A Minor Pitching Development Note

April 18, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 7 Comments 

First off, I want to thank Marc for taking over the system preview for this season. I’m presently in a phase of my life that’s not particularly conducive to sitting down and writing thousands upon thousands of words of minor league preview each season. This year, in particular, the scheduling looked pretty “nope” early on, but in light of certain happenings and certain concerns the team has going forward, I wanted to bring something to everyone’s attention because I think it could be relevant for us down the line.

One of the narratives to emerge from spring training was that the Mariners, with Iwakuma’s unexpected re-signing, were so flush with pitching that they had the enviable problem of choosing between Nate Karns and James Paxton in the back-end of the rotation. The beginning of the minor league season has further impressed on us that Edwin Diaz is exceeding expectations and could be ready to challenge for a spot soon enough. While the overall depth in the system is rather thin at the high levels (though guys like Ryan Yarbrough and Adrian Sampson probably shouldn’t be overlooked), right now we’re looking outward from a position of relative security. If anything, it’s the bullpen that has given us pause, and rightfully so, with a couple of dudes approaching forty and many of the rest being known as gambles, some of which have already faltered, in the cases of forgotten men Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner.

Let’s back up a moment. One of the recurrent sources of frustration in writing minor league previews is that a past role tends to be a bit more indicative of a future role only in the case of position players. Generally, if anyone is going to move, either to a more or less demanding role on the field, you’re going to hear about it. Less certain is the status of pitching prospects, who could begin starting or stop without much fanfare. One could propose that it’s a side effect of the weird pitching schedules in the Cactus League and no one really noticing or caring at the time, but I bring this up to illustrate a point: The present configuration of the Jackson Generals pitching staff is not something one could have readily predicted.

Sure, the way it begins could potentially lull you into some false sense of security. You look up and see Diaz followed by Yarbrough and figure that it’s likely one of the better one-two, left-right punches you’re going to get, even if the metrics plainly favor Diaz. Thereafter is where it starts to get weird. You have right-handers Sam Gaviglio, Brett Ash, and Dylan Unsworth. If you’re unfamiliar with any or all of those names, I’m not going to fault you. College baseball fans might remember Gaviglio from his days pitching for Oregon State, but they might not remember that we acquired him from St. Louis in exchange for Ty Kelly, the positionless OBP wonder, at the end of 2014. Brett Ash, with all due respect to his friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances, is Some Guy, a NDFA out of Kansas’ famed baseball powerhouse Washburn College who signed after the ’14 draft and didn’t make a pro start until June of last year when necessity pushed him into the rotation. Dylan Unsworth is from South Africa and his nickname is Sharky and we will love him forever, but he doesn’t possess extraordinary stuff and is a fifth starter at best, and a fringe one.

What is instead “weird” about all this is the sheer number of former starters in the Jackson bullpen. Matt Anderson, a holdover from last year, got the Tom Wilhelmsen treatment and switched to relief on making it to double-A. He remains the same “good fastball, potentially great curveball, sketchy command” guy that he has been previously.

Among the other former starters after him, you have Jordan Pries, who was the big surprise in 2014 as a former 30th round pick who was one of the Rainiers’ best starters down the stretch. The same was not true in 2015, when his ERA caught up to his existing components/stuff (90 mph-ish FB)/pitch to contact approach and he additionally missed the final month+ of the season with an elbow strain.

Or you could look at Stephen Landazuri, who was a long-time sleeper favorite of mine as a guy with a low-90s heater and a good curve. Lando hadn’t relieved in a regular season game since 2012, and while he was quite excellent starting in the Mexican Pacific League over the offseason, his command numbers for both Jackson and Tacoma last year were dire. To boot, he’s had a few recurrent injury issues: biceps strain, oblique strain, missed starts here and there. He’s now pitching out of the Jackson ‘pen as well.

Or we could go with the surprise in Dan Altavilla. Altavilla was fast-tracked up, with a half-season in Everett and a full-season last year in Bakersfield where he showed good stuff and iffy command. People had talked about the possibility of him moving to the bullpen eventually because Major League Baseball scouts have a rather Irken approach to projecting pitchers, but the left-right numbers were solid and the command improved in the second half even as the hits increased a skosh. There was nothing in particular that was projecting him to a doom-and-gloom forecast, and yet here he is now, relieving for the Generals, with the kind of stuff that showed very well as a starter between the slider and the fastball.

Stuff could happen that could push any of the above back into the rotation. “Stuff happening” is one of the inviolable laws of minor league baseball. However, in the case of these three (or four if you feel like including Anderson), the bullpen could present a good career opportunity. Pries was never going to crack in as anything other than an emergency fifth starter and could gain some velocity/Ks from working solely in relief. Landazuri’s command has yet to straighten out for long enough to get you to see him as a three or four and his injury history, while mostly unrelated to the tenderest of the shoulder bits, does not inspire confidence. Altavilla in the bullpen goes from the low-90s velocity he showed as a starter to flashing more in the high-90s as he did in more limited stints and he no longer has to worry about developing a change-up in that role. Whereas a spot in the starting five would have been harder to come by, the bullpen is far less stable moving forward.

Is this experiment likely to work out for everyone involved? Does any minor league experiment ever do that? “Here, try catching.” “Here, try throwing this weird pitch.” “Play this position that you never have before outside of pickup games maybe.” “You can’t hit, but can you throw a knuckleball?” Minor league baseball is silly. However, if it does work out for any of these guys, what you have done is increased their odds of making a big league roster, perhaps minimized the variables they previously had to contend with, and given your team a cost-controlled arm that allows you to maneuver money elsewhere in the roster building process. These aren’t exciting moves, but they look like they could be good for everyone involved. Good work, Mariners.

Late Edit: I wrote this before Landazuri and Pries had poor outings over the weekend, but consider the SSS and the unfamiliarity with the role.

Another Player Development Note

January 22, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 10 Comments 

I don’t often post consecutively, but when I do, it concerns the minor leagues and those posts are ill-scheduled.

A few days ago, I had a luxurious fifteen minutes to myself with which to do as I would and discovered a segment of a podcast with new farm director Andy McKay. Being of significant curiosity and questionable overall mental health, I naturally leapt at the opportunity and donned a pair of bulky headphones in order to best experience it. To be frank, there aren’t often a lot of instances in which major front office types are eager to give away trade secrets, and this was no different. Much of the intrigue of listening involved trying to reconstruct what was going on in the background, as McKay either was preparing lunch or unloading a dishwasher as he fielded the interview. Details were vague and commentary on specific players, far vaguer, but I did come away with two major notes that sparked my attention.

Taking account of his prior role as a mental skills coach for the Colorado Rockies, the interviewers gravitated towards the expected question of “how do you prepare pitchers to do well in Coors Field?” This would be the kind of secret that I think anyone would be fascinated to learn regardless of their rooting inclinations, but McKay’s responses were ones of refutation, claiming that it never really came up and that it wasn’t something that they ever talked about at length. In so many words, what is known as the characteristic of the home park was blown off as if it were nothing and McKay mentioned in passing the bewildering and unusual success that some pitchers had experienced, running reverse splits in some rare instances. Otherwise, so far as he was concerned, both teams had to deal with it.

You may be sensing what piqued my interest here. If the org didn’t really talk about it, you might think of it as a possible bête noire, something verboten to speak of in public and only heard of in hushed tones. Or, the alternative could be to invest a great deal of attention into rendering it the subject of nightmares, only to be overcome by the toughest and manliest of pitchers. McKay flatly stated that the media had more interest in the subject than anyone else he talked to. It was no big deal to him.

The material circumstances might be different, but let’s consider the previous runs of GMs with regard to their attitudes about Safeco Field. Despite the offensive successes of the Gillick-era Mariners, there started to be real concerns thereafter with much chatter about batting eyes and the left field walls. It has been rumored that fan-favorite Adrian Beltre thereafter cautioned power hitters against signing in Seattle. As the Zduriencik regime started to settle into being definitively in the mindset of its egg-shaped namesake, the articulated goal was often to acquire players whose power was so transcendent that it could overcome any park, Safeco included. The only major success we’ve experienced on that front is Nelson Cruz, and Zduriencik is no longer the GM of any team.

It would be too much to link one thing to another, but when you look at some of the drafting tendencies we’ve had, major raw RH power has been a trademark, likely operating under the assumption that an organization ought to develop what it is unlikely to acquire via free agency. Alex Jackson. Tyler O’Neill. Mike Zunino. D.J. Peterson. Gabby Guerrero. Tyler Marlette. Corey Simpson. The list can go on, if you allow it to. And subsequently, all these players have had noted struggles in recent years, with a late-season rebound by O’Neill being a plus followed by a question mark. In many cases, the strikeouts and level of contact have been so poor as to make their major league futures suspect regardless of raw ability. To hear McKay speak of Coors Field dismissively and cite pitchers who had reverse splits makes me wonder if, in whatever way, the public talk by the Mariners figureheads about getting that bury-the-needle power in turn got into the heads of their major prospects, who tried and failed to do too much with it. This is purely inference on my part with little means to corroborate with anything tangible, but having made the connection, one does wonder.

The second part that interested me was the specific circumstances of McKay’s coaching life. He claimed that he had managed enough over his career (also citing his MBA and organizational background) to connect with players and earn their trust regardless of what role he held. Baseball, he claimed, was “100% mental,” and “the body follows the mind.” Both statements read/hear like sports platitudes for the perky young postgame interviewer. Not much to write home about, that is until the later conversation about creating a culture and being hands-on in the dugout and then some other actually interesting notes arose.

McKay’s coaching career runs like this: In the summers, he was stationed in the Northwoods League, a wood-bat circuit comparable to though without the media attention of the Cape Cod League. During the rest of the year, he was in community colleges, coaching players with the intent of preparing them for D-I transfers. In both cases, players often came in with specific needs and McKay needed to address them in limited time frames, a few months or a few years, and then send them off better to the next thing.

It would be presumptuous to say something like “he’s going to turn around the system in a heartbeat! Our savior!” and then have an assortment of cartoon hearts spraying out of my eyes. I’m not that naïve. But the idea of being able to identify needs in a short timeframe and work with directed attention on them would appear to be an asset. To boot, he brought up other issues that were points of contrast with the prior administration, not calling them out by name, but saying that a system that was all about individual development at the expense of winning could risk having players that didn’t know what to do to get the team to win once they reached the majors. It’s an easy slide from there into an armchair sports psychology that would point to, I don’t know, Ackley’s deer-in-headlights expression at times, and to claim that a focus on individual development might, at its most warped, tempt a player into thinking that the weight of the organization was on their shoulders, which simply isn’t healthy. I don’t know if I can extrapolate that either based on the information that we have, but I can say that the dismal state of the farm system with regard to winning percentage has made following it a tougher sell and I could be drawn in by promises of positive records and lesser playoff runs building up to greater ones.

Having nervously tiptoed into the waters that may serve to re-baptize me into a more ardent, born-again fandom, I would do well to bring it all back to something less superstitious and more overt in content. When asked about the state of the Mariners farm system specifically, McKay claimed that it was easier coming in because the lack of emotional ties meant you could make some stone-cold decisions if you had to, which syncs up with some of the trades that went on in the offseason. But the point at which I stopped the podcast, scrolled back, and made sure I got every word was when this quote came out:

“I believe in the players that we have and I believe that the players we have will make strides, but I like to consider myself a realist. We have real challenges in front of us. This is not a system that is thriving right now. The deficiencies are easy to identify. We’ve identified them and are willing to get to work on them.”

As the BA list implied, the Mariners are in a bad way right now with regard to depth. Many things that were expected to not suck have instead resembled shop-vacs attached to uninterrupted power supplies. We aren’t likely to be metaphorically skipping through the meadow amidst the rainbows of a joyful 2016 season, but those in power now seem to have their convictions about what was wrong in the process of how the team operated previously. They have articulated what they aim to do in response to it. Now all we need is data.

BA Remembers Names of Ten Mariners Prospects

January 22, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 12 Comments 

Whether it’s diminishing returns on the player development front or merely that the PhD student lifestyle clamors for the lion’s share of my attention, I’ve found myself more tuned out from the minor league goings-on in recent years than I was while blogging about it on a semi-regular basis. The initial enthusiasm of following an organization focused on developing its own players took several heavy hits during the Zduriencik era, as we found many individuals, Ackley and Zunino among them, go from “the hope for the future” to “recurrent sources of frustration.” As one might expect, being excited about player development generally and being a fan of a team that looked to be unambiguously bad at it are not compatible viewpoints, and so my attentions scurried off elsewhere.

And yet, with recent sports losses in the rearview and the promise of new organizational philosophies at play, baseball has a way of dragging me back into the discussion like the often-spurned but lovelorn devotee that I am. Friends, let us talk about baseball. Let us talk about baseball and player development in the context of the fact that Baseball America released their Top Ten Mariners Prospects today. You want that I should copy and paste so you don’t have to click? Fine.

TOP 10 PROSPECTS
1. Alex Jackson, of
2. Edwin Diaz, rhp
3. Drew Jackson, ss
4. Tyler O’Neill, of
5. Nick Neidert, rhp
6. Luiz Gohara, lhp
7. Braden Bishop, of
8. Andrew Moore, rhp
9. Boog Powell, of
10. D.J. Peterson, 1b/3b

If I might be honest while, at the same time, flippant, prospect lists have been previously released in this offseason and I have shared them with friends, captioning the links with “hey kids, wanna see a dead body?” It’s a dick move on my part (perhaps less blunt than others), so allow me to qualify that by saying that such remarks tend to reflect more on the nature of prospect lists than anything else. Young players like Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Ketel Marte have “graduated” to a big league level where it is no longer the business of prospect-watchers to think about them regularly (also Kivlehan might’ve ranked pretty high *shakes fist*). They represent some of the few successes of the past season as the recent season was, mysteriously, one in which a great deal of young players struggled.

When things like this happen en masse, concerns arise as to how systemic they are and we start to question methods and the like, methods which have been blissfully supplanted by regime change. In short, we know that the minor leaguers performed poorly, but without knowing why, we can’t answer how easily it might be fixed and don’t know what to do with the data we have. Adding to that, recency bias means we’ve been sitting with these lackluster performances since September. Dudes are probably working on things that we don’t even know about yet, but without some way of quantifying that, we are stuck with the overcast “bleh.” It’s not all storm clouds and inclement weather, as we acquired some good pieces at the trade deadline and during the recent draft. However, when you look at the system at large, the stocks of individual players, for however you regard their ceilings, are widely at lows.

What this leaves one with is what you could generally characterize as a “bad system prospect list.” It’s a who’s-who of guys with intriguing physical abilities who have yet to perform, dotted with a smattering of recent draftees who performed well in a sample size too small to make adequate sense of. Anyone who has payed attention to minor league happenings in the long term can name one or two players who had intriguing debuts in the NWL and went on to do nothing particularly special thereafter. Factors such as Drew Jackson’s pure athleticism and the alleged change he made to his contact lenses might bolster what hope you have for him being the SS of the future (or SS that gets moved to CF of the future), yet you can recognize that you need more data to go off of in order to move forward. I rather liked our ’15 draft from a depth standpoint and building up pitching reserves, but it remains to be seen how many of those HS pitchers are going to survive the transition to pro ball.

Elsewhere, as I said, it’s the guys with velocity or power, some prior tool of significance that helped to get them on the radar in the first place. Comparing this year’s list to last year’s, Alex Jackson retains top billing, but you can’t exactly say that he proved himself worthy of the distinction. Kivlehan, Gabby Guerrero, and Carson Smith are all trade casualties (Guerrero missed Arizona’s Top Ten, Kivlehan is likely for Texas’ top ten), Marte graduated, and Austin Wilson’s second half wasn’t quite enough to redeem a rather dismal first half. Diaz isn’t moving up from #6 to #2 with a bullet so much as he’s rising thanks to attrition. Peterson plummeted despite not having a great deal of competition elsewhere. Tyler O’Neill really helped himself out, but we’re also talking about a prospect who has struck out in the neighborhood of 30% of the time.

The good news? Darkest before dawn? Only place to go is up? Any number of cliches and platitudes in a similar vein? Yeah, and it all feels true in this case. We still have some of the same draft people involved while most of the development pieces are new, but in a way, that seems to be saying that the drafts the Mariners had weren’t inherently bad so much as there were things that weren’t coming through in the development process. To retain McNamara, at least for the time being, demonstrates some level of confidence in what he’s done and the belief that the new team can help recover the lost value these prospects had. For all of the past year’s shortcomings, Alex Jackson and O’Neill still have elite power, Edwin Diaz still has a high-end FB/slider combo, Gohara has solid velocity for a lefty, Powell can take a pitch, and Bishop can play a mean CF. The question is where the Mariners go from there so that these fellows don’t slot themselves in as role players and little else.

’15 40-Man Preview Extravaganza

November 16, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 11 Comments 

What? I still exist.

This round of 40-man roster addition action is newly vexed by the consideration that the Mariners are under new general management. Certain core pieces remain, such as Tom McNamara, who served as architect for many of the drafts in consideration, but DiPoto and possibly even down to Scott Servais may have different opinions on what players are worth protecting than we’ve been accustomed to seeing. Ostensibly, with so much ink devoted to a broader notion of athleticism as a necessity in Safeco Field (one wonders how much Zduriencik was still planning around Miller Park), you might expect there to be a greater emphasis to protect those that are closer to that model. However, there has doubly been the player development concern of having so many high draft picks go on to achieve so little. The new player development director in Andy McKay has made compelling remarks in favor of the idea that while there are the rare exceptions who arrive on ability alone, the game could be as much as 90% mental and preparative. I don’t know how instructive the decisions to be made about the 40-man roster will be, seeing as how we might see the draft philosophy change in the coming seasons, but if nothing else, we might be able to step away from it and assess by the results which players are seen as part of the plan and which aren’t.

The familiar song-and-dance of it is that what we’ll be looking at here are college picks from the ’12 draft and high school and early international signings from around the summer of 2011. This means in some wacky parallel universe where different choices are made, the Mariners may be protecting Mike Zunino for the first time although I prefer the parallel universe in which we draft and somehow properly develop Carlos Correa. As usual, there’s also some level of ambiguity built-in to where it’s hard to tell which international signings had contracts for what year, so this is in some cases the best estimate on the information I have, although I can’t say that there’s much depth this season. Rosters will have to be finalized by November 20th, so, golly, you’ll have a few whole days to mull over what you would do with this immense responsibility that you have no say in.

I’m ordering this roughly through a sense of likelihood and am forgoing the exhaustive listing of who is and isn’t eligible because I’m short of time and it doesn’t seem to be worth it this year.

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Further Changes and Non-Changes in M’s Front Office

October 21, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 3 Comments 

1: While it’s still an unconfirmed report from an anonymous source, it’s on the M’s website, so it’s probably good: the Mariners have named Andy McKay as their new director of player personnel. [EDIT] It’s confirmed now. With Chris Gwynn gone, the M’s turned to long-time coach and sports psychologist/”peak performance director” for the Colorado Rockies. There’s no template for being a good player development guru, no checklist of lower-level jobs to move through, but McKay’s background does strike me as somewhat unusual, though it’s possible he could slot under an Assistant GM who would focus on player development (more on that below). I’m inclined to agree with Bob Dutton of the News Tribune who says that his hiring, “suggests Dipoto believes a better mental approach can help unlock the potential of several prospects, such as former first-round picks Alex Jackson and D.J. Peterson, who each had disappointing seasons.” Zduriencik was fond of saying that “talent wins” and the like, but the M’s seem minor league system seemed like a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort at disproving that simple notion.

DJ Peterson and Alex Jackson were both rated as among the best pure hitters in their draft class, and both proceeded to…not hit. Mike Zunino’s downward trajectory is perhaps the sine qua non of M’s player development failings, and the McKay hiring might hint at a change in approach. You’ll remember that Zunino was sent to extended spring training to work on hitting mechanics with Cory Snyder, erstwhile batting coach of the Tacoma Rainiers. However, the M’s terminated Snyder a week or so ago, which would seem to leave the swing doctoring in limbo. The M’s will hire some coaches soon, of course, and they may just get Edgar Martinez more involved in that particular project, but McKay would clearly bring something different to the table.

2: All the speculation before today’s move had been that Scott Servais, who helmed the Angels player development under Jerry Dipoto, would head north to rejoin his ex-boss and do the same job for Seattle. While he clearly won’t be taking the same job it sounds like he still could head to Seattle to become an Assistant GM. In Anaheim, Servais was classed as an assistant GM/Player Development, thus overseeing their “Director of Player Personnel,” Bobby Scales. The same situation could apply in Seattle if/when Servais is hired, and we’ll continue to wonder who’s responsible for what. Beyond player development, htough, Zduriencik’s special assistants Joe McIlvaine, Pete Vuckovich and Ted Simmons weren’t retained (the latter’s moved to a new position with Atlanta), so there are openings for brain trust members and right hand men. Given that, speculation about Servais will continue for a little while longer.

Intriguingly, Jeff Kingston, Zduriencik’s hand-picked AGM, will stay on under Dipoto. There’s no law against having multiple AGMs, as Dipoto knows well from his time in Boston, but it’s also a sign that Dipoto didn’t view the entire front office as dysfunctional. That view is reinforced by his decision to stick with both the pro and amateur scouting directors, Tom Allison and Tom McNamara.* Scouting directors aren’t exactly like field managers where you automatically assume a new GM will want his own person in the role, but it’s not that far off. A new GM often has a very different idea about which type of players to draft and how to balance risk and reward, and if he’s replacing a fired GM (as opposed to inheriting the role from a retiring executive), you figure they have free reign to make all manner of changes. But there’s a precedent here: when Dipoto took over in Anaheim, he kept amateur scouting head Ric Wilson, despite the fact that Dipoto is often seen as having a diametrically opposed view of the draft as his predecessor, Tony Reagins. Of course, Wilson hadn’t been in the job long when Dipoto came in, and Reagins firing of longtime scouting director Eddie Bane (the guy who drafted Mike Trout), make it clear that Reagins and Dipoto’s draft philosophies may not have been so different after all.

Still, it’s interesting given that the M’s have gone after a few more high school kids than Anaheim. Only 1 of the Angels’ first ten selections in 2012 and 2015 came out of a HS, while the Angels took preps with 2 of their top 10 picks in 2013 and 2014. The M’s took 5 of 10 from HS in 2012, and 3 of 10 this year. This is a pretty big vote of confidence in McNamara.

3: Another Zduriencik hire who’ll be staying on is international operations manager Tim Kissner. That may make sense, given neither the M’s nor Dipoto’s Angels have been especially active in the international market in recent years. In 2009, the Angels fired their international supervisor, Clay Daniel, after he became a suspect in a bonus kickback scheme that drew the interest of the FBI. The M’s know about the, uh, vagaries of the international market as well, having been burned by false ages bonus skimming and, worse, sex abuse.

The Angels had the smallest bonus pool this year, so perhaps it’s understandable that they’d soft pedal international scouting, particularly when several clubs seemingly take turns to blow past MLB’s bonus pool caps. Last year, it was the Yankees turn. This year, especially after signing Cuban OF Eddie Julio Martinez, it’s the Cubs. Neither the M’s nor the Angels were absent from the international market – the M’s have made several sub-$1m signings in recent years, and the Angels made a minor splash by taking Cuban IF Roberto Baldoquin last year. But neither team was in the running for the top free agents of recent years, from Masahiro Tanaka to Yoan Moncada to Yasiel Puig to Hector Olivera. The similarity in approach may be why Kissner will stay on under Dipoto.

4: Still no word on the new manager, though the M’s have apparently interviewed five candidates: presumptive choice Tim Bogar, Jason Varitek, Alex Cora, Phil Nevin and Charlie Montoyo. Nevin and Montoyo managed in AAA recently; Nevin led the Reno Aces last year, while Charlie Montoyo managed the Durham Bulls (quite successfully) for 8 years. As we’ve seen with Matt Williams, it’s almost impossible to tell from the outside what makes a good manager. We can evaluate bullpen management or bunting trends, but that’s about it. I don’t have much to go on with these guys – I like Montoyo’s minor league record, and Bogar seemed well-liked in both Texas and Anaheim, but as fans, it’s hard to know how you’d even begin to rank these guys.

* – Ryan Divish’s story yesterday clarifies this, and shows there’s a bit more of a shake-up on the scouting side than I’d previously thought. Tom Allison, the director of pro scouting, will be promoted to the head of scouting in general – amateur, pro, and international. So, Tim Kissner and Tom McNamara retain their respective duties, but they now report to Allison. Backfilling Allison’s *old* gig as head of pro scouting will be Lee McPhail IV. McPhail’s worked for the Orioles, Twins, Rangers, Nats/Expos, Indians and M’s over a long career, including a scouting director stint in Cleveland (where he drafted CC Sabathia).

2015 Everett Aquasox Preview

June 18, 2015 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 9 Comments 

The past several years, I’ve had to deal with a minor conundrum. On one hand, I liked having an extra minor league affiliate in Pulaski because yay baseball but it also provided one more thing to stare at, one more team that I probably wouldn’t preview, and an environment and park factors that I didn’t quite know what to do with. Booo baseball. Then in the offseason, the Yankees snapped up Pulaski and we went back to having effectively two short-season summer affiliates plus two abroad (now both in the Dominican because Venezuela is not safe right now).

The boon of this for fans in this region is that, since there are fewer places for top prospects to go, the Everett team looks like it could be pretty darned talented this year. This will likely place the team in contrast to last year’s last-place squad. Scout/manager Rob Mummau will also be taking over again as manager, so anyone who was anticipating seeing Dave Valle outside of the broadcast booth is not in luck this year.

The areas of intrigue for me are primarily the outfield, which has something interesting at every position, and the rotation which is unusually structured and has at least three pitchers I’m already interested in. The backstops, eh, they’ll probably handle the pitching staff, and the infield’s hitting will likely be limited to the corners if it gets it there. The bullpen, which contained thirteen men on first roster release, is a place one could get lost in and I’m not quite sure what to think of it outside of a few members. Overall, this team should have a good amount of power and enough going on in the rotation to keep them in games. Looks like a competitive squad to me. And with the accelerated signing process and the college-heavy draft, I would expect that this is mostly the team we have, barring some contributors who are filling in elsewhere at the moment. Let’s get to it.

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So You Still Want Me to Write About the 2015 Draft

June 8, 2015 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 3 Comments 

As friends of mine are more into the sport and I can be dragged into matters out of a desire to be conversational, I recently found myself paying some amount of attention to the NFL Draft. You can imagine my bewilderment at the whole affair. “So there is some consensus about where players will fall outside of the first round? And these players can be expected to fill major roles immediately? And you can still find major contributors in the NDFA pool? And various pundits have video clips available and are capable of giving practical commentary on each selection as it’s made all through the draft? What the crap is this?”

I understand some of the nuances that differentiate the sports. Baseball is more skill-based, football has an advantage of media given that all their players go through the NCAA system, etc, and yet, the mind still has some difficulty catching up. The phenomena of drafting this type of position in this round because it can be expected to yield this value is wholly foreign to me, even as I can justify pursuing certain molds of players earlier or later based off of what they might provide.

The Mariners gave up their first round pick because of the Nelson Cruz signing. Consequently, they won’t have their first selection until #60. If this were that other sport, I could speculate on what players might be available at #60, set that against organizational needs, and create a general program for what I expect out of the draft. If I tried that here, I would be hilariously wrong. The time investment required to mock an entire draft is unfathomable to me.

Furthermore, in baseball, there’s rationale for making a big affair of the first round. You can get your number one prospect that way! The Mariner’s last six first overall selections have been considered for #1 prospect internally at various points! Waiting until #60, you don’t have that same boon. That’s not to say that there haven’t been productive players taken by the organization after that. Edwin Diaz was selected 98th overall and is likely the farm’s best starting pitcher right now. Brad Miller wasn’t picked up until #62. Kyle Seager had to wait until #82 and there are probably some teams rather upset with themselves for squandering their chances at him.

As far as who the selection will be, baseball is generally not that predictable and I’ve seen return on heavy investment in the Mariners selecting a guy still on the board exactly once (that would be James Paxton). In lieu of going down the draft boards and looking at prospects in that window around #60, I’ll instead talk about what we’ve seen broadly from the Mariners draft board and what that might translate to.
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2015 Tacoma Rainiers Preview

April 9, 2015 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 8 Comments 

An evening full of typing and being sort of bummed out by a failed Mariners rally later, and I’m here with a Tacoma Rainiers preview. I feel like at this level, there’s a tendency to get more philosophical because we’re not so much trying to determine what could happen for guys as evaluating what has happened. Triple-A can be a land of players that have been around a while, for whom the results have already spoken, but I found myself unusually eager to type my way through it this time even if it’s been a slog in years past.

Three-fifths of the rotation is new to us and features some former top prospects within their respective systems and whatever Elias is outside of a ten-game winner for the ‘Ners last season. The bullpen has various names of recent and more distant familiarity and a guy who, despite being added to the 40-man, still seems to be ignored in a lot of outlets. Catching will be split between two guys with solid all-around profiles. The infield has Montero, Marte, and a supporting cast that can make a case for fringe MLB roles (I pray we give Bonilla the Jaime Bubela treatment when he finally does retire), and then the outfield has a unicorn, a broken unicorn, some role players we’re still trying to figure out, and the bizarre and talented Jabari Blash, who isn’t a unicorn but is probably some other breed of cryptid.

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2015 Jackson Generals Preview

April 8, 2015 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 4 Comments 

We have made it to double-A and I have been typing for hours. Literally hours. But I don’t mind it so much because the Jackson Generals have been a good affiliate for us, very active in hyping up their various alums, and this year, look to have a very talented team. Their outfield is the second-most interesting to me, but it’s close, and their infield is likely the best and most balanced. I like a lot of what I conceive to be their rotation as well, though I would clarify that there are a lot of pitchers on the DL for them right now and on pure prospect watching, Bakersfield is easily better. Jackson just gives us an opportunity to see who we might add to future depth discussions. As for the roster’s liabilities, the bullpen is nothing special and the catchers are defensively-oriented, but otherwise this looks like a really solid group that could do some playoff damage down the line, provided the team stays intact. No promises.

Diversions? Some sour grapes of an international flavor, our last remaining South African player and references to the United Nations, my most frequently used Aqua Teen Hunger Force quote, left-handers who can’t get left-handers out, the elixir of life (in passing), big bats with position questions, utility player heartthrobs, BABIP vagaries, player reevaluations, and a section in which I copy and paste a player’s injury history. I still have no idea who pitches where in the rotation.

Tacoma will be up tomorrow. I don’t know when, but probably before they start play.

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2015 Bakersfield Blaze Preview

April 8, 2015 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 2 Comments 

This marks the first year since 2007 that the Mariners have had an affiliation outside of High Desert. Okay, let’s think about that for a moment. Eight years we were there. Whaaat. But shifting up north to Bakersfield leads me to think of things in new and unfamiliar ways. Park factors, for one. I don’t have any handy at the moment (sorry), but I remember from experience that the offensive environment is slightly inflated and that the quality of the infield is notoriously poor. It’s something that we may not have to consider for very long as there have been discussions of moving the team to Salinas, roughly 200 miles to the northwest, and the Mariners likely bought in early with that in mind. A new park there may figure to be pitcher-friendly.

In the larger scheme, I wonder about other things. While we are nominally leaving the Desert, these have been a hard few years for the state of California and the dry conditions are only spreading. This leaves the team name, Blaze, a little uncomfortable at times. Will it be long before, over concerns of water usage, baseball stadiums in the league switch over to field turf or some equivalent? I say this as someone long suspicious of lawns and their use of resources purely for aesthetic purposes. Long-term droughts and baseball. Someone think of this as a potential thesis topic. Theses have been written about chairs, this is hardly worse.

So, the Blaze. Actually, the whole rotation has something going for each member and the back end of the bullpen looks to be pretty special, I just worry about the guys in between. Catching will present some interesting choices as to who to play and when, as both guys need their defensive time but could pass as DHs, particularly with an emergency catcher already on the roster. The infield is in one of those, “the less said, the better” realms, but the outfield doesn’t have any real liabilities and for prospect watching, is probably the best group we’ll be running out at any level this season. I could be into it. I could see myself listening to Bakersfield broadcasts during the year.

Over the course of this preview, I also manage to keep on subject pretty often. Nevertheless, one of the rotation members is still sort of an enigma, there’s an important hyphenated reliever, in lieu of writing about one pitcher I instead flipped out and went off on a few vaguely connected tangents, mentioned one of the maybe two stock car drivers whose names I know, failed to comprehend an infielder’s transition to High Desert but did get to type “Panamanian” again, talked about favorite injured prospects, favorite gritty types, favorite inside jokes, and a guy whose slugging with High Desert at home was equal to his road OPS who also happens to be named after a famous actor with a famous mustache.

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