MiLB to Shuffle Affiliates; M’s Counting Cards

August 22, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 6 Comments 

Perhaps you’re looking for something to wash the foul taste out of your mouth after last night’s game. Well, there’s only so much I can do other than to point out that, hey, at least we have playoff contention to consider here.

In truth, I’m only by on account of something I noticed coming through the wire last night. You see, it being an even-numbered year, the minor leagues are due to have their affiliation contracts renewed or perhaps exchanged. In light of this, it was noted last night on Today’s Knuckleball, which is a fine baseball site not given its proper due, that the Cal League is set to contract Bakersfield and High Desert. The rationale for why, you can read within the article, but both franchises have long been vexed by various on-field issues. Bakersfield has a poor infield and a bad orientation and had long been rumored as a candidate to move to Salinas or elsewhere. High Desert, home of Battleship Baseball, was built in the anticipation of local growth that never came through, nor did its own potential movement to another city with better infrastructure.

This news is relevant to Mariners fans in that we’ve been affiliated with both teams after the Inland Empire 66ers traded up and got themselves a honey of a deal with the Dodgers. I’ll always have fond memories of High Desert although not likely for the right reasons. In truth, we all know the practical elements of the Mariners having major pitchers skip the Cal League to avoid it and the situation in Bakersfield, preferable if the team moved, was also troubled in its own way for aforementioned circumstances. Hard infield. Old stadium. Westward facing? The sun’s only set in that direction for so long, you guys.

Now, where does this leave the Mariners? Incidentally, they have already been planning ahead. You see, according to reports, they have purchased a 51% stake in the Modesto Nuts. While the consequences in terms of “Deez Nuts” jokes are obvious, this has actually been a match-up I’ve wanted for a long time. The Mariners had never been inclined to buy ownership stakes previously, but Modesto is one of the very few California League ballparks that has conditions similar to Safeco. According to Statcorner, home runs are suppressed at a factor of 44 and 64 for left- and right-handed bats respectively. Overall offense is reduced by an 87 factor. I imagine Modesto is probably more livable than other places too, which is an asset as you want your players to be able to focus on baseball.

The remaining four affiliates are TBD at this point. I don’t imagine that we’re going to leave Tacoma or Everett and we’ve been in Jackson for ten years now, with the team recently having broken their season wins record as a Seattle affiliate, and counting. The system itself leads the minor leagues in winning percentage after being bottom five last year. You shouldn’t extrapolate too much from that, as it doesn’t mean that our system has quite suddenly become an unstoppable jugglenaut of prospect power. On the whole, though, things are looking up. What’s happening sucks for those people who have worked for High Desert and Bakersfield these past many years, but from a player development standpoint, this will definitely benefit us going forward.

2016 Everett Aquasox Preview

June 17, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 6 Comments 

While my current annual schedule could make the full-blown, four-team minor league previews impossible, the good news, if you’re an aficionado of giant walls of text, is that I’m almost certainly going to be free to do Everett Aquasox previews. I figure it’s helpful for a team that draws on the regional Northwest to have a team preview for their affiliate in the Northwest League.

As is typical of NWL rosters, this one has more players than you could shake a wood bat at, which makes projecting who ends up where tricky at times. I feel like I could maybe draw up the first five of a lineup card, but thereafter it would be scribbles and assorted ciphers. “SS Brigman, RF Filia, 3B Zammarelli, RF Lewis, DH/IF Greer, (wingdings) C Goldstein, LF Leal? (further wingdings).” I’m also not at all confident in my projection of the rotation and am using the precedent of not having college guys rank up too much extra mileage to presume that the whole rotation is former HS draft picks and an international signing. We’ll see, I guess.

But outside of what looks like a young rotation, the rest of the lineup has a pretty veteran appearance and looks like they’ll get on-base and swing bats. I would say that run-scoring isn’t a concern for me, but that the success of the team is likely to be dictated by how well the rotation performs under the circumstances. How I ended up writing in the neighborhood of 3500 words is also a mystery, but one of these mysteries will be resolved while the other will be nodded at and kept at a respectful, out-of-earshot distance. Read on to hear who the emergency catcher will be!
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One Possible 2016 Mariners Draft Wrap

June 13, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 8 Comments 

That was fun, wasn’t it? Being Mariners fans, we’re never spared anxiety even when getting what we thought we wanted (Ackley, the recently-retired Phillippe Aumont, Alex Jackson so far), but not picking until #11 and landing a consensus top five talent is usually the type of boon that we see other teams getting. I don’t know that I have the same level of investment with the rest of the picks, but I will be excited to see Kyle Lewis in Everett once I get an opportunity to drive up there.

But let’s talk about the draft as a whole. All told, the Mariners selected forty players and only eleven of those were high schoolers, most of which appeared to be flier picks after round thirty. The team went slightly off radar a few times in their selections, but the general trend was to take advantage of the strengths of the draft, which were pitching and outfielders. The team drafted fifteen right-handers (plus a two-way guy), four left-handers, and nine total outfielders. That’s most of your picks right there.

Beyond that, it was intriguing to see what Tom McNamara was up to under the new front office, particularly as one of the few guys who was retained. My guess is that DiPoto’s thinking was that the farm system’s results were less based in identifying the wrong guys as failing to develop them. Whatever the case, DiPoto probably encouraged college drafting, as was his earlier preference, as one means of restocking and the Mariners came away with a draft that incidentally addressed a number of their weakness. We’re still looking for viable corner infielders and the draft didn’t do much to address catching depth, but there’s always NDFAs I guess.

You’re going to see quite a few “best tools” lists for the draft coming out sooner or later, but I think that sometimes those lists don’t tend to yield much in the way of surprises. Lewis has the best raw power. Astonishing. Rizzo is probably the most polished hitter. Do tell! Burrows and Festa have good fastballs! Wow! I feel like I have an okay grasp on a lot of the basics listed, but that’s not often where the interest resides for me, so with that in mind, I’m going to give out a few “awards” here and maybe hang out in the comments section after and we’ll see what happens. You can talk draft stuff some more with me, if you so choose, on this merciful off-day.
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So You Still Want Me to Write About the 2016 Draft

June 8, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 7 Comments 

What are YOU doing here?
(groans)

Well, as long as you’re here, what’s up with the 2016 draft?
It’s still far less rewarding than entering the Thunderdome for most.

Okay, smart-ass, be serious.
The baseball community hasn’t been actively talking shit about the draft this year, which seems positive by omission. The draft lacks the star power up top that other recent drafts have had, but then since we aren’t picking until eleven and there’s no consensus, it’s not likely to be a bad thing. What we’ve been seeing is that the college ranks aren’t as loaded as they have been in recent years. This is strange insofar as one of the major selling points of establishing pools and punishments for overage was that it would improve the quality of college baseball and attract attention to it (pause for laughter). Instead, this year has shown the emergence of various compelling HS prospects and it’s generally thought that teams will pursue those, provided that they’re signable. I don’t remember too many prospects explicitly stating an ironclad college commitment (which isn’t always ironclad), but even so, one would imagine that the level of depth is such that teams might try to prioritize HS first and then build out from the available college ranks from there.

When is this happening?
For a longer period of time than is preferable.

Use your words.
(groans again) Day one is Thursday and we’re starting up at four pm Pacific with rounds one and two. Three through ten will kick off on Friday at 10 am Pacific and then we get the more traditional phone call and potential visits with Tommy LaSorda from rounds eleven to forty starting at 9 am on Saturday.

What picks do we have?
#11 (1st,) #50 (2nd), then #87 (3rd) and intervals of thirty thereafter. No compensation round picks this year.
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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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