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.
Phew, that was some first two rounds, right? Remember that selection where the guy who we didn’t think would be picked was picked? That was really something. All right, so after last night I didn’t have that much time to look into things so my commentary will be limited, which means under 500 words. Maybe.
Two things surprised me so far. One was Kolek over Rodon. I had myself convinced that the Marlins would either take Rodon on what he would add to the franchise as a Cuban-American or they’d steal Jackson from us. Neither happened. The other was exactly how far Gettys and Gatewood slipped. These were fellows who were top ten picks coming into the year and one wonders, with the new CBA that I’m so fond of referring to, if they sign or go to college knowing that they could be in the top five three years from now.
The Jackson pick gives the Mariners a player who will likely be their top prospect in the winter. What I can add that I haven’t already is that the rock-back-and-forth mechanism in his swing looks to have been toned down quite a bit. The Other Ripkin Brother and Cornelius Clifford Floyd were talking about it as they went over the hitters and Jackson mechanics have gone from what I pointed out to more of a lift-lead-foot, plant, and-swing thing. It’s still a hitch that could be exploited a bit, but the severity of the issue has been diminished. One hopes it can be fixed entirely.
I have less commentary on Gareth Morgan. One of the first things I noted was that someone, in reply to the MLBDraftTracker tweet announcing his pick, made a Stanton comp, which I can only assume means that he’ll change his name on arriving in the majors. From what I’m reading, he seems to have extraordinary hitting tools but limited skills and is lacking the speed to play outside the corners. The former isn’t entirely surprising given that he’s from Ontario. One hopes that they’ll be able to get him a little more focused and disciplined in his approach, but he’s committed to NC State and who knows if he’s signable.
Regarding the draft so far for the M’s? Well, I don’t know why you’d ask two picks in, first off. But secondly, it’s interesting to note that thus far the M’s have not dipped into pitching and that they have bucked the perceived strength of the draft. I seem to remember them doing the same in the past. Be it contrarianism or some other inclination, I still expect them to go into pitching pretty quickly in day two, and have more faith in their development of said pitching since they’ve had some success teaching breaking balls. Since they went HS with the first two, they may also go college in their pitching in an effort to keep costs in line. It’s also worth noting that the M’s had three corner OFs in their top ten draft picks last year and we’re only adding to it. Depth can turn into strength, can turn into the surplus that you deal from.
Three through ten, starting at 10 am.
So today’s the day, or “a day” (ugh), or perhaps you just weren’t paying attention up until now. Luuuuucky. With the sixth overall pick, sometime this afternoon the Mariners will be selecting some guy who might be their top prospect going into next season. Then later, with pick 74, they’ll pick some other guy who is probably an okay baseball player too. Better than you, at least. From there, we’ll drift into players that most of us have never heard of and go on until there are forty rounds of selections. Remember that there used to be fifty, and that there was also a January draft until 1986 and prior to that there was a brief August draft. You can never have too many. Or you could, and so they stopped.
Here are the basics of what you need to know. The draft will go on with large intermissions from today (Rounds 1 & 2 w/ comps), through Friday (3-10) until Saturday afternoon at some point (11-40). Friday and Saturday, coverage will begin at MLB.com at 10 am, but today, coverage complete with talking heads in conversation begins at 3 pm with actual selections coming at 4 pm. Because if there’s anything America loves more than the events themselves, it’s an hour of speculation and mental foreplay. I don’t know why this doesn’t extend to everything. The Thanksgiving Day parade should be preceded by predictions of marching order and possible rogue balloon entrants who were seen rising in the final months. Movie previews should have retired actors, directors, and screenwriters projecting what might happen based off of the summaries they read on IMDB. When I’m eyeing some gal at a reading or show or bar, I want a gallery of pick-up artists, therapists, and survivors of good and bad relationships giving odds on the possible outcomes of our striking up a conversation.
Here are some bullet points pertaining to what you might need to know:
* This draft class is partially the result of the new CBA’s allotment of fixed draft pools. Basically, the players exiting college right now were high schoolers in the last year before the new rules kicked in, and that year there was a lot of wild spending on prep players as a sort of last hurrah. This means the college ranks are a bit thin right now, but will normalize in years to come.
* The strength of the draft is largely in pitching, both high school and college. There have been a few Tommy John casualties as there often are (Hoffman, Fedde) and others whose mechanics still give pause (Freeland), but the top portion of third-party draft boards features a lot of pitching right now. We don’t know that the actual selections will play out like this. Maybe teams will be more eager to replenish with injuries rampant in the minor leagues this year, maybe they will be more shy about selecting more pitching. It’s possible too that because the hitting class is considered weaker, that hitters may be overvalued and teams will be more inclined to burn that pick early on hitting, knowing that they could get comparable pitching later. These are factors we all end up considering the day of.
* The mock draft consensus has been unusually consistent over the past few weeks in that the M’s are still projected to take top HS bat C/3B/RF Alex Jackson. Nothing has [yet] come up at the last minute to dissuade anyone from that. But bear in mind that this isn’t a lock either. There were mutterings of the Marlins perhaps trying to work a deal with him at #2, and no one rightly knows what the Cubs are up to at #4. If he slips past those two, he’s probably ours, but that’s a big if.
* Say that he doesn’t. In that case, the most likely pick seems to be Hartford left-hander Sean Newcomb, who seems to me like a less-developed James Paxton. There are other possibilities as well. This org looooves their shortstops, so if Nick Gordon gets past the Twins, he is also absolutely in play for us. If one of the top prep arms (Aiken, Kolek) or Rodon drop down, which seems improbable, they are also in play. The players that have linked to the M’s before but seem less likely at this moment are LSU right-hander Aaron Nola (high-floor, three good pitches), who may be in play earlier, and NC State shortstop and Rodon teammate shortstop Trea Turner (elite speed, good defense, swing like an uprooted tree wielded by a wimpy tornado).
* The Mariners, on account of sucking last year, were awarded a competitive balance pick at the end of the supplemental second round, which means that they’ll be making the last selection of the day at 74. The current administration has never not picked a position player in the second round, but who knows what happens here? Our normally allocated second round pick went to the Yankees because of Cano and Morales’ not-signing elsewhere.
My personal board, which is weighted for likelihood, looks like this:
1) Jackson [Weight transfer and timing may be an issue, but talent matches our needs well]
2) Newcomb [Lacking secondaries, but low mileage and org had success teaching curves]
3) Conforto [Fits our positional and power/OBP needs well, but I'm worried they'd rush him]
4) Freeland [Love the command, finish unnerves me]
5) Gordon [Great defensive actions, good offensive ceiling, but best at short]
6) Nola [The same basic pick the M's have made four of the last five years]
If I’m not weighting my selections, I like Touki Toussaint a lot and think that this organization would be a good match to develop him to near his ceiling, but no one has put him this high and pitching still scares a lot of people. I also have an avowed interest in Michael Gettys because he really does have elite physical tools, but do I trust the Mariners to succeed in developing someone with a hitting ability this raw? No. I do not.
There’s reading material abounds. You can go through my earlier preview or read through Marc’s interview with Chris Crawford. Read Tony Blengino’s insights into what really goes on in the draft room! Or you could sift through some thousands of mocks and players profiles all over the internet in the hours leading up to the event because you’re a wizard and/or own a time machine.
I won’t be here for this draft. Just like the last one, I have somewhere to be that coincides with the start time. But rest assured that wherever I am, I will be reacting with proportionally inappropriate emotion.