After an offseason spent plugging various holes, the Seattle Mariners entered Spring Training with only a few notable position battles: the back of the rotation, the bullpen, and the starting shortstop job.
The shortstop delimma took care of itself when Chris Taylor was shelved with fractured wrist. Taijuan Walker locked up the No. 5 spot with a dominant spring. Although nothing is technically official, yet, it looks like the final spot in the bullpen will go to Tyler Olson.
At the outset, manager Lloyd McLendon suggested closer Fernando Rodney was the only sure bet in the bullpen. We could have reasonably added Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina, and Danny Farquhar to that list with Tom Wilhelmsen and Dominic Leone all but guaranteed to head north with the club.
The departure of Brandon Maurer meant that, should the M’s begin the year with a seven-man bullpen, one spot would truly be available. Knowing that McLendon prefers to have the second left-hander, we estimated early on that Lucas Luetge and Rule 5 pick David Rollins were the likely candidates to secure the job vacated by Joe Beimel. In the event the M’s broke camp with Furbush as the sole southpaw, right-hander Carson Smith would be a favourable choice for the seventh spot.
However, it’s Olson, a Gonzaga alum, that’s secured that final spot after a strong spring. Pitching as a starter at Double-A in 2014, the former seventh-round draft pick posted a 3.52 ERA and 3.19 FIP across 125 and 1/3 innings alongside strong walk and home run rates. Another find of scouting director Tom McNamara, Olsen has a fastball that sits around 90 miles per hour alongside a slider, curveball, and changeup.
Olson ranked No. 21 in Jason A. Churchill’s prospect rankings, and Churchill notes that the 25-year old’s stuff plays up due to a deceptive delivery. Though he profiles as a back-end starter, Churchill says, Olson should be able to dominate left-handed batters at the major league level immediately.
It appeared that the battle for the final bullpen spot had come down to Olson and Rollins, with the latter appearing to have the upper hand due to his Rule 5 status. But with Rollins suspended for PED use, Olson became the easy choice.
Since he was a non-roster invitee to camp, Olson will have to be added to the Mariners 40-man roster. With the deadline for setting Opening Day rosters not until Sunday, the wait for the move to be made official is more procedural than anything. Expect the move to occur over the weekend, likely later on Saturday if not Sunday morning.
Earlier in the winter I had thought Luetge would be the favourite to get the nod to replace Beimel. But after seeing Rollins over the past several weeks, I figured he had done enough to get a look to start the season. With both pitchers no longer in the pitcher, Olson is the logical choice, and his performance over the past month has definitely warranted his presence on the 25-man roster.
Perhaps more surprising than Olson making the team, is Churchill’s No. 11 prospect, Carson Smith, not making the team. Smith dazzled in a brief stint with with the big club in September and was a logical candidate to replace the departed Maurer as a high leverage power-arm. Pitching exclusively as a reliever since being drafted in 2011, and succeeding at each level, the 24-year old’s job will more or less be to stay healthy and await an opportunity as he provides important depth at Triple-A.
McLendon gets the second left-hander in the bullpen he wanted, and the Mariners roster is now all but set for Opening Day.