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.
I know I say this every years and mean it whole-heartedly every year, but writing an opening day roster preview for the ‘Sox at this stage is an exercise of limited utility. A lot of players haven’t signed, a lot of players will be eased into pro ball and appear later, some guys will only be here to get warmed up and then be off to California (the state) or Iowa. The team that opens the year will bear some resemblance to the team that ends it in that some players will stick around and do baseball until there is no more baseball to do. For now.
Acknowledging what the situation is, the only grade I can conscionably give the Aquasox is “incomplete.” No, that’s a bit lazy. I like the outfield and there are a few players in this group who have some of the best raw power in the system so long as you don’t ask about their contact skills. The group they have catching at the moment is interesting if not good. The infield isn’t going to be great, yet, but the pitching should hold up so long as they don’t walk everyone. One of the players on this roster may be the second coming of Leury Bonilla.
I’ve heard word this morning that Austin Cousino signed, but no, I don’t know yet if he’s going to be on this roster or if they’ll play him higher. Where the draft picks are assigned to play is often a mystery until it isn’t.
This thing is still going on? And it isn’t even halfway done? Okay, look, one of the issues in spreading the draft over three days is that by the time you get into third day or even parts of the second day, the enthusiasm by those outside of the industry is pretty much burnt up. If it’s left to just one day you can sort of psych yourself into plowing through it or run off the excess energy whereas falling into exhaustion and then starting up again half a day later feels like a less practical use of one’s time. And you’re pushing it into a weekend? The weekend should be there to recover from the draft. I don’t think anyone is listening to me but danged if these don’t seem like reasonable complaints. Also you’re never going to generate enthusiasm for something with this erratic a yield. But I see no real reversal to it.
Day two brought the M’s mostly pitching. They bookended with a good defensive CF and a bat-first catcher and in the middle picked up a lot of college pitching. Of the pitchers, we had one junior draftee, one Juco guy, and four seniors. This would suggest in a way that the M’s expect to spend a lot of money on the combo of Jackson and Morgan just to get them signed and are scaling back a bit in order to do so. For example, the 7th round pick last year got $10k from us, the 8th rounder got $20k, and rounds nine and ten split $10k evenly between them. If the Mariners can get similar value from some of their senior signings, then appeasing
Boras Jackson becomes easier.
What do I think of what’s going on so far? You could go the route of saying that most of these players will suck, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Its the same rationale that would allow you lazily to say that x position player won’t stay at their most taxing defensive position or y pitcher doesn’t have enough to start. Or you could treat it as that regular, fresh influx of names and talents that distracts us from the larger issues going on, much like say, the news does. The draft succeeds in diverting our attentions from the fact that the Rays had lost ten in a row before Erik Bedard schooled us last night. Or it at least puts in an effort.
Yarbrough and Ratliff seem somewhat similar, lefties with better than average fastballs who might have the secondary offerings to keep starting, though Ratliff is more raw on that front (he doesn’t even have a Perfect Game profile, but Twitter suggests to me that he’s worked out with the Mariners so I guess they saw something). Altavilla and Kerski are both undersized right-handers who get “bullpen” tags as a result. Altavilla has better stuff by a good margin, but the effort in his delivery seems to scare people and the M’s have generally put their high-effort guys in the bullpen pretty quickly. Byrd seems to be similar to last year’s seventh-rounder, Tyler Olson, in that he’s a left-hander with a good record who pitches off his breaking ball. Miller reportedly has average-to-slightly-better stuff but lacks much decent command of it.
The look of things is so heavy on college players right now that it seems a little weird. Could the first two picks go through that much money? Do Cousino or Altavilla or Ratliff really expect that much? We’re in a position now where it seems like the M’s could go for a tougher sign guy and attempt to throw a lot of money at him, but since the new rules went into effect, we haven’t really seen the M’s try that all that much, let alone succeed at it.
Let’s get to it then. Another thirty rounds. God, I hope we draft Handsome Monica.