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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MiLB to Shuffle Affiliates; M’s Counting Cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

2016 Everett Aquasox Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are YOU doing here?

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

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

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

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

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

April 18, 2016 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues · 7 Comments 

First off, I want to thank Marc for taking over the system preview for this season. I’m presently in a phase of my life that’s not particularly conducive to sitting down and writing thousands upon thousands of words of minor league preview each season. This year, in particular, the scheduling looked pretty “nope” early on, but in light of certain happenings and certain concerns the team has going forward, I wanted to bring something to everyone’s attention because I think it could be relevant for us down the line.

One of the narratives to emerge from spring training was that the Mariners, with Iwakuma’s unexpected re-signing, were so flush with pitching that they had the enviable problem of choosing between Nate Karns and James Paxton in the back-end of the rotation. The beginning of the minor league season has further impressed on us that Edwin Diaz is exceeding expectations and could be ready to challenge for a spot soon enough. While the overall depth in the system is rather thin at the high levels (though guys like Ryan Yarbrough and Adrian Sampson probably shouldn’t be overlooked), right now we’re looking outward from a position of relative security. If anything, it’s the bullpen that has given us pause, and rightfully so, with a couple of dudes approaching forty and many of the rest being known as gambles, some of which have already faltered, in the cases of forgotten men Ryan Cook and Evan Scribner.

Let’s back up a moment. One of the recurrent sources of frustration in writing minor league previews is that a past role tends to be a bit more indicative of a future role only in the case of position players. Generally, if anyone is going to move, either to a more or less demanding role on the field, you’re going to hear about it. Less certain is the status of pitching prospects, who could begin starting or stop without much fanfare. One could propose that it’s a side effect of the weird pitching schedules in the Cactus League and no one really noticing or caring at the time, but I bring this up to illustrate a point: The present configuration of the Jackson Generals pitching staff is not something one could have readily predicted.

Sure, the way it begins could potentially lull you into some false sense of security. You look up and see Diaz followed by Yarbrough and figure that it’s likely one of the better one-two, left-right punches you’re going to get, even if the metrics plainly favor Diaz. Thereafter is where it starts to get weird. You have right-handers Sam Gaviglio, Brett Ash, and Dylan Unsworth. If you’re unfamiliar with any or all of those names, I’m not going to fault you. College baseball fans might remember Gaviglio from his days pitching for Oregon State, but they might not remember that we acquired him from St. Louis in exchange for Ty Kelly, the positionless OBP wonder, at the end of 2014. Brett Ash, with all due respect to his friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances, is Some Guy, a NDFA out of Kansas’ famed baseball powerhouse Washburn College who signed after the ’14 draft and didn’t make a pro start until June of last year when necessity pushed him into the rotation. Dylan Unsworth is from South Africa and his nickname is Sharky and we will love him forever, but he doesn’t possess extraordinary stuff and is a fifth starter at best, and a fringe one.

What is instead “weird” about all this is the sheer number of former starters in the Jackson bullpen. Matt Anderson, a holdover from last year, got the Tom Wilhelmsen treatment and switched to relief on making it to double-A. He remains the same “good fastball, potentially great curveball, sketchy command” guy that he has been previously.

Among the other former starters after him, you have Jordan Pries, who was the big surprise in 2014 as a former 30th round pick who was one of the Rainiers’ best starters down the stretch. The same was not true in 2015, when his ERA caught up to his existing components/stuff (90 mph-ish FB)/pitch to contact approach and he additionally missed the final month+ of the season with an elbow strain.

Or you could look at Stephen Landazuri, who was a long-time sleeper favorite of mine as a guy with a low-90s heater and a good curve. Lando hadn’t relieved in a regular season game since 2012, and while he was quite excellent starting in the Mexican Pacific League over the offseason, his command numbers for both Jackson and Tacoma last year were dire. To boot, he’s had a few recurrent injury issues: biceps strain, oblique strain, missed starts here and there. He’s now pitching out of the Jackson ‘pen as well.

Or we could go with the surprise in Dan Altavilla. Altavilla was fast-tracked up, with a half-season in Everett and a full-season last year in Bakersfield where he showed good stuff and iffy command. People had talked about the possibility of him moving to the bullpen eventually because Major League Baseball scouts have a rather Irken approach to projecting pitchers, but the left-right numbers were solid and the command improved in the second half even as the hits increased a skosh. There was nothing in particular that was projecting him to a doom-and-gloom forecast, and yet here he is now, relieving for the Generals, with the kind of stuff that showed very well as a starter between the slider and the fastball.

Stuff could happen that could push any of the above back into the rotation. “Stuff happening” is one of the inviolable laws of minor league baseball. However, in the case of these three (or four if you feel like including Anderson), the bullpen could present a good career opportunity. Pries was never going to crack in as anything other than an emergency fifth starter and could gain some velocity/Ks from working solely in relief. Landazuri’s command has yet to straighten out for long enough to get you to see him as a three or four and his injury history, while mostly unrelated to the tenderest of the shoulder bits, does not inspire confidence. Altavilla in the bullpen goes from the low-90s velocity he showed as a starter to flashing more in the high-90s as he did in more limited stints and he no longer has to worry about developing a change-up in that role. Whereas a spot in the starting five would have been harder to come by, the bullpen is far less stable moving forward.

Is this experiment likely to work out for everyone involved? Does any minor league experiment ever do that? “Here, try catching.” “Here, try throwing this weird pitch.” “Play this position that you never have before outside of pickup games maybe.” “You can’t hit, but can you throw a knuckleball?” Minor league baseball is silly. However, if it does work out for any of these guys, what you have done is increased their odds of making a big league roster, perhaps minimized the variables they previously had to contend with, and given your team a cost-controlled arm that allows you to maneuver money elsewhere in the roster building process. These aren’t exciting moves, but they look like they could be good for everyone involved. Good work, Mariners.

Late Edit: I wrote this before Landazuri and Pries had poor outings over the weekend, but consider the SSS and the unfamiliarity with the role.

Another Player Development Note

January 22, 2016 · Filed Under Minor Leagues · 10 Comments 

I don’t often post consecutively, but when I do, it concerns the minor leagues and those posts are ill-scheduled.

A few days ago, I had a luxurious fifteen minutes to myself with which to do as I would and discovered a segment of a podcast with new farm director Andy McKay. Being of significant curiosity and questionable overall mental health, I naturally leapt at the opportunity and donned a pair of bulky headphones in order to best experience it. To be frank, there aren’t often a lot of instances in which major front office types are eager to give away trade secrets, and this was no different. Much of the intrigue of listening involved trying to reconstruct what was going on in the background, as McKay either was preparing lunch or unloading a dishwasher as he fielded the interview. Details were vague and commentary on specific players, far vaguer, but I did come away with two major notes that sparked my attention.

Taking account of his prior role as a mental skills coach for the Colorado Rockies, the interviewers gravitated towards the expected question of “how do you prepare pitchers to do well in Coors Field?” This would be the kind of secret that I think anyone would be fascinated to learn regardless of their rooting inclinations, but McKay’s responses were ones of refutation, claiming that it never really came up and that it wasn’t something that they ever talked about at length. In so many words, what is known as the characteristic of the home park was blown off as if it were nothing and McKay mentioned in passing the bewildering and unusual success that some pitchers had experienced, running reverse splits in some rare instances. Otherwise, so far as he was concerned, both teams had to deal with it.

You may be sensing what piqued my interest here. If the org didn’t really talk about it, you might think of it as a possible bête noire, something verboten to speak of in public and only heard of in hushed tones. Or, the alternative could be to invest a great deal of attention into rendering it the subject of nightmares, only to be overcome by the toughest and manliest of pitchers. McKay flatly stated that the media had more interest in the subject than anyone else he talked to. It was no big deal to him.

The material circumstances might be different, but let’s consider the previous runs of GMs with regard to their attitudes about Safeco Field. Despite the offensive successes of the Gillick-era Mariners, there started to be real concerns thereafter with much chatter about batting eyes and the left field walls. It has been rumored that fan-favorite Adrian Beltre thereafter cautioned power hitters against signing in Seattle. As the Zduriencik regime started to settle into being definitively in the mindset of its egg-shaped namesake, the articulated goal was often to acquire players whose power was so transcendent that it could overcome any park, Safeco included. The only major success we’ve experienced on that front is Nelson Cruz, and Zduriencik is no longer the GM of any team.

It would be too much to link one thing to another, but when you look at some of the drafting tendencies we’ve had, major raw RH power has been a trademark, likely operating under the assumption that an organization ought to develop what it is unlikely to acquire via free agency. Alex Jackson. Tyler O’Neill. Mike Zunino. D.J. Peterson. Gabby Guerrero. Tyler Marlette. Corey Simpson. The list can go on, if you allow it to. And subsequently, all these players have had noted struggles in recent years, with a late-season rebound by O’Neill being a plus followed by a question mark. In many cases, the strikeouts and level of contact have been so poor as to make their major league futures suspect regardless of raw ability. To hear McKay speak of Coors Field dismissively and cite pitchers who had reverse splits makes me wonder if, in whatever way, the public talk by the Mariners figureheads about getting that bury-the-needle power in turn got into the heads of their major prospects, who tried and failed to do too much with it. This is purely inference on my part with little means to corroborate with anything tangible, but having made the connection, one does wonder.

The second part that interested me was the specific circumstances of McKay’s coaching life. He claimed that he had managed enough over his career (also citing his MBA and organizational background) to connect with players and earn their trust regardless of what role he held. Baseball, he claimed, was “100% mental,” and “the body follows the mind.” Both statements read/hear like sports platitudes for the perky young postgame interviewer. Not much to write home about, that is until the later conversation about creating a culture and being hands-on in the dugout and then some other actually interesting notes arose.

McKay’s coaching career runs like this: In the summers, he was stationed in the Northwoods League, a wood-bat circuit comparable to though without the media attention of the Cape Cod League. During the rest of the year, he was in community colleges, coaching players with the intent of preparing them for D-I transfers. In both cases, players often came in with specific needs and McKay needed to address them in limited time frames, a few months or a few years, and then send them off better to the next thing.

It would be presumptuous to say something like “he’s going to turn around the system in a heartbeat! Our savior!” and then have an assortment of cartoon hearts spraying out of my eyes. I’m not that naïve. But the idea of being able to identify needs in a short timeframe and work with directed attention on them would appear to be an asset. To boot, he brought up other issues that were points of contrast with the prior administration, not calling them out by name, but saying that a system that was all about individual development at the expense of winning could risk having players that didn’t know what to do to get the team to win once they reached the majors. It’s an easy slide from there into an armchair sports psychology that would point to, I don’t know, Ackley’s deer-in-headlights expression at times, and to claim that a focus on individual development might, at its most warped, tempt a player into thinking that the weight of the organization was on their shoulders, which simply isn’t healthy. I don’t know if I can extrapolate that either based on the information that we have, but I can say that the dismal state of the farm system with regard to winning percentage has made following it a tougher sell and I could be drawn in by promises of positive records and lesser playoff runs building up to greater ones.

Having nervously tiptoed into the waters that may serve to re-baptize me into a more ardent, born-again fandom, I would do well to bring it all back to something less superstitious and more overt in content. When asked about the state of the Mariners farm system specifically, McKay claimed that it was easier coming in because the lack of emotional ties meant you could make some stone-cold decisions if you had to, which syncs up with some of the trades that went on in the offseason. But the point at which I stopped the podcast, scrolled back, and made sure I got every word was when this quote came out:

“I believe in the players that we have and I believe that the players we have will make strides, but I like to consider myself a realist. We have real challenges in front of us. This is not a system that is thriving right now. The deficiencies are easy to identify. We’ve identified them and are willing to get to work on them.”

As the BA list implied, the Mariners are in a bad way right now with regard to depth. Many things that were expected to not suck have instead resembled shop-vacs attached to uninterrupted power supplies. We aren’t likely to be metaphorically skipping through the meadow amidst the rainbows of a joyful 2016 season, but those in power now seem to have their convictions about what was wrong in the process of how the team operated previously. They have articulated what they aim to do in response to it. Now all we need is data.

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