick VandenHurk, who organized the tour.
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at
Story tags » Mariners

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