AFL Check-in and M’s Roster Moves

marc w · November 2, 2016 at 5:45 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

We’re nearly a month into the Arizona Fall League, the premiere offseason showcase for both top prospect and potential Rule 5 guys each year. The M’s contingent this year was a great mix of high-upside guys and close-to or even in-the-majors guys who could use some extra games. It also mixes guys with great stat lines – like Dylan Unsworth and Southern League MVP Tyler O’Neill – with players who had down years, like SS Drew Jackson and Guillermo Heredia (whose lack of polish was perfectly understandable given his aggressive promotions). Not only is the league an excellent test for prospects, as the level of competition can be fairly high (though pitching depth isn’t great), it’s also a source of important information about guys we know little about beyond scouting reports; thanks to pitch fx in two parks, we actually get data on pitchers. It’s incomplete, and the calibration on Peoria’s system has been off for years (sometimes laughably so), but even with those caveats, it’s an incredible resource.

To me, there are really 3 big stories thus far from the AFL:

1: Tyler O’Neill cannot be stopped. O’Neill was one of the big stories of LAST year’s AFL, when he showed his huge 2nd half in Bakersfield was real by hitting the ball extremely hard for Peoria for a week or two before joining Team Canada. He then dominated AA, and now gets a victory lap of sorts against a number of tough pitchers. He’s faced guys like Michael Kopech, a top prospect for the Red Sox who touches 100mph, and made hard contact (he went 1-2 off of him), and his K rate is slightly below is season line at Jackson (which was itself a new career low for O’Neill). That’s not to say he’s now a contact hitter; swing-and-miss will always be a concern. But he’s made tremendous strides, and even still, the trend line is still pointing up.

2: Something’s going on with Thyago Vieira. The Brazilian righty’s been in the system since 2011, and he’s just now reached high-A in his age-23 season. Scouting reports on him from his tenure at Everett (back in 2013) were underwhelming, and his career stats look like a really good failed-prospect bingo card. Poor control? Check. Repeating a low-minors league? Check. Gaps in the record due to injury? Check. This would’ve been a huge headscratcher of an assignment if it wasn’t for the fact that reports had him touching triple digits for Bakersfield along with huge steps forward in control. That was tantalizing, but really hard to fathom; had Vieira suddenly added the best part of 10mph to his fastball AND learned where to put it? Or was someone’s radar gun on the fritz?

Now we know: Vieira’s for real. If you go to BrooksBaseball, which has some pitch fx data for AFL guys, you’ll see Vieira’s averaging *AVERAGING* a cool 101.6mph on his fastball. MLBFarm uses the raw MLBAM data, which calculates pitch speed at 50′ from the plate, not 55′ like Brooks, so their numbers are a bit more restrained, but he’s still got the fastest average pitch in the league by quite a margin. And that league includes guys like Kopech, who’ve thrown 100 repeatedly. Vieira’s velo is not just in the league with some of the minors premiere flamethrowers, it’s putting them to shame.

Even better, his control looks more like it did in 2016 than it did, uh, every other year. It’s a tiny sample, but he’s walked 1 in 5+ innings, along with 7 Ks. As you can see from the BrooksBaseball link, his fastball doesn’t have elite movement; it’s fairly straight and flat. This is probably why he gives up more contact than anyone throwing that hard should, and it may prevent him from ever really harnessing the potential of a pitch like that. But if you’ve watched the World Series this year, you’ve seen that a 102mph fastball doesn’t need pinpoint location to be effective.

A better comp than Aroldis Chapman is a guy I mentioned in my AFL check-in last year – a Braves prospect named Mauricio Cabrera. I’d never heard of him, but he too popped up in the AFL throwing 102. A look at his stats showed no hint of anything special. It’s very similar to Vieira’s, in fact. Like Vieira, he joined affiliated ball in 2011, and moved slowly after that thanks to real problems with control/command. Over 2 stops in the minors in 2015, Cabrera had an RA/9 of 6.33, walking 35 in 48 1/3 IP, so there was no reason to assume he’d do anything in the AFL besides frustrate scouts. That seemed to sum it up, as he hit 102, and watched line drives fly past him going even faster. Cabrera was hit hard, but demonstrated such potential that the Braves gave him a roster spot. In 2016, Cabrera made the leap that Vieira’s apparently made, and jumped from AA straight to the majors, where he was a moderately successful middle-reliever. He’s still walking too many, but he contributed in the majors the year following an awful statistical year. A lot would have to go right for Vieira to do that, including getting rostered, but I’m not betting against Vieira logging some MLB innings in 2017.

3: Tyler Marlette, for years a disappointment after his selection in the 2011 draft, also looks to be turning a corner. Marlette had plus raw power out of HS, drawing raves from then-scouting director Tom McNamara, but couldn’t translate it into games. He was hitting decently, but with sub-par defense, he’d need to demonstrate more power to move up. A good showing in the Cal League in 2014 got him a call-up to AA, but 2015 turned sour for Marlette, as it did so many M’s prospects. He was assigned to the Cal League again, and scuffled, posting a sub-.300 OBP in a hitter’s haven. He repeated the Cal League yet again this year, but looked much better. Still, the M’s need to protect him or face the possibility of losing him in the Rule 5 draft.

As Bob Dutton writes in the News Tribune, Marlette’s done all he can to show he’s worth rostering. He’s hit for power, and he’s making a decent amount of contact against tough competition – better than what he saw in the Cal League. Would anyone actually take Marlette – a bat-first catcher – in the Rule 5 draft? Maybe not, but Marlette’s done enough to show he has a future in the org. Yes, yes, this is the guy that was my “player to watch” in every MiLB preview post from 2013-2015, but like O’Neill, there are encouraging signs that something clicked for Marlette this year.

Things had been a bit quiet from Jerry Dipoto since that Micah Owings signing, but the M’s made a small flurry of moves today. First, they removed several players from the 40-man following the end of the season and thus the end of the 60-day disabled list. LH RP Charlie Furbush is the big name, though this is hardly a surprise given the state of his health. Furbush is arb-eligible, and while he wouldn’t have earned a raise, the M’s outrighted him instead of making an offer. Furbush can deny the assignment, so essentially Furbush is now a free agent. RH RP Ryan Cook and C Steve Clevenger were also activated and outrighted. Cook pitched a few innings in rehab in the minors, but was then shut down, and may have re-aggravated the lat strain that he suffered in spring training. He’s likely gone, unless he signs a new free agent/minor league deal with Seattle. Clevenger is really, really gone; I think both parties are eager to just be rid of each other at this point.

The M’s lost pitcher Adrian Sampson to the Rangers, who claimed the injured SP off of waivers. He’s still recuperating from surgery, so can’t contribute early in 2017, and may bounce around in waiver purgatory a few more times before he’s back to full fitness. The bigger news is that the M’s also made a waiver claim, snagging RHP Ryan Weber from Atlanta. Weber’s a command and control righty, whose fastball is in the 90mph range with decent sink. He posted great MiLB walk rates, which is probably what caught Dipoto’s eye, and he clearly had his fans in the game: Fangraphs’ ranked him in the Braves top 5 prospects coming into 2016, but a poor season (he gave up a lot of HRs and couldn’t miss bats with the Braves) saw him placed on waivers despite having 2 options left.

This isn’t a great comparison, but his motion (check the video in Dutton’s post) and approach remind me a bit of late-period Joel Pineiro. On the down side, as a sinkerballer with an underpowered fastball, he’s going to be vulnerable to lefties. He’s developed a cutter/slider pitch that might help him against righties, but strikeouts have never really been the focus of his game. That’s fine, but then he absolutely has to limit HRs, something he couldn’t do this year. Thanks to the lack of an outpitch (his best pitch may be his curve, but nothing he throws is a real weapon), he’s fairly consistently given up more runs than his FIP would assume, and if he can’t keep the ball in the park, that tendency is magnified. With options and a history as a starter, he could provide some much-needed SP depth in Tacoma, or he could try to make the big league ‘pen as a Sean Green-style grounder guy. That said, the M’s bullpen already looks fairly crowded, with Edwin Diaz, Steve Cishek, Nick Vincent, Evan Scribner, Dan Altavilla, Vidal Nuno, Tony Zych, a yet-to-be-identified lefty and potentially Nate Karns/Ariel Miranda already in position. That group doesn’t really have a ground ball guy, however, so he could Donn Roach his way to occasional innings if things break right.

Steve Baron, the C the M’s drafted in the first round all the way back in 2009, was also Designated for Assignment. That’s not to say that Marlette is in line for this roster spot, but it clearly helps Marlette’s chances. Baron actually had a good year at the plate for Jackson, and always drew raves for his defense and handling a staff, so he’ll clearly catch on somewhere on a minor league deal. The team still has a big decision to make at C next year, with the club having a $4m option on Chris Iannetta, who faded badly down the stretch last year, and would likely be in a back-up role again with Mike Zunino starting. They’re also shopping for a 1B, with Dae-Ho Lee a possibility to return and platoon with Dan Vogelbach, but Lee’s comments about playing time may indicate that Lee’s ready to move on. The M’s will pick up Seth Smith’s $7m option, but I think we’ve seen the last of Norichika Aoki, Drew Storen, Adam Lind. Franklin Gutierrez will be a free agent, though he’s been in this position before and keeps coming back.


7 Responses to “AFL Check-in and M’s Roster Moves”

  1. Westside guy on November 3rd, 2016 8:40 am

    I know Its not good to get my hopes up at this stage, but I’m starting to get excited about Tyler O’Neill.

  2. ck on November 3rd, 2016 8:48 pm

    Thank you, Marc. Any possibility of former great CF Gutierrez being a RH First Base platoon partner ? Cruz should DH everyday, but where does that put Franklin G. ?

  3. maqman on November 5th, 2016 10:50 am

    Mike Freeman is a left hitting 1B in Tacoma who hits LHP very well.

  4. The Ancient Mariner on November 5th, 2016 5:45 pm

    I think Aoki has already been claimed on waivers by the Astros.

  5. ck on November 5th, 2016 9:17 pm

    The Condor is available…

  6. Westside guy on November 6th, 2016 11:19 am

    That 2015 knee injury seems to have taken a huge chunk of Condor’s defensive range, sad to say. I know UZR can be problematic; but Toronto regularly replaced him with another fielder in late innings… plus he played DH quite often.

    He might recover some more this offseason; but I don’t think he’s the rangy athletic outfielder we all remember, anymore.

  7. JMB on November 6th, 2016 6:48 pm

    M’s just acquired C Carlos Ruiz ($4.5M option) from the Dodgers, so I guess that answers the question of Iannetta’s option being picked up.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.