EVERETT — After a year in which Everett AquaSox fans had little to cheer about, it looks as though they’ll have more to get excited about this season.
The first batch of AquaSox arrived in Everett on Monday in advance of the 2015 Northwest League season, and among that group was the Seattle Mariners’ top prospect, outfielder Alex Jackson.
Jackson, the sixth-overall pick in baseball’s 2014 amateur draft, was one of 33 players on the initial roster. The Sox play their annual Everett Cup exhibition game against the Pacific International League’s Everett Merchants on Tuesday night at Everett Memorial Stadium. Then the short-season single-A Northwest League campaign begins Thursday when the Sox host the Eugene Emeralds.
The big draw for the Sox is Jackson. The 19-year-old from Escondito, Calif., was considered the top high school bat in last year’s draft, and he’s universally listed as the top prospect in the Mariners’ minor-league system.
“It’s going to be a fun season,” Jackson said after arriving Monday. “We have a great team, it’s great out here, I’m really looking forward to having a good year.”
The Sox are looking to rebound from a dismal 2014. Everett, under first-time manager Dave Valle, finished with the league’s worst record at 28-48. That included a first half in which the Sox went 11-27, which was the worst record in a half since the Northwest League switched to a split-season format in 2010. Everett spent the season with a lack of high-end talent, as well as a desperate shortage of pitching that forced position players Luke Guarnaccia and Jordan Cowan to combine for seven appearances on the mound.
Having Rob Mummau back on the bench and pulling the strings as manager should help. Mummau spent 2012 and 2013 as Everett’s manager, guiding the Sox to a record of 90-62 and reaching the playoffs both seasons.
“It feels good to be back,” said Mummau, who managed Pulaski of the rookie Appalachian League last season. “I’m looking forward to the great weather, the great crowd and the super fans. It looks like we’ll have a really good team this year.”
Everett should also get some relief from the fact that the Mariners dropped Pulaski, which served as the organization’s third short-season affiliate the previous eight years. Having one less affiliate in the organization should alleviate the pitching crunch that forced the Sox to use position players on the mound an unprecedented number of times last season.
Besides Jackson, the other name prospect on Everett’s initial roster is pitcher Luiz Gohara. Gohara, an 18-year-old from Brazil, is a highly regarded left-hander who was listed by Baseball America as Seattle’s eighth-best prospect going into 2015. However, Gohara struggled mightily with the Sox last season, going 0-6 with an 8.20 ERA in 11 starts as he experienced all kinds of problems with his command. Everett is hoping Gohara, who is still the youngest player on the roster, has a better time in his second go-around with the team.
Everett also will be getting some good support from this year’s amateur draft, which took place last week. The Sox will feature a pair of collegians who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors this spring in Oregon State pitcher Andrew Moore and Washington outfielder Braden Bishop. Moore, a right-hander selected in the compensation section of the second round, was 7-2 with a 1.91 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 122? innings this spring with the Beavers. Bishop, taken in the third round, batted .295 with four home runs, 25 RBI and 15 stolen bases in 49 games for the Huskies.
Other high picks from this year’s draft on the initial roster include shortstop Drew Jackson (fifth round), pitcher Kyle Wilcox (sixth round), first baseman Ryan Uhl (seventh round), third baseman Conner Hale (ninth round) and pitcher Darin Gillies (10th round). All of this year’s draft picks on the roster came from the collegiate ranks. Moore was the only one who arrived Monday. The rest are expected to trickle in Tuesday and Wednesday with the exception of Hale, who is with LSU at the College World Series.
“We’ve got a good mix of kids from the draft and younger kids from extended (spring training),” Mummau said. “We have some older kids and some really young kids, I think it’s a really good blend of talent here.”
Both Gohara and Moore are listed in Everett’s initial six-man starting rotation. The others are left-handers Lane Ratliff (sixth round in 2014), Taylor Byrd (seventh round in 2014) and Anthony Misiewicz, and right-hander Jose Santiago. Gohara is scheduled to start Thursday’s season opener. There are 19 pitchers on the initial roster.
Everett has two players returning from last season who were regulars: Cowan, who is an infielder by trade, and outfielder Corey Simpson. Simpson led last year’s team in home runs with nine in 53 contests.
“I like our combination of pitching, both in the bullpen and our starters,” Mummau said. “I think we have some power bats. We have a couple guys who can run. So I think it’s a really good combination of speed and power and pitching. We’ll see what happens.
“We have a lot of really good players, so I think the fans are going to be happy about it.”