There’s Absolutely Nothing Else To Do, So Let’s Look At The Mariners’ Roster (Part 1)

I would’ve normally done this weeks ago, but since we all died in early March and are now currently in a loop of the last episode of Lost, I guess I’ll get to it now.

There’s probably going to be baseball this year, right? I’m, like, 81% confident we’ll see the MLB in some form (though, for real, it would be cool if ALL the states could get on the same page with the fucking social distancing and whatnot; it’s gonna suck when certain areas see the curve flatten and re-rise again because other fucknuts around the country aren’t taking this seriously enough). So, we should probably have some sort of idea of who the Mariners are that we’ll get to watch eventually.

I’ll save the disaster that is this team’s pitching staff for the next post in this series, because I can’t even right now. The everyday players are actually – if you squint really hard while wearing your cataractiest pair of rose-colored glasses – kind of, sort of, in a way, a little bit interesting.

Here’s what we’re gonna do. I could sit here and go Position By Position with you and you’ll catch what I’m putting down and we’ll all go about our days a little bit dumber more informed probably. But, that insults your intelligence and, quite frankly, is something I’d be doing if I didn’t have all the damn free time in the world because everything has shut down. So, instead, we’ll group everyone on the Active Roster into categories: Veterans, Placeholders, One-More-Chance Guys, Quad-A Players, and Legitimate Prospects. This should give us all a pretty good idea of where things stand in the Mariners’ rebuild, and it’ll be cool to look back on later and see how wrong I was!

Veterans

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Carlos Gonzalez (OF)

These are the least-interesting guys on the team, because none of them figure to be around for the Next Great Mariners Squad (though, to be fair, if we’re being realistic here those hypothetical guys probably haven’t even been BORN yet … is how long it will be … because they’re such a poorly-run, inept organization … you get it). So, let’s get these guys out of the way really quick.

Seager is still under contract through 2021, with an option for 2022 (though I can’t envision a scenario where he’s here for that long; hell, at the first sign of competence I have to imagine the team will look to trade him to a needy contender). He actually had a nice, bounce-back year in 2019 – even though his batting average continues to suffer at the hands of the dreaded Infield Shift – as the second-most valuable position player behind Tom Murphy in an injury-shortened season. He almost certainly won’t ever set foot in the playoffs in a Mariners uniform though, so let’s move on.

Dee Gordon is signed through this season, with an option for 2021 that vests with 600 plate appearances. Considering all that’s going on, it’s a virtual lock he won’t see that happen, which is to all of our great relief. Look, Dee’s a fun guy. He’s super fast, he can be flashy with the glove, and he’s streaky as hell (which means SOMETIMES he gets on fire and looks like one of the best leadoff hitters of all time); but usually he’s just mediocre and overpaid. So, you know, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have … Dee Gordon.

CarGo isn’t even (I don’t think) on the Active Roster at the moment. He was more Haniger insurance than anything, I think. Is anyone hurt more by this COVID-19 than CarGo? The way things are shaking out, Haniger might actually make a full recovery from his surgery in time to start the season! I mean, yeah, people have died and whatnot, but a 34-year old over-the-hill outfielder might’ve just missed out on his last chance at Major League glory mediocrity!

Placeholders

  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Austin Nola (C/1B)
  • Dylan Moore (OF/INF)
  • Tim Lopes (OF/INF)

Controversy, right out of the box! Murphy’s only 29-years old, so it’s not inconceivable that he cements himself as the Everyday Starting Catcher for the next however many years. But, come on. Let’s get serious here, huh? Can we get serious?! Cal Raleigh is the consensus Catcher Of The Future in this organization! We just need Murphy to buy us a couple more years – maybe mentor the future stud a little bit – and then step away gracefully (ideally, when his Arbitration years expire, so some other team can sign him to a needlessly-expensive deal).

I’ll be honest, I hardly know who Austin Nola is. I know he came up last year and was remarkably efficient in his limited playing time, but if you threw him in a lineup with five other honkies, there’s no way I’d be able to find him (and I’m LITERALLY looking at his thumbnail photo right now!). I know he played a lot of first base, and I think maybe some outfield? Yet, all of a sudden he’s the 2020 Mariners’ backup catcher. Bold Strategy Cotton and all that. Maybe he sticks with the Mariners as some futuristic Super Sub, but I have my doubts.

Dylan Moore and Tim Lopes are CURRENTLY Quad-A guys, but they’ve sort of established themselves as bench guys around the infield and outfield, so I’m putting them in this spot because these guys are dimes-a-dozen. You know how when you play Yahtzee and you always get the Full House every single game without really trying? Because let’s say you’re going for 3’s and on your second or third roll you just luck into the Full House for an easy 25 points? That’s what Moore and Lopes are; they’re a Yahtzee Full House, the easiest thing to find in all of board games.

One-More-Chance Guys

  • Daniel Vogelbach (DH/1B)
  • Mallex Smith (CF)
  • Mitch Haniger (RF)

Also known as: The Vogey Special. Daniel Vogelbach is living a pretty charmed life. He got here at just the right time. We traded for him in 2016, he got to mash his way through the minors, and just as everything was falling apart in the Major League clubhouse, he was promoted to help fill the void of power at the plate. With Nelson Cruz no longer blocking him at designated hitter, Vogey got his fill in 2019. While he started off pretty hot, he cooled off significantly in the back-half of the season. Now 27-years old, with no discernable value defensively, this is really his last shot to make it with the Mariners. We know he can hit 30 homers; he did just that last year. Now, we need either more consistency, or another 10-15 homers on top of that to justify his worth. Seems unlikely.

Mallex Smith kind of had the opposite-type of year in 2019 as Vogey; he started off TERRIBLY after coming over in a trade from the Rays. So bad, in fact, that we had to send him down to Tacoma to work on … everything. His bat stunk, his defense stunk (somehow, even though he’s ostensibly a centerfielder), his confidence plummeted, he was over-thinking everything. It was an absolute unmitigated disaster. When he came back up, though, he was able to turn it around somewhat (though, the damage had largely been done). His 2018 season saw him as a potential leadoff hitter for the next decade; now he’s languishing at the bottom of the order and is hanging onto this organization by a thread. A 2020 like his 2019 will see him elsewhere in 2021.

Oh, I WENT THERE! You like Mitch Haniger, I like Mitch Haniger, the Mariners OBVIOUSLY like Mitch Haniger (after all, when we were shipping off everything of value that wasn’t nailed down before last season, the M’s opted to hang onto him as the centerpiece to the big rebuild), but his injury issues that cost him most of last year (continuing, infuriatingly, into this year somehow) are starting to snowball into something much more sinister than we ever could’ve imagined. Look, he had a pretty great 2018 season, but that’s just one year! He has in no way established himself as a superstar or even an everyday player at this point! Injuries were part of his background before he even got here, so it’s not like we can say this is a fluke; he might be the next Franklin Gutierrez for all we know. I’m not saying the Mariners will necessarily cut bait if he doesn’t prove himself in 2020, but some of those trade rumors are starting to look more and more plausible with him. If the younger outfield prospects have big years, Haniger might find himself pushed aside for a flashier crop of dudes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Quad-A Players

  • Shed Long (INF/OF)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)

These guys are going to get every opportunity to shine in 2020 – as should be the case, because what else do the Mariners have to lose at this point – but the bottom line is: I don’t believe either of these guys are bona fide Major League talents. Shed Long looks like he could be a decent utility player in the future. He can play all around the infield and corner outfield spots, he’s got an impressive amount of pop in his bat for a guy of his size; but I just don’t think he’s a starter.

As for Fraley, I don’t think he’s even a Major Leaguer period! He strikes me as a guy who will make most of his living in AAA, with brief appearances in the Major Leagues as a replacement bench guy for injured outfielders. Moving on.

Legitimate Prospects

  • Evan White (1B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)

Obviously, there are more legitimate prospects in the minor leagues, but this isn’t a post about them. We all know who they are and what they mean to the future of this organization. I’m more interested in the guys who are on the Mariners RIGHT NOW.

Evan White is one of the bigger names we have to look forward to. He was a first round draft pick in 2017, and they just signed him to a 6-year deal with three more option years. He’s the First Baseman Of The Future, and the Future Is Now Motherfuckers! So, he goes into this category because he HAS to go here. The Mariners NEED him to be a cornerstone, otherwise all hope will continue being lost.

I’m really on the fence with J.P. Crawford. Gun to my head: I don’t think he’ll ever be great. But, he’s obviously not a Quad-A guy, and he’ll obviously be given more than just this year to prove himself as a starter. I think he’ll be fine. If we’re lucky, he’ll have a career like Carlos Guillen or something (though, hopefully his best years will be here and not in Detroit). If we’re unlucky, he’ll turn into Brad Miller and we’ll curse the day we ever became Mariners fans in the first place (damn you 1995!).

I am drinking all the Kyle Lewis Kool Aid you’ve got! I freaking LOVE this kid! He’s had such a hard road after being this team’s #1 draft pick in 2016, starting with tearing his ACL a few weeks later as a rookie. From there, after all the rehab, he struggled to find his game again, until finally putting it all together last season. When he got his cup of coffee with the Mariners in September, he made the absolute most of his 18 games, hitting 6 homers and 5 doubles. I hope he crushes it this year and never looks back, because he’s got real All Star potential if he can put it all together.

How Many 2020 Mariners Can I Name Off The Top Of My Head, With Just A Minimal Amount Of Coffee Inside Me?

I listen to this podcast called Threedom, which features three of my favorite podcast comedians sitting around and bullshitting for an hour. And, last week I listened to the episode where Lauren was trying to list off as many different characters and whatnot as she could from the Star Wars franchise, having never (at the time) seen the movies. Essentially just going off of what pop culture has referenced that’s seeped into her subconscious. I thought that was a lot of fun, especially because I have my own blind spots; I’d be curious to see how many characters I could pull from something like the Harry Potter series, for instance. There’s Harry, of course. Hermione. The red-headed freak. Snape? Snope? Voldemort, for sure. From there, it’s all a jumble of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, so let’s move on.

I’m stealing this idea to see how many players from the 2020 Mariners I can name, without cheating. You’re bound to see a few guys from the minors in this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’ve said it before, but in 2019 I checked out on the Seattle Mariners. Part of that had to do with my work schedule – waking up at 4am, going to bed by 8pm, not wanting to be thoroughly irritated right before it’s time to sleep – but most of that had to do with the Mariners being just awful. I’ve put up with a lot of bad baseball in my 20-something years of following this team, but I refuse to lose sleep over them! Especially when the object isn’t to win games, but see the young guys develop.

Well, that carries over into 2020. In fact, the team might actually lose a lot MORE games than they did last year (and 94 losses is quite a lot on its own). So, suffice it to say, it’s going to be difficult to get any interest ramped up for this team.

So, without further ado, here is the (pitiful) list of pitchers that I know based on memory alone:

  • Marco Gonzales
  • Yusei Kikuchi
  • Justus Sheffield
  • Erik … Samsonite? Swanson!
  • Julio Rodriguez
  • Dan Altavilla
  • Brandon … Brennan?
  • Festa?
  • Taijuan Walker!

That’s really all I got. And honestly, I don’t even feel like a bad fan! I think Rodriguez and Festa are minor leaguers, but I was close (except Rodriguez is actually an outfielder, so I was WAY OFF). The only one I probably should’ve remembered was Sam Tuivailala, as he’s been around a little bit and was a pretty significant return in one of those damn trades we made with the Cardinals.

Here’s all the catchers I know:

  • Tom Murphy

And that’s it. Do the M’s even HAVE a backup catcher in the Major Leagues? We’ll find out this spring.

Outfield:

  • Mitch Haniger (injured list)
  • Kyle Lewis
  • Mallex Smith
  • Braden … Bishop?
  • Jarred Kelenic

Kelenic is obviously in the minors, but I nailed the rest! I mean, yeah, I also missed a couple, but I got the big names.

Infield:

  • Evan White
  • Kyle Seager
  • J.P. Crawford
  • Dee Gordon
  • Daniel Vogelbach
  • Shed Long

I almost forgot Shed Long! I knew he had a short name, and almost biffed it, but it fell out of my brain at the last second. Considering the rest of the 40-man roster is filled with potential backups and minor leaguers, I feel good about my effort here. Shame I forgot Austin Nola (who, I guess, can also play backup catcher?!), but what can you do?

That’s 21 guys. Honestly, better than I would’ve expected. Thankfully, with Pitchers & Catchers just reporting this week, I’ll have plenty of time to learn about everyone else.

Did I say “thankfully”? I meant Dreadfully.

The Mariners Finished Sixth-Worst In All Of Baseball in 2019

For the last time, I get to talk about how the 2019 Mariners started 13-2, only to go 55-92 the rest of the way. Suffice it to say, the final 147 games were a better representation of this team’s true abilities.

Last in the A.L. West, four games behind the Angels, 29 behind the Wild Card-bound Athletics, and 39 behind the 107-win Astros. For draft purposes, we were just a single game better than Toronto for the fifth overall draft pick. I don’t know if that final win would’ve meant anything as far as a tie-breaker for that spot (as we “won” the season series against the Blue Jays), but if it prevented us from moving up a spot in the draft, then once again a meaningless late-season win will have done real, lasting damage.

Let’s rattle through some numbers: 68-94, a -135 run differential, a team slash line of .237/.316/.424; a team ERA of 4.99 (with a 5.00 FIP). Something interesting about this team is just how truly awful the Mariners were against the best of the American League. Against the Astros, Rays, Yankees, Twins, and Indians, the Mariners had a combined record of 7-38, which means against everyone else in baseball we were 61-56. The great team the Mariners could actually handle was the A’s at 9-10, but I find that very interesting. On the one hand, it’s a clear indictment that there’s an obvious difference in talent level between the Mariners and the best of the best; however on the other hand – while the M’s ended up with one of the worst records in all of baseball – we could hang with the clods in this Gods N’ Clods American League. So, we’re middle-of-the-road among the losers, but we are SO FUCKING FAR AWAY from the elites.

As we’ve discussed all year long, it was never about the results (except for my bloodlust for a higher draft pick), it was about developing our future stars. In that sense, I think this year was a moderate success. From just a clubhouse standpoint, I thought the team played hard all year. Maybe some lulls here and there – particularly with certain defensive struggles and base-running mistakes – but nothing alarming. At no point have I felt an overwhelming need to see Scott Servais fired and have a bunch of heads rolling. I thought he did a great job managing an impossible-to-win situation. He obviously doesn’t have forever to right the ship; if he wants to stick around for when this team gets good again, this probably has to be the nadir. I’m sure the higher ups will want to see steady progress in the right direction as soon as 2020, with a likely Playoffs Or Bust scenario in 2021 (depending on how much improvement we have next year). I’m not saying I believe the Mariners will make the post-season by 2021 – indeed, I’d bet hard the other way, if I’m being honest – and so this is just my way of saying that I fully expect this team will have a new field manager the next time we’re ACTUALLY contending for the playoffs again. It’s sort of a bummer, because I think Servais is the right man for the job, but it’s an impossible task he’s saddled with. The Mariners haven’t made the post-season in forever and as such, the fans aren’t going to wait around forever. If we’re not hovering around .500 next year, I think he’ll get the axe when it’s over (especially if attendance continues to go down as much as it did between 2018 & 2019, what with all the improvements to the stadium the Mariners are doing this offseason).

On the field, I guess I have cautious optimism about some of the strides the younger guys made, but what other choice do I have? I’m already on record as not believing this organization is anywhere close to the post-season, but it’s also not totally impossible to be pleasantly surprised.

The pitching is obviously the biggest concern, and there’s really not much to like about what we’ve got in the Majors so far. Marco Gonzales is the only guy who qualified by pitching enough innings, so that should tell you a lot. He was fine. He should be a reliable innings-eater who has more good games than bad ones; imagine Jamie Moyer with a better fastball and worse change up. As a #2, he’s less ideal; as #3 he’s good enough; as a #4 he’d be perfect. But, he’s nobody’s idea of an ace, yet he was far and away the best pitcher on this team.

The good thing about pitching is that it can vary so much from year to year, so it wouldn’t shock me to see a bunch of guys who just got their feet wet in 2019 taking huge steps forward in 2020. Kikuchi is obviously the one we most want to see make that leap, as he had about as rough of a debut to the Major Leagues as we ever could’ve predicted. I think we all thought he’d be more of a finished product at this point; now I pray that he isn’t. Because, if this is just who he is, then he’s of no use to this organization.

We don’t have Felix to kick around anymore, and I have to believe LeBlanc’s starting days are over for this team (aside from the occasional spot-start, if he’s even still here at all and we don’t trade him). So, we should see a lot of the younger guys going forward. I fully expect to see Justus Sheffield in the rotation out of Spring Training; there’s nothing he has left to do in AAA that he can’t do here against legitimate competition. We need to see what he has, and if he’s destined to be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher or not. To his credit, he made remarkable progress after seemingly going the other way to start the season. I hope we’re able to unlock whatever potential he has inside of him.

After those three (Gonzo, Kikuchi, Sheffield), I really have no idea. I’m pretty sure they’ll go out and sign a veteran on a cheap deal to help be a presence for the younger guys, but that final spot has to go to another youngster; maybe Justin Dunn? We’ll see.

I’m not even going to bother discussing the bullpen right now. It was as big a disaster as we ever could’ve hoped for, and I believe the primary reason why we lost so many games, so in that sense they did what they were supposed to do. Now, after getting a look at so many different guys, here’s hoping we can cobble something together to give them more of a chance to continue developing.

I would argue the biggest bright spots for this team came on the hitting side of the ball, but I also really question how many of these players will be around long term. J.P. Crawford seems like a good bet to be our starting short stop for a while, but is he good? He showed glimpses of greatness, but also long bouts of ineptitude with the bat. I liked what I saw out of Shed Long, and hope he gets a regular role with this team going forward, but he might not be anything more than a super-sub. Austin Nola was a nice find, but he’s not the future starting first baseman for this team in 2022; that’s supposed to be Evan White (and maybe as early as next year). That effectively makes Nola yet another super-sub.

We all loved what we saw out of Kyle Lewis in his cup of coffee this September, but it was just that: a September call-up for a first-time Major Leaguer. Can he carry it over into Spring Training and beyond? Dan Vogelbach hit a lot of homers, but not much else. Domingo Santana was a solid presence in the middle of the lineup when he was healthy, but he was also the absolute worst in the outfield. Mallex Smith got better as the season went along (and led the league in stolen bases), but he’s nobody’s idea of a centerfielder of the future. Dylan Moore is just a guy. Most of the younger guys we saw weren’t even good enough to be called out by name. The very best thing the Mariners had going for them in 2019 was the catcher position, led by Omar Narvaez and Tom Murphy, but they’re not necessarily destined to be here forever either. They really just add up to one great catcher split in two, where one is shaky at defense and the other might just be better in smaller doses (and will be exposed if he’s ever given the everyday starting job). Then there’s Mitch Haniger, who was injured for what felt like the entire season. He didn’t look spectacular when he was out there, so I’m even less sure of him now than I was at this point last year.

More than anything, all we have is hope that the minor leaguers will continue to rocket their way up to Seattle. Which, you know, isn’t a ton to hang your hat on. I guess we’ll see. Again, what choice do we have, right?

My Confidence Level In The Mariners’ Rebuild So Far

Jeff Passan made a good point on Brock & Salk yesterday, when he asked who’s going to be part of the Mariners’ Major League team in 3 years. The more names you can pull from the current crop of players – either currently in the Bigs, or hopefully to-be-in-the-Bigs in 3 years’ time – the higher your confidence level should be in how the rebuild is going.

I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t have a great handle on the minors, aside from all the names everyone talks about all the time, so my choices are going to be different from someone who’s an expert. But, that’s the way it goes. I’m going to split up everyone I can think of into three-ish categories.

High Confidence

  • J.P. Crawford (INF)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)
  • Mitch Haniger (OF)
  • Marco Gonzales (SP)
  • Justin Dunn (P)
  • Justus Sheffield (P)
  • Jarred Kelenic (OF)
  • Julio Rodriguez (OF)
  • Evan White (INF)

These are guys I’m all-but-guaranteeing will be part of the Mariners in three years, which right away feels both inadequate and wrong. I mean, for starters, I see four outfielders here. I suppose one or more of them could flame out and end up as a utility player, but more likely we’ll see one or more of them traded to help in other areas of the roster. My hunch is Mitch Haniger would be the one to go by the time we get to 2022, which is making me REALLY regret going out and buying his jersey earlier this year.

Kyle Lewis’ first week with the Mariners has been nothing short of phenomenal, and he’ll absolutely come into Spring Training next year looking to win a job of some sort. Rodriguez and Kelenic will look to get more seasoning in the minors next year, but if all goes according to plan, one or both will at least get a cup of coffee before the end of 2020. Evan White feels like he’s probably a couple of years away, but he too wouldn’t shock me if he saw some time in Seattle next season.

As for the pitchers, Marco should still be around, but who knows? The younger guys are still too young to put too much money on staying as starters, vs. being relegated to the bullpen. Better prospects than Sheffield have been banished as such.

Medium Confidence

  • Omar Narvaez (C)
  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Cal Raleigh (C)
  • Austin Nola (Util)
  • Mallex Smith (OF)
  • Domingo Santana (OF)
  • Yusei Kikuchi (SP)
  • Sam Tuivailala (RP)
  • Erik Swanson (P)

I feel like if Cal Raleigh is going to stick with the Mariners, it might take up to three years for him to fully earn a roster spot. I have to imagine one of the two vets we have on roster now will be gone, but I honestly have no idea who it would be. Nola feels like the perfect candidate to be a utility player who can cover first base and the corner outfield spots (saying nothing of his ability to be a third catcher). Mallex Smith would only still be here as cheap insurance in case our younger outfielders don’t pan out. Santana feels like a candidate to eventually convert to 1B/DH. Kikuchi will either have figured it out and will be a nice middle-of-the-rotation staple for this team, or he’ll be elsewhere. Tuivailala is the only reliever right now I have ANY remote confidence in; not that none of the guys we have on roster now won’t still be here, but relief pitching is the last thing you need to shore up after settling things down everywhere else (in other words, I see a lot of potential trade candidates on the Major League roster right now). I’m not convinced whatsoever that Swanson will still be starting in 2022, but I’m medium convinced he’ll still be with the Mariners in some capacity.

Medium-Low Confidence

  • Shed Long (Util)
  • Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)
  • Joe Rizzo (Util)

Long has enough pop in his bat, and can play enough different positions, to be a quality utility player. But, can he hit for high-enough average and get on base to this organization’s liking? On the flipside, Rizzo already has the average, and he appears to be improving on his power, but the question is his versatility. I read that they’re playing him all over the field, which is great for his chances, because it feels like his bat will play. But, if he can’t hack it defensively and he’s a man without a position, he could be some strong trade bait. As for Vogey, his first half was encouraging, but his second half has me concerned. The power is great, the on-base percentage is great, but if he’s hitting around the mendoza line, I just don’t know if there’s ENOUGH power there to make him worth all the strikeouts and whatnot. Also, if he never hits lefties, it’s REALLY hard to platoon a 1B/DH type; ideally you want him in your lineup every day mashing dingers no matter who’s pitching. All I know about Fraley is he’s a pretty highly-rated prospect for the Mariners, but he has yet to really show much in his short stint with the team this year. He feels like more trade bait.

Low Confidence

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dylan Moore (Util)
  • Braden Bishop (OF)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Tim Lopes (INF)
  • Donnie Walton (INF)
  • Ryon Healy (1B)
  • Every other pitcher I haven’t listed above

I have to imagine the Mariners will do whatever it takes to make 2021 Seager’s last year in Seattle. He’s not worth what he’s making now, so by 2022, it should be pretty obnoxious. Healy’s injury status makes him a probable cut candidate as soon as the end of this year. Moore feels like a dime-a-dozen utility player who won’t be worth keeping around. Dee Gordon is another guy I gotta think will be gone before his contract expires in 2021. As for the younger guys, and anyone else I didn’t list, who the fuck knows? I know enough not to be super confident that they’ll be here in three years. If I’m wrong, then GREAT! That probably means they took serious leaps in their development. Who knows, maybe Bishop could be the next Chris Taylor with a simple change in his swing?! I mean, I doubt it, but you never know.

Anyway, to wrap this all up, I guess I give the rebuild a B- so far. I love the combination of those four outfielders I listed up top. I think our catching situation is pretty strong in the near future. First base should finally be locked down once Evan White makes it. I don’t know if I see a ton of hope on the pitching side of things, unless Dunn and Sheffield stick as starters and really start kicking some ass. If that’s the case, and you can pair them with Gonzales and Kikuchi, that’s a pretty solid rotation.

Still, gonna need some of these lower candidates to pop over the next couple seasons. If someone like Rizzo could lock down the third base job, and maybe Long the second base job, with some veterans crushing it in the middle of the lineup at DH … if you squint awful hard, you can see the makings of something special.

But, really, the odds of the Mariners being great in 2022 are remote any way you slice it. The Angels have the best baseball player in the world and when was the last time they really scared you? It goes without saying I doubt the Mariners will have someone in Trout’s league by then (which doesn’t even refer to the Astros and A’s and their crack development squads).

It Only Took 146 Games For The Mariners To Get To 60 Wins

The best Mariners game I’ve seen all year didn’t actually involve the Mariners at all! It was a Texas League Playoffs matchup last Wednesday, featuring the Arkansas Travelers against the Tulsa Drillers, televised on Root Sports, featuring Jerry Dipoto doing color commentary. The Travelers won a tense 2-1 battle, though sadly they would go on to lose the series in five games. Getting to see potential future Mariners stars at the AA level is really the only source of hope in this nothing of a season.

The M’s are 60-86 this morning, after a couple of wins to start this week’s Reds series. The only reason to ever look at the standings if you’re a Mariners fan is to see where they’ll be drafting next year. For the last few weeks, we’ve pretty much been stuck at the 6th overall draft slot. The Blue Jays are in fifth, 3 games worse, and the Royals are in fourth, a whopping 6 games worse. So, moving down in the standings to get a better draft pick seems pretty remote with only 16 games remaining (only 6 of which are against teams with winning records, and only 2 of THOSE games are against the Astros, which at this point should be considered certain defeats).

There is still a chance to get a slightly worse draft pick, though, which is not what I want to be thinking about right now. But, the Rockies – who have been terrible in the second half of this season – are only 2 games better, and the Pirates – who we play in Pittsburgh next week – are only 4 games better (likewise, the White Sox – who we play at home this weekend – are just 4.5 games better). The point is: EYES ON THE PRIZE! There are A LOT of terrible teams on the Mariners’ schedule (those teams I just mentioned, as well as the Orioles, who are the second-worst team in all of baseball by record); we need to continue to lose just enough to at the very least keep our 6th overall draft pick!

As for how this season has gone, I haven’t the foggiest. I still don’t think I’ve seen a 2019 Mariners game all the way through. I think I read somewhere that they either set a franchise record or a Major League record for most players used in a season, which feels about right. There are a ton of guys I’ve never heard of before (especially from the bullpen side of things), and the ones I have heard of haven’t been all that riveting.

The whole thing with a “rebuild” or a “step-back” or whatever is twofold: lose a bunch of games to replenish your roster with high draft picks, and play a lot of young guys to give them the experience they need to develop into stars in the near future. Well, that first part has gone pretty well (again, in spite of that 13-2 start that grows more baffling by the day). The other half of the equation is a mixed bag.

We got a whopping 63 games out of Mitch Haniger before injuries followed by repeated setbacks to said injuries derailed his entire season. Not that he was ever REALLY in danger of being sent to the minors or anything – he was generally considered to be one of our stars and leaders of this team – but he’s still a relatively young guy in the grand scheme of things, and probably could’ve used at least a good second half to springboard into a more promising 2020.

Likewise, Domingo Santana hasn’t played since mid-August. Mallex Smith had to be sent down for a spell to correct things about his defense and his swing. Shed Long and J.P. Crawford have both missed time with injuries in an all-important year for a couple of guys looking to compete for starting jobs in 2020.

On the flipside, our catcher position has arguably never been stronger! Omar Narvaez is far and away our best hitter, and Tom Murphy has been a revelation (when he was considered a journeyman backup at best when we brought him in). Austin Nola came from out of nowhere to put up some solid offensive numbers as a first base replacement for the injured Ryon Healy. And, even Kyle Seager has had a nice bounce-back campaign after a rough last couple of seasons; in just 90 games he has 22 homers and at least looks like the Kyle Seager of old, who earned that massive contract. It’s nice to at least not have a black hole at third base heading into next year.

Those guys have been solid, Crawford has looked like a viable Major Leaguer at short stop. Mallex Smith has 41 stolen bases to make up for some soft offensive numbers. Dan Vogelbach has had a rough stretch since the All Star Break, but he still has 30 homers and a .344 on-base percentage; if he ever figures out how to hit lefties, watch out! I feel like there’s enough potential on this side of the ball to make 2020 somewhat interesting.

The real bright spot for the organization has been what’s going on in the minors. Jarred Kelenic has rocketed all the way up to AA, and hasn’t really missed a beat. Kyle Lewis was just called up from AA for a cup of coffee and has hit two homers in his first two games. A number of other guys have blossomed to the point where we’re not only NOT the laughingstock of minor league farm systems, but we’re actually pretty respectable! Maybe not in the realm of the Astros/Braves/Dodgers/Yankees, but at least in the conversation down in that next tier. Kelenic could very well be in that Mike Trout mold of superstar, should things continue on this trajectory.

The pitching is another matter, of course. Marco Gonzales is what he is, which is fine. Sometimes, he’s really on it, but sometimes he’s got nothing. His 4.30 ERA feels about right for him; he’s certainly nobody’s idea of a #1 starter. But, as a #3, he’s okay. As a #4 he’s probably better. To say that Yusei Kikuchi’s rookie season hasn’t gone according to plan has been an understatement. A lot of mediocre-to-ugly stat lines, with his bright spots few and far between. You can see the potential is there, and the stuff is there. The best thing we can say is that if he’s going to have a season like this, better to get it out of the way now, when winning isn’t really the top concern. If he’s going to have a CAREER like this, though, then yeah, he’ll be a huge bust.

As you may recall, the Mariners spent a buttload of draft picks earlier this summer on pitching prospects, which felt like a total overreaction to the years guys like Justus Sheffield and Erik Swanson were having. Swanson was always going to be a candidate to switch to the bullpen, and it appears that’s what the team has done with him in the second half of this season, which is obviously disappointing. That disappointment has only been worsened by the fact that he really hasn’t looked good in either role. There’s still hope for Sheffield, in spite of his ragged start to 2019. He was in Tacoma, he had some bad games in Seattle, he went back to Tacoma, then he was demoted even further, down to AA to get his mechanics right. That probably has more to do with the fact that the PCL is a home run factory what with the juiced balls and small ballparks, but that’s neither here nor there. Sheffield has pretty quietly had an improved second half, and in his two September starts, he’s combined to go 11 innings, giving up 12 hits, 1 run, with 5 walks and 11 strikeouts. It’s baby steps, but I’ll take it.

As for the bullpen, I couldn’t even start. I don’t even know who’s here anymore! Our saves leader – Roenis Elias with 14 – is on the Nationals, that much I do know. Our next-highest saves leaders have 4 apiece. I have to believe we’re at or near the top of Major League Baseball in BLOWN saves, but that’s not a stat they like to throw around very much.

To be fair, at this point in our rebuild, the bullpen is probably the last thing we should be worrying about. I said it earlier this season and it’s come to fruition: you want everyone on the team to play well, then you want the bullpen to absolutely tear every game apart. Gotta get that high draft pick! Gotta draft and develop well! Gotta get back to the playoffs somehow, some way! Gotta win a World Series before the Earth is swallowed up by the Sun!

James Paxton Is Better At Baseball Than You

We’ve seen pitching dominance before, but not many better than last night.  ESPECIALLY this season.  Paxton went 7 innings of shutout ball, giving up 4 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 10.  The team combined for 9 innings of shutout ball, giving up 4 hits, 0 walks, and striking out 12, as Nick Vincent and David Phelps mopped up the final two innings.  Gamel had a couple hits, including a triple; Segura and Valencia each had RBI doubles; and Seager had a solo homer to kick everything off.  Badda bing, badda boom, 4-0 victory over the Red Sox.

Paxton has been on quite the tear since a dreadful month of June.  He’s given up 34 runs all season (32 earned), and 21 of those (20 earned) came in June.  In July, he’s got a record of 5-0 in five appearances, having given up 6 total runs in 33.1 innings, which is simply phenomenal.

The big story of yesterday had to do with:  What Would You Give Up To Bring In Sonny Gray?  Someone mentioned that any package would have to start with Kyle Lewis and Ben Gamel, among other prospects.  That sounds like a lot, particularly for a guy who was injured last year.  But, if I’m being honest, and I start to think about what this team might look like with a rotation that featured Paxton, Felix, Gray, Miranda, and whoever, I can actually get excited about this team again!

As it stands now, there’s just no shot.  You wouldn’t expect any more prolonged slumps out of Paxton, but everyone else certainly has the potential to melt down at any time.  I’m never CONFIDENT in a non-Paxton start, let me put it that way.  At best, you have to manage the rest of the rotation VERY carefully and, in turn, over-work your bullpen just to hope to eke out a victory.

But, throw Gray into the mix, now you’ve got two top-flight starters, and things start to look a little better.  You figure Felix probably has more good games in him than bad games at this point.  Miranda, if nothing else, will keep you in most games.  And, whoever else is whoever else; fifth starter gonna fifth starter, you know?

I know it sounds crazy, coming from the guy who flipped out when the Mariners traded Tyler O’Neill last week, but this is apples and oranges here.  O’Neill was blown on a AAA pitcher who will probably end up being nothing for the Mariners.  Kyle Lewis is ostensibly a better prospect, with a higher ceiling, who you’d hate to see do well with a divisional rival, but if he helps bring in a bona fide Major League pitcher, then HEY!  Sign me up!

The thing that gives me pause at this point is losing Ben Gamel, because I truly think he’s got a long and fruitful career ahead of him.  Particularly with the way Mitch Haniger has been struggling since his return from the DL.  If we can’t count on Haniger, and if Heredia/Dyson are just speedy slap hitters, then removing Gamel from the equation severely limits this offense’s potential.

But, here’s the deal:  this offense hasn’t been getting the job done as it is.  I know it sounds counter-productive to then remove one of its best hitters, but I think this team would gain more by having another top-shelf starting pitcher than it would having Gamel’s high batting average and long, flowing locks.

It’s either that, or we pretty much give up right now, because as this team is currently constructed, there’s no way we’re seeing the post-season.  There will be hot streaks and cold streaks and ultimately this team will finish right around .500 and ultimately that will be a few games short of our goal.  If that’s what you WANT, and you just want to pack it in and try to re-load for next year, then okay.  Let this next week go by and do nothing.  We’ll all go through the motions for a while, but I’m going to stop giving so much of a shit, because why bother?

This team does NOT have what it takes, and that’s all there is to it.

More than that, there’s no help on the horizon either.  We can’t look forward to a star returning from injury next season, because all the good injured players we have now are likely done for good.  And, all the “Major League-ready” players in AAA and AA are suck-ass and mediocre.  Better hope there’s a free agent or two available, otherwise the Mariners will have to continue trading from their so-called position of strength.  And keep trading from that so-called position of strength until it’s once again the biggest position of weakness on this team.

Super.

Mariners’ Bullpen Saved The Day Against The Twins

There were plenty of heroes in last night’s 6-4 Mariners victory.  Mitch Haniger banged a 2-run homer in the first.  Mike Zunino chipped in with a 3-run homer in the third (and has his average over .240 to boot).  Ben Gamel had 3 hits, 2 runs, and a MONSTER catch in foul territory in left field, crashing into the wall and coming down with the ball to get the second out in the eighth inning, with the Mariners only leading by 2.  Cano, Valencia, and Dyson all had multi-hit games to help keep the offense rolling along.

But, this one belonged to the bullpen.

Sam Gaviglio was so-so.  He was great through four innings, then gave up back-to-back solo homers in the fifth and downgraded to just good.  But, he could only manage one out in the sixth before giving up a 2-run homer and subsequently getting pulled.

James Pazos yanked his ass out of the fire by striking out the final two batters of the inning; but he wasn’t done there.  He erased a leadoff single with a double play, then walked a guy, allowed him to steal second, but got the next batter to pop out to end the inning.  It wasn’t the prettiest, but Pazos went 1.2 innings to bridge this game to the eighth, and that’s just fine in my book!

Nick Vincent came in, got the first two batters out, gave up a single to Minnesota’s best power hitter in Miguel Sano, then was pulled for Scrabble with a lefty coming up.  Scrabble walked the pinch hitter and was immediately replaced by Edwin Diaz for the 4-out save.

Diaz got the final batter in the eighth to strike out on three pitches.  He got the first batter of the ninth to fly out to left-center, walked a guy, gave up an infield single, struck the next guy out, let the tying runners steal their way into scoring position, and got Brian Dozier to fly out to center to end the threat.  I’ll admit, it looked pretty dicey there late in the game, but Diaz never looked like he was out of control and ultimately earned the skipper’s confidence in him.

In Long Reliever News, Casey Lawrence was sent back to Tacoma, this time replaced by our good buddy Chase De Jong.  Since being demoted, De Jong has been far from ideal in AAA.  In the first three starts, he got pretty well pounded, giving up 8 homers in 17 innings; his sterling April ERA with Tacoma took a fucking BEATING.  But, in his most recent start, he went 6 shutout innings.  I’ve got to think he’s only here on an emergency basis, until the Mariners have waited the requisite amount of time until Emilio Pagan is allowed to return, and they won’t put De Jong in any games unless they’re winning or losing big.

In other news, Hisashi Iwakuma pitched 4 shutout innings with the Modesto Nuts.  Felix is set to pitch one more time in Tacoma this weekend I think.  Jean Segura is making great progress and could be back as early as next week.  And Major League Baseball concluded its draft.  The Mariners picked a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of and probably will never hear of.  I’m being told that each of the Top 10 draft picks will sign with the team though, so that’s exciting.  REFILL THAT FARM SYSTEM!!!  Also, I heard Kyle Lewis returned from his ACL tear and is back playing some baseball again, so that’s fun.

The Mariners finish their season series with the Twins later this morning with a 10am local start time.  Ariel Miranda will try to help the M’s win this series 3-1 and get the team back to .500 overall.  Please God, let it happen.

Mariners Trade Mike Montgomery To Cubs For Dan Vogelbach

That’s the headline, anyway.  The Mariners also received minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn, and gave away minor league pitcher Jordan Pries.

When you think about the weird journey of Mike Montgomery – a former first round pick who couldn’t quite make the jump to the Bigs, traded to Seattle for Erasmo Ramirez of all people, coming into Spring Training this year without a spot on the team, then winning a bullpen role thanks to injuries and his own step forward in development – this really feels like the organization selling high on a middling prospect.

When I think about any trade, I think about the ceilings of all involved – particularly the stars of the trade.  What’s Mike Montgomery’s ceiling?  If his performance this year is any indication, he could be a back-of-the-rotation starter, or he could be a pretty solid reliever.  If he puts it all together?  Maybe he could become a #3 starter, but if that happens, we’re probably a ways away.  Fortunately for the Cubs, they’ll have lots of time to get to know him.  While I believe he’s out of options, Montgomery still has 2 years of team control over him, followed by 3 more arbitration years after that.  When you consider his salary this year is only $515,000, there is potentially GREAT value in this guy.  The Cubs just got a young, cost-controlled left-handed pitcher who can start, who can relieve, and who theoretically is still getting better.

Then again, he could just be who he is.  An okay lefty, with okay stuff, but not all that special.  He’ll have good years and bad years, he’ll eat up innings for you probably (if you stick him in the rotation), but he might very well be an underwhelming starter.  At which point, the Cubs traded away an even younger, more cost-controlled, potential middle-of-the-order bat, for a lefty long reliever who will most likely never close out your games.

From a Mariners perspective, losing Montgomery hurts way more in the short term.  In the long term, I don’t know how much I’d trust handing him a rotation spot.  I think we could do better, and I think it wouldn’t be that hard.  In the short term, though, I’m on record as saying he’s probably the third-best starter we have right now, considering Walker’s injury issues won’t be resolving until after the season ends (and it appears he’ll be playing through this foot issue until the offseason, when he has surgery to repair it), and he’s easily our second-best reliever.  When you figure the Mariners’ greatest need is, was, and will always be pitching for the rest of this season, it’s a lot to stomach.  In that sense, it almost DOES feel like the Mariners are being sellers.

Of course, I can’t really make a definitive claim on that score until I see what other moves the Mariners end up making.  This almost certainly will NOT be the only trade we see from the Mariners this year.

In return, we get this guy.  Dan Vogelbach.  A lot of people are saying he’s a left-handed hitting Billy Butler.  Technically, I suppose the kid can play first base, but it doesn’t sound like anyone really trusts him to stick there.  Which means his future likely rests at designated hitter (or, in some sort of rotation between the two).  The Mariners, as you know, already have a pretty awesome DH in Nelson Cruz.  But, since Cruz can ostensibly play right field, you justify the trade by telling everyone that, and downplaying how this hurts your outfield defense.  You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul one way or the other.  Either you struggle with first base defense, or you struggle with right field defense.  I don’t know what’s worse, but then again, I’ve never seen Vogelbach play.

The kid has a quality bat, though!  Where have we heard that before?  Oh, that’s right, with every single 1B/DH prospect Jackie Z brought in here!  But, while Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, Logan Morrison, and others were all pretty one-dimensional, Vogelbach’s bat looks like it can legitimately play at the Major League level.  Montero and LoMo were always prone to being handcuffed by same-handed pitchers; they also struggled to take a walk and avoid swinging at those low-and-away breaking balls.  Vogelbach appears to have a good grasp of the strike zone, and looks like he can hit both lefties and righties.  High walk rates and low strikeout rates are EXACTLY what I want to see out of a guy in AAA who is just itching to bust through in the Majors.

As I talked about yesterday, it would seem Adam Lind’s days are numbered with the team, just as he’s starting to really assert himself and become the player we all thought we were getting.  Part of me hopes that’s not necessarily the case, as part of me still holds out the delusion that the Mariners will be playing for something important in September, and he could be a big part of that.  Trading Lind would be another telltale sign of the Mariners being sellers, as you’re swapping out a trusted veteran on an upswing for a kid who’s never played at this level before.  Highly-rated prospect or not, Vogelbach is going to have some growing pains to start.  I almost hope he just stays in Tacoma until September call-ups, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Bat-First, or rather, Bat-Only players like Vogelbach tend to give me the willies.  If I knew without a doubt we’d be getting the next Edgar Martinez, and we’d just plug him into the DH role for the next 15 years, that’s one thing.  But, to be a valuable player in this league, when you’re not playing a defensive position, you REALLY need to hit the fuck out of the ball.  You need to put up crazy-high batting averages, get on base a lot, AND you need to consistently hit for power.  20-30 homers per year and 30-40 doubles per year.  If he comes here and is just sorta okay, but maybe hits .270, struggles against lefties, and is on the lower end of those power numbers, then what have you got?  A clogged artery in the middle of your hitting lineup completely blocking your roster flexibility – and one who needs a platoon partner to boot!

I’m not saying that’s what he’ll be, but these ARE the Seattle Mariners.  The same cursed franchise that drafts the greatest prospect we’ve seen around here since Adam Jones, in Kyle Lewis, who proceeds to tear up his knee one month into his professional career and is out for the year, if not longer.  Great.  I’m sure a massively fucked up knee won’t completely sap all his speed and athleticism …

Also kind of annoying about this Vogelbach move is that he also blocks some of our prospects coming up through the minors who are ALSO predominantly limited defensively, but have big swingin’ bats (I’m looking at you, D.J. Peterson).  Maybe this opens us up to other trade possibilities, though, particularly if Vogelbach makes it big in the Majors.

I have nothing to say about the swapped minor league pitchers.  Neither one looks like much of a promising prospect.  Regarding the main parts of the trade, I guess I’ll treat it like I treat every deal:  clench my buttocks and hope for the best.  It’s in the hands of the baseball gods now.  Or, I guess, to be more accurate, considering how these types of trades normally go for the Mariners, it’s in the hands of the baseball Satans.

Should The Mariners Mortgage The Farm On 2016?

My mid-season, All Star Week review of the Mariners continues.  Today, we’re talking about the farm, of which I don’t know a ton.  I hear names occasionally – sometimes on the Root broadcast, usually on Twitter from the beat writers – and my opinions are shaped thusly.  The more a player is portrayed in a positive light, the higher I regard that player, even if I’ve never seen him before (which is practically everyone).

So, that question again:  SHOULD the Mariners sell the farm to go all in on this year?

Well, it’s really a 2-pronged question.  1.  Do we want to part with what coveted pieces we have in the farm system, and risk them becoming stars elsewhere, for the chance of glory in the short term?  And 2.  Is this season even worth salvaging in the first place?

Let’s take that second question first.  If you’d asked me this question two months ago, I would have given a resounding YES!  Sell it all off, let’s get that ring in 2016!  What’s changed?  Well, for starters, the draft happened (which I’ll get to later), and the Mariners have gone a whopping 15-23 since June 1st, to fall to 45-44, third place in the West (8.5 games back), and 5 games back in the Wild Card race.  This, from a team I’ve repeatedly argued already needed to trade for help BEFORE all the injuries struck!

At this point, it’s impossible to say whether the Mariners will – for starters – even get healthy enough to get back to their early-season form.  Some guys are bound to return, but will they last through to the bitter end?  Or, will they have to go back on the shelf because their injuries never had a chance to fully resolve (or, are worse than first appeared)?  Other guys likely are gone for the season, rendering the team at a significant disadvantage.  At its best, when most everyone was healthy, the depth on the 25-man roster was razor thin.  Now that we’ve hacked away at a good chunk of it, with some never to return, the Mariners need outside help just to get back to the point where they’ll need MORE help to be serious World Series contenders.

At that point, you just have to throw up your hands and cry uncle.  Enough is too much!  Even if we WANTED to sell the entire farm, it’s likely not good enough to get the type of players back we need to win this fucking thing.

The flipside to that argument is:  no one is getting younger.  The Mariners are one of the oldest, most veteran teams in the league, and the window for a lot of these players will be closing shortly.  You figure Kyle Seager will still be in his prime for the next half-decade at least.  But, Cruz is getting up there.  Cano is getting up there.  King Felix (GASP) is getting up there.  We’ve got, what, 2-3 more years TOPS for those guys to be in their primes?  Many project even less.  Many people say that the core of this team has through the 2017 season before we seriously gotta start worrying about guys getting considerably worse.  That’s the rest of this year and all of next year, and then the great unknown.  If the team falters again next year, do they blow it all up?  You gotta wonder.

It’s a pretty safe bet to say that these players, by and large, won’t be much better than they are right now (when healthy).  Again, Seager might still have room to blossom, but everyone else has seen his peak or is at his peak right now.  The pressure’s on!  Time is of the essence!  If you’re EVER going to go all out for a ring, now is the time!

Again, though, as I’ve said before, I’m over the idea of a 2-month rental.  Any quality veterans you trade for have to – at a minimum – be under contract through the 2017 season.

Anyway, getting back:  is this season worth saving?  To answer that, I’d say yes IF we get the right guy back.  I’m talking a serious impact player (likely a starting pitcher), who will be here at least through next year.  But, in reality, we better get not only a starter but an impact reliever, like a veteran version of Edwin Diaz, who’s not prone to melting down like a Fernando Rodney type.

Which takes us back to the first question:  how much do we like what we have in the farm?

You can be a know-nothing like me when it comes to the Mariners’ minor league system and still be aware that the M’s are not flush with talent down there.  It’s ranked near the bottom in all of baseball, and will probably be so for at least the next few years to come.

But, that doesn’t mean it’s totally barren.  So, I’ll just talk about a few guys who have caught my eye.

D.J. Peterson (2013 first round pick) has skyrocketed in recent weeks, starting the year in AA, struggling at first, then turning on the jets, getting promoted to AAA, and continuing his massacre of all things minor league pitching.  Granted, it’s only been 11 games in Tacoma, but he’s hitting off the charts.  There’s still plenty of reasons to be concerned that he’ll never take that next step to be a bona fide Major League star – his lack of defensive polish, his high strikeout rates, his unimpressive walk rates – but the kid was drafted for his hitting, and if he makes it, he could be the right-handed first base power bat we’ve been waiting for (apologies to Dae-ho Lee, who you’ve gotta figure will move on to better things at some point).

On the one hand, I like D.J. Peterson the way I like all highly-drafted prospects the Mariners bring in:  they have all the potential in the world, and then they get called up to Seattle where they suck all the dick in the world.  If we keep him, odds are probably 90% or more that he disappoints; if we trade him, odds are probably 90% he kicks major ass (okay, probably not that high, though it seems like it, right?).  If he brought back the right piece (that I’ve talked about above), I think I’d be okay with him going away.

Alex Jackson (2014 first round pick) has been mired in A-ball.  His ceiling is a poor man’s Bryce Harper, only without the obvious fast track to the Majors.  He’s flashed in small bursts, but has yet to really break out, and appears to be far away from putting it all together.  And, if his questionable work ethic doesn’t improve (allegedly, of course, because what do I know?), he’ll probably never reach his potential.  I don’t think I’d mind trading him away either (he is a Jackie Z draft choice, after all), but his stock is probably pretty low, in which case I’d rather hang onto him and see what happens, than trade him for peanuts on a low-upside Big Leaguer.

Tyler O’Neill (2013 third round pick) is blowing up in AA this year.  Bigtime power bat & corner outfield player with (allegedly) the good kind of work ethic you like to see.  This could be a guy we talk about, in the next year or two, making the jump and having a longterm impact on this organization.  Best case scenario is he turns out to be a Nelson Cruz replacement in right field, who actually plays plus defense and slots into the middle of the order in the lineup.  The way people talk about this kid, I’d REALLY hate to see him go, so we’d have to get someone really special in return.

To round things out, I’ll talk about this year’s main picks, Kyle Lewis (first round) and Joe Rizzo (second round).  I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of an organization trading a draft pick in the same year as when they drafted him, so you gotta figure these guys are simply off the table.  Kyle Lewis so far is dazzling down in Everett (A-ball); he should be quickly shooting up the prospect rankings not only in the Mariners organization, but in all of minor league baseball.  The kid appears to have all the tools, and could very well see himself on a fast track to the Majors in the next couple years.  Rizzo (rookie league) is more of a project in that he still doesn’t have much of defensive position (with third base off the table as long as Kyle Seager is around).  But, as projected, he’s got one of the sweetest swings in the org, so he’ll go as far as his bat takes him.  If he can just figure out first base, he could be a better version of D.J. Peterson.  If he can figure out a corner outfield spot, he’ll be worth his weight in gold.

The Mariners Drafted Kyle Lewis & Joe Rizzo

I’m not a huge draftnik in general, and specifically with baseball I don’t know if I could care any less than I already do.  I don’t follow college baseball, I sure as SHIT don’t follow high school baseball, I’m not a scout, and trying to project what teenagers will become in 3-8 years sounds like a futile and pointless exercise.

I pay attention one day a year, and that’s Day 1 of the draft, and by “pay attention” I mean:  I happen to be on Twitter and notice the beat writers talking about it.  Then, I click on links they offer, read what people have to say, and that’s the basis for my knowledge on the subject.  Pretty neat, huh?

In years past, the Mariners have drafted the following in the first round:

  • 2015 –
  • 2014 – Alex Jackson (OF)
  • 2013 – D.J. Peterson (3B – converted to 1B)
  • 2012 – Mike Zunino (C)
  • 2011 – Danny Hultzen (SP)
  • 2010 – Taijuan Walker (SP)
  • 2009 – Dustin Ackley (OF – converted to 2B – converted to OF)
  • 2009 – Nick Franklin (SS)
  • 2009 – Steve Baron (C)

As you can see, a real Who’s Who of garbage (and Taijuan Walker).  To be honest, I forgot all about Steve Baron, but he’s a no-bat defensive catcher who makes Jesus Sucre look like Babe Ruth at the plate.  Nick Franklin is in the Tampa Bay organization and is still trying to break on through into becoming a regular big leaguer.  Dustin Ackley is The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Taijuan you all know and love.  Hultzen is one of a long line of safe Jackie Z draft picks, who was supposedly the most “Major League-ready” pitcher, but whose bevy of arm injuries has killed his career.  The jury is still out on Peterson and Jackson; but Peterson was drafted for his bat and his power, and has yet to really impress with either on a regular basis; and Jackson is mired in single-A ball, appearing to be on nobody’s fast track to the Majors.

This year, with the 11th overall pick, the Mariners selected Kyle Lewis, an outfielder out of Mercer University.  He’s 6’4, he bats and throws right-handed, his position for now is in centerfield, but some project him to be a corner outfield guy.  He played basketball and baseball in high school, and only dedicated himself exclusively to baseball relatively late in his amateur career.  He went to Mercer as a project, busted out as a Sophomore, and was “College Player of the Year” as a Junior this year.  In 61 games this season, he hit 20 homers while putting up a slash line of .395/.535/.731, while also walking a whopping 66 times.  So, he’s got the power, he’s got the plate discipline, his swing is apparently a little long and wonky, but they can work on that with him after he signs, he’s rangy, with good but not great speed, and has a nice arm.  His high leg kick is apparently a concern, which could mean he’s in for a lot of strikeouts when paired with that swing.  So, it’ll be imperative that he smooths all that out if he wants to make it to the Bigs someday.  One would think, as he continues to round out as a pro and puts on some more muscle, he won’t necessarily need that leg kick to generate the power he’s accustomed to.  If that clicks for him, he could be a monster.  I’m seeing comparisons ranging from Jason Heyward to Mike Cameron.

From what I’ve read, I like the pick, but then again I’d probably be saying that no matter who the Mariners went with at the 11th overall spot.  Lewis had been considered by many to be a Top 10 pick, with some people ranking him as high as the third overall selection.  The Mariners themselves thought they didn’t have a chance at him when they scouted him initially, so for them it was a nice, pleasant surprise.  I mostly like that he’s a high upside player.  Granted, he could make it to Tacoma and promptly flame out like so many Quad-A outfielders we’ve gotten to that point in recent years.  But, if he figures it all out, he could be a superstar in this league.  Here’s to hoping he’s got the focus, and the organization has the people around him to make that a reality.

The farm system, right now, is pretty dire.  I don’t think there’s a single person in AAA, for instance, who projects to be an everyday Major Leaguer (maybe a bullpen guy or something, but the rest of those guys seem to have hit their ceilings).  There’s some good-looking talent in AA right now, but you figure you’re still at least a couple years away (at best) from seeing them produce in a Mariners uniform.  Beyond that, who knows?  So, when I see the Mariners have drafted a centerfielder, I don’t really pay attention to specific “needs” at the big league level.  Since these guys don’t generally make an impact for many years after they’re drafted, it’s not like football where you see holes and you draft guys to fill those holes; in 5 years, or whatever, when Kyle Lewis is ready to get his shot at the Major Leagues, will there be a hole in centerfield?  Probably, but you can’t think that way as a fan.  From a farm system perspective, there are holes EVERYWHERE, at all levels!  The draft is the crappiest of crapshoots, particularly in baseball.  Bringing in talent, regardless of position, is what’s important right now.

Especially since, when you think about it, the Mariners are currently in contention, and might be robbing from that farm system to try to bring in big leaguers to help us win right now.  Obviously, we just drafted Kyle Lewis, so he isn’t going anywhere.  But, guys above him, in AA and AAA, might be shipped off.  So, replacing those guys with incoming draft picks – and having some of those draft picks actually pan out – is going to be pretty important.

Which brings me to the Mariners’ second round pick, Joe Rizzo.  He’s a high schooler with a nice swing, who appears to be pretty polished at the plate, and raw literally everywhere else.  He’s not as athletic as you like – particularly for a third baseman – which is why everyone is already projecting him to move anywhere from left field to first base.  Considering that’s more or less what they were talking about when the Mariners drafted D.J. Peterson, I’m not super-thrilled with these descriptions.  I mean, who was the last guy they talked about in these terms, who actually panned out in a big way in the Majors?  Seriously, I’m asking, because as I said before, I don’t follow the draft all that closely!

For what it’s worth, they said similar things about Dustin Ackley as well (although, his bat was more highly regarded, thus the #2 overall draft slot).  Guys who hit well in college and high school, who don’t have an established defensive position, aren’t really options in my mind.  Yeah, they may be good to go from a hitting perspective, but that just means they’re going to put all their energy into either learning a new defensive position, or trying to refine the position they came up with.  Either way, all that focus on the defensive side of the ball – which is VERY important – will inevitably take away from them becoming a professional hitter, at which point you’ve got a player who isn’t good defensively, who also hasn’t made any strides at the plate, and all that promise they had coming in will have been squandered.

Look for Joe Rizzo to be absolutely nothing for the Mariners one day.  I hope he proves me wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

At least with Kyle Lewis, you’ve got athleticism, and some built-in defensive ability, to go with his excellence at the plate, so all he has to do is refine and mature, as opposed to essentially starting all over as a professional.

Baseball can be really discouraging.  Baseball prospects are generally at the top of that pyramid.  Now you can see why I rarely try to put any energy into focusing on the minor leagues.