Game 60, Mariners at Astros

June 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Dallas Keuchel, 5:10pm

Welcome to the difficult part of the schedule. The M’s kick off a short series with the Astros, and after a brief respite in Tampa, face off against a bunch of playoff contenders, from Anaheim to Boston to New York. There are precious few Twins or Rangers this month.

The Astros have a run differential of + 122 coming into today, which looks like it’s in a different league to the M’s +17, but sadly for Houston, they don’t award playoff spots based on run differential. Yes, the M’s look much worse on paper, and the run differential tells that story. But I’d like to talk about 2016, when the Astros were coming off a surprise that-didn’t-take-as-long-as-everyone-thought playoff berth, but slumped to just 84 wins. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers won *95 games* despite a Pythagorean record of 82-80. Their run differential was in single digits, but they won *95 games*. For most of the year, it was actually negative, and people said, “You can’t just score runs *exactly* when you need them all year; it doesn’t work like that,” but the Rangers went right on doing it for the entire year. It made no sense, as I pointed out at the time, and it kept on making no sense right through a 95-win, division winning season. That feels familiar, at least from watching the M’s in May, and so at least there’s a recent precedent for a team continuing to out-weird “better” teams.

The M’s face the team with potentially the best rotation in history, but at least they get the weakest link in that rotation tonight – it’s, uh, former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel’s velo’s unchanged from his brilliant 2015 and his bounce-back 2017, but Keuchel’s K% and GB% are down a bit, and as a sinkerballer throwing 89, he’s always working on the margins. He has to be incredibly precise, and to his credit, he has been. But after a few years when it seemed like he could contact-manage his way to stardom, his HR/FB ratio’s no longer shockingly low, and if you don’t get a ton of strikeouts, there’s some vulnerability there. I mentioned yesterday that the M’s would benefit more than most teams if the ball stopped being quite so HR-friendly; as a ground ball guy, Keuchel doesn’t seem like he would be in that boat, but I keep thinking that if the ball stays drag-resistant, he’s simply not going to be what he was in 2015 anymore. That seems like a just-so story, gussying up regression to the mean with doctored baseballs and league wide trends, but hey, it’s not a USSMariner piece without at least one reference to league-wide HR rates.

James Paxton has dominated a very good Astros line-up over the past 1.4 years or so. The Astros throttled the M’s last year, and they’re doing fine against them in 2018, but they haven’t figured out Paxton quite yet. Long may this continue.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Heredia, CF
8: Gamel, LF
9: Zunino, C

With the calendar turning to June and lots of players exercising opt-outs, the M’s affiliates have seen a ton of changes this week. It’s not just the M’s, but a wave of players who had been playing in independent leagues just crossed over into affiliated ball, and the M’s have been especially active. The M’s signed former Nat Ross Detwiler, former D-Back Daniel Schlereth, and RHPs Tyler Higgins and Williams Perez to minor league deals. Tacoma SS Zach Vincej hit the DL, but Nick Rumbelow was officially activated for the first time this season. The R’s have been scrambling a bit with injuries and then the promotion of Roenis Elias, so the Indy League windfall will benefit the team that’s had to pull guys from Modesto/Arkansas plenty for spot starts.

The 2018 Draft: Days Two and Three, Open Thread

June 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 37 Comments 

As with last year, since the third day of the draft goes fast and is at times inscrutable, it makes more sense to lump it together with the second day when we have more to talk about. Not that we didn’t have enough to talk about on day one, boy howdy. It’s all fun in its own way, but your best approach is to be receptive and not too invested in any one player or group of players. Other sports can project full drafts whereas baseball can’t seem to get through fifteen selections before something bonkers happens (I did not have the A’s selecting Kyler Murray). There also appears to be a clearer sense of who can play where and when and why elsewhere, whereas baseball demands further skill development and all the variables and PB&J sandwiches therein.

One consideration I had coming out of Day One was the use of picks and money. Logan Gilbert has been spoken of as having a verbal agreement, and given his analytics background and humility in interviews, I’d be hard pressed to see him exceeding his bonus, given that he seems deferential to the team as a whole. Stowers, I know less of on a personal level, but he wasn’t expected to land here and was projected maybe more in the fourth or fifth round, at least from the earlier prognosticating, and moreover, later reports in the evening suggest that he also is in the same “verbal commitment” territory as Gilbert. Does this mean that both will come in under-slot, giving us more money to spread around among high schoolers on Day Two? It certainly seems possible, but it’s not something that we’ve done previously, so we’re in uncharted territory right now and waiting to see what happens. The Day One selection suggests the same college bias as other years, but SSS caveats still apply.

Such factors are not necessarily a given. We’ve been burned in past drafts by selecting guys who bonus demands we thought we had a handle on and turned out to be wrong about, such as Steve Baron. Yet, the general perception I’ve left with is that there’s a possibility here to spread around some money, if not in the third round then maybe in the fourth through sixth, among high school picks who may have interesting tools in their own rights but will take a longer development track. Whether that comes to pass immediately as selection #90 comes our way or in the longer term as we get beyond that remains a question. I’ll be disappointed if we appear to go more with perceived cost-saving picks on Day Two, and intend to remain quite pissed at the Astros for taking Jayson Schroeder in the second round. I’ve had enough of the Rays encroaching on our home territory but the Houston Astros? That’s just taking things too far.

Day Two:
Round Three: C Cal Raleigh, S/R, 6’3″, 215 lbs, 11/26/96, Florida State
Round Four: LHP Michael Plassmeyer, 6’2″, 200 lbs, 11/5/96, Missouri Columbia
Round Five: RHP Nolan Hoffman, 6’4″, 190 lbs, 8/9/97, Texas A&M
Round Six: RHP Joey O’Brien, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 11/28/97, Southern Nevada
Round Seven: C Jake Anchia, R/R, 6’1″, 205 lbs, 3/5/97, Nova Southeastern
Round Eight: RHP Joey Gerber, 6’4″, 215 lbs, 5/3/97, Illinois
Round Nine: LF Keegan McGovern, L/R, 6’3″, 200 lbs, 9/3/95, Georgia
Round Ten: SS Matt Sanders, R/R, 5’8″, 175 lbs, 6/7/96, Troy

Some time immediately after last year’s draft, I remember some talk from FO higher-ups about how we were now at a good place now and could now finally focus on rebuilding and longer development projects. I have been betrayed on a deep, deep level and will not soon forget it.

I mean, someone surely looked at the low minors and went “ew,” but what we got predominantly were guys who will be at Everett and higher and no one really who would solve the issue of running out of pitchers in extended. I can see some of these fellows like Gerber, a closer for the Illini, and Hoffman, who’s a quirk guy, moving quickly as bullpen arms, but this isn’t necessarily a spot of need anymore. We did well to grab a few catchers as well, which may put an end to the need to grab them wildly in the Minor League Rule 5 or convert any willing infielder. It’s hard to know which one to prefer, as both appear competent and more geared towards offensive production, although not with major concerns as to whether or not they can stick. Some of these dudes have interesting backgrounds or individual abilities. McGovern appears to have recently found his power stroke, and is a native of Willachoochee, Georgia, which I won’t soon tire of. Sanders can run and work a count. O’Brien is a sneaky fave as a fresh arm who can run it up there, was formerly a prep in Japan (and is eligible for the NPB draft), and was playing centerfield on his offdays. It’s cold comfort for those of us who wanted Ohtani, but he’s fun conceptually as a player. Otherwise, while the college guys picked weren’t all “okay, he’s maxed out, you know what you’re getting here,” there wasn’t really a starter among the pitchers outside of Plassmeyer and maaaaaybe O’Brien, who is a wild card here. What this draft looks like so far is yet one more attempt to restock low-to-mid minors ranks to fill in what we’ve traded away, which doesn’t inspire confidence as a long-term plan. We’ll see what Day Three brings, where we can toss around $125k bonuses without being penalized.

Day Three:
Round 11: RHP Damon Casetta-Stubbs, 6’4″, 200 lbs, 7/22/99, Kings Way Christian (WA)
Round 12: 2B Ryne Ogren, R/R, 6’1″, 180 lbs, 4/11/97, Elon
Round 13: OF Charlie McConnel, L/R, 6’2″, 195 lbs, 1/7/96, Northeastern
Round 14: RHP Tyler Suellentrop, 6’3″, 215 lbs, 1/22/97, Indian River State
Round 15: RHP Matthew Willrodt, 6’4″, 220 lbs, 10/19/97, Cisco JC
Round 16: LHP Holden Laws, 6’2″, 165 lbs, 12/8/99, South Granville (NC)
Round 17: CF/SS Cesar Trejo, R/R, 6’2″, 200 lbs, 5/15/97, UNC Greensboro
Round 18: RHP Noah Zavolas, 6’1″, 190 lbs, 5/11/96, Harvard
Round 19: C Dean Naveraz, R/R, 6’0″, 220 lbs, 1/4/97 San Diego St
Round 20: RHP JT Salter, 6’8″, 285 lbs, 6/10/96, U West Alabama
Round 21: RHP Grant Anderson, 6’0″, 180 lbs, 6/21/97, McNeese St
Round 22: SS Nicholas Rodriguez, R/R, 6’2″, 170 lbs, 6/28/96, UNLV
Round 23: CF Ryan Ramiz, L/L 6’1″, 185 lbs, 1/13/96, Seton Hall
Round 24: LHP Benjamin Onyshko, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 10/18/96, Stetson
Round 25: 2B Connor Kopach, R/R, 6’0″, 170 lbs, 8/4/94, Southern Il Carbondale
Round 26: 3B Cal Hernandez, S/R, 6’0″, 185 lbs, 1/9/96, Oral Roberts
Round 27: 2B Cash Gladfelter, L/R, 6’4″, 200 lbs, 11/9/96, Shippensburg
Round 28: 2B Beau Branton, R/R, 5’7″, 175 lbs, 9/4/95, Stanford
Round 29: 3B Bobby Honeyman, L/R, 6’1″, 185 lbs, 5/25/96, SUNY Stony Brook
Round 30: LF Cody Staab, L/L, 5’10”, 170 lbs, 7/3/96, Rice
Round 31: LHP Rigo Beltran, 5’11”, 185 lbs, 9/1/94, Lynn
Round 32: 2B Zach Scott, L/R, 6’0″, 185 lbs, 4/27/95, St. Leo
Round 33: RHP Penn Murfee, 6’2″, 195 lbs, 5/2/94, Santa Clara
Round 34: LHP Nick Wegmann, 6’1″, 195 lbs, 4/26/96, Binghamton
Round 35: RHP Will Gambino, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 10/2/99, Paul VI (NJ)
Round 36: LHP Justin Wrobleski, 6’2″, 180 lbs, 7/14/00 Sequoyah (GA)
Round 37: RHP Parker Towns, 6’4″, 255 lbs, 11/8/96, Dallas Baptist
Round 38: 2B Jack Montgomery, L/R, 6’0″, 175 lbs, 8/28/00, Simsbury (CT)
Round 39: RHP Jacob Maton, 6’2″, 175 lbs, 9/22/99, Glenwood (IL)
Round 40: RHP David Rhodes, 6’2″, 180 lbs, 2/15/00, Langley (BC)

It’s nearly impossible to come up with smart things to say in the short-term about Day Three of the draft as it all goes on so rapidly. There are any number of prospects whom we’ve said “okay, who’s that?” in this period who have gone on to be just fine major and minor league players thanks to the efforts of scouting and player development. I’m not going to pretend here that I have anything profound to say about this draft class, but instead I’m going to make a couple of notes based off whatever interests me.

* After not spending a single pick in the high school ranks, the Mariners selected seven of them in the final thirty rounds. What I can tell you right away is that 11th round local guy Damon Casetta-Stubbs was a late riser talked about in the third to the eighth rounds who the Mariners bought out of a commitment to Seattle U. We also appear to have gotten 17th rounder Holden Laws, adding another prep pitcher. This carried on a sort of theme, insofar as six of the seven prep selections were pitchers. Gambino, Wrobleski, and Maton would be pretty big gets if possible, but seem less likely. Rhodes, who was also recognized as one of the better Canadian preps (he has a commitment to UW), could end up as a guy they do pursue, partly for the local interest and partly because the pick was dedicated to long-time Canadian scout, Wayne Norton, who passed away within the last year. We’ll see where that goes. I also suspect that Norton may have been on 24th-rounder Ben Onyshko, who was at Stetson, same as Logan Gilbert, but pitched for Vauxhall as a prep. Oh, and we had three fifth-year seniors, although for a while had more of them than we did preps.

* As far as the positional splits, sixteen picks on Day Three were pitching, ~four outfielders, one catcher, ~eight middle infielders (Trejo was listed at two spots), and two third basemen. Splits on S / L / R were 1 / 7 / 6, so, left-handed preference again.

* Two more guys named “Cal” after having no guys named “Cal,” one more “Ryne” who may soon play alongside the other “Ryne” we already have who was named a MWL All-Star today along with OF Jack Larsen, RHP Collin Kober, and 1B Ryan Costello.

* JT Salter is a large human being, and I hope we sign him.

The M’s Make No Sense, And It Is Awesome

June 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

The Mariners make no sense. May saw the team lose Robinson Cano to suspension, and see much of the rest of the line-up miss time due to injury: Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino all missed games and/or went on the DL. As you might expect, their offensive production dropped, and they averaged about 4 runs per game, far below the pace they set in April; they scored 10 or more runs 4 times in April, but none in May. The club that was doing fine despite *allowing* 4.8 runs/game in April saw their run scoring fall…and they’ve moved ahead of the Astros in the AL West.

This is bonkers, and it is 10X better than anything logical. The M’s pitching staff in April looked *just* like the M’s pitching staff last year – Paxton was good, and then they’d cobbled together a rotation with some fairly inconsistent guys like Marco Gonzales and, as much as it pains me to write this, Felix. Mike Leake was supposed to hold down the middle of the rotation, and he was fine, but clearly not pitching the way he did last September. More worrisome, they were still allowing far too many HRs. Their fly-ball heavy approach mixed with the new, more aerodynamic ball resulted in a lot of big innings, and so they’d need to hit enough to compensate. In April/March, the M’s posted the 2nd-highest HR/9 rate in the game.

In May, they’ve allowed the lowest HR/9 because sure, why not. Is some of that luck? Yeah, sure, but not all of it. Last month, the M’s had the second-highest rate of pitches OUT of the strike zone put into play. If you want to maintain a low HR/9, induce swings at bad pitches. It’s notable because their overall rate of pitches in play isn’t all that high, as it shouldn’t be considering their strong strikeout rate.

Moreover, the M’s may be benefitting from a return to form of their ballpark. In 2016, batters who hit the ball hard in Safeco did slightly better than Statcast’s “expected wOBA” measure would’ve predicted based on angle and speed off the bat. So did a lot of teams, of course, as Statcast was trying to catch up to the fact that the new ball turned more balls into HRs than before. Now Statcast’s measure, trained on a few years of DingerMania, is OVERestimating production, and Safeco’s a prime example. Using the same metric in 2018, batters at Safeco are hitting far worse than predicted. But if this is just about league-wide trends, how would that help the M’s? As I’ve said, no team was as vulnerable to a change like we’ve seen as the M’s were. They built a staff around OF defense and BABIP-prevention, and then the league made BABIP nearly moot. The point is: if the game or at least Safeco moves back towards pre-2015 levels in terms of HR-friendliness, this team looks a lot different. Yes, this helps Oakland too, and look at the gap down there at the Coliseum… but the M’s have a huge lead now, and fewer HRs league wide would make it really hard for Oakland – or others – to catch up.

Their schedule gets a lot harder now, as you’ve no doubt heard. They’ll be in Houston again, and they’ll play the good bits of the AL East for the first time. They’ve always known this was coming, and if you’d made a checklist of things you’d want to see before this next road trip, I think the M’s would check every box. I sure as hell never expected them to be in front of the Astros, but they needed to build a little cushion ahead of the Angels. They’ve done that. They needed to see a serious step forward from either Mike Leake or Marco Gonzales vis a vis their April production. They got it from both. They needed to see a major improvement in HRs-allowed. As detailed above, they aced this section. They needed to see more from their bullpen behind Edwin Diaz. Their bullpen just led the league in fWAR in May by a country mile. They needed signs of life from Ben Gamel. He’s been on a serious tear. The M;s aren’t perfect; the hitting is timely, but not exactly potent, there are still depth questions (Romine?), and injuries continue to mount. But they needed to make a move in May and capture the region’s attention. They simply couldn’t have done a better job of that.

Lookout Landing’s Isabelle Minasian wrote a great post about the *feeling* that this team produces, and like many of you have noticed, there’s a lot more M’s gear around these days, so clearly Isabelle’s not alone. The references to the last times the M’s were in first place in June – whether tied (2016) or not (2003) – still bring up painful memories for me. I still expect to hurt at the end of all of this. But watching a vintage Felix performance yesterday was pretty special, and it’s a reminder – for me, at least – that this team can be so much fun, and that I don’t WANT the M’s to make sense. I want them to dominate at some point, and that’s not what this year’s about. This year’s seems to be about a team being more than the sum of its parts. That’s not terribly sabermetric, but then, I don’t care about the average of 10,000 teams constituted vaguely like this one – I care about the 2018 Mariners.

2018 Draft Preview with Chris Crawford

June 4, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 1 Comment 

It’s still technically time for a preview, as the M’s haven’t made their selection yet. A venerable tradition at this blog, it’s time to talk MLB draft with expert Chris Crawford. Chris has written for Baseball Prospectus, MLBDraftInsider, and is currently at HEROSports. We’ve done these previews here at the good ship Mariner since 2012, when the M’s selected Mike Zunino and the Astros got Carlos Correa.

Because we’re short on time and not at ALL – at ALL – because I’ve been busy and forgot to send some e-mails, this one will be short and to the point. It’s…uh, optimized for mobile. Take it away Chris:

1: Like last year, the M’s have three selections in the top 100 (#14, #54, #90). What kind of draft class are they looking at? Above-average, average-to-mediocre, bad?

I think it’s a weird draft class. There are a lot of interesting prospects, but they all have flaws that keep me from loving most of them. There’s a ton of 45-50 FV to me, which is good, but also not necessarily ideal.

2: Who should the M’s take at #14? Who WILL they take?

I think they’re going to take the best player left, which is another way of saying I have no idea. I definitely know that’s who they should take. I think if either Travis Swaggerty or Jarred Kelenic falls to them, they should be thrilled. If not, someone like Logan Gilbert, Ryan Rolison or Jackson Kowar would be fine.

3: The M’s took a college player first in the drafts that Jerry Dipoto’s overseen. Despite a few different scouting directors, that’s been his MO going back to the Angels – a HS pitcher in the first round once or twice, but generally speaking, he looks to the collegiate ranks. Is that inflexible? Or is that a guy who’s more comfortable with more information and prudently sticks with college players?

I think it’s both. I don’t think outside of the Taylor Ward pick Dipoto has gone way off board in value, and it could be just what has made sense to him. That being said, it’s clear Dipoto values safety, and there’s much more safety in college arms and bats.

4: How good is Casey Mize? Great player or solid player who’s almost certain to make the majors? Would you have taken Bart or Mize or ???? at 1-1?

Mize, easy. I’m not sure he’s a Gerrit Cole or Carlos Rodon type prospect? But he’s really good. He pounds the strike zone and he has three swing-and-miss pitches. He should move very quickly through either the Detroit or Philadelphia system — assuming San Francisco isn’t selecting him as rumored.

5: The M’s also pick at #54. Who might be available in that neighborhood? Would you say this class is deeper than previous classes? Does that matter past the first round?

I think we will see them do what Dipoto has done often; taking the inverse of what he took in the first; a prep player, be it position or pitcher. If they go prep, someone like Owen White or Slade Cecconi makes sense. If they’re going prep bat, maybe they take a chance on someone like Joe Gray or Nick Decker. All fit into that value range.

6: Help me, Chris – I’m scouting the stat lines again. Bren Spillane is running a SLG% that starts with a 9. He plays in a power conference, but he’s not seen as a top-100 guy. What’s his ceiling?

Ton of power, and he’s a good first baseman as well. I think there’s some concerns about the hit tool, but I think he should go in the first 100 picks. I could see him going in the second round for someone who really values right-handed power. Lots of teams value right-handed power.

7: Kyle Lewis – what do you make of his progress coming back from a serious injury? He’s lost a lot of development time, but the talent’s undeniable. Where is Lewis three years from now?

I think you have to give Lewis credit, because a lot of guys would have given up. He clearly hasn’t done that. That being said, it’s pretty clear he’s lost some of the athleticism, in my opinion/folks I’ve spoken with. I still think that Lewis has a chance to be a good starting outfielder, but I think his chance of being a plus one — maybe even a star — has passed. He should be in Seattle by 2019, assuming there’s no trade.

8: For the first time in a while (Blake Snell’s draft year, or the Reese McGuire year?) there are a few local players in the top 100. There’s OSU standout Nick Madrigal, of course, but also Juanita SP Jayson Schroeder, UW SS AJ Graffanino, Hugh Smith at Whitworth, Tarik Skubal at Seattle U, Daniel Bies at Gonzaga, etc. Just a random blip after a few years without much to talk about, or are the local colleges doing something different (even just hiring better coaches/recruiters)?

I think probably a little bit of both. The area is getting better, but also let’s keep in mind that schools like Oregon and Washington have done a great job signing these players. Once in, we don’t hear about them for three years. But yes, the high school class for Washington — particularly Schroeder — is as good as it’s been in a couple of years.

9: I’ve talked a lot about player development in regards to the M’s system, so I’ll ask you the fundamental question: how much of a successful MLB player is due to their talent at the time they enter the system, and how much is due to player development helping them along physically/mentally? Is it different for, say, Edwin Diaz versus Marco Gonzales?

So hard to say, and I think if I had the answer to this I wouldn’t be doing interviews with you. I think you have to have both the physical and mental side. It’s clear the Mariners are doing a better job with the latter as of late, in my opinion. The physical; it’s so hard to say. There’s so much attrition and volatility in players of this age, and calling something the right way to do it, I dunno. I think it’s just different for every player but I really don’t know.

10: Of the top HS arms that could be available at #14 – Rocker, Weathers, Winn, Wilcox – who do YOU like best, and do you think any of them tempt Dipoto away from Team College?

I think it’s Ethan Hankins. If the draft were held in February or March, Hankins is probably the second or third pick in this draft — maybe even the first ever prep right-hander to go first. I don’t think any of them have enough “safety” to tempt Dipoto at 14, but I sure would be. All of those guys are good and I have them ranked highly, but if you were just talking pure upside, Hankins has a ton.

11: Shohei Ohtani’s transition to MLB has been quite successful, and we now have a model of what a two-way player could look like. The Rays are using Brendan McKay as a two-way player in the minors for the time being as well. Do you think baseball’s coming around to this idea, even if it’s as a Brooks Kieshnkick-ian reliever/pinch hitter? Or is it simply too difficult to get enough development time in on such disparate skills?

I think you have to be a special, special player to do it. Ohtani obviously is. Baseball I think is starting to embrace more open-mindedness — see how the Rays are using McKay — but they’re probably exceptions to rules. Baseball is really hard. You want the guy doing what he’s best at as much as possible.

12: Who are some guys you’re particularly high on – guys you like better than what you think the industry consensus is?

I love Swaggerty. I think he’s a potential star. His weakness is his size, but I ignore that. I think he has the potential to be the best player in this draft. Others “like” Swaggerty but I think I’m one of the few who loves. I’m still pretty high on Hankins as we talked about earlier, and Logan Gilbert as well.

13: The M’s took 1B Evan White last year, who was something of a rare animal in that he was an ultra-athletic, good-defender 1B without a ton of power. He’s been in the system for a year now – what do you think of the pick and his development?

I liked — but didn’t love — the pick. I still would have moved him to centerfield but I also get wanting to put him somewhere where he can be plus-plus with the glove and maybe allow the bat to move quicker. That being said, I’m a little concerned at the lack of pop in the Cal League, and a little more swing-and-miss than I’d like to see. Still would give him a chance to be an outfielder, but you can’t complain too much with what you’ve seen.

The 2018 Draft: A Day One Thread

June 4, 2018 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 14 Comments 

Well, here we are again, except this year, woooooo we don’t actually have major or minor league baseball to pay attention to simultaneous with the draft! Unless, of course, you want to stare at a DSL box score, which I always encourage people to do. Why, it’s like Major League Baseball wants to make the draft a spectacle or something despite only airing it on the MLB Network and because there’s less immediate impact and despite the fact that the only thing I really remember from the years of streamed-online drafts is Courtney Hawkins doing a backflip. He’s in indy league ball now. These are all old stories though, and we don’t need the distraction as badly as we did last year. We do, however, need the players more than I think we ever have in the perplexingly-long time I’ve been paying attention.

I’m not sure how thrilled I am about the first-round selection other than the most practical aspects of it adding talent. I have read a few dozen mock drafts in various iterations over the last few months and most of them have remained pretty static in their projections, expecting us to at Oregon State outfielder Trevor Larnach, an opinion that only seems to have solidified in recent weeks. It would be a good add to the system insofar as we don’t have a whole lot of projectable left-handed bats and Larnach would easily profile as the best of them. Of course, we could always end up with a pitcher instead hahaha wouldn’t that be wacky?

Where we end up from there is less clear, other than in recent interviews and articles, there’s been a lot of talk from the front office about the talent of the prep class in the outfield and starting pitching areas and how it could be an opportunity to add some athleticism. Drafts frequently go off the rails of even the most vetted of projections, and I’d expect this one to be little different on that front. That being said, there’s no way we could have predicted Sam Carlson being around when we were picking up our second-round pick last year and I’m not even going to try to drop names for this one until it happens.

Everything else, somewhat falls under the same general umbrella of how we’ve talked about the system for a while and the tendency to recruit capable college players for depth over long-term talent that could take more effort to develop. Even when things have broken right for us and we’ve developed a few unexpected performers, we’ve been using them to patch up the major league rosters in trades and the part of me that’s accustomed to bad stuff happening to competitive Mariners teams makes me wonder how far we’re off from needing a backup shortstop that isn’t Andrew Romine. That, of course, is beside the point.

I don’t know how much we can expect to learn about the team from Day One since it’s almost a given that it will be college first and high school second. What I think will be interesting from there, potentially, is how we manage the larger concerns of bonus pools, which have tightened up the operating parameters of a lot of teams in recent years. Given the harder pools, if the second rounder costs us too much, we could end up bouncing back to the college ranks and trying to pick up guys with less bargaining leverage, but that’s not 100% a given. We drafted a couple of interesting, less-experienced left-handers last year in 7th round pick Max Roberts and 9th round pick Jorge Benitez, and even among the “cost-saving” type players, we’ve gotten more out of Gonzaga right-hander Wyatt Mills than I think we initially expected to get. Since the bonuses are somewhat locked, it can turn into a game where you’re trying to out-hustle or out-scout the other organizations and I could see us maybe dipping into the Midwest and Puerto Rican ranks to play around with that, or our beloved D-II and D-III schools. We’ll only probably really start to get a sense of where we’re at in rounds eleven through twenty as we start to spread around the saved money. As the bonus pools beyond the tenth round don’t count anything below $100k, you can see a little bit freer spending there than you do on Day Two.

The preview show gets underway at 3 pm and then picks start happening for realsies at 4 pm, with the absolutely AGONIZING five-minutes between selections, so I’d expect us to pick around 5:30 pm or later, I don’t know? The clocks always seem to run over. I’d encourage baseball teams to do us a solid and stop dicking around as much with the bonus time, but I imagine that it’s an institutional thing where they need to allow a certain window for the talking heads to yell at each other.

Takes of varying levels of hotness to follow. Gosh, I hope I don’t end up having to post anything super spicy.

Round One: RHP Logan Gilbert, 6’6″, 225 lbs, 5/5/1997, Stetson
2016: 2-1, 21 G (5 GS), 2.74 ERA in 49.0 IP, 44 H (3 HR), 19 R (15 ER), 43/27 K/BB
2017: 10-0, 15 G (12 GS), 2 CG, 2.02 ERA in 89.0 IP, 65 H (HR), 23 R (20 ER), 107/26 K/BB
2018: 10-1, 14 G (14 GS), 2.52 ERA in 100.0 IP, 60 H (7 HR), 31 R (28 ER), 143/20 K/BB

This is a paradoxical one, in that on the one hand, it’s a name I’m fairly familiar with, having been mocked to us by most recently and off-and-on by evaluators throughout. On the other, I hadn’t anticipated Liberatore, Gorman, Singer, or various others to be among the available picks at the time, and was starting to think “What about Turang? What about Rocker?” Of course, the scouts themselves have their own preferences, and I had a notion that we might be looking in the direction of the SE, thus lining up with Rocker or Georgia prep Ethan Hankins. I’ll admit, I didn’t bother looking up where Stetson University was, which would have pointed me in the right direction being in central Florida.

Gilbert’s a peculiar one, in that he’s a college arm, but doesn’t fit the more moderate ceiling projections that we often tag on those guys, nor is he someone who had a late growth spurt and gained about a foot sometime after junior high. Instead, he’s a converted infielder who didn’t start pitching regularly until late in high school and on into college. It means less mileage on the arm, which is comforting, but it also means there’s more room for potential development in the offerings beyond the general pitching smarts and change-up that appear to already be there. One knock on Gilbert right now is that he’s yet to commit to one breaking ball or another, throwing both but neither as quite a plus. At the same time, I see it as a good match for us, in that we’ve had some success getting our guys to develop a true breaking ball. For whatever else you can say, you can look at the video overlay .gif and see the same basic slot producing both two distinct pitches. For a guy who hasn’t been pitching forever, you wouldn’t anticipate the mechanics being as good as they are.

You also wouldn’t really anticipate the numbers being where they are either. As you can see from the numbers above, the hits and the walks have steadily gone down (and the WHIP, for whatever use you have for that) and the Ks have kept going up. The only two real blips that you can see on there are that the home runs seemed a bit excessive this season and that the ERA (again, for whatever use you have for that) went up a little his junior year. As the numbers go, one issue mentioned is that he had some trouble getting going this season, and rather than throwing in the mid-90s, he was down to the low-90s earlier on. He still is a long-armed dude who spots the ball down well, so he was able to play just fine without it, but if the velocity comes back to the mid-90s, you can see where it could be a strong arsenal.

So, we didn’t pick one of the consensus top players left available, but Gilbert himself is in a fascinating position being both really good and, developmentally, somewhere between a college arm and a prep arm as far as his general track goes. He’s grown into his body and gone through the awkward phases, but possesses more room to improve on his offerings the likes of which can only come with more repetition and experience. This could end up extending his development time, but we’re getting the best of both worlds if we’re patient with him and confident in how we can get him to where he needs to be.

Round Two: CF Josh Stowers, R/R, 6’0″, 205 lbs, 2/25/1997, Louisville
2016: 20 G, 13 AB, 4 R, 3 H, RBI, 2 SB, 2/2 K/BB, .231/.333/.231
2017: 65 G, 201 AB, 50 R, 63 H, 15 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 22 SB, 6 CS, 33/31 K/BB, .313/.422/.507
2018: 62 G, 220 AB, 72 R, 74 H, 14 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 60 RBI, 36 SB, 7 CS, 37/52 K/BB, .336/.477/.559

Man, I wanted Kumar Rocker, but maybe that college commitment is a little firm.

Stowers was, admittedly, not a name that was much on mine with my rather minimal research done this season. However, on doing a bit of reading on him, you can see him fitting within a certain archetype. The summer before Dipoto joined the organization, we signed Braden Bishop. The following year, we picked up Austin Grebeck and DeAires Moses after we grabbed Kyle Lewis in the first round. Last year, we selected Billy Cooke and Johnny Slater, former track star. What this seems to indicate at large is that the Mariners want their outfielders to be able to play defense, and maybe have enough speed to make a mess of things on the basepaths. Stowers is such a dude.

As far as other affinities go, Stowers was probably a guy who jumped up on the Mariners subjective boards based on his C the Z ability. He’s an on-base machine, with a differential of .141 from his average in 2018 and .109 last year. In case you hadn’t gathered as much, he’s also a guy that gets plunked a fair bit. Once on the bases, he has proven disruptive in a way that makes him fun for your team and annoying for the other team. His speed perhaps isn’t elite, but it’s definitely above-average and combined with the on-base ability, makes him someone you could see at the top or bottom of a batting order, since he’s more at home making contact than slugging out of his shoes.

I’m still getting acquainted with Stowers as a player, but the immediate questions I would have would be how viable he is in center. Both Cooke and Bishop would likely grade out as better gloves, and I don’t hear Stowers as having either speed or an arm on a level that comps to either guy, even if the on-base ability and basepath acumen likely outpaces both (the dividends on Cooke have been lacking so far, highlight plays aside). It’s impossible to project out three, four years down the line, but if the presence of a superior defender– Bishop, Gordon, Heredia, whomever– pushes him to left field instead, what you’d have is someone with a left field profile that’s less traditional by at-large standards, but makes sense in a Gamel or Span or Winn sort of way, which is how the Mariners have preferred to use their left field position in the current stadium.

Game 57, Rays at Mariners

June 1, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners · 10 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Sergio Romo/Austin Pruitt, 7:10pm

Ah, the Rays. The team dealing with some formidable budget issues is always an interesting club to follow, and tonight’s a perfect example: they’ll start Sergio Romo for a few batters, and then he’ll give way to Austin Pruitt. This has been the approach the Rays have taken in recent weeks, with Romo or another reliever starting, and then handing the ball to the presumptive starter for 5-6 IP. Ryan Yarbrough has pitched the 3rd-most innings on the team, just behind actual, old-school starting pitchers Blake Snell and Chris Archer, and he’s ahead of Jake Faria despite starting only 3 games to Faria’s 10.

With so many bonuses and contract clauses related to innings and games started, this looks like an easy way to suppress someone like Yarbrough’s salary in the arbitration process. It is. The questions coming out of this little experiment (and, to a lesser extent, the Angels’ 6-man rotation) are: will arbitrators and teams change incentive clauses/evidence presented in arbitration, and the ol’ standby: does this actually work? Romo started a couple of consecutive games not long ago and did quite well, and it get the Rays’ lefty starter out of some tough ABs against opposing right-handers. That’s a real issue, and it probably helped the Rays at the margin, but the issues the Rays are dealing with sort of dwarf the edge that this flip-flopped pitching order gives you. They recently dealt their closer to Seattle for prospects, and shipped a starting OF to boot, presumably to save salary. Colome/Span were two of the Rays costliest players; Span’s annual salary for 2018 was the highest on the club, for example, and Colome’s salary ranked higher than Kevin Kiermaier (whose extension will give him big raises soon) and just barely below Chris Archer’s.

Speaking of that trade, the M’s and Rays have swapped a hell of a lot of personnel in recent years, kicked off by the big trade early in Jerry Dipoto’s tenure as GM that sent Brad Miller and Logan Morrison to Tampa in return for Nate Karns. They’ve kept at it, with newly-acquired Mallex Smith and the aforementioned Ryan Yarbrough traded for Drew Smyly before 2017. Even old friend Jesus Sucre was traded to Tampa for a PTBNL, and then of course there’s the recent deal involving Colome/Span and Andrew Moore. The Rays have 4 players on their active roster that were acquired from Seattle, and 2 more are on the 40-man.

You know about Sergio Romo. Short, underpowered righty but armed with a good, swervy slider. So: let’s talk Austin Pruitt. A righty, Pruitt throws an arrow-straight four-seamer at around 92-93, and has a good hard cutter-ish slider at 88 that features solid downward break. He’s also got a curve that’s also fairly firm (around 82-83) and a change-up. He must have some deception, because he’s been much better at striking out left-handers over his short career. The key seems to be his curve, which is just better against lefties than it is against righties, which is a bit unusual. Lefties do fine against his straight fastball, so he’s throwing an awful lot of change-ups this season. Righties get a steady dose of sliders, so righties will see plenty of bendy pitches from both Rays uh…starters. Aside from the curve to lefties, Pruitt’s missing a decidedly 1980s level of bats, with a K% under 14%. He did fine on that measure in the minors, so I’m not sure if this is an adjustment period, or if it’s an approach thing. Is it too conspiratorial to suggest that the Rays would want their pitchers to pitch to contact as another way to save money in arbitration?

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Seager, 3B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Haniger, RF
6: Gamel, LF
7: Healy, 1B
8: Heredia, CF
9: Freitas, C
SP: Leake

David Freitas came back up when Chris Herrman went on the 10-day DL. Mike Zunino’s slowed by an injury in last night’s game, but he’s available to pinch hit tonight.

The bigger roster news today was that LOOGY Marc Rzepczynski was DFA’d today. LHP Roenis Elias has taken his place on the roster; as Ryan Divish wrote, with Wade LeBlanc’s emergence, they don’t really need to stretch Elias out as a starter right now.

So You Still Want Me to Write About the 2018 Draft

June 1, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 12 Comments 

Hello. It’s that time of the year again, in which we spend forty rounds selecting amateur players to later be used as raw materials for Jerry Dipoto’s trade addiction. I mean, help reinforce our minor league system so as to be a service to our major league roster fungibility (in acquiring players, from other major league teams).

For the past few years, I’ve identified us at being at a crossroads where it was becoming increasingly necessary to invest in high upside picks rather than those from the college ranks and of moderate ceilings, merely to fill out minor league rosters. The Mariners then ignored that for one more year, selected mostly college guys, and traded three of them before a year had even passed. So that was cool. On the plus side, I do remember being promised in the weeks immediately following the draft that we had finally reached a supposed break-even point where the system was in good enough shape to where we can start focusing on building over maintaining the status quo. Sure, April and May continued to be pocked with scattered reports from Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen about how the Mariners kept on canceling extended spring training games due to lack of pitching and we even made a minor trade with the D’Backs to get us a least one complex league pitcher but hahahaha maybe this time will be different maybe we don’t have to trade everything that isn’t nailed down, right, you guys? You guys?

When is The Thing?
Day One, is Monday June 4th, starting at 3 pm Pacific, or 2 pm if you want to watch the preview show. It will span the first round, second round, and various compensation picks, which will take us through #78 selection. Day Two will start Tuesday, June 5th at 9:30 am for us and will carry us through round ten. Then and only then are we graced with the Day Three Conference Call, which will begin at 9:30 am on Wednesday June 6th and cover the back thirty with more and stranger players, onward and onward until we run out of baseball players or the fortieth round passes, whichever comes first.

When do the Mariners do Their Thing?
We’re selecting a bit earlier than last year and only have to wait until #14. The Mariners representative will be former first-rounder Mike Moore. As is typical, we didn’t bother with the Competitive Balance Lottery, neither gaining nor forfeiting anything, and will next select at #54 in the second round. Curiously, though we moved up in the first round from #17 to #14, we only moved up one spot in the second round, owning the #55 selection last year. Things begin to normalize after the third round, where the Mariners will select at #90 overall and then in intervals of thirty thereafter, which should be easy enough to remember. I can’t imagine that anyone will decide that they’re done early but it’s surely possible. I just don’t know that it’s happened since the draft was scaled back ten rounds.
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