Game 72, Mariners at Athletics – And Opening Day in the Northwest League

June 14, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Marco Gonzales vs. Chris Bassitt, 6:37pm NOT 7:05 as I had previously posted!

There are not a lot of surface similarities between tonight’s two starters. Bassitt’s a righty, Gonzales a lefty. Bassitt throws 94 with a lollypop curve that may be the game’s slowest non-knuckleball pitch. Gonzales throws 88 with a change-up that was once a true weapon, or at least projected to be. And that made Gonzales a first-round draft pick, while Bassitt lasted until the 16th round out of a non-power-conference school.

All of that said, I think it can be kind of interesting to view them as two sides of the same coin, or maybe as a couple of different pathways through a pitching career in the modern game. Both debuted in 2014, at the tail end of the little batting ice age, when run scoring and home runs were way down. Both posted ERAs right around 4 that year, with Bassitt’s mediocre K:BB offset by the fact he didn’t allow any dingers. Gonzales missed more bats, but missed the strike zone too much, leading to a surfeit of walks. He also allowed a few HRs, but his fly-ball ways and a good defense behind him limited BABIP and runs-allowed. Gonzales’ injury woes kicked off the next year, and he was lost to TJ surgery until 2017. Bassitt had a fine 2015, as it marked his highest IP total, split between AAA and Oakland, the team the White Sox traded him to in the Jeff Samardzija deal.* His line was again helped by HR-avoidance, and his K:BB and overall stuff weren’t much to look at, but he produced. And then he, too, followed Marco into TJ surgery and rehab.

At this point, Bassitt’s 30 years old, three years older than Gonzales. His velo’s finally back up to the 94 he sat at in 2014-15, and he’s made some subtle changes – like taking some velo off of his curve, using a few more four-seamers, and turning his slider into more of a cutter – but he’s now pitching better than ever. His whiff rates are up to career highs on essentially all of his pitches, and that’s pushed his K rate way up as well. He’s stopped walking so many batters, so his K-BB% is 4 percentage points higher than last year, and about 9 percentage points higher than when he broke in in 2014. We’ve learned so much about player development since 2014, and Bassitt may be a great example – a non-prospect, or minor prospect, late-bloomer with lots of time missed due to injury and no real stand-out pitch becomes a serviceable middle-rotation guy thanks to velo development/maintenance and a new plan of attack. Meanwhile, Gonzales, who’s further from his surgery, younger, and more of a heralded prospect, is stuck in neutral, with an RA/9 over 6 (thanks defense!), and a velocity down at least 2 MPH from 2017. His last start was encouraging – as was Yusei Kikuchi’s – but you can’t keep looking at opponents like Bassitt and feeling good about what’s going on with the M’s. Gonzales (and Kikuchi) are flat-out better than they’ve pitched this year, and I expect they’ll climb out of this slide at some point. But when his velocity, K%, BB%, and GB% all decline, and when there’s no recognizable sense that things are changing, you tend to adjust where you think he’ll regress towards once he does pull out of this tailspin. This doesn’t look like a #2 starter, any more than Kikuchi does. And while there was considerable marketing puffery from the M’s in making Marco out to be more of an ace than he realistically is, it’s undeniable that some team could get solid #3 production from him. I hope the M’s can one day.

In happier news, the Everett AquaSox open the Northwest League season today. The Sox start with a series in the Tri-Cities to face the Dust Devils, a Padres affiliate. Everett’s roster’s worth watching, largely due to the pitching infusion the draft’s brought the org. #1 and #2 picks George Kirby and Brandon Williamson will suit up for Everett, as will Bellingham-native and 5th-rounder Austin Shenton. Today’s game’s started by Juan Mercedes, who’ll face off against Dust Devils’ Nick Thwaites, a 19-year-old 2018 draft pick who was solid in the AZL last year. Mercedes is 19 as well, but only got a handful of AZL innings last year. He had more of a track record in the DSL, where he pitched the previous two seasons.
Speaking of teenage hurlers, Deivy Florido gets the start for West Virginia today against Hagerstown.

The biggest story of the minor leagues today involves the Rainiers, who’ll start Felix Hernandez (Happy Felix Day) against new AAA team, the San Antonio Missions. Old heads remember the M’s had San Antonio as an affiliate back when they were a AA Texas League franchise, and they were one of the stops Felix made on his way up to Seattle, pitching for them in 2004. The 2003 Missions was one of the better MiLB teams the M’s had; they went 88-51, posted nearly a +200 run differential, and featured a young Jose Lopez and Chris Snelling. Aussie lefty Travis Blackley went 17-3 with a 2.61 ERA in 160+ IP, Clint Nageotte was a huge prospect, Cha-Seung Baek was solid in 50 IP, Bobby Madritsch came out of the indie leagues to dominate on his way to the majors, and their second indie league steal, George Sherrill, started his ascent by being essentially untouchable in 27 IP (his ERA was 0.33). Shin-Soo Choo was around with Felix in 2004, and 2005 brought Adam Jones and Ryan Rowland-Smith, and then 2006 saw Jeff Clement, Wlad Balentien, and Matt Tuiasosopo (Asdrubal Cabrera skipped AA and went right to Tacoma). Fun times!

1: Smith, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Santana, RF
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Narvaez, C
6: Beckham, DH
7: Crawford, SS
8: Gordon, 2B
9: Williamson, LF
SP: Gonzales

Welcome back, JP Crawford! He’ll take the 25-man spot of Brandon Brennan, who hits the 10-day IL with a sore shoulder. Felix starts his rehab assignment, and Shed Long’s been optioned back to Tacoma in exchange for Matt Festa.

Every time Edwin Encarnacion’s not in the starting line-up from here on out, we’ll all frantically search twitter to see if a deal’s announced. Nothing yet.

* It’s never going to get as much attention as one of those huge, franchise-making deals, but holy crap has this deal turned into a massive steal for the A’s. Samardzija was in his last arb year, meaning the Sox were only paying for one year. The A’s got a so-so 2B in Marcus Semien, who went from nearly-unplayable SS to defensive ace and lead-off hitter. They got C Josh Phegley, who’s (finally) putting it together, with a batting line north of league average as the A’s primary backstop, and they got Bassitt, who’s showing that he’s perhaps more than rotation depth. The Sox got a down year, and then watched Samardzija leave in free agency in the off-season before 2016, one marked by open feuding between players and management, and a hastily-organized rebuild that continues to this day.

Game 71, Mariners at Twins

June 12, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · 2 Comments 

Gerson Bautista/Tommy Milone vs. Jose Berrios, 5:10pm

It’s rough out there for us few, proud Mariners-watchers. A grand process is underway, I’m sure, but it doesn’t make spending 3 hours a night with them feel any less bizarre. After last night’s loss, the M’s are 28-42, a horrible record that feels worse both because of the M’s 13-2 start and because that start makes catching up to the Royals/Orioles/Marlins/Blue Jays for the #1 overall pick feel *almost* as impossible as winning a wild card. We can tune in to see how the young core is faring, but Mitch Haniger’s just out of the hospital, JP Crawford is still out, Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi are in free-fall, and even Brandon Brennan is slumping. I don’t know, friends.

Edwin Encarnacion’s been delightful, but that all but assures he’ll soon delight some other team. Dan Vogelbach’s righted the ship after a mediocre May, but even as his BB:K ratio is back over 1 in June, he’s not hitting for power. I’ll take it, to be clear, and it’s either his emergence or Omar Narvaez’s that’ll be the saving grace of this painful year. But that doesn’t make the current games must-see TV. Even in close games, like last night’s, it’s hard not to be pessimistic, and that’s a pretty rough way to enjoy baseball, and it’s a self-defeating kind of entertainment. The A’s won today, and are a game over .500; the Rangers – the actual RANGERS – are 6 games over. The M’s have finally built an enviable farm system, and they’ve got a handful of what seem likely extraordinary coaches, like AA manager Mitch Canham. I’m pretty certain they’ve got a bunch of players down there who’ll have some sort of big league career. That’s great, that’s a start. How will this org go about ensuring that those careers are good ones? How can they continue to develop players once they get to Seattle?

Jose Berrios pitches off of his sweeping, slurvy curve ball, a low-80s offering that breaks almost a foot gloveside, cutting a diagonal arc across the hitting zone. It’s a cool pitch; it’s effective and visually interesting, and the fact that he’s using it more than ever (and more than any other pitch) is understandable. But what makes Berrios a good young pitcher is the quality of his two fastballs, a four-seam and sinker. With plenty of armside movement thanks to his whippy, low-ish 3/4 motion, they’re a good counterpart to his breaking ball, and they help him pitch about as well against lefties as he does against righties, no small feat for a guy with his mechanics/profile. Unlike some of his teammates, he hasn’t gained a bunch of velocity this year. Instead, he’s succeeding by using his sneakily effective heaters to get strikes. Berrios had a decent walk rate, but he’s slashed it this year to under 5%. Whereas he used to throw fastballs away/off the plate to lefties, he’s challenging them this year. It’s working: he’s got a lower SLG% against with his fastballs than he does with his curve. He’s given up more HRs on the curve than he has on both his FBs combined, which is remarkable given the fact he uses the curve as a putaway pitch with two strikes. He’s given up *4* 2-strike dingers with the curve, and none off of his fastballs. I guess if you’re looking for a way to approach this battle, just target obvious counts and sit curve. That’s not ideal, as it means there are already 2 strikes, but hey, I’m trying to make myself watch this game. Cut me some slack.

1: Smith, CF
2: Seager, 3B
3: Encarnacion, DH
4: Vogelbach, 1B
5: Santana, RF
6: Narvaez, C
7: Gordon, 2B
8: Long, LF
9: Moore, SS
SP: Bautista, then Milone

Shed Long, LF? Why not. Seriously, how bad could it be? What would we see that we haven’t seen before? This gamer has been rather dark, and I apologize for that. It’s that kind of season, I suppose.

Bautista throws 98, Milone throws 88. For that reason alone, I kind of like this pairing for opener and starter. I’m still dumbfounded that Milone has now tied Yusei Kikuchi in fWAR, and has a lower DRA than Kikuchi, per BP.

Game 70, Mariners at Twins – A Tale of Two Cities, One of Which Comprises Twin Cities, But For Our Purposes Will Be Referred To As A Sin..

June 11, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

Mike Leake vs. Martin Perez, 5:10pm

I take a break for work and family obligations, and lo and behold, the Mariners notch a series win! I should avoid talking about them even more! The Mariners head to the Twin Cities to kick off a series against the surprising Twins, owners of the largest divisional lead in the game, and one of baseball’s best records.

Their offense – which is second behind Seattle in HRs, despite 200 fewer PAs – gets a lot of the credit for their start, and deservedly so: they’re slugging .515 as a team, 45 points higher than second-place Houston. But the real shocker has been their pitching staff, which ranks 7th in team fWAR thus far after ranking 20th in last year’s 78-84 season. They were projected to rank 14th by FG’s preseason polls, and somewhere near there by BP’s PECOTA, which saw them giving up slightly more runs than Seattle’s staff. What’s interesting is that they didn’t really make any big additions to the rotation. Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi, and Kyle Gibson all pitched perfectly fine, more or less, last year, and the Twins let Lance Lynn walk, picking up Martin Perez and Micahel Pineda on the cheap. So what’s happened?

A lot, really. But let’s start with the fact that both the M’s and the Twins hired new pitching coaches in the offseason (so did a bunch of other teams, of course). On paper, both teams made outside-the-box, new school hires, with the Twins’ Wes Johnson coming directly from the college ranks, from Arkansas and before that Dallas Baptist. The M’s hired Paul Davis from St. Louis, where he’d been the director of pitching analytics. Now if you know anything about Johnson, or if you’ve ever heard of Dallas Baptist in a baseballing context, you probably know that he places a premium on velocity, and the development of velocity. And from watching the Mariners over the past few years, but *especially* in the post-Paxton era, uh…do NOT place a big premium on velocity. The result is a rotation-wide increase in velo for the Twins, and a drop for the M’s.

But wait, that’s cheating, right? The M’s lost their top velo starter and figure to give more IP to Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone. Sure, but even if we compare the holdovers *to themselves* we still see a drop. It’s most notable with Marco Gonzales, but it’s true for Mike Leake, and it’s true for Wade LeBlanc (barely, but still). Meanwhile, the Twins didn’t exactly get younger. Their rotation is comprised almost solely of well-tenured vets, with the exception of Berrios, who has a track record of his own. Berrios is young, but Odorizzi and Perez are in their late 20s, and Gibson’s 31. Odorizzi’s the holdover whose results have been the most transformed, going from a so-so 2018 to a transcendent 2019 thanks to much better fastball results and a devastating cutter to go along with his old standby splitter. But those changes have been pretty small at the micro level – they’ve all just snowballed (along with luck) to produce massive changes in results. But as I’ve already written about this year, the guy who looks nothing like his previous self is Perez.

Since early May, he’s not only held on to his velocity gains, he’s continued to rely on the cutter he learned from Odorizzi. The combo of better velocity and a new pitch (though it’s not THAT different from old versions of his slider) has made him a completely different pitcher. He and Odorizzi are the primary drivers of a top-tier rotation despite a middling projection. How much praise for these kinds of results do we allocate to Mr. Johnson, and how much to the pitchers themselves (especially if Odorizzi showed his cutter grip to Perez, and not Johnson)? I don’t really know, but I’d be pretty happy about the job Johnson’s done if I was a Twins fan.

I’m not though. I’m trying to figure out who’s to blame for the fact that the M’s rotation – which was projected to be slightly worse than Minnesota’s, but within the margin of error (the gap was less than 3 fWAR) – is slumming it with Baltimore as the league’s worst. We knew the bullpen was completely inexperienced, and could be bad, but the rotation was full of known commodities. Instead, Marco Gonzales has regressed, and Leake and LeBlanc are outpitching some really concerning peripherals. Perhaps most damning has been the performance of Yusei Kikuchi, the one starter who has some velocity to work with, and whose slider should be the kind of outpitch that Leake and Marco just don’t really have. Worse, the depth pieces that they acquired in the offseason have imploded at the big league level as well. Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson were supposed to add over 1 fWAR, but they’re currently closer to negative 1. Velocity’s gone down for the veterans. Results are worse than expected for the rookies. Ooookay.

Again, I’m not sure how to apportion blame, and it probably doesn’t matter. But I’m not sure how to feel good about Davis’ performance. I can say that the front office hasn’t done him any favors with the team they’ve assembled for him to coach. I don’t blame him for the M’s overall poor velo averages: that’s on the FO, who obviously prefers other indicators of success, and that’s their prerogative. I AM concerned with how Kikuchi’s and Gonzales’ seasons have progressed, and I remain concerned that there’s something fundamentally wrong in the strategy – in how they’re taught to attack opposing hitters. I can’t prove any of that, but if I was Davis, I’d think of ways to argue the inverse – that it’s only the strategy that’s saving Seattle from Orioles-style awfulness. I think that’s a hard argument to make, personally.

1: Smith, CF
2: Santana, RF
3: Encarnacion, 1B
4: Vogelbach, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Murphy, C
7: Williamson, LF
8: Gordon, 2B
9: Moore, SS
SP: Leake

Leake was almost traded prior to his last start, so we’ll see if he’s around much longer. After a brutal May, he’s turned it around, and his ERA is looking more and more like the one that he’s produced pretty much without fail for years and years. He’s not flashy, and I think I’ve been too hard on his pitch-to-contact style. You have to tip your cap to someone who can be this consistent given the changes in the game and given the ravages of age.

Welcome back, Dee Gordon. With the 2B’s activation from the IL, RP Matt Festa’s optioned back to Tacoma.

Logan Gilbert took the loss in Modesto’s 3-1 loss to Visalia, giving up 3 runs (2 ER) in 4 IP with 4 Ks. Tacoma beat Nashville by the same score thanks to solid start from Jon Niese and a dominant 9th from Dan Altavilla. Darren McCaughan starts for AA Arkansas tonight, with Vancouver, WA native Damon Casetta-Stubbs taking the mound for West Virginia. Tacoma’s got a travel day.

Game 64, Astros at Mariners

June 4, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

Andrew Moore vs. Wade Miley, 7:10pm

The M’s welcome back their one-time prospect, Andrew Moore, who’s making just his third start in the organization, having had a great start and a so-so one in AA. This was, of course, Yusei Kikuchi’s spot, but the M’s decided to skip him instead of having another of those abbreviated starts where he acts as a kind of opener.

Moore was seen as an overachiever, a guy without a big fastball or breaking balls who succeeded through determination, vertical movement, and a willingness to go after anyone. That produced remarkably low walk rates at times, but he was essentially undone by home runs in his brief tenure with Seattle back in 2017. Traded to the Rays, he faltered; he somehow gave up 26 runs in his 17 1/3 IP, including 9 HRs. Waived by the Rays, he latched on with the Giants, but after another disastrous start for them, he was on the market again, and the M’s decided to give him another shot. When he was first coming up, he threw an arrow-straight four-seam fastball with tons of vertical rise. This wasn’t the product of elite spin, but rather elite spin *efficiency* that took all of his average-ish spin and put it to use as movement. That’s the key to his incredibly low GB%, but all of that elevated contact (and there’s a lot of contact, as he wasn’t able to miss many bats) resulted in HRs. I’m curious to see if he’s taken anything from his time in the Rays org, or if he’d just like to forget that ever happened.

Speaking of spin rates, I have an article up at BaseballProspectus.com on the weird fact that batters seem to be adjusting to high-spin fastballs. In the past several years, all of the talk about “spin rate” and its desirability was borne out by data: batters’ production tanked if the spin rate was over 2,400 RPM, with higher whiff rates AND lower HR rates. In 2019, that’s changed, and pretty dramatically. HR rates for high-spin fastballs are now higher than the rates for medium-spin fastballs, and while the high-spin FBs still take the cake in whiff rate, the gap is shrinking. Is this small sample oddness, or are batters adjusting to spin? It’ll be interesting to follow this throughout the year.

The draft continues, and be sure to check out JY’s posts below. All told, I don’t really know anything, but I’m still struck by the focus on pitching, and collegiate pitching at that. The club could use some up the middle infielders, but hey, they’ve actually seen/scouted players and I’m just a pessimist on the internet. LookoutLanding’s draft coverage has been good and extensive, and you should check that out, too. Gotta say, I wasn’t thrilled when a NL scout told LL that 1st rounder George Kirby reminded him of Kyle Hendricks or Mike Fiers, but who knows…you’d certainly take those results, even if the comp makes you think a bit less of the raw stuff than other scouting reports. We’ll see.

1: Bishop, CF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Encarnacion, 1B
4: Santana, LF
5: Narvaez, C
6: Seager, 3B
7: Beckham, DH
8: Long, 2B
9: Moore, SS
SP: Andrew Moore

I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, but last night’s loss featured a remarkable play that’s somehow emblematic of the M’s in 2019. With runners on the corners, Yuli Gurriel hit a slow chopper to Moore’s right. Moore quickly grabbed it and threw home to try and get Alex Bregman, but C Omar Narvaez was running up the first base line, anticipating a 6-4-3 DP chance. Moore’s play was graceful and well-executed – the throw was on the money, even though he was off-balance, and it was in time to get Bregman…if anyone had been there to catch it. You understand Narvaez’s decision-making too. Catchers are supposed to back up 1B for plays on the IF, and with one out, the M’s had a chance to turn 2 and get out of the inning. It reminded me a lot of the M’s strategy building a fly-ball oriented staff and limiting BABIP only to watch the HR surge make that strategy look foolish. Or implementing a step-back that required their young, solid core to really step up and improve. Or creating a ball-in-play, average-and-defense team when strikeouts and dingers made that strategy less effective than it would’ve been in previous eras. Or picking up relievers coming off of bad seasons on the cheap and waiting for regression, and instead getting a lot of injured players, or watching as regression instead came for players they were banking on to be leaders. It’s not that this FO is out and out bad. They showed great footwork going into the hole. They’ve employed some good strategies, or things I would’ve wanted them to do. Their throw was accurate, and had some oomph behind it despite their momentum taking them away from the target. It’s just that no one was there.

The 2019 Draft: Days Two and Three, Open Thread

June 4, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · 14 Comments 

As with last year, I feel like the wiser approach for all of us would be to lump together Days Two and Three of the draft rather than come in with a dedicated one for each. Day Three is too madcap anyway to keep proper tabs on. I won’t even really be here to attempt it as I accidentally double-booked myself with a doctor’s appointment Wednesday afternoon, so I’ll probably come in after it’s all over to sweep up and see what’s happened.

To cite a helpful example, ep 51 of The Wheelhouse had some useful commentary on how a GM approaches the draft. Essentially, what Dipoto was told by other general managers is that it’s a real bad idea for the GM to do amateur scouting on their own, because said GM will then weight heavily what they saw and how they were impressed, then use their role as decider-in-chief to overrule members of their team who have a much longer track record to work with. I thought about this a lot during Day One because I know how thin the depth is internally on the infield and got attached to that idea with the good college and prep crop in that specific area. Thus, in private chats I was yelling about wanting to take this or that shortstop, seeing the pick, being confused at another college pitcher in an allegedly thin class, then doing my own poking around and coming to the conclusion that there wasn’t really anything wrong with the selection. I just have to accept that I have my own pet research projects and these dudes have looked at literally hundreds more players than I have. Also consider the fact that last Saturday, West Virginia lost by fifteen and the Rainiers lost by twenty. We need pitching.

If, however, you want your heart broken repeatedly and ride the weird adrenal ups and downs, I’d recommend looking up the “top available” Draft Tracker filter. Some of those dudes, probably more than you might think, are genuinely unsignable (the young Leiter, for example), but others might not be. It’s curious for me in that we’ve backed off the “college first, prep second” mode and now I don’t know whether I ought to expect more preps on day two or more “limited leverage college performers” so that we can scrape together some dollars and go on a real tear through the prep ranks on Day Three. But that’s the draft for you, all sorts of weird rules that keep you from picking the best players in the best order. How unpoetic.

Day Two:
Round Three: RHP Levi Stoudt, 6’1″, 195 lbs, 12/4/97, Lehigh
Round Four: RHP Tim Elliott, 6’1″, 200 lbs, 10/11/97, Georgia
Round Five: 3B Austin Shenton, L/R, 6’0″, 195 lbs, 1/22/98, Florida International
Round Six: RHP Michael Limoncelli, 6’2″, 185 lbs, 5/30/00, Horseheads HS (NY)
Round Seven: LHP Adam Macko, 6’0″, 170 lbs, 12/30/00, Vauxhall HS (AB)
Round Eight: RHP Ty Adcock, 6’0″, 205 lbs, 2/7/97, Elon
Round Nine: SS Mike Salvatore, 6’0″, 185 lbs, 12/27/97, Florida State
Round Ten: RHP Kyle Hill, 5’11”, 200, 5’11, 200 lbs, 5/12/97, Baylor

Analysis:

Again, I have been promised prep picks, for rebuilding. Again, deeply betrayed. I will not soon forget this, I will only forget this about twelve months from now.

As indicated above, my gameplan coming in was to look at infielders and we have instead done pitching, heavily, and I don’t know if we’re the worse for it. My main concern is that nearly all outlets were claiming the college pitching class was not good and that’s exactly where we’ve decided to invest. However, both a really smart org in the Astros and a not-so-smart one in the Giants were drafting only position players at one point, so who knows, really. There’s much to be interested by here, Limoncelli if he’s signable and willing to rehab his TJ with us, Macko likewise if he is willing to forego a college commitment (he’s Slovak and there was talk about him learning how to throw by watching videos of Verlander and mirroring it, I guess). Stoudt and Elliott are both right-handers with some good stuff who for the time being look the part of starters and have no major flaws pressing them into bullpen service. I’m curious what we intend to do with Adcock because we’d have a sense of him as another Elon guy, but he was a backstop in college and only started being a two-way type in his sophomore year. As a Carter Capps fan, I appreciate a dude who can fill in on both sides of a battery. Hill also, belatedly, comes in as your senior college closer, while Salvatore is the Sanders / Walton / whatever type of a lower-dollar shortstop. I suppose that the most interesting of the bunch to me is Shenton, but some of that is off-field as he’s from Bellingham and will presumably play for the Aquasox, is a photographer and an environmentalist, and was projected to be possibly round two or three if not for the fact that he played subpar this spring on account of his mother receiving cancer treatment, which, from personal experience, I get. I think that the kneejerk impression would be “oh, we went college-heavy, again,” but while true, the approach has changed. I would characterize earlier drafts as picking up sure signs on the cheap to make up money elsewhere. While I’m not worried about getting these ones under contract, I would say that the overall quality of this group from one individual to the next is not so wide a spread as we’ve seen in previous years. Except perhaps at the very end, there were no “overdrafts,” nor guys we expect to go far above slot that would keep us from making aggressive Day Three selections. I think that’s wise in that we need pitching depth and it would be better to spread some of that around rather than counting on a few choice individuals. Now if only we could apply the same philosophy to our infield depth….

Day Three:
Round 11: C Carter Bins, R/R, 6’0″, 200 lbs, 5/11/98, Fresno State
Round 12: CF Antoine Mistico, L/R, 6’0″, 180 lbs, 6/30/98, Gateway CC
Round 13: RHP Reid Morgan, 6’0″, 190 lbs, 3/24/97, South Carolina
Round 14: SS Patrick Frick, R/R, 6’2″, 200 lbs, 2/14/97, Wake Forest
Round 15: RHP Anthony Tomczak, 6’2″, 200 lbs, 10/17/00, North Broward Prep (FL)
Round 16: RHP Logan Rineheart, 6’3″, 185 lbs, 9/21/97, Cal Baptist
Round 17: RHP Dutch Landis, 6’2″, 185 lbs, 6/23/01, Liberty HS (NV)
Round 18: RHP Tyler Driver, 6’2″, 185 lbs, 2/4/01, Crossroads FLEX HS (NC)
Round 19: RHP Travis Kuhn, 5’10”, 195 lbs, 5/20/98, San Diego
Round 20: LF Cade Marlowe, L/R, 6’2″, 200 lbs, West Georgia
Round 21: RHP Reeves Martin, 5’8″, 180 lbs, 12/25/96, New Orleans
Round 22: RF Trent Tingelstad, L/R, 5’10”, 215 lbs, 6/14/98, Louisiana-Monroe
Round 23: SS Caleb Ricca, R/R, 5’8″, 165 lbs, 10/21/97, Northwestern State
Round 24: RHP Kipp Rollings, 6’2″, 190 lbs, 9/13/96, North Greenville
Round 25: RHP Fred Villarreal, 5’11”, 190 lbs, 4/7//98, Houston
Round 26: RHP Garrett Westberg, 6’2″, 210 lbs, 2/24/97, Central Florida
Round 27: RHP Brock Minich, 6’6″, 220 lbs, 9/29/96, Nova Southeastern
Round 28: C Anthony Lepre, R/R, 5’10”, 195 lbs, 5/29/97, The Masters
Round 29: SS Utah Jones, S/R, 6’0″, 165 lbs, 5/28/96, North Greenville
Round 30: SS Cody Grosse, L/R, 5’8″, 165 lbs, 12/30/96, Southeastern Louisiana
Round 31: RHP Jacob Meador, 5’10”, 165 lbs, 10/26/00, Centennial HS (TX)
Round 32: CF Jackson Tate, 5’11, 200 lbs, 12/7/98, Lawson State
Round 33: RHP Jarod Bayless, 6’4″, 225 lbs, 12/29/96, Dallas Baptist
Round 34: 3B Christian Encarnacion-Strand, R/R, 6’1″, 215 LBS, 12/1/99, Yavapai
Round 35: C Dominic Tamez, R/R, 5’11”, 195 lbs, 1/12/01, Lady Bird Johnson HS
Round 36: LHP C.J. Mayhue, 6’0″, 185 lbs, 1/22/01, Crest HS (NC)
Round 37: 3B Cole Barr, R/R, 5’11”, 190 lbs, 5/23/98, Indiana
Round 38: CF Jackson Lancaster, L/L, 6’1″, 190 lbs, 3/22/99, Itawamba JC
Round 39: CF Jacob Hurtubise, L/R, 6’0″, 180 lbs, 12/11/97, West Point
Round 40: 2B Perry McMichen, L/R, 5’10”, 180 lbs, 4/18/01, Wyoming HS (OH)

Analysis:

Well, I don’t know what to tell you. Nearly half of our last thirty picks were still pitchers. While looking at the returns somewhere around the late 20s, I thought, “you know, they still have to field eight other positions on the diamond. For two short-season teams.”

I’m not sure entirely where to start with this one. The impulse is generally to draft prep players early in Day Three and see what happens. There wasn’t so much of that here. Tomczak strikes me as the type of prep who doesn’t get scouted too heavily due to a college commitment (Stetson, in this case) and is thus ignored by outlets like BA despite throwing 90+ mph. Ditto Landis, who has better velo and could become more intriguing as he goes from being a two-way type to a full-time pitcher. They both seem to be possible signs. I know less about Driver other than he has a similar build with less velo and thus may benefit from college time. Meador may take too much to buy out of a commitment to TCU though his stuff / spin / command is supposed to be good for a shorter fella, and I’m not much expecting to get Tamez off the Arkansas campus either, nor Mayhue away from Eastern Carolina.

For non-preps, Bins is definitely interesting, and I would add that “Carter” is a good catcher name (or pitcher / catcher) and “Bins” is a good backstop name. He would have been an easy Day Two pick if he had performed at the same level as he did as a sophomore. As it stands, he’d become one of the better in-system backstops and the only “quirk” that leaves me curious is that he hasn’t called his own games yet, which I often forget when it comes to amateur catchers. Mistico, Tate, and Hurtubise are all speedsters who should cover outfield ground and make a mess of things on the basepaths, with Mistico’s combo of LH + speed + arm strength being pretty interesting for a 12th rounder. Perhaps the most fun of our late rounders would be Encarnacion-Strand, whose game overall resembles the guy with the parrot. Barr also has some pop in the bat, but as a draft-eligible sophomore, may not sign. Morgan, Reinhart, and Martin, whom I expect to struggle with getting his names in proper order, all have the look of interesting arms.

* Some surprising local angles came up with Tingelstad being from Marysville and Westberg being from Federal Way, though like Shenton before them, they play across the country. I don’t know if the team still organizes the Mariners Cup where local preps face off against a team of California preps, but I’ll assume that they still did in the range of time all three dudes were in high school.

* Should our 20th round pick do anything that’s unusually distinctive for a baseball player, we would have the opportunity to use an under-utilized adjective in “Marlovian.” God I hope he doesn’t get stabbed in the eye during a bar fight after being accused of being a spy.

* If Utah Jones doesn’t have “Banana Phone” as his walk-up music, wasted opportunity.

Game 63, Astros at Mariners – Draft for Hope, Play for Pride

June 3, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

Cory Gearrin/Wade LeBlanc vs. Corbin Martin, 7:10pm

The M’s skid continues, with another 10-run loss yesterday, highlighted by Marco Gonzales’ 7-run 2nd inning. Marco’s free-fall continues unabated, and after the game, both he and manager Scott Servais talked about how the current trend can’t continue. To his credit, Gonzales assigned blame to himself and the starters, who clearly aren’t getting it done, and refused to say that his defense is hanging them out to dry. I love Marco’s attitude, I love his competitiveness, and I think he can help this team, but something in his approach has to change. He said it was mostly attitude, and having confidence in each pitch, but I worry that there’s something bigger at play.

People have pointed to his declining velocity, but that can’t explain his recent struggles. As I’ve detailed here, his velo was even lower when he started the year 5-0. More problematic is the fact that his May velocity (higher than April) was lower than his *lowest* velocity in 2018 (September). He’s now lost 3 MPH from his velocity in his 2017 call-up, and 2 MPH from May of last year. It’s a worry, even as his April shows he *could* be effective at this velocity.

The M’s trade of Jay Bruce for high-A 3B/1B Jake Scheiner figures to be the first of many “…and cash” trades the M’s make. I expected the M’s to add cash to the deal in order to pick up a prospect, but seeing the M’s send $18 M of the $20 M or so Bruce is owed and getting back a prospect who wasn’t in Philadelphia’s top 30 is…sub-optimal. A limited, platoon-slugging 1B/RF with a low average was never going to be a premium pick-up, but it makes you worried about the M’s adding to their impressive total of players whom the M’s are paying to play elsewhere, or not at all. From Carlos Santana to Denard Span to Anthony Swarzak, the M’s are paying tens of millions for future salary flexibility.

Before the year, I noted that the M’s had to both transform their player development, turning org guys into prospects and prospects into MLB contributors, AND hope that the player development work by Houston and others stumbled. The Astros are 40-20, but shockingly, the second part of that double seems to have come to pass, at least for a few months. No, Justus Sheffield is not ready, and looks further from the majors than when he was acquired, the shocking thing is how many Astros pitching prospects have scuffled. Forrest Whitley’s ERA starts with a 12, and he looks absolutely lost. Josh James has been fine, I suppose, in relief in Houston, but I thought he was a top-of-the-rotation arm, and has looked a lot more average, despite the velo and strikeouts. JB Bukauskas has walked way too many, as has Cionel Perez. Rogelio Armenteros and Brandon Bielak have been…fine, but nothing special. The best of the bunch by performance only is tonight’s starter, Corbin Martin, a former 2nd round pick out of Texas A&M. A righty who sits in the mid-90s, he walked a bunch in AAA, but stranded enough to post decent numbers. In the majors, those walks have combined with dingers to kill his effectiveness. He’s still young, and he comes in as Houston’s #3 prospect for 2019. He has a solid change and a curveball as well, and he could develop into a really good #3 starter (maybe even a #2), but he isn’t there at this point.

That’s not just schadenfreude, that’s helpful: it’s good to know that even the Astros can have an off month or two in PD, but when it’s combined with the M’s near-the-majors talent also scuffling (Swanson and Sheffield mostly, but also Kyle Lewis and Evan White), it’s less fun. It’s also more contained, as the Astros have maybe the best overall hitter in the minors in 2019, 1B/DH Yordan Alvarez, who’s crushing AAA. Jarred Kelenic is a much, much better prospect, and HIS development is something to crow about, but the Astros have solid hitting prospects in AAA who struggle to break into one of the league’s better offenses. This whole surpassing the Astros project is going to be a generational one, I fear.

1: Smith, CF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Encarnacion, 1B
4: Vogelbach, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Narvaez, C
7: Santana, LF
8: Long, 2B
9: Moore, SS
SP: LeBlanc, after Gearrin opens

Deivy Florido, Ricardo Sanchez get the starts on a limited day in the M’s minors. The DSL M’s have started up, and they sit at 2-0 after a win today; SS Noelvi Marte’s the name to watch down there.
The M’s expect to bring up old friend Andrew Moore to take Yusei Kikuchi’s spot in the rotation, as the M’s will give the Japanese lefty some extra rest.

Yesterday’s slate was highlighted by Jarred Kelenic’s second Hi-A HR, and by Evan White’s first HR for Arkansas since May 12th…which was his last extra-base hit of any kind.

The 2019 Draft: A Day One Thread

June 3, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · 4 Comments 

I was talking with a friend the other day about epics and sagas and the tradition of catalogues of names within, and is there anything approaching that in modern life outside of sports drafts? On scale, I don’t think so. Unlike last year, we’re going to have minor and major league games alongside the draft but I have listened to an watched some recent Mariners games and I know what I would prefer to pay attention to. Pre-game starts at 3 pm where you can get various talking heads on MLB.com and then the real draft gets rolling at 4 pm. There are supposed to be five-minute intervals between picks, but it never actually goes down that way. Maybe we call out our dude around 6 pm?

Last year was fun in that most mocks predicted us to pick a college outfielder and we ended up with a pitcher, and a very good one at that, because I don’t know, Logan Gilbert had mono. This year, the sense seems to be more that names are being listed because they have to be and you can’t disappoint after setting up such expectations. What I mean by that is no one seems to have a clear sense of where the draft is going outside of “let’s hope the Orioles aren’t cheap and actually pick the #1 talent.” The deeper into the first round you get, the weirder the analysts feel it will become as there are depth quirks and an absence of real consensus about talent. I can’t tell you right now which NCAA players may or may not have mono but my instinct is that it’s a good and potentially untapped market to be exploring.

Even as scouting departments differ, I’ve noticed an annual trend among journalism outlets to coalesce around one or two candidates as we hit the day of, perhaps because more information has become available, perhaps because no one wants to be “wrong.” The flavor of the day is Elon RHP George Kirby, who would be an infinitely more fun selection were the team still owned by Nintendo. As it stands, he fits conceptually into the framework. What could be briefly said about Kirby is that he controls the zone, has enough pitches to start, had a good Cape Cod League showing, has a track record, and previously demonstrated more velocity (topping 97 mph) than he’s recently shown (low-to-mid-90s). The major question with him is how to rate his competition, but the Mariners have gone to Elon somewhat regularly in the draft and I figure they should be able to account for that by now.

Analysts like to provide themselves with an out by noting other names in play as extra info. If local kid OF Corbin Carroll drops, most seem to think we’d snap him up readily. He’s probably the only outfielder that regularly gets linked to us as, if not pitching, outlets are often tying us to infielders such as college shortstops in Greg Jones, Logan Davidson, and Will Wilson or prep infielders like the aforementioned Anthony Volpe and Gunnar Henderson, with a new recent and intriguing addition of pop-up player 3B Keoni Cavaco. I’d be into it, but it would take a confident team to pull it off. Cavaco has plus tools all around and yet hasn’t had an especially strong track record despite playing in southern California and getting reps in against better-than-average prep competition.

Anyway, in conclusion, the last time the Mariners had the 20th overall pick in the draft, they selected right-hander Josh Fields from the University of Geo– (is tackled and dragged off stage) NO, THEY NEED TO KNOW! (kicks at air)

Round One: RHP George Kirby, 6’4″, 195 lbs, 2/4/1998, Elon
2017: 1-3, 16 G (5 GS), 4.84 ERA in 61.0 IP, 67 H (3 HR), 41 R (33 ER), 55/17 K/BB
2018: 10-3, 15 G (15 GS), 2.89 ERA in 90.0 IP, 88 H (3 HR), 36 R (29 ER), 96/27 K/BB
2019: 8-2, 14 G (14 GS), 2.75 ERA in 88.0 IP, 73 H (3 HR), 34 R (27 ER), 107/6 K/BB

I bought heavily into the middle of the first-round talk that it was going to be unpredictable and that we would have no clear notion of what was going to happen. Among the things that were regarded as sure, Carroll to the D’Backs and Kirby to the Mariners. Both have come to pass as other stocks have risen and fallen. Given that we rather like the mid-Atlantic college ranks and Elon is in North Carolina, this was probably a safe prediction.

Kirby is doubly regarded as a pretty “safe” pick, although that’s a phrase that I’ve been deeply hesitant to use post-Hultzen. To mitigate that somewhat, they brought in Trevor Bauer to talk about his mechanics a bit and Bauer was effusive, while adding that he thinks there could be more velocity in there with some small mechanical adjustments, at which point he’d sit 93-95. That, combined with the command, could be an intriguing combination. I’d like to see how he would stack up against our other C the Z favorite in Ljay Newsome, less for the stuff and more for the dart-throwing aspect, as Kirby’s heat on a bad day is better than Newsome on a good one.

Whereas Gilbert was a converted infielder who took to pitching later, Kirby’s been a pitcher throughout, first in Westchester County, NY and then in North Carolina. As something of a testament to his pitching smarts and command, his change-up is regarded as being highly advanced and something that he spots well to the bottom half of the zone. Kirby will throw both forms of breaking ball although neither has been especially consistent. The track record within the system suggests to me that player development might eliminate one in favor of developing the other, but that’s also going off a longer personal view and I don’t know with all the changes in coaching and player development recently whether we might approach him differently. “Gas Camp” seems like a given at the very least.

In a surprise to me given how everyone talks up the clean mechanics, I don’t know that I can find anything from PitchingNinja on how his release points look from one pitch type to the next, nor others. What I feel like I can say is that the Mariners have probably been on him for a while as they’ve drafted other Elon players, like Nick Zammarelli in 2016, Ryne Ogren last year, and further back have shown a fondness for scouting there with RHP Steven Hensley and 2B Donny Jobe in 2008. It’s not much, but with a non-powerhouse conference Colonial Athletic Association, which has names you’ll recognize although not necessarily for baseball, I would imagine that having more context would help the team develop a better sense of just what they’re getting in Kirby.

Round Two: LHP Brandon Williamson, 6’6″, 210 lbs, 4/2/1998, North Iowa Area CC / Texas Christian
2017: 4-1, 14 G (5 GS), 4.84 ERA in 49.0 IP, 43 H (5 HR), 34 R (21 ER), 47/25 K/BB
2018: 8-4, 12 G (12 GS), 2.89 ERA in 66.0 IP, 60 H (HR), 31 R (23 ER), 104/34 K/BB
2019: 3-5, 14 G (14 GS), 4.48 ERA in 66.0 IP, 72 H (4 HR), 47 R (33 ER), 73/33 K/BB

Can I be amused for a second that pick one was born on 4/2 and pick two was born on 2/4? Anywho…. Williamson spent the first two years of his collegiate career at a community college after a somewhat undistinguished prep career in Minnesota. He only started to become a guy people were following as he moved further and further south, which leads me to wonder a little about his background, specifically whether he’d latched onto any of the velocity boosting programs of his own accord. What we do know of him is that he’s had a bit of an injury history after having surgery on both labrums (labra?) in the fall. That’s HIP labra, not arm ones. Important distinction.

If you want something to latch onto, I’d suggest that Williamson seems to be getting out of the awkward phase in the pitcher’s lifespan and still has some potential a coaching staff could work with. The mechanics appear to be okay, but the feel for pitches and the velocity both come and go and he can either pitch in the low-90s and blow one by in the mid-90s on occasion or go through a full outing scraping 90. His secondary offerings– curveball, slider, change– also have need of fine-tuning and one would expect that as a pro, they focus on getting him a better change-up and likely nix the curve.

I don’t know if adding numbers will make this more or less abstract, but let’s play around with this and take his last five starts as a sort of “sample”:

5/5, @ WV, 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R (2 ER), 5/3 K/BB
5/12, vs. Kansas, 8.0 IP, 6 H, 2 R (ER), 11/3 K/BB
5/18, @ Texas Tech, 4.1 IP, 9 H, 6 R (3 ER), 4/3 K/BB
5/24, vs. Baylor, 7.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 9/1 K/BB
5/31, vs. Cal, 4.0 IP, 3 H, R, 7/2 K/BB

I feel like that helps get some sense of it. I’m looking at sixteen starts for him on the TCU website (is The Baseball Cube missing pre-season? Post-season?) and I see seven starts where he didn’t hit five innings, and nine of five or more. The same source shows eight starts of three or more walks, which means eight of fewer than that. He could be one of the best pitchers one weekend and a relative non-prospect the next. Despite being a “college pitcher” and therefore “safer”, Williamson is a real boom-or-bust prospect and one that you’d really have to trust your pitching staff with to select him this high.

Round Comp B: RHP Isaiah Campbell, 6’4″, 225 lbs, 8/15/1997, Arkansas
2016: 3-1, 13 G (6 GS), 3.69 ERA in 31.2 IP, 31 H (4 HR), 19 R (13 ER), 23/11 K/BB
2017: 0-0, G, 40.50 ERA in 0.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1/1 K/BB
2018: 5-7, 18 G (17 GS), 4.26 ERA in 69.2 IP, 67 H (4 HR), 41 R (33 ER), 75/29 K/BB
2019: 10-1, 14 G (14 GS), 2.50 ERA in 90.0 IP, 71 H (3 HR), 33 R (25 ER), 97/15 K/BB

Comp picks are interesting to deal with, not that we have a great recent track record of the Mariners actually utilizing them. The gist is that they exist to help ease the loss of another draft pick or player, but unto themselves cannot result in a further compensation pick in the following draft, lest some bunch of aspiring goofballs decide to game it and TAKE ALL THE PLAYERS. Thus, you’re going mostly college unless you have a strong verbal commitment from a high schooler. In this case, the team went with the former.

Campbell has some similarities to Williamson, and some crucial differences. He was interesting enough as a prep player, but said interest was in his build and status as a physical specimen. The body intrigued as did the loose, but he was not always consistent mechanically and tended to telegraph a few of his offerings. He’s grown a bit into… I guess what the player development folks would term as “man strength,” but really it’s been about getting all the moving parts in sync and maintaining that for a full season. If you’re a believer in him, you would regard the 2019 line as what he looks like now that most of his issues have been ironed out. The trick will be maintaining it.

So, what is Campbell now? He throws in the low-to-mid-90s and has already eliminated the weaker curveball from his arsenal in favor of a hard slider. He’s also gotten himself a change that doesn’t have a long track record but looks pretty good. If you’re thinking about the zone existing vertically and that you need to be able to pound down as well as draw swings up (the vertical zone is something Dipoto talks about REGULARLY on The Wheelhouse), Campbell can do that. A development plan for him would be less about getting him to completely alter one part of his approach and more about learning what was successful for him this year and keeping him on it with minor improvements.

The live video got into this a little bit, but one of the more interesting things about Campbell is that he’s an Air Force brat, born in Portugal and doing time in other NATO countries like Germany and Turkey before settling in for high school in Kansas. I don’t know what all that means, but it makes for a fun story as there’s never been a major league player who was born in Portugal and I’m all about the international game.

2019 Draft Preview with Chris Crawford

June 3, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

The M’s have four selections in the first 100 picks, so let’s take a look at their options and how this draft class shakes out with draft expert and friend-of-the-blog, Chris Crawford of Rotoworld.com and NBCSports. This is now the *eighth* annual draft preview we’ve done, and we’re just a couple of years from watching some of the players we discussed back in 2012 hit free agency, which is pretty insane. So who are the future Carlos Correa and Alex Bregmans, and can they land somewhere else for a change? How do the M’s go about addressing the talent gap they’ve got with Houston and some of their other rivals? Once more, into the breach:

1: The M’s have four selections in the top 100. Set the context for us: is this an above-average draft class? Average-to-mediocre? Poor?

I think it’s somewhere between mediocre and poor, to be honest, but if I had to choose? I think I’d go poor. Part of this is because this might be the worst crop of collegiate pitchers I’ve seen; there just isn’t anything here to write home about; most of these guys are backend starter profiles. It’s got some good college bats and some interesting shortstops on both the collegiate and prep level, but it just doesn’t do anything for me.

2: Who should the M’s take at #20? Who WILL they take?

Once again, the Mariners are being extremely tight-lipped, but there are a few names I’ve heard bantered about; the most recent one being Tyler Calihan, a left-handed hitting third baseman who has a chance for a plus hit tool and decent pop. There’s also been some names like Anthony Volpe, a shortstop that projects as more of a second-to-third round talent to me than someone I’d be taking that high, but the Mariners apparently like him a lot. Texas Tech SS Braden Shewmake, Clemson SS Logan Davidson and a few other collegiate bats have also been mentioned. As for who they should take? Best player left. I think that’s going to be someone like Michael Busch out of UNC or Shewmake, but any of those names outside of Volpe would be solid value, to me.

3: The M’s have talked a lot about trying to contend in 2021. Does that change how they view the draft board?

It sure shouldn’t. The names we’re talking about — even the most advanced — are years away from competing. I suppose you could argue that taking a more advanced player is easier to trade — or maybe the opposite if someone falls in love with the upside — but I can’t imagine Dipoto drafts anyone thinking that they can help in two years.

4: Years ago, you mentioned that showcases, Perfect Game, travel ball, etc. mean fewer impact position players will hit college, tilting the balance (eventually) towards the HS ranks. A few years on, how do you view the situation? There are still huge, impact bats coming out of college, but are HS bats more polished now (cough Jarred Kelenic cough), and are teams opting for more of them?

Pretty similar. It’s just so much easier to scout players now than it was 10-15 years ago. They aren’t perfect scouting chances, but you do get a chance to see their swing and build and get to do some compare and contrasting. I hate them, if we’re being honest, but i do get their purpose.

5: I know you’re someone who’s been very down on the whole draft pool concept and slotting, but it’s governed the draft for a while now. Do you think teams have optimized how they work within its restrictions? Should we expect more underslot-and-spread-it-out stuff, or because research indicates that the earlier the draft pick, the better the chance of a superstar, have we – if anything – seen too MUCH of that?

It’s really hard to say. I think we’ve seen teams grow accustomed to it quicker than I expected, and to be honest? That’s a little disheartening. If I were a GM, I wouldn’t do as much spreading because I think this class is very top-heavy; I want the best guys, because behind it there are more questions than in previous years. And I would say we’ve seen too much of that, to be honest. The draft is not a crap shoot, but it’s volatile, it has to be volatile when you’re taking kids this young. I want the guys who look like the best bets and I would trust my scouting department to find diamonds in the rough later.

6: How much do you think teams adjust a draft ranking based on their own internal strengths/weaknesses in player development? Does a team look at a player and say, “we’ve had success with this type/pitchers who throw these pitches/teaching plate discipline” and bump him up (or the inverse)? Or is it always best available talent, no matter what kind of packaging or characteristics come with it?

I think there’s something to be said about taking a similar type of profile if it works for you — or being hesitant of that profile — but I think for the most part, teams believe in their player-development and just go with the guys they think are the best. I’m sure there’s some of that? But it’s probably not as common as some think.

7: The M’s also pick at #59. Who are some names they may want to look at for their 2nd pick?

There should be some quality names there. Matt Wallner is a guy I’d target; outfielder out of Southern Miss with plus power, cannon for an arm and should get on just enough to play everyday. Tommy Henry is a left-hander out of Michigan that I like. He throws three solid pitches and has good feel. A high-floor type. I also think Chase Strumpf from UCLA could be good value here. He wasn’t as good in 2019 as he was in 2018, but I think you could buy low at that spot and get a potential steal.

8: For the first time since, what, the Blake Snell/Josh Sale year, the state of Washington could see two prep players off the board on the first day. There’s Lakeside CF Corbin Carroll (a UCLA commit) and Selah/Yakima SS Carter Young (who’s going to Vanderbilt if he doesn’t sign). Carroll seems like a lock for the first round; what do you think his ceiling is? Where do you see Young landing? Who else is out there from Washington/Oregon/British Columbia?

This is the best Washington prep class I can remember, which is kinda funny in a down year. Carroll is my favorite prep bat outside of Bobby Witt Jr., he screams top-of-the-order hitter with a chance to hit for average and more pop than I think he’s being given credit for. Josh Mears would be next on that list for me, actually, he’s got ridiculous power potential from the right side and is built like a defensive end. Some questions about the hit tool but his power could make him a top 100 pick. Young is really interesting because he’s a divisive prospect that also has some signing concerns because Vanderbilt. I think on talent he’s a top 100 guy as well, but I could see him falling because of that concern. Oregon and BC are pretty down this year, unfortunately.

9: The college ranks in the Northwest are headed up by the presumptive #1 overall pick, C Adley Rutschman. What’s his ceiling, and how would you compare him to Joey Bart, who went #2 overall a year ago?

I think Rutschman is the best catching prospect since Buster Posey. I love him, and he’s what kinda saves this draft class, in a way. I think he’s a much better prospect than Bart — with all due respect to Bart, he’s good — but Rutschman is just as good or better as a defender, has a much better hit tool, and the power is at least comparable. Plus add in the switch-hitter thing. It would shock the heck out of me if he wasn’t an above-average starting catcher, and there’s well above-average potential there. He’s very, very good.

10: There are some huge pitchers projected to go fairly early in this draft. Not just tall pitchers, but like, NFL tight end size guys. Alek Manoah (6’7″, 270) is the poster boy here, but Jackson Rutledge works, too. Is this a byproduct of teams focusing on upside and velocity? Is this baseball keeping some talent that in prior years really WOULD have gone and played tight end/basketball? Or just some big dudes who happened to be really good at throwing things this year?

I think it’s more the latter. But, it’s interesting nonetheless. Manoah would be a guy I’d target if he falls to Seattle, but someone is probably taking him above. He’s really interesting. Jackson Rutledge is probably my favorite of the prep pitchers even though I have some real concerns about the arm action. But yeah, there are some big boys here, and I think their size helps more than hurts.

11: Besides Rutschman, the Pac 12 seems like it’s particularly laden this year, with Andrew Vaughn and Hunter Bishop also expected to go early in Round 1. Is the conference getting better talent/convincing local kids not to go east, or is there just a good group of coaches helping to get more out of roughly the same level of incoming talent they’ve always had?

It is a pretty good group — comparatively — in ’19, for sure. Really good chance we see all three of Rutschman, Vaughn and Bishop go top 10, and I think you can argue that Rutschman and Vaughn are the best players in the class. I think there are some good coaches in the Pac-12, for sure, but I think some of these kids just got slept on a little too hard coming out of high school. Tough to know for sure, but yeah, definitely a good group this year and a pretty good group next year, too.

12: If you were in charge of a draft room, what are some of the things you might want to change? I guess a big part of this is: are teams too similar in how they approach the draft? How can anyone innovate or do something different now, with all of the analytics and information they have before draft day?

Hard one to answer without going into a Russian novel. I think innovation is really hard right now, but I think innovation is really hard right now in the same way we thought the Nintendo 64 graphics would never be improved on. There’s going to be someone who comes up with something — if they haven’t already — that we’re not thinking about to stand out. But right now, I do think there’s a lot — a lot — of groupthink in the draft. Some of that is due to the financial implications put forward by this stupid system, some of it because it’s so much easier to get information. If I were in charge, I suppose the main thing I’d try and implement is more of a focus on trusting the scouts I have to find me those unsung heroes and really focusing on getting the very, very best talents early. I do not like treating the draft like I’m just hoping something sticks.

13: One thing I’ve been wondering in regards to prospects (pro and amateur) is if we’re TOO down on 1Bs. Cody Bellinger is the story of the year, and he went in the 4th round out of HS, and wasn’t on many top 100 prospect lists in 2016, before shooting to the top 20 the next year. Paul Goldschmidt is another example. Is the fact that Vaughn’s a darkhorse 1-1 candidate a sign that that’s changing, or is the industry right to demand otherworldly hitting if a player doesn’t have as much to offer defensively?

There is no question, but also, I think these might be exceptions to the rule. So many draft picks at the position have failed; particularly those who hit/throw right-right. There’s a couple of those prospects this year like Vaughn and Mike Toglia from UCLA among others, but I do understand the risk there; the bat HAS to max out for there to be value, and asking a player to max out is asking a lot. We should probably be a bit more open-minded to the position, but I also understand why scouts are sometimes hesitant to take them with high selections.

Thanks so much to Chris Crawford for breaking down the class of ’19 for us. Check out his weekly series on the top prospects in the minor leagues here, and follow him on twitter @Crawford_MILB.

Game 60, Angels at Mariners

May 31, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · 5 Comments 

Mike Leake vs. Tyler Skaggs, 7:10pm

It’s a gorgeous Friday in the Northwest, it’s light out until quite late. It’s the perfect night for a ball game, but Tacoma’s out of town, and if I’m honest, I’d go to Safeco because it’s an awesome – if pricey – bar. Watching vets like Leake who’ve (fairly) chafed at being part of this step back get rocked isn’t entertaining, and while Shed Long and Seattle’s big boy, Dan Vogelbach, is still drawing walks, he’s in a tailspin, too. I’ll go to Safeco, I’m not swearing anything off. I’ve been with them through worse than this. But I think it’s fair to acknowledge that watching this rotation right now has the feel of watching the 2010 M’s attempt to hit.

Yesterday, the M’s most talented hurler, Yusei Kikuchi, got battered by a so-so Angels line-up missing Andrelton Simmons. In 3 1/3, he gave up 10 hits and struck out nobody. For this team, he throws quite fast at 93.5 MPH, but despite a deceptive delivery, hitters are teeing off on his fastball. The Angels knocked two HRs off the pitch, bringing his season total to eight, and giving him a .308 BA-against on heaters, with a .567 SLG%. There’s no reason for that. Unlike some other starters, Kikuchi has stuff, and while his FB doesn’t have impressive movement, the angle, deception, and speed of it are MLB-quality.

Mike Leake has the 2nd-slowest sinker in the league (among those who’ve thrown at least 200 of them), and it’s trending downward. Batters have an average of…I keep checking this to make sure I’m not seeing things… .490 off of Leake’s primary fastball this year. They are slugging 1.078 against the pitch. His usage of it is also trending downward, as you’d expect, but Leake’s a sinkerball guy. That’s been his bread and butter since college, and while his slider’s good, he’s got to get to it. It’s easy to say that 88 MPH is useless in this day and age, but the ONE guy with a slower sinker is Kyle Hendricks, who’s having a fine year, his sixth in a row. You *can* pitch with low velo; it’s hard, and you need great command and a deep arsenal, but at least on paper, Leake seems to check the boxes. But watch him pitch right now, and you wonder how long the M’s can keep sending him to the wolves.

The M’s say all the right things about using data to help pitchers maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. I think they’re trying to do those things. But something’s clearly, clearly gone awry here. Everyone’s velocity seems to be down, and their average fastball’s among the least effective (both four-seam and sinker) in the game. I get why the M’s may want to focus on low-spin pitcher or not chase highlight-reel velocity. I get why, aside from Kikuchi, they wanted to stick with in-house options in a step-back year. But you still have an obligation to help them succeed, and at the moment, there’s very little evidence of that happening. The odds of them getting much for Leake are essentially nil, and with Gonzales scuffling (and with his own velo drop to puzzle over), even the M’s titular ace might not return enough to make them M’s consider it.

Things are never quite as dark as they seem in the midst of a long losing streak, but it’s becoming more and more clear that the entire coaching re-think on the pitching side has not produced the desired results. That could change, but unless it does, and does soon, it sets a troubling trend. The M’s know what they want to do, and don’t know how to do it, or who can help them do it.

1: Smith, CF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Encarnacion, DH
4: Santana, LF
5: Seager, 3B
6: Beckham, 2B
7: Bruce, 1B
8: Murphy, C
9: Moore, SS
SP: Leake

18 year old Robert Perez continues his hot start as an emergency fill-in for Tacoma. Just promoted from the DSL to make his stateside debut, he had 3 more hits in Tacoma’s double header sweep last night. It’s just 25 PAs, but his line is now .364/.440/.545.

So You Still Want Me to Write About the 2019 Draft

May 31, 2019 · Filed Under Mariners · 3 Comments 

There are surely perils to having one’s team outperform the previous year. One is the inevitable step back, but when coupled with the idea that you’re not looking at top flight draft pick coming in either, it can make for a depressing midseason. But there are good bits of news? I mean, we probably won’t be drafting a college reliever like we did the last time we were in such a position, and we have three day one picks, which is 50% more than we usually have! WOW! Sure, it’s a down year, but what better way to feel like things are changing and in motion than adding 30+ names to the system after calling out 40+?

What times have they decided on for this year?
We’ll be starting Day 1 (Rounds 1 / 2 + Competitive Balances + Compensations) at 4 pm local time on Monday, June 3rd. From there, Day Two (Rounds 3 – 10) begins on Tuesday the 4th at 11 am, then we do the conference call on Day Three from 10 am until question marks. It proves a great time to spike your coffee and let it all happen. All of these are best found online through MLB.com because try as they might, baseball draft coverage doesn’t make for sexy programming in the same way that the NFL or NBA might.

What selections do we have?
The hometown nine won’t be on the board until #20, then will have a long wait until they pick #59 overall in the second round and a shorter wait to the #76 we picked up from the Indians in the Santana / Encarnacion trade. That will do it for day one. Day two, our selections start at #97, then #126 because a pick got forfeited, and then in intervals of thirty thereafter.

What sense do we have from the front office?
Other than the excitement involved in “yeah! new toys!”, and presumably, “yeah! trade fodder!”, I was listening to The Wheelhouse, ep. 50 recently for insight. I definitely select for minor league materials and in the process picked up an interesting bit of the team’s scouting philosophy, which helps to explain the Logan Gilbert pick last year. Basically, I would describe them as being less volatile in their methodology and preferring to take a longer view into consideration. So, unless there’s a lot to back up a fast-riser, they won’t take one just because he’s done something lately, and neither will they eschew the guy who has fallen in esteem unless they can point to why. It seems rather basic, if not obvious, but it’s not a philosophy we’ve seen shared by previous front offices who preferred things like position switches, transfers, etc. There are merits to it, as well as drawbacks, I imagine, since you’re operating with a higher level of inertia. I don’t know on the whole if their team that finds weird stuff like “Brennan’s change-up” or “Fraley’s swing change” also spills over into the amateur scouting, but I would hope it does.

Having officially stepped back, I might also expect to see them take shots at prospects with longer development windows. This was initially what they were going to do last year, but then there was a run on high school players and suddenly the best players on their own boards were college types and so they loaded up there again. If we don’t do much of that on days one and two, the Mariners have recently had a pretty good sense for what high schoolers may be signable and were able to save money in rounds 1-10 to go grab “tougher sign” prep pitchers like Damon Casetta-Stubbs in the eleventh round and Holden Laws in the sixteenth. It’s enough of a pattern to where I’d expect to see it happen again unless we’re really breaking the bank to sign young guys earlier on.

What is the larger prediction of the scouting outlets?
This year, we seem to have a divided group of opinions. Some have all but typed us as a college-favoring organization and have tied us to names like Texas Tech 3B Josh Jung and Elon RHP George Kirby, maybe Clemson SS Logan Davidson, who has fascinating tools but is without a tight track record. Others want to link us to the prep shortstop ranks and see a selection like Anthony Volpe (NJ), Nasim Nunez (GA), Gunnar Henderson (AL), or Brooks Lee (CA). Both sound probable although I lean a little towards the latter as seeming more likely, since it fits the MO and there may yet be good prep infielders available. I’d rather go with a longer range project than thinking we’re going to compete so soon, though Davidson could split the difference there. That being said, as with every sport, draft stuff gets weird in a hurry and pick #20 is a bit far out for me to feel comfortable predicting anything all.

While there always ends up being some amount of hairsplitting– Dipoto cited numerically ranking all the players on their board and I DO NOT ENVY THEM– one sense that has emerged is that there won’t be a huge difference in talent from if you’re selecting in the early teens or down at twenty where we are, which is some solace to be taken. Available “impact bats” should be gone by pick ten or so. One overall question is where pitching will start to be selected as it’s regarded as an especially shallow college class. Thus, it will be interesting to see who blinks first and takes that college pitcher, as there’s a risk of artificially inflated value as well as “panic” spreading through draft rooms as teams try to scoop up what little depth there is. A potential side effect could be a run on players like Oregon’s Kenyon Yovan, a former prep pick of the Mariners who has been off the mound much of the season due to hand injury. I could see the team pursuing a few guys with high potential but present non-serious injuries rather than taking a healthier organizational guy. It’s another variable we’re playing with.

What local angles do we have to work with?
The likely number one overall pick will be catcher Adley Rutschman, who the Mariners picked out of high school three years ago in the 40th round, back when he was an Oregon prep kid and signed on to be both kicker for the Beavers football team and their starting catcher. His stock exploded last season and he’s now regarded as one of the best backstop prospects in years as well as a consensus 1/1. Locally, we also have Lakeside outfielder Corbin Carroll being set up as perhaps the highest draft pick in state history. He’s a plus defensive center fielder with a good sense of the strike zone, though he’s been up and down in esteem as some wonder how much power he has and DINGERS.

You don’t want to take the best of each group and type solely based on that, but it does work as being representative in this case. The Oregon class this year is almost entirely college players coming out of the big two schools, so pull up some NCAA stats and see what you like. The Washington class is more of a mix of prep players and college players, with the UW battery of C Nick Kahle and RHP Josh Burgmann being among the more interesting NCAA types. The wild card with the prep ranks is that there are a fair number of fancier college commitments. Carroll is set up to go to UCLA, yet the consensus second-best prep in OF Joshua Mears has a commitment to Purdue, and further down the listings you’ll see places like Vandy and Stanford associated. The addition of draft pools to the amateur calculus has made it trickier to buy out major college commitments, so anyone who pursues such players better know what they’re up to.

What’s the current state of system depth with the caveat that we shouldn’t be addressing it unless those circles overlap on the Venn?
Trades have significantly bolstered our ranks in terms of starting pitching and outfield depth. If you’ve been paying attention this season, nearly all of the outfields of the full-season affiliates are interesting in some way. We’re really, really lacking in interesting infield depth outside of the I-5 commuting duo of Shed Long and J.P. Crawford, and current top pick discussions would probably help with that in some small way. Catching is also a place we could stand to improve a little although the 2018 class has really added to the depth there. I would probably rank the overall charts as Outfield > Starting / Relief Pitching > Catching > Infield, but would probably be more inclined to add pitchers than catchers for reasons obvious to everyone.

What are you looking forward to from the draft?
Drafting a future Mariner.

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