The Double-A Southern League Jackson Generals may be the "most talented team in minor league baseball", but the Mariners' Northwest League affiliate has a roster filled with some very intriguing talent of its own.
The Everett Aquasox unofficially got their season kicked off last night in the annual Everett Cup game with the Everett Merchants of the Pacific International League, earning a 5-2 victory before a nice sized crowd. The competition was a good first test, and many of the players that will make up Everett's roster when the Short Season league's regular season gets its official kick off tomorrow were on display in the contest.
One of the most talented players on the team is right-handed pitcher Victor Sanchez, who will be the Sox' starter in that opener against the defending Northwest League East Division champion Tri-City Dust Devils, the Colorado Rockies affiliate in the league, next Wednesday. The 17-year-old Sanchez is a highly regarded prospect that was signed by the Mariners last July out of the Domincan, where he was considered one of the top pitching prospects available in the international free agent class. Already a solidly built athlete at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Sanchez doesn't posess a blazing fastball that other foreign prospects throw when they come stateside, but he is polished. He will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Mariners' ace Felix Hernandez and Jose Campos, now of the New York Yankees, both former international signings themselves who succeeded pitching in Everett and really jumpstarted their careers as members of the AquaSox.
Lone returnee Marcus Littlewood -- who converted to catcher from shortstop over the offseason -- 2012 draftees Patrick Kivlehan (4th round), Chris Taylor (5th round), Taylor Ard of Washington State (7th round), Jamodrick McGruder (9th round) and Michael Faulkner (12th round) among others figure to play lead roles for Everett this season. McGruder and Faulkner hit 1st and 2nd, respectively, in the lineup last night, and their speed on the basepaths was immediately evident as a weapon. If those two keep hitting next to one another in the lineup it could make for some very stressful innings for opposing pitchers. Kivlehan, the former Rutgers football player, will be an interesting guy to watch: he doesn't look comfortable or like a typical infielder throwing over at third base, but his athleticism is off the charts. Ard is a big guy that is very solidly built that has experience hitting with wood bats, playing in the Cape Cod league each of the last two years.
The Northwest League is one of two Short Season leagues in minor league baseball, with a regular season that runs from June 15th – September 1st followed by a two-round playoff. Teams play 76 games and have rosters generally made up of recent draftees or young international talent. The average age for Northwest League players is typically right around 21. The AquaSox have been the Mariners affiliate since 1995 and were the league champions in 2010. They are managed by Rob Mummau this season with last year's manager -- Scott Steinmann -- taking the role of hitting coach this year instead of filling the same role in Arizona due to an injury on the coaching staff.
The AquaSox complete roster can be found here.