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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did you miss reading thousands of words on things of interest to a narrow subset of the human population? Well good news! Though my prose writing/analytic tendencies are largely occupied with other stuff these days (there’s also going to be a book review on Poetry Northwest’s site sometime soon), I still geek out enough about baseball and prospect happenings that some weird glitch in my brain triggers and I think, “sure, it sounds like a swell idea to write exhaustively on a subject with an inherently high attrition rate! Wheeeee!”
The overhead perspective on this year’s Lumberkings team is that there are some intriguing arms in the rotation who have had a limited or uneven track records so far, the bullpen features a few guys who might be fast-tracked later, the team’s primary catcher won’t be a hitting liability, the infield features a sleeper at the hot corner and a few Latin hitters of some potential, and then the outfield has The Second Coming and some other dudes who I guess are all right by mortal standards.
I’m typing frantically to get some of the other previews in order later (work schedule is not especially friendly at the moment), but in the meantime, the diversions shall take us through talk of baseball’s spread through particular portions of Latin America, twins, names and how one might speculatively pronounce them, bloodlines, teammates, associations one might make based off of initials and positions, a guy who could be on the C/OF track who isn’t an elite prospect, and players whose OBP exceeds their SLG. This somehow ended up more on-track than past entries, despite still not being edited under my usually rather attentive standards. Well, let’s get to it then.
Here’s a point of perplexity for me: Every year, baseball does a great deal to improve the profile of the minor leagues through active promotion of the flashy components. We get the Futures Game, and we get the Arizona Fall League, and we get the Draft being put on the rack and stretched out to three days with a lot of televised hooplah on day one to get people excited about a player development system that has uniquely bad returns among the sports. And yet, in the offseason, when I’m looking up information on the important dates, I can’t find a single thing on when 40-man rosters are supposed to be finalized in the 2014 season, but I can find information on when the GM Meetings occur even though nothing relevant has ever happened during them. They just happened. You didn’t know it. Who cares? Why not mention a deadline? Why is that important vetting process, without which most prospects are useless, wholly ignored by the sport’s own website? How long would it conceivably take to throw just a line of information on your website? That’s it. I’m through. (storms off)
(storms back) Okay. So the name of the game this year: ’10 high school draftees and early international signings, ’11 college draftees. Those are on the chopping block for the first time. I’m going over more than just the likely candidates here, but if I omit a name that you think is relevant, ugh, I’m sorry, there’s only so many candidates that I don’t expect to be added to the roster that I can fruitlessly cover anyway. Part of the issue is that, with how the Mariners have recently operated their player development system, remarkable players get added far earlier and so this deadline becomes more surprising on average but less sexy. Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller, and Carson Smith would be eligible for the first time— zowie!— if… they… hadn’t already been added to the 40-man some time ago. What we’re left with is sifting amongst the dudes who have not already been Mariners, which takes the enthusiasm out of it. Also looking at next year, which at least now, seems like it will be far more interesting.
[Author's note: I always think of more things to mention and this got out of hand pretty quickly. The final word tally is over 6500, but it all breaks down into discrete sections of 250-500 words, which are manageable. You will manage.]
One of the things I rarely see addressed is when people of repute in some field admit their own flaws and indiscretions in analysis. It’s as if the only real way to continue building our own ostensible authority is to focus on our own successes and elide anything that doesn’t cohere with that vision. For the people doing the baseball journalism or looking towards front office work as a career— perhaps for any other industry— I suppose credibility and the insistence of it are necessary. But as something of a removed observer on the subject of baseball, who prefers to do it out of interest rather than think of it as a vocation, I’m blessed with the ability to talk about happenings without stressing too much about credibility. If I’m right or wrong, since the subject is relegated to a hobby, I don’t think of it as reflecting poorly on who I am.
People wanted a mid-season review. People often want prospect lists too, but those suck because they presume steady and identifiable stratifications of talent, parity amongst teams, and comparable risk/reward factors. Even outside of prospecting, the utilities I would find for listing would comprise a small list in and of itself. So I’m more content to do a review, but with a twist: I’m not going to talk about what has happened and presume objectivity. Instead, I’m going to address, as best I am able, the areas in which I made private or public predictions as to player development and talk about where I’ve been right to this point, where wrong, and where I can give myself an incomplete grade. In some cases, I won’t talk about what interests you specifically and there isn’t a single thing about unexpected breakouts, but this is my experiment.
I know that people rely on me for some of these perspectives because I’ve been starting at this stuff for an inordinate length of time, but my judgment is by no means perfect and I have my own biases and instances where I’ve shot from the hip. I want people to recognize that when I’m saying these things, I’m giving my own perspective based on what data I have and how I do my own calculus with it. I can be wrong. I can hit on some things out of acuity and others out of happenstance, and miss out because of bad process and bad luck. I can also hope that people try to come at these quandaries with the same rigor I try to [now and then], but for now I’ll just share what I’ve found.