In case you missed it, this week’s been a little light on the content side of things. Sue me, there isn’t fuck-all going on. BUT! I did … well, I did a dive a couple days ago (I can’t, and frankly I won’t, call it a Deep Dive, because come on, I’ve been mailing in my Mariners fandom for the better part of a year now) on the position players of note for the hypothetical 2020 season.
If that half-assed effort floats your boat, then have I got quite the solo buttcheek for you now! You’d think, “Hey, he did the everyday players in the first part; I bet he’ll get around to all the pitchers today!” and you’d be partially-correct. Look, I’m not gonna lie to you, this bullpen. I mean, you could’ve picked a dozen names out of the phone book (those things still exist, right?) and slapped ’em down on a page with stock ballplayer photos and I wouldn’t know the difference! So, today we’re gonna stick with the starting rotation candidates, because just the thought of trying to learn about every single one of these fuckers is as exhausting as it is pointless (I say that because – if I stuck with the same categories as the previous post – they’d all belong in the Placeholders section; I have very little faith in any of them sticking around long-term).
For the record, I’m doing away with the categories entirely for the rest of this, because we’re really not dealing with a large number of humans. Okay, enough preamble, let’s do this thing; it’s Quarantine Friday and I’ve got a lot of twiddling my thumbs left to do!
Projected 2020 Rotation
- Marco Gonzales (LHP)
- Yusei Kikuchi (LHP)
- Kendall Graveman (RHP)
- Justus Sheffield (LHP)
- Taijuan Walker (RHP)
It’s hard to predict the set order on this thing, because both of the righties are coming off of injuries, and so we don’t know how much the team wants to put on their plates right out of the box. If you numbered them 1-5 in a vacuum, you’d probably put Sheffield third because – as the top Major League-ready starting pitching prospect – he’s a virtual lock to make the team out of Spring Training, but I know how much managers like to split up their rotations so there aren’t too many lefties throwing in a row (and he feels like the safest bet to have his outings limited in both pitch counts and overall appearances, with this being his first real stab at the bigs).
The order, of course, makes no difference after the first week, and will ultimately get jumbled along the way with injuries, ineffectiveness, and other random events (like having a bunch of planned doubleheaders to cram in as many games as possible due to coronavirus delays), so let’s just start at the top and work our way down.
Marco Gonzales. He’s our ace again! Sigh. Listen, I like the guy. He’s a local kid, we got him for relatively cheap in that Cardinals trade, and he’s made pretty steady improvement since he came over in 2017. But, there’s an obvious ceiling here that we have to talk about every time we talk about him (even moreso when he’s the best pitcher in your starting rotation two years running). 2019 was his best year yet, and on any other (good) team he would’ve been a #3 or #4 starter. I won’t say that’s the best he’s capable of, but I also can’t guarantee he continues this (slightly) upward trajectory. If he figures out how increase his strikeout percentage (it actually went down from 2018 to 2019, 7.83 K/9 to 6.52 K/9) I could reasonably see his peak being as a #2; but he’s not an ace. You’re never going to be confident in handing him the ball in Game 1 of any playoff series, and I feel like as far as Eyeball Tests go, that’s all you really need. Just like you know porn when you see it, you know an Ace when you see it, and Marco Gonzales is that old photo of the navy guy kissing that nurse-looking lady on V-J Day in Times Square: it’ll get the job done in a pinch, but you REALLY need to use your imagination!
Yusei Kikuchi. As an elderly veteran rookie from Japan, he had a pretty rough start to his Major League career last year. It wasn’t a complete disaster, because I don’t think it would’ve been fair to put too many expectations on a guy put in that position: new team, new country, all new sets of players to pitch against – the best in the world – plus let’s face it, it’s not like the Mariners were too focused on Wins & Losses. In a rebuild, you just want your prospects to gain valuable experience, show signs of improvement, make adjustments as needed, and most importantly stay healthy. Kikuchi got that experience, and he managed to stay healthy, but I think the concern lies in the other two components: I don’t think he made all that much improvement as the season went along, and I think it was because he tinkered too much when he tried to make adjustments.
The Kikuchi talking points all Spring Traning long – before the world went to shit – was having him settle on one arm angle, one throwing motion, and make that his natural form by repeating it exactly. And, to his credit, reports were pretty positive for him. He accepted the criticism and learned from his first season, and it looks like we could be in for a nice rebound from him. Thankfully, as the M’s are still in rebuild mode, expectations for team success remain low in 2020. But, we REALLY need to see some significant signs of improvement out of Kikuchi if we expect to rely on him during the potential upswing.
Kendall Graveman. You might remember him from so many Oakland A’s teams. He hasn’t pitched a full Major League season since 2016 (indeed, he missed all of 2019 with arm injuries). I remember him being relatively impressive – and indeed he was the A’s Opening Day starter two years in a row – but he’s also not really someone you need to have high expectations for. He’s making $2 million this year, with a club option for 2021 at $3.5 million, which is totally reasonable. I actually really like it as a roll of the dice, because he’s still under 30 years old and if he does well, you’ve got a reliable rotation guy for the next two years at an insanely-low salary. If he gets re-injured or otherwise sucks, then what has he cost you, really?
Justus Sheffield. The Great Mariners Hope! We shipped James Paxton off to the Yankees for him – at the time, the best starter the Mariners had (when he was healthy) – when we started this whole rebuild thing, and of the starting pitchers we’ve since accumulated, Sheffield has the most promise to actually BE that Ace I’ve been talking about. He’s got a live fastball, he’s clearly Major League-ready after pitching in the minors since 2014, but he’s also a Yankees prospect that they willingly traded away (as an intelligently-run organization, they tend to keep the guys who look like the biggest locks to hit it big, while sending away guys who are overrated because they were Yankees prospects in the first place).
He started for the Mariners from late-August onward last year, and was spotty. There isn’t really anything you can hang your hat on with this guy just yet, but here we go! 2020 is the year where he’ll be given every opportunity to grow and learn and try to figure out how to be a Major League starter. Like Kikuchi, you don’t need him to be perfect, but the hope is he’s a better pitcher by season’s end than he is in the early going. How this truncated season will affect him remains to be seen, but considering none outside of the truly insane expect the Mariners to be contending in 2021 either, I think it’s fair to give him at least next year as well to really blossom into someone worthy of that #1 starter’s job.
Taijuan Walker. The move to bring back Walker on a 1-year, $2 million deal REALLY delighted me to no end! Like Graveman, he’s coming off of two SERIOUSLY injury-plagued seasons (making just one appearance in 2019 after only three in 2018), but he’s fully healthy and ready to re-start his career. It’s the perfect buy-low scenario, because again there’s no risk whatsoever, in money or in team reputation (which is in the gutter). Of course, Walker most likely won’t look like the guy we traded to Arizona a few years ago, but that’s what makes this move so interesting. Walker the fireballer was exciting, a real Ace prospect; but we don’t know what Walker the pitcher looks like. Can he finesse his way into a Major League career? He’s only 27 years old. Also, can he get some of that old juice he had back? I wouldn’t ever expect him to hit the upper 90’s on his fastball, but can he work in the 93-94 mph range? That would be truly great, not just for him but for the Mariners (assuming they’d want to extend him longterm if he succeeds this year).
Secondary Starting Prospects
- Justin Dunn
- Nestor Cortes
- Wei-Yin Chen
I’m sure there are countless other options among the rotation candidates for the Tacoma Rainiers, but I’m going to stick to the guys listed on the official Mariners roster depth chart, which rolls eight-deep these days. So, if I left out your favorite prospect, I don’t care.
Justin Dunn. At 24-years old, and one of the more highly-rated prospects in the Mariners’ organization, I feel like the team is in no hurry to rush him to the bigs. He had a cup of coffee in Seattle last year, as a de facto Opener (starting in all four of his appearances, but going no more than 2.0 innings), and really only had one bad outing. I’m sure there’s a vocal segment of M’s fans clamoring for him to open 2020 in the Majors, but he hasn’t even thrown a single pitch in AAA for crying out loud! I’d like to see a little more seasoning on his arm before we start putting a whole trough of food on his plate. Nevertheless, the future looks seriously bright for this kid. If we do end up competing for stuff in 2022, Dunn and Sheffield will be big reasons why.
Nestor Cortes. He’s another former-Yankees prospect who’s had a lot of time in the minors, but very little success in the Majors. For some reason, he’s listed among the starters on the depth chart, but that doesn’t appear to actually be his function. Looks like he might be a long-man out of the bullpen though, and in that role you’d expect him to get his share of spot starts (particularly with all the doubleheaders and whatnot). We traded essentially nothing to get him here, so again, another buy-low lottery ticket.
Wei-Yin Chen. He’s an older fella looking to rebuild his value on a bad team. He hasn’t started a game since 2018, and he signed only a minor league deal with the Mariners. Figure he’s one of these veterans who starts out in Tacoma, and either pitches well enough to earn a call up, or stinks and gets released (with the third option being: he pitches well, the Mariners have no room for him, and he opts out after a month or so to see if he can get a Big League job elsewhere). I dunno what to tell you here, he’s a body. If the shit hits the fan (or MLB expands rosters to handle all the games we end up playing in such a short period of time), I guess it’s good he’s here, but I wouldn’t expect greatness (or, really, even goodness).