Cactus League Rolls On: Where the Focus Should Be

marc w · March 7, 2019 at 5:01 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s 2019, the M’s are rebuilding/stepping back, and they’ve remade their roster. The pitching staff gets a lot of attention for being a question mark, but I think most of that is focused on the bullpen, and that’s fine. Many/most of these guys won’t be in featured roles on the next great M’s team, and it may not make sense to assemble a high-grade bullpen on a team that by its own estimation isn’t really competing this year. But the group that’s really pulling the M’s down in the minds of projection systems isn’t the pitchers. It’s the infield.

The M’s are a bit unsettled at SS, with the heralded but streaky JP Crawford coming over as the long term solution, but who will almost assuredly start in Tacoma due to service time manipulation the veteran presence of Tim Beckham. Neither is projected to do a whole lot, but Crawford’s growth is perhaps the story of the season, at least as position players go (Justus Sheffield is the story of the season for pitchers). At 2B, Dee Gordon tries to bounce back from an unmitigated disaster of a 2018, but at 30 years of age, it almost doesn’t matter what he does. If he posts career highs, he’d likely be moved at the deadline. If he struggles again, he’d be sidelined for Dylan Moore or Shed Long. The options at 1B are younger, but project as the weakest of the bunch. Ryon Healy figures to get some time at 1B, and like Gordon, he needs to prove his 2018 was some sort of aberration. Dan Vogelbach’s spring line is great, but then, it was great last year, too, and he still couldn’t take the job from the imploding Healy. Edwin Encarnacion’s still here, as is Jay Bruce, but their performance doesn’t matter so much as it’s an insurance against the kind of 1B black hole the M’s have featured so often.

Crawford, Sheffield, perhaps Domingo Santana, and then the AA group of Evan White, Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley – that’s who we’ll all be watching in 2019 as we try to suss out whether the M’s have a complement to Mitch Haniger. All the same, that means that this is the first year in quite some time when we *won’t* be too interested in Felix or Kyle Seager. I’d love both of them to bounce back; that would make the season more watchable on a nightly basis. But their success or failure just won’t provide much information about how the M’s are supposed to take two steps forward after this off-season’s step back. Crawford’s ceiling’s probably seen as being lower now than in the past, after struggling to both stay healthy and demonstrate consistent pop and even contact skill. But that’s all subject to change. I think the same could be said for Sheffield’s ceiling, but he’s moved it higher just by what he’s done this spring. He’s still a top prospect, but one who looks a bit better now than he did last October/November. That’s a good sign, and hopefully he’ll be joined by others throughout the year.

Today’s game sees the M’s take on the Reds in Goodyear. Cincy sends righty flamethrower Luis Castillo to the mound. Castillo averages 97+ on his four-seam, though it was down a bit in 2018 as he logged more innings. It’s got run, but not a ton of rise, and he pairs it with an interesting sinker that’s been solid vs. RHBs, but which LHBs have demolished. His best pitch is a hard change-up at 87 or so. Batters have offered at at nearly 60% of the time he’s thrown it, and they’ve come up empty on over 40% of those swings. This is a legitimate outpitch, but his breaking ball (a slider) has lagged far behind. Between the issues with lefties and a small home park, HR troubles have bedeviled him, though it’s good to remember he’s 26, throws 97, and has a good cambio. This is a base a good team can work with, and while Cincinnati hasn’t been a good team in a while, Castillo could be really good in the right situation.

1: Fraley, CF
2: Lewis, RF
3: Narvaez, C
4: Healy, 1B
5: Vogelbach, DH
6: Ichirooooo
7: Beckham, SS
8: Long, 2B
9: Negron, 2B


One Response to “Cactus League Rolls On: Where the Focus Should Be”

  1. Stevemotivateir on March 8th, 2019 5:20 am

    How does Seattle fit Jay Bruce, Edwin Encarnacion, Dan Vogelbach, and Ryan Healy on the same roster and still have room for a utility infielder, backup catcher, and extra reliever to cover Kikuchi’s 5th outings where he will only pitch an inning or so?

    Me thinks Healy gets optioned if someone isn’t traded before opening day.

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