Modesto, California —— Gianfranco Wawoe had a sneaky good summer in 2016. The Seattle Mariners second baseman slashed .288/.343/.391/.735 over 102 games with 17 doubles, eight home runs, and 32 walks over 396 at-bats for the Bakersfield Blaze of the High-A California League, which was enough to earn him a spot on the organization’s top-30 prospects list following the end of the year. Still young and in need of more seasoning, though—Wawoe turns 23 in less than two weeks—the big league club sent him back to the Cal League this year for another look, this time with the Modesto Nuts.
And so far, just as it was last year for the soft-spoken infielder, things have been going pretty well as he flies under the radar in the Mariners’ system. Entering play Thursday night, Wawoe is slashing .285/.326/.378/.704 in 61 games with the Nuts this year, with 11 doubles, three triples, two home runs, and 15 walks over his first 246 at-bats in High-A this year. The club has added some outfield work to his resumé in a bid for more versatility to get his bat on the field, and they’ve tinkered with his swing mechanics in the hope of bringing out more power from his wiry frame, but 2017 has proven business as usual for Gianfranco Wawoe.
“I’m really just doing the same thing I’ve been doing,” the prospect told Baseball Census after a recent Nuts game. “I think the experience has helped, having more knowledge here this year because I played here last year. I know a lot of things better right now that I didn’t know last year, and everything I’ve learned in my past, I keep using it here and in my future.”
The experience has proven beneficial for a guy who has flashed signs of a decent bat that could play at higher levels one day down the road. The Seattle Mariners have Gianfranco Wawoe more upright in his stance this season than the crouched, hunched over guy who hit in Bakersfield last year, and early on it seemed to be working as a way for him to leverage strength into more consistent gap-to-gap power.
“Me and our hitting coach, Joe Thurston, he’d been telling me to get taller this year,” Wawoe said. “It’s allowing me to get more power. I want to use it to get more doubles, and sometimes it’ll go over the fence for a home run.”
The big league front office is obviously thinking about his future defensively, too, where second base may not always be the most viable option. Wawoe has been working out quite a bit in left field, and seeing some playing time there, too, to see if there’s a path forward through the system. He’s not a total stranger to it, though, having played the outfield two years ago before he got to Bakersfield.
“Right now I’m trying to get back to it, and at first it was hard, I didn’t feel that comfortable,” Wawoe admitted. “But I’m feeling a lot better now. It’s really important to have that versatility, because if I’m hitting, wherever there is a spot for them to put me in, I can play there.”
Versatility, and playing time, mean more opportunities for the next level, and the prospect has already gotten one with a short stint in Double-A Arkansas earlier this summer. Whenever he gets there again, with his rising profile with the Seattle Mariners after coming off a good 2016, Gianfranco Wawoe wants it to be for good. That is, no more Cal League for the line drive-hitting second baseman.
“That stuff I can’t control, so all I can do is work hard and do everything I need to do here, and maybe soon I’ll get a call-up,” Wawoe said. “But yeah, that’s on my mind. But right now I feel like Braden [Bishop] and I are leaders here for our younger guys that haven’t played in this league before. It’s good to be a leader. I can take pride in that.”