The Remarkable Season Of Jordan Pries

Very quietly while the team was in the thick of a pennant chase over the final weekend of the season, the Seattle Mariners announced their minor league awards.

While most of the awards went to prospects who played at lower levels of the farm system, there was one 2014 Tacoma Rainiers stalwart who gained recognition. Starting pitcher Jordan Pries shared the Mariners Minor League Pitcher of the Year award with Class-A Clinton starter Edwin Diaz.

The honor capped of a remarkable season for Pries, who in just six months improved his stock from “utterly anonymous” to “viable candidate to appear in the Major Leagues.”

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what happened to Pries in 2014.

The first time I heard of Pries was when I saw him in pitching in a Triple-A spring training game on March 26. Here’s what I wrote on this blog:

Palmer was replaced by 24-year-old right-hander Jordan Pries, who I had to look up. Turns out he is a Stanford product who was a starter for Class-A High Desert last year. I’d be surprised to see him in Tacoma next Thursday, but maybe later this year or next.

I had never heard of him, and he wasn’t on my radar as a potential Triple-A player in 2014. Whoops!

The thing is, I was kind of right. I don’t think that the Mariners player development people had any plan to have Pries pitch in Triple-A in 2014. But the organization was waylaid by early season injuries to starting pitchers, and Pries got his chance.

Come spring time, both Taijuan Walker and Hisashi Iwakuma were injured. They were expected to be Mariners starters. Instead, Roenis Elias (who was slated for Tacoma) and Chris Young (a March acquisition) took their spots in the big leagues.

Blake Beavan was Tacoma’s opening day starter. He made two starts for the Rainiers, then was called up to Seattle when James Paxton was injured. Beavan made one start for Seattle and then he also landed on the disabled list.

Meanwhile, anticipated Rainiers starter Matt Palmer was held back in extended spring training due to injury.

So let’s count the starting pitcher injuries: Walker, Paxton, Beavan, Palmer, Iwakuma… that’s five MLB/AAA starting pitchers who were down at the same time.

Somebody had to pitch in Triple-A. A glance down at Double-A Jackson’s stats showed some guy named Pries, who had made two starts and allowed only three hits and two runs in 12 innings.

Pries got the call to Triple-A out of necessity, and he really took advantage of the opportunity.

Jordan Pries made his Triple-A debut on April 20 – a damp Sunday afternoon at Cheney Stadium. He pitched six shutout innings of one-hit ball against the PCL powerhouse Sacramento River Cats. The Rainiers won the game 1-0 on a walk-off single by Leury Bonilla.

Time of game: two hours, 16 minutes.

I liked this guy.

Pries got knocked around in his second start – his first away from the friendly confines of Tacoma. He gave up five runs in 4.2 innings at Las Vegas.

But he bounced back in a big way, winning his next two starts with scoreless pitching at Sacramento and at Reno, not allowing a run over 11 total innings.

Next up was a return engagement at Las Vegas, and this time Pries conquered Cashman Field, giving up just one run over 5.1 no-hit innings.

He was off and running: in his first seven Triple-A starts, Pries allowed zero or one run in six of them. He had a 1.80 ERA in the PCL on May 26, and his spot in the Tacoma starting rotation was secured.

Pries couldn’t maintain that level of dominance for an entire season – and nobody expected him to. He had a few rough games in the usual locales – back-to-back seven-run outings in the thin air of Salt Lake City and Reno did some serious damage to his ERA in July.

Still, Pries carried a 3.69 ERA into the final day of the season. That ranked sixth-best in the PCL.

A miserable relief appearance (just his second since 2011) in a meaningless game on the final day of the season saw his final number bloat to 4.06, but that just put a light damper on an impressive season.

All told, he made 24 starts for Tacoma. Fifteen of them qualified as “Quality Starts” meaning he went six or more innings and allowed three or fewer runs. He was Tacoma’s most reliable starting pitcher.

Pries was the Mariners 30th round draft pick in 2011. The Mariners selected him after the completion of his junior year at Stanford University, and Pries elected to sign and start his pro career.

His numbers from Class-A High Desert in 2013 look bad on the surface, but once you factor in the ridiculous hitter-friendly ballpark he pitched in you realize they weren’t that bad. He went 8-6 with a 5.13 ERA in 23 starts, but the other numbers look good: 104 strikeouts and 40 walks in 124 innings pitched, only 14 home runs allowed in *that* league.

He managed to keep the ball in the park in the PCL, too. He gave up 14 homers in 142 innings for Tacoma, and he did not allow a homer in his first six starts (and just one over his first nine starts).

Pries does this by getting good sink on his fastball, which is generally in the 88-92 mph range and is not straight. In fact, everything Pries throws moves: he has good sinking movement on both his change-up and his slider/cutter thing. It’s not overpowering stuff, like a Walker or a Paxton, but it is stuff that could work in the Major Leagues as a back-of-the-rotation starter.

The Mariners need to make a decision next month about protecting Pries on the 40-man roster. If they don’t, they could possibly lose him in the Rule 5 Draft.

Barring another run of spring injuries, I expect Pries to open the 2015 season in Tacoma. Heck, he’s a good candidate to draw the opening day assignment.

None of these things were expected back in March. It was truly a great out-of-nowhere season for Jordan Pries.

Links:

  • What could have been: according to this story the Mariners front office worked out a deal to sign Nelson Cruz last winter, only to have it squashed by team ownership. This is one of those ‘hindsight is 20-20’ situations.
  • The agent for Michael Saunders was not pleased with the wording of some recent remarks about his client.
  • The Nashville Sounds unveiled a new guitar-pick logo.
  • The MILBYs are underway – vote for your favorites from the 2014 Minor League Baseball season. Make sure you vote for Ji-Man Choi & the T-Rex in the Best Photo category!
  • John Sickels looks back at the minor league career of Centralia’s Lyle Overbay, who (it seems) has retired.

Have a great weekend – enjoy the League Championship Series!

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