Lancaster, California —— Seattle Mariners right-handed pitching prospect Nathan Bannister showed up for Game One of the California League Championship Series on Tuesday night for the Modesto Nuts, going six strong innings and allowing no runs on five hits, no walks, three doubles plays, and just one strikeout — all on only 74 pitches (51 strikes). Bannister bested Colorado Rockies prospect Peter Lambert, and the Nuts beat the host Lancaster JetHawks 13-6 (Lancaster scored all six of their runs in the bottom of the ninth inning). Tonight, the two teams will play again in Lancaster for Game Two of the best-of-five Championship Series.
On Tuesday night, Nathan Bannister sat 86-89 mph with his fastball, and showed modest glove-side cut action late at the plate on it. He paired it with a 79-81 mph changeup, an 80-82 mph slider, and a 69-74 mph curveball. The curve is big and slow, but it breaks late and shows decent 12-to-6 action; while not necessarily a wipeout pitch (Bannister whiffed just 117 hitters in 143.1 innings this season), it gives the hurler a decent off-speed look that keeps righties off balance and sets up his fastball and slider very well for weak contact. Bannister changes speeds well, gets by on guile, and requires good command to survive, all of which he had on Tuesday night in addition to a very brisk pace on the mound and the benefit of three critical double plays to help him cruise past base running traffic early on.
We’ve got video of every single pitch Nathan Bannister threw on Tuesday night. You can watch that right below here — and after you see him work, keep scrolling down for a half dozen more game notes on various Seattle Mariners prospects that stood out on Tuesday night.
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Donnie Walton, SS
Donnie Walton, who was 1-for-3 with a double, two walks, an RBI, and three runs scored, has transitioned to be a full-time left-handed hitter. Still listed as a switch-hitter on rosters, he hasn’t batted righty in quite a while. Per a Seattle Mariners official at the game tonight, the club has made the decision to have him work exclusively from the left side from here on out.
Luis Liberato, LF
A dynamic outfielder with good foot speed, Luis Liberato made a brilliant catch on a very difficult ball way down in the left field corner during Tuesday night’s game. He got a great read and a great jump on the ball, tracked it all the way, covered a ton of ground from his shade in the left-center gap, and timed his sprint perfectly to the trajectory of the ball — considering how much ground he covered, it was really a very advanced play and said a lot about his athleticism in the outfield.
That said, he’s still quite a work in progress at the plate. He homered tonight to dead center field — a good shot, even in Lancaster — but Liberato employs a big, late hitch in his hands at the plate, moving them down quickly before jarring them back up to get into the hitting position during his load. He’ll have to clean that up, because right now he’s vulnerable to getting pitched hard in, as I’d suspect he’ll have a hard time consistently catching up to dead red stuff on his hands (on the home run, Liberato was able to get extended on a Peter Lambert changeup that was fading down and away). I’d like to see him bat a few dozen times against premium velocity, because I’m skeptical of his ability to get in a good hitting position against mid- to upper-90s heat with that bizarre, late hand movement. (We’ll have a full video up of Luis Liberato within the next week so you can see his late hand movement for yourself.)
Furthermore, Liberato showed a slight tendency tonight to take pitches and at-bats off. The Seattle Mariners preach 16-for-16 — be present and fully focused on four pitches for four at-bats (16 pitches total), and you’re probably going to have a good day at the plate. Luis Liberato has some work to do to get there mentally, though admittedly this was a one-time look and I’ll know better some of his tendencies as I see him more later this week.
Joe DeCarlo, C/DH
As Joe DeCarlo transitions to a new career goal behind the plate full time, he’ll continue to help himself by hitting for power. He didn’t do a ton on Tuesday night (1-for-4 with a walk and two runs scored), but early in the game he flew out to the warning track in the deepest part of right-center field, showing off very easy opposite-field power without trying to over-swing. When he barrels up the ball, he can really hit it hard and far, and if he can run into a few pitches like that while also continuing to improve his work behind the plate there may be a future for him yet at the upper levels of this organization with raw power as a carrying tool.
Joe Rizzo, 3B
Just as with Luis Liberato, this was my first time seeing third baseman Joe Rizzo — and just like Liberato, Rizzo greeted me with a home run (his, to right field, nearly cleared the tall net and almost landed on the highway). Rizzo’s home run was on a fastball down and in to the lefty swinger, suggesting impressive bat speed and some ability to manipulate the barrel.
Defensively, Rizzo made two pretty good plays on tough ground balls at third base, but he also completely whiffed on a foul pop-up that ate him up on a day with very modest winds relative to what’s typical for Lancaster. That likely comes down to general inconsistency due to lack of experience and unfamiliarity with this field more than anything else; in my limited look today, Rizzo’s footwork at third is smooth and his arm is strong enough to stick there going forward with the Seattle Mariners.
Seth Frankoff, RHP
A member of the Chicago Cubs‘ organization — including a big league debut — up until being designated for assignment a week ago, Seth Frankoff is introducing himself to the Seattle Mariners by pitching out of the bullpen for Modesto in this stretch run. On Tuesday night in two innings of relief, Frankoff said 90-93 mph with his four-seam fastball, 89-91 mph with his two-seam fastball, 86-88 mph with his cutter, 80-82 mph with his changeup, and 75-78 mph with his curveball. Quite a few wrinkles for a relief guy, but he’s got decent life to all pitches and should make for an intriguing Triple-A depth piece come 2018 who may fight for a bullpen gig in spring training.
Marvin Gorgas, RHP
It wasn’t such a good night for Marvin Gorgas, who was 89-93 mph with his fastball and also flashed a changeup and a slider; he recorded just one out in the bottom of the ninth and allowed five earned runs on two hits and three walks, struggling to command his fastball in the strike zone at first, and then catching far too much of the plate after walking two hitters to put himself in a tough situation. His feel for a changeup is decent, though, and that pitch has some definite tumble that could theoretically get ground balls if the Seattle Mariners prospect is able to consistently command it down in the zone.
Matt Walker, RHP
Coming in for two-thirds of an inning to relieve Marvin Gorgas, Matt Walker sat 88-90 mph with his fastball and also flashed a curveball and a changeup. You can see our video of Matt Walker’s outing right here: