Preview Capsules: Bullpen

 Steve Cishek, RHP: 4FB, SNK, SL, CH
2015: 59 G, 55.1 IP, 7.81 K/9, 4.39 BB/9, 46.1% GB, .313 BABIP, 3.86 FIP, 0.0 fWAR
Cishek was dominant two straight years as the Miami Marlins closer 2013-14, missing bats and limiting bases on balls to let his stuff take over high-leverage innings. None of the above occurred in 2015, with the 29-year-old taking a step back in performance, but perhaps most importantly all the areas that led to those two top-flight seasons.

The velocity was down a full tick from 91.7 mph to 90.7, via PITCHf/x, and Cishek’s walk rate rose to 11.1 percent, the highest of his career. The Mariners are hoping last season was the exception for Cishek, who throws was a low arm slot, creating deception, sink and all kinds of funk on his pitches. Velocity isn’t the most important aspect of his game, so even at 91 mph on his four-seamer, Cishek can dominate innings by inducing weak contact, getting ahead to set up his best pitch — a low-80s slider that wasn’t as sharp a year ago.

Cishek’s split-changeup is a show-me pitch, and one he doesn’t use much, making the right-hander a sinker-slider reliever in the mold of Dennis Eckersley, just without the plus-plus command. To illustrate how different Cishek was in 2015, just glance at the results. Through 2014, batters managed a .178 average versus the breaking ball, .126 on the four-seam fastball and .289 with a 61% ground ball rate on the sinker. In ‘15, the sinker was more effective, but the four-seamer was blasted in the few times he used it (.313 BAA, .455 SLG) and the breaking ball was banged around at .266 BAA, .418 SLG. For a back-end starter who uses four pitches, those results work. For a high-leverage relief arm relying on the pitch to get outs and even swings and misses, that’s awful.

If you want to know if Cishek is going to be more 2013-14 than 2015, watch his slider early in the regular season (not spring training, ignore spring training). If it’s diving late and he’s getting to it regularly with command of the sinker, batters will have a tough time squaring him up consistently.

  Joaquin Benoit, RHP: 4FB, 2FB, SL, CH
2015: 67 G, 65.1 IP, 8.68 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 46.3% GB, .182 BABIP, 3.75 FIP, 0.4 fWAR
Benoit, 39 in July, is a fastball-slider-changeup reliever, very much reliant on good life on the four-seamer and a plus split-changeup he throws about a third of the time. He’s dabbled with a two-seamer, which remains in his arsenal, but despite his advanced age the velocity still sits in the 94 mph range on average.

The slider is hard at 86-89 mph and the changeup comes in around 83-85 mph, inducing ground balls and swings and misses. Benoit’s career strikeout rate of nearly nine has come with quite the funny pattern. In 2008 with Texas, Benoit posted a K/9 of 8.6. After missing 2009, Benoit posted a 11.19 K/9 with Tampa in 2010. That dipped to 9.3 in 2011 with Detroit, then it jumped more than a strikeout per frame to 10.65 a year later, followed by yet another dip to 9.81 in 2013. With San Diego in 2014, Benoit punched out 10.6 per nine innings and that fell to 8.68 in 2015.

When looking at strikeout percentages (per batter faced, not innings pitched), the same is true, with it landing at 24.8 percent a year ago, the lowest for Benoit since 2008. A lot of randomness can be attached here, after all, we’re talking about a relief pitcher, but if the trend continues, Benoit has a shot to at least repeat his ‘15 numbers, despite all the miles on his arm.

He has closer experience, albeit not a ton — 50 career saves — but while there are some similarities to former Mariners stopper Fernando Rodney, Benoit has a pitch to use versus right-handed batters (slider) and held RHBs to a .140/.250/.221 line a year ago. The club possesses enough options to play matchup late to suggest Benoit simply has to dominate that side of the plate and he’ll be a solid value. His changeup is susceptible to the long ball versus LHBs, but a .172/.235/.377 triple-slash will do just fine. For the record, right-handed batters versus Benoit’s slider in 2015? .186 with eight extra-base hits, setting up the changeup and four-seamer up in the zone to gather strikeouts.

   Charlie Furbush, LHP: 4FB, 2FB, SL, CB
2015: 33 G, 21.2 IP, 7.06 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 48.2% GB, .125 BABIP, 3.73 FIP, 0.1 fWAR
Furbush’s 2015 was odd, and not likely repeatable for the southpaw. His strikeout rate sunk nearly four batters per nine, but his ground ball rate spiked nearly 13 percent and he was a bit lucky with a .125 batting average on balls in play. Don’t bet on that happening again in 2016. The soon-to-be 30-year-old will need to get back to the 10-plus K/9 range to be anything more than a situational left-hander, but that’s what he was in each of the previous three seasons.

In 2015, the fastball velocity dipped a half tick, which may be easily explained by what took place to end Furbush’s season — shoulder stiffness that did not require surgery. If he’s back to 91-92 and touching 93 with the plus slider and variable angle that creates more a curveball shape with a few mphs removed, Furbush will again be one of the better lefty relievers in the American League.

If not, such a development may open the door for another left-hander in camp, but the Mariners need Furbush to ultimately be what he was. I suspect the club’s decision that Vidal Nuno would start camp purely in a relief role had a little something to do with the Furbush factor; all appears well thus far — no pain or discomfort, everything on schedule heading into Cactus League play — but when your No. 1 option to match up with big-time left-handed hitters is coming off an injury-shortened season, the GM takes notice. When it’s a shoulder issue, precautions have to be made.

    Evan Scribner, RHP: 4FB, CUT/SL, CB, CH
2015: 54G, 60 IP, 9.60 K/9, 0.6 BB/9, 39.4% GB, .286 BABIP, 4.33 FIP, -0.1 fWAR
Scribner, pitching from a more conventional arm slot than many of his bullpen mates — he throws more over the top than Cishek, Furbush, Nuno and even Benoit — relies on control, efficiency and a change of speeds and zones to do what he’s done the past two-plus years.

The right-hander has plus-plus control, having walked just four batters a year ago, and has four big-league pitches. The fastball brings spotty command, however — when at its best it plays better than the average velocity in the 90-92 mph range. When he gets under it on the side, he’ll miss his spots. Scribner will cut the fastball, which creates heavy run in on left-handed batters and carries slider-like velocity in the mid-80s. The changeup is below-average, explaining why he doesn’t use it much — almost not at all in 2015. What keeps Scribner from legit setup status is the home run rates, which may be assisted a bit by Safeco Field. What might help is either a more effective curveball, or less use of the pitch. Four of the 14 long balls hit off Scribner in ‘15 were off the 248 curveballs he threw, per PITCHf/x, and while eight of the 14 came off the fastball, using that offering less isn’t realistic than the 49.1 percent he posted a year ago. Adding a two-seamer or a more-effective cutter-slider at a higher rate (22.8%) might do the trick, as may finding a way to mix the changeup in more.

In the end, Scribner pretty much is what he is, which is a strike-throwing middle reliever that isn’t equipped to handle high-leverage situations on any sort of regular basis. But he’s a quality arm for the 5th-6th-7th, particularly against batters without much power.

For the record, four of those 14 long balls Scribner surrendered a year ago came versus the Mariners. Mark Trumbo got him once, as did Franklin Gutierrez, Nelson Cruz and Brad Miller.

Vidal Nuno, LHP: SEE — Preview Capsules: Starting Rotation
Nuno creates angles for deception, mixes speeds and can attack all areas of the zone versus left-handed batters, making him a viable No. 2 southpaw in any bullpen.

     Tony Zych, RHP: 4FB, SL, CH
2015: 13G, 18.1 IP, 11.78 K/9, 1.47 B/9, 50% GB, .348 BABIP, 2.04 FIP, 0.6 fWAR
Zych, in four outings in Triple-A Tacoma witness by yours truly, sat 91-93 mph, touched 94 on occasion and I recorded just two 95s — both on August 5 vs. Reno. The previous three looks took place on May 28, June 5 and June 29. A scout told me in a look on August 24 versus Memphis, Zych was 92-94, touched 96. Thing is, Zych was part of the Mariners’ September call-ups and sat 94-97, with 33 more 95 mphs or higher than I’d seen in 68 previous fastballs in the minors.

Whatever changed — perhaps an arm slot adjustment, ever-so-slight as it may have been, the grip he employed, something else in his delivery or a combination of more than one of the above — Zych is a different pitcher now, but it’s not solely due to the velocity.

Zych’s slider now is harder, too, by about 1.5-2.5 mphs, and without losing break on either plane — which is amazing in itself. He pounded the zone with both pitches in September and looked like a legitimate late-inning arm. If that’s the version of Zych the Mariners are getting to start 2016, they won’t short of power arms to get key outs — many times strikeouts — late in games and in tight situations.

Zych closed at Louisville, but has been efficient enough to cover four and five outs regularly in the minors and even did so a few times last September in the big leagues — plus a start late in the season that lasted 2 ⅔ innings of shutout ball.

He’ll work the top of the zone with the fastball and both sides of the plate with the hard slider (82-87) to get swings and misses and can throw both for called strikes. There’s a changeup in the holster, but I don’t believe I saw it in Tacoma and PITCHf/x has him throwing all of three. If he’s 94-plus with life and the slider is there, the changeup is unnecessary, anyway.

      Ryan Cook, RHP: 4FB, 2FB, SL, CH
2015: 9 G, 8.2 IP, 6.23 K/9, 7.27 BB/9, 51.2% GB, .432 BABIP, 10.17 FIP, -0.4 fWAR
Cook was nastominant (new word, five points, Churchill) in 2012 and 2013, combining for 9.5 K/9, limiting the walks and posting back-to-back FIPs under 2.90 and 1.5 fWARs. Then he hit a snag, which appears to at least be linked to shoulder issues, and those problems dragged into 2015, which on paper was a lost season for the right-hander.

Cook still threw hard from September 2014 into the 8 ⅔ innings he threw in the majors last year, topping 95 mph on average and not giving up much on the two-seamer. His control and command disappeared, however, which explains the walk rates and the .367 BAA and .633 SLGA on his last 137 four-seamer, and an even-worse result on 44 two-seamers.

If the shoulder is sound, Cook has a shot to fix his mechanics — I don’t see anything obvious, but all I have is nine short appearances from last season — and get back reasonably close to where he was. If he works his way back to roster-worthiness levels, this could be a major coup for GM Jerry Dipoto.

We won’t have any answers at all until later in March and the ultimate answer to such questions will not be available until the summer arrives, but Cook is part of the high-reward potential for the Mariners’ relief corps this season.

       Justin De Fratus, RHP: 4FB, 2FB, SL, CH
2015: 61 G, 80 IP, 7.65 K/9, 3.60 BB/9, 44% GB, .335 BABIP, 4.28 FIP, -0.1 fWAR
De Fratus, 28, had a better year in 2014 than a year ago, based mostly on his control. He sits 91-93 mph with his fastball, mixes in the occasional two-seamer with some run and goes to the slider a lot — nearly a third of all offerings in 2015. He will throw a mid-80s changeup consistently and it’s a decent pitch when he finishes out front.

The right-hander profiles as a multi-inning middle reliever who does a decent job of keeping the ball in the yard, but I don’t see a lot of upside here, which could mean De Fratus starts the year in Triple-A Tacoma. He’s out of options, but there’s a decent chance he’d slide through waivers unclaimed, giving Seattle a nice depth arm in the minors.

Joel Peralta, RHP: 4FB, CB, SPL
2015: 33 G, 29 IP, 7.45 K/9, 2.48 BB/9, 33.7% GB, .265 BABIP, 5.00 FIP, -0.3 fWAR
Peralta, not that long ago, was a solid contributor in a seventh-eighth inning role, but the right-hander’s curveball has left him for dead and hitters from both sides of the plate have taken full advantage.
Peralta still has the curveball, but it’s been about as effective as a batting practice meatball the past few years, with LHBs tagging it at a .412 clip with a .588 slugging over the past two seasons. Peralta did a decent job of getting lefties out with his fastball and splitter, but RHBs hit .262 with a .538 slugging against him a year ago.

It’s apparent that with each half tick of velocity loss — down to 89.5 mph average in 2015 — more pressure is put on Peralta’s command and secondaries. He’ll be 40 March 23, suggesting the more-than-decent chance this simply is the decline that ends his career.

Jonathan Aro, RHP: 4FB, SL, CH
2015: 6 G, 10.1 IP, 6.97 K/9, 3.48 BB/9, 16.2% GB, .371 BABIP, 5.26 FIP, -0.1 fWAR
Aro is a sturdy-framed reliever built to cover multiple innings. He’s started 12 games in the minors, but has covered nearly three innings per relief appearance.

The 25-year-old sits 91-95 with a four-seam fastball showing some zip up in the zone. The pitch lacks run and sink, however, putting more pressure on his command, which at present grades fringe-average. He has a good feel for his low-80s change, showing some fade away from left-handed batters and good, consistent arm speed. His breaking ball is a mid-80s slider with short but tight break that is effective under the hands of lefties and away from right-handed batters. There has been signs of a two-seam fastball, which could be a significant factor for him as Aro looks to push through to the big leagues in 2016.

A more consistent release point could be Aro’s big break, as most looks have displayed his tendency to show his front side early, which cuts off his pitches in both command and movement. The wager is he starts the year in Triple-A but is one of the first few arms called upon when the big club is in need.

Mayckol Guaipe, RHP: 4FB, SL, CB, CH
2015: 21 G, 7.43 K/9, 4.39 BB/9, 48.8% GB, .372 BABIP, 5.72 FIP, -0.6 FIP
Guaipe, 25, got a long look in 2015 after 38 so-so innings in the Pacific Coast League. The stuff isn’t great — 92-94 mph fastball with limited movement, below-average control and command and three fringy-to-average breaking balls. The best of the trio is a low-to-mid-80s slider reminiscent of Yoervis Medina’s at times, but as inconsistent as his delivery and command.

Guaipe is further out of the conversation for a bullpen spot for me than others, because he doesn’t bring anything to the table upon which the club can rely. He’s right there with Aro and probably behind De Fratus for what may be the final middle-relief spot, a job Scribner is the No. 1 option and a sure to make the club barring injury.

In the end, I’m not a believer in the stuff or the delivery Guaipe brings to the table, but he’s far from the worst option on this list.

Joe Wieland, RHP: SEE — Preview Capsules: Starting Rotation

David Rollins, LHP: 4FB, SL, CH
2015: 20 G, 25 IP, 7.56 K/9, 2.88 BB/9, 41% GB, .405 BABIP, 4.21 FIP, -0.1 fWAR
Rollins was the Mariners’ Rule 5 pick a year ago and after serving a suspension made 20 appearances in the majors with uninspiring results. He sits 90-94 mph and is up to 95 with a four-seamer that shows now plane and limited horizontal movement, leading to a .391 BAA and .578 SLGA on nearly 300 fastball in 2015.

Rollins’ best pitch is a low-80s slider, but he doesn’t command it well enough to do anything but try and get batters to chase. His changeup — which he threw over 23 percent of the time, is below-average with little fade or sink. But Rollins creates solid angles and with better use of them his fastball and slider could play up some, perhaps enough to show better versus left-handed batters (11-for-33, .606 SLG, 3 BB, 6 SO in 37 PAs). Until that occurs, Rollins is a Triple-A reliever.

Cody Martin, RHP: 4FB, 2FB, CUT, CB, SL, CH
2015: 25 G, 2 GS, 30.2 IP, 7.92 K/9, 3.52 BB/9, 33.7% GB, .348 BABIP, 6.13 FIP, -0.6 fWAR
Martin, 26 now and a former minor league starter probably is better suited heading back to the rotation if he wants a shot at getting to and then staying in the big leagues. His stuff simply doesn’t play well in a relief role, unless it’s inning-gobbling garbage time, and simply because an arm can’t throw enough strikes doesn’t mean he’s better off in a bullpen role.

Martin sits 88-91 mph with a four-seamer and is able to cut and sink the ball with two-seam -and cutter grips. His slider (81-83) and changeup (85-88) are fringe-average pitches with the latter a firm offering he doesn’t use much.

Martin’s delivery is fine below the waist but his arm action has multiple parts — there’s a little Freddy Garcia in it all, just not nearly as swing-pronounced — and he uses his glove hand to create some momentum, which typically causes balance issues and appears to with Martin.

The four-seamer has armside run, however, with life late and up in the zone. When he finishes through release point and creates some plane, there’s late sink and gloveside run, too. I’d stretch him out this spring with the plan to get him starts in Triple-A Tacoma — Martin does have an option left.

Casey Coleman, RHP: 4FB, 2FB, SL, CB, CH
2015: NO MLB STATS
Coleman’s peripherals — fastball up to 96 mph, sitting 92-94, with two below-average breaking balls and a once-useful but now nonexistent changeup — look good for a transition from starting to a relief role. It hasn’t translated to enough missed bats to get Coleman to the big leagues, however, and now at age 28 Coleman is looking to salvage his career.

Without a big-league secondary pitch there isn’t much to suggest he’ll be useful for the Mariners, but he could be one of those projects that needs the smallest tweak that makes the biggest difference. There were signs of a better two-seamer last summer, and the slider occasionally looks somewhat useful, but as-is there’s just one major-league pitch and that isn’t even going to play long in Triple-A Tacoma.

Danny Hultzen, LHP: 4FB, 2FB, SL, CB, CH
2015: NO MLB STATS
Hultzen, four and a half years after Draft Day, starts 2016 with a new role — at least for now — in attempt to get him as much time to rebuild arm strength and develop his new delivery. When he was right, Hultzen sat 89-92 mph with his four-seamer, touching 95, his two-seamer tailed away from right-handed batters and he was adept at using his average slider to attack RHBs in, on and off the plate. All of the above sets up a plus changeup that Hultzen has a feel for, seemingly from the second he wakes until the cows come home.

Last spring Hultzen showed off his new delivery — more in line to the plate, not nearly as much of the cut-off action his front leg created, which put extra stress on his shoulder, which is believed to be the main culprit in his shoulder injury and eventual surgery. He appeared comfortable with it from the get-go last March, and took it into Double-A Jackson last summer. His season was ended early, but Prospect Insider was told that was simply to avoid pushing things too hard since Hultzen was feeling some stiffness in the shoulder.

At this point, anything Hultzen gives the M’s is gravy, albeit disappointing gravy after taking the southpaw No. 2 overall in 2011. I’m not sure if hoping he’ll get back to where he was pre-surgery — both in terms of velocity and durability in a starting role — is realistic, but barring a setback this spring there’s no reason to think he can’t find his way to the majors out of the bullpen.

And anyone that knows Hultzen — coaches, teammates, college mates — says if anyone can get back it’s Danny, who cares about the game, his place in it and contributing as much as possible is important to Hultzen. If he fails, it won’t be due to a lack of work or persistence.

Paul Fry, LHP: 4FB, SL, CH
2015: NO MLB STATS
Last summer it was apparent Fry was going to get an invite this spring as a potential darkhorse out of the bullpen. The lefty commands his fastball up to 94 mph, sitting 90-92 with life up and sink down, setting up an average to above-average slider sitting 81-83 with two-plane break. He also throws a changeup to keep right-handed batters off balance, but it’s below-average at present.

Fry’s delivery is compact and his athleticism helps him repeat. He’s aggressive from the outset of each plate appearance and there’s some deception created by good angles and good arm speed from a slightly above three-quarter slot.

Blake Parker, RHP: 4FB, SPL, CB
2015: NO MLB STATS
Parker doesn’t throw hard — averaging about 90-91 mph on four-seamer, but he gets good movement on the pitch, including some two-seam tail away from lefties, and his splitter flashes average. The curveball (74-77 mph) is his favorite pitch but he doesn’t command it consistently.

Parker is another depth move that could start the year in Triple-A Tacoma’s bullpen if he makes it through March (many non-roster invitees are released or exercise opt-outs before the regular season starts).

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Jason A. Churchill

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