Game 66, Angels at Mariners

marc w · June 12, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

Mike Leake vs. Jaime Barria, 7:10pm

Corey Brock’s got an interesting article at The Athletic today, with some great quotes from Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais on the M’s run differential. Sure, many analysts look at their solid but unspectacular run differential and see a team that’s lucky rather than elite, but the M’s have a different set of numbers they look at: a plus/minus-based Control the Zone metric. Essentially, you take the pitching staff’s K’s plus the batters’ walks and subtract the inverse – pitcher walks and batter K’s. Good zone-related outcomes minus bad zone-related outcomes. When you do that, you find the M’s come out at +80, a far sight better than last year.

But, I mean, we’re having this discussion because the team’s doing so much better than last year. We don’t really need a new zone metric to tell us that this year the M’s have played better. Does this new plus/minus number show that the M’s are one of the league’s best teams, unlike run differential? Well, not really. The M’s +80 is still a far cry from the Astros’ + 192. And it’s slightly below the Angels’ +84. The M’s run differential doesn’t show an *awful* team, it shows a good, wild-card contending club that’s just not quite as good as their record. That’s what this CtZ number shows as well. The two are correlated quite well, which makes sense if you think about it. Thus, the best clubs by CtZ are the same as the best clubs by pythagenpat or base runs. The Dodgers show up as the anti-M’s, a team with an unbelievably good CtZ, but a barely .500 record. But hey, run differential shows that too! All in all, the M’s rank 8th in baseball by this measure, 6th in the AL behind the Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, and Angels. It tells a story, it’s easy to wrap your head around, and it’s reflective of an organizational philosophy, so it’s not meaningless. It’s just not an effective retort to people who point out that the M’s run differential doesn’t look all that impressive.

You know what IS an effective retort to those people? The M’s record. Continuing to win baseball games. Letting the irrationality become part of the charm.

Jaime Barria is a soon-to-be-22-year old who’s served as the Angels’ 6th rotation member for much of the year, bouncing between AAA and the Majors and filling in when off-days don’t allow sufficient rest. With the injury to Shohei Ohtani, it seems like we’ll be seeing more of Barria going forward. He was signed out of the DR by the Angels (under Dipoto’s watch), but the bonus must not have been large enough to merit a blurb in BA. He moved steadily up the ranks in what was generally seen as one of the worst farm systems, but never attracted much attention. He cracked the Angels top 10 this preseason, though, albeit with a note that could’ve been cribbed from Andrew Moore’s – high floor/back-of-the-rotation-type is the sens you get. As mentioned there, he throws from a high 3/4 arm slot, and his resulting straight fastball has solid rise, but at average to a tick worse velocity. Like so many pitchers these days, he goes to his secondaries *a lot*. Righties see more sliders than fastballs, and lefties see about 50% fastballs and then a mix of sliders and change-ups. Barria’s great ERA is in part the result of amazing strand rate and BABIP numbers. He’s avoided really good contact by and large, according to Statcast’s numbers, but that may be due to his unfamiliarity.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Gamel, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Freitas, C
SP: Leake

If you were wondering who the M’s would send to Boston to complete the Roenis Elias trade, we now know: it’s Eric Filia, the older prospect who missed time this year due to suspension. As an older corner defender without a ton of power (and a 20th-round pick), he was always something of a longshot, and would need to hit a ton at every level. Undeterred, Filia…hit a ton at every level. He’s played just 13 games this year for Arkansas, but has 23 hits already, and a nice little .426/.508/.537 line. For his career, he’s at .343/.428/.460.

Game 66, Angels at Mariners – It Begins

marc w · June 11, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade LeBlanc vs. Andrew Heaney, 7:10pm

After a brief respite in Tampa, the M’s schedule turns sour for a bit, as the M’s face the Angels, Red Sox and Yankees for a while. People have been eyeballing this slate of games since before the season started, with the optimists considering this an absolutely critical stretch against likely wild card opponents. Here we are, and indeed, these three are the competition for the two WC spots – you figure one will go to the loser of the East, leaving the second for the AL West to fight over. The Angels hot start showed that they’d be a strong opponent, but they stumbled a bit in May, and today came the crushing news that Shohei Ohtani’s been shut down with ulnar collateral ligament strain – one that may need Tommy John surgery to repair.

The Angels appeared to do everything right with Ohtani. They employed a modified 6-man rotation, they gave him plenty of rest, and gave him fewer innings than other starters. He rewarded them with brilliant pitching when he was healthy, but then that’s been Ohtani’s issue the past few years. I’ll be honest, I think he’s great for baseball and I was hoping he’d be a star in MLB. I wanted Ohtani to succeed and for the Angels to blow it anyway. I sincerely hope the TJ talk is just worst case scenario-ism, and that he’ll return this year. If not, I hope he comes back and hits triple digits again. And that the Angels *still* blow it anyway.

I’m not sure if it’s the 6-man rotation or what, but the Angels staff has been stouter than I would’ve thought. Garrett Richards is turning in a decent season, but they’ve been buoyed by the emergence – finally – of Tyler Skaggs, and the more than solid fill-in, Jaime Barria. Still, the big breakout (aside from Ohtani) has been Andrew Heaney, himself coming off of TJ surgery rehab. Specifically, the lefty’s command has enabled him to post an above-average K-BB% while limiting HRs. After allowing 12 in his 20-odd innings last season, he’s allowed just 4 in 60 2/3. His velocity’s up a bit since his return – now at 92+ with his running sinker, thrown from a low-3/4 arm slot. His best pitch is a slurvey curve/slider thing that he throws a ton of to lefties, but he’s also got a firm change-up at 83-84 that he employs to righties.

With a lower arm slot and a sinker/kinda-slider arsenal, it’s no big shock that his platoon splits are pretty sizable. This is definitely a better match-up for Jean Segura/Mitch Haniger/Nelson Cruz, but his curve has been better this year, even to righties. That said, what seems to have made a difference for him is his primary fastball, the sinker. In general, sinkers have less spin than four-seamers, with less pure backspin producing “rise.” Heaney’s, though, gets plus spin, which may help it miss some bats. From Statcast, it looks like Heaney’s spin rate has improved since his TJ surgery, which may be a byproduct of that increased velo. But it *also* looks like he’s getting some extra cutter spin – that is, some spin that does NOT produce movement. Heaney’s armside run was higher back in 2015…but his spin was lower. This may be what’s happened with James Paxton this year, too – his spin rate keeps rising, but his…uh…rise does not follow suit. That is to say, Paxton’s adding extra spin without it influencing the movement of the pitch. With so much emphasis on spin efficiency, is that “cut” spin doing anything useful? I don’t know, but it certainly seems to be working for Big Maple – and it’s been effective for Garrett Richards, the guy who occasioned me learning about gyro spin in the first place a few years back. Whatever it is, Heaney’s fastball has been more effective than in the past, and that’s made a big difference for him.

Speaking of more effective fastballs, the entire Mariner team has been on a roll, and they’ve done it in much the same fashion as Heaney – they stopped allowing dingers. A bit over a year ago, I wrote a post about how much of the HR explosion had to do with four-seam fastballs. That’s less true now, as the percentage of four-seamers that turn into dingers is down fractionally, even as the overall percentage of four-seamers thrown remains the same as last year (35.5% according to MLB). The M’s are throwing dramatically fewer four-seamers and have actually allowed the fewest HRs on four-seamers of any club in the game. For a team that led MLB in HRs in 2016, and came darn close to repeating that feat last year, this is noteworthy. If you’ve watched Felix recently, it won’t come as much of a shock that they are giving up too many HRs in the NON four-seam FB category, but the numbers are low enough that that seems like an easier problem to deal with. In any event, it’s something to watch the rest of the way – are the M’s changing their pitching strategy? And is that what’s behind the resurgence of guys like Marco Gonzales, Mike Leake, and today’s starter, Wade LeBlanc?

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Heredia, CF
8: Span, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: LeBlanc

Christian Bergman and Max Povse start for Tacoma and Arkansas, respectively, and look to continue a run of effective starts. Colin Rogers and Ryne Inman take the hill in the lower levels of the system.

Clinton swept a double-header from Kane County yesterday and are closing in on a first-half title in the Western division of the Midwest League. Modesto, who got blown out by San Jose, are in last in their division, and already eliminated mathematically from the first-half race. Arkansas leads their division, albeit with a record of just 32-30; no other team in the North division has a .500 record. Tacoma’s 7.5 games out in the Pacific Coast League’s pacific north division.

Game 65, Mariners at Rays

marc w · June 10, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Nate Eovaldi, 10:10am

Happy Maple Day.

The M’s actually lost a game yesterday, which felt novel and strange more than out and out bad. The M’s record currently stands at 40-24, which is nearly the inverse of the White Sox’ current 21-41 mark. Think about just how bad the Sox have been, how despite a massive prospect haul, they still struggle to find anyone to give them replacement-level innings (outside of Reynaldo Lopez). How they’ve given over 100 PAs to an OF with an OBP of .180, which is the only way to make CF Adam Engel’s .228/.289/.329 mark look acceptable. How every single mark is negative, from baserunning to defense to strand rate to FIP, etc. Take that pile of woe, invert everything about it, and you’ve got the M’s 2018 season. I’ll admit, I still don’t quite get what’s happening here, or what’s propelling the M’s so far above the .500 mark I thought was in store for them. But thinking about the M’s this way reminds me that this is so comprehensive, so thorough, that they are clearly better than I gave them credit for.

Today, James Paxton faces off with former Marlins and Yankees fireballer, Nathan Eovaldi. For years, Eovaldi ranked as one of the hardest throwing starting pitchers in the league, but that was essentially the only stat that stood out. He put it all together for one solid year in the Bronx back in 2015, but overall, he’s struggled to turn his 98mph fastball into whiffs and strikeouts. It’s not that he lacks secondary pitches – he throws a slider, curve, and a splitter along with a sinker and four-seam fastball. Part of it is that his fastball movement is pretty underwhelming. It’s got a bit of armside run, but not too much, and little horizontal rise. The splitter is probably his best overall offering, but it’s not exactly an all-star pitch.

Eovaldi’s coming back from TJ surgery this year, having missed all of 2017 and most of this year, too. His velo’s right back where it was, but we’ll see how he looks to the M’s offense. He’s tossed 11 IP at the major league level this year, and done quite well, thanks to his more than serviceable control. His first outing was a brilliant 6 shutout inning performance against the A’s, though the Nats roughed him up in his last outing. Eovaldi’s always had pretty significant platoon splits, so we’ll see how Servais adjusts the line-up:

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, CF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Span, LF
7: Healy, 1B
8: Gamel, RF
9: Zunino, C
SP: PAXTON.

Just some tweaks, but nothing as significant as swapping Healy and Vogelbach. Span moves up the line-up, I suppose, and Heredia sits in favor of Gamel/Span/Haniger OF.

Game 63, Mariners at Rays

marc w · June 8, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

Marco Gonzales vs. Wilmer Font, 4:10pm

This was always going to be the “breather” series in a very tough stretch for the M’s, but I don’t know if we knew just how much the Rays’ outlook had changed until recently. As I mentioned yesterday, the Rays are in 3rd in the AL East, and until their sweep in Seattle and some stumbled against the Nats, their record wasn’t too bad. Their decision to cut salary and essentially quit trying – or even pretend to try – for the wild card has had some impacts. Gone are their 4th and 6th-best hitters by wRC+ (Denard Span, Brad Miller), as well as their erstwhile closer. They’ve called up Jake Bauers who wasn’t exactly destroying the International League. Maybe the one good thing to come out of the past week/ten days has been Chris Archer heading to the DL with an abdominal injury. How’s that good, you ask? Archer characterized it as a mild problem that he would’ve played through, but that rest may take care of the issue for good. With the team’s motivation sunk, I think it’s great that Archer realized he needs to focus on his own career. Staying healthy nearing the trade deadline is critical for both Archer AND the Rays, and I’m sure the Rays newfound conviction to playing the kids helped Archer make the decision to take 10 days of rest.

Archer pitched pretty well against the M’s last week, so the M’s won’t complain, either. In Archer’s place is a pitcher who may be his opposite. Archer’s remarkably steady, having made at least 32 starts four straight years, and who’s reliably generated strike-outs, a few too many walks, and good FIPs to go with solid but not spectacular ERAs. Wilmer Font has produced a season of gaudy, even rococo awfulness. There’s nothing steady about a season that’s seen him play for three teams in three months. If Font qualified for the ERA title, he’d rank in the top 20 in HRs-allowed despite having pitched 1/3-1/4 of a starter’s workload. Batters are slugging over 1.100 on his slider, meaning it’s one of the worst sliders in the league, which just heightens the differences between he and Archer.

Font throws 95, but it hasn’t helped him quite yet. With the Dodgers, Font gave up 5 HRs in 10 1/3 IP this year, or 5 in 48 batters faced. That dog pretty clearly will not hunt, so he was DFA’d and ended up on the A’s, who were sick of similar problems with former Mariner Emilio Pagan. You can see the appeal – he throws hard, misses a few bats, and if you just wait for regression to deal with those HRs, you might have something. Font’s HR troubles laughed in the face of your “regression.” The impossible is nothing, they seemed to say, and actually improved on that HR rate, giving up another 5 dingers in just *37* batters faced. I haven’t sat around and counted HRs in a MLB batting practice session, in part because I’m not allowed to, and in part because it seems like a spectacular waste of time, but I honestly wonder if that’s not a higher HR rate than you’d see in one. Sure, Nelly Cruz probably hits more than 5 in 37 quasi-At Bats, but if you looked at the entire session, I’m reasonably sure it’s lower than 5-for-37. The A’s dropped Font like a hot rock.

The Rays were interested, because of course they were. Not only is Font making the league minimum, but high HR rates are not exactly a turn-off in the St. Petersburg area. Andrew Moore is in the right org for him, just as Jake Odorizzi was, and just as Alex Cobb and others were. The Rays probably don’t mind Font’s fly-ball tendencies*, but they’d just need to make a few tweaks. They appear to have done just that. Font has had many, many problems, as both his fastball and his two breaking balls have been utterly destroyed. Would another pitch work? He’s had a change, but he’s not used it much at all. BrooksBaseball counts all of 1 (one) thrown in his Dodger tenure this year. He threw 4 in his first game in Oakland, and then another 5 in another game. So, arriving in Tampa, he’d thrown 10 of them all season. In 4 games with the Rays, he’s at 18. More than just the usage, though, the Rays seemed to have changed it.

To be fair, so did the A’s…they just didn’t seem to like it. That solitary cambio with the Dodgers looked the way his 2017 changes did – that is to say, it had *less* armside run than his fastball, and about 4-5″ less “rise”. They were thrown at 84 or so. With the A’s, that vertical drop was accentuated, bringing the gap in rise up to about 8-10″. In all, it looked like a solid splitter, albeit one that he didn’t have much faith in (or the A’s didn’t have faith to call). With the Rays, it has slightly more horizontal run than his fastball (helped by a slightly different release point for ALL of his pitches), and a bit less vertical movement – but that’s in part due to the fact that he’s throwing it harder, 85-88 MPH now. It now looks more like a split-finger fastball, and in particular, like Alex Cobb’s old pitch, the one he taught to Odorizzi. I’m not sure if that makes Font *good* or anything, but at least Font’s not challenging records or credulity with his HR rate (he’s given up 1 with the Rays). This is pretty much what I’d expect the Rays to do with Andrew Moore, another pitcher with a serious gopherball penchant.

So is Font just the opener? I believe they’re going to hand the ball to Matt Andriese after Font, but with Archer down, I’m not sure if they’ll try to get more than 3-5 batters out of Font. All of these openers can tax the bullpen; Ryne Stanek threw more pitches than I think the Rays would’ve liked, so I’m not sure if he’s available. At least Austin Pruitt gave the 7, so guys like Romo may be available. That’s good, because Andriese’s season high in innings pitched this year is…3 1/3, a mark he’s hit just once. Andriese has a straight fastball at 93 or so, and pitches off his best pitch, a hard split-change thing. He’s what you imagine when you hear the phrase “pitches for the Rays.” Incidentally, while the concept of the “opener” could work in some applications – like Romo-facing-the-top-of-the-Angels-line-up or something similar – this feels a lot more like a good old fashioned bullpen day. An opener who was completely different from the following pitcher might work; a righty followed by a lefty, or an 88-MPH junkballer followed by a 96 MPH fireballer – something to maximize the platoon advantage or mess with hitters’ timing. Today is…not that. It’s two righties with similar fastballs, similar off-speed pitches, and poor breaking balls. Go M’s.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Zunino, C
7: Gamel, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Vogelbach, 1B
SP: Gonzales

Dakota Hudson and Memphis shut out Tacoma last night 6-0. Ashton Goudeau took the loss in relief of Lindsay Caughel, who went 3 scoreless. Ex-MLB starter and recent indy league signing Ross Detwiler starts for Tacoma tonight.

Arkansas lost a late lead to Tulsa, as the Drillers scored 5 in the last two innings to win 6-4. Chase de Jong tossed a quality start, giving up 1 R in 6, but Scott Kuzminsky gave up 4 runs in the 8th, and newcomer Daniel Schlereth gave up another in the 9th. Braden Bishop doubled and walked, continuing his absolutely torrid streak. Bishop posted a .610 OPS in April, raised it to .789 in May, and has gone nuts in June thus far, with a 1.382 OPS in 30 ABs. Nathan Bannister starts tonight opposite old org signing Justin DeFratus for Tulsa.

Modesto scored a run in the 9th to beat Visalia 1-0. The Rawhide’s Riley Smith and the Nuts’ Darren McCaughan were locked in a pitcher’s duel, and Seth Elledge got the win with a scoreless 9th. Elledge has 36 Ks in 24 IP and could probably stand to try things out in AA now. Randy Bell starts for Modesto against the anachronistically named Melvin Adon.

Clinton beat Burlington 8-2 on HRs by Ryan Costello and Greifer Andrade and a good start by Nick Wells. Sam Delaplane tossed 1 2/3 IP, and now has 41 Ks to 10 BB in 26 IP. Hey, he could replace Elledge in High A? The Lumberkings send Clay Chandler to the mound tonight, an undrafted free agent they signed last year. He’s been solid for Clinton this year.

* You really have to admire Font’s commitment to the bit – in his short career, he’s somehow managed to have a very high fly ball rate, AND a high HR/FB rate, *AND* a high BABIP-allowed. That’s really, really hard to do. Small samples can produce anything, but this is remarkable.

Game 62, Mariners at Rays – Everything Must Go!

marc w · June 7, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

Mike Leake vs. Ryne Stanek / Austin Pruitt, 4:10pm

A few weeks ago, the M’s traded for Denard Span and Alex Colome in exchange for Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero. To me, the deal doesn’t really hinge on what you think Span has left in the tank or your projections for Moore’s ceiling. Rather, the most important factor seemed to be that Span was the Rays most expensive player this year, and Colome ranked 6th. The Rays aren’t bad; they’re currently 3rd in the AL East, albeit several miles behind the Red Sox/Yankees. But because of how the early season’s shaking out, they’re pretty clearly not interested in trying to make a run at the second wild card. It’s not just that they have no real shot at catching up to whoever comes in 2nd in their own division – it’s that the M’s, and to a much lesser extent the Angels – have made competing for the SECOND wild card look like a fantasy. That’s the context for today’s Rays move, DFA’ing former Mariner Brad Miller and bringing up 1B prospect Jake Bauers.

There’s been a lot of talk about the compensation consequences of the Rays’ new “opener” strategy, of using a reliever for an inning and then handing the ball to someone who pitches a starter’s workload (that’s the plan for today’s game, for example). Letting Span go and then DFA’ing Miller seems to suggest that they’re not only looking for longer term payroll flexibility, but *current year* savings. To me, that’s even grosser. It’s true – the Rays aren’t getting the wild card. We’ve anticipated a Chris Archer trade for the past 18 months or so. But if they trade Wilson Ramos and Archer, and if another team picks up Miller, it’s essentially letting the Rays hide behind an opening day payroll they had no intention of actually paying out. There’s nothing illegal about that, and again, you can kind of understand the baseball thinking behind some of these moves, but it means the entire operating starts to look more like a way to profit from baseball’s revenue sharing. Stay in MLB’s good graces for taking on Span’s salary and signing Ramos, then start trading players when they hit arbitration and paying a few million to make the balance of your short term contracts go away. I don’t hate the “opener” gambit, and if it was any other team, I don’t think I’d worry that it was just a ploy to reduce a pitcher’s arb award. This isn’t any other team.

Today’s, uh, “opener” is Ryne Stanek, one-time Mariner draftee, who spurned the M’s and went to Arkansas where he became the presumptive #1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. But an inconsistent junior year saw his stock fall, and the Rays nabbed him with the 29th pick. He moved to the bullpen a few years after that, and made his MLB debut last year, sitting at 98-99 out of the pen, but getting hit far harder than anyone sitting at 98-99 should. Of particular note, he’s got pronounced reverse splits, which is odd given that his big pitch coming out of college was a slider. Instead, his best pitch now appears to be a split-change, thrown at around 89-90 with similar horizontal movement to his fastball, but which dives downward. It’s too soon to know how effective he can be with it, or to know what to make of a righty reliever with a career FIP against righties over 8, but that splitter’s the key to why the Rays may be trying this.

The first “opener” the Rays used was the famous ROOGY Sergio Romo. Romo’s a classic righty-killer, a guy who threw a sweeping slider against righties and basically just tried to keep the ball in the park against lefties. Playing an Angels line-up that included big righties at the top like Mike Trout and Andrelton Simmons, Romo cleared the way for a lefty like Ryan Yarbrough to miss some high-stress PAs against tough righties. Like Romo, Stanek’s a righty reliever, but the M’s line-up starts with Dee Gordon, and they’ve often swapped Kyle Seager and Mitch Haniger depending on the handedness of the starter. The M’s aren’t biting this time. Haniger’s hits 3rd, so the M’s will have a fairly right-handed slate of hitters face Stanek, hopefully neutralizing the impact of Stanek’s best pitch.

After that, it’s Austin Pruitt again, the guy who “Started” after Romo “opened” in the series opener back in Seattle. In that one, Pruitt pitched 5 good innings after Romo threw 1 1/3, staying in through Haniger in the 5 hole. We’ll see if the Rays do something similar, letting Stanek face Seager before giving way to Pruitt, who incidentally doesn’t have huge platoon splits either way.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Span, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Freitas, C
SP: Leake

Levi Weaver concluded his 3-part series for the Athletic on Driveline Baseball and its founder, Kyle Boddy, today. As LL’s Tim Cantu noted on twitter, there are some disconcerting references to an “AL West” team that broke off a planned partnership – a team that’s almost certainly the M’s. With that deal smoldering, Boddy is pursuing…some kind of arrangement with Texas; Weaver notes Boddy was in the Rangers draft war room this week. None of this is to say that any team that hires him has an advantage, or that the M’s were stupid not to move forward with whatever it was they had planned with Driveline. I don’t know anything about pitcher development. I just would love to see the M’s stick with SOME kind of development program for their pitchers. The recent improvement from Marco Gonzales is the cause for some optimism, no doubt, but at the time THAT deal was made, the M’s made a point to say how much Gonzales had changed after coming back from TJ. That is, how much he’d changed in the Cardinals org that drafted him and got him to the majors. None of that’s to downplay the job that Mel Stottlemeyer Jr.’s done this year – he seemed embattled at the end of 2017, but his charges are doing extremely well, with notable improvements from Gonzales, Edwin Diaz, and Wade LeBlanc.

Good article from Jeff Sullivan on how we may be on the down slope from peak HR. HR rates league wide are down, even as batters have hit more and more fly balls. Certainly, there’s far fewer GBs this year than last, the year of the fly ball revolution. It’s just that fly balls aren’t getting rewarded the way they were, and as I’ve talked about, the same exit velocity and launch angle is less likely to turn into a HR this year compared to 2017. Has the ball changed back again? Maybe looking to get more of a handle on year-to-year differences, MLB purchased ball manufacturer Rawlings this week for $395 million.

Lindsay Caughel faces off with Cardinals prospect Dakota Hudson and the Memphis Redbirds tonight. Chase de Jong starts for Arkansas, who host Tulsa, and Darren McCaughen takes the mound for Modesto as they host Visalia. Nick Wells starts for Clinton, who are in Burlington to face the Bees. In last night’s games, Tacoma lost 2-1 despite a strong start from Christian Bergman. Former Rainier Tyler O’Neill went 1-2 with 2 BBs. Max Povse continued a run of strong starts, beating Tulsa 5-3, and K’ing 9 in 6 IP. That’s 19 strikeouts in his last two starts, covering 12 IP. Former Rainier reliever Brian Moran pitched in that one for the Drillers.

Still, if it’s ex-Rainiers you want, check out the Durham Bulls – the team Jake Bauers played for until today. They’ve got Andrew Moore, who pitched for Tacoma in 2017-18, Andrew Kittredge (2015-16), Ryan Weber (2017), Forrest Snow (2011-2015), and catching them all is Adam Moore (2009-10, 2012). They have also seen appearances from Vidal Nuno (2015) and Zach Lee (2016).

Game 61, Mariners at Astros

marc w · June 6, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

Wade LeBlanc vs. Lance McCullers Jr., 5:10pm

After a pleasingly convincing, easy win yesterday, the M’s hand the ball to Wade LeBlanc, who’s on a month + hot streak. That streak has been characterized by an astonishingly good K:BB ratio that has NOT been accompanied by dinger troubles. When LeBlanc last played here, he posted a 15.4% K-BB% mark, the best of his career. Unfortunately, it was also accompanied by a wave of HRs allowed, which sunk his fWAR, if not his actual in-game utility. It’s funny; with the Padres, LeBlanc had awful strikezone numbers – missing too few bats and walking too many – but kept his HR rates low, in part thanks to his spacious park and the overall environment in scoring’s little ice age. In 2016 and 2017, he flipped – he wasn’t exactly Max Scherzer, but he struck out more batters and he pushed his walk rates significantly lower, but then had to deal with dingers. What we’ve seen thus far is what LeBlanc looks like when he does both at the same time. It’s a good look.

After mentioning Dallas Keuchel’s emerging HR problem and then watching the M’s demonstrate it, I wondered: is Wade LeBlanc really *worse* in some absolute sense than Dallas Keuchel? Is Dallas Keuchel the bloated major-label version of the same thing, while LeBlanc is the innovative, indie-label alternative? Keuchel has the credentials and career, but who’ll be better in 2019-2020? If we look at the projection systems, the answer’s pretty clear: Keuchel’s still better. They all assume Keuchel will recover his HR mojo AND miss some more bats, and that’s essentially the difference. By pure K:BB projections, though, it’s surprisingly close – at least if you look at ZiPS. Steamer is still not a fan, no matter what trendy label LeBlanc is on. But so much of the work being done here is Keuchel’s career HR/FB and HR/9 rate. I understand that LeBlanc’s should probably be higher, if only because he gives up about twice as many fly balls, but I’m not completely sold on Keuchel just bouncing back to where he was a year ago. It’s closer than I would’ve thought, anyway, and it’s kind of awesome for the question to pop up.

Today’s match-up pits two very, very dissimilar pitchers up against each other. Kind of. McCullers throws very hard, gets a ton of grounders, and strikes out and walks many more opposing batters. LeBlanc’s a soft-tosser who has very good control, gives up fly balls and has below-average K rates. In approach, though, they’re more similar than you’d think. McCullers got a lot of attention early in his career for his remarkably high breaking ball usage rate. This year, McCullers throws only 40% fastballs, and then another 40% or so of breaking balls, with the balance change-ups. The league in general and the Astros in particular have been moving away from FBs and towards other pitches for a while, but McCullers is kind of the poster boy for this “pitching backwards” strategy. But hey, look at ol’ Wade LeBlanc! If you use Brooks’ pitch categories, he’s throwing 65% “hard” pitches, but that’s counting his cutter as a quasi-fastball. At 4 or so MPH slower than his FBs and with a break that’s about 10″ or so different from his sinker, it feels slider-y to me. And if you put it with the breaking balls, then he’s throwing 43% fastballs, 30% change-ups, and 27% breaking balls.

Tonight’s line-up:
1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Span, LF
8: Heredia, CF
9: Zunino, C
SP: LeBlanc

The draft lumbers on, and the M’s have added another big group of players to the organization. Rounds 11-40 were today, and the interesting pick from a few angles was local product Damon Casetta-Stubbs, a righty pitcher from the Vancouver, WA area. As this article from the Columbian mentions, he’d heard he might go anywhere from the 3rd-8th round, and his coach encouraged him to pick a price and stick with it in negotiations. As you probably know, there are slot values for each pick in the first 10 rounds, with the signing bonuses all counting towards a team’s overall bonus pool. They can go “over slot” with someone, but not by too much, or they’ll need to sign others for under slot money. As always, teams sign a few college seniors who’ll command less than their “slot” value would suggest in order to allow them to sign a reach pick – last year, the M’s got Sam Carlson in the 2nd round, but gave him 1st round money in part by signing Wyatt Mills in the 3rd to a far under slot bonus. What’s this have to do with Casetta-Stubbs? Well, picks after the 10th round that are over $125,000 count against the bonus pool. To sign him, I think it’s going to cost them more than that. But by waiting until the 11th round, they had an entire night to see how their draft crop looked, and how much money they expect to have available. They obviously think they can sign him AND stay under the worst of the penalties. It’d be nice to get another player with ~5th round talent in the 11th round.

Anyway, Casetta-Stubbs aside, the story of the M’s draft is their overwhelming tilt towards the college ranks. That’s been an organizational preference for a while, but this year stands out. Of interest to me, anyway, is 9th rounder Keegan McGovern, a senior out of Georgia who looks like a completely different player this year. In his junior year, he hit all of 2 HRs, but broke out with 18 this year, one of the top marks in the SEC.

Important article in the Athletic by Meredith Wills, who examined baseballs pre- and post-HR surge, and finds that the new balls have thicker, tougher laces. This small difference may account for a big chunk of the ball’s decreased drag AND why so many pitchers have been having blister problems. It’s free (at least today) to read, and it’s worth your time.

The M’s announced today that they’d offer a ballpark pass for the July slate of home games – 14 in all. It’s just $98. Pretty cool move to get more fans to Safeco as the playoff race heats up. A few other teams have done this, or targeted kids with similar promotions, but it’s cool to see the M’s offer something like this for July. It’s well-timed, kids are out of school, and it includes some really nice match-ups and promotions.

Game 60, Mariners at Astros

marc w · June 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

James Paxton vs. Dallas Keuchel, 5:10pm

Welcome to the difficult part of the schedule. The M’s kick off a short series with the Astros, and after a brief respite in Tampa, face off against a bunch of playoff contenders, from Anaheim to Boston to New York. There are precious few Twins or Rangers this month.

The Astros have a run differential of + 122 coming into today, which looks like it’s in a different league to the M’s +17, but sadly for Houston, they don’t award playoff spots based on run differential. Yes, the M’s look much worse on paper, and the run differential tells that story. But I’d like to talk about 2016, when the Astros were coming off a surprise that-didn’t-take-as-long-as-everyone-thought playoff berth, but slumped to just 84 wins. Meanwhile, the Texas Rangers won *95 games* despite a Pythagorean record of 82-80. Their run differential was in single digits, but they won *95 games*. For most of the year, it was actually negative, and people said, “You can’t just score runs *exactly* when you need them all year; it doesn’t work like that,” but the Rangers went right on doing it for the entire year. It made no sense, as I pointed out at the time, and it kept on making no sense right through a 95-win, division winning season. That feels familiar, at least from watching the M’s in May, and so at least there’s a recent precedent for a team continuing to out-weird “better” teams.

The M’s face the team with potentially the best rotation in history, but at least they get the weakest link in that rotation tonight – it’s, uh, former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. Keuchel’s velo’s unchanged from his brilliant 2015 and his bounce-back 2017, but Keuchel’s K% and GB% are down a bit, and as a sinkerballer throwing 89, he’s always working on the margins. He has to be incredibly precise, and to his credit, he has been. But after a few years when it seemed like he could contact-manage his way to stardom, his HR/FB ratio’s no longer shockingly low, and if you don’t get a ton of strikeouts, there’s some vulnerability there. I mentioned yesterday that the M’s would benefit more than most teams if the ball stopped being quite so HR-friendly; as a ground ball guy, Keuchel doesn’t seem like he would be in that boat, but I keep thinking that if the ball stays drag-resistant, he’s simply not going to be what he was in 2015 anymore. That seems like a just-so story, gussying up regression to the mean with doctored baseballs and league wide trends, but hey, it’s not a USSMariner piece without at least one reference to league-wide HR rates.

James Paxton has dominated a very good Astros line-up over the past 1.4 years or so. The Astros throttled the M’s last year, and they’re doing fine against them in 2018, but they haven’t figured out Paxton quite yet. Long may this continue.

1: Gordon, 2B
2: Segura, SS
3: Haniger, RF
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Healy, 1B
7: Heredia, CF
8: Gamel, LF
9: Zunino, C
SP: PAXTON!

With the calendar turning to June and lots of players exercising opt-outs, the M’s affiliates have seen a ton of changes this week. It’s not just the M’s, but a wave of players who had been playing in independent leagues just crossed over into affiliated ball, and the M’s have been especially active. The M’s signed former Nat Ross Detwiler, former D-Back Daniel Schlereth, and RHPs Tyler Higgins and Williams Perez to minor league deals. Tacoma SS Zach Vincej hit the DL, but Nick Rumbelow was officially activated for the first time this season. The R’s have been scrambling a bit with injuries and then the promotion of Roenis Elias, so the Indy League windfall will benefit the team that’s had to pull guys from Modesto/Arkansas plenty for spot starts.

The 2018 Draft: Days Two and Three, Open Thread

Jay Yencich · June 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues

As with last year, since the third day of the draft goes fast and is at times inscrutable, it makes more sense to lump it together with the second day when we have more to talk about. Not that we didn’t have enough to talk about on day one, boy howdy. It’s all fun in its own way, but your best approach is to be receptive and not too invested in any one player or group of players. Other sports can project full drafts whereas baseball can’t seem to get through fifteen selections before something bonkers happens (I did not have the A’s selecting Kyler Murray). There also appears to be a clearer sense of who can play where and when and why elsewhere, whereas baseball demands further skill development and all the variables and PB&J sandwiches therein.

One consideration I had coming out of Day One was the use of picks and money. Logan Gilbert has been spoken of as having a verbal agreement, and given his analytics background and humility in interviews, I’d be hard pressed to see him exceeding his bonus, given that he seems deferential to the team as a whole. Stowers, I know less of on a personal level, but he wasn’t expected to land here and was projected maybe more in the fourth or fifth round, at least from the earlier prognosticating, and moreover, later reports in the evening suggest that he also is in the same “verbal commitment” territory as Gilbert. Does this mean that both will come in under-slot, giving us more money to spread around among high schoolers on Day Two? It certainly seems possible, but it’s not something that we’ve done previously, so we’re in uncharted territory right now and waiting to see what happens. The Day One selection suggests the same college bias as other years, but SSS caveats still apply.

Such factors are not necessarily a given. We’ve been burned in past drafts by selecting guys who bonus demands we thought we had a handle on and turned out to be wrong about, such as Steve Baron. Yet, the general perception I’ve left with is that there’s a possibility here to spread around some money, if not in the third round then maybe in the fourth through sixth, among high school picks who may have interesting tools in their own rights but will take a longer development track. Whether that comes to pass immediately as selection #90 comes our way or in the longer term as we get beyond that remains a question. I’ll be disappointed if we appear to go more with perceived cost-saving picks on Day Two, and intend to remain quite pissed at the Astros for taking Jayson Schroeder in the second round. I’ve had enough of the Rays encroaching on our home territory but the Houston Astros? That’s just taking things too far.

Day Two:
Round Three: C Cal Raleigh, S/R, 6’3″, 215 lbs, 11/26/96, Florida State
Round Four: LHP Michael Plassmeyer, 6’2″, 200 lbs, 11/5/96, Missouri Columbia
Round Five: RHP Nolan Hoffman, 6’4″, 190 lbs, 8/9/97, Texas A&M
Round Six: RHP Joey O’Brien, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 11/28/97, Southern Nevada
Round Seven: C Jake Anchia, R/R, 6’1″, 205 lbs, 3/5/97, Nova Southeastern
Round Eight: RHP Joey Gerber, 6’4″, 215 lbs, 5/3/97, Illinois
Round Nine: LF Keegan McGovern, L/R, 6’3″, 200 lbs, 9/3/95, Georgia
Round Ten: SS Matt Sanders, R/R, 5’8″, 175 lbs, 6/7/96, Troy

Assessment:
Some time immediately after last year’s draft, I remember some talk from FO higher-ups about how we were now at a good place now and could now finally focus on rebuilding and longer development projects. I have been betrayed on a deep, deep level and will not soon forget it.

I mean, someone surely looked at the low minors and went “ew,” but what we got predominantly were guys who will be at Everett and higher and no one really who would solve the issue of running out of pitchers in extended. I can see some of these fellows like Gerber, a closer for the Illini, and Hoffman, who’s a quirk guy, moving quickly as bullpen arms, but this isn’t necessarily a spot of need anymore. We did well to grab a few catchers as well, which may put an end to the need to grab them wildly in the Minor League Rule 5 or convert any willing infielder. It’s hard to know which one to prefer, as both appear competent and more geared towards offensive production, although not with major concerns as to whether or not they can stick. Some of these dudes have interesting backgrounds or individual abilities. McGovern appears to have recently found his power stroke, and is a native of Willachoochee, Georgia, which I won’t soon tire of. Sanders can run and work a count. O’Brien is a sneaky fave as a fresh arm who can run it up there, was formerly a prep in Japan (and is eligible for the NPB draft), and was playing centerfield on his offdays. It’s cold comfort for those of us who wanted Ohtani, but he’s fun conceptually as a player. Otherwise, while the college guys picked weren’t all “okay, he’s maxed out, you know what you’re getting here,” there wasn’t really a starter among the pitchers outside of Plassmeyer and maaaaaybe O’Brien, who is a wild card here. What this draft looks like so far is yet one more attempt to restock low-to-mid minors ranks to fill in what we’ve traded away, which doesn’t inspire confidence as a long-term plan. We’ll see what Day Three brings, where we can toss around $125k bonuses without being penalized.

Day Three:
Round 11: RHP Damon Casetta-Stubbs, 6’4″, 200 lbs, 7/22/99, Kings Way Christian (WA)
Round 12: 2B Ryne Ogren, R/R, 6’1″, 180 lbs, 4/11/97, Elon
Round 13: OF Charlie McConnel, L/R, 6’2″, 195 lbs, 1/7/96, Northeastern
Round 14: RHP Tyler Suellentrop, 6’3″, 215 lbs, 1/22/97, Indian River State
Round 15: RHP Matthew Willrodt, 6’4″, 220 lbs, 10/19/97, Cisco JC
Round 16: LHP Holden Laws, 6’2″, 165 lbs, 12/8/99, South Granville (NC)
Round 17: CF/SS Cesar Trejo, R/R, 6’2″, 200 lbs, 5/15/97, UNC Greensboro
Round 18: RHP Noah Zavolas, 6’1″, 190 lbs, 5/11/96, Harvard
Round 19: C Dean Naveraz, R/R, 6’0″, 220 lbs, 1/4/97 San Diego St
Round 20: RHP JT Salter, 6’8″, 285 lbs, 6/10/96, U West Alabama
Round 21: RHP Grant Anderson, 6’0″, 180 lbs, 6/21/97, McNeese St
Round 22: SS Nicholas Rodriguez, R/R, 6’2″, 170 lbs, 6/28/96, UNLV
Round 23: CF Ryan Ramiz, L/L 6’1″, 185 lbs, 1/13/96, Seton Hall
Round 24: LHP Benjamin Onyshko, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 10/18/96, Stetson
Round 25: 2B Connor Kopach, R/R, 6’0″, 170 lbs, 8/4/94, Southern Il Carbondale
Round 26: 3B Cal Hernandez, S/R, 6’0″, 185 lbs, 1/9/96, Oral Roberts
Round 27: 2B Cash Gladfelter, L/R, 6’4″, 200 lbs, 11/9/96, Shippensburg
Round 28: 2B Beau Branton, R/R, 5’7″, 175 lbs, 9/4/95, Stanford
Round 29: 3B Bobby Honeyman, L/R, 6’1″, 185 lbs, 5/25/96, SUNY Stony Brook
Round 30: LF Cody Staab, L/L, 5’10”, 170 lbs, 7/3/96, Rice
Round 31: LHP Rigo Beltran, 5’11”, 185 lbs, 9/1/94, Lynn
Round 32: 2B Zach Scott, L/R, 6’0″, 185 lbs, 4/27/95, St. Leo
Round 33: RHP Penn Murfee, 6’2″, 195 lbs, 5/2/94, Santa Clara
Round 34: LHP Nick Wegmann, 6’1″, 195 lbs, 4/26/96, Binghamton
Round 35: RHP Will Gambino, 6’2″, 205 lbs, 10/2/99, Paul VI (NJ)
Round 36: LHP Justin Wrobleski, 6’2″, 180 lbs, 7/14/00 Sequoyah (GA)
Round 37: RHP Parker Towns, 6’4″, 255 lbs, 11/8/96, Dallas Baptist
Round 38: 2B Jack Montgomery, L/R, 6’0″, 175 lbs, 8/28/00, Simsbury (CT)
Round 39: RHP Jacob Maton, 6’2″, 175 lbs, 9/22/99, Glenwood (IL)
Round 40: RHP David Rhodes, 6’2″, 180 lbs, 2/15/00, Langley (BC)

Assessment:
It’s nearly impossible to come up with smart things to say in the short-term about Day Three of the draft as it all goes on so rapidly. There are any number of prospects whom we’ve said “okay, who’s that?” in this period who have gone on to be just fine major and minor league players thanks to the efforts of scouting and player development. I’m not going to pretend here that I have anything profound to say about this draft class, but instead I’m going to make a couple of notes based off whatever interests me.

* After not spending a single pick in the high school ranks, the Mariners selected seven of them in the final thirty rounds. What I can tell you right away is that 11th round local guy Damon Casetta-Stubbs was a late riser talked about in the third to the eighth rounds who the Mariners bought out of a commitment to Seattle U. We also appear to have gotten 17th rounder Holden Laws, adding another prep pitcher. This carried on a sort of theme, insofar as six of the seven prep selections were pitchers. Gambino, Wrobleski, and Maton would be pretty big gets if possible, but seem less likely. Rhodes, who was also recognized as one of the better Canadian preps (he has a commitment to UW), could end up as a guy they do pursue, partly for the local interest and partly because the pick was dedicated to long-time Canadian scout, Wayne Norton, who passed away within the last year. We’ll see where that goes. I also suspect that Norton may have been on 24th-rounder Ben Onyshko, who was at Stetson, same as Logan Gilbert, but pitched for Vauxhall as a prep. Oh, and we had three fifth-year seniors, although for a while had more of them than we did preps.

* As far as the positional splits, sixteen picks on Day Three were pitching, ~four outfielders, one catcher, ~eight middle infielders (Trejo was listed at two spots), and two third basemen. Splits on S / L / R were 1 / 7 / 6, so, left-handed preference again.

* Two more guys named “Cal” after having no guys named “Cal,” one more “Ryne” who may soon play alongside the other “Ryne” we already have who was named a MWL All-Star today along with OF Jack Larsen, RHP Collin Kober, and 1B Ryan Costello.

* JT Salter is a large human being, and I hope we sign him.

The M’s Make No Sense, And It Is Awesome

marc w · June 5, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

The Mariners make no sense. May saw the team lose Robinson Cano to suspension, and see much of the rest of the line-up miss time due to injury: Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino all missed games and/or went on the DL. As you might expect, their offensive production dropped, and they averaged about 4 runs per game, far below the pace they set in April; they scored 10 or more runs 4 times in April, but none in May. The club that was doing fine despite *allowing* 4.8 runs/game in April saw their run scoring fall…and they’ve moved ahead of the Astros in the AL West.

This is bonkers, and it is 10X better than anything logical. The M’s pitching staff in April looked *just* like the M’s pitching staff last year – Paxton was good, and then they’d cobbled together a rotation with some fairly inconsistent guys like Marco Gonzales and, as much as it pains me to write this, Felix. Mike Leake was supposed to hold down the middle of the rotation, and he was fine, but clearly not pitching the way he did last September. More worrisome, they were still allowing far too many HRs. Their fly-ball heavy approach mixed with the new, more aerodynamic ball resulted in a lot of big innings, and so they’d need to hit enough to compensate. In April/March, the M’s posted the 2nd-highest HR/9 rate in the game.

In May, they’ve allowed the lowest HR/9 because sure, why not. Is some of that luck? Yeah, sure, but not all of it. Last month, the M’s had the second-highest rate of pitches OUT of the strike zone put into play. If you want to maintain a low HR/9, induce swings at bad pitches. It’s notable because their overall rate of pitches in play isn’t all that high, as it shouldn’t be considering their strong strikeout rate.

Moreover, the M’s may be benefitting from a return to form of their ballpark. In 2016, batters who hit the ball hard in Safeco did slightly better than Statcast’s “expected wOBA” measure would’ve predicted based on angle and speed off the bat. So did a lot of teams, of course, as Statcast was trying to catch up to the fact that the new ball turned more balls into HRs than before. Now Statcast’s measure, trained on a few years of DingerMania, is OVERestimating production, and Safeco’s a prime example. Using the same metric in 2018, batters at Safeco are hitting far worse than predicted. But if this is just about league-wide trends, how would that help the M’s? As I’ve said, no team was as vulnerable to a change like we’ve seen as the M’s were. They built a staff around OF defense and BABIP-prevention, and then the league made BABIP nearly moot. The point is: if the game or at least Safeco moves back towards pre-2015 levels in terms of HR-friendliness, this team looks a lot different. Yes, this helps Oakland too, and look at the gap down there at the Coliseum… but the M’s have a huge lead now, and fewer HRs league wide would make it really hard for Oakland – or others – to catch up.

Their schedule gets a lot harder now, as you’ve no doubt heard. They’ll be in Houston again, and they’ll play the good bits of the AL East for the first time. They’ve always known this was coming, and if you’d made a checklist of things you’d want to see before this next road trip, I think the M’s would check every box. I sure as hell never expected them to be in front of the Astros, but they needed to build a little cushion ahead of the Angels. They’ve done that. They needed to see a serious step forward from either Mike Leake or Marco Gonzales vis a vis their April production. They got it from both. They needed to see a major improvement in HRs-allowed. As detailed above, they aced this section. They needed to see more from their bullpen behind Edwin Diaz. Their bullpen just led the league in fWAR in May by a country mile. They needed signs of life from Ben Gamel. He’s been on a serious tear. The M;s aren’t perfect; the hitting is timely, but not exactly potent, there are still depth questions (Romine?), and injuries continue to mount. But they needed to make a move in May and capture the region’s attention. They simply couldn’t have done a better job of that.

Lookout Landing’s Isabelle Minasian wrote a great post about the *feeling* that this team produces, and like many of you have noticed, there’s a lot more M’s gear around these days, so clearly Isabelle’s not alone. The references to the last times the M’s were in first place in June – whether tied (2016) or not (2003) – still bring up painful memories for me. I still expect to hurt at the end of all of this. But watching a vintage Felix performance yesterday was pretty special, and it’s a reminder – for me, at least – that this team can be so much fun, and that I don’t WANT the M’s to make sense. I want them to dominate at some point, and that’s not what this year’s about. This year’s seems to be about a team being more than the sum of its parts. That’s not terribly sabermetric, but then, I don’t care about the average of 10,000 teams constituted vaguely like this one – I care about the 2018 Mariners.

2018 Draft Preview with Chris Crawford

marc w · June 4, 2018 · Filed Under Mariners

It’s still technically time for a preview, as the M’s haven’t made their selection yet. A venerable tradition at this blog, it’s time to talk MLB draft with expert Chris Crawford. Chris has written for Baseball Prospectus, MLBDraftInsider, and is currently at HEROSports. We’ve done these previews here at the good ship Mariner since 2012, when the M’s selected Mike Zunino and the Astros got Carlos Correa.

Because we’re short on time and not at ALL – at ALL – because I’ve been busy and forgot to send some e-mails, this one will be short and to the point. It’s…uh, optimized for mobile. Take it away Chris:

1: Like last year, the M’s have three selections in the top 100 (#14, #54, #90). What kind of draft class are they looking at? Above-average, average-to-mediocre, bad?

I think it’s a weird draft class. There are a lot of interesting prospects, but they all have flaws that keep me from loving most of them. There’s a ton of 45-50 FV to me, which is good, but also not necessarily ideal.

2: Who should the M’s take at #14? Who WILL they take?

I think they’re going to take the best player left, which is another way of saying I have no idea. I definitely know that’s who they should take. I think if either Travis Swaggerty or Jarred Kelenic falls to them, they should be thrilled. If not, someone like Logan Gilbert, Ryan Rolison or Jackson Kowar would be fine.

3: The M’s took a college player first in the drafts that Jerry Dipoto’s overseen. Despite a few different scouting directors, that’s been his MO going back to the Angels – a HS pitcher in the first round once or twice, but generally speaking, he looks to the collegiate ranks. Is that inflexible? Or is that a guy who’s more comfortable with more information and prudently sticks with college players?

I think it’s both. I don’t think outside of the Taylor Ward pick Dipoto has gone way off board in value, and it could be just what has made sense to him. That being said, it’s clear Dipoto values safety, and there’s much more safety in college arms and bats.

4: How good is Casey Mize? Great player or solid player who’s almost certain to make the majors? Would you have taken Bart or Mize or ???? at 1-1?

Mize, easy. I’m not sure he’s a Gerrit Cole or Carlos Rodon type prospect? But he’s really good. He pounds the strike zone and he has three swing-and-miss pitches. He should move very quickly through either the Detroit or Philadelphia system — assuming San Francisco isn’t selecting him as rumored.

5: The M’s also pick at #54. 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 we will see them do what Dipoto has done often; taking the inverse of what he took in the first; a prep player, be it position or pitcher. If they go prep, someone like Owen White or Slade Cecconi makes sense. If they’re going prep bat, maybe they take a chance on someone like Joe Gray or Nick Decker. All fit into that value range.

6: Help me, Chris – I’m scouting the stat lines again. Bren Spillane is running a SLG% that starts with a 9. He plays in a power conference, but he’s not seen as a top-100 guy. What’s his ceiling?

Ton of power, and he’s a good first baseman as well. I think there’s some concerns about the hit tool, but I think he should go in the first 100 picks. I could see him going in the second round for someone who really values right-handed power. Lots of teams value right-handed power.

7: Kyle Lewis – what do you make of his progress coming back from a serious injury? He’s lost a lot of development time, but the talent’s undeniable. Where is Lewis three years from now?

I think you have to give Lewis credit, because a lot of guys would have given up. He clearly hasn’t done that. That being said, it’s pretty clear he’s lost some of the athleticism, in my opinion/folks I’ve spoken with. I still think that Lewis has a chance to be a good starting outfielder, but I think his chance of being a plus one — maybe even a star — has passed. He should be in Seattle by 2019, assuming there’s no trade.

8: For the first time in a while (Blake Snell’s draft year, or the Reese McGuire year?) there are a few local players in the top 100. There’s OSU standout Nick Madrigal, of course, but also Juanita SP Jayson Schroeder, UW SS AJ Graffanino, Hugh Smith at Whitworth, Tarik Skubal at Seattle U, Daniel Bies at Gonzaga, etc. Just a random blip after a few years without much to talk about, or are the local colleges doing something different (even just hiring better coaches/recruiters)?

I think probably a little bit of both. The area is getting better, but also let’s keep in mind that schools like Oregon and Washington have done a great job signing these players. Once in, we don’t hear about them for three years. But yes, the high school class for Washington — particularly Schroeder — is as good as it’s been in a couple of years.

9: I’ve talked a lot about player development in regards to the M’s system, so I’ll ask you the fundamental question: how much of a successful MLB player is due to their talent at the time they enter the system, and how much is due to player development helping them along physically/mentally? Is it different for, say, Edwin Diaz versus Marco Gonzales?

So hard to say, and I think if I had the answer to this I wouldn’t be doing interviews with you. I think you have to have both the physical and mental side. It’s clear the Mariners are doing a better job with the latter as of late, in my opinion. The physical; it’s so hard to say. There’s so much attrition and volatility in players of this age, and calling something the right way to do it, I dunno. I think it’s just different for every player but I really don’t know.

10: Of the top HS arms that could be available at #14 – Rocker, Weathers, Winn, Wilcox – who do YOU like best, and do you think any of them tempt Dipoto away from Team College?

I think it’s Ethan Hankins. If the draft were held in February or March, Hankins is probably the second or third pick in this draft — maybe even the first ever prep right-hander to go first. I don’t think any of them have enough “safety” to tempt Dipoto at 14, but I sure would be. All of those guys are good and I have them ranked highly, but if you were just talking pure upside, Hankins has a ton.

11: Shohei Ohtani’s transition to MLB has been quite successful, and we now have a model of what a two-way player could look like. The Rays are using Brendan McKay as a two-way player in the minors for the time being as well. Do you think baseball’s coming around to this idea, even if it’s as a Brooks Kieshnkick-ian reliever/pinch hitter? Or is it simply too difficult to get enough development time in on such disparate skills?

I think you have to be a special, special player to do it. Ohtani obviously is. Baseball I think is starting to embrace more open-mindedness — see how the Rays are using McKay — but they’re probably exceptions to rules. Baseball is really hard. You want the guy doing what he’s best at as much as possible.

12: Who are some guys you’re particularly high on – guys you like better than what you think the industry consensus is?

I love Swaggerty. I think he’s a potential star. His weakness is his size, but I ignore that. I think he has the potential to be the best player in this draft. Others “like” Swaggerty but I think I’m one of the few who loves. I’m still pretty high on Hankins as we talked about earlier, and Logan Gilbert as well.

13: The M’s took 1B Evan White last year, who was something of a rare animal in that he was an ultra-athletic, good-defender 1B without a ton of power. He’s been in the system for a year now – what do you think of the pick and his development?

I liked — but didn’t love — the pick. I still would have moved him to centerfield but I also get wanting to put him somewhere where he can be plus-plus with the glove and maybe allow the bat to move quicker. That being said, I’m a little concerned at the lack of pop in the Cal League, and a little more swing-and-miss than I’d like to see. Still would give him a chance to be an outfielder, but you can’t complain too much with what you’ve seen.

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