Last year, it was Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps who rocketed through the farm system to ultimately have successful runs in the Seattle bullpen.
There is a new candidate to do the same thing – although he may not reach the majors until 2014.
Right-handed power reliever Dominic Leone has forced his way up to Double-A Jackson, where he is blowing away Southern League hitters.
“He’s coming fast, and he’s a very exciting guy to watch,” Mariners minor league pitching coordinator Rick Waits said.
A 16th-round draft pick out of Clemson University last year, Leone opened this season at Low-A Clinton. After just six innings with 10 strikeouts, he was bumped up to Advanced-A High Desert.
Leone more than held his own in the difficult pitching environment of the California League, posting a 2.50 ERA in 29 games, with a 37-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Moved up to Double-A on July 12, Leone hasn’t allowed a run in 6 innings, striking out nine.
“We put him in that closer role, and he just took off. He’s been up 98, 99 miles per hour, he has a power slider, and he also has a change-up now,” Waits said. “The main thing that he’s changed in such a short time is he’s pitching inside now.”
All of this from a pitcher who’s role was undefined heading into the season.
“We went back and forth last year after he got drafted if he would be a starter or reliever,” Waits said. “Before spring training we thought of making him a starter, but consensus was we think he can be a dominant reliever.”
The Norwich, Conn., native was used as a starter and a reliever in three years at Clemson.
He is not related to ex-Saint Martin’s U. standout and one-time Mariners third baseman Justin Leone. Dominic Leone pronounces his name differently — he goes by “Lee-own.”
PIKE A PITCHER
Tyler Pike is a pitcher on a very different path from Leone, but he’s having an equally impressive season.
A 19-year-old starter for Clinton, Pike is 7-4 with a 2.39 ERA in 20 starts. He’s struck out 85 batters in 105 innings, giving up 71 hits. Opposing hitters are batting .197 against him.
Pike was drafted out of high school in Winter Haven, Fla., in the third round of the 2012 draft. Because he was drafted out of high school and is being developed as a starter, Pike is on a slower path than Leone.
SLAMMIN’ TIME AGAIN
Jackson first baseman Ji-Man Choi hit his second grand slam for the Generals on Wednesday – and he’s been with the team for only two months.
Choi, 22, is batting .268 with eight homers and 31 RBI in 46 games in Double-A. Choi has shown a good eye at Jackson: he has 24 walks and 23 strikeouts in 149 at-bats.
It’s been a breakthrough season for the South Korean, who represented the Mariners in the All-Star Futures Game along with Tacoma’s Taijuan Walker.Mike Curto is the Tacoma Rainiers’ radio broadcaster.