’15 40-Man Preview Extravaganza

Jay Yencich · November 16, 2015 at 6:30 am · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues 

What? I still exist.

This round of 40-man roster addition action is newly vexed by the consideration that the Mariners are under new general management. Certain core pieces remain, such as Tom McNamara, who served as architect for many of the drafts in consideration, but DiPoto and possibly even down to Scott Servais may have different opinions on what players are worth protecting than we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Ostensibly, with so much ink devoted to a broader notion of athleticism as a necessity in Safeco Field (one wonders how much Zduriencik was still planning around Miller Park), you might expect there to be a greater emphasis to protect those that are closer to that model. However, there has doubly been the player development concern of having so many high draft picks go on to achieve so little. The new player development director in Andy McKay has made compelling remarks in favor of the idea that while there are the rare exceptions who arrive on ability alone, the game could be as much as 90% mental and preparative. I don’t know how instructive the decisions to be made about the 40-man roster will be, seeing as how we might see the draft philosophy change in the coming seasons, but if nothing else, we might be able to step away from it and assess by the results which players are seen as part of the plan and which aren’t.

The familiar song-and-dance of it is that what we’ll be looking at here are college picks from the ’12 draft and high school and early international signings from around the summer of 2011. This means in some wacky parallel universe where different choices are made, the Mariners may be protecting Mike Zunino for the first time although I prefer the parallel universe in which we draft and somehow properly develop Carlos Correa. As usual, there’s also some level of ambiguity built-in to where it’s hard to tell which international signings had contracts for what year, so this is in some cases the best estimate on the information I have, although I can’t say that there’s much depth this season. Rosters will have to be finalized by November 20th, so, golly, you’ll have a few whole days to mull over what you would do with this immense responsibility that you have no say in.

I’m ordering this roughly through a sense of likelihood and am forgoing the exhaustive listing of who is and isn’t eligible because I’m short of time and it doesn’t seem to be worth it this year.

3B/LF Patrick Kivlehan, R/R, 6’2”, 215 lbs, 12/22/1989
(AAA) 123 G, 472 AB, 58 R, 121 H, 25 2B, 3B, 22 HR, 73 RBI, 14 SB 3 CS, 113/36 K/BB, .256/.313/.453
Pros: Still posting ISOs in the .200 neighborhood, in Tacoma
Cons: Bat skills otherwise declined all around, no set position

After a few years of putting up batting averages in the neighborhood of .300 and slugging percentages of around .500, many of us were curious where “the wall” might be for Kivlehan. As it turns out, “the wall” for most of the system turned out to be 2015, as operations unraveled on a systemic level for reasons I don’t think are fully understood outside of the organization. Kivlehan ended up providing value for the Rainiers thanks to the longball and stood as an above-average hitter in the PCL, but his rate of reaching base on unintentional walks or hits by pitch were the lowest they have ever been at 7.8% and strikeouts accounted for more than 20% of his plate appearances, which hadn’t happened since his debut season. Kivlehan is still well-liked for his leadership and hitting abilities and, having reached triple-A, it’s almost impossible to see the organization not protect him. The question is what they intend to do with him, given that the hot corner is a set position for the Mariners and that there may be a developing preference for better defenders.

CF Boog Powell, L/L, 5’10”, 185 lbs, 1/14/1993
(AA) 61 G, 238 AB, 44 R, 78 H, 6 2B, 6 3B, HR, 22 RBI, 11 SB, 8 CS, 38/29 K/BB, .328/.408/.416
(AAA) 56 G, 206 AB, 22 R, 53 H, 10 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 7 SB, 6 CS, 41/32 K/BB, .258/.360/.364
Pros: Left-handed on-base machine who could potentially play a good CF
Cons: Déjà vu

While the arrival of new management can provide something to talk about, it doesn’t necessarily wipe the slate clean and there are often traces of dust left of the ill will borne towards the previous. Defense and on-base percentage were emphasized in Powell’s acquisition and getting it at an up-the-middle position is a boon. Yet, when the task came to think of possible comps, a few four-letter words came to mind. One of them was “Reed.” The track record for OBP-heavy players with limited power in the majors is not stellar, and Reed had more power than Powell does. Ramon Flores, whom we also have on the 40-man, also has more power while being in the same broad family of players. I think Powell all but a lock to be protected, but I’m still skeptical of his long-term value.

RHP Matt Anderson, 6’1″, 210 lbs, 11/18/1991
(AA) 3-5, 44 G (GS), 10 SV, 3.90 ERA in 67.0 IP, 64 H (5 HR), 63/23 K/BB, 4 HB, 9 WP
Pros: Often cited as having the best curveball in the system, cup of coffee in Tacoma at the end of the season, live stuff
Cons: Recent conversion to relief did little to tighten up his component numbers

Anderson is an oddball in that he was signed as a NDFA following the 2012 draft and his rise through the system since is the sort usually described in astronomical terms. The outside observer can still ascribe a certain logic to it, however. He was a two-way guy coming up through high school and his first few years of college (even winning Offensive Player of the Year and Gold Glove honors) before switching over to the mound full-time. This helps explain away some of the inconsistencies and gives him the look of a fresher arm, but it still seems weird that twenty-nine other orgs whiffed on him entirely in the draft when he was playing at Long Beach State. The organization has been thin on relief pitching after trading from it for so many years and Anderson isn’t too far off, but his statistics also can be read like those of a guy who will spend much of his career living off spring training NRI contracts.

OF Dario Pizzano, L/R, 5’11”, 200 lbs, 4/25/1991
(AA) 58 G, 221 AB, 26 R, 68 H, 13 2B, 4 3B, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 2 SB, 20/19 K/BB, .308/.366/.457
Pros: Not afflicted by the large-scale swoon in the system
Cons: Diminished walk-rate, healthy for about half the season, likely corner OF

I don’t know how much thought I’d devote to Pizzano were we still under Zduriencik administration, but seeing as how he’s been the subject of nerd adoration for a while, I wonder how a more statistically-minded organization might view him. Even under the often curious player development of the past few years, Pizzano has never really logged time in center and has been predominantly a left fielder for the duration of his career. His numbers would be exciting, from a CF candidate who was a couple of years younger, but as a left fielder who survives on skills over tools, it’s a much tougher sell. Pizzano has two seasons of an OBP of around or above .400 and two in the .350 range. He’s slugged over .500 once as a new draftee and has been otherwise in the .425-.475 neighborhood, to which his high averages have contributed. He’s topped double-digits in home runs just once. I want to see what he might be capable of with better coaching, but the same could be said of a lot of dudes (Edgar, save us, again).

C Tyler Marlette, R/R, 5’11”, 195 lbs, 1/23/1993
(A+) 39 G, 148 AB, 17 R, 32 H, 5 2B, 3B, 5 HR, 20 RBI, 2 SB, CS, 35/12 K/BB, .216/.284/.365
(AA) 50 G, 178 AB, 15 R, 46 H, 13 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 31/10 K/BB, .258/.298/.393
Pros: Raw power uncharacteristic of the backstop position
Cons: Yes

In 2015, the Mariners saw fit to devote a not-insignificant amount of playing time to Jesus Sucre, John Hicks, and Steve Baron while demoting Mike Zunino to triple-A, eventually. What all four of these players had in common was a competence at handling a staff and good defensive reputation. Marlette doesn’t have that defensive reputation. He’s passed a ball every five defensive games and runs a caught stealing percentage in the neighborhood of a third. To boot, he got caught up in the mess everyone else did and logged his first full season of batting under .280 or slugging under .420. The K/BB didn’t go sideways, but the skills weren’t there otherwise. Assuming the Mike Zunino reclamation project does… something… the question becomes whether you prefer to maintain some level of offensive continuity or defensive continuity. Marlette might be able to get you to the marks of the former. The latter might be his long-term downfall. Given his current profile, I doubt that any team would want to hold onto him for a full season.

OF Jabari Blash, R/R, 6’5″, 225 lbs, 7/4/1989
(AA) 60 G, 209 AB, 38 R, 58 H, 16 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 5 SB, 60/31 K/BB, .278/.383/.517
(AAA) 56 G, 197 AB, 41 R, 52 H, 8 2B, 22 HR, 47 RBI, 3 SB, CS, 63/28 K/BB, .264/.355/.640
Pros: 80-grade name, dingers, won organization’s Heart and Soul award this fall for his play/leadership
Cons: Older, reefer madness

Blash has been a perennial bridesmaid on this list, often performing, but not without flaws and leaving our understanding of his being shunned overly reliant on personal defects. Surely, the previous administration didn’t give a good goddamn about strikeouts, so it was left to our surmise that he was being excluded either due to age or the fact that he partook in a drug that happened to be legal in the state of his primary residence. The Zduriencik FO left it’s own heap of unknowns to work through in order to arrive at our “NO” and DiPoto probably will go through similarly inscrutable processes. Blash has usable power and is part of a very thin high-minors outfield depth that we have internally, but the new group has stated a distaste for strikeouts and if you really want a viable CF candidate, then Leon Landry (whom I won’t be writing about) is probably a better bet.

RHP Stephen Landazuri, 6’0″, 195 lbs, 1/26/1992
(AA) 2-6, 15 GS, 4.56 ERA in 77.0 IP, 72 H (HR), 43 R (39 ER) 59/32 K/BB, 7 HB, 4 WP
(AAA) 1-4, 11 GS, 8.70 ERA in 49.2 IP, 78 H (5 HR), 53 R (48 ER), 23/29 K/BB, 9 HB, 3 WP
Pros: Complete arsenal, above-average stuff, remains young for his level
Cons: Erratic

I know there seems to be some fringe circle of Landazuri supporters over the years which I am party to, but it hasn’t gone so well for us so far. I was capable of rationalizing his 2014 performance on the grounds that he had suffered a core muscular injury and likely had his mechanics thrown off whereas prior to that he was gangbusters. This time around, I don’t have so clean a response. About as much as I can say is that he was good in April and bad thereafter despite logging roughly a full-season’s worth of regular starts. Most people would be willing to write him off again on this basis, but then he’s also been pitching in the Mexican Pacific League and has looked like his dominant self, running a 30/2 K/BB over the first four starts, spanning 22.0 innings. Plainly, he needs coaching or something to help him get a greater degree of consistency, but the high minors right now are rather thin on pitching for us and it doesn’t seem like a terrible idea to stash him in the hopes that he could either get you spot starts or fully figure it out in three option years.

1B Ji-man Choi, L/R, 6’1″, 230 lbs, 5/19/1991
(AAA) 18 G, 57 AB, 8 R, 17 H, 4 2B, HR, 16 RBI, CS, 14/10 K/BB, .298/.403/.421
Pros: Skillset likely to be valued to a greater degree by current administration
Cons: Injury history, lack of power, technically a minor league FA 🙁

As a devoted Choi fanboy, the spring was hard on me because it began with rumors that Choi was taking up switch-hitting after years as a left-only bat and ended with that weird collision that blew up most of his season. The outlook initially appeared to be doom-and-gloom insofar as it was going to be his last year of options and there were assorted other potential first basemen in the high minors that might pass him on the depth chart, such as D.J. Peterson, Jordy Lara, Jesus Montero, maybe even Kivlehan. But as the season played out, none of those guys took the decisive step forward and the closest one, Montero, remains an underperformer in limited major league time. Choi is presently playing winter ball in the Dominican and walking and hitting for some power as he’s inclined to do. Given that he missed all but the last month and that his offensive profile is unconventional, you’d probably be okay operating under the assumption that he wouldn’t be an attractive Rule 5 selection and thus avoid adding him and potentially burning that last option year until you absolutely had to. On the other hand, he’s on the FA market and who knows what he’s looking for or what teams are likely to value him?

LHP Brian Moran, 6’3″, 215 lbs, 9/30/1988
(AA) 2-1, 25 G, 3.56 ERA in 30.1 IP, 29 H (2 HR), 12 R, 29/17 K/BB, HB, 2 WP
Pros: Left-handed and alive, has been selected once
Cons: Tommy John, limited sample after return

Moran was selected already a couple of years ago by the Angels, but late in spring training he came down with elbow inflammation and had Tommy John surgery mid-April. The language around the Rule 5 article dictates that a player has to remain on the active roster for x days in order to be retained, and Moran being unable to pitch or do baseball, he was returned to the Mariners following the season’s end. One of the things that has made him intriguing in the past was that he, despite being thought of as a LOOGY, was pretty proficient at getting both kinds of batters out. In 2015’s limited sample, he didn’t do great exactly, but the components looked pretty similar from one side of the plate to the other, with a bit of an uptick in Ks against LHB and increased hits for RHB. Then again, you’re looking at about thirty innings and he didn’t display great command in his immediate return. Recency bias would lead me to think that after throwing Luetge and Rollins at the problem, protecting Moran wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility, and DiPoto saw enough in him to warrant the acquisition back when he was with the Angels. Then again, we have a Riefenhauser and a Rasmussen now.

RHP Dylan Unsworth, 6’1″, 175 lbs, 9/23/1992
(A+) 1-3, 11 G (5 GS), 3.32 ERA in 40.2 IP, 40 H (4 HR), 44/4 K/BB, HB, WP
(AA) 4-7, 13 GS, 4.34 ERA in 66.1 IP, 78 H (6 HR), 39 R (32 ER), 51/13 K/BB, 2 HB, 2 WP
Pros: Has always avoided walking guys, been young for every level
Cons: Pedestrian stuff, Ks dropped in first high-minors test

Unsworth began his season in double-A where he had three total starts spanning 11.0 innings with the same number of earned runs, a 7/3 K/BB, and thirteen hits allowed. Shifting back to the Cal League, he stayed in the Blaze’s bullpen for all of May before being granted a spot in the rotation. By mid-July, he was back in double-A again, so, if we’re looking primarily at how he closed out his season, the final ten starts in double-A had him recording a 3.42 ERA in 55.1 innings, a .269 avg against, 44/10 K/BB, which isn’t bad, but still is off his norms for K-output. I highlight this because Sharkie’s stuff is almost exactly average and he’s gotten by with a good groundball rate and by avoiding walks. You can think he might survive as an innings-eater, but his profile reads more like a #5 starter whereas you can squint at Lando and maybe see a #3 in good years.

RHP Osmer Morales, 6’3″, 180 lbs, 10/30/1992
(A): 1-8, 43 G (3 GS), 4.10 ERA in 83.1 IP, 83 H (7 HR), 45 R (38 ER), 85/23 K/BB, 2 HB, 6 WP
Pros: The strikeouts certainly are a positive
Cons: Perhaps many? Limited experience is certainly one.

Every so often, these surveys of the system turn up players that I honestly don’t know all that much about. Morales was signed at the tail end of 2009 and through his third pro season had pitched a grand total of 26.1 innings. He went on to pitch more than double that in his fourth and final VSL year, but what he was doing in the interim that kept him off the mound is a mystery. Nothing in the media guide mentions injury, although the commitment to using him in relief as of this year might suggest something is going on. Morales evidently has strikeout stuff and has posted good ratios throughout, but the lack of information on him doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence.


11 Responses to “’15 40-Man Preview Extravaganza”

  1. Westside guy on November 16th, 2015 7:13 am

    “Pros: 80-grade name,”

    I had to comment regarding how much I loved this line.

    Thank you, Jay, for this. It sure struck me as rather depressing, though. I fell off the Jack Z bandwagon early, but I always assumed he’d at least leave our minor league system in good shape… but nope.

    Dipoto’s got his work cut out for him…

  2. Jay Yencich on November 16th, 2015 7:19 am

    The general look of things is rather ugly, but one should also bear in mind that Zduriencik was promoting players so aggressively that they’d often be on the 40-man before they were approaching eligibility. Thus, November has often been the time to add guys that weren’t thought of as immediate contributors.

  3. HighBrie on November 16th, 2015 10:41 am

    Thanks for the list. I enjoy these. I like Blash, and I think three outcome players who can field their positions can be valuable. Can you comment a little more on his defense and if he shows susceptibility to certain pitch types (or quality) such that he may struggle (for reasons other than low contact %)?

  4. bfgboy on November 16th, 2015 11:45 am

    Whenever I see your name attached to a column, I drop what I’m doing immediately! As always, a detailed and entertaining account of what (little) the M’s have in the pipeline. Thanks for continuing the drudge, as it is extremely appreciated!

  5. Jay Yencich on November 16th, 2015 12:40 pm

    re: Blash, his physical profile puts him in RF because his arm is good and his wheels, not so much. Though he’s not a liability out there, I would say the glove profile is more tools than skill and he’s a bat-first player who’s, fortunately, not bat-only. He’s patient enough and has some good pitch recognition and will work counts, but the swing is long and he hasn’t always dealt with change-ups well, so I guess you have broad questions of whether he can catch up to premium velocity and recognize enough pitches to do damage.

  6. thehemogoblin on November 16th, 2015 12:50 pm

    Watching Jabari Blash launch home runs over the scoreboard at Cheney Stadium certainly made me a believer. I’d have to think he’s the most vulnerable person on this list to being Rule V drafted.

  7. Jay Yencich on November 16th, 2015 12:59 pm

    Definitely has proven himself against triple-A competition and definitely is the type of player that a desperate team could throw into a position that is an existing hole.

  8. Hutch on November 16th, 2015 1:26 pm

    I could see Dipoto letting Blash walk, since he’s not really his cup of tea and he’s already started compiling OFers like Powell and Daniel Robertson, but the homer in me wants to see Blash get a shot in Spring Training. There’s certainly worse ways to use a 40-man roster spot, right?

    I’m one of those Pizzano nerds who readily admits that the OBP-driven profile doesn’t really scream “future major league regular.” But given that Dipoto went out of his way to acquire a more athletic but less powerful version of the same player (Powell), I wonder if our boy Dario gets another chance.

  9. Woodcutta on November 16th, 2015 4:22 pm

    Well, bye Tom.

  10. Longgeorge1 on November 17th, 2015 7:22 am

    Blash seemed to improve quite a bit this season. Maybe he just got “hot” in August or maybe something clicked or maybe he just played well on the nights I was there.

  11. bongo on November 17th, 2015 6:27 pm

    Blash went on a home run tear, but it’s not clear to me that PCL HRs are predictive in the majors – the reality is that fly balls carry further at Cheney Stadium than they do at Safeco.

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