Game 71, Mariners at Rangers

June 18, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 12 Comments 

Christian Bergman vs. Yu Darvish, 12:05pm

Happy Fathers Day!

After losing the first three games of the series and four in a row overall, the M’s turn to Christian Bergman to stop the skid. Bergman, who got annihilated in a 20-7 loss his last game. The guy now pitching for his job as the M’s wheel of 5th starters continues to spin. Bergman’s big test occurs in Arlington, where the ball’s been flying, and occurs opposite the Rangers’ ace, Yu Darvish. Fangraphs’ odds give the M’s a 36.1% chance in this one, a figure that seems almost charmingly optimistic.

The big M’s transaction of the day is notable not because Rob Whalen was optioned back to the minors (to AA, actually), but because of who’s coming up to replace him. The M’s have brought in an actual prospect, 6’8″ Max Povse, who looked dominant at times this spring and in early April with Arkansas, but has lost a bunch of time with a hamstring injury. He’s thrown just 3 1/3 IP since coming off the DL, and has thrown less than 6 innings in total since May 5th. There are a number of reasons NOT to do something like this, but it seems like the M’s have tired of rotating through fungible, replacement-level starting depth. Rob Whalen, Dillon Overton, Bergman…none of them have been consistently effective, and so the M’s – now that we’re safely past the Super 2 date – will try something different. I worry that given his injury-riddled past 6 weeks, Povse won’t be as effective as he would otherwise be; I worry that they’re putting him in a position to fail. But I sympathize with Dipoto’s plight here, even if it’s at least partially of his own making.

The other story regarding the M’s pitching depth is an easier, better one: Felix Hernandez was again dominant in his 3rd rehab outing, shutting out the Salt Lake Bees over 6 IP, giving up 4 hits, no walks and striking out 8. From all accounts, he was in complete control and ready to head back up I-5 to Seattle.

Darvish is still one of the most compelling pitchers to watch in all of baseball, with the deepest repertoire in the game, and impressive velocity. He’ll be a free agent after this year, and teams are probably already asking Texas about him for the stretch run. With Texas in 2nd place in the West and in the wild card mix, they may not move him unless they get a ridiculous offer, but Darvish is the kind of player that engenders such proposals. Unfortunately for the Rangers, he’s having a down year by his own lofty standards. Darvish’s ERA is more than a run below his FIP (so far, so Rangers), and that FIP’s crept up past 4. It’s never been close to that mark over his career. His K rate’s still great, but it’s declined, and his improvement in walk rate from 2012-2016 is gone, too. His ERA’s been saved by a career high strand rate and a .230 BABIP; he’s still good, but this just isn’t the guy we saw last season, to say nothing of 2014.

As Greg Johns of tweeted, the M’s now grade out as baseball’s best defensive OF by both UZR and DRS. Their improvement from a rough start has been consistent and rapid, and the team deserves credit for that. I’m still a bit suspicious of the magnitude of the numbers reported, just because the simple defensive efficiency numbers (the percentage of balls in the air they’ve converted into outs) lags many other teams, especially the Yankees (who are #2 by UZR). The M’s DE on fly balls, per Baseball Prospectus, is .901, good for 10th-best in the league. Oddly, the M’s 17th-ranked OF last year put up a DE of .906 on fly balls. There were 22 teams with a fly ball efficiency of at least .900 in 2016, while just 10 are on pace to do that now.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Dyson, CF
8: Ruiz, C
9: Smith, SS
SP: Bergman

Felix’s gem gave the Rainiers their 11th shutout victory of 2017. It’s just mid June, and they play in the PCL. Remarkable. Closer Jean Machi has given up just 1 run this year, and now sports an ERA of 0.40.

Nick Neidert’s the big prospect to watch among the M’s MiLB probables. Dylan Unsworth starts in AA, and the intriguing Robert Dugger starts for Clinton. The 18th-round pick from last year’s draft has given up 5 runs in his last 30+ innings, yielding just 20 hits.

Game 70, Mariners at Rangers

June 17, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Yovani Gallardo vs. Martin Perez, 2:05pm

The M’s face lefty Martin Perez, the one-time super-prospect phenom turned reliably disappointing back of the rotation arm. After flying through the low minors, Perez reached AA at the age of 18. Unfortunately, things never really clicked after that, and he’s had trouble missing bats and staying in the strike zone. With a four seam and swerving sinker at 94 MPH, he’ll always have a job, but at 26 now, the perennially hoped-for development or improvement may not be in the cards.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Motter, SS

M’s have their righty-heavy line up in against Perez, who’s traditionally had sizable platoon splits. Not this year, which is probably just random, but it’s accompanied with an odd drop in his GB%.

Game 69, Mariners at Rangers

June 16, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

James Paxton vs. Tyson Ross, 5:05pm

It’s time for the season’s nicest game, wherein James Paxton will again match up with an injury-riddled cast-off who signed for cheap with the Rangers this off-season. Back in April, he faced off with Andrew Cashner, the ex-Padre who made his season debut and kept the Rangers around, but Paxton fired the best start for a Mariner pitcher all year, so it didn’t matter. Today, Paxton matches up with, er, ex-Padre Tyson Ross, who’s thrown 5 1/3 MLB innings at all since September of 2015. Minor league rehab appearances bump that total to 24 IP, but Ross is still a complete unknown at this point. Yes, he was once an all-star caliber starter, whose 2014-15 peak produced nearly 8 fWAR. But the last time he was on a mound in a competitive baseball game, he gave up 10 hits and 8 runs in 5 innings against Oklahoma City. He’s walked 11, plunked 2, and K’d 11 in a handful of PCL starts this year, but here he is, because the Rangers need help, and at least you can still dream on some upside here, even if it takes him a while to find his footing.

Because it’s the Rangers, it might play out that way. By FIP, the Rangers rotation (excepting Yu Darvish, of course) has been an absolute debacle, akin to the Orioles’ 5-headed monstrosity. By ERA, though, they’re fine – especially considering their home park. By K rate, they’ve just passed the Twins to move into last place in the American League, and by K-BB%, it’s really just them and the Orioles fighting off in the ugliest, most pointless battle imaginable. To make matters worse, they’re right up there with Seattle in HR rate, meaning they make up for hard contact what they give away in free bases. I don’t understand how the Rangers aren’t where the A’s are right now, is what I’m trying to say.

They may not be beating their BaseRuns estimate to a pulp the way they have in recent years, but they’re still peppering it with jabs and well-timed passive-aggressive comments. This is a statistical incongruity, and there are many such outliers we can point to with the Rangers. Perhaps the biggest is also the one we can’t really hold against them – the remarkable way Adrian Beltre’s aged. Beltre’s tenure with the Rangers has taken him from Hall-of-Very-Good or should-be-in-but-won’t-be to what I expect is a fairly easy Hall of Fame case. He’s accrued 34 fWAR and 38 bWAR for the Rangers, waaaay more than he did with either the Dodgers or Mariners, and the difference in a per-year or per-game basis is massive. He’s done it all *after* turning 32. He’s been incredible offensively and defensively and, until this season, remarkably durable. I think you can make the case that he’s the best free agent signing in recent memory, and far and away the best the Rangers ever made. That’s really nice for the Rangers and all of that, but because Beltre’s so good, it’s hard to see this as a transcendentally lucky thing – that’s what greatness do, to paraphrase Jarrod Dyson. It laughs at your regression and aging curves – at least for a while.

But Beltre isn’t what’s *made* these Rangers teams of recent vintage. When I think of these teams, I think of all the times that the Rangers have turned to a middling prospect, a post-injury or post-stardom vet who’s given them a bit more than the Rangers dared hope for. And then, like the old fairy tale, they turn back into a pumpkin and vanish. In 2011 it was Alexi Ogando, a promising reliever pressed into service as a starter. He gave them about 170 very good innings, accruing 3.3 fWAR and then *never again breaking 1.0*. He started again in 2013 and put up a FIP defying ERA, but is now pitching in South Korea. In 2012, it was David Murphy’s turn. After a 93 wRC+ in 2011, the OF saw his walk rate, isolated power and BABIP all rise simultaneously, pushing him near a 4 fWAR season. The next year, he was worth 0.3, and then fell again to -0.6 in 2014. After that 3.8 win 2012, he was worth less-than-replacement level through the end of his career. In 2013, it was reliever Tanner Scheppers, who posted a 1.88 ERA in 76 games. Despite a low K rate and a FIP in the high 3’s, Scheppers was a brilliant set-up man for closer Joe Nathan, and helped the Rangers win 91 games. Of course, he never again had an ERA under 4, let alone 3 or 2, and, like Murphy, was worth negative WAR after that breakout season. In 2014, the Rangers collapsed, but they still got 126 innings and 22 solid starts from low-tier prospect Nick Tepesch, who filled in for a bunch of injured starters and ran a 4.36 ERA or 1 bWAR, helping the Rangers avoid the fate of the Astros of that period. You know where this is going: Tepesch was worth either negative WAR (BBREF) or 0 WAR (FG) for the rest of his career. In 2015, the Rangers traded some minor league spare parts for declining ex-ace Yovani Gallardo, and watched as his K rate continued to fall as his walk rate rose. A high strand rate and a great HR/FB ratio meant his ERA was well below his 4.0 FIP, so while his fWAR was “only” 2.4 (solidly above average), he was worth 4.0 by bWAR. In the 1.4 or so years since then, whatever FIP-busting magic he had in Texas has long since gassed off, leaving him with -2.1 bWAR and a modest 1.1 fWAR that politely pretends not to notice the ugly runs-allowed total he’s been responsible for. Last year, it was Colby Lewis’ turn (he could’ve been included if we went back to 2010, too), as he tossed 19 starts of FIP-crushing, 84-MPH fastball powered nonsense, worth 2.4 bWAR in half a year. This year, you could point to either Nick Martinez or Austin Bibens-Dirkx (yayyy!) as candidates for Most Rangers performance of the year.

No, David Murphy or Tanner Scheppers didn’t MAKE the Rangers a good team. They’ve had actually good players that’ve done the big lift. But the Rangers have consistently squeezed…something out of players who don’t evidence a lot of pure talent (or, in the case of Scheppers, are continually injured). This is *exactly* what the M’s failed to do for so long, and so the contrast is all the clearer for M’s fans. The M’s got Chris Iannetta from the Angels for a fair free agent contract. The Rangers got peak Mike Napoli from the Angels-via-Toronto for essentially nothing. Why do good things happen to bad people, and all of that. So, again, Tyson Ross hasn’t pitched effectively since September of 2015, and there’s no clear reason to believe he will suddenly start now. But he may start now.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Dyson, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Motter, SS

Minor League starters include Reggie McClain for Modesto and Martin Suarez for Everett – get over to Everett and enjoy the first Northwest League series of the year. Yeah, Hillsboro beat them in yesterday’s opener, which I should’ve covered more, but tonight’s game is Kyle Lewis bobblehead night. The AquaSox have Brayan Hernandez as the big prospect star thus far, though they’ll get reinforcements from this year’s draft as those players sign and report.

Hillsboro won the NWL opener 10-3, as Ryne Inman got touched for 3 HRs. Clinton won in 11 innings over Beloit. Rayder Ascanio had the MiLB performance of the night for Modesto with a 4-5 game including a HR.

Game 68, Mariners at Twins

June 15, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 8 Comments 

Ariel Miranda vs. Jose Berrios, 10:10am

After yesterday’s win, the M’s go for a 3-1 series win today against the Twins’ young ace-in-training, Jose Berrios.

Berrios made 14 starts last year, but a combination of wildness and HR problems made it a shockingly poor debut. He’d flown through the minors, and unlike so many Twins’ pitchers, Berrios had no problem missing bats. If you’ve seen his curve/slider, that’s probably not a surprise. But Twins fans probably couldn’t feel too confident after his 14 starts produced an ERA over 8.

After all the discussion about pitchers being harmed by pitching in the World Baseball Classic (Drew Smyly), Berrios may be an example of the opposite. He looked dominant in the WBC, staying in the zone, getting whiffs on fastball and slurve alike. He’s maintained that this season, and while his ERA’s much lower than his FIP, he looks a lot more like the pitcher Twins fans have been looking forward to.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Dyson, CF
8: Ruiz, C
9: Motter, SS
SP: Miranda

Game 67, Mariners at Twins + Draft Recap, More on Target Field

June 14, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 7 Comments 

Sam Gaviglio vs. Ervin Santana, 5:10pm

With Christian Bergman continuing to be perhaps the least consistent starter in baseball, the M’s again turn to Sam Gaviglio for help in stabilizing a struggling rotation. With yesterday’s disastrous start, Bergman now has game scores of 1 and -21 on the year, but also starts of 86 and 73. This means that Bergman’s tossed the third-best start of any Mariner this year (behind Paxton’s best game and Ariel Miranda’s CG), but also the two WORST starts (worse than Heston/De Jong).

The M’s face Ervin Santana tonight, owner of the 3rd best ERA in the AL behind Dallas Keuchel and Jason Vargas (wha?). Santana’s running a career-high walk rate, and his strikeouts are down from recent years, so it’s not a huge shock that his FIP doesn’t support that gaudy ERA. In the past, we’d point to that BABIP of .154 (holy crap!) and note he was a walking lesson in the power of regression, but his statcast numbers show he’s done a bit to earn a low BABIP. Not a .154 BABIP, but now we can differentiate between balls in play, we know Santana’s done a good job of muting hard contact, as this Tony Blengino article describes. One of the ways he does this is by generating a flurry of pop-ups, which have an expected BABIP of essentially zero. That helps.

I mentioned this before Game 1 of the series, but Santana’s a great example of a pitcher who seems to tailor his approach to his home park. Target Field’s statcast-derived park factors put it firmly in the pitcher’s park category, and this interview with Brian Dozier talks about this from a batter’s point of view. I’ll stipulate to all of that, and that a ball hit at X MPH may go further in Arizona or Texas than it does at Target Field. But I have to point out, and god knows we’ve seen it in this series, people are pinging well-struck balls to all corners of this supposed pitcher’s park. When Santana’s at home, 47.7% of his balls in play are fly balls, and only 35.2% are grounders. On the road, he gives up 35.7% flies, and a shocking 54.5% grounders. He actively courts fly balls at home, and seems to prefer grounders away from home. Makes sense, though, right? HR-suppressing park, all of that? Here’s the problem: Santana’s HR per fly ball rate is HIGHER at home. Where he gives up all of those fly balls. This has led to a 1.31 HR/9 mark at home and a 0.81 figure on the road. His ERA, FIP, whatever you want to look at, are all worse – much worse – at home.

This isn’t just Santana, of course. I mentioned it first when talking about Hector Santiago, and while Phil Hughes’ batted ball numbers aren’t so skewed at home, he’s clearly giving up much harder contact there. This seems like a case of well-intended, even data-supported advice gone wrong. If coaches or even players believe that a strike won’t hurt them because of the marine layer, a high CF wall, deep power alleys, a great CF, etc., I wonder if they start to pitch differently. To check this, I looked at the expected wOBA of all balls in play, by stadium. Detroit ranks #1 at an astonishing .366, while Target Field’s second at .337 (three parks are below .300, headlined by San Diego’s .283 mark). Of course, both the Tigers and Twins have some pitchers who like to pitch up in the zone, so what happens if we only look at visiting pitchers? What do they give up? Detroit now goes all the way up to .384, while Yankee Stadium slots in at #2, followed by Oakland (?), Washington, and Arizona. Target Field’s 6th, at .330. So, visiting pitchers give up hard contact there, but visiting pitchers are evidently expecting Comerica to do pretty much all of the work.

If we look at *home* pitchers, Detroit…Detroit is still first, and is just about any way you slice the numbers. The Tigers staff does a lot better than the visitors, but a .349 xwOBA isn’t great. Target field shoots back up to #2 now, with Twins’ pitchers yielding contact expected to produce a .344 wOBA. In terms of actual production, Twins pitchers have yielded the highest wOBA to visiting batters, at .358. It’s like the idea that they play in a pitcher’s park causes them to pitch in such a way that more than counteracts the factors that make it a pitcher’s park.

For both Comerica and Target Field, the effect seems really huge, and while we don’t have a lot of years of data, it seems to be somewhat consistent from year to year. Yes, pitching philosophies come into play here, but the Twins pitchers yielding more HRs at home – even controlling for the number of fly balls – is pretty remarkable. I still wonder if this wasn’t partially responsible for Safeco Field’s dingerfest in 2016, with M’s pitchers striking out more/walker fewer at home, but also giving up more home runs.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Dyson, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Motter, SS
SP: Gaviglio

Wyatt Mills, the M’s 3rd round pick out of Gonzaga, is set to sign for $125,000 on Friday, per Greg Lee of the Spokesman-Review. That frees up roughly $450,000 in bonus pool space, money that will likely go to 2nd rounder, Sam Carlson, who visited the M’s at Target Field yesterday. If the M’s want to get Carlson the roughly $1 million above his slot value (to push him into late 1st-round territory) AND avoid the big penalties that attach if a team exceeds its bonus pool by 5%, they’re getting close, but need to save a bit more with their other first-10-round picks. Senior 10th rounder Randy Bell is a likely candidate. Here’s a quick table showing the top 10 picks, their slot values, and the pool+5% amount that functions as a hard cap on draft spending.

2017 MLB Draft: Seattle Mariners        
Round Player HS/Col./JC Position Slot Value Signed For
1 Evan White Col. (UK) 1B/OF $3,333,200 ?
2 Sam Carlson HS (MN) SP $1,206,900 ?
3 Wyatt Mills Col. (GON) RP $579,800 $125,000
4 Seth Elledge Col. (DBU) RP/SP $428,900 ?
5 David Banuelos Col. (LBSU) C $320,300 ?
6 Oliver Jaskie Col. (UM) SP $245,600 ?
7 Max Roberts JC (WVC) SP $192,200 ?
8 Billy Cooke Col. (CCU) SP $156,500 ?
9 Jorge Benitez HS (FL) SP $140,900 ?
10 Randy Bell Col. (USA) SP $133,000 ?

Total Bonus Pool: $6,737,300
Maximum Spend without losing draft pick: $7,074,165

Today’s roster move: swingman Casey Lawrence, who got steamrolled in last night’s game, heads back to Tacoma in exchange for Chase De Jong.

Nick Neidert got knocked around in Modesto’s loss, and the Rainiers’ bats couldn’t get going in a 3-1 loss in El Paso, but Arkansas beat NW Arkansas easily behind a great start from Dylan Unsworth and another Grand Slam from Tyler Marlette. Dario Pizzano had 4 hits, too. Max Povse headlines tonight’s starters, as he’s making his first appearance since May 20th, when he suffered a hamstring pull. Tyler Cloyd, Brett Ash, Brandon Miller and Pablo Lopez round out the M’s affiliate starting pitchers.

Game 66, Mariners at Twins

June 13, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Christian Bergman vs. Kyle Gibson, 5:10pm

Last night’s game went well, though Gibson’s the guy who shut down the M’s over 6 IP 5 days ago, in what was easily his best start of the year. Remember that Gibson was struggling so badly, he was demoted to AAA after spending years as a promising middle-of-the-rotation guy for the Twins.

The game itself is a nice breather from obsessing about the draft, but until it starts, let’s continue obsessing about the draft. The M’s have made several picks today, including Gonzaga senior reliever Wyatt Mills in the 3rd round. As Mills wasn’t a top-200/500 prospect and because he’s a senior, it seems pretty obvious the M’s are trying to save a bit of money to give an overslot bonus to 2nd rounder Sam Carlson. Carlson was expected to go in the first round, and may still have designs on a first-round bonus. The gap between what he’d get in the 22-30 range and what his #55 slot would give him is roughly $1 million, and with the M’s total bonus pool only $6.7 M, you understand the desire to start saving money early.

MLB really tweaked how the slot values step down this year. Last year, the #1 pick slot was just over $9 million. This year, it was easily under $8 million. Other picks, including the middle of the first round, saw large increases – #17’s slot value is about $800,000 higher than it was last year. This kind of compressing of slot values seems like it’d have an impact on the M’s ability to go overslot and sign Carlson, but the more I look into it, it would’ve been just about the same last year – they’d need to take about 22% of the combined value of the top 2 picks to sign Carlson to a late-first-round bonus in either year. Still, with the M’s not having a competitive balance pick or another first round (how did the Astros get *four* picks yesterday?), and with slot values dropping fast, they need to start squirreling away some savings. JY’s got you covered with the draft summary post below – check the comments for JY’s pithy comments on each pick. I’ll try to summarize the first 10 picks some time soon.

Another day at Target Field, and another barrage of barreled-up balls flying around the spacious outfield. Let’s do that again, M’s. Gibson’s a sinkerballer with a solid change/slider to back it up. He was a big time prospect, especially since he had mid-90s velo at some point, and thus his solid but unspectacular numbers – until this year’s collapse- seem kind of disappointing. That’s unfair to Gibson, but he was someone who seemed on the verge of breaking out, and then went in reverse.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Dyson, CF
8: Zunino, C
9: Motter, SS
SP: Bergman

I should take this opportunity to say that I thought the M’s had a great first day of the 2017 draft. A polished college bat and a high-ceiling prep pitcher who no one expected to be there at 55 adds some balance and impact to a system that sorely needs both. I’ve seen some question Evan White’s swing-and-miss after some mediocre K:BB ratios in his first two years at UK, but I’m not too worried about it. The overall rate was low, and while he didn’t have huge walk totals, his bat-to-ball ability can’t be too bad if he put up the stats he did in a great college conference. Thanks to changes in college bats, it’s really hard to compare players across eras (meaning beyond 5-6 years ago), so another gap-hitting 1B like Justin Smoak’s college numbers look totally different. But I expect White to move fairly quickly, and I’m not concerned about the glut of corner players like DJ Peterson, Dan Vogelbach et al. The M’s got a very good player, and they didn’t let their own current 40-man enter into their decision.

Sam Carlson’s exciting, as a right hander with a great FB and what sounds like a very good change-up. I’m a sucker for a change, and it’s rare for a high schooler to have an offspeed pitch as his putaway pitch.

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.

Game 65, Mariners at Twins

June 12, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · 6 Comments 

Yovani Gallardo vs. Adalberto Mejia, 5:10pm

We saw this match-up 5 days ago in Seattle, with the M’s overcoming an early deficit to win it on Mike Zunino’s walk-off 2R shot. That one pretty much went according to script: the M’s struggled to string together some base hits, but made up for it by hitting *four* HRs to essentially out-slug the Twins. Minnesota pitching has the highest HR/9 rate in the American League, with the M’s leapfrogging the Rangers to rank merely 3rd-highest.

These two teams are susceptible to the gopher ball, and they both need their offense to essentially compensate for that. Neither the M’s nor the Twins are going to challenge the Yankees or Astros for pure slugging ability, so they need to add value in other ways. As mentioned before they hit Safeco, one key way the Twins do this is by fielding the ball exceptionally well. They’re one of the few teams who probably wouldn’t swap out Jarrod Dyson’s CF defense for their own guy’s, as Byron Buxton developed into one of the better defenders around, even as his bat’s failed to develop at all. Miguel Sano moving from a bad RF to a credible 3B is one of those moves that’s hard to tease out of the stats, but is part of the reason their defensive efficiency is much, much higher this year. The other way they help themselves is their selectivity – tonight’s Twins line-up has six players with a 10% walk rate or better, including the first four in the line-up (5th hitter Max Kepler’s all the way down at 9.4%). That’s propelled them to the best walk rate in the game, and made up for their solid-but-unspectacular performance when they actually do hit the ball.

I hinted at this when the Twinkies were in town, but the primary driver of their pitching staff’s sky-high HR-allowed numbers has been their performance at Target Field. They’ve given up 36 road HRs and 52 at home. That works out to a HR/9 mark of 1.28 on the road, but a staggering 1.68 in their home park. If you look at their statcast-based park factors, Minnesota still grades out as a pitcher’s park, meaning a fly ball at 95 MPH is less likely to do damage there than, say, in Arizona. That’s fine, and answers a very specific question very well, but there’s the rather important issue that if you want to see a ball crushed at optimal angles and speeds, you should go to Minnesota and Detroit. It’s quite possible that Detroit and Minnesota damped the production batters might expect on perfect contact, but it seems odd to call a park a “pitchers park” if batters are smashing the ball all over the yard.

This was the dilemma I raised last year, when Safeco graded as a pitcher’s park despite allowing the most HRs in all of baseball. Safeco’s HR rate has regressed a lot, it’s true, but we’re seeing the same sort of thing play out this year in other traditional pitcher’s park. A big objection to this is that these numbers are highly dependent on the home team’s approach – both Detroit and Minnesota like batters to hit the ball in the air, presumably to gain the advantage of the park effects that statcast finds. But at what point do those seemingly intuitive strategic decisions become self-defeating? Tony Blengino asks, “How much better would Miguel Cabrera‘s career numbers be if he played in a more neutral park?” It’s a reasonable question! And yet, Cabrera’s had a better HR rate at home in 4 of the last 6 years, and Detroit’s seen the most “barrels” per pitch of any park in baseball – and Minnesota isn’t *that* far behind. Maybe a 95-mph fly ball would fare better somewhere else, but do these parks generate more 95-mph fly balls, making up for a lack of production on each hard fly ball in sheer quantity? I’d argue that they do. A fastball (four-seam/sinker/two-seamer) crossing the plate at or above the middle of the zone is much more likely to be hit in the air in Minnesota and more like to be a “barrel.” Minnesota’s in the top 10 in the percentage of fly balls/line drives that go for HRs, too. Maybe those HRs would’ve gone 5 feet further in Arizona, but that’s not rescuing the Twins’ collective FIP. Again, it’s possible that a ton of this has to do with the specific pitchers that Minnesota employes, but is that enough to push Target Field’s HRs per game mark to 2nd highest in the league, behind only the Yankees’ bandbox? The expected wOBA of every ball put in play this year is highest in Detroit, and second highest in Minnesota. In terms of actual production, Detroit still leads, while Minnesota’s 4th – but still higher than that expected wOBA figure. Your 2017 pitchers parks, everybody!

For more details on what to expect from Adalberto Mejia (and Yovani Gallardo), check out the game preview from 5 days ago. As fascinating as this rematch is – and let’s hope it’s as exciting as the game last Wednesday – the real story of the day is the MLB draft. As I write this, the draft hasn’t started, and we’ll probably find out who the M’s selected at #17 either just before or during the contest. For now, if you’d like to check out some last minute mock drafts, here are some links. David Peterson of Oregon, Jake Burger of Missouri State and TX prep arm Shane Baz are some of the names associated with the M’s.

1: Gamel, LF
2: Haniger, RF
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Valencia, 1B
7: Zunino, C
8: Heredia, CF
9: Smith, SS
SP: Gallardo

Your daily M’s transaction update: Emilio Pagan’s been optioned to Tacoma, with Casey Lawrence coming back up.

The big story in the minors yesterday was King Felix’s encouraging performance at Cheney Stadium. Felix was perfect through 4, and ended up getting the win, giving up a run on a hit and a walk in 5 IP (he K’d 5). THAT’S more like it, El Cartelua. DJ Peterson homered, and now has 13 hits in his last 6 games, going 13-24 in the span with 3 HRs and only 2 strikeouts. Tacoma’s off tonight.

The NW Arkansas Naturals continued their mastery of the regular Arkansas Travelers, scoring 3 runs in the 8th to come back and win 10-9. The Travs had 3 players get 3 hits each, but the pitching obviously wasn’t sharp. Justin DeFratus starts today.

The *second* biggest story in the M’s minors yesterday was the 2017 debut of last year’s first round pick, Kyle Lewis, with Modesto. Lewis walked, got caught trying to steal second, and was then swapped out for another OF in the 4th. Hmmm; he was supposed to play 5 IP, but obviously came out earlier than that. He didn’t come out after the CS, but instead after making a catch in CF. The Nuts lost a close one, 3-2, against Stockton, by the way. Tonight they face San Jose, with Nathan Bannister on the bump for the Nuts.

Clinton easily handled the Peoria Chiefs last night 9-5, getting 3 HRs and 4 IP of solid relief from Kyle Hunter and Jack Anderson. They played an early one today, and Clinton again emerged victorious – this time by a score of 7-6. Luis Rengifo homered, Joe Rizzo was on base 4 times, and Anthony Jimenez had 3 hits for the Lumberkings, but the big hits came in the 9th with Clinton down a run. After back-to-back doubles tied the game, Luis Rengifo stole 3rd, and then came home on a Rizzo sac fly.

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.

2017 Draft Preview with Chris Crawford

June 12, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners · Comment 

:Jim Nance voice: A tradition unlike any other – the sixth annual USSMariner Draft preview is here. For those with experience, the signs are everywhere. Twitter stirs with draft talk. Lookout Landing goes all out with draft coverage. JY comes out of hibernation and posts about the state of the M’s and what the M’s might be looking for. The only thing left to do is to post our annual draft preview. Every year since 2012, I ask a bunch of questions of Chris Crawford, draft expert and writer for Hero Sports. He’s written for Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated, too. Beyond all of that, I’ll go with a timely reference and note that if you go back through the history of these posts, you’ll find Chris talking up a gigantic OF named Aaron Judge. News you – and GMs – can use. The first round of the draft kicks off today at 4 pm. The first two rounds and the competitiveness balance picks are on MLB TV tonight, with rounds 3-10 following tomorrow. If you simply cannot get enough draft coverage, or Chris Crawford content, check out this post at CBS Sports from Dayn Perry.

Let’s get to it. My questions are in bold, and Chris’ answers follow.

1: Like last year, the M’s have three selections in the top 100. What kind of draft class are they looking at? Above-average, average-to-mediocre, or a repeat of 2015 (which I believe you didn’t much care for)?

I am not a huge fan of this class. I like the players at the top (Hunter Greene, Brendan McKay, McKenzie Gore, Kyle Wright), but after that, it becomes kind of a mess. There’s always things to like just because an MLB Draft class is always so vast, but on paper this isn’t my favorite.

How does it stack up with recent classes? Like 2016, 2015, etc?

It’s worse than both, and I didn’t love both classes. Maybe that’s just a case of being too close to the group or whatever, but it’s just not a very good class.

2: Who should the M’s take at #17? Who WILL they take?

I’ve heard nothing but college players associated with this pick. I think the dream is that Pavin Smith is available, and if he is, they should jump on it, he’s one of the best bats in the class — college or prep. The name I think is most realistic is Jake Burger, a third baseman out of Missouri State with big power that probably has to move to first.

3: We’ve talked for years about the impact that HS showcases, travel ball, Area Code and Perfect, games can have on the draft. The HS ranks are perhaps more visible now, and you don’t have to beat the bushes to find some young hitting prodigy – in all likelihood, they’ll be coming to the same big-city tournament you were going to scout anyway. That would seem to tilt things towards HS hitters, but we haven’t seen a huge shift in that regard. College bats still dot the first round, and will again this year. I’ve got two questions related to this phenomenon. First: do you think, over time (like 10-20 years), most or nearly all of the impact bats taken in the draft will come from the HS ranks?

I think most is probable. It’ll never be all because of the financial implications of the draft, but yeah, I think at some point people are going to realize this is the smartest way to go.

How good do you think colleges are at developing players? What round would you counsel a HS kid to sign, and what round would you counsel a kid to honor a commitment to a big-time college program?

I think there’s programs that do it well (Vanderbilt, Florida) and programs that don’t do it very well (Stanford, almost everyone else).

I’ll break it down as if it was my kid. If my kid gets offered six figures or more to go play professional baseball, there’s no way in hell I’m letting him go to college. The amount of kids that see their stock improve is just not very high. I do this every year, and I look at where a kid was ranked as a HS senior compared to college junior, and far too often the stock doesn’t come close to improving. Go get your paper. College is a nice backup plan if you can’t, but if it’s there? Go get it.

4:…. and second, when I go through the list of draft prospects, I’m actually struck by how few of the college guys were drafted before. Kyle Wright, Seth Romero, Alex Lange slipped through as preps. Does this mean that despite all the exposure, really talented kids will still suit up for colleges, or do you think it means that colleges still do a very good job of developing players and tapping into a lot of potential that hadn’t been uncovered at age 18?

There’s some of the latter, without question. But some of those kids went undrafted because they asked to not be drafted or put out bonus demands that are unrealistic. This is an imperfect science, though, and there’s no doubt that guys slip through the cracks to become major draft “stars.”

5: The M’s also pick at #55. Who might be available in that neighborhood? Would you say this class is deeper than previous classes? Does that matter past the first round? I think you saw last year’s class as rich in “good, not great” guys which meant that picking at 50 was probably pretty good – there wasn’t a ton of fall-off between #25 and, say, #70. How about this class?

It’s sort of similar again. If the M’s do go college route, they could do what they did last year and look for a prep talent with that selection. If they take an arm, a bat like Ryan Vilade makes sense as a third baseman with plus power from the right side. if they take Burger, Smith or some other college bat, maybe you see them go with a prep arm like James Mariman or Jake Eder. Even in a bad draft class, there’s certainly things to like.

If you had to pick in a class you’re not super high on, would you go bat or arm with this pick? And let’s say they go with a college bat at #17 – HS arm? HS bat? Does it change the calculus, or nah?

For me, I’m always looking to go BPA (best player available). Whether that’s a college bat or a prep arm, doesn’t matter. What I will say is that if I take something volatile like a prep bat in the first round, I might look college arm in the second, but only if — and it’s a big if — the talent is close. I do get taking out risk, but talent is talent.

6: Related to that, a number of mock drafts or prospect lists feature a big name – and an even bigger stat line – kind of close to #55. Brett Rooker, the 1B out of Mississippi State, just put up what seem to be the best slash line in the SEC in at least a decade, and that’s going back to the pre-BBCOR bats. Rooker is one of a select few players who might be known to people who don’t follow college ball, thanks to an insane hot streak that got him on ESPN and the like early on. He plays in a huge conference, and is slashing .404/.505/.821 right now. I get the position isn’t ideal, but how does he NOT go in the first round?

A few reasons. The first being age. He’s going to be 23-years-old in November. As good as those numbers are, when you’re the age of a High-A player, you should be crushing SEC pitching. I think he goes in the first two rounds, and the power is legit. Having said that, if he’s anything but a platoon player at the next level, I’m surprised.

7: Time for our annual check-in on Alex Jackson. Last year, you called him one of the worst “misses” of your career. This year, he’s slashing .301/.359/.575 for the Braves org. Is he fixed? What did the M’s do or not do? Scary high K:BB ratio, but all of baseball has a scary high K:BB ratio to guys like me who grew up in the 80s. Fundamentally, is this something Atlanta did right, or do you think the M’s did something wrong with the kid?

Fixed may be too strong a word, but he’s looked good. He’s hurt right now, but it doesn’t appear to be anything serious, and the people I’ve talked to with the Braves have just raved about him.

As for whether or not this is a failure of the Mariners or something the Braves figured out, I’m not sure. Baseball is really, really hard. Jackson wasn’t just not seeing enough pitches, he was making weak contact. Maybe Jackson figured something out, maybe he matured. Swing doesn’t look too different to me. Right now, I’d say the credit goes to Atlanta but there’s a good chance he never becomes that prospect with Seattle.

8: As usual, the the local draft-eligible list isn’t a long one. There’s UW catcher Joey Morgan, the Oregon/Oregon State pitchers (Heimlich, Rasmussen, Peterson, etc.), and a few preps like Jesse Franklin and Mason Martin. Do any of them stand out? What kind of pro player do you think Morgan will be?

I love Franklin’s swing. There are questions about where he’s going to play, but if you have a chance to watch him swing the bat, it’s pretty. He’s probably headed to college.

I think Morgan can be a starting catcher, if you don’t mind your catchers being…I can’t think of a nice way to say bad hitters. He’s similar to Austin Rei, although I thought Rei had more offensive potential than he’s shown with Boston. Still, above-average defense and plus arm can play at the next level.

9: A kind of under the radar local prospect – thanks to a smaller college conference and injury woes – is Seattle University lefty Tarik Skubal. He showed great promise as a freshman and then in half a season as a sophomore, with his velo creeping up over 91, but then his elbow gave out. Depending on how teams evaluate his rehabilitated elbow, he could conceivably go in the first 4-5 rounds. What sort of prospect is he, or at least, WAS he before the TJ surgery? We’ve talked a lot about guys who’ve had TJ surgery in their draft year, though typically near the top. Jeff Hoffman, Mike Matuella, Cal Quantrill- these guys were still drafted pretty high. What would you counsel a guy like Skubal to do? Come back, demonstrate health, but take a risk in doing so? Or sign now, if the discount isn’t too steep?

It’s interesting, because Skubal was a top prospect for this class a couple years ago. Things haven’t gone so well since then, which is why I’m always skeptical of these kind of lists. I think he has the stuff of a backend starter, but maybe the stuff plays up in relief?

If I’m Skubal and I get close to slot for being a 4th-5th round pick, I’m taking the money. I just don’t think his stock can rise enough to not sign. The reward doesn’t come close to outweighing the risk, for me.

10: Jake Adams of Iowa’s made a splash in the CWS this year, and put up big numbers throughout the year. He’s essentially a poor man’s Rooker, with a .750 SLG% in a major conference. He’d conceivably be there for the M’s 3rd pick, but even there, might be considered a stretch. Is he a pro prospect? Going back over these posts over the years, I’m reminded of one guy you loved despite defensive question marks: Aaron Judge of Fresno State (and now the Yankees). How good does a bat have to be to essentially ignore defensive issues or position? Do you think people were TOO caught up in positional value and not enough on “can the guy mash?”

Adams is a non-prospect for me. Putting up monster numbers in a bad conference with a bad body. These type of players just never do it for me.

To answer your question, they have to be really, really good with the bat for me to ignore the defensive/body issues. I think Judge was underrated as an athlete. It was just the fact that there aren’t outfielders as tall as him that gave everyone pause, and I totally get that. If you aren’t plus hit, plus power — or somewhere close to that — and you can’t play defense, you just aren’t a prospect to me. Prove me wrong, Vogey and Rowdy.

11: Related to that, were first basemen kind of underrated, and are we seeing a correction? The 2016 top 101 prospects had 2 1Bs on it, both in the back half. This year, there were a lot more, headlined by Cody Bellinger, who’s been phenomenal with the Dodgers. There’s been a renaissance at the position in the big leagues (Freeman/Goldschmidt/Rizzo/Votto/Zimmermann/Thames), too.

Yep, the position is starting to see a renaissance, so to speak. It’s the best way to get a great bat in the lineup in a lot of cases, and why wait? If they can hit and you don’t wanna wait to see if they can stick in the corner outfield or third, get them going now. Long-term concerns be damned.

12: Who are some guys you’re particularly high on – guys you like better than what you think the industry consensus is? Do you have particular TYPES of player that you tend to like more than many teams?

I am always a sucker for projectable left-handers. I overrate them every year and I won’t stop anytime soon. MLB teams love them too, but I probably go overboard. Can’t help it. That’s why I’m a little higher than the industry I think on guys like Trevor Rogers and Seth Lonsway, because, well, projection. And left-handed. Great combination.

Going way, way back, the M’s were huge on projectable lefthanders. It didn’t go well. In your mind, how much of a draft pick’s success in pro ball is due to innate talent, and how much is player development? Same question applies to ANY draft pick of course.

I’m going to give two cop out answers. The first cop out is that if I knew I would be making lots and lots of money. Or more money than I make now, anyway. The second cop pout is that the answer is probably somewhere in between. If I had to do a split, I’d say it’s 2/3 talent, 1/3 development. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter how much you know about mechanics of the swing, mechanics on the mound, defensive awareness drills, etc.., if the kid can’t play, he can’t play. You have to be good at this sport to be good. Obvious point is obvious, but yeah, talent is more important than coaching. Sorry coaches.

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