Cactus League Rolls On: Mariners at Dodgers + Evan White’s Opportunity

marc w · March 6, 2020 at 4:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Nick Margevicius vs. Ross Stripling, 5:05pm

The M’s play an evening game tonight over in Glendale against a pretty-much-full-strength Dodgers line-up. Nick Margevicius makes his initial spring start, as he gets set to (presumably) start the year in Tacoma’s rotation. The ex-Padre throws a four-seam fastball at 88-89 with almost no horizontal movement and above-average “rise.” So is Margevicius a big spin-rate guy, or perhaps a spin efficiency expert? Nah, not really. He’s got below-average overall spin and low spin efficiency. I think he adds just enough cut/gyro spin to lower his efficiency, and imitate the movement of a high-efficiency fastball thrown from a more over-the-top angle. That *sounds* interesting, but it hasn’t quite worked out. Batters slugged in the mid .500s against his fastball last year, and, even worse, they slugged .577 against his primary breaking ball, a slider.

All told, his pitches are somewhat similar to Yusei Kikuchi’s. Kikuchi throws harder (and maybe even harder now), but they both throw the same four pitches in roughly similar percentages, and with similar efficiency. Maybe it’s coincidence, but both of them struggled in their first taste of MLB last year.

The Dodgers counter with Ross Stripling, the swing man who was, briefly, traded to the Angels this off-season, before that component of the trade got called off. Stripling is now 30, having risen slowly through the Dodger ranks, and then, despite a lot of MLB success, struggling to get regular turns in what may be the game’s best rotation. Like Margevicius, he throws an arrow-straight, rising four-seamer with poor spin efficiency. Like Margevicius, batters have done a bit better off of it than he’d like, but with that same four-pitch mix, Stripling has been able to get good results. Part of this is command. Stripling’s always shown plus control, but he’s able to sneak a lot more strikeouts than you’d think given his so-so raw stuff. He can throw his breaking/offspeed stuff for strikes, but he can also get ground ball contact with it. All of his pitches, except for the rising fastball, get grounders, and the slider in particular is more of a weak-contact pitch than a swing-and-miss pitch. That’s enabled him to post above-average ground ball rates. He’s far from overpowering, but I’m pretty glad the Angels didn’t end up with him.

Evan White starts tonight’s game at 1B, and that should be a familiar sight this year. White isn’t expected to carry the offense or anything, but again, a solid season from White at the plate would go a long way towards demonstrating that the M’s player development group is on the right track. A swing change in 2018 seemed to unlock some power after a disappointingly weak first few months in the power-friendly California League. His surface numbers last year, which he spent in AA Arkansas, would appear to show an underpowered-for-a-1B stroke, but they mask the park effects that held down his ISO. As a result, projections are all over the map for White, with ZiPS forecasting a dire .227/.275/.376. Steamer is comparatively bullish, at .253/.310/.424. But just as PECOTA was off-the-scale negative with its projection of Justus Sheffield, its projection for White is unrecognizable compared to the others. It has White slated for a .268/.316/.477. That slugging percentage slots him in right between Khris Davis and Ryan Braun, and ahead of last year’s break-out star, Marcus Semien. It looks like they’re forecasting a completely different player than ZiPS.

Part of the issue is that PECOTA’s using park-specific factors, where many others use *league* adjustments for raw slash lines. Part of it is how you treat older stats; how much credence you give to his full-season SLG% in 2018 will have a big impact on his major league projection, for example. But let’s be clear: this is a massive range of potential outcomes, and thus a massive range of grades we can assign the M’s player development group for White’s introduction to being a big league regular. If White ends the year with a SLG% that’s ahead of Texas’ Nick Solak, for example, that’d be a great sign that White’s swing can function effectively in the big leagues, and also that he’s making enough contact/getting enough base hits for a solid-average ISO to get his SLG% into the .480 range. But even more importantly, I’d love to see his OBP come in at the high line of these projections. He’s not demonstrated a high walk rate in the minors, and his K% was slightly elevated in AA, so there’s a chance here that the OBP could come in pretty low, rendering even a good SLG% unplayable. If he’s able to keep his K% in the very low 20s, and out of the upper 20s, he could get his OBP up near .330, and have a shot at coming close to, say, Ramon Laureano’s level.

Another test for White is coming close to the overall production of a group of relatively cheap stop-gap 1Bs around the like – guys on one-year deals, like Eric Thames or CJ Cron. I’d put Jose Aguilar and even Ji-Man Choi in this group. In general, the group has a better OBP projection than White, though of course with a decent year, White could catch them. But White’s the best athlete in this group by a mile, and thus he’ll have an advantage in baserunning and, of course, fielding/defense.

Today’s line-up:
1: Fraley, LF
2: White, 1B
3: Vogelbach, DH
4: Lewis, RF
5: Nola, C
6: Crawford, SS
7: Kelenic, CF
8: Gordon, 2B
9: Moore, 3B
SP: Margevicius

The M’s have Marco Gonzales going in a B game on a back field, and Sam Tuivailala will get some work in there as well. Expected to see time behind Margevicius are Erik Swanson and Joey Gerber.


One Response to “Cactus League Rolls On: Mariners at Dodgers + Evan White’s Opportunity”

  1. bat guano on March 7th, 2020 8:19 am

    Nice write up on White. It will definitely be interesting to see if he’s ready!

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