BA Locates Names of Ten Mariners Prospects

January 19, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 10 Comments 

Just before the holidays, fans of prospecting in general were gifted a tweet by Baseball America’s JJ Cooper which said what many had been thinking for a while:

Reading the back of the Mariners Top 30 for the Prospect Handbook. The back of this list is…..fascinating in a “Wow, we’re ranking this guy, and this guy and this guy and this guy.”

The Mariners have been in a precarious position for a while now, having traded off substantial amounts of lower minors prospects for near-ready depth with modest ceilings. Coupled with this, our draft strategy has been primarily to target competent and competitive replacements, and perhaps where we’ve had our greatest success is in selecting arms that we feel we can slot into bullpen work in short order. As such, the DiPoto era has almost excused itself from the trickier tasks of long-term development, as anything promising is quickly jettisoned and we’re left with an organization filled with organizational players. I said at the beginning of last draft that we were reaching a tipping point, beyond which was dangerous, in which we needed to focus on higher ceilings rather than replacement players. For a couple rounds, that was where our aims were, and then thereafter, not so much, which is part of why it’s not all that surprising to see a BA top ten list that has the first three names, the fifth and sixth, and then something of a free-for-all:

1. OF Kyle Lewis
2. 1B Evan White
3. RHP Sam Carlson
4. OF Julio Rodriguez
5. CF Braden Bishop
6. RHP Max Povse
7. RHP Matt Festa
8. RHP Art Warren
9. 3B Joe Rizzo
10. SS Juan Querecuto

Trending: DOWN Trades of eight players who ranked in the Top 30 Prospects a year ago have depleted the ranks.

I’m sparing you the next line which identifies as the non-coveted “worst farm system in baseball.”

If there’s anything promising that’s come out of listening into offseason conversations, it’s that DiPoto on the Wheelhouse podcast specifically stated that he thinks that we have finally arrived at the “tread water” point for our upper minors depth and can now comfortably focus on players that might take a little longer to bring along. He’s not wrong either in terms of how our depth is configured. Haniger, Gamel, Heredia, and Dee Gordon means that we can afford not to pressure Kyle Lewis or Braden Bishop. Ryon Healy, Vogelbach, and MAYBE Mike Ford mean that Evan White isn’t going to be counted on to be the first player of his draft class to hit the majors. For whatever else you think of Miranda, Erasmo Ramirez, and Mike Leake, they’ve at least got us fairly stable in the short term. One could also say that the fact that Jean Segura is locked into a long term contract makes it okay that we have traded away nearly every capable shortstop prospect we’ve had in recent memory.

In the longer run, sending away a lot of stuff leaves us with questions of resource allocation and whether it was worthwhile to, as some have characterized, make twenty moves only to still hover around .500. Hindsight makes such questions easier to answer, but in terms of prospecting, would you rather have Enyel de los Santos or what we got from Joaquin Benoit? Freddy Peralta or the Adam Lind experiment? Erick Mejia or Joe Wieland? Mike Montgomery and a quad-A starter or Daniels Valencia and Vogelbach? Zach Lee for Chris Taylor and the package that got us Smyly / Simmons were unexpected blow-ups, and had things worked out in the expected way, they would likely have been worthwhile. But the slow, untreated bleedout can ruin you just as easily as the bigger blow. Right now, I don’t feel confident in our ability to develop or to correctly evaluate more long-term assets.

It’s a bleak take on things, but then this is probably the thinnest, most top-heavy system I’ve seen in my sixteen+ years of following. There are positives to be taken away, such as the team continues to recruit Driveline guys as minor league free agents, has brought in Dr. Lorena Martin to help standardize conditioning practices, and has coaches that are increasingly savvy to how pitching and hitting mechanics are modeled. These are all great things to have to help you develop the talent that you have. We need more talent though. We need it badly.

’17 40-Man Preview Extravaganza

November 13, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 8 Comments 

Well, it’s that time of the year again. If you sense less enthusiastic intonations in my pixels this time around, you’re not wrong. As exciting… debatably exciting, as previous incarnations of the 40-man preview were, this year we find our cupboards more barren and the reasons are two-fold. One, as I’ve noted previously with some sneering, is that there has been some eagerness on our general manager’s part to send off risks for modest ceilings. Had we projected forward from the same time in 2016, then as 2017 40-man offseason additions, we likely would have been thinking about Tyler O’Neill and Zack Littell as prep draftees from ’13 and Luiz Gohara as an international signing as headliners. Heck, we could’ve even talked up the finer points of Pablo Lopez. Joke’s on us, it seems. The second reason is that our ’14 draft was not a major one for college selections (or any selections, really). The Rays will probably add Ryan Yarbrough and the Giants might add Tyler Herb, but we already have Altavilla on the roster and the rest have not much distinguished themselves. As exhaustive as I used to be in projecting guys who even had a ghost of a chance, I don’t think many losses from this group would come back to haunt us (rimshot).

I am duty-bound to report back on my findings, although I feel as if the acquisitions of Mike Marjama and David Freitas mean that we can safely overlook the coterie of catcher in the high minors, to say nothing of the fact that a lot of those fringe candidates are technically minor league free agents at the moment. The deadline we’re looking at for all additions would be Nov. 20th at 5 pm PT / 8 pm ET. Credit to Baseball America for providing that information as Major League Baseball’s own website doesn’t often bother anymore.

Omissions will include Jordan Cowan (faded after good start to end up sub-.700 in OPS), Adonis de la Cruz (reliever, walks, SSS), Anjul Hernandez (has some Ks, is youngish, great googly moogly walks and hits), and Chris Mariscal (older and exposed in double-A stint). Those I’ve mentioned in the past that haven’t really done much to make their cases since, I’ll also skip. Wow, sub-1500 words? I’m losing my edge.
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2017 Arizona Fall League Rosters Announced

August 29, 2017 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · Comment 

It says something, either about my habits, or attitudes towards the present season, or suspect mental state that I would have already narrowed down probable dates for Arizona Fall League rosters to be released to this Wednesday. And hey, what do you know? Headlined by first-round pick of yesteryear, center fielder Kyle Lewis, the Mariners will be sending eight players to fall ball. Joining Lewis will be RHPs Matthew Festa, Darin Gillies, Max Povse, and Art Warren, catcher Joe DeCarlo, utility man Eric Filia, and center fielder Braden Bishop. You may notice here that the AFL roster selection rules seem to have changed because that’s a lot of Cal League representation, if not currently, then earlier in the year. They’ll also have Yoel Monzon as a pitching coach on the staff, presently the pitching coach for the Peoria Mariners. Heck, he may not even bother with cleaning out his locker.

Lewis is probably where most people would start out, and rightly so. The 22-year-old probably still holds onto his spot as the system’s top prospect on athletic potential alone, but if you know the name, then it’s likely you also have a grasp on the history: A collision at the plate due to the catcher blocking the lane– the same type of collision now banned in the majors– resulted in him blowing out his ACL as well as his medial and lateral meniscus. For a guy who was hoped to be a centerfielder, that’s a big blow. Lewis didn’t get game action until June and then almost immediately banged up his knee again trying to play all-out defense on a play, and then disappeared for a couple of weeks. For much of the season, he’s been locked into the DH position to curb any Chris Snelling-like tendencies to hurt himself doing too much, but between the injuries and limited on-field performances, we’re only just now hitting a sample size in Modesto equal to what he had in Everett. August has been a lackluster month for him in the box as well, with an OPS in the mid-.600s, even as he is finally getting an opportunity to run around and play in the outfield. There are really two cases to be made here, the one that hopes that Lewis stands a better chance of getting back on track with rest and time, and the other that wants to see sustained offensive development. That being said, I’m not too surprised to see him here.

The second-greatest prospect of intrigue would probably be Braden Bishop. The one thing about having Bishop and Lewis on the same roster is that if they end up in the same outfield, whatever pressures are on Lewis to defend are scaled back dramatically. Based on .gifs and minor league video I’ve seen, Braden Bishop has a tendency to play defense as if he’s the only outfielder on staff and will routinely come out of nowhere to make plays. People have talked about him as a potential Gold Glove out there, perhaps in the Kevin Pillar mold, but for much of the season what we’ve talked about is Bishop’s offense. In college, he was a slap hitter, and a slap hitter he remained starting out. This past year, he trained in the offseason with fellow former Husky Jake Lamb and appears to have gotten stronger and is coming at the plate with a different setup. Baseball Census has an excellent side-by-side comparison of his two seasons in the Cal League and it’s my opinion that Bishop has probably done more to solidify his prospect status this year than anyone else in the system. The beauty of his skill set is that he can add a lot of value with the glove alone, but any increase however incremental in his hitting abilities means more stretch-doubles and runs scored. I could see him contributing, maybe not next year, but 2019 seems like a reasonable estimate.

Between Bishop and Lewis, those are two prospects that you’re potentially going to have in the top five, locked for the top ten minimum. Where Povse slots may depend on your opinion of him and how he’s used, but he may be a top ten as well by some reckoning and will retain rookie status headed into 2018. One of the stories of earlier in the summer was that Jerry DiPoto had the clever idea that the Mariners bullpen needed a Chris Devenski, a guy who could do short to medium relief and fill in innings with strikeout potential. Povse was initially tabbed as that guy and fast-tracked into debuting in late-June. Of course, since then, the Mariners have seen the emergence of another pitcher who can fill a similar role in Emilio Pagan, who has not started games in the minor leagues at all. Taking the pressure off Povse to be that guy may be good, as he’s the 6’8″, long-limbed Tall Wall who has had some difficulty getting his mechanics in order. As a reliever, the need for extra pitches would be minimized, but the boom-and-bust of “some days he has it and some days he doesn’t” is magnified, and moreover the team needs starting pitching in a bad way at the moment. For Tacoma, Povse has made three of his last four appearances as a starter and the most recent two embody that intriguing potential of his and the accompanying risk. One outing was four and two-thirds frames of no-hit ball with a 7/1 K/BB, the next, four frames with two runs allowed on three hits, a hit batter, two walks, and four strikeouts. It’ll be hard not to take what role he’s used in the AFL as indicative of Something, but give precedence to what’s said about him.

After Povse, who has already pitched in the majors, Festa might be the next closest. Festa was the smaller of our D-II selections in the first ten rounds of last year, but the stuff is very much real and he tops out at 96 mph. The repertoire is also deep enough to handle multiple innings, but then this is one of multiple notes about him that really make you stop and look at his statline and think, “wait, what?” The 24-year-old has kind of been a sleeper due to age and expectations, but he’s thrown 66.2 innings in thirty-nine appearances and over that span has a 96/19 K/BB. No, those aren’t typos, that’s nearly a K and a half every inning and a walk maybe every three or more. Given all the other happenings in system, the Mariners have demonstrated remarkable restraint in not pushing him to double-A. Still, he’s one guy that I wouldn’t be surprised to see next season, even if ideally, we won’t have to make as many calls out that direction as we have this year.

Speaking of interesting statlines and modest draft profiles, we also have another recent (current, actually) Modesto Nut on the roster in Eric Filia. You may know the story here, but to refresh, he had taken some time away from school and came back to UCLA looking like a bonafide prospect. The slugging this year has been lower than where he was in Everett, but he remains very difficult to strike out and has only done so about every eleven ABs this season. This leaves him as the rare bird with a lop-sided K/BB at 42/63. While some players with elite plate discipline end up going on to develop power later in their careers, such has not yet been the case for Filia, who has fewer dingers in the Cal League than he did in the NWL and in far more plate appearances. Putting aside the offensive profile aspects, the eye-catcher here is his listing as an infielder. Filia has played the outfield corners in the past, but has been increasingly seeing time at first. While he does swing lefty, the fact that he throws right-handed opens up more options for him on the field as a utility player. If Filia manages to show as much defensive versatility as say, a Danny Valencia, or worst-case, first and the corners, that still opens up more options for him where the bat can continue to do what it does well, namely slap the ball around. He’s another guy who has a fun little Baseball Census profile, so give that a look as well.

Warren has served as an off-and-on closer for Nuts and also boasts about a K per inning in his pitching lines. Yet, the advanced metrics don’t like him all that much. Statcorner has him in the red with a nBB% of 11 and a K% of 24, and that helps to explain some of it, as does the fact that Warren gives up hits a bit more readily. I know I’ve been plugging them a bit in this post, but I think it’s deserved because I wouldn’t really know much about Warren had I not read yet another Baseball Census profile on him. The story is fairly similar to any other you’d expect to find in spring training: A changed diet, a changed workout regiment, BSohL. These would be platitudes without the results, which Warren has, having gone from a high-80s starter to a low-to-mid-90s reliever. Like Festa, the arsenal is deeper than average as well. I’m wanting to see better command before I’m totally comfortable with him as a potential contributor.

For DeCarlo… well, one more Modesto Nut, one more guy you can find info on online? DeCarlo’s was one of the Mariners-like picks that I had grown accustomed to in that he was a second selection as a big-bodied prep infielder who played short in the past but hey so did Jim Thome when he was in high school. In DeCarlo’s case, he’s been following the same track as fellow farmhand Marcus Littlewood, another kid drafted at short who had good instincts and not-great wheels until the organization decided to try him out as a backstop. And why convert one shortstop to the Tools of Ignorance when you could convert TWO? Part of this is representative of a dearth in organization depth spurring the move. DeCarlo doesn’t look great out there yet. In forty-six defensive games, eighteen passed balls and a 26% CS rate. Yet he’s also doing an entirely new thing and his offense, while suffering, has not cratered, with a loss in average almost entirely accounting for the drops in OBP, SLG, and OPS. What’s been good about DeCarlo as a minor leaguer is that, while he doesn’t have the tools to hit for high-average, he absolutely can take walks and hit for power now and then. The secondary averages, as such, have been solid despite a high-K rate. More reps can only help him, yet I don’t find myself thinking that he’s a risk to be Rule 5’d just yet because of the SSS and lack of time in the high minors. We’ll muse on that next year, depending on how he takes.

Our last but not least is Darin Gillies, which is one R and two Ls for your reference there. Gillies is not much written about, being the guy in the tenth round of 2015 whom they threw $10k at in the hopes of saving top ten pool money elsewhere. That being said, you wouldn’t expect him to be in double-A and holding his own, and yet he is. Gillies has been on an aggressive track, but it’s double-A that has presented something of a challenge for him. Whereas last year, he had a .186 combined average and a 75/18 K/BB through 66.2 innings, he’s now at a .229 average against and a 44/24 K/BB in 56.2 innings in double-A. That’s not as impressive, but again, our data is limited. We know he was at ASU and in and out of the bullpen for his four years there. We know that he threw 90 mph or so in HS. If nothing else, the AFL selects for the willing, but Gillies may be a guy that we soon have more data on, and more data is always welcome.

The season will commence on October 10th, as the Javelinas play a day game against the Desert Dogs.

More Thoughts Than You Need on That Trade

July 27, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 11 Comments 

Being of a somewhat ruminatory disposition without the requisite number of stomachs to make that useful, the trade of last Friday has remained stuck in my craw. I’d like to use a new, off-day post, then, to address some comments that came up in the original post, because visibility and all sorts of marketing buzzwords that belie the fact that I haven’t been paid to do this in years.

One comment that came up was that we have the appearance of an outfield that looks fairly set with young cost-controlled players, ergo, who would be displaced? Were we not trading from one position of strength into an area of dearth? I mentioned some of my misgivings with that type of analysis earlier, specifically that Gonzales (who again, I’m not here to trash) has no options remaining after this year and still has some endurance and breaking pitch repertoire questions which he would invariably have to answer in the major leagues on a competing team rather than in a lower-stress, controlled environment.

But to speak more specifically to the point of “where would we put O’Neill?”, this is the type of question that needs to be answered with an assessment of what we have. It goes without saying (but here I go saying anyway) that to assess the strength of one position area, the outfield, is going to present different roster construction issues than those that led us to trade away Jason Vargas and Doug Fister because we had a bunch of high-quality pitching prospects on the way of which only Paxton remains. However, one ought to be careful not to overvalue present configurations. For one thing, we need a center fielder. Dyson is effectively a rental, we may never see Leonys Martin again (we may though!), and Guillermo Heredia will likely remain a fun player but not exactly a starting CF on a contender. Both Gamel and Haniger can fit in CF and have done so in the past. It’s not perfect, but it does allow you to maneuver an O’Neill into a corner without much loss as he’s a pretty decent defender on his own there. If it doesn’t work right away, you still have three option years! Neat!

As a corollary to this point, we ought to be careful not to overvalue our major league assets simply because they’re in the majors. Haniger has had a small sample size of success where he remade his swing going into this year. I would argue that what we’ve seen of him slumping (hey, his OPS is still better than former RotY contender Andrew Benintendi) is probably brought about by the oblique issue he had more than any other physical deficiencies, but we should bear in mind that nailing down swing mechanics may only be slightly less difficult than nailing down pitching mechanics and once muscle memory gets involved, you’re fighting an uphill battle. Haniger will have to work hard when/if he puts the oblique issue behind him to get back on track again. To speak to Gamel, he’s been great so far. My mom even knows his name and uses it to try to talk to me about baseball and I don’t know that she’s been able to recognize anyone post-Ichiro. But Gamel also is running a .420 BABIP right now and there are risks involved. I could tell you about the troubles of expecting long-term positional security based off a sample size even of a year, but you should know this. After all, I am speaking to Mariners fans.

The tertiary point that I want to bring in was really the one that I came for, which is that if I’m setting myself as being against the “trade volatile upside for more modest, predictable returns,” then what exactly is the alternative that I’m proposing as a course of action. I do believe that constantly emphasizing something resembling safety is a quick way to get you a roster which will yield you regular season wins and a post-season whooping, but I really want to take a look at this in terms of the field of DiPoto’s transactions so far.

Not all trades are going to burn us. Sending Elias and Smith for Miley and Aro ended up being okay because we spun Miley off into Ariel Miranda and Smith has been hurt. Trading away two rookie league pitchers for Ben Gamel, whatever he is going forward, looks smart now. I still like the trade in the offseason with Arizona. It doesn’t immediately look like Chase de Jong for Drew Jackson and wild thing Aneruys Zabala is going to be the subject of lament. The results have sucked with Smyly, but the process made sense. However, when you give volume away and scatter your talent over a number of transactions, you’re going to get burned eventually.

Carlos Herrera and Freddy Peralta got us the frustration that was a season of Adam Lind. We turned Enyel de los Santos into Drew Storen after an intermediary period of Joaquin Benoit, and then decided we weren’t going to keep Storen. Zach Lee for Chris Taylor didn’t look bright even when Taylor was still only a competent defender who could control the zone. Chris Heston sort of turned into Tyler Herb and it’s debatable which would have been better to start. Alex Jackson and Tyler Pike turned into Max Povse and Rob Whalen. Jason Goldstein was flipped for Dillon Overton. And now, in a higher profile move, we have O’Neill for Gonzales. MLB trades are not Baseball Mogul or name-your-simulator where you can send off an amount of “stuff” that reaches a certain threshold and, bam, here’s your good player. However, you can look at other recent transactions like what the Royals did with the Padres a few days ago to get Cahill and more or even the Twins getting Jaime Garcia and wonder about the differences in return. Odds are, if we had kept certain talents for longer and developed them more, we would now be in a position to make a good trade that would damage our farm system but give us a more certain short-term contributor without emptying us out completely. If you’re committed to trading guys off to improve your team regardless, you may as well target good players as opposed to several different versions of something that you can hope patch the back end of the rotation.

To return to my earlier quip of last week’s post about sending good money after bad, it’s a lot of talent that we’ve sent away, mostly for potential back-end starters but also the occasional first base project and veteran relievers for added stability. Last night over twitter feeds, there came Ken Rosenthal’s rather dour prediction of a Sonny Gray trade to the Mariners that included another needle: ““I’ve never gotten it,” one rival executive says. “It feels like he has made 348 trades to turn a .500 team into a .500 team.”” Like most snappy and strongly-worded opinions built on hyperbole, it’s not accurate, but neither is it entirely false. It’s been a risk-averse approach that leaves us hoping to occasionally find a diamond and then sending more resources away when we fail to get that diamond. I can’t help but think that if we had just stood by our resources over the past several years rather than compulsively making transactions, we would have enough now to pick Gray and Alonso or your trade of choice without totally wrecking our future outlook. Instead, we may make a desperation move that will leave us without rebuilding materials once our window closes. That’s not the type of process that I find comforting.

A Hater’s Guide to the Recent Trade

July 21, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 4 Comments 

One probably shouldn’t write analysis while still somewhat angry, although that’s what I find myself doing as a means of processing. In the hours following this morning’s trade, I’ve had a lot of back and forth with fellow fans, so I thought I might take the opportunity to share my thoughts since I technically have a platform to do so. I want to disclaim at the outset a few things that I think will help clarify my position a little. One is that I have been a Tyler O’Neill fan since he was drafted and regard him as a player who has a high potential to be Fun and this trade has depleted important Fun reserves. We all overvalue our own assets, particularly relative to what’s previously unknown to us, and time is necessary develop a coherent assessment that isn’t tinged with our own personal fondness. The second is that I don’t at all intend this as an attack on Gonzales, whom I hope does well. My problem with this trade tends to be more around the philosophies behind it.

A good starting point for commentary here would be Dave’s piece at FanGraphs, which has some important information I’d like to borrow. This trade, as Dave identifies, is part of a larger constellation of trades that has involved far too many pitchers: Miranda, de Jong, Bergman, Weber, and guys that are no longer even in the organization like Overton and Heston. Another helpful point I’d like to point to is that DiPoto admits to his involvement with the trade market and how the demand for pitching, with a good many teams clustered around the wild card standings, has resulted in a situation where you have a seller’s market. It’s easy to say we should go out and knock on our interleague rival’s doors and ask what they might need in exchange for Cahill or Chacin, but harder still to come up with something that works as a solution because so are maybe a dozen other teams of various strengths who are similarly making calls in their Sunday best. In this sense, it’s good that we saw one of DiPoto’s favorite qualities, team control, crop up in this particular exchange, as I think a lot of us would be more miffed if we were going all in and giving up prospects for impending free agents, especially since we follow a team with an aging core.

The Mariners in their present, healthy configuration don’t appear to be all that bad, or at least not so bad that making moves looks necessarily foolish. The team has been strong on offense and most of its liabilities there, Martin, Vogelbach, Gosewich, are no longer with the club nor necessarily expected to help in the stretch run. The value we’ve gotten from pitching, however, is of a far different nature and our position is more to hope and pray that the same guys we used in April and May are not integral to our playoff chase. As Greg Johns noted, the team has used a historic number of pitchers so far, breaking established team records, and we’re not even into August yet. Thus, while on average, our pitching looks pretty vulnerable, those averages are also dependent on guys that are not on the team right now, your Hestons and your Overtons and your Fiens. The superficial take is that it’s Paxton + maybe good Felix again? + Vincent/Diaz + mooks, but it’s not really as bad as all that and we appear to have gotten into something more stable that could also be productive. That being said, it’s not wrong to want to look around and try to come up with someone who isn’t Sam Gaviglio to start every fifth day.

The philosophical problems I have with this is the general sensation that we’re trying to throw good money after bad. The team was interesting enough coming out of the offseason, as we expected Smyly to solidify the rotation and maybe we’d get bounce-backs elsewhere and Paxton would figure out his stuff. Paxton has been pretty rad, but otherwise our luck has been terrible. Not only did Smyly’s injury leave us scrambling (the injury to Shae Simmons shouldn’t be undersold either, even if it’s not something we pay much lipservice to), what options we’ve had to replace him and others have done as much harm as good. If any of these pitchers had managed to contribute at a competent level, we probably wouldn’t have to make this trade today. Mind you, even with the rep as a minor league analyst, I don’t have as much of an issue with the Zach Littell for James Pazos trades as long as they contribute, what I take issue with are the trades that resemble Enyel de los Santos for Joaquin Benoit. From my vantage, we’re giving away good assets in an attempt to patch over bad luck. All playoff teams need good breaks in order to get where they’re going, but buying at a premium to offset a series of bad breaks doesn’t seem to be the right way to go, particularly when the market has already set its own premiums.

Beyond the rather curious use of internal resources, there’s the matter of trying to evaluate O’Neill versus Gonzales in their respective prospect statuses. O’Neill is very much a boom or bust prospect who has been booming lately. He’s often been portrayed as one-dimensional for that by outside evaluators, a guy who is going to be striking out a lot and maybe get you some longballs in exchange. He could be anything from a middle of the order hitter who plays competent defense for a slugger to a guy that you keep as a platoon hitter whom you sometimes use as a pinch-hitter and cross your fingers. What Gonzales provides you is more stable, in theory, because pre-injury he was regarded as a potential plus #3 starter, but those qualifiers are awfully important. Gonzales has already had Tommy John surgery, and while a version of Tyler O’Neill that doesn’t reach his potential can still be somewhat useful, a version of Gonzales that is injured and unable to pitch is not.

Furthermore, the Cardinals will be getting three option years with which to figure out what they need to do with O’Neill and are in no rush to get him into the lineup. Last I checked, Gonzales is out of options after this year and if his recovery or the development of a viable breaking ball takes some time, it’s something that we’d have to let him do in the major leagues. This doesn’t even touch on the likelihood that we will have to use him soon while simultaneously trying desperately not to overwork him and screw up his arm again. I’d like to hope that this year has helped demonstrate the virtues of patience in player development, as there’s only so much you can teach a guy who is trying to help you win games now.

The Mariners were operating under a series of constraints both internal and external. They’d had bad luck in the major leagues, a farm system that has ranked in the bottom third for a long time, and needed pitching at a time when pitching was going to go for a premium. In light of this, they still decided to send off one of their more interesting assets in a swap of skillset risk for injury risk. That’s not an exchange I feel terribly confident in us coming ahead on, and it’s telling that even with a farm system that rates ahead of ours, most flash analysis put O’Neill higher internally with the Cardinals than Gonzales is rated with us.

2017 Everett Aquasox Preview(-ish)

June 26, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 7 Comments 

Having earlier opted not to conduct an on-time preview of the Everett Aquasox, I now turn in one for the second, rather brief homestand feeling justified. The draft happened. Four days after it concluded, some twenty-seven players were announced as signed, almost entirely from the college ranks. College players typically end up in the Northwest League. We’re through the looking glass here, people.

Suffice to say, things have changed a bit since the initial games and so I don’t think we can really project a record based on what’s already happened. As per usual, I’ve typed up in excess here and made reference to things, mostly literary, as it interested me to do so. The overall scope of the team is that the outfield should make people happy offensively and defensively, the backstops are as good as we’ve had in a while, the infield has three listed first basemen (one of them is even good!) and a strong performer at second, the rotation has some potential and dudes we’re trying to get a better sense of. The bullpen? Well, there are a lot of relievers too and a fair number of them could slip back into starting next season. Pitching had been a sore spot for the team in the early goings, but I expect that the new additions will help.
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The 2017 Draft: Days Two and Three, Open Thread

June 13, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 29 Comments 

Since interest tends to dwindle as the draft goes on, I figured I would condense these and we’ll see if interested parties still post come Wednesday, when I fully expect the Mariners to select Gunnar Buhner in the 19th round.

Gosh, what will happen today? It’s difficult to guess at although one mode behind the Mariners drafts of late has been to go hard on the Day One picks and from there take signability selections that might help gain some maneuvering room on the bonus pool. Given that Carlson was projected as a first-rounder, it wouldn’t be a shock to me to see some of the same now, and I’m okay with that. To get those two nominally in system (we’ll wait for the signing) is a big deal and helps us both now and later. Whatever happens beyond this is gravy, although it bears mentioning that the Mariners have had successes on what is now the draft’s second day, and under McNamara’s guidance as well (Yes, I know Scott Hunter is the guy now, but Mac remains around). To name a few, we’ve had Kyle Seager, James Paxton, Carter Capps, Carson Smith, Edwin Diaz, Chris Taylor, Emilio Pagan, and Dan Altavilla. All were day two selections and some were merely expected to take the contract and get to work. They’ve worked out okay for us.

If you’re looking for local connections, Washington catcher Joey Morgan is still available as is Seattle U LHP Tarik Skubal. I have some faith in the Zunino turnaround and have had moments watching games recently that have made me think “whoa, that was Edgar-like,” but I think that catcher is a position that perhaps ought to be addressed with one of our first ten picks here. Of course, we haven’t done our mid-Atlantic thing yet so for all I know we’ll kick the tires on Maryland SS Kevin Smith, or South Carolina RHP Tyler Johnson, or Old Dominion SS Zach Rutherford, or Virginia CF/SS Ernie Clement. Or maybe we’ll just go guns ablazin’ into the D-II ranks again and see what we uncover there. I’m not too picky and scouting is about as inexact a science as we have, so let’s see what happens and move from there.

Day Two Review:
Round 3: RHP Wyatt Mills, Gonzaga, 6’4″, 185 lbs, 1/25/95
Round 4: RHP Seth Elledge, Dallas Baptist, 6’3″, 230 lbs, 5/20/96
Round 5: C David Banuelos, Long Beach, R/R, 6’0″, 205 lbs, 10/1/96
Round 6: LHP Oliver Jaskie, Michigan, 6’4″, 215 lbs, 11/17/95
Round 7: LHP Max Roberts, Wabash Valley CC, 6’5″, 160 lbs, 7/23/97
Round 8: CF Billy Cooke, Coastal Carolina, R/R, 5’10”, 175 lbs, 9/26/95
Round 9: LHP Jorge Benitez, Leadership Christian Academy, 6’3″, 155 lbs, 6/1/99
Round 10: RHP Randy Bell, South Alabama, 5’10”, 190 lbs, 2/11/95

As we get into Day Three, one thing to keep in mind is that teams can sign any players beyond the 11th round for $100k without being penalized. If they do exceed that marker, then the penalty goes against their pool for the first ten rounds, so any money saved early on can effectively be re-allocated to later rounds if the need arises. It’s one reason why you sometimes see more preps later on and a lot of senior signings in rounds 3-10. For added flavor, since I listed notable picks of Day Two, here are picks in Day Three that have been worthwhile: Keone Kela (who ended up with the Rangers, as we know), Dominic Leone, and a host of guys still in the minors who remain interesting like Zach Littell, whom we traded to the Yankees, and Ian Miller, who is probably a future fourth OF at the very least.

Also, as one final caveat, the Everett Aquasox open this Thursday, but I’ve seen the opening day roster and it is presently more than half recent DSL prospects. I think that waiting a little bit before trying to break out a team preview would be a good idea.

Day Three Review:
Round 11: LHP JP Sears, The Citadel, 5’11”, 180 lbs, 2/19/96
Round 12: RHP Darren McCaughan, Long Beach, 6’1″, 200 lbs, 3/18/96
Round 13: RHP Luis Alvarado, Nebraska, 6’4″, 180 lbs, 1/5/97
Round 14: C Trevor Casanova, El Camino CC, L/R, 6’0″, 200 lbs, 6/22/96
Round 15: RHP Tommy Romero, Eastern Florida State CC, 6’2″, 225 lbs, 7/8/97
Round 16: LHP Orlando Razo, UC Davis, 5’11”, 185 lbs, 2/7/95
Round 17: RHP Jamal Wade, Maryland, 6’0″, 205 lbs, 2/8/96
Round 18: CF Myles Christian, Olive Branch HS, L/R, 6’2″, 180 lbs, 2/26/98
Round 19: SS Kevin Santa, Tampa, L/R, 5’10”, 180 lbs, 3/9/95
Round 20: C Troy Dixon, St Johns, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 4/26/95
Round 21: SS Connor Hoover, North Georgia, L/R, 5’10”, 185 lbs, 7/18/96
Round 22: SS Johnny Adams, Boston College, R/R, 6’0″, 200 lbs, 9/2/94
Round 23: RHP Sam Delaplane, Eastern Michigan, 5’11”, 175 lbs, 3/27/95
Round 24: SS Louis Boyd, Arizona, R/R, 5’10”, 170 lbs, 5/4/94
Round 25: RHP Bryan Pall, Michigan, 6’1″, 215 lbs, 10/28/95
Round 26: RHP Austin Hutchison, U Mt Olive, 6’1″, 205 lbs, 4/9/95
Round 27: RHP Collin Kober, McNeese St., 6’1″, 185 lbs, 9/8/94
Round 28: CF Johnny Slater, Michigan, 6’1″, 185 lbs, 8/9/95
Round 29: RHP David Gerber, Creighton, 6’1″, 200 lbs, 9/24/94
Round 30: RHP Scott Boches, Marist, 6’5″, 205 lbs, 10/17/94
Round 31: 3B Ryan Costello, Central Connecticut St., L/R, 6’2″, 200 lbs, 6/13/96
Round 32: 1B Ryan Garcia, Point Loma Nazarene, L/L, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 7/8/95
Round 33: LHP Chris Castellanos, Stanford, 5’10”, 185 lbs, 5/8/95
Round 34: LHP David Hesslink, MIT, 6’2″, 165 lbs, 4/12/95
Round 35: RHP Hunter Lonigro, Connelsville Area School, 6’3″, 190 lbs, 10/29/98
Round 36: CF Heston Kjerstad, Canyon Randall HS, S/R, 6’3″, 180 lbs, 2/12/99
Round 37: CF Jesse Franklin, Seattle Prep, L/L, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 12/1/98
Round 38: LHP Kolby Somers, Century HS, 6’1″, 195 lbs, 6/3/99
Round 39: SS Jack Smith, Mercer Island HS, R/R, 6’2″, 185 lbs, 7/26/99
Round 40: 3B Zach Needham, Edmonds CC, S/R, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 6/7/97

Even in the best of years, even when it was fifty rounds loaded into a single day, the conclusion of the draft can be best described as putting me into a kind of stupor, which is no slight to any of the personnel or players involved, but rather an acknowledgement of the mass of information one is expected to absorb in a small span of time. It’s also too large a data pool to be able to craft a narrative from so instead I’ll leave with these parting remarks.

* I previously presented the organization as being at a crossroads where they would do well to decide whether or not they were going to invest heavily in the high school ranks and more long-range projects or whether they would continue to buoy themselves on college players who more readily provide organization depth. This draft really looks to be more of the latter, although there are a few interesting spots here and there like Jamal Wade being a recent outfielder, Alvarado being a recent infielder, and Max Roberts from the second day of the draft being just nineteen. You might also note that Roberts and Carlson are both Driveline guys, joining Andrew Moore in system, and that amidst the velocity renaissance the league is having, it’s possible that what works for some will catch on further. The Mariners didn’t spend much time in the prep ranks, but neither are all of their college selections “finished products.” Although a lot of them are.

* McNamara drafts were heavy on D-II and mid-Atlantic schools, whereas if there’s one thing that you’re likely to notice, glancing over this list for Scott Hunter, it’s that there are an awful lot of selections out of the state of Michigan, much like Tampa used to continually raid Washington state in the MLB draft. I don’t get it precisely, but I speculated that it could be a Madeja thing and I’ll stick to that notion. For whatever else can be said, the fact that the organization is drafting so many players from one particular college would seem to suggest that they saw a lot of them, enough to get to know them and have that familiarity with them edge out other considerations.

* Taking stock of the trends that emerged: Pitchers who know the strike zone, outfield playmakers, athleticism at positions that don’t always demand it.

* Probably the most interesting player brought to us by the D-II ranks is Ryan Garcia, who like Evan White, is a slick defender at first who is likely to save you some runs on the infield. It should be noted that Hutchison is also from the same school that formerly brought us Carter Capps.

* The answer to the odd question of “what are we doing drafting a guy out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?” is that he’s already on payroll, or rather, he loved Randy Johnson and spent some time working on stuff like 3D-mapping of pitch planes, run projections, and computer-aided shifting, and so now he’s part of our analytics department. Cool beans.

* As the Mariners have been wont to do of late, the mid-to-late-30s contained a run on prep prospects, largely local ones, on the off-chance that they can be signed out of whatever other college they were committed to. Don’t read too much into it, nor should you expect much to come out of it, but sometimes they do play.

The 2017 Draft: A Day One Thread

June 12, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 12 Comments 

Today, we have divided attentions, bearing down on the prospect of a Mariners game against the Twins simultaneous with the start of the start of the Major League Baseball Draft. It’s peculiar that the only of the three major sports that drafts during its own season would have nine games, eighteen of thirty teams active, for its big debutante ball, but then again, Yovani Gallardo is pitching for the Mariners. Maybe you don’t want to watch a Mariners game. Maybe you want to instead get irrationally invested in the drafting or not drafting of long-term prospects, like falling in love with strangers on the street and momentarily imagining an entire life only to feel the crush of recognition as they meet with their intended rendezvous. Yessir, the draft sure is dumb. But then the lottery can be more about purchasing the respite of a daydream than the expectation of making bank. Unless you’re tasked with developing those players in which case, godspeed.

The draft comes at an opportune time for the organization as they’re presently trying to take inventory of their investments and where they need to be moving forward. If I’m continuing the lotto metaphor for a bit, the early trend of the DiPoto regime has been to trade off numbers for more distant Powerball drawings in exchange for fistfuls of scratch tickets. We’ve exchanged potential, higher long-term value in return for immediate dividends of lesser value. It’s helped the team remain somewhat competitive during an absurd rash of injuries but, to give you a brief peek behind the other side of the keyboard, attempting to write top prospect lists for the system this year was a chore because the system is top-heavy and beyond that are potential fill-ins and little to daydream on. Baseball America, a fairly reliable inventory of prospects, ranked us 23rd in baseball, a step up from the 25th and 28th we were at in previous years, but with many of those prospects burning through prospect eligibility as we speak, the ratings could easily drop heading into next season.

Thus, the team is in an interesting position to be drafting, despite its later position in the first round. How do you feel about the core of the team moving forward, if we’re guessing that some of the O’Neill, Lewis, Vogelbach, Peterson group could be contributing soon, mitigating the fears of an aging roster? Or do you look at the pitching staff with hope for Moore filling in and the solidification of the bullpen ranks, or are you more concerned with our lack of contingency planning? The Mariners have spent a few years now uncomfortably trying to serve the needs of competing masters, those wanting immediate playoff contention and those recognizing that an internal rebuild has been overdue for generations of GMs now.

What we see this afternoon and on through Wednesday will be something of a glimpse into how the organization sees itself, albeit with the variables that accompany other teams deciding on their own needs ahead of us. Pitching or hitting? Do we aim for nearer contributors by taking advantage of the top-heavy nature of the college ranks or do we take advantage of the rather substantial group of live arms and toolsy outfielders in the prep ranks? Whatever options we go with, I’d imagine that our selections in rounds one and two today will find themselves among the system’s top names nearly by default.

Selections begin at 4 pm Pacific and we’ll have picks #17 and #55 to look forward to. Once we hit day two, I’ll open another post and toss some names out there and maybe chime in as day three gets going. I may very well edit in some scalding hot takes on the selections as they come in for us. Do not handle these takes with your bare hands.

Round 1: 1B/OF Evan White, R/L, 6’3”, 180 lbs, 4/26/96
2015: 52 G, 217 AB, 27 R, 69 H, 12 2B, 3B, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 3 SB, CS, 33/15 K/BB, .318/.369/.410
2016: 54 G, 226 AB, 44 R, 85 H, 15 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 40 RBI, 10 SB, 3 CS, 42/14 K/BB, .376/.419/.535
2017: 53 G, 212 AB, 48 R, 79 H, 24 2B, 3B, 10 HR, 41 RBI, 5 SB, 2 CS, 31/25 K/BB, .373/.453/.637

As we were about five picks in, nearly every mock I was looking at became useless and providing conflicting information. The last-second BA mock gave us Jo Adell, which I would have been satisfied with, as a fan of outfielders with ridiculous tools. Pratto to the Royals threw me a little, as I’d be into any 1B with a Votto comp and liked the idea of positional versatility. I saw that J.B. Bukauskas was on the board and then immediately concluded that the Astros would draft him (I was right). Names came off, I found myself caught up in thinking about whatever best player dropping to us, since it was becoming clear that we’d end up with a quality player regardless due to various slippages.

I hadn’t been giving all that much thought to Evan White specifically. The idea of him crossed my mind a few days ago as this: “What intrigues me about Pratto as an atypical 1B prospect seems like it’s more polished in White, maybe with a different sense of ceiling.” Most of the mocks had him going earlier or not in our immediate neighborhood and there were other players that seemed more like our type, so the idea fleeted onward. Yet, here we are, having selected a first baseman who grew up in Ohio watching Votto above all other players on the Reds and I’m thinking, maybe this is right, even if unexpected.

White doesn’t really have a whole lot of easy comparison points because he’s a five-tool first baseman. He’s a bat-right, throw-left type, like Guillermo Heredia and also myself (Note: I should not be allowed to play first). He’s won a gold glove at Kentucky, can run at an above-average clip, could probably pitch with above-average velocity for a southpaw if it came to it. It’s feasible to imagine him playing an outfield corner, accounting for present speed and body type development. The knock against him right now is that he’s had some time to establish a profile as a good hitter, but power has not been immediate or easy to come by until this past season when he knocked out ten home runs. Game power is generally regarded as his worst tool, anomalous for a first baseman.

On the other hand, is this really something that we have to worry about now? For the years of the Jack Zduriencik administration, we emphasized dominant power, thinking that we could teach hitting later. That didn’t necessarily work out for us. However, we did have a good hitter in Kyle Seager who, upon shifting over to a power position, taught himself how to hit for power. We got some dingers out of Leonys Martin, which wasn’t expected previously. The aforementioned Heredia has hit home runs more frequently than I would have anticipated. I think that the current organization would prefer to start with a solid hitting foundation and see what can come of the power numbers later, a philosophy that would lead them to picks like Joe Rizzo in the second-round last year, and have them steering away from Guillermo Pimentel/Phillips Castillo types on the international market.

The uniqueness of White’s physical profile makes easy comparisons impossible. It’s sort of exciting in that sense, since you’re buying into a combination of foundational skills and physical ability and waiting to see what happens. One name I saw thrown out there was Darin Erstad, and if he plays more like the early career Erstad, who regularly took home positional awards, I think we could live with that. But more than Lewis did, this particular first-round pick provides interesting player development questions, one that I think I have more faith in us solving than in years past. I’d probably slot him as the #2 prospect in the system right now, between Lewis and O’Neill, and I hope to get a better sense of him in Everett later this summer.

Round 2: RHP Sam Carlson, 6’3”, 195 lbs, 12/3/1998
2016: 4-2, 7 G (4 GS), 2 CG, 1.32 ERA in 41.0 IP, 22 H, 12 R (6 ER), 48/17 K/BB
2017: 5-0, 8 G (7 GS), 2 CG (SHO), 0.69 ERA in 39.0 IP, 22 H, 3 R, 51/7 K/BB

Earlier, I made the remark of observing the difficulty in serving two masters, playing both for now and later. To pick both White and Carlson may throw that basic notion out of the window, although we’ll see what comes of day two. Selecting both good preps and good college players would be, satisfactory to my sensibilities.

To throw a statement out there that’s weird mostly for its obscurity, the pick of Carlson, the top prospect out of the Minnesota ranks, reminds me of the days when Ken Madeja was our Midwest crosschecker. Since he’s still within the organization, having survived multiple GM tenures now, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was one of his guys, and it would actually make me feel all right given that the man does have a decent track record.

Carlson was something of a late bloomer, one of many guys who rises in the ranks because he suddenly is throwing a lot harder and with an improved breaking ball. Last summer, he was average fastball velocity, now he’s been clocked 93-97 mph. The breaker looks more like a slider than it used to. He’s always had good command and good pitching acumen, and so you can regard this as playing with the apparent trend that’s developed in the last year or so: You want guys with good foundations and you see where you can move from there.

MLB had him as their #15 prospect, BA as their #21, and Perfect Game had him mocked to go to the Jays in the first round at #28. Hell, the team itself thought he’d be gone by their first selection. On stuff, if it holds up (this is where I disclaim that one of the misses Madeja had that initially looked amazing was southpaw Tony Butler), he could be the best pitcher in system with frontline rotation potential. If anyone ranked him there already, I could defend it, cold weather reputation and all.

I know a lot of luck has played into ending up where we did in this draft, as much luck arguably as landing Kyle Lewis last year, but this is an easy Day One A-grade for any evaluator.

So You Still Want Me To Write About the 2017 Draft

June 5, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 6 Comments 

Hello. Once again, later than usual, we are looking down the three-day period where 1200 or so names are called out and added as grist for the peculiar mill that is minor league player development, sort of a Rube Golberg machine that specializes in severed ligaments and PB&J sandwiches. Obviously, not all players will be signed and those that are inked will probably stand a better chance of reaching the major leagues. Probably. For the most part, saner baseball fans are only really looking to pay attention to the top ten rounds or so and the hope of funny names or intriguing storylines thereafter. Seeing as how summers are more ideal for my sit-down writing time, I’ve decided to throw down a brief look at what we have out there and where we’ve been, with the caveat that drafting later in the draft provides more unpredictability. Not that drafting earlier guarantees any amount certainty. Remember when I wrote five or six draft previews and then we picked Danny Hultzen? I certainly remember that happening. I used colorful language.

So, this thing, when does it happen?
Day One will be Monday, June 12th, with the preview show starting at 3 pm Pacific and the real draft starting around 4 pm. This will cover rounds one and two along with the Competitive Balance Rounds A and B after each round. Day Two will follow with the previews beginning at 9:30 am and the real stuff, carrying us through the tenth round, starting at 10 am. Day Three, our beloved conference call day, will begin at 9 am on the 14th.

When does our team select?
Our first pick on Day One will come at #17. Since we were not awarded any picks in the Competitive Balance Lottery, our next pick will be at #55, then our third round pick at #93, then in intervals of thirty thereafter barring someone dropping out early, although that’s been far less frequent since the draft was set to forty rounds. The last time we had a Competitive Balance selection was 2015.
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’16 40-Man Preview Extravaganza

November 14, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 8 Comments 

The timetable having moved up a year since our last check-in (I always re-read my old articles, it seems faster that way), we are now looking at 2013 college draftees and early international and high school signings from 2012 due to be added before the end of day on Friday. This would mean protecting Edwin Diaz for the first time if he wasn’t already an amazing and intimidating closer! It would also mean protecting Tyler Olson if he weren’t at this moment in another organization and someone who often reminded us of good ol’ Anthony Vasquez. Never forget. As further disclaimer, which renders this paragraph mostly disclaimer at this point, roster legerdemain sometimes results in my international prospects being guesses. I came into this offseason expecting that we’d be staring down a potential Luiz Gohara addition, but as Ben Badler showed us, that ain’t happening. But this also leaves me not really knowing if Kevin Gadea signed a 2013 or a 2012 contract. I’m guessing we won’t need to worry about him until next year, when we’ll have more tasty data and he’ll have pitched a year in our new awesome Cal League affiliate.

If you want to ask about specific players, I’m happy to answer in the comments, but these were my best guesses in the order of expectation, and still more exhaustive than you’ll find in many places. Over 2300 words? Light reading for me!
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