News that the Seattle Mariners were pursuing Adam Frazier before the All-Star landed with the San Diego Padres provides a glimmer of hope to Mariners fans. Their team appears willing to add difference makers prior to Friday’s MLB trade deadline. Still, a key detail from the Frazier trade reveals a challenge facing Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto this week. Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reports the Mariners were willing to absorb all of Frazier’s salary for this season to acquire him from the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, Pittsburgh preferred sending enough money to the Padres to cover most or all of the veteran’s 2021 salary. Mariners also made offer for Adam Frazier and did not ask Pirates to put cash in deal, sources tell @TheAthletic. Pirates sent $1.4M to Padres in part because they value Marcano highly. If he evolves into Frazier type, Pirates get six years of him for 1-plus of Frazier. — Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 25, 2021 Why would the low-revenue Pirates be willing to help with Frazier’s pay? By doing so, Pittsburgh was able to receive better prospect value from the Padres than what Seattle was willing to deal. Essentially, the Mariners were attempting to avoid a higher prospect price by offering to take on the Mississippi State alum’s salary. That brings us to the challenge facing Dipoto with the trade deadline looming. How does Dipoto improve his current roster without jeopardizing his organization’s future? It’s no secret the Mariners have one of the better farm systems in MLB. Therefore, dealing promising young minor leaguers is inevitable. But becoming a free spender with his team’s prospect equity could potentially sink everything Dipoto and his staff have accomplished since beginning to rebuild the organization after the 2018 campaign. Granted, Frazier is having a great season. He would’ve immediately helped the Mariners at a position of need – second base. But how much of its future should a team trade away for a 29-year-old having career year, who’s under club control for just one more season? From Dipoto’s perspective, the Padres’ asking prices exceeded what he was willing to pay. Considering Seattle’s tenuous position in the AL Wild Card standings and the fact the team is fully committed to its rebuild, the sixth-year GM probably made the right choice regarding Frazier. The front office taking a balanced approach during deadline season should please Mariners fans. Still, achieving both goals – making the 2021 postseason and preserving the future – would be the preferred outcome for all involved. Wouldn’t you agree? My Oh My…Go!

Even the most patient Seattle Mariners fan must be questioning the team’s use of reliever Rafael Montero in high-leverage situations. That’s the exact circumstance Montero faced against the A’s last night. The end result – two runs surrendered in the eighth inning of a game that Seattle was trailing by a run and eventually lost 4-1. So, why is Mariners manager Scott Servais turning to Montero late in a key game against a division rival? It’s a legitimate question. After all, Montero’s conventional and advanced stats verify what we’ve been witnessing with our eyeballs – he’s been regressing with each passing month. Even an ardent believer in Montero’s stuff like me was perplexed by Servais’ decision to hand the ball to his enigmatic reliever in last night’s game. Since the rationale for using Montero escaped my pea-brain, I did what I always do when I can’t solve a baseball mystery. I turned to Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill. A quick chat with Jason enlightened me to an obvious issue with Seattle’s bullpen that’s in plain sight for all of us to see. Reliever utilization can be problematic for the Mariners when closer Kendall Graveman isn’t available. By now, most Mariners fans are aware that Graveman has a benign tumor on his cervical spine that led to his conversion from a starter to a reliever last year. A consequence of the tumor is the right-hander isn’t available as often as other arms in Seattle’s bullpen. Graveman has pitched on 0-1 days rest less frequently (33.3-percent) than only one other Seattle reliever appearing in 20-plus games this year – Keynan Middleton. Think about it for a moment. Any time Graveman isn’t available to pitch the ninth inning or any high-leverage situation, Servais must lean on other arms in the bullpen to get the job done. So, why didn’t the sixth-year manager do exactly that last night and steer away from Montero? Reasonable question until we review Servais’ options. He had already used JT Chargois and Drew Steckenrider prior to Montero and Anthony Misiewicz pitched the ninth inning. Assuming Middleton and Erik Swanson weren’t available because they pitched the day prior, the skipper was short on alternatives last night. There was Paul Sewald, who Servais may have been holding in reserve for a save situation. Then again, he could’ve turned to Héctor Santiago. Oh, that’s right, Santiago’s roster spot is open because he’s serving a ridiculous 10-game suspension. Realistically, Servais didn’t have any other options, assuming Graveman was unavailable. To those fans screaming that the Mariners should just get rid of Montero, I hear you. Maybe that happens today or in the near future. But there appear to be few viable replacements waiting in the wings. Perhaps Casey Sadler, who’s about ready to return from the IL, is the answer. But prior to his injury, Sadler pitched on 0-1 days rest in 28.5-percent of his games – less often than Graveman and Middleton. Considering Sadler has been sidelined with shoulder inflammation since April 30, it’s possible the team takes it slowly with the 31-year-old when he does return. Other than Yohan Ramirez, there isn’t a clear-cut replacement on the 40-man roster. And even if the team replaced Montero with Ramirez or Sadler, doing so doesn’t solve the bigger problem facing the Mariners – having high-leverage relievers, who aren’t available on a more frequent basis. No, I’m not blaming Montero’s ineffectiveness on Graveman, Middleton, or even Sadler. He’s the root cause of his problems. But having several relievers unable to throw on 0-1 days rest as often as their peers leads to suboptimal matchups – like last night’s game. If the Mariners had a full complement of relievers capable of going on short rest, keeping a project like Montero on the major-league roster would be more practical than it is now. A large segment of fans would argue that the veteran of seven seasons isn’t worth the trouble. I disagree. Montero’s Statcast profile illustrates the potential that I believe he possesses. I suspect the team’s analytics department and coaching staff may agree with me to some degree. I know. Potential doesn’t win ballgames and that’s a big deal for the Mariners and the fan base right now. But cutting ties with Montero won’t address the team’s bigger issue and could make matters worse without a suitable replacement to fill the void created by his absence. Let’s not forget that Seattle has already parted ways with another workhorse – Will Vest. The combined loss of Vest and Montero, who’ve accounted for 21-percent of the team’s relief innings this year, will only make Servais’ already tough job even more challenging. Realistically, jettisoning Montero would provide instant gratification for fans. But doing so won’t necessarily make the Mariners better at a critical time in their schedule. Only help from outside the organization can do that. My Oh My…Go!

Bob Melvin Oakland Athletics

Few people expected the Seattle Mariners to remain in the postseason conversation well into July. But here we are with the Mariners tantalizingly close to the second Wild Card spot. Yes, a lot can change between now and game-162 – Seattle knows this better than many fan bases. But let’s face it. Watching the rebuilding club flirt with the possibility of earning a playoff berth has been a blast. With the MLB trade deadline about a week away, now seems like a good time to size up the competition standing between the Mariners and returning to the postseason for the first time since 2001. All told, there are six teams that aren’t division leaders with a reasonable chance of keeping Seattle out of the playoffs. Let’s start with the two clubs currently in the Wild Card spots. Tampa Bay Rays Not only do the defending AL champions hold the top Wild Card spot, they’re closing in on the AL East division-leading Red Sox. Tampa Bay also has a recent history of success with the fifth best winning percentage (.589) in MLB since 2018 with two postseason berths to its credit. The Rays experienced a rough June with a 12-14 record, including a four-game sweep at the hands of the Mariners in Seattle. As a consequence of the team’s struggles, it went from the best record in the majors on Memorial Day to the first Wild Card spot in July. Still, manager Kevin Cash has guided his squad to a 10-5 record this month. Tampa Bay’s lineup is long with six players boasting an OPS+ over 100, which is the league-average mark. As a result, the team ranks eighth in MLB with 4.89 runs scored/game. Defensively, the Rays have 48 defensive runs saved (DRS) – second most in MLB. Losing top starter Tyler Glasnow to injury last month certainly didn’t help. Since the right-hander went down with a flexor strain and partial UCL tear on June 14, the starting staff’s ERA has ballooned to 5.16, which ranks 25th in MLB. Prior to Glasnow’s injury, the rotation had a 3.49, good enough for eighth best. There is some hope that Glasnow rejoins the team later in the season. Still, hope is not a course of action. Fortunately, for the Rays, the team has Cash at the helm. The seventh-year manager has a history of weaving together his rotation and bullpen in a manner that delivers positive results despite having a staff full of lesser-known names. Another factor favoring Tampa Bay, the front office has a knack for making in-season moves that yield positive outcomes. In 2020, it was a relative unknown – Randy Arozarena. According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, the Rays are aiming higher this year. BREAKING: The Tampa Bay Rays are finalizing a deal to acquire slugger Nelson Cruz from the Minnesota Twins, sources tell ESPN. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 22, 2021 Oakland A’s Oakland is an interesting club considering it has a .500 record when playing the AL East and AL West. Yet, its flourished with a 21-9 record against the AL Central and NL opponents. As with the Rays, the A’s have a deep lineup with six players having an above-average OPS+. But the team is mid-pack in multiple categories such as OBP, SLG, OPS+, and the most important stat – runs scored. Moreover, the designated hitter position’s .696 OPS ranks 12th in the AL. It’s worth noting Oakland does generate extra base hits and is top-10 in home runs and doubles. The starting rotation doesn’t have a marquee name, but is effective nonetheless. Oakland starters have a 3.64 ERA this season, which is eighth best in the majors. Leading the way are Chris Bassitt, rookie James Kaprielian, Cole Irvin, and Sean Manaea. As usual, the bullpen has been a strength that’s been well-managed by skipper Bob Melvin. Having said that, adding another reliever or two would benefit the team down the stretch giving it a better shot of going deeper into the postseason. Prior to Passan’s report, there had been a lot of speculation that Nelson Cruz would be a perfect fit for Oakland. He would’ve been, although there’s one issue that should never be overlooked with the A’s – finances. Cruz is owed approximately $4 million for the final two months of the season. That doesn’t seem like a lot of money for an MLB team. But it may be with this organization. In the offseason, Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic reported that after the A’s declined to make the $18.9 million qualifying offer to longtime shortstop Marcus Semien, the team suggested a one-year/$12.5 million contract to Semien with $10 million deferred in 10 one-year installments of $1 million. Oakland also signed reliever Trevor Rosenthal to a one-year/$11 million backloaded deal with the reliever receiving $3 million in both 2021 and 2022 and $5 million in 2023. Toronto Blue Jays Only the Astros and Dodgers are plating more runs than Toronto’s prolific offense, which is averaging 5.2 runs scored/game. To that point, Blue Jays hitters collectively rank top-three in home runs, AVG, SLG, and OPS+. On the other hand, the pitching staff has been far less dynamic. That’s not to say the Blue Jays’ staff is bad. But the rotation and bullpen are closer to league-average than leaders of the pack. The starting staff is headlined by veteran Robbie Ray, who’s having an excellent season. Behind Ray are fellow southpaws Hyun Jin Ryu and Steven Matz with their league-average production and an inconsistent Ross Stripling in the fourth spot. After that, it gets a bit squishy. The bullpen is similar – decent results without standout performers. There’s also an unknown regarding the remainder of the Blue Jays’ season that could tip the scales for or against the club during the stretch run – its home field. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Blue Jays have played their home games in Dunedin, Florida and Buffalo, New York this season. But the club finally gets to head back to Toronto in about a week. How will playing in the Rogers Centre affect the Blue Jays’ offense? Perhaps the new home surroundings won’t impact Toronto’s run-scoring machine. But it’s worth noting that the team has boasted a combined .837 OPS in Florida and New York compared to .732 on the road. For those wondering, the pitching staff’s ERA has been relatively similar at home and on the road. Regardless of park factors, adding rotation and bullpen help prior to the deadline would be the best course of action for the Blue Jays. New York Yankees It’s been a rough season for the Bronx Bombers with injuries playing a big role in the club’s struggles this year. Notable names currently on the IL include Aaron Judge, Gio Urshela, Clint Frazier, plus starter Corey Kluber and a plethora of relievers. Coincidentally, the Yankees had the same 12-14 record in June as division-rival Tampa Bay with New York also playing better in July (9-5). Since the All-Star break, the team has consecutive series wins over the Mariners, Houston, Boston, and Philadelphia. Still, the Yankees must play better within their own division to have a chance of returning to the postseason for a fifth consecutive season. The Bombers are 31-19 against AL Central, AL West, and NL teams. But even after taking two of three from the Red Sox, New York is only 19-25 versus the AL East. Assuming the Yankees continue playing well this month, the team may choose to lean forward at the deadline to improve its postseason chances. As with every club, rotation help has to be a top priority. Adding another bat would also benefit the hobbled roster. A name bandied around often is Texas’ Joey Gallo. The slugger would certainly represent an upgrade to the lineup. Not only that, the Gold Glove right fielder has demonstrated in the past he can play any outfield position and first base. Cleveland Indians Cleveland has an uphill battle ahead of it. The team ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in AVG and OBP with its short lineup having just three hitters posting an OPS+ over 100. As always, pitching is the engine that propels Cleveland’s success. Unfortunately, injuries and ineffectiveness have negatively impacted the starting staff with 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale currently on the IL. That said, the bullpen remains a viable weapon for manager Terry Francona. Although Cleveland plays in the weak AL Central division, payroll restrictions probably prevent the club from making up ground in the standings. Last offseason, the front office dealt Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco for financial reasons. This suggests it’s more likely this team moves veteran contracts than acquire them. Los Angeles Angels Although the Mariners have recently enjoyed success against the Angels, we shouldn’t discount this club over the final two months of the season. Especially with Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon, and Justin Upton eventually returning from the IL. That’s tantamount to acquiring a few extra hitters at the deadline without having to make a trade. Still, the Angels’ postseason aspirations will hinge on the starting rotation – not their bats. Everyone is aware that Shohei Ohtani is having an MVP-caliber season. But Ohtani isn’t alone. Rookie Patrick Sandoval has been excellent and veteran Alex Cobb is proving to be a stabilizing presence. On the other hand, Opening Day rotation members Dylan Bundy and Jose Quintana are now in the bullpen due to poor performances and Andrew Heaney has also struggled. Backing up the rotation are several interesting relief arms. Most notably, closer Raisel Iglesias. But the Halos’ bullpen lacks depth and now includes banished starters Bundy and Quintana. Considering the Angels’ position in the standings, it’s plausible the team sells at the deadline. Yes, I could be dead wrong. But the Halos have 12 pending free agents, including Cobb, Heaney, Bundy, Quintana, shortstop José Iglesias, catcher Kurt Suzuki, and relievers Alex Claudio, Tony Watson, and Steve Cishek. This month would be a great opportunity for GM Perry Minasian to begin reloading for 2022 and beyond. Looking Ahead For me, the postseason chances of the six teams we’ve discussed and the Mariners fall in the following order: Rays A’s Yankees Blue Jays Mariners Angels Cleveland Many of the blemishes affecting the clubs we’ve discussed also apply to the Mariners. Seattle’s lineup is short, the roster has been plagued by injuries, and the starting rotation has delivered suboptimal results. Even during the team’s hot stretch since Memorial Day, its offense ranks in the bottom-third of MLB in many categories. Obviously, a lot can change by the last day of the season. Especially with clubs having an opportunity to improve via trade this month. However, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto remains steadfastly committed to the organization’s rebuild process. Therefore, adding big-ticket difference makers by the deadline doesn’t seem likely. Even if Dipoto were willing to throw caution to the wind, ownership likely prevents the sixth-year GM from acquiring the salaries of established players. It’s the same challenge facing the front offices of Oakland and Cleveland, although Seattle is a significantly larger market than those cities. Then again, the Mariners’ current roster could simply prove naysayers like me wrong by playing its way into the postseason. After all, you can’t argue with results – even when underlying metrics suggest there should’ve been a different outcome. My Oh My…Go!

The Seattle Mariners 2021 Draft class is developing into a very nice haul. It’s expected their top three picks all will sign, and through Monday had officially signed 14 of their top 20 selections for under $1.6 million, or 18.6% of their bonus pool of $8.526 million. No. 12 overall pick Harry Ford is expected to sign for exactly slot at $4.3664 million, which takes the total remaining to $2.78 million and four players left unsigned. The slot value for second-round pick Edwin Arroyo (No, 48 overall) is $1.5436 million, which would leave about $1.23 million to sign third-round pick Michael Morales, 11th-round pick Will Fleming, 19th-round pick Charlie Welch, and 20th rounder Troy Taylor. I was told over the weekend Welch, a catcher from Arkansas, had come to terms with the Mariners, but the bonus remains unknown at this stage. Arroyo could be an under-slot signing, though it may not be a significantly lower number. If it’s exactly slot for the shortstop, Morales can get done, but there’s a chance Fleming and Taylor will not. The Mariners can go over their bonus pool by up to 4.99% without risking the forfeiture of future picks (they’d pay a 75% tax on the overage) if they choose. Arroyo’s or Morales’ number, once we learn it, will be telling in terms of whether or signing each remaining selection is realistic. Here are some scouting notes on each of the signed players, including Welch, even though he’s not official just yet. Charlie Welch, C — Arkansas (19) Welch is best known for his late-game, late-season heroics at the plate, but his future largely depends on his ability behind the dish. He didn’t start much and is known as “Dr. Pinch Hitter”, but “the bat speed plays,” and there’s athleticism on which to build a defensive foundation. He struggled overall two years ago on the Cape after his freshman season, but flashed power and showed patience at the plate. Riley Davis, RHP — Alabama-Birmingham (18) Davis projects as a middle reliever with average stuff and command, up to 93 mph with a sweeping slider from a deceptive low arm slot. There are some delivery questions, which if answered, could suggest upside. Jimmy Kingsbury, RHP — Villanova (17) Good athlete with a fastball that’s creeped into the mid-90s at times and a slider that in short stints flashes above average. Jimmy Joyce, RHP — Hofstra (16) Up to 94 mph and comfortable sitting 89-91, Joyce employs a long arm path and some less-than-ideal overall mechanics, but the data on his fastball (vertical approach angle) suggest fastball potential. Joyce doesn’t bring any physical projection to pro ball, but everything else suggests a chance at a big-league package, likely out of the bullpen. Cole Barr, 3B — Indiana (15) Barr has a plus arm that fits anywhere on the diamond, but he’s limited to third base and potentially a corner outfield spot if the bat plays. He has some pop, but has work to do in order to generate better contact rates. Andrew Moore, RHP — Chipola (14) Moore looks the part of a big-league arm, and he’s flashed a plus to plus-plus fastball up to 99 mph with data to back it up, namely big-time vertical life. His slider has flashed as a swing-and-miss pitch and projects well in a relief role where it can play off the huge velocity and fastball value. Ben Ramirez, 3B — USC (13) Ramirez’s best tool is above average raw power generated with good leverage. It’s almost exclusively pull power, however, and there are legitimate and long-term concerns about his ability to make consistent contact and hit for average. “Maybe he’s kind of like Brad Miller after he fights through early-career struggles and finds a role,” said one area scout. Corey Rosier, OF — UNC Greensboro (12) Rosier is a good athlete with one of the better eyes at the plate among mid-major bats in the entire class. He projects to below-average power but has produced extra-base pop in games. His defensive skills and footspeed suggest a solid chance to stay in center. “Nothing blows you away but he does a lot of things well enough to notice. He has good instincts everywhere. I could see him as a fourth outfielder, like a Marvin Benard.” Jordan Jackson, RHP — Georgia Southern (10) He’s only 88-91 now, but at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds carries projection into a Mariners system that has found ways to add significant velocity to arms with far less projectable frames. There’s a 40-grade slider and 30-grade changeup in the repertoire, but this is a piece of clay, and the Mariners may start from scratch. Spencer Packard, OF — Campbell (9) Packard is a corner outfielder with a seasoned hit tool driven by a natural line-drive swing and good plate coverage. The bat speed here is fringe-average, however, and he’s an average runner, so a ton is riding on his ability to identify pitches, make great swing decisions and post high contact rates. James Parker, SS — Clemson (8) Parker is one of the interesting players from the club’s 10 Day-2 selections. He can handle shortstop right now and has the arm to stick, but the intrigue is in the quick, whippy swing that generated average power this past spring. “It’s a little tougher to see the bat playing regularly,” said an area scout, “but the spikes in performance make an impact so there’s a place to start. I like him at second, and his arm could play in a utility role, which may be a safer place to project him offensively, anyway.” Colin Davis, OF — Wofford (7) “He’s gamer with instincts and a high-energy approach,” said one crosschecker. “There’s strength there and some athleticism, but the swing needs a lot of work, which could take time… Defensively I don’t mind him in center, maybe I’m a little high on him in the field.” Bryan Woo, RHP — Cal Poly (6) Woo is a physical right-hander with easy velocity into the mid-90s, and scouts believe there may very well be more there. He’s learned to use his lower half better, but there’s room for a more athletic kick and drive. The breaking ball is a projectable tight slider that works well with his four-seamer that rides in on right-handed batters when he finishes well out front. He’s almost certainly a bullpen arm, and Woo won’t pitch until next summer after April Tommy John, but the velocity potential offers a chance to move quickly once the slider settles. Andy Thomas, C — Baylor (5) “I don’t love his chances back there,” a checker said of Thomas’ ability behind the plate. “But the bat? There might be something there.” Thomas’ power exploded in 2021 versus good competition, showing good bat speed. Mechanically, there are some issues with how he uses his hands and how that might impact his ability to make enough contact in pro ball. Bryce Miller, RHP — Texas A&M (4) Miller is my favorite Day-2 pick. He’s flashed velocity into the 95-97 mph range, and up to 98 as a reliever, but in a starting tole impressed this spring holding his 92-94 mph velocity deep into games, and still showing he can get to 97 on occasion. There are two breaking balls here, led by a projectable curveball, and his changeup has a chance thanks to good arm speed. “Quality arm with a solid floor as a bulk reliever, but he’s new to full-time rotation work. It’s too bad he didn’t have another year there (A&M), he might have ended up a lot higher (in next year’s draft).” I like Miller’s athleticism and loose arm, and even average control gives him a shot to be a No. 4 starter. Michael Morales, RHP — East Pennsboro HS (Pa.) “The kid can pitch,” said a former GM and special assistant. “He may just be scratching the surface. I had him up to 92 and mostly 88-89… easy… movement… and he gets more from it with arm action. I was comfortable writing him up as a future 3-4 based . I put a late-2nd (round grade) on him.” If you watch video on Morales you may get some Logan Gilbert vibes (not a comp) with his arm action and deception, and despite lacking prototypical size (he’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds), the fastball projects well long-term. Add to that the Mariners’ penchant for adding velocity and it also feels like a prep edition of the George Kirby selection in 2019. He settled in at 88-90 most starts, but scouts have seen him 92-93 for stretches, and there’s a clear path to more, suggesting a mid-rotation ceiling. Edwin Arroyo, SS — Central Pointe Christian Academy (Fla.) Arroyo is a switch hitter with more upside as a lefty, including a chance for average power down the road, but he enters the system an athlete with a plus arm and defensive chops at shortstop who needs experience and work at the plate. The swing path needs some help staying true, and while he’s not a burner he’s an above-average runner with some bat control and great hands. You have to dream a bit, and Arroyo is a long-term prospect, but the reward could be an above-average shortstop with a 50-grade bat, not far off that of current Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford, with Asdrubal Cabrera upside. Harry Ford, C — North Cobb HS (Ga.) Ford boasts above-average tools across the board, including 60-grade speed, throw and defense, power that stretches to at least plus, and a present hit tool with a clean route to hitting for plenty of average. Once you push aside the inherent risk that comes with prep catchers and evaluate Ford as a bat and athlete, the picture starts to look clearer. In other words, Ford is a unicorn. His physical tools suggest several potential defensive options, including center field and second base, but if I had to bet right now I’d wager third base or catcher. Ford ranks No. 5 in my prospect rankings and has as much chance to shoot to No. 1in the next year-plus as anyone in the system. Projecting 2023 I just thought this would be a fun exercise, but there must be rules, so here they are: 1. No free agents. We know there will be some, but predicting them is a loser’s game, so we’ll stay away for the purpose of painting a potential future picture or three. 2. No trades. Same reason. 3. My prospect rankings and all that goes into them — upside and floor, risk and probability — the current big-league roster, and each player’s contract situation produces the portraits below. I will take only reasonable liberties, such as tendering arbitration contracts and exercising team options. Emerson Hancock should be knocking on the door at this point, too, and if he breaks through it the Mariners have a nice problem of ‘too many starters.’ If Kikuchi doesn’t look the part over the final two months, his four-year option becomes highly questionable again, which puts his team control in some doubt. Brandon Williamson and Matt Brash are currently pacing ahead of Kirby and Hancock in terms of ETA , and may beat the higher-ranked pair to the majors, but one or both could land in the bullpen ultimately, or simply be displaced late in ’22 or early in ’23 by their more talented org mates. In two years, Andres Munoz, Brash, Williamson, Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield, Levi Stoudt, and Isaiah Campbell could litter the bullpen.Go!

When the Seattle Mariners resume play after the All-Star break, the team will be tantalizingly close to the second Wild Card spot. With this in mind, what questions must the Mariners answer in the second half to have a chance of reaching the postseason this year? Can The Rotation Get Better? I recently suggested that the Mariners can’t compete without better starting pitching. Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll see whether the starting rotation can improve. Moreover, how the staff performs in the second half should signal which starters are likely keepers heading into 2022. The following illustrates the stats of the starting staff’s main contributors since May 13 – the debut date of rookie Logan Gilbert. Our table is sorted by expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), which reflects quantity and quality of contact. A low xwOBA is good for pitchers; the opposite applies to hitters. Also included, MLB averages for starters. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Gilbert and Chris Flexen are no-brainers to return. Both remain under club control next season and are performing extremely well. Based on performance alone, Yusei Kikuchi should join them. However, Seattle’s lone All-Star has a unique contract that could lead to a long-term relationship with the Mariners or his departure following this season. How Kikuchi performs during the second half likely determines his future in Seattle. The remaining rotation arms are unknowns due to health and performance challenges. Justin Dunn had a rocky start to the season. But he seemed to be turning a corner in his development when shoulder inflammation sidelined him. As you can see, the Boston College alum’s xwOBA was trending in the right direction until his shoulder acted up. Dunn is throwing again and could come back to help the team, assuming there are no rehab setbacks. When the New Yorker returns, we’ll get to see whether he can build upon his recent success or suffers a regression that may threaten his long-term viability in the rotation. The team’s two best starters in 2020 were Marco Gonzales and Justus Sheffield. Unfortunately, opposing hitters have pummeled both left-handers this year. Gonzales’ issues are a complete surprise – perhaps the biggest of the season for me. After all, the former Gonzaga Bulldog has been the Opening Day starter the last two seasons. Sheffield’s difficulties aren’t in the same class as Gonzales’ troubles since his 15 starts this season are a career high. Then again, no one predicted that the Tennessean would free fall in 2021. Making matters worse, he’s currently shelved with a forearm strain with no projected return date. Is J.P. Crawford The Real Deal? Crawford seemingly flipped a switch when he became the team’s full-time leadoff hitter in June. When we spilt his season into two parts, the improvement is readily apparent. Still, it’s reasonable to wonder whether Crawford can sustain his current level of success through the remainder of the season. The California native’s career norms through 2020 more closely resemble his early-season 2021 production than what we’ve seen from him lately. Perhaps everything has finally clicked for Crawford. If that’s the case, the Mariners have found their long-term shortstop. Otherwise, the team may opt to look elsewhere for help in the offseason. That would be a shame since the former first rounder has become a fan-favorite thanks to his hustle, outstanding play, and charisma. Does Jarred Kelenic bounce back from an awful debut? By now, we’re all very familiar with Kelenic’s meteoric rise through the minors, service time controversy, and subsequent crash landing when he reached the majors in mid-May. Currently assigned with Class-AAA Tacoma, the Wisconsin native is tearing up the league and likely rejoins the big-league club very soon. When Kelenic does return, he’ll get another chance to help the Mariners win games in in 2021 and beyond. How does the team balance its catcher situation? The arrival of Cal Raleigh means the Mariners have three catchers – Raleigh, Opening Day starter Tom Murphy, and Luis Torrens. Most observers, including me, view Raleigh as Seattle’s catcher of the future. But how does the team handle three backstops for the rest of 2021? Two months ago, the answer would’ve been easy. Send Torrens to Tacoma. But a lot has changed since then. After a stint in AAA, Torrens has been a revelation. Since June 15 return, he’s hit 7 home runs with a .288/.391/.695 slash-line in 69 plate appearances. Even if we expand our view of the Venezuelan to his entire season, his stats are average-or-better in several categories. The right-handed hitting Murphy has been more productive when facing southpaws. Against like-handed pitching, the Buffalo product has a .564 OPS compared to a .711 OPS versus left-handers. With this in mind, a quasi-platoon arrangement may make some sense. One way the Mariners could manage having three backstops is use Torrens at first base. It’s a position he’s played with Tacoma and the major-league club this season. Naturally, designated hitter is an option for all each player – assuming their bat justifies being used there. Another option could be GM Jerry Dipoto trading a Torrens or Murphy prior to the deadline. Catcher is usually a position of need at this point of the season. If Dipoto instead retains the trio on the major-league roster, I’m looking forward to watch how manager and former catcher Scott Servais juggles his three backstops. Which version of Kendall Graveman will we see? Early in the season, Graveman was Seattle’s shutdown reliever. As a result, his name is oft-mentioned in trade speculation. That said, there’s been a noticeable change in the Mississippi State alum’s numbers since a COVID IL stint lasting several weeks. To be clear, what we’re seeing from Graveman now is still good. It’s just not as dominant as what he was doing prior to his COVID-related absence. How the Alabaman does moving forward may set the tone for the Mariners’ bullpen or possibly influence his potential trade value this month. Is Paul Sewald A Future Closer? Not long ago, Corey Brock of The Athletic floated Sewald’s name as a future closer for the Mariners. Considering how Sewald has performed since arriving on May 13, it’s hard to dispute Mr. Brock’s assertion. Since joining the club, Sewald has been the best reliever on the Mariners. His presence was particularly vital during the absence of Graveman and recent struggles of Rafael Montero. Moving forward, it’s going to be fun watching the San Diego product. Perhaps he does become Seattle’s full-time closer. Does Kyle Seager rebound from a lackluster first half? During the first month of the season, Seager was as an anchor in the Mariners’ lineup. But the 11-year veteran’s production has tailed off considerably with each passing month. Considering the team holds an option on Seager for 2022, how he performs over the rest of this season could affect its decision regarding the 33-year-old’s future in the Emerald City. Do The Mariners Need Help At Second Base? In each of the last two years, the team designated Shed Long Jr. (2020) and Dylan Moore (2021) as its second baseman thanks to impressive performances in the season prior. Unfortunately, both players stumbled afterwards. When we look at their career stats, it’s reasonable to question whether Long or Moore can be the answer at second base for the Mariners. Still, there’s time for Long and Moore to demonstrate they can contribute at second base or in other roles after 2021. Long has primarily played in left field this year, plus he’s made eight starts at second base. Moore is the primary second baseman and has been an excellent defender. He’s also covered third base during Seager’s recent absence from the lineup. Having said that, a utility role may eventually be the best way to maximize the value of both players. Do we see Kyle Lewis in the second half? The 2020 AL Rookie of the Year began the season on the IL and then started slowly when he returned in late-April. But Lewis was regaining his form at the plate when a knee injury and subsequent surgery sidelined him. Dipoto has been cautious in projecting when the Mercer alum might rejoin the team. That said, a return this summer would be a good news story. What Happens At The Trade Deadline? It’s plausible Dipoto buys and sells at the deadline. Perhaps he moves a pending free agent like Graveman, but also adds players capable of helping the Mariners win games in 2021 and in future seasons. What the sixth-year GM sees from Kelenic and Raleigh immediately after the All-Star break may influence his appetite to upgrade the lineup. If Dipoto does lean forward in the trade market, adding rotation help has to be a priority. Bullpen reinforcements and another bat or two would help too. But those moves won’t matter without better production from the starting staff. Does Mitch Haniger remain a Mariner? My guess is Haniger sticks around this season. Let’s face it, trading veteran position players in the summer usually isn’t beneficial. On the other hand, I’m terrible at predicting what trades Dipoto and his staff might engineer. Still, Haniger has been one of the best hitters on the team during its recent surge in the standings. Moving the Cal Poly product, while flirting with a potential postseason berth, would be a risky move and may not sit well with the fan base. Do Dipoto and Servais get their extensions? When I tweeted last week that I thought Dipoto and Servais deserved contract extensions immediately, reactions on both sides of the issue came in strong and hot. Yeah, the #Mariners should extend Jerry Dipoto & Scott Servais right now. — Luke Arkins (@luke_arkins) July 11, 2021 It’s reasonable to speculate whether Dipoto can build a major-league roster capable of going deep into a postseason – he’s yet to do it. Then again, it’s tough to overlook what he’s done to rebuild the organization’s farm system in three years. For this reason alone, the team should ownership stick with its current management. Time will tell whether ownership agrees. Can the Mariners continue their winning ways? It’s difficult to envision the current roster being deep enough to propel the Mariners into the postseason. On the other hand, deadline deals provide an opportunity to improve. Not only that, the team should benefit from having Kelenic and Raleigh in its lineup on a regular basis. And let’s not forget Gilbert, who’s trending towards becoming a Rookie of the Year candidate. Will a combination of trades and an influx of talented youngsters get the Mariners to the playoffs in 2021? Hard to tell. But it should be fun watching Servais’ squad try to make meaningful October a reality this year. My Oh My…Go!

Contenders always strive to bolster their starting rotation prior to the MLB trade deadline. The most treasured arm is the starter capable of leading a team deep into the postseason. That said, the upstart Seattle Mariners aren’t quite ready to pursue such a pitcher. Still, at some point, the Mariners will need to upgrade the rotation to become a full-fledged postseason contender. Waiting until the offseason is a reasonable approach. Then again, why not start now? That’s assuming an opportunity presents itself. Just for fun, I identified 16 rotation trade targets that could make sense for the Mariners. At least I think they could. Since we don’t know whether ownership is amenable to adding payroll, my list includes both prominent names and fringe candidates. Each is enjoying varying levels of success and remains under club control for different lengths of time. Therefore, the cost of acquisition depends on the individual’s circumstances. Please note we won’t be discussing pending free agents. Instead, the focus will be on pitchers capable of helping the Mariners now and in future seasons. Similar to the strategy GM Jerry Dipoto employed when adding Marco Gonzales and Mike Leake in the summer of 2017. Having said that, it’s very possible Dipoto sees things differently than me when it comes to acquiring rentals. After all, he and his staff are much more intelligent and savvier than this dumb blogger. But considering the team’s commitment to the future, Seattle isn’t likely to overpay for a player destined to walk after the season. That much seems certain. With each player’s profile, you’ll see the same set of stats with MLB averages. Please note the column labeled “Thru” refers to the last season under club control prior to free agency, including option years. Let’s start with the most obvious choice for many fans. German Márquez, RHP – Rockies Márquez has been Colorado’s ace and could potentially fill the same role for contenders or clubs looking to the near-future. The Venezuelan is an innings eater, who leads the majors with three complete games. Not only that, he almost threw a no-hitter at Coors Field last month. Fun fact: 10 teams don’t have a pitcher with a complete game this year, including the Mariners Making Márquez even more appealing, a team-friendly contract. This year, he’s earning $7.8 million with a raise to $11.3 million next season and then $15.3 million in 2023. After that, there’s a $16 million club option for the 2024 campaign. Sonny Gray, RHP – Reds With the Reds still in the NL Central and Wild Card races, it’s quite possible the team won’t move players this month. Still, Gray is earning $10.2 million annually in 2021-22 with a 2023 club option costing $12 million. Perhaps Cincinnati entertains moving the Vanderbilt product, if reducing payroll became a priority. Gray would be an excellent fit for the Mariners. Other than two rocky years with the Yankees, he’s been excellent with Oakland and now Cincinnati. The right-hander would also serve as a veteran presence with something left in the tank – qualities Dipoto has coveted for his staff. Note: Gray is on the IL with a rib cage strain, although he’s not expected to be out for an extended period. As long as this holds true, the injury shouldn’t deter a forward-looking team from acquiring the 2011 first round pick of the A’s. Tyler Mahle, RHP- Reds Again, the Reds may be wary of dealing a starter with a potential berth still conceivably within reach. Especially Mahle, who is seemingly entering his peak and earning a relatively affordable $2.2 million salary. If Cincinnati were to trade the Californian, the buyer acquiring him could be asked to offload more prospect capital than expected in a Gray deal. Aaron Nola, RHP – Phillies Will the Phillies sell at the deadline? They’re hovering near the .500-mark with several teams in front of them in the NL East and Wild Card races. Assuming Philadelphia went into sell-mode, it has two pitchers that I find interesting. The first is Nola. Nola’s ERA is over 4.00 for the first time since 2016, although advanced metrics assure us that he’s still an above-average starter. The former LSU Tiger remains adept at missing bats and has completed six-plus innings in half of his 18 starts, including a complete game in April. The 2018 All-Star and Cy Young Award finalist is due $15.5 million next season with a $16 million club option for 2023. Jordan Montgomery, LHP – Yankees Yes, including a New York Yankee is definitely an outside-the-box move. Even if New York chose to sell, dealing a starting pitcher under club control through 2023 may not be on the team’s agenda. That said, Montgomery is an interesting player. After missing most of 2018-2019 due to Tommy John surgery, Montgomery’s 2021 numbers suggest the former South Carolina Gamecock is finally fully recovered. Still, there is some risk with acquiring a 28-year-old pitcher, who’s made 20-plus starts just once. On the bright side, his $2.1 million salary should fit into any budget. José Berríos, RHP – Twins Berríos is having a solid campaign despite playing for a team that’s cratered. Perhaps Minnesota begins to re-energize its farm system by dealing the two-time All-Star this summer. A word of caution. His 3.36 ERA looks much better than an .316 xwOBA that suggests he’s been a little better than league-average. Still, Berríos has been a durable performer during his six-year MLB career. This season, he’s pitched through the sixth inning in 10 of his 18 starts. Furthermore, the native of Puerto Rico is relatively inexpensive – $6 million in 2021 with one year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Luis Castillo, RHP – Reds Oh look, another Red. As with Mahle, Castillo is in the first year of arbitration eligibility and receiving a relatively low salary – $4.2 million. Based on xwOBA, the native of the Dominican Republic has been slightly above average this season. That said, consider how much better the Mariners’ rotation would look right now with Castillo in it. Zach Eflin, RHP – Phillies The 25-point difference between Elfin’s wOBA and xwOBA suggests he may be the victim of Philadelphia’s defense, which ranks 29th in defensive runs saved. Other appealing aspects of his game include a league-leading 3.3-percent walk rate and the fact he’s averaging six innings/start. The Floridian is grossing $4.5 million this season with one more year of arbitration eligibility remaining. Kyle Hendricks, RHP – Cubs In a way, Hendricks is a right-handed version of Gonzales. Neither throws hard or strikeouts a lot of batters. Both are most effective when they limit walks. Hendricks has certainly done this lately. The Dartmouth alum’s 3.3-percent walk rate spanning the last two seasons is the lowest among qualified starters. Still, it’s important to recognize he’s leading the NL home runs allowed and has an unappealing .340 xwOBA. It’s plausible the combination of financial obligations and Hendricks’ 2021 lackluster numbers deter teams from pursuing him. The California native is earning $14 million now through 2023. There’s also a $16 million club option for 2024, his age-34 season. Kyle Gibson, RHP – Rangers The Missouri alum’s name figures to be prominent in trade speculation this month thanks to his outstanding numbers and the fact he’s making $10 million this year and only $7 million in 2022. Still, the issue for me is whether Gibson’s recent success is sustainable moving forward. Gibson’s ERA, wOBA, and xwOBA are all career bests by a large margin. Is it reasonable to expect a 33-year-old to deliver similar production next season when he’s a year older? That’s a critical question teams must confront. Prior to this year, the Indiana native had a 4.57 ERA through his first eight big-league seasons. Furthermore, his .327 xwOBA since 2015 isn’t even close to the .313 MLB-average during this period. The financial risk of acquiring Gibson is relatively low. However, a team acquiring him could overpay in prospects only to be disappointed with his 2022 production. Kenta Maeda, RHP – Twins After finishing second in Cy Young Award voting last season, Maeda’s numbers have significantly regressed. So much so, the native of Japan is on a path to set career worsts in every category listed above. Still, his .315 xwOBA suggest there’s a glimmer of hope he could be better-than-average in the second half of 2021. If the Mariners acquired Maeda, it’s possible he’d be just one more pitcher unable to finish five innings on a regular basis for manager Scott Servais. Then again, a change of scenery might help get the 33-year-old back on track. Even if Maeda didn’t work out for Seattle, his $3.1 million annual salary over the next two seasons isn’t exactly a budget-breaker. JT Brubaker, RHP – Pirates Brubaker is inexpensive and under club control for the next four seasons. A low-revenue club like the Pirates may not want to keep the University of Akron alum on its roster for budget reasons. That said, the sophomore could be a stabilizing presence in Seattle’s 2021 rotation and potentially capable of providing value moving forward. Antonio Senzatela, RHP – Rockies Getting Senzatela away from the un-friendly confines of Coors Field might benefit him and ultimately his new club. Although the Venezuelan doesn’t miss bats at a high rate, he’s miserly with surrendering free passes. His 5.1-percent walk rate is ninth lowest among qualified starters. As with most of the arbitration-eligible players we’ve discussed, Senzatela’s salary is a very affordable $3 million. Merrill Kelly, RHP – Diamondbacks Initially an eighth round pick of the Rays in 2010, Kelly eventually signed with SK Wyverns of the KBO prior to the 2015 season. He eventually made his MLB debut with Arizona in 2018. Considering his advanced age, the Arizona State product may not be a long-term fixture in a future contender’s rotation. Then again, Kelly has completed six innings in 11 of 18 starts this season. And let’s not forget that the Mariners have enjoyed success by signing a player returning from Korea – Chris Flexen. Financially, the Texan is making $4.25 million this season with a $5.25 million club option for next year. After that, there’s the possibility of two years of arbitration-eligibility. Alec Mills, RHP – Cubs Although Mills began the season as a reliever, he shifted to the rotation in mid-June and has a 3.65 ERA in five starts. Since joining the starting staff, he’s striking out hitters at a higher rate (24.3-percent) and giving up less walks (5.8-percent). Perhaps the Tennessean is the kind of arm Dipoto needs to pursues to help the 2021 Mariners. First, Mills has proven capable of shifting between the bullpen and rotation. Furthermore, beginning the season as a reliever may mean the right-hander has more miles remaining on his arm than starters in the rotation since Opening Day. Then again, the North Siders could keep Mills for his versatility and the fact his first year of arbitration eligibility isn’t until 2022. Caleb Smith, LHP – Diamondbacks Smith has also started and relieved this season, although his numbers aren’t as impressive. The Sam Houston State product has been far more effective as a reliever with a 2.70 ERA and impressive .307 xwOBA. Someone as adaptable as Smith could help the Mariners shore up the backend of the rotation or help stabilize the bullpen. The Texas native is making $1.5 million this season with two arbitration years remaining. Based on my terrible record of identifying potential Dipoto trade targets, there’s a pretty good chance that none of the names I’ve mentioned will be wearing a Mariners uniform by August. Still, my view that Seattle can’t reach the 2021 postseason without getting better results from the starting staff remains unchanged. Adding controllable rotation upgrades could potentially help the Mariners overcome the slim odds of the team playing meaningful October baseball this year. At the very least, augmenting the major-league roster would send a clear signal to players and fans that the organization is committed to continuous improvement in 2021 and beyond. At this point, fans deserve that much from ownership. My Oh My…Go!

Marco Gonzales Mariners

The 2021 Seattle Mariners are a fun group to watch. Even better, a strong June has the Mariners boasting a 45-40 record on the Fourth of July. Naturally, the team’s recent success has created a groundswell of interest in the upstarts from the Pacific Northwest. But is their success sustainable? It’s a bit early to have illusions of grandeur about the Mariners’ season. But if the team is going to have any chance of legitimately vying for a playoff berth in 2021, the starting rotation must be better than its current version, which ranks in the bottom-third of the majors in multiple categories. Injuries have undoubtedly affected the rotation in a big way. James Paxton, Nick Margevicius, and Ljay Newsome have all experienced season-ending injuries. Making matters worse, Opening Day starter Marco Gonzales, who’s previously undergone Tommy John surgery, was lost for a month after suffering a forearm strain. Gonzales has since returned, although Justin Dunn is currently sidelined with a shoulder strain. That’s a lot of starting pitching to lose in one season. Still, for a postseason contender, it’s immaterial who’s not available. What matters are the players the team will rely on during the dog days of summer. For Seattle, that appears to be Gonzales, Dunn, Yusei Kikuchi, Chris Flexen, Justus Sheffield, and rookie Logan Gilbert. As a whole, this unit hasn’t fared particularly well this season. That’s a problem. A closer look reveals that the Mariners’ rotation can be split into two halves – productive and reliable contributors and the other guys. Through the midway point of the season, manager Scott Servais has routinely received positive outcomes from Kikuchi, Flexen, and Gilbert. Meanwhile, Gonzales, Dunn, and Sheffield have dealt with ineffectiveness and/or injury. In his third year in MLB, Kikuchi has emerged as Seattle’s best pitcher and an All-Star. Not only that, he’s making a strong case for the Mariners to exercise a club option that would keep the 30-year-old in the Emerald City through the 2025 campaign. At the moment, the organization doing so seems like a no-brainer. Unheralded before the season and even now, Flexen is proving to be an amazing find by GM Jerry Dipoto and his staff. After pitching in Korea in 2020, the 27-year-old has unexpectedly helped anchor the Mariners’ rotation along with Kikuchi. Since debuting on May 13, Gilbert has lived up to the billing as Seattle’s top pitching prospect. Sure, he struggled out of the gate. But the 24-year-old has since gained his footing and managed to hold opponents to a .209 AVG and log a 2.90 ERA in six starts since Memorial Day. Dunn struggled with his control since joining the Mariners organization in December 2018. But he appeared to be turning a corner in his development before a balky shoulder affected his performance and eventually his availability. The right-hander is beginning to throw again and expected to return to the club sometime after the All-Star break. Gonzales and Sheffield rank in the bottom 10-percent among starters in ERA, FIP, wOBA, and xwOBA and appear to be getting worse as the season progresses. Unless the pair begins delivering positive contributions on a more regular basis, it’s to tough envision the Mariners competing for a postseason spot in 2021 with its current roster. Consider this. Since Gilbert’s May 13 debut, the Mariners have a 27-21 record. That’s fifth best in the AL behind Houston, Boston, Tampa Bay, and Chicago. Great news, but the rotation’s combined numbers continue to remain in the lower-third of the league despite the team’s winning ways. Again, the Jekyll and Hyde analogy applies. Kikuchi, Flexen, and Gilbert have essentially carried the rotation for the last six weeks. Meanwhile, the other three main starters have struggled and made significantly fewer starts than their counterparts. For further proof of each group’s value to the team’s record, let’s consider how the Mariners have done when they’ve started games. Although we know pitcher wins aren’t an effective measure of starting pitchers, how a team fares with a specific starter on the mound may tell us something about his value to the team. With this in mind, take a look at the win-loss record of the Mariners when our two groups and several substitutes started games since Gilbert’s debut. Seattle’s Record Since May 13Kikuchi/Flexen/Gilbert (18-8) Gonzales/Sheffield/Dunn (8-10) Others (1-3) The Mariners appear to have a much better chance of winning games started by Kikuchi, Flexen, or Gilbert. It’s also worth noting the team is 7-1 in Gilbert’s last eight starts. Realistically, there are two outcomes for the rotation that lead to a potential postseason run this season. At least two of the three struggling arms – Gonzales, Sheffield, and Dunn – dramatically improve after the All-Star break. Or, Dipoto gets help from outside the organization to bolster the starting staff. Otherwise, it’s unlikely the Mariners play meaningful October baseball in 2021. Yes, it’d be cool if Dipoto added a few hitter to bolster the lineup this summer. Who wouldn’t want to see a reunion with fan-favorite Nelson Cruz? Adding “Boomstick”, or any other potent bat, would certainly benefit the Mariners. But doing so won’t matter if the rotation continues to underperform. Perhaps Dipoto acquires rotation help this summer in the form of rentals or players with club control remaining. But doing so won’t be easy. As we’ve discussed before, pitching is the number-one commodity every contender is looking for during deadline deal season. If the sixth-year GM doesn’t add any arms, his team’s 2021 postseason outlook will rest on the arms of his current starting pitchers. Understandably, fans are eager to see the organization’s 20-year postseason drought come to a end. But the Mariners are just now emerging from their rebuild phase. Dipoto isn’t likely to squander significant prospect equity for a fleeting shot at a wild card berth, which is essentially a play-in game. After all, 2021 was always going to be a season of discovery for Seattle. So what have we discovered about the Mariners thus far? They’re an exciting young ball club worthy of our attention this summer. We’re also learning the team needs more starting pitching to take the next step in its transformation – become a sustainable postseason contender. My Oh My…Go!

Here’s the new Top 25. Notes Taylor Trammell, Jake Fraley, Robert Dugger, and Anthony Misiewicz have graduated and no longer qualify. As always, this is not a ranking of the most likely players to make the majors, to stay in the majors, or the highest ceiling, and the rankings are not based heavily on ETA. The difference between No. 8 and No. 14, for example, isn’t large. Neither is the difference between No. 15 and No. 29. Players with current injuries or injury histories likely rank lower than they otherwise would, so if you’re wondering, that’s often a factor. Players in the majors still qualify if they have yet to surpass the 130 ABs or 50 innings pitched limits, as ridiculous and arbitrary as those thresholds are, so Logan Gilbert remains ranked. Jarred Kelenic, OF Kelenic’s struggles in the big leagues didn’t expose long-term concerns, it merely showed he hadn’t received the kind of experience and development to help him get through such a stretch. High-end bat speed, hand-eye, bat-to-ball, swing consistency and above-average athleticism still point to a potential star. He’ll be back in the majors later this summer. Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez is the best power bat in the system and isn’t all that far behind Kelenic overall, though he does come with more concerns about the hit tool. He’s just been promoted to Double-A Arkansas and while Jerry Dipoto won’t rule out a September call-up, I think it’d be foolish to take such a risk for a mere 120 PAs and limited upside. Rodriguez’s ETA remains more 2022, even if he does get a cup of coffee in a few months. Logan Gilbert, RHS Gilbert’s showing exactly why the club was as confident in him as any young player they have had in Dipoto’s time with the Mariners. He’s up to 97mph  with front-side deception, an above-average slider, 45-50 curveball he hasn’t thrown much of late, and a changeup he’s gaining confidence in that’s flashed plus. He’s an easy No. 3 with a chance for more — just as we thought on Draft day three years ago. Noelvi Marte, SS Marte has moved up a spot since February based on his display of 60-grade power and improved plate discipline. He’ll still chase some, and isn’t going to stick at shortstop, but he flashes enough leather and arm to suggest he can stay on the dirt and offer well above-average offensive production. Whether or not he sees High-A West remains to be seen, but that league is blessed with a lot more stuffy arms than Low-A West, so the club should be cautious with the decision, since there’s nothing wrong with a 19-year-old spending all year in Low-A in his first stateside season. Emerson Hancock, RHS I’m not down on Hancock in the least, but Marte simply overtook him for the No. 4 spot, and Gilbert’s success in the majors made the 3-spot a no-brainer for him. The club’s 2020 first rounder has worked his way to starter workload and looked good last week in Tri-City where I laid eyes on him live for the first time. The mid-90s velo is easy, the arm speed is elite for a starter and he showed all four pitches, including a plus changeup and two average or better breaking balls. Because he made just four starts in college last spring and went 14 months without pitching in a competitive environment, Hancock may spend all summer in Everett, but his combo of stuff and command strongly suggest he can get consistent outs in Double-A right now, so don’t let a lack of a promotion tell you anything meaningful if he indeed remains in High-A all season. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Cal Raleigh, C Like Marte, Raleigh moved up based on high-level, consistent performance at the plate, and even his “down” stretches look like serviceable production for an MLB-ready bat. Defensively he’s sound with no glaring weaknesses, an average to above-average arm with solid accuracy and an understanding of the position that far exceeds most other catcher prospects in the game right now. Every single day that passes and Raleigh is not in the majors is a surprise to me. The Mariners want Raleigh’s game planning to match his offense, so it’s understandable, but I’m a firm believer some development can and should happen at the big-league level. While I’m already surprised he hasn’t received the call, I’ll be floored if we hit mid-August and Raleigh remains in the 253. George Kirby, RHS Kirby has as much upside as any arm in the organization, but he also has as far to get there as any of them. In addition, he brings high probability and a high floor thanks to his plus control and above-average to plus command. He touched 97 for me last week and used all three secondaries, flashing a solid-average slider and changeup. The right-hander may simply need more time to get his off-speed stuff up to par, but he’s painting fastballs with plane to both sides of the plate and is at least on par with a former teammate of his (stay tuned) who recently received a promotion to Double-A Arkansas. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Brandon Williamson, LHS Williamson dominated with deception and fastballs in High-A, but had the plus curveball, too, and in two starts in Double-A since his promotion has looked more than ready for the challenge, despite struggling in the middle three innings of his first outing. He’s throwing a mid-80s changeup with command and consistent arm speed and showing average fastball command to make it all work. There’s a slider in his arsenal, too, and right now it’s more of a short-sweeping version than one likely to generate swinging strikes. His curveball is average to plus in pretty much every start, showing two-plane break which allows him to throw it inside to right-handed batters without as much concern he’ll hang it in the middle of the zone. Williamson is a better athlete than some realize, and his control and command have taken a step forward since we last saw him in 2019. Don’t expect him to see the majors in 2021, but once the middle of next season arrives, all bets are off. It’s likely a future No. 4 profile, but there’s a caveat; he’s pitching comfortably in the low-90s right now, but has often sat 94-97 in the past, and that will always give him a shot a bigger projection. Connor Phillips, RHS Phillips, the club’s comp-round pick (64) last June out of McLennan CC in Texas has the best combination of present stuff, command, and projection among the Modesto starters. He’s had a few too many bouts of poor control, but generally stays out of the middle of the plate, and throws a lot of competitive off-speed pitches, headlined by a 55-grade slider and 45 curveball with promise. He’s athletic and touches the mid-90s, but comes with some role risk, thanks to below-average mechanics, led by a relatively long arm path that creates inconsistent release points. Phillips is just 20, however, so there’s time to remedy some of these issues and develop a mid-rotation starter. Levi Stoudt, RHS Stoudt comes in behind Phillips despite having better stuff for three main reasons; he’s had his own control problems very similar to that of Phillips, but he’s also two years off Tommy John (never a positive) and is already 23 years of age. Still, there’s a lot to like about Stoudt, including above-average velocity and a potentially plus-plus changeup. He’s athletic and brings a bit more projection than a 6-1, 195-pound frame might suggest on paper. While his floor lies in the bullpen, we’re talking about a high-leverage role where he may sit 95-100 mph with a 70-grade changeup and average slider. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Adam Macko, LHS Macko is currently the best starter on the Nuts roster, showing heat into the mid-90s with ride up in the zone, and two competitive breaking balls. He creates deception with his front shoulder and arm path, and pitches effective in on right-handed bats with the fastball and above-average slider. He also has a curveball that projects to be at least average. Some scouts love Macko right behind the Mariners’ big three and ahead of Williamson, Phillips, and Stoudt, while others see traditional concerns with size and fastball value from a shorter pitcher. Lean the former until there’s reason to worry about his size being factor, because so far it hasn’t been. At all. Matt Brash, RHS Aside from spotty control and command, Brash’s development in 2021 is one of the stories of the farm system thus far. He was marked a reliever-only a year ago by several scouts, and perhaps the Padres saw it that way, too, pushing them to hand him to Seattle in the deal for Taylor Williams. Brash misses bats with a fastball up to 97 (he’s been up to 99 in side sessions), and an above-average slider he throws to both lefties and righties alike. He’s athletic and could stand to add more weight, but the delivery offers deception, and he’s reeled in some of the extras to allow him to repeat more consistently, giving him a real shot to start. Double-A might be a stretch for Brash in a starting role, but he’s 23 so it might make sense to get him a handful of outings in Double-A to end 2021. Zach DeLoach, OF DeLoach doesn’t come with big upside and lacks loud tools, but he’s sound in all aspects, from contact, to strike zone discipline, swing consistency, running, throwing, and fielding. He turned that into a huge month of June, and there’s reason to believe there’s more power to come, suggesting a shot at an everyday role in the majors. I could see the club pushing him to Double-A for the final month or so, where he could show signs of a fast-track bat, but we should remind ourselves he faced no live competition after the second week of March last year until the 2021 season opened, so getting him extended plate appearances is the main goal for 2021. Sam Carlson, RHS Carlson’s return has been fun to watch, despite mixed results. He’s missing bats with velocity into the mid-90s and a slider that projects as plus and has a chance to be one of the best in the system by year’s end. He’s shown feel for the changeup at times, and his new curveball is projectable, albeit inconsistent. His control has been below average, and his command leaves a lot to be desired at times, too, but he’s allowed just two long balls in 40 innings thanks to fastball movement and plane, and has tallied 51 strikeouts against 22 walks. On top of all that, he’s a tremendous athlete, perhaps the best in the system, and despite being 23 and having missed four years, there’s a big-league future here after Tommy John surgery and it may very well include a rotation spot. On ceiling alone, Carlson still would rank in the top 5-10. Juan Then, RHS Then may among the most likely of the arms in the Top 15 to land in the bullpen, but it’s far from a sure thing, giving the re-acquired right-hander… wait for it… a non-zero chance to start over the long haul. He’s 93-95 with his fastball and has touched 97 — like every other arm before him — and his slider flashes plus in most starts. He’s built a bit like Brash, but added 15 pounds or so between the shutdown and the 2021 season. Then throws a lot of strikes and his ability to locate his fastball and slider has not stalled despite his velocity ticking up since he returned from the Yankees for two months of Edwin Encarnacion. Then’s third pitch, a hard changeup at 86-90 mph, has been inconsistent to say the least, and despite above-average control, he hasn’t commanded his fastball as well in spots and it’s burned him a bit. One aspect of Then’s game I think gives him a true chance to start is his ability to generate ground balls. He’s producing high GB rates, and it should be sustainable based on the sink on his fastball and the fact he’s flashed the ability to run his changeup down and away to hitters from each side of the plate. Jonatan Clase, CF I’m high man on Clase, but not because I don’t see the risk. He turned 19 in May and is just starting his season in the ACL after hitting .300/.434/.444 in the DSL two summers back. The risk is in both the ceiling, and more specifically the swing-and-miss in his game. But he’s a 70-grade runner and projects well in center long-term, despite considerable work needed to get there. His game plan doesn’t match his swing, hence the strikeouts, but he’s added 25-30 pounds and drew 51 walks in 63 games in 2019. There’s a lot to do here, but Clase offers the foundation of a fireplug-type body that produces fringe-average or better power from the left side to go with the speed and defense, even if the glove has to move to left field. If he stays in center, there’s a chance he plays regularly. Starlin Aguilar, 3B Aguilar and Milkar Perez are similar in some ways; both are sub-6-foot, stocky-bodied infielders, but Aguilar has more athleticism and a better chance to stick at third base, and he happens to have better raw power, too. His defensive position is far from set in stone however, so there’s a ton of pressure on his ability to hit and hit for power, since LF, RF, and first base are next in line. On the upside, there’s a .260 or better hitter with 25 homers here. Austin Shenton, 3B Shenton’s raking in High-A and I expect him to see Arkansas at some point this summer. He’s a doubles hitter right now but there’s enough bat speed to support more home-run power. If we assume the current environment in MLB stays the same (it will not, it’s literally changing as we speak, but for context…), I’d project Shenton as a .250/.320/.450 hitter. Defensively, however, I’m not sure he sticks at third. If the power develops, corner outfield and first base in combo may be just fine as a Chase Headley, Mitch Moreland type. Andres Munoz, RHR The first pure reliever in the rankings has yet to pitch n the Mariners organization due to Tommy John surgery last spring. If things go right he gets things going in August and sees the bigs in September. At his best he’s 98-102 mph (yes, you read that right), and a slider in the 87-91 range that flashes plus and lives average to above average. Throwing strikes has been a problem for Munoz, however — 11.3% walks for the Padres in 22 games in 2019 and a career walk rate in the minors over 15% — but he did show well prior to his call-up two years ago, walking but 8.8% of the batters he faced in 19 innings at Triple-A. The ceiling here is a No. 1 reliever with high strikeout rates, but he’ll need to find his release point and avoid the base on balls to get there. Taylor Dollard, RHS Dollard dominated in Modesto and has now made a couple starts in Everett with good results. He’s mostly low-90s with the fastball, touching 94. His breaking ball and changeup project to average, perhaps a tick above, and his ceiling lives somewhere between No. 4 starter and high-leverage reliever. In the pen, Dollard’s fastball likely ticks up into the mid-90s regularly, but there’s physical projection left in his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame and it’s a loose arm to dream on a bit. Kaden Polcovich, UT Polcovich was the club’s 3rd rounder last June, and while there were better players on the board, the former Oklahoma State standout has made the pick look just fine. He’s sacrificing some contact, and therefore batting average, for power, but he isn’t sacrificing OBP, so swing away, my friend. For me, what’s most exciting about Polcovich is how well he’s managed at both middle infield spots and center field, suggesting we may be watching a true utility player develop, and that’s pretty fun. He can handle third, too, runs well, and showed in college he can handle the bat. Milkar Perez, 3B Perez brings contact and a line-drive swing the club believes can eventually develop into a 20-homer bat. The concerns are his future position; He’s 5-foot-11 and nearing 195 pounds at 19 years of age, and has never been more than a fringe-average runner. He has a terrific arm, however, so there are options, including staying at third as what I like to call a Luis Sojo-like fit, where the defender doesn’t have ideal range but makes all the routine plays at a high rate thanks to good hands and arm talent. He’s a natural switch hitter that’s batting exclusively from the right side now. I expect him to put up good average and OBP numbers in rookie ball and start 2022 in Modesto, carrying a 50-grade ceiling OFP. Isaiah Campbell, RHS Campbell is a four-pitch arm that flashed dominance in the college postseason back in 2019, including 93-97 mph heat and an above-average. If there weren’t concerns about elbow soreness, he might have been a top 40 pick, but Seattle got him at No. 76 overall in the comp round. Campbell’s best secondary pitch is a slider at 82-85 and an 84-87 mph splitter isn’t far behind. He also has a power curveball with some promise, but it’s clearly his fourth-best offering. Campbell had a minor procedure to clean up that right elbow, so when he returns to the mound is not known, but it may not be this season, and as a result he’s been slid down here to No. 23 despite his chances to start or land in a multi-inning high-leverage role out of the bullpen. Carter Bins, C Bins has plate skills and offers solid-average defense, including a plus arm, and came to pro ball needing an improved swing to maximize his power potential. He’s abbreviated everything below his hands and is generating more pop from gap to gap, and more consistent hard contact. He’s still working pitchers into deep counts at times but is hunting and connecting on fastballs to get the extra-base pop. There has to be some attention paid to his strikeouts — 30% — but at least they’re coming with legitimate power. Bins, 22, should probably see Arkansas later this summer to see how the bat plays at the next level. Bins projects as a No. 2 catcher, but the more he hits the more likely he takes a sizeable portion of a catching time share, rather than a traditional backup role. Victor Labrada, CF The 21-year-old got started a little late but has hit since Day 1. He’s a 65 runner and 60 defender in center, but has 11 multi-hit games in 37 starts, and has drawn walks 16% of the time. He does strike out a bit too much for the profile, and since he’s not going to hit for power the club likely is working with him to close any holes in the game plan and swing. The ceiling here isn’t high, and the chances he plays regularly rely heavily on his on-base ability, but he’s performing at a high level already and is a threat on the bases from the top of the order. Just Missed(The following players appear in no particular order) Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHSAsdrubal Bueno, SSWyatt Mills, RHRWill Vest, RHRJoey Gerber, RHRAlberto Rodriguez, OF George Feliz, OFRay Kerr, LHR Gabriel Gonzalez, OFPenn Murfee, RHR Kristian Cardozo, RHSYohan Ramirez, RHR Ty Adcock, RHRYeury Tatiz, RHS Wilton Perez, RHS Dutch Landis, RHSGo!

Rafael Montero, Seattle Mariners

Want to get under the skin of a Seattle Mariners fan? Just say two words – Rafael Montero. You see, a recent string of disastrous outings by Montero has turned the team’s fan base against him. Not only that, Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish suggests management is running out of patience with the volatile reliever. So much so that he may not last with the Mariners after the All-Star break. What’s Wrong With Rafael Montero? The default answer to this question for many frustrated Mariners fans is “everything.” But that’s not really the case. A review of Montero’s Statcast profile suggests he’s an excellent pitcher capable of providing value to any team – including Seattle. Still, Montero has been disproving the notion he’s valuable on a regular basis. So, why the wide gap between advanced metrics and the actual results he’s delivered? I’m just a dumb blogger and can’t offer solutions to “fix” Montero or any baseball player. But after spending considerable time on Statcast Island at Baseball Savant, I did discover several interesting items worth sharing with you. Perhaps they can help us make sense of his maddening season in Seattle. Perplexing Numbers When we review Montero’s production, we immediately see a large discrepancy between his conventional and advanced statistics. Without doubt, Montero’s old-school numbers are awful. His ERA, strikeout percentage, and opponent’s AVG rank in the bottom 10-percent of all MLB relievers. Then again, advanced metrics suggest he shouldn’t be as bad as the old school stats indicate or what fans are seeing with their eyeballs. Montero’s expected batting average (xBA) and expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) are close to or better than the MLB average. Moreover, his expected earned run average (xERA) is well below his actual ERA. These three metrics reflect quality of contact on batted balls by using exit velocity and launch angle. Therefore, they remove defense from the equation. This is an important feature to remember as we move forward. Poor Contact, Disappointing Results Montero has been relatively successful at avoiding quality contact this season. However, the first-year Mariner hasn’t experienced positive outcomes as often as you might expect. Per Statcast, Montero pitches have generated poor contact at a rate that’s actually better than league-average. That said, I can’t stop looking at a .221 AVG that’s third highest in MLB among relievers and nearly 100 points above normal. Trouble With The Grounder Montero has been an extreme ground ball pitcher this season with a 60.2-percent ground ball rate that’s 15th highest among relievers. Normally, generating grounders is a good thing. Not so much for Seattle’s mercurial relief pitcher. Among relievers with a ground ball rate of 60-percent or greater, Montero’s .324 AVG is second highest behind Jeurys Familia of the Mets (.333). Similarly, the .070 gap between his AVG and xBA is second highest behind Familia again (.151). It’s also worth noting starters Justus Sheffield (32) and Chris Flexen (31) are the only Mariners to permit more ground ball hits than Montero. In fact, 22 of the 40 hits he’s allowed have been grounders. No MLB reliever has surrendered more. A closer look reveals Montero’s trouble with grounders weren’t caused by quality contact. In fact, 10 of the 22 ground ball hits he allowed were categorized as poor contact by Statcast and had an exit velocity under 90-MPH. Only 13 pitchers have more of this type of weak grounder – all are starters. Kansas City’s Brad Keller leads the majors with 16 and he’s faced over twice as many batters as Montero. On those weak ground balls, opponents have a .323 AVG against Montero. Only two of the 13 starters just referred to had an AVG over .250 – Keller (.254) and Oakland’s Sean Manaea (.295). Realistically, Montero has experienced some bad luck on poorly-struck balls this season. But the 30-year-old has also played a role in creating his misfortune. Let’s discuss. Line Drive Woes A result of Montero avoiding quality contact is an excellent 15-percent line drive rate well below the 23.6-percent league-average. But there’s a caveat to this good news that isn’t pretty. Opponents have an .830 xwOBA on the few liners they’ve hit against Montero. This isn’t a good thing for a pitcher also receiving less than favorable outcomes on poorly struck balls. Trouble With Men On Base A review of Montero’s splits with and without men on base (MOB) reveals the native of the Dominican Republic has struggled with runners on base. Obviously, being unable to weather difficult situations, like having men on the base paths, is problematic for any pitcher. Particularly someone acquired to be a late-inning reliever – like Montero. Make ‘Em Miss, Or Maybe Not With the exception of walk rate, Montero had significantly worse numbers with men on base. The stat catching my eye is his strikeout rate, which is attributable to a plummeting whiff rate. Montero’s whiff rate with the bases empty ranks 53rd among 197 relief pitchers who’ve induced at least 100 swings with MOB this season. That’s pretty good. But, once again, we see drastically different results with traffic on the bases. His 17.1-percent whiff rate with men on base ranks 136th. Pitch Selection Just to reiterate the obvious, I’m not a pitching expert of any sort. But Montero’s repertoire merits discussion from a statistical perspective. That said, it’s difficult to ignore how the whiff rate for three of his four pitches is drastically lower when bases are occupied. Montero has managed to induce more swings and misses with his sinker with men on base. However, his four-seam fastball, slider, and changeup delivered undesired results from a contact perspective. Those lack of whiffs with men on base certainly affects Montero’s modern and conventional numbers. To illustrate this point, let’s look at the quality of contact for each of his pitch types using xwOBA. The xwOBA on Montero’s changeup was actually better with men on base. But the performance of other pitches suffered considerably. Remember, xwOBA removes defense from the equation. Therefore, this issue has nothing to do with the fielders behind him. Different Catchers, Different Results? While players in the field don’t affect xwOBA, the catcher calling pitches could theoretically influence outcomes of batted balls. Was that the case when Montero was on the mound? Although José Godoy was included in the preceding table, he won’t be part of this conversation. The Venezuelan only caught Montero for 15 batters. Instead, let’s focus on the Mariners’ two main receivers – Tom Murphy and Luis Torrens. The wOBA of opponents with Murphy and Torrens catching tells us bad outcomes occurred when either was Montero’s battery-mate. Yet, we see a large difference in xwOBA depending on who was receiving. This suggests something else may have been at play depending on who was catching. Based on what we’ve already covered, I focused on differences between the backstops when men were on base. Based on xwOBA, Montero seemingly avoided damaging contact more often with Murphy catching in all situations. Although xwOBA rises above .300 with men on base, it’s below the .315 league-average for this situation. Conversely, when Torrens catches, there is a large delta in xwOBA. What might drive different results depending on the catcher? The simplest answer is we’re dealing with a small sample size. Remember, Murphy has caught Montero for 85 plate appearances and Torrens 59. That’s not a lot. Putting that thought aside for a moment. let’s consider pitch selection when each player is behind the plate. With Murphy serving as backstop, there were noticeable changes in Montero’s reliance on the four-seamer and sinker with men on base. On the other hand, Torrens (or someone in the dugout) seemingly called a completely different game depending on the base runner situation. Do these changes in pitch selection mean anything? The dumb blogger isn’t qualified to answer that question. But the varying degrees of success Montero experienced with each pitch and how he employed them with different catchers is interesting – at least it is to me. To be clear, I’m not suggesting any of Montero’s issues are driven by a particular backstop. To drive home this point, check out the following table illustrating the overall numbers of Seattle relievers when Murphy and Torrens are behind the plate. As you can see, the stats are amazingly similar regardless of who’s donning the tools of ignorance. Why the outcomes are so different for Montero may be a byproduct of limited data or other issues better understood by the team than someone in the blogosphere. The Defense Rests? While we’re discussing Montero’s supporting cast, we should consider the fielders playing behind him since they can affect the actual results. Statcast permits us to gauge the level of support a pitcher receives from his defenders with the outs above average (OOA) the defense accrues when he’s toeing the rubber. Currently, Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals has benefited most from his defense’s efforts with 10 OOA. Mariners starter Yusei Kikuchi is second with 9 OOA. Conversely, only 22 pitchers have received fewer OAA from their defense than Montero’s -3 OOA. Of that group, only five are relief pitchers. Since OAA is a counting stat, starters should always dominate the top and bottom of this list. Relievers with the lowest OAA in MLBBrent Suter (-5)Nabil Crismatt (-5)Luis Cessa (-5)Sam Hentges (-4)Rafael Montero (-3)John King (-3)Lucas Luetge (-3)Steve Cishek (-3)Anthony Misiewicz (-2) Is Montero’s -3 OAA the result of how his team positions its fielders? Perhaps, but I’m not interested in placing any blame for his issues on his teammates. Furthermore, we should always remember defensive metrics are most useful in large samples. Therefore, it’s premature to make definitive conclusions by using OOA or defensive runs saved (DRS) for a reliever with less than 40 innings pitched this season. Reality Check Okay, let’s sum up what we’ve learned about Montero’s performances this season: Large disparity between conventional and advanced stats Poor results on poor contact High ground ball rate, bad results Low line drive rate, horrible outcomes Different pitcher with men on base Doesn’t miss bats often Pitch selection varies greatly depending on MOB situation Different catchers, different results Statcast suggests defense is affecting outcomes The following lowlight reel of four batted balls during Montero’s outing against the Blue Jays on June 29 reflects many of these items and what’s gone wrong for him and the Mariners this season. The innings starts with a soft ground ball single between second baseman Dylan Moore and shortstop J.P. Crawford by Lourdes Gurriel Jr.. Then, Reese McGuire hits a 57.2-MPH dribbler back to Montero. The Mariners get the force out at second base but couldn’t turn the double play. At this point, there’s one out instead of two despite Montero creating two weakly hit balls. True, but Montero then surrenders a line drive hit to Marcus Semien and a home run to Bo Bichette. That’s on him. After the game, manager Scott Servais said as much commenting that his reliever strayed from the game plan against Bichette. Finally I still believe Montero’s Statcast profile hints at a potential that could help the Mariners in the second half of the season. Yes, I realize many of you won’t agree with me. That’s okay and understandable. But any bad luck the beleaguered reliever has endured likely improves at some point. Still, whether Montero’s season changes for the better depends on his ability to execute and stick with the team’s game plan in the future – not luck. After all, Montero’s future with the Mariners probably depends on process as much as results moving forward. The team’s data-driven front office has the same information I’ve shared today, plus much more. The metrics suggest Montero has underlying value. But as Divish aptly stated in his article, “Inability to execute and also shrugging off a game plan for a dangerous hitter isn’t something that endears a pitcher to a manager or general manager.” This rings particularly true for a ball club that may unexpectedly flirt with postseason contention this summer. The margin for error will be limited, as will management’s patience with Montero. In the end, the Mariners benefit by the veteran turning around his season. On the other hand, if he doesn’t execute, his career in Seattle will be short-lived. My Oh My…Go!

Yusei Kukuchi Mariners

Yusei Kikuchi has been the best starting pitcher on the Seattle Mariners this season, which presents the Mariners with an unexpected opportunity if the team chose to pursue it. Trade Kikuchi now to capitalize on his recent success. As preposterous as trading Kikuchi may seem to you, consider this. GM Jerry Dipoto is an aggressive and innovative deal-maker and starting pitchers, particularly good ones, are always in high demand at the deadline. Dealing the left-hander could potentially fetch Dipoto’s club an intriguing return. With this in mind, let’s discuss factors certain to make Kikuchi appealing to potential buyers. Recent Performance Kikuchi’s struggles during his first two MLB seasons are well chronicled. In 2019, inconsistent command and fastball velocity were challenges he couldn’t overcome. Last year, the 30-year-old made mechanical changes that increased his velocity and advanced metrics suggested he was performing better. Yet, his actual results fell short of expectations. Then came 2021. Initially, this season looked like more of the same from Kikuchi. In his first four starts, he allowed 15 runs, including five home runs, and had a 5.70 ERA. Even worse, his saber-stats weren’t nearly as favorable as they were in 2020. Fortunately, for Kikuchi and the Mariners, he reversed course in his fifth outing. The native of Japan threw seven shutout innings against the Astros on April 29 and has been on a roll ever since. He’s averaged 6.3 innings in his last nine starts, while holding opponents to a .173 AVG and posting a .253 ERA. Kikuchi’s .289 xwOBA since April 29 aligns with last year (.283), which suggests his recent excellence isn’t a fluke and may be sustainable. Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. League-average xwOBA this season = .319.  Essentially, Kikuchi has been one of the best starters in MLB since late-April. A team craving a top-shelf arm for the upcoming postseason and possibly beyond would absolutely have interest in acquiring the southpaw. Big Decisions In The Fall Any conversation regarding Kikuchi’s future with the Mariners or in a potential trade scenario must include his unconventional contract. After this season, Seattle can exercise a four-year option to retain Kikuchi at an annual salary of $16.5 million. At that point, the team would also owe the Seibu Lions of Japan $7.95 million. If the Mariners pass, Kikuchi can either exercise a $13 million player option for 2022 or become a free agent. While it’s plausible the veteran could choose to spend next season with Seattle, it seems more likely he’d test free agency to capitalize on his recent success. Especially after the team failed to make a long-term commitment to him. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the decision on both the team and player options must be resolved no later than five days after of the 2021 World Series concludes. Money Matters Basically, a team acquiring Kikuchi would have two choices. Let him walk as a free agent, assuming he doesn’t exercise his option for next year. Or, pay him $16.5 million annually through 2025 – his age-34 season. Considering the current starting pitcher market, $16.5 million is a reasonable price for a player of Kikuchi’s ilk. Per Spotrac, Gerrit Cole ($36 million) has the highest average salary among MLB starters. Kikuchi is currently grossing $14.3 million, which ranks twenty-third. Pitchers with a salary similar to Yusei Kikuchi’sJohnny Cueto – $21.7 millionYu Darvish – $21 millionHyun Jin Ryu – $20 millionMarcus Stroman – $18.9 millionKevin Gausman – $18.9 millionDallas Keuchel – $18.5 millionNathan Eovaldi – $17 millionMiles Mikolas – $17 millionLance McCullers – $17 millionMadison Bumgarner – $17 millionCharlie Morton – $15 millionYusei Kikuchi – $14.3 millionAlex Cobb – $14.3 millionKyle Hendricks – $13.9 millionDanny Duffy – $13 millionCarlos Carrasco – $11.8 million Kikuchi’s $16.5 million annual salary during the four-year extension would be fair market value compared to what his peers are currently receiving. Yeah, But… While it’s fun to toss around trade scenarios, there’s an inherent flaw with dealing Kikuchi in the next five weeks just to recoup some semblance of value. He represents something that’s in short demand across MLB – controllable, premium starting pitching. The Mariners need Kikuchi as much as contenders do – maybe more. Remember, fans have been led to believe the Mariners intend on making a good-faith effort during the upcoming offseason to build a more competitive roster in 2022. How would dealing Kikuchi this summer help further that cause? It wouldn’t. In a way, how the Mariners handle Kikuchi’s contract will shed light on how ownership intends on approaching next year from a financial perspective. Realistically, the only motivation the Mariners could possibly have to trade Kikuchi this season would be to avoid the four-year option and the $74 million financial commitment attached to it. Taking such a short-sighted view would be unwise. Even if Kikuchi is only average or slightly better for the rest of this season, the Mariners can ill-afford to part ways with their best pitcher over a reasonable amount money. To do so would suggest that ownership isn’t motivated to fully fund Dipoto’s efforts to build a sustainable contender in Seattle. After missing the postseason for two decades, that approach is unacceptable. My Oh My…Go!

Mitch Haniger Mariners

The possibility of the Seattle Mariners trading Mitch Haniger this summer is fueling a spirited debate within the team’s fan base. Some fans would prefer seeing the team sign the All-Star, a free agent after next season, to a contract extension. Others believe dealing him now is a better strategy for the organization. But does trading Haniger actually make sense for the Mariners? I have doubts. Fans advocating a Haniger trade may be surprised to discover he’s not as valuable as some of them perceive. That’s not a swipe at the veteran outfielder, who’s clearly the best player on the Mariners and a potential All-Star this year. But those two factors speak more to his value to Seattle than on the open market. Please give me a chance to explain. Personnel Matters Without doubt, Haniger’s most marketable attributes are the fact he’s under club control through next year and a very good player. The FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR) confirms he’s the most valuable Mariner. His 1.5 fWAR is seventh best among right fielders, fortieth among position players, and sixty-fifth among all players when we include pitchers. Great news. But factors, other than current stats, are certain to shape the 30-year-old’s market value. Let’s start with injury history. To be fair, most of Haniger’s health issues are the product of bad luck. He’s currently dealing with a knee contusion after fouling a ball off his knee. Two years ago, a foul ball ruptured a testicle. And let’s not forget being hit in the face by a Jacob deGrom fastball in 2017. Still, Haniger did miss all of 2020 due to multiple core and back surgeries. Furthermore, he’s played 100-plus games in a season just once since debuting in 2016. The Cal Poly product appeared in 157 contests during his 2018 All-Star campaign. Will health-related issues compel buyers to pass on Haniger? Probably not, assuming Haniger recovers quickly and continues performing at his current level of excellence. However, a thirty-something without a record of sustained availability isn’t as marketable as a player with similar production numbers and a reputation for being durable. Help Wanted? On that note, demand will play a huge role in determining Haniger’s potential value. With that in mind, it’s important to recognize that pitching has been the most sought-after commodity in recent years. The following illustrates a positional breakdown of players dealt in May through August since 2016. The majority (61.6-percent) were pitchers. Please note transactions exchanging players for cash considerations weren’t included. Some fans will see 91 outfielders were dealt and instantly conclude a market for Haniger’s services is inevitable. Yes, potential suitors needing corner outfield help will show interest in the 2012 first round pick. But the issue at hand is whether the price buyers deem acceptable would satisfy fan expectations or justify moving Haniger from the Mariners’ standpoint. Probably not on both counts. Outfielder Market Value To see what I mean, let’s consider what sellers received for the most valuable outfielders (based on fWAR) dealt in-season since 2016. Next to each player’s name you’ll see date traded, position(s), and fWAR at the time of the deal. Unless otherwise noted, sellers received minor-leaguers and buyers added pending free agents. Remember, Haniger currently sits at 1.5 fWAR. Justin Upton, LF (August 31, 2017) – 4.3 fWAR To land Upton, who had an opt-out clause after the season, the Angels shipped Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez to the Tigers. MLB Pipeline doesn’t rate Rodriguez as a top-30 prospect in Detroit’s farm system. The 27-year-old Long has since retired. Curtis Granderson, OF (August 19, 2017) – 2.3 fWAR The Dodgers acquired Granderson from the Mets for reliever Jacob Rhame, who appeared in 44 games with a 6.23 ERA in three seasons with New York. The right-hander is a free agent after the Padres released him in April. Leonys Martín, CF (July 31, 2018) – 2.2 fWAR To get Martín and minor-leaguer Kyle Dowdy, Cleveland sent Willi Castro to the Tigers. Dowdy was lost in the 2018 Rule 5 draft, while Castro finished fourth in 2020 AL Rookie of the Year voting. Jay Bruce, RF/1B (August 9, 2017) – 2.0 fWAR Cleveland acquired Bruce from the Mets for reliever Ryder Ryan, who was later dealt to Texas for veteran Todd Frazier. Tommy Pham, CF (July 31, 2018) – 1.6 fWAR This was a unique deal. Both clubs involved were fringy contenders with identical 54-53 records on the day of the trade. Moreover, Pham had three seasons of club control remaining. St. Louis shipped the then-30-year-old and international slot money to Tampa Bay for relievers Genesis Cabrera and Roel Ramirez and outfielder Justin Williams. Cabrera is a solid bullpen contributor for the Cardinals, while Ramirez is currently with Class-AAA Memphis. The 25-year-old Williams was getting an extended look with the Redbirds before going to the 10-day IL with a stiff neck. J.D. Martinez, RF (July 18, 2017) – 1.6 fWAR The Diamondbacks shipped Jose King, Sergio Alcántara, and Dawel Lugo to the Tigers for Martinez. King is pitching at High-A level and not currently included on the organization’s top-30 prospect list. Detroit parted ways with Lugo and Alcántara last winter. Andrew McCutchen, RF (August 31, 2018) – 1.4 fWAR To land McCutchen from the Giants, the Yankees dealt Juan De Paula and Abiatal Avelino. De Paula was traded a year later; Avelino was released last September. Starling Marté, CF (August 31, 2020) – 1.3 fWAR Acquiring Marté from Arizona cost the Marlins major-leaguer Caleb Smith, plus Humberto Mejia, and Julio Frias. It’s worth noting Marté had approximately the same amount of club control remaining as Haniger does now. Smith has been both a starter and reliever this year. Frias and Mejia rank ninth and twenty-eighth respectively in the D-Backs’ system. Nick Castellanos. RF (July 31, 2019) – 0.8 fWAR The Cubs added Castellano by sending Paul Richan and Alex Lange to Detroit. The 24-year-old Richan is pitching at AA and not a top-30 prospect. Lange ranks 26th best and has split time between the majors and Class-AAA Toledo. He has a 6.89 ERA in 17 MLB appearances. Brandon Guyer, OF (August 1, 2016) – 0.8 fWAR Cleveland acquired Guyer from the Rays by parting with Nathan Lukes and Jhonleider Salinas. The 26-year-old Lukes is with Class-AAA Durham and not a top-30 prospect in Tampa Bay’s system. The team subsequently waived Salinas. Non-Outfielder Deals My takeaway is the return for outfielders has been relatively modest lately. Even the player with the most club control – Pham – didn’t yield noteworthy value. Let’s turn our attention to non-outfielders. Manny Machado, SS (July 18, 2018) – 3.9 fWAR For Machado, Baltimore received Rylan Bannon, Yusniel Díaz, Dean Kremer, Zach Pop and Breyvic Valera from the Dodgers. Kramer has 13 MLB starts and is currently assigned to Class-AAA Norfolk with Bannon and Díaz, who rank twentieth and eighth respectively in the team’s pipeline. Pop and Valera are no longer with the organization. Zack Greinke, SP (July 31, 2019) – 3.8 fWAR Greinke and his hefty contract went from Arizona to Houston for Seth Beer, J.B. Bukauskas, Corbin Martin and Josh Rojas. Beer, Bukauskas, and Martin are top-20 in the team’s farm system. Rojas is the D-Backs’ regular right fielder. Justin Verlander, SP (August 31, 2017) – 3.1 fWAR The Astros sent Franklin Perez, Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers to the Tigers for Verlander and minor-leaguer Juan Ramirez, who has since been released by Houston. Perez is out for the season with shoulder problems, while Cameron is currently playing with the big-league club. With veteran backstop Wilson Ramos on the IL, Rogers is sharing catcher duties with fellow rookie Eric Haase. Marcus Stroman, SP (July 28, 2019) – 3.0 fWAR The retooling Blue Jays traded Stroman, who had one year of club control remaining, to the Mets for Anthony Kay. The left-handed Kay has appeared in 21 MLB games posting a 5.81 ERA and currently playing for Class-AAA Buffalo. Jonathan Lucroy, C (August 1, 2016) – 3.0 fWAR Lucroy’s blend of above-average offense and defense, plus a year of club control remaining, made him a prized trade target. To get the All-Star along with Brewers closer Jeremy Jeffress, Texas parted with Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and Ryan Cordell. Within two years of the trade, Milwaukee dealt all three players. Rich Hill, SP (August 1, 2016) – 2.6 fWAR To acquire Hill and veteran outfielder Josh Reddick, the Dodgers sent Grant Holmes, Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas to Oakland. Montas has appeared in parts of five seasons for the A’s. Meanwhile, Cotton and Holmes have encountered arm-related issues. Holmes is assigned to Oakland’s Class-AAA affiliate; Cotton is no longer with the organization. Carlos Beltrán, DH (August 1, 2016) – 2.5 fWAR Beltrán joined the Rangers when the team sent Nick Green, Erik Swanson, and Dillon Tate to the Yankees. Two years later, New York traded Tate in a package to get reliever Zack Britton from Baltimore. The team subsequently included Swanson in a swap with Seattle bringing James Paxton to the Bronx. Green is with Class-AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. José Quintana, SP (July 13, 2017) – 2.0 fWAR In a rare Windy City trade, the Cubs received Quintana, who had three years of club control remaining. The White Sox received Eloy Jimenéz, Dylan Cease, Bryant Flete, and Matt Rose. Jimenéz, currently on the 60-day IL, finished fourth in 2019 AL Rookie of the Year voting and won a Silver Slugger last season. The right-handed Cease has an impressive 3.38 ERA in 13 starts in 2021. Flete and Rose are no longer with the organization. Edwin Encarnación, 1B/DH (June 15, 2019) – 1.6 fWAR The Mariners dealt Encarnación to the Yankees for Juan Then, a player they previously traded to New York. In November 2017, Seattle sent the 21-year-old and J.P. Sears to the Bronx for reliever Nick Rumbelow. Prospect Insider rates Then as the Mariners’ eleventh best prospect. Mike Clevinger, SP (August 31, 2020) – 0.0 fWAR Clevinger is listed despite a 0.0 fWAR since his 2020 season included a COVID-19 scare and a subsequent shunning by teammates for violating quarantine. Cleveland dealt the right-hander with teammate Greg Allen and minor-leaguer Matt Waldron to San Diego for major-leaguers Austin Hedges, Josh Naylor, and Cal Quantrill, plus Owen Miller,  Gabriel Arias, and Joey Cantillo. Hedges is part of the Tribe’s catching rotation, Naylor is the regular right fielder, and Quantrill is a middle-reliever. Arias (6), Miller (16), and Cantillo (22) are top-30 prospects in the organization. A Third Option Among fans wanting to keep Haniger, there’s a caveat for some. The Mariners have to extend his contract. Otherwise they’d accept trading the Californian sooner than later. But there’s another way to handle the situation, even if both sides can’t agree to terms of an a deal. Do nothing and let Haniger walk after the 2022 season. Some will view this suggestion a inane. It’s not. Allowing players to reach free agency is a common practice among contenders, including the best organizations in MLB. The following were pending free agents in 2019-20, who weren’t dealt by their teams. If Mariners leadership is sincere about making a postseason push next year, shouldn’t it keep Haniger rather than trade him? That’s what winning organizations typically do. Zero Hour Approaching With two exceptions, there’s a huge difference between the Mariners and the sellers we’ve discussed – contention windows. The Yankees and Cardinals moved veterans expecting to contend the following year. The remaining clubs were in rebuild-mode or heading in that direction. Since the Mariners suggest contention next year can become reality, the team is in the same category as the Yankees and Cardinals with one glaring difference. Seattle’s big-league roster is nowhere close to being postseason ready next season. Therefore, moving Haniger must help the 2022 Mariners. Otherwise, retaining the veteran is the only reasonable course of action. One scenario making a Haniger trade a practical choice would be a multi-player deal similar to the one involving catcher Austin Nola in 2020. The Padres sent Ty France, Andres Munoz, Luis Torrens and Taylor Trammell for Nola and relievers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla. San Diego’s aggression permitted GM Jerry Dipoto to net several potential contributors for future seasons, plus immediate help from France. Perhaps an overeager suitor makes a similar over-the-top bid for Haniger this summer. But if that kind of offer doesn’t materialize, Dipoto should keep his star right fielder because he makes his team better. And at this point of the Mariners’ rebuild, fielding a legitimately competitive roster in 2022 is the only acceptable option. My Oh My….Go!

J.P. Crawford Mariners

How Seattle Mariners fans view the 2021 season likely depends on the prism they view the team through. An optimist sees an organization on the rise, albeit at a slow ascent. Those jaded by the franchise’s long, well-documented history of mediocrity remain wary of the Mariners’ rebuild. Fortunately, numbers can shed light on reality when emotional investments cloud our vision. The Mariners have played 60 games, the same number as the truncated 2020 season. So, let’s consider how this year’s club is performing using its 2020 version as a barometer. Along the way, we can also discuss Seattle’s youth movement. We should start by comparing the Mariners’ division – the AL West – to its final standings in 2020. Not much has changed. AL West Standings The A’s currently lead the way with the Astros close behind, which is similar to how 2020 ended. For anyone staring at the giant disparity between the 2021 run differentials of each club, bear in mind Houston outscored Oakland 35-9 during the first weekend of the season. Since then, the run differentials of the A’s (34) and Astros (40) are relatively the same. After the big dogs, no other club looks like a contender. Obviously, there’s plenty of baseball left and anything is possible. For now though, the A’s and Astros are the class of the division. The Angels aggressively upgraded the rotation in the winter and did a pre-Opening Day bullpen makeover. Yet, the Halos remain an afterthought despite their offseason moves and a $182.9 million payroll. Texas is in rebuild-mode and will be selecting very high in next year’s draft. Ironically, a 29-31 record last year would’ve potentially earned the Mariners their first postseason berth since 2001. Not so much in 2021. During the first month of the season, manager Scott Servais and his squad Seattle had a respectable 15-12 record. But the team went through a rough patch in May being no-hit twice and outscored 139-96. The varying levels of success between April and May symbolize the uneven nature of Seattle’s 2021 season. Run Production Anyone expecting the lineup would perform better than last year’s group wasn’t paying attention during the offseason. It’s important to note that offense is down across major-league baseball. For this reason, I’ve included OPS+, which makes it easier to make comparisons between current and past players or teams. What we learn from the Mariners’ OPS+ is the team’s run production is 14-percent below average. On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. For those more comfortable with conventional stats, Seattle ranks near or at the bottom of MLB in AVG/OBP/SLG. Furthermore, the 2021 Mariners have the lowest AVG in franchise history by a large margin – last year’s club holds the record. Servais’ unit also has the lowest OBP – the record (.293) was set by the 2011 team. What’s become painfully evident through the first 60 contests is that the offense is too dependent on a small group of players – Mitch Haniger, Ty France, Kyle Lewis, and Kyle Seager. When these players don’t produce or aren’t available, run production tends to sputter. This reliance on the Mariners’ Big Four helps explain the team’s inconsistency this season. To be clear, others have contributed. J.P. Crawford, Tom Murphy, and Dylan Moore have performed for short bursts. However, no one on the Mariners, other than the Big Four, currently rates as above-average from an offensive standpoint. When we look closer at Seattle’s unproductive lineup, we discover hitters aren’t making enough contact and when they do put bat-to-ball, it’s not productive often enough. To demonstrate this point, I’m using my favorite metric – expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA). Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA) uses quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. A key advantage to xwOBA is defense (good or bad) doesn’t influence it. This gives us a truer sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing.  The xwOBA of Seattle hitters drives home the reality that only the Big Four are flourishing at the plate. With so many Mariners not even close to the league-average mark, it’s no wonder the team struggles to score runs. Position Player xwOBA (50 PA min)Mitch Haniger – .356Kyle Lewis – .356Kyle Seager – .346Ty France – .327MLB xwOBA – .319J.P. Crawford – .285Dylan Moore – .294Sam Haggerty – .287José Marmolejos – .284Tom Murphy – .278Luis Torrens – .275Jarred Kelenic – .263Taylor Trammell – .254Evan White – .241 After missing most of 2019 and all of last year, it’s official. Haniger is still the Mariners’ best player. If the All-Star game were held tomorrow, he’d be the team’s lone representative in Denver. His .310 OBP is below league-average for non-pitchers (.316). But the 30-year-old’s power stroke is leading Seattle in home runs, doubles, RBI, AVG, SLG, OPS, and OPS+. Seager’s on-base numbers also lag behind. But the former North Carolina Tar Heel, who’s played in every game this season, surpassed his home run and double totals from last year. Moreover, his .346 xwOBA suggests he’s capable of higher production moving forward. A wrist injury slowed France for several weeks before he went to the IL. It turns out all he needed was a little rest. Since returning, the San Diego State product is slashing .306/.346/.408 with five doubles in 52 plate appearances. Unfortunately, Lewis’ season may be more remembered for a knee injury rather than the solid work he was doing for the club. The 2020 Rookie of the Year started slowly after missing most of April with a knee contusion. But he looked better lately slashing .268/.359/.411 in the 16 games prior to suffering a torn meniscus. Crawford is currently batting at the top of Servais’ lineup and has been on a hot streak lately with his .320 OBP creeping above the MLB average. This is great news, although it’d be premature to determine whether the California native is the long-term answer at shortstop for the Mariners. After all, he’s yet to play in 100-plus games in any season. Murphy started the season in a real funk, understandable considering he spent 2020 on the IL. The Buffalo alum has been more productive lately, particularly when facing left-handed pitching. Over the last 30 days, he has a .911 OPS when facing southpaws compared to .486 against righties. Perhaps the right-handed hitting backstop is best suited for a platoon. The Mariners utilized a similar arrangement in 2019 when Murphy had a career-year at the plate. The challenges facing prospects breaking into the majors have been readily apparent during the early struggles of outfielders Taylor Trammell and Jarred Kelenic. Trammell was in the Opening Day lineup, but later sent to Class-AAA Tacoma after scuffling badly though April. Kelenic then arrived only to encounter similar difficulties. When we look at the Statcast numbers of Trammell and Kelenic, we can see what they’re excelling at and areas needing improvement. Trammell was excellent at drawing walks before going to Tacoma. Unfortunately, he was striking out at an unsustainable pace with a 41.4-percent whiff rate (misses/swing attempts) being an underlying factor. Still, the 23-year-old Georgian has demonstrated better swing discipline since returning from the minors this week. Obviously, a small sample, but Trammell has stuck out four times in 18 plate appearances, while hitting .294/.333/.588. Kelenic’s struggle to create positive results is approaching historically bad levels. Yet, he’s maintained a manageable strikeout rate along with a slightly above-average walk rate. Moreover, the Wisconsin native’s 22-percent whiff rate is third lowest on the Mariners behind Crawford (17.7) and France (21.0). So, what’s the problem? I’m a dumb blogger and not qualified to say what’s wrong with Kelenic’s mechanics. But he’s clearly not finding the ball with the ‘sweet spot” of his bat often enough. Sweet spot percentage (SwSp%) from Baseball Savant quantifies how often hitters produce batted-ball events with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. This season, balls hit within this range have a .587 AVG and 1.086 SLG. Kelenic is 10-percent the MLB average – that’s a problem. Some may choose to focus on the very poor batting averages of Trammell and Kelenic and assume both are doomed to underperform expectations as Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Mike Zunino once did. Especially after Evan White struggled so badly as a rookie in 2020 earlier this season. But such an assessment so early in the duo’s career is an overreaction. Pitching Despite offseason upgrades made by GM Jerry Dipoto, the pitching staff’s overall production numbers don’t look significantly better than last year’s. In 2020, the starting rotation was Seattle’s strongest unit. That hasn’t been the case in 2021 with injuries and ineffectiveness dragging down the staff. A huge blow to the team was Dipoto’s biggest free agent signing – James Paxton – undergoing season-ending Tommy John surgery after just one start. Other injured starters include Marco Gonzales and Justin Dunn. Gonzales just returned to action last Tuesday, while Dunn essentially took Marco’s place on the IL with shoulder inflammation. The Mariners have used 11 starting pitchers, including Paxton and openers Erik Swanson and Robert Dugger. They have a combined a .354 xwOBA – only Baltimore’s rotation (.355) is worse. In fact, no regular Seattle starter has an xwOBA below the league-average mark. Starter xwOBAMLB average (SP’s) .322Yusei Kikuchi – .332Justin Dunn – .331Chris Flexen – .335Justus Sheffield – .370Logan Gilbert – .379Marco Gonzales – .409 Despite these seemingly discouraging numbers, there have been good performances. Yusei Kikuchi has been demonstrably more aggressive on the mound this year, which seems to be working for him. Ironically, his advanced metrics are noticeably worse than last year’s numbers. Still, the native of Japan has seen his xwOBA begin to decline recently. While Kikuchi’s early-season performance has been promising, the pressing issue facing the southpaw and the Mariners is a right leg injury suffered in last night’s game. Losing the best starter on the staff for an extended period would be devastating for a rotation plagued by injuries. Before heading to the IL, Dunn demonstrated encouraging progress, which is reflected by his steadily declining xwOBA. Hopefully, the former Boston College Golden Eagle’s absence is short-lived. Surprisingly, Gonzales has struggled with command and control. He’s allowed significantly more walks and hard contact than usual. Then again, the Gonzaga product allowed just one run, while striking out six hitters and walking one in his first start back from the IL. By the All-Star break, we’ll know how Gonzales’ season is going. After a solid rookie campaign, Justus Sheffield hasn’t shown signs of improvement. In fact, he’s regressed in several categories. One constant in Sheffield’s outings has been the amount of traffic he’s created. Opponents have hit with a runner on base during 49.6-percent of their plate appearances against the left-hander. That’s an 8-percent increase from 2020. If you’re wondering if 49.6-percent is high, it is. Among pitchers facing at least 200 batters this season, only John Gant of the Cardinals (50-percent) has pitched with men on base more frequently. A result of the excessive traffic is Sheffield not going deep in games. The Tennessean has finished the sixth inning just three times in 10 starts this year after accomplishing the feat in six of 10 outings in 2020. Chris Flexen has given up a lot of hard contact and doesn’t strikeout a lot of hitters. However, he’s adept at avoiding walks and managed to pitch six-plus innings in half of of his ten starts. This matters to a rotation struggling to cover innings this season. Rookie Logan Gilbert is just getting acclimated to the majors. So far, he’s maintained an impressive 4.1-percent walk rate. But his 53.8-percent hard-hit rate must drop considerably for the 24-year-old to be a viable big-league starter. Opponents have been teeing off on his four-seam fastball with a .386 AVG, which is problematic since it’s been his primary pitch (59.7-percent usage). Despite these issues, it’s way too early to assess the Stetson alum’s outlook. The bullpen has been pivotal to the Mariners’ early-season success. Leading the way, Kendall Graveman, the team’s best reliever prior to going on the COVID IL. Offseason additions Keynan Middleton, Rafael Montero, Drew Steckenrider, Robert Dugger, J.T. Chargois, and Will Vest  have also made positive contributions. Bullpen xwOBAErik Swanson – .226Héctor Santiago – .240Kendall Graveman – .255Drew Steckenrider – .254Rafael Montero – .281Casey Sadler – .292J.T. Chargois – .299MLB Average (RP’s) – .314Keynan Middleton – .315Daniel Zamora – .315Robert Dugger – .317Anthony Misiewicz – .322Paul Sewald – .344Will Vest – .371Aaron Fletcher – .361Yohan Ramírez – .381Wyatt Mills – .384 Middleton has been a dependable late-inning weapon for Servais. During Graveman’s absence, the Oregonian has been the best choice to close games and pitch in high-leverage situations. Montero isn’t a fan-favorite thanks to the circuitous routes he takes to close out innings. The Dominican Republic native may not be the first choice to close games, but he does have value. The Next 60 The Mariners have a decent record considering the injuries they’ve endured and the team’s lack of depth. Over the next two months, we should expect the big-league roster to continue morphing with an eye toward the future. We’ve already seen the MLB debuts of Trammell, Gilbert, and Kelenic, and the impact of rookies Jake Fraley and Donovan Walton. Plus, it shouldn’t be long before catching prospect Cal Raleigh arrives. And let’s not forget 25-year-old Shed Long Jr., who’s working himself back into form with Class-AAA Tacoma after a lengthy absence due a shin fracture. All of these players – plus White, Sheffield, and Dunn – have a chance to shape the final outcome of the Mariners’ 2021 season and the club’s future. Understandably, if we reach late-summer and at least some of these youngsters haven’t shown signs of appreciable growth as major-leaguers, the rosy outlook of optimistic fans will be tested. Meanwhile, the “Same Ole Mariners” crowd will have something else to chirp about in the offseason. Such is the life of a rebuilding organization and the fan base supporting it. My Oh My…Go!

Monthly, I will recap the month that was in the Mariners farm system, including scouting notes, statistical review, and promotion analysis. Buckle up, it was a fine month of May. MODESTO NUTS (LOW-A) Noelvi Marte, SS | 6-1/190 | 19 A lot more ups than downs for Marte in his first month in professional baseball in the states, and he’s already flashing 60-grade game power from 70 raw power he shows off in batting practice. As expected, he’s already looking more like a power player than a speed demon, despite 70 speed when a Tim Kissner-led international scouting department signed him three summers ago. He’s managing at shortstop, and range isn’t of great concern at present, but there are reasons to buy him more as a third baseman; he’s 6-1 and just under 200 pounds at 19 years of age and has the frame to tack on another 10-20 pounds, which puts him more in the Matt Chapman, Anthony Rendon, Aramis Ramirez mold in terms of physical stature. Marte still boasts above-average athleticism, so it’s not necessarily a closed door for him at shortstop, but he’d have to follow the Xander Bogaerts path; Bogaerts, amid concerns about his future position when he was in the minors, made vast improvements with his hands and footwork and became playable through efficiency, despite lacking great range, though without his offensive prowess, he, too, would not likely have remained at the position. Scout: He has the look of a run producer that will provide defensive value, It’s still early in his time (in pro ball), so there is more than one potential end-result with him, but one of them is pretty big. He doesn’t cover the plate as well as Julio (Rodriguez) did there (West Virginia in 2019), but his swing is shorter. He’s not a shortstop for me, but he’s shown enough ability on the dirt to think he could land at third with a shot to be very good there. Quick Word: It’s early, but it’s not crazy to think Marte has a real shot to be the best player among those currently in the organization. He’s likely to bring more defensive and positional value than Julio Rodriguez, and (again, small sample) is developing as fast as Jarred Kelenic did at a similar age. Defensively, third base is the most likely spot for him long-term, but he has good enough foot speed and arm strength to play a corner outfield spot, too. I expect Marte to spend considerable time in Modesto before a promotion is in order. Connor Phillips, RHP | 6-2/195 | 20 Phillips has shown above-average yet raw stuff, including mid-90’s heat and a projectable slider that flashes average. He has trouble finding a consistent release point thanks to a long arm path, but he’s aggressive with the fastball, which offers life and arm side run. He also has a curveball is inconsistent but will flash as average, and is projectable to big-league levels. Scout: It’s a No. 4 high profile for me, but given he’s younger than the standard college draftee he has a little more time to iron things out and push his physical abilities. I do like the fastball projection. Quick Word: Right now, the safest projection for Phillips is reliever, but that’s also lazy and can be said about every single pitching prospect ever at some point in their careers. But it’s Year 1 in pro ball for Phillips, and there’s a solid foundation present which may allow him to evolve into a mid-rotation starter. Phillips is likely to stay in Modesto for most or all of 2021. Adam Macko, LHP | 6-0/180 | 20Macko uses athleticism and deception to more than cover for a long arm path and lack of ideal size, and he’s increased his fastball velocity from 89-93 to more consistently in the low-90s and touching 95 mph. His curveball has shown least average with enormous two-plane break and above-average command, and he’s done a good job staying on top of it to avoid it flattening out on its way to the plate. He’s pitched inside to right-handed batters effectively, but as his slider gets better, he may be able to get them to chase out of the zone more often. Scout: Let me just say this: If he were 6-4, 200, he’s their best pitching prospect and it’s not close. That’s where he is right now. (Fastball has) above-average life and movement, the breaking ball has two-plane break, and it’s sharp, and he clearly has good athleticism. He’ll be able to pitch up effectively and tear down good hitters with that bender. Maybe he’s Randy Wolf. Quick Word: The fastball-curveball combo is loud, and everything plays up considering how well he hides the ball through his three-quarter arm slot. It’s the best left-handed curveball in the system, including Brandon Williamson — at least through May. Macko likely remains in Modesto through the season, but is the most likely of the younger Nuts arms to see Everett, outside Taylor Dollard. Victor Labrada, CF | 5-9/175 | 21 Labrada got a late start but hit the ground running, both literally and figuratively. The left-handed hitting centerfielder has hit for average and some gap power, thanks to a quick swing and solid-average plate discipline. He uses the entire field, gets out of the box quickly and knows how to us his 65-grade speed. Quick Word: The hope is Labrada moves quickly, starting with a mid-season promotion later this summer, resulting in a late-MLB debut. He’s most likely a part-time player, but there are some physical traits and early tools that have flashed level of big-league competence, suggesting at least a chance of an everyday option. Despite a late start, Labrada could get a cup of coffee in Everett later this season. Taylor Dollard, RHP | 6-3/200 | 22 The club’s 5th-round pick last June has outclassed the bats in Low-A West, missing bats at will and only showing vulnerability when he occasionally loses his delivery and falls behind in counts. He’s pounded the strike zone as one of the league’s best arms. Quick Word: The stuff is average at present, but there’s some projection left Dollard’s frame and secondaries, and while his control is above average his command is fringe-average and inconsistent, something he won’t get away with as he moves through the minors. There’s a major-league arm here, but whether he serves in a relief role or as a good back-end starter is why we’re all here watching. Dollard should be exposed to High-A sometime this summer and if he keeps throwign strikes it could come sooner than later. Alberto Rodriguez, OF | 5-11/190 | 20 Rodriguez, a left-handed batter with above-average bat speed, has yet to string together consistent results in 2021, and a lot of his chances to do so hinders on his ability to make more contact — he’s whiffed in 33% of his PAs. But the swing path also needs work; he’s been pull happy and gets out front a lot, leading to weak contact — especially ground balls — pitcher-friendly counts and strikeouts. Quick Word: Rodriguez has flashed what the club saw in him when they chose the outfielder as the return in the Taijuan Walker deal last summer. But the hit tool still has a long way to so and he doesn’t bring big-league speed (45) or defense (45) to the field. Rodriguez’s hit tool needs a lot of work, suggesting a challenge beyond Low-A may not be wise in 2021. Juan Querecuto, SS | 6-2/180 | 20 After three tough summers since signing, Querecuto is healthy and taking advantage of his opportunity. A natural shortstop, he’s moved around the infield and handled it well, and his bat has shown some ability, despite some pitch ID issues that have led to too many chases. Quick Word: He’s a 50 runner with good hands and feet on defense but lacks the range to be a plus glove. He has the arm to play anywhere, at least in stretches, including third base, and the outfield if the Mariners want to make him a true utility option. He’ll have to make more contact — 25% K rate is too high, even considering the current environment — especially with 40-grade power. Querecuto is very likely to remain in Modesto all season. Luis Curvelo, RHP | 6-1/170 | 20 Curvelo is at least 15 pounds heavier than his listed 170, but regardless of his size there’s good, raw stuff here, and he’s absolutely slamming the strike zone with a fastball into the upper-90s and an average power slider with late break and tilt. Quick Word: He’s always had good control, running walk rates of 3.3, 3.3, 7.7, and now 2.5, but he’s added two ticks of velocity since signing, and the slider has come a long way. He’s a reliever only and is a few years away, but his dominance for Modesto stands out enough to suggest a future big-league reliever, potentially one who can battle into high-leverage spots. Curvelo could see Everett later this season if he maintains the control he’s displayed thus far. Sam Carlson, RHP| 6-4/195 | 22 Carlson’s journey to his first full month of professional baseball took nearly four years, but he’s looked solid, showing more than just glimpses of an exceptionally clean, fluid delivery, an above-average slider, promising curveball, and velocity into the mid-90s. He’s had bouts with poor control which has kept him from dominating, and he’s still feeling out how his stuff will play. It takes time for TJ recipients to pitch their back to good control and command, but it’s a great sign Carlson has the snap on his slider and looks the part of not only a $2 million draft pick, but a future big-league arm. Scout: So, this is why the hype. I get it. I didn’t see him his draft year, I was out west, but we had guys who thought he was a top-15 pick and wrote him up that way. He was a bit out of sync, late with his arm, in the second start I saw, but it’s (present) average big-league stuff, and I think that curveball has a chance. Four pitch guy in the middle (of the rotation)? Quick Word: Coming out, Carlson’s fastball had plane and natural sink, and his changeup feel was advanced for a prep arm. On his way back, he’s generated above-average four-seam ride which pairs well with the slider, and occasional upper-zone life that theoretically sets up the curveball and changeup. He is just getting started and has a lot to do, but he’s a prototype from a physical standpoint with athleticism to spare, suggesting a real path to remaining a starter. Carlson just needs to pitch and getting aggressive too soon could be greatly detrimental to the right-hander getting the work he needs in his first year back after a long layoff. Elvis Alvarado, RHR | 6-4/190 | 22 The converted outfielder has good stuff, led by a fastball sitting 93-97, and in the past has touched triple digits. His slider teases average but to miss bats will need more vertical break, depth, and command. Quick Word: Alvarado is a bit like Yohan Ramirez; has the raw stuff, needs to throw more strikes with everything. He’s a reliever only, but the fastball is big enough to see time in bigs, provided he ends up finding the zone enough as he moves through the system. Alvarado is still raw and the softer landing in Low-A West fits his needs better, suggesting he’ll remain in Modesto most or all of 2021. EVERETT AQUASOX (HIGH-A) Emerson Hancock, RHP | 6-4/215 | 22 Hancock made three abbreviated starts in May with satisfactory yet unspectacular results. But he has been efficient. He hasn’t walked any of the 36 batters he’s faced and has yielded just four hits. Hancock hasn’t unleashed his entire arsenal yet, but his slider has been his out pitch so far, and likely the best chance he has for a plus offering that misses bats in the big leagues. Quick Word: Seattle clearly is taking it slow with Hancock, who has gone 2.0, 2.2, and 4.2 innings with 6 days rest in between, then was skipped when his turn came up for start No. 4. At the end of the day, Hancock is a four-pitch starter with an efficient delivery that should lead to above-average command and control, but while he refines his secondaries the Mariners want to get more fastball value out of him. He’s up to 97 mph, but at Georgia the pitch had natural sink and lacked the kind of high-spin life that generated swings and misses. Stay tuned. At this point I’d be surprised if the club gets aggressive with Hancock in terms of promotion. He didn’t pitch the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Georgia, and didn’t get a lot of work in last summer with no MiLB season. I expect a lot of time in Everett, perhaps the entire schedule. George Kirby, RHP | 6-4/220 | 23 Like Hancock, Kirby has been brought along slowly — even slower, considering he made two starts a week apart, covering 3.2 and 5.0 innings, then didn’t start the rest of the month — but his 12-1 K/BB ratio in 8/2 innings is about right for the 2019 first-round pick. Kirby’s second start was nearly perfect as he did not allow a hit but issued his first walk as a professional. Quick Word: The right-hander offers probability and a high floor, but there’s enough to dream on here to see amid-rotation starter within three years, and perhaps more. He’s pitching at 93-95 mph with 60 control and above-average command but has touched triple digits in short stints. His slider and curveball are fringe-average at present, however, and his changeup remains inconsistent. If he’s to move as quickly as his command suggests he could, he’ll need to delivery better crooked offerings. Kirby may be a little more likely to see Double-A Arkansas than Hancock, and perhaps a little sooner, but a lot would have to happen in the next month or two for it to make sense. Brandon Williamson, LHP | 6-6/210 | 23 Williamson was the best performer among the top arms in the system for the opening month, earning him Pitcher Prospect of the Month. The highlight for the club’s 2019 second-round pick came in his final start of the month when he lasted 7.1 innings and allowed an earned run on a walk and two hits and struck out 13 of the 25 batters he faced. He threw 70 of his 95 pitches for strikes and tossed an immaculate inning in the bottom of the third. Scout: This is what you draw up on the board from a physical standpoint. I’d like to see more athleticism in the delivery. He hides his release a bit, and the ball explodes out his hand. I had him 93-96 and he got swings and misses from 22-year-old top-5 round college bats at 93. You can see the curveball projection. Not sure if it’s a slider or cutter he’s throwing, but I like that idea, too. He’s going to move (quickly.) Quick Word: Williamson is up to 97 mph and pitches with average command at 93-95 with life and tail, setting up an above-average curveball with a chance to be plus. He has a slider and changeup, too, but hasn’t used either all that much early on, which is par for the course for young arms this season, considering the off year and intermittent scheduling for spring training and the start of the MiLB season. There’s a mid-rotation profile here, but some upside, too, provided he develops through some long-term mechanical hurdles that often come with tall arms. For me, Williamson is the most likely of the Everett starters to be promoted, and has the best shot at spending more than a few starts there. Levi Stoudt, RHP | 6-1/200 | 23 Stoudt has been up and down out of the gate, struggling with command in issuing four walks in start No. 2 and six in start No. 4, but we shouldn’t forget these are the right-hander’s first four professional outings after having Tommy Johns surgery two years ago. Stoudt has been mostly low-90s, touching 94-95, but has flashed a hard changeup and improving slider that has a chance to miss bats. He just hasn’t thrown enough strikes yet. Quick Word: His athleticism and chance at three big-league pitches suggests a No. 4 profile, but his split-change might end up a 70-grade offering, and despite a lack of physical projection at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and already 23 years of age, there aren’t stiff limits on his ultimate fastball velocity and value. Stoudt, in his first pro season, has a lot of work to do before a promotion will jive, but he, too, simply needs innings more than a greater challenge. Juan Then, RHP | 6-1/190 | 21 Then finished May with his best start of the year after feeling his way through his first three in abbreviated fashion. It’s a 91-95 mph fastball and promising slider, but he’s missing a quality third pitch and there are some delivery concerns when it comes to a rotation role, despite simple mechanics. He was lights out in his most recent start, going six frames and allowing just two hits. He avoided walks and struck out six. Quick Word: Then, typically pronounced ‘Ten’ despite vowels in Spanish carrying an ‘ay’ sound, is the highest-ranked reliever in the system, but is just 21 and has a chance to start if the changeup develops rather quickly. In a relief role he could see the majors next season. As a starter, Then likely stays in Everett most or all of 2021, but in a relief role could move faster. Isaiah Campbell, RHP | 6-4/230 | 23 Campbell has been piggybacking for 2-4 innings per outings to keep him stretched in ‘starter’ mode, and ultimately has four pitches, including a 55-grade slider and a split-change. He’s been up to 96 mph and in the past has reached 98. He creates plane with the fastball and at times can go fastball-split and induce worm burners for days. But his velocity suggests going upper zone for whiffs, and he’s done some of that, too. He went 16.1 innings in his four outings in May, including 5.2 innings May 23 when he allowed just three baserunners. There’s some concern lingering over some elbow soreness he experienced in 2018, but no sign of it this season, Campbell’s pro debut. Quick Word: There’s a good chance Campbell ends up a multi-inning, three-pitch power reliever where he may add a tick or two of velo and sit upper-90s. He can throw his slider and curveball for strikes, though the curveball is a backburner offering for him right now. His chances to start are better than Then’s however, which is why I have him ranked higher. Like the others who haven’t pitched much in pro ball, Campbell isn’t likely to move quickly as he garners experience and builds up arm strength in his first game action since the college season ended two years ago. Matt Brash, RHP | 6-1/180 | 23 Brash has done some work on his delivery, giving him a chance to start, but we’re seeing some control and command issues early in his four May starts where he issued 11 walks, all in his three final outings of the month. He’s missing bats — 16% swinging strike rate, 37% K rate — and isn’t allowing a lot of hard contact, so the stuff is working, but more strikes — and likely more adjustments to his mechanics — are necessary to project as a big-league starter. Quick Word: Even as a multi-inning reliever, Brash projects as a valuable arm who has been up to 99 mph in side sessions, suggesting he can do that in a bullpen role. He offers deception and at least three pitches, so there’s no reason he can’t be a high-leverage option. Brash’s delivery and ability to throw strikes likely keeps him from Double-A in 2021. Carter Bins, C | 6-0/200 | 22 Bins’ strikeout rates are alarming, but he’s not swinging and missing much and he’s only a moderate chase swinger. He does take pitches and work counts, and his swing remains somewhat rotational, making him late and more likely to foul off balls he should put in play, perhaps creating too many two-strike counts. He has flashed the power in games, but nothing is consistent yet, despite good strike zone awareness. Quick Word: Bins is the No. 2 backstop in the system to start the year but concerns about his ability to hit for average — thanks to a bad swing — casts doubt on his ultimate future. He has made some adjustments and is using more of the field now than in prior years, and he’s shown occasional game power to reflect above-average bat speed. He’s solid athletically and early on has done a better job blocking balls in the dirt, though his framing remains below average. He has a very good arm that should play with better mechanics, something he’s been improving since Day 1. Considering the work Bins has and continues to put in with his swing, I’ll be surprised if he sees Arkansas in 2021. Kaden Polcovich, 2B | 5-10/185 | 22 Polcovich ended May at .236/.352/.382, showing gap power, above-average speed, and instincts that have allowed him show well at three positions — 2B, 3B, CF. The one issue so far is his 26% strikeout rate, a mark for power bats not the next Daniel Descalso. Quick Word: His left-handed swing is sound and more consistent than his righty version, and flashes some torque, suggesting average power is not entirely out of the question. But he may need to shorten up a bit to get to good velocity, and he’ll certainly to cut down on the swing and miss (16%). It’s his first pro season, but it’s not entirely crazy to think he could spend the final month of 2021 in Double-A if he keeps progressing, but the contact rates are important. Austin Shenton, 3B | 6-0/205 | 23 Shenton started the season OK, gathering five hits in four games, then went 2-for-22 with 10 strikeouts, fanning in 15 of 33 at-bats during one stretch the first half of the month. Born of those struggles came the right kind of consistency, and he began to find the barrel more often. He finished the month with two three-hit games over the final eight days, and the power began to show. Quick Word: Shenton came to pro ball as a hitter with a chance to bat .270/.340 with 12-15 homers, but is infusing more leverage into his swing now and could surpass the projection in time. Whether he’s a third baseman or not remains to be seen, but his arm allows for left field or first base, and his plate skills and pitch ID skills should allow him to make swing adjustments without damaging his ability to make contact. Shenton has a shot to see Arkansas by year’s end and might be more likely to do so than all but one name in this report. Zach DeLoach, OF | 6-1/205 | 22 In his first professional action since being the club’s second-round pick a year ago, DeLoach has been a bit up-and-down, but has had several strong games, flashing good athleticism, some power, and patience. He ended the month batting .242/.333/.442 with five doubles, four homers, 11 walks and 21 strikeouts in 108 plate appearances, and has displayed plus defense in both corner spots. Quick Word: He doesn’t have a true lead tool, but has no great weaknesses, either, and reminds me a bit of A’s outfielder Mark Canha, despite the handedness contrast. There’s above-average raw power in his swing and a chance at an especially useful role player in big leagues in a couple of years. DeLoach is unlikely to see Arkansas this season, as he gets his first live action since his college season ended in 2019. Julio Rodriguez, OF | 6-3/215 | 20 Rodriguez, who left the AquaSox to play for the Dominican Republic in the Olympic qualifying rounds in Florida late in the month, was awesome in May, lending more confidence he’ll hit for immense power without deterring the long-term evaluation of his ability to make consistent contact. Seattle’s No. 2 prospect posted a trio of three-hit games, six total multi-hit efforts, and failed to reach base by hit or walk just twice in 21 games, despite the fact he’s three years younger than the average player in the league. Scout: There’s a lot of upside at the plate, but I wonder how quickly he progresses versus more complete pitcher with his current swing mechanics and some of his tendencies. Quick Word: He’s merely 20, and will be until the Alamo Bowl kicks off this winter, and there are superstar traits at which to marvel and dream, including 65-or 70-grade arm strength, baserunning instincts to spare, and well above-average bat speed that produces 70 raw power. While he projects as an average glove and below-average runner, he’ll be fine in right field for a while and brings 40-homer pop and a chance to hit .270 in the current environment. But he does show a front side leak and gets pull happy at times, so he has work to do before we delete the risk from his profile. I think he sees Arkansas this season, and is the most likely of the Sox’s bats to do so — and most likely the first — but ‘when’ isn’t as clear as fans would like to think. Risking rushing a 20-year-old is a very dangerous approach to player development, considering the lack of payoff; his MLB ETA doesn’t change much, if at all, by getting to Double-A in June rather than July or August. He still starts 2022 in Triple-A Tacoma. ARKANSAS TRAVELERS (DOUBLE-A) Ian McKinney, LHP | 5-11/190 | 26 McKinney was outstanding for Arkansas in May, going at least five innings and punching out eight or more in each of his four starts. He’s running a 41% strikeout rate into his first June outing, looking for his third straight start of at least six innings. McKinney has always had a good a good curveball, but he’s added a cutter-slider to the mix and his command of a fringe-average fastball allows him to get to his secondaries consistently. Quick Word: He’s 26 and not a big-league starter, or at least not for the long haul, but 90-93, touching 94, plus curveball with terrific arm speed, and a useful slider and changeup give him a chance to compete against major-league hitters in a condensed role. I think he can handle Triple-A now and believe Seattle hnds him that challenge fairly soon. Penn Murfee, RHP | 6-2/195 | 27 Murfee has been utilized as both a starter and reliever since the club selected him in Round 33 back in 2018, including 20 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2019. He’s in the Travs’ rotation now with mixed results. In 17.1 innings, the right-hander has allowed 33 baserunners, including 19 in his most recent two starts. He’s comfortably in the 89-91 mph range, reaching back for 93, which could tick up in a relief role. Murfee has shown he understands how to attack hitters, and while he may be a great right-on-right matchup, he’s improved his ability to pitch to lefties, burying the slider at the back foot and getting inside and at the top of the zone with the fastball for swings and misses, and going backside for early-count strikes. Quick Word: At the end of the day, his sidearm delivery and fastball-slider combo project well in a multi-inning middle-relief role in the majors, reminiscent of Ramiro Mendoza or T.J. McFarland. As a starter, Murfee has work to do and in the role likely stays in Arkansas all year. As a reliever, he could see the majors in September. So, depends on the club’s plan. Ryne Inman, RHP | 6-5/215 | 25 For two years I spoke aloud about how Inman was a good candidate to transition to the bullpen and progress faster up the ladder, and the club made that move prior to the 2020 season, and we’re finally seeing it in games. Inman, however, has landed on the IL after just three outings with the Travelers.  In his three frames, he allowed two hits, a run, two walks, and struck out six of the 10 batters he faced. Quick Word: When he’s right, Inman is 92-96 with a chance for more velocity, and a plus power curveball. The raw stuff suggests at least a middle reliver profile, with a chance to be a little more. Inman has to get healthy before promotional conversations make sense. TACOMA RAINIERS (TRIPLE-A) Cal Raleigh, C | 6-3/215 | 24 Raleigh still has his naysayers, but it’s turned from “likely a first baseman” to “he’s probably just average” when it comes to his defense. He excels in some areas, however, despite limitations in others. At the plate, Raleigh has shown more polish in the early going, increasing his contact rates and finding barrels from both sides of the plate with regularity. One scout, remembering the prevailing opinion on Raleigh from Draft day, said “it looks a little different, he’s done a good job developing his swing from each side.” Raleigh’s two swings are vastly differently, too. It’s a power-based swing from the left-side and he’s more susceptible to upper-zone velocity and chasing down from that side, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since he’s a natural right-handed hitter. As a righty, the swing is more consistent; he did lose some momentum in his development from the right side in high school, college and early in the minors due to a lack of consistent opportunity — he’d go several games without facing a lefty starter and only see limited lefty relievers. “Maybe he gets to 15-18 homers, depending on how he manages the workload, but it sure looks like there will be good offensive production.” Raleigh was my Hitter Prospect of the Month for May, thanks to a gargantuan effort. Quick Word: Raleigh still gets a bad rap defensively, with scouts citing poor athleticism and technique that can be “choppy”, but when watching Raleigh catch, throw, jump out from behind the dish to make a play, or run the bases, I have zero problem imagining it all working in the majors. Many catchers lack the kind of athleticism players elsewhere on the field display on a daily basis. I do think the bat will produce some swing and miss — and there likely will be stretches where the rates are high — but we may be watching a 40-45 grade hit tool inching toward average, which could lead to even more power. I’m a bit bullish on Raleigh’s upside and always have been, but it’s tough to imagine even his median projection not warranting an all-star nod or two in his prime. His full upside comes with tons of doubt, but it’ll hover there until the smoke clears after a few big-league seasons. The club has its reasons, of course, but I can’t think of one single legitimate baseball reason to keep Raleigh in Tacoma any longer. I would be more than moderately surprised if he sees July in a Rainiers uniform, as amazing as the club’s alternate road jerseys are.Go!

It was a stellar opening month for the Seattle Mariners farm system. Four of the club’s top five prospects have made quite the statement. Two are now in the big leagues, two others have had big-time starts to the 2021 season, perhaps more than anyone could have expected. At the end of each month, we’ll scout out a pitcher prospect and hitter prospect as prospects of the month. Let’s start in the batter’s box, where a handful of bats scorched the baseball. But three stood out the most, and none will come as a surprise. HITTER PROSPECT OF THE MONTH Cal Raleigh, C — Tacoma (AAA) | 24 Raleigh was unbelievable in May, batting .361/.417/.687 with 10 doubles, five homers, a triple and just 13 strikeouts in 20 games. Of his 30 hits, 16 are for extra bases. He also has gunned down six of 17 would-be base stealers. But it doesn’t end there. Raleigh begins June with a 13-game hitting streak where he’s 24-for-55 (.436/.459/.819) with four home runs and nine multi-hit games and finished 10 for his final 19 (.526) with three homers. His 13.5% strikeout rate is down from 25% his first two pro seasons, and he’s yet to strike out as a right-handed batter. Raleigh is hitting .440/.553/1.120 with two outs, .423/.400/.808 with runners in scoring position, .440/.545/.840 when ahead in the count, and .400/.435/.750 when behind in the count. This wasn’t an easy choice, but Raleigh sure made it fun. HONORABLE MENTIONS Noelvi Marte, SS — Modesto (A) | 19 Marte will not be 20 until after the season but doesn’t seem fazed one iota by the pitching in the Low-A West league. In 22 games, Marte boasts a .315/.411/.533 slash, including five doubles and five home runs. His 24.3% strikeout rate isn’t concerning, thanks to the power showing and his 13.1% walk rate, plus the league is striking out at a 30% clip. He’s among the elite players and performers in the circuit and has a chance to earn his way to High-A Everett, though expecting that to occur early is more reactionary on a kid with 22 games experience in affiliated stateside ball. The club’s No. 5 prospect posted a .400/.526/.467 line with runners in scoring position and a .455/.667/.545 mark when ahead in the count. Julio Rodriguez, RF — Everett (A+) | 20 Rodriguez, the club’s No. 2 prospect and among the top 5 prospects in baseball, started the season with a bang, similar to that of Marte. In 21 games, Rodriguez batted .322/.404/.575 with five homers, five doubles, and a triple. He even swiped five bags in six tries. He batted .381/.458/.524 with runners in scoring position, .300/.391/.600 with two outs and showed High-A West pitchers what they very much do not want to do, and that’s fall behind in the count. Rodriguez went 13-for-26 (.500/.639/.923) when ahead in the count. On the mound, where the club is building legitimate depth in the lower minors including several with potentially fast tracks to the majors, wasn’t quite as close a race, thanks to the club’s top left-hander. But there were numerous contenders. PITCHER PROSPECT OF THE MONTH Brandon Williamson, LHP — Everett (A+) | 23 Williamson struck out 26 of the first 52 batters he faced over three short-scripted outings to start the season. Then he whiffed 13 of 25 batters in the best start of the season down on the farm, allowing two hits, a run and a walk on 9o pitches, 75 strikes. In the third inning of this start, Williamson completed an immaculate inning — nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts — which wasn’t all that much more dominating than most of his other 7-plus innings. Williamson wins a lot with his fastball right now, thanks to good velocity into the mid-90s and up to 97, and some deception in his delivery. His curveball, his best secondary pitch, is one he can throw for strikes or bury it for whiffs, and he did both in May. In 20 innings over four starts, Williamson struck out 50.6% of the batters he faced (39 of 77), and allowed just 18 baserunners — nine hits, seven walks, two hit batters. He had just on hiccup, so to speak, a four-inning outing that yielded four walks, but just one hit and eight strikeouts of 16 batters faced. Furthermore, Williamson allowed just four left-handed batters to reach base in 22 chances, just two hits (.091 AVG). He’s also buckled down hard with runners on base, yielding but three hits in 36 chances. Opponents, when leading off an inning, managed to reach base only twice all month off the TCU product. HONORABLE MENTIONS Adam Macko, LHP — Modesto (A) | 20Macko has been very good in four starts, and consistent, too, fanning 10 in each of his last three outings. He’s also yet to serve up a long ball, despite giving up nine earned runs. He’s struck out 44% of the batters he’s faced, and while he’s had a short out of control problems in each appearance, he’s rarely been squared up and often induced weak contact. Macko is up to 95 mph, but pitches in the low-90s with average-but-improving fastball command, and the four-seamer has some run to his arm side. He’s done a good job getting inside on right-handed batters with the heater, setting up favorable curveball might be the best in the system, missing bats in Low-A West and also serving as an early-count weapon of the backdoor variety. He has a slider he uses versus left-handers, but can bite the back foot of righties with it, too, and the occasional changeup is projectable. Macko is adept at locating his secondaries as well as any arm in Low-A. Macko is adept at locating his secondaries as well as any arm in Low-A. Taylor Dollard, RHP — Modesto (A) | 22 Dollard has missed bats (21.6% swinging strikes) in four starts and 19.1 innings, allowing 19 hits and four bases on balls. He’s struck out 48% of the total batters he’s faced and walked under 5%. He’s probably ready for High-A — he probably should have started there, but there’s no room for starter innings in Everett. He’s probably a long-term reliever but offers average stuff with a chance at an above-average breaking ball, an average changeup, and some life on a 91-93 mph fastball, suggesting back-end rotation upside. Dollar doesn’t carry as much ceiling as most of the other top arms in the system, but he does have a relatively high floor, and has touched 95 mph in side sessions and shorter outings.Go!

Everything Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert does this year will receive a great deal of fan and media attention, which is understandable. Both highly-touted rookies represent a potentially bright future for the Seattle Mariners and the team’s exasperated fan base. Still, it’s plausible other, less-familiar names will have a breakout season for the Mariners in 2021. Could Erik Swanson be one of those players? Before this year, Swanson was probably best known to Mariners fans as one of the two players acquired by Seattle with top Yankees pitching prospect Justus Sheffield in the 2018 deal sending James Paxton to New York. The other being minor-leaguer Dom Thompson-Williams. Sheffield remains the more recognizable name in the Emerald City, but Swanson is also making his presence felt this season. The versatile Swanson has served as opener twice for the Mariners, while also pitching in high-leverage situations for manager Scott Servais. Regardless of his role, Swanson is delivering outstanding results in 2021. Swanson’s recent surge in production is making him one of the most dynamic and reliable arms in Servais’ bullpen. The 27-year-old’s strikeout rate and opponent AVG leads the team. Only Seattle’s other breakout reliever – Kendall Graveman – is ahead of the North Dakotan in ERA, WHIP, OBP, SLG, and wOBA. When we look a little closer, it’s easy to see what’s driving the early-season success in Swanson’s conventional numbers. Hitters have been unable to square-up the right-hander’s pitches in 2021, which was a huge problem last year. For those not acquainted with sweet spot percentage (SwSp%), it quantifies how often batted balls have a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. Balls within this “sweet spot” range usually lead to highly productive line drives. This year, big-league hitters have a .654 AVG on liners. Fun Fact: Erik Swanson has yet to allow a line drive in 2021. While we’re discussing types of contact, it’s worth noting Swanson’s 16.7-percent pop-up rate is significantly better than last year. Moreover, it’s pacing the Mariners ahead of Keynan Middleton (16.1-percent) and top-15 in the majors among pitchers with 20-plus batted ball events. The current MLB AVG on pop-ups is .019. Not quite as low as a strikeout, but pretty close. I know what some of you are thinking: “it’s early.” Yes, it’s only May and the data is immature – Swanson has faced just 41 hitters. But the product of Iowa Western Community College has been a revelation for the Mariners, which has been particularly important this week with three relievers – including Graveman – on the COVID IL. Is Swanson’s early success sustainable? Time will tell. But a breakout season requires a player delivering tangible, positive improvements in results. The former eighth round pick of the Rangers has checked those blocks thus far. Considering the circumstances, Swanson’s emergence couldn’t have come at a better time for the banged-up Mariners’ bullpen. My Oh My….Go!

Injuries have devastated the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets to the point each club is struggling to field a competitive roster. I have a solution to their problem – combine the teams. That’s right. What if we blended the Mariners’ and Mets’ 26-man rosters into one unit? Yes, my suggestion is pure folly. But what else are fans supposed to do when their team is falling apart in May? Why not have a little fun by doing a “what if drill” as a distraction from reality? So, what prompted my inane proposal? I live in the Pacific Northwest and grew up as a Mets fan. I thought it’d be cool to build a super-squad by cherry-picking players from my two favorite teams. It’d be like the time the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy teamed-up in a comic book movie. That turned out okay for most of the characters that didn’t die. Walking Wounded Okay, back to the Mariners and Mets. For those of you not fully acquainted with their dilapidated rosters, here are notable names currently on each organization’s injured list. You could build a strong squad from the players lost to injury. The rotation would be particularly formidable. Now that we’ve painted the ugly picture Mariners and Mets fans are staring at on a daily basis, let’s begin this endeavor with position player selections. What I quickly discovered is that combining both rosters didn’t yield the power-packed lineup I expected to create. Lineup The Mets are using Dominic Smith in place of the injured Pete Alonso at first base. Honestly, I would’ve gone with Smith even if Alonso was healthy. New York’s first round pick in 2013 is the better athlete and has a 112 OPS+ during his brief career. Smith can also play left field, when needed. Seattle’s starting shortstop, J.P. Crawford, moves to second base on my squad since the Mets have perennial All-Star Francisco Lindor at shortstop. The Gold Glove defense of Crawford and Lindor would form a impressive double-play combination for my fantasy team. Third base was a no-brainer with Kyle Seager holding down the position. Defensive metrics don’t care for Seager as much as in the past. But the combination of the North Carolina alum’s bat and glove outclasses anything the Mets can muster at the hot corner. Jarred Kelenic is my left fielder despite struggling since his MLB debut two weeks ago. Mets fans are constantly pining over the rookie ever since the team dealt him to Seattle in an ill-advised trade. Including the sixth overall pick of the 2018 draft gives New Yorkers the Kelenic-fix they desire. Filling out the outfield with Kyle Lewis and Mitch Haniger was an easy decision. Lewis, the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, started this season in the IL. But the Mercer product’s bat has been heating up lately. Haniger missed all of last season and most of 2019 due to multiple injuries. Still, the Californian was an All-Star in 2018 and is among league leaders in home runs this year. Fun fact: Mitch Haniger was selected by the Mets in the thirty-first round of the 2009 draft. Haniger opted to attend Cal Poly instead and was a first round pick of the Brewers three years later. Sorry NL baseball fans. I’m going with a designated hitter. Let’s face it. Having pitchers hit doesn’t help a sport desperately needing more action. My choice is Ty France, who just completed an IL stint. The former San Diego State Aztec primarily serves as the Mariners’ DH, although he also has experience at both corner infield spots and second base. None of the catcher candidates have a history of sustained offensive excellence. Therefore, I went with Tom Murphy as my primary backstop. Murphy is excellent at handling Seattle’s staff and a strong defender behind the plate. Backing up Murphy is Tomás Nido, another skilled glove. Honestly, it wouldn’t have taken much effort to convince me to make Nido the starter. Reserves The bench was a bit tricky thanks to the multitude of injuries facing both teams. In my initial draft, Mets outfielder Johneshwy Fargas and Mariners utility-man Sam Haggerty were possibilities. Both are now out of commission with injuries. Jonathan Villar has played third base and both middle-infield spots this season and possesses limited outfield experience in previous campaigns. Serving as utility-man is José Peraza. The seven-year veteran has experienced every position on the diamond with the exception of first base and catcher. My backup outfielder is former Mariner and current Met Cameron Maybin. The 34-year-old was playing with Class-AAA Iowa a week ago before New York acquired him from the Cubs for one dollar. Yes, that’s right. Both clubs’ outfield depth is so thin that someone not in the majors a week ago made my roster. Rotation When first considering this piece, I expected the rotation would be the strongest unit. The injury bug had something to say about that. Picking who’d be the headliner was easy, although I grappled with rounding out the staff. Naturally, two-time Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom is my ace. deGrom returns to the Mets after a short IL stint this evening. There have been questions regarding the Stetson product’s physical readiness this season. That said, the Palm Beach Cardinals believe deGrom is perfectly healthy after he demolished them during a recent rehab start. Jacob deGrom is throwing 102 MPH… Someone send help. — Palm Beach Cardinals (@GoPBCardinals) May 20, 2021 The next obvious choice is Marcus Stroman, who’s been excellent this year. Following the former Duke Blue Devil is Yusei Kikuchi. The southpaw fits in nicely behind the 1-2 combination of deGrom and Stroman. After the top-three, it got a bit squishy for me. The final rotation spots go to a pair of youngsters with New York ties. Justus Sheffield, acquired from the Yankees in 2018 and former Mets first rounder Justin Dunn dealt to the Emerald City with Kelenic in the same offseason. Sheffield and Dunn have struggled at times this season. However, both have also flashed their upside in 2021. Other candidates included David Peterson and Chris Flexen. Bullpen Although Seattle’s relievers helped carry the team earlier this season, my bullpen is mostly Mets relievers. That said, Mariners fans are very familiar with the pitcher topping my list. I’m a proponent of not giving relievers designated roles and managers using the best available relief arm whenever the game is on the line, regardless of the inning. That said, I’d designate Edwin Díaz as my top choice to close out games. Behind the native of Puerto Rico is a strong group of relievers capable of protecting leads. Offseason free agent signing Trevor May has been superb. The Washington native is primarily holding down the eighth inning for Mets manager Luis Rojas this season. One-time New York closer Jeurys Familia has also been adept at shutting down late-inning threats. Versatile Miguel Castro has opened games and appeared everywhere from the fifth to the ninth for Rojas. Veteran Aaron Loup serves as lefty reliever, although it’s worth noting the Tulane alum hasn’t been particularly strong against right-handed bats this year. Still, Loup has been a solid relief arm in recent years and welcome in my bullpen. A lesser-known name also gets the nod – Sean-Reid Foley. Born in Guam, then right-hander wasn’t particularly effective during his first two seasons with the Blue Jays in 2018-19. But Foley had a breakout season with Toronto last year and is continuing that success in the Big Apple in 2021. The last two names are the only Mariners – Rafael Montero and Flexen. Seattle fans won’t be ecstatic with Montero making the cut. But he’s been better than fan perception. Besides, the native of La Romana, Dominican Republic won’t be closing games with my squad. Flexen would serve in a long relief role. Before spending 2021 playing with the Korean Baseball Organization, the right-hander spent parts of three seasons with the Mets as a reliever and spot starter. Management Since I’ve gone this far, why not identify who’d run the team concocted for entertainment purposes? Owner: Steven Cohen President: Sandy Alderson GM: Jerry Dipoto Manager: Scott Servais Picking an owner was the easiest decision. Steven Cohen is a Long Islander and life-long Mets fan. More importantly, he’s really rich and willing to spend his money. Cohen routinely engages fans on social media and has expressed a desire to build a sustainable contender modeled after the Dodgers. That said, he expects his club to win the World Series within 3-5 years. On the other hand, the Mariners are owned by a large group led by John Stanton, who rarely makes public statements about the team’s competitive status and future. Whether Seattle’s ownership actually has the appetite to pay for a championship roster is debatable. My team president is Sandy Alderson. The former U.S. Marine has a distinguished career as an MLB executive and led the Mets to the 2015 World Series. Alderson’s use of statistical analysis as the Athletics’ GM opened the door for the Moneyball era spearheaded by his successor in Oakland – Billy Beane. For GM, I’m going with Jerry Dipoto, who currently holds the same position with the Mariners. This choice probably roils some Seattle fans. But the legion of frustrated should remember that Dipoto wouldn’t be budget-restricted with Cohen as owner. Plus, he was a Mets fan growing up and pitched for the team in 1995-96. As far as manager goes, it was a toss-up for me between Mariners skipper Scott Servais and Rojas. I went with Servais since he’s done the job in the majors for a longer time. Again, some Seattle fans will lose their mind over this selection. Fine, go crazy. If I went with Rojas there’d be a contingent of Mets fans screaming about that. Maybe, just maybe, the manager isn’t as important to the daily outcome of games as some fans believe. Finally My squad would be competitive and fun to watch. Still, a lot of Mariners would be pushed aside once Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo, Carlos Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Noah Syndergaard, and Seth Lugo were available. This speaks to the state of each team’s current 40-man roster. The Mariners are in the process of integrating young players and top prospects into their big-league roster. The team’s goal is to evaluate what they have before adding established talent. As a result, Seattle’s season will likely remain turbulent and susceptible to injuries thanks to a lack of major-league depth. Conversely, the Mets are in win-now mode with an owner committed to becoming World Series champs sooner than later. At some point, New York will turn to the trade market to overcome the loss of injured players. Maybe Alderson calls Dipoto looking for help. Wouldn’t that be something? Put it in the books… My Oh My…Go!