Yesterday, Murphy’s Law was at work. I was traveling back from a fun-filled weekend in Cleveland when the Seattle Mariners introduced Jerry Dipoto as their new GM. I would’ve preferred to have been parked in front of some sort of a screen watching his introductory press conference rather than being stuck at airports and trapped inside airplanes. I was eager to hear what the 47-year-old thought about the team he was inheriting from the recently fired Jack Zduriencik and how he planned to make the Mariners into a championship organization and I was off the grid!
Fortunately, ROOT Sports replayed the team’s introductory press conference and Jason A. Churchill provided astute analysis on the Dipoto’s selection at Prospect Insider. After absorbing Jason’s thoughts and listening to Dipoto discuss the Mariners organization, it’s clear to me that the new GM envisions a player development process that will consistently provide value in the form of major league talent on the team’s roster or trading chips. I found a measure of irony in Dipoto’s comments because I just observed players who exemplify that vision during a beautiful night at Cleveland’s Progressive Field.
While visiting “The Rock and Roll Capital of the World,” I attended a game between the hometown Indians and Minnesota Twins. During the contest, I saw three rookies who’ve made an immediate, positive impact for their respective ball clubs and represent the kind of homegrown talent that Mariners fans are craving to see on their team’s major league roster during the Dipoto regime.
Despite missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the 22-year-old slugger went from starting the 2015 season at Class-AA Chattanooga to debuting with the big league club on July 2. As of Monday evening, Sano’s 17 home runs ranked fourth on his team and his .547 slugging percentage was the best among Twins regulars. During the game, he exhibited his power bat by peppering a Corey Kluber pitch off the left-center field wall for a stand-up RBI double. Yes, it’s true that his 305 plate appearances and 74 games equate to a small sample size, but his power is undeniable and has been a welcome addition to a team that entered the last week of the season as a contender for the postseason.
Although he strikes out at a high rate – nearly 37-percent – Sano has a penchant for reaching advancing via the base-on-balls. His walk rate since arriving in the Twin Cities is 15.7-percent and relatively close to his 12.1-percent minor league rate. Having a high strikeout rate isn’t conducive to a high batting average, but his selectivity at the plate will help him achieve an above average on-base percentage. Interestingly, Dipoto discussed that the Mariners have a lot of prospects and young players who strikeout at a high rate at yesterday’s presser. As Jason noted in another Dipoto piece, Chicago Cubs’ rookie Kris Bryant had the same issue during his minor league development, but he developed a better eye at the plate. The new Mariners baseball boss will certainly want prospects who swing and miss often to develop a knack for reaching base at a high rate like Sano and Bryant.
Defensively, the future for Sano is not clear at this time. Primarily a third baseman in the minor leagues, he’s been mainly used as a designated hitter during his brief stay in the majors. Before his elbow surgery, Sano had issues with throwing accuracy, so that may factor into whether he eventually supplants incumbent Trevor Plouffe at the hot corner or moves to another position. That’s a question to be answered in the future. In the interim, his slugging prowess will guarantee him a spot in the Twins lineup.
Since Dipoto wants to place a renewed focus on defense, a player like Sano – who doesn’t have a defined defensive role – may not necessarily be the prototypical player that the new Mariners GM will covet on his roster, although his bat could convince Dipoto otherwise. Conversely, one of Sano’s teammates is exactly the kind of position player that the Mariners GM will be striving to develop for Seattle.
Rosario – like Sano – started out in the Twins’ system in 2010. But, the ascension of the team’s fourth-round pick from that year’s amateur draft hit a snag when he was suspended 50 games for using a banned substance in 2013. Despite the setback, the rookie – who turned 24 on Monday – entered 2015 as a top-ten prospect in a deep Minnesota system that brags six players on the top-100 major league prospect list.
Like his rookie teammate, Rosario’s hit tool is his primary strength. Although he struck out during his first plate appearance against Kluber, he rebounded nicely during his next plate appearance with an opposite field double off the left field wall. Since his major league debut on May 6, the left-handed hitter has been a fixture in the Twin’s lineup. His major league leading 15 triples and 12 home runs hints at a blend of speed and extra base power that’s made him an instant success in the big leagues. His high number of triples far exceeds what he’s done at any stage of his minor league career and probably isn’t sustainable in the future. Nevertheless, Rosario’s .458 slugging percentage is similar to his minor league productivity and hints at a player with gap power who may develop more home run power as he continues to mature.
Unlike Sano, the newly christened 24-year-old doesn’t walk often. His 3.1-percent walk rate combined with striking out in one-quarter of his plate appearances have resulted in a paltry .290 on-base percentage. Since he was more selective at a higher rate in the minors – 7.1-percent – there’s genuine potential that he’ll improve his pitch selectivity in the future.
Rosario played second base and center field in the minors, but his future is likely in a corner outfield spot thanks to his fast feet and strong arm. Good speed not only contributes to Rosario’s outfield and extra base potential, but also leads to excitement on the base path – his 11 stolen ranks second best on the Twins. He demonstrated how his quickness can impact a game on Monday when he advanced from second to third base on a pop out in foul territory near the right field line and subsequently scored on an infield ground ball.
Sano and number-one prospect Byron Buxton may have garnered more media attention than Rosario, but his baseball-reference.com version of wins above replacement (2.1) ranks fourth best on the Minnesota roster. The Indians’ left fielder will be the kind of player that Dipoto will be looking to place in the Safeco Field outfield – an athletic player who can hit, run, and field their position well.
The best rookie on the field during Monday night’s contest was playing for the Tribe. Lindor – who doesn’t turn 22 until November – has performed superbly since his call-up on June 14. The debut of another AL rookie shortstop who made his first major league appearance less than a week earlier – Houston’s Carlos Correa – has overshadowed Lindor’s arrival.
Nevertheless, the 21-year-old’s performance has made him a serious contender – along with Correa – for the American League Rookie of the Year. When you look at Lindor’s statistics side-by-side with Correa’s, it’s clear that both the Indians and Astros have both developed gifted shortstops to anchor their middle infield.
Drafted eighth overall by the Twins in 2011, the switch-hitting Lindor has a line drive swing and superb hand-eye coordination. His bat may not have the same power of Correa’s, but his .488 slugging percentage ranks second behind Correa among American League shortstops with 300 or more plate appearances. On Monday night, he demonstrated the pop in his bat by hitting his eleventh home run off Twins’ starter Tommy Milone in the first inning while batting right-handed. Speaking of handedness, Lindor has hit well from either side of the plate by batting over .300 from both sides.
Defensively, Lindor is a plus defender with good range and a strong arm. Those attributes were clearly on display during Monday’s night game. On the very first play of the game, he easily glided to his right to snare a grounder and make a strong accurate throw to nail Brian Dozier at first base. Although Lindor made stops at every stage of the minors, he never spent a complete season at any level. Based on his performance with the Indians to date, the youngster will likely have a much longer stay at Progressive Field.
Dipoto has the good fortunate of inheriting rookie Ketel Marte, who has demonstrated athleticism and dual-handedness that’s similar to Lindor’s. Whether the Mariners shortstop can blossom and reach the level of Lindor – or even stick at shortstop – has yet to be determined. But, the 21-year-old is certainly the type of versatile, multi-tooled player that Dipoto wants Seattle’s farm system to produce more frequently.
Assuming that Dipoto can implement the player development vision that he’s suggested, Mariners fans will eventually see players like the trio I saw in Cleveland on Monday night playing for the home team at “the corner of Edgar and Dave” during the new GM’s tenure.