CLINTON — Class A baseball is unique in that the cards you’re dealt might not really be the cards you hold.
Scott Steinmann is back for his third season – second in a row – as manager of the Clinton LumberKings, and he is looking forward to see what he has in game action when the LumberKings open the Midwest League season tonight with a three-game homestand against Beloit.
Clinton is scheduled to open the season with a 6:30 home game against the Snappers at Ashford University Field. Daniel Missaki gets the opening-day start on his 19th birthday.
Missaki, an international free-agent from Brazil signed in 2012 by Seattle, was 6-3 with a 2.76 earned-run average last year for Pulaski. He struck out 62 batters and allowed just 46 hits and 16 walks in 58 2/3 innings.
“The interesting guy is Missaki,” Steinmann said. “He’s a very composed young man on the mound. I’m very impressed with how he handles himself.”
Of course, everybody is an interesting player for Steinmann as he learns what his players are really like. His early impression is positive.
“We have a pretty good pitching staff, I believe, and position player-wise, I think we’ve got some surprise guys that are going to surprise guys this year and put themselves on the map and have very successful careers,” he said.
Clinton’s roster is headed by Seattle’s No. 1 draft pick from 2014, Alex Jackson, who also is ranked by some as the top prospect in the Mariners organization. The 19-year-old played in 23 games for the Arizona League Mariners after signing out of high school in Escondido, California. The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder showed some pop with two home runs and 16 RBIs while batting .280.
“With him being a high school kid last year it’s good for him to be at this level right now,” Steinmann said. “Those other guys that skipped (previous top picks who spent little or no time in Clinton) were college guys on fast tracks.
“He’s a good young man. He’s strong. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s got power. He’s got a pretty good eye for a high school kid. He’s got a strong arm. He’s very athletic; he used to be a catcher and now he’s moved to the outfield, so he’s got a lot of athletic movements in his body that play very well.
“It’s pretty impressive that he’s here, and I think he’s going to perform pretty well.”
Third-round pick Austin Cousino also is on Clinton’s roster, but the outfielder who hit .266 with six home runs and 28 RBIs for Everett last year will start the season on the disabled list.
The outfield also includes Chantz Mack and Arby Fields, both of whom saw some action for Clinton last year, and Estarlyn Morales, who batted .303 with six home runs, 34 RBIs and 17 stolen bases for Pulaski last summer.
Mack played in 73 games for Clinton last year, hitting .282 with eight homers and 50 RBIs. Fields played in nine games for Clinton but saw most of his action in Pulaski, where he hit .331 and stole a team-high 19 bases.
The infield includes two familiar faces for LumberKings fans. Joe DeCarlo and Martin Peguero each played in 80 games for Clinton a year ago. DeCarlo, a second-round draft pick in 2012, batted .246 with five home runs and 42 runs batted in, while Peguero had a .263 average with two homers and 24 RBIs. Both saw the majority of their time at third base.
“I have some work to do here, and it’s every minor league ballplayer’s goal to keep moving on up, so I’m excited to get the season started,” DeCarlo said. “I feel good going into the season.”
First baseman Kristian Brito and second baseman Nelson Ward form the right side of the infield, while Chris Mariscal and Gianfranco Wawoe are listed at shortstop.
The 6-5, 240-pound Brito should bring some power to the lineup. He hit six home runs and drove in 21 runs in 40 games for Everett a year ago but batted just .213. Ward, a 12th-round pick last year, split time between Pulaski and Everett, hitting .350 in 11 games in the Appalachian League (rookie level) and .223 in 31 games for the Mariners’ Northwest League (short-season A) entry, where he saw most of his action at shortstop.
Mariscal, Seattle’s 14th-round pick last June, hit .262 for Everett, while Wawoe batted .275 in 56 games for Pulaski.
Clinton is carrying three catchers on the roster: 2014 draft picks Adam Martin (10th round) and Wayne Taylor (16th round), and 2013 pick Daniel Torres (20th round).
Martin was a .265 hitter in 58 games for Everett with five home runs and 24 RBIs; Torres batted .243 with 15 RBIs in 41 games for Pulaski; and Taylor, who also can play in the infield, had a .275 average with six homers and 38 RBIs in 55 games for Pulaski.
“I’m kind of excited about how our lineup is going to fit together,” Steinmann said.
“Morales has a little bit of power, Kristian Brito has a little bit of power, Adam Martin has some power as a catcher (and) Joe DeCarlo showed a little bit of power, especially late last year when he got going a bit. Chantz Mack can drive it out every once in awhile. We have it sprinkled throughout.”
Steinmann also plans to be active on the bases, although that might not mean having players with lots of stolen bases.
“We don’t have that many flat-out burners,” he said.
“We’re going to run. We’re going to be aggressive -- whether we hit-and-run, whether we run 3-2, whether we steal bases, whether we delay -- we’re going to put things in motion because I think that’s the way they learn the game the best.”
The pitching staff is loaded with 2014 draft picks, seven in all on the 12-member list. Right-handed relievers Kody Kerski (eighth round) and Peter Miller (ninth) lead the list of players in their first full season in the minors. Both will turn 23 this month.
Miller was 2-1 with nine saves and a 1.35 earned-run average for Pulaski last year, while Kerski was 4-3 with a 2.95 ERA and three saves for Everett. Miller struck out 39 and walked eight in 33 1/3 innings, while Kerski had 46 strikeouts and 17 walks in 39 2/3 innings.
“Peter Miller and Kody Kerski have really good stuff out of the pen, and we had (Ramire) Cleto here last year for a little while and he had good stuff, too,” Steinmann said.
He doesn’t plan to have a set closer, though.
“In A ball, we don’t like to have one guy be a closer, per se,” Steinmann said. “We like to have a lot of people pitch in that situation so they get used to it, and we want everybody to develop into back-end of the rotation guys if they’re going to be bullpen guys.”
Three other 2014 draft picks – Lukas Schiraldi (15th round), Patrick Peterson (23rd) and Tyler Herb (29th) – will join Missaki and Jeffeson Medina in the starting rotation.
“Tyler Herb was here last year and did a great job in relief. Now, he’s going to start this year,” Steinmann said. “Patrick Peterson has got good stuff. I’m excited about him.”
At 6 feet, 6 inches, Schiraldi is the tallest pitcher on the staff. The son of former major-leaguer Calvin Schiraldi made eight starts for Everett last year and was 1-2 with a 5.18 ERA.
Peterson, the lone left-hander in the rotation, was 2-2 with a 3.26 ERA for Pulaski. Herb split time between Clinton and the Arizona Mariners and was 3-2 with a 4.20 ERA. Medina was 2-8 with a combined 4.15 ERA for Everett and Pulaski.
The remaining active pitchers are left-handers Jarrett Brown (2014 22nd-round pick) and Ryan Horstman (fourth round in 2013) and right-handers Cleto, Osmel Morales and Rohn Pierce (19th round in 2014).
Brown (3-2, 4.32 ERA) and Pierce (5-1, 3.40) pitched for Pulaski last season; Horstman (0-0, 0.00 in 6 2/3 innings) and Morales (5-2, 2.20) pitched for the Arizona League Mariners; and Cleto split time between Everett and Clinton, going 3-3 with a 4.44 ERA.
In addition, Aaron Brooks, who was 5-4 with a 3.22 ERA for the LumberKings last year, starts the season on the disabled list.
The LumberKings arrived in Clinton on Tuesday after spending spring training in Arizona. Early on they have to adapt to a different climate.
“They’re not used to it at first,” Steinmann said of springtime weather in the Midwest, “but I think it comes down – and this is from experience over the years – if they come down and they perform right away, they get out to a decent start, it doesn’t bother them. If they get off cold, they feel cold.
“It’s always warmer when you win. If they want to play in the big leagues, they have to learn how to perform in this.”
They also have to get used to how the homefield plays, something Steinmann wanted them to pick up on during the preseason workouts.
“I bring it to their attention,” he said. “When they’re playing catch even, the ball doesn’t go as far when they’re playing catch because of the cold – you’ve got more stuff on so it’s harder to get it going. The grass is thicker than it is in Arizona. … The playing surface plays completely different, so we have to get used to that.”
Besides learning more about his players in the early part of the season, Steinmann and his staff and players also will learn about the rest of the Midwest League.
“We try to do some scouting reports if we’ve seen a guy before or in spring training or we know a guy from three or four years ago in the Dominican Summer League,” Steinmann said. “Guys will try to speak up if they know somebody or something about them. We all learn together. I’ve learned about guys from the players. But, it’s more about us learning about ourselves at this level.”
And the goal remains the same for a low-A team: Get players ready to move up in the organization. Still, Steinmann wants to win.
“We’ll never sacrifice a player’s development for a win,” he said. “But, we want to teach them how to win because that’s development. … I expect to go 140 and 0. I don’t plan to lose a game.”