It’s not uncommon for Major League Baseball trades to remain unsettled for a long, long time. The exchange of talent often includes young players not destined for the majors for several years. It’s actually quite fascinating to follow as one trade becomes another, and another, and sometimes another. There are a number of moves Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has made the past three years that fall into the same category. Some seem to favor Seattle, a few definitely don’t. One of the many with a chance to have a very long story is the deal Dipoto struck with the Tampa Bay Rays on May 25, 2018, and a few stanzas already have been written. The Mariners, who finished 89-73 that season, were 30-20 when the trade was consummated. They were three games back of the Houston Astros in the American League West and had a two-game lead in the race for the No. 2 Wild Card, so Dipoto got creative. Seattle sent right-hander Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero to Tampa Bay in exchange for veteran outfielder Denard Span and right-handed reliever Alex Colome. Span went on to provide 0.9 rWAR for the Mariners in 94 games, thanks to a .272/.329/.435 triple-slash. Colome pitched in 47 games and went 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 49-13 K/BB ratio in 46.1 innings good for 1.4 rWAR. Span retired after the season, but Dipoto flipped Colome to the Chicago White Sox for catcher Omar Narvaez. Colome pitched for two seasons with the White Sox, but neither were of the quality of his time with Seattle, but that’s neither here nor there, and winning the trades is far from the point. Narvaez batted .278/.353/.460 in 132 games for the Mariners in 2019, a season valued at 2.2 rWAR. If you’re counting, that’s now 4.5 rWAR combined between the acquisitions. Following the 2019 season, Dipoto then sent Narvaez to the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle received right-handed pitcher Adam Hill and the No. 64 overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, a competitive balance selection awarded to the Brewers. McLennan CC (TX) right-hander Connor Phillips ended up being the pick. Hill, 23, last pitched at Class-A Wisconsin in the Midwest League, primarily as a starter, but may be suited for Double-A Arkansas this season with a chance to move quickly as a reliever. Still, he’s probably a year from the majors. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Phillips regularly touched the mid-90s in short stints, has hit 98 mph as an amateur and a professional, and also offers a curveball and chanegup. He’ll turn 20 years of age May 4, likely just days before making his professional debut. He’s currently Prospect Insider’s No. 18 Mariners prospect. On the fastest of tracks to The Show, Phillips’ ETA is likely at least 2023. While the trade Dipoto made with the Rays sure looks like a winner now — Moore is not under contract with a big-league club, even on a minor league deal, and it’s highly unlikely Romero hits the majors before 2022, nor does it seem there’s much chance he proves the gem of the trade — the truth is we won’t know the final numbers of this trade, like so many others, for several years. And knowing how Dipoto operates, he’ll wait until just before the buzzer, then move Hill or Phillips for even more longer-term talent so we have to restart the clock. And maybe he’ll have a sense of humor about it all and keep doing so just to continue adding chapters to the story. After all, if that were to occur, it would mean Dipoto’s rosters are winning enough to earn a long stay at the top of the Mariners’ baseball operations department, which is something the Mariners and the club’s fans need far more than any number of Wins Above Replacement.
Ty France will challenge Mitch Haniger for best hit tool and may hit more long balls than Kyle Lewis. Taylor Trammell is also a 60-grade runner but Haggerty might be closer to a 65, so he gets the nod. Trammell projects as an above-average to plus glove in left, but in CF he’s around average, maybe a little above, and his arm belongs in left. Justin Dunn‘s Cactus League slider would get the nod over Justus Sheffield‘s with a longer track record. At times, James Paxton‘s cutter is a plus pitch, as is Marco Gonzales‘. Kendall Graveman and Keynan Middleton throw a bit harder, but Montero’s fastball has more effective movement. Drew Steckenrider‘s slider flashes plus and if he’s more consistent with it can overtake Middleton for the best slider in the bullpen.
Will the Seattle Mariners contend in 2021? Probably not. But after the season, GM Jerry Dipoto will know what remains for Seattle to be a 2022 contender. Essentially, the Mariners are entering a season of discovery. The premise of waiting another year for postseason baseball in Seattle won’t go over well with a long-suffering fan base. But that’s the reality the Mariners face by Dipoto’s design. For proof, consider how the team performed last season and what’s been done to improve the roster since. Lean Lineup The Mariners’ run production ranked in the bottom-third of MLB in most categories. To that point, only two qualified hitters had an OPS+ above league-average – Kyle Lewis (126) and Kyle Seager (122). Lewis started the season on fire before slumping badly. Seager’s production also dipped in September, although his decline wasn’t as noticeable. Others had a strong OPS+, but with less playing time. Austin Nola (152 OPS+) was one of the Mariners’ best hitters before being traded to the Padres. Ty France (129), who joined Seattle in the same deal, performed well. So did Dylan Moore (139). 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. Therefore, a hitter with a 150 OPS+ was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average. Still, too many regulars delivered subpar production: J.P. Crawford (92 OPS+), Tim Lopes (80), Evan White (57), and Shed Long (50). Newcomer Luis Torrens (97) was just below average after joining the Mariners in September. A Promising Rotation The pitching staff’s overall numbers were awful thanks to an ineffective bullpen hamstrung by injuries. Conversely, the rotation demonstrated some promise. Starters combined for a .308 xwOBA tying for ninth lowest in MLB with Houston. Four Mariners had an xwOBA better than the league-average: Yusei Kikuchi (.279), Marco Gonzales (.291), and Justus Sheffield (.303), and Nick Margevicius (.301). 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. MLB league-average xwOBA last year = .312 Still, everything wasn’t hunky-dory with the rotation. Although Kikuchi’s xwOBA was excellent, he experienced command and consistency troubles. A 4.34 ERA from Justin Dunn doesn’t sound bad. But a .369 xwOBA with a 15.7-percent walk rate is bad. No Relief For The Weary Two of the Mariners’ biggest 2020 bullpen additions – Carl Edwards Jr. and Yoshihisa Hirano – made just 18 combined appearances due to health. Worsening matters, too few relievers delivered value. Still, there were several notable performers. Anthony Misiewicz (.278 xwOBA) impressed as a rookie. So did fellow freshmen Yohan Ramírez (.305), on occasion. But his 21.3-percent walk rate was worst in the majors. With the exception of one outing, rookie swingman Ljay Newsome (.279) was good. So was journeyman Casey Sadler (.247). So, What Got Fixed? Not enough to contend. Dipoto chose to focus on two areas – retooling the bullpen and adding rotation depth. That’s it. No hitters from outside the organization were added to the 40-man roster. Two key bullpen arms came from AL West rivals. Rafael Montero via a trade with Texas and free agent Keynan Middleton from the Angels. Both pitchers underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018. Reliever Will Vest arrived via the Rule 5 draft. Finding Rule 5 picks to help in the bullpen is part of Dipoto’s playbook. In 2018, the Mariners drafted Brandon Brennan. A year later, Ramírez. Vest now gets an opportunity to follow suit. To bolster the rotation, Dipoto signed Chris Flexen, who spent 2020 with the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). In 116.2 innings, Flexen struck out 131 hitters against 30 walks. If the 26-year-old continues his KBO success in MLB, the Mariners have a solid starter under club control through 2026. Dipoto’s splashiest move was signing former Mariner and fan-favorite James Paxton. The southpaw spent two years with the Yankees after being dealt to the Bronx for Sheffield, Erik Swanson and Dom Thompson-Williams. So where does Dipoto’s offseason maneuvers leave the Mariners heading into 2021? Let’s discuss. Hope Is The Course Of Action With no external help coming, the Mariners are essentially counting on a young, unproven lineup taking the next step in its maturation. In a nutshell, hope is the plan for improving the offense this year. Look across the diamond to see what I mean. White is an elite defender at first base, but he must improve a .176/.252/.346 slash and a 41.6-percent strikeout rate. On a positive note, the 24-year-old’s hard-hit rate and a strong 30-game stretch last year suggests he could still rebound to be a foundational player in Seattle. After a breakout 2020, Moore is Seattle’s starting second baseman. That’s assuming the small sample of 38 games and 159 plate appearances qualifies as a season. Ironically, a year ago, the team hoisted the same status onto another player with about the same amount of experience as Moore’s. It didn’t go well. Long was anointed the 2020 Opening Day second baseman after a solid, but brief, 42-game/168 plate appearance audition in 2019. Unfortunately, his year went sideways due to a leg injury requiring season-ending surgery. Now, the 25-year-old seems to be an afterthought. That’s unfortunate and troubling. Crawford’s glove is outstanding, but his offensive profile remains unclear. The 26-year-old was adept at drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts leading to a .336 OBP. However, the team needs more extra base power from their shortstop. Seager begins his tenth season as the Mariners’ third baseman. The 33-year-old is the anchor of the infield and the organization itself. Lewis returns in center field after winning 2020 Rookie of the Year. Much like Lewis did during post-shutdown summer camp, prospect Taylor Trammell pleasantly surprised the Mariners in Spring Training. So much so, the 23-year-old will be Seattle’s Opening Day left fielder. Mitch Haniger is back in right field after several injuries sidelined him since June 2019. It’s plausible Haniger is Seattle’s best player in 2021. Starting catcher Tom Murphy also missed last season. In 2019, Murphy hit 18 home runs and .273/.324/.535 in 75 games. Still, the fact the right-handed hitter feasted on southpaw pitching, but not so much the other way (.653 OPS vs RHP; 1.103 vs LHP) bears watching. Torrens will share catching duties with Murphy. Last year, he hit .257/.325/.371, although the 24-year-old did have an impressive hard-hit rate. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the organization’s top catching prospect, Cal Raleigh, debuts this year. Ty France projects to be the primary designated hitter, although he’ll see time in the field too. Regardless of where France plays, his bat will be a staple in Seattle’s lineup. In 112 games spread over two seasons with the Padres and the Mariners, the San Diego State product has 17 doubles, 11 home runs, a .265/.326/.431 slash, and a 105 OPS+. The Starting 6.5 And The Other Guy Gonzales headlines a six-man rotation with Paxton, Kikuchi, Sheffield, Flexen, and Dunn behind him. Margevicius, who competed with Dunn for the final rotation spot, will be a reliever. That said, expect the 24-year-old to make starts. Perhaps he piggybacks with another starter during games this year. Injuries ruined Paxton’s 2020, which only advanced his injury-prone reputation. Still, the 32-year-old averaged 28 starts and 156 innings in 2018-19. Moreover, his .296 wOBA was twentieth best among starters during that span. In a six-man rotation, Big Maple making 24-28 starts with similar production would be perfect. We don’t know whether Flexen’s KBO performance carries over to MLB. But his 2.3 BB/9 in Korea is reminiscent to a 2.9 BB/9 in 122 minor-league appearances. Additionally, the right-hander’s 116.2 innings logged last season suggests he could handle a greater workload than other starters. Remember, Gonzales led Seattle with just 69.2 frames last year. Realistically, Dunn wouldn’t make a standard five-man rotation. Now, the 25-year-old must demonstrate he deserves to keep his gig by the time management deems top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert (the other guy) MLB-ready. More Relief, But How Much More? The bullpen definitely looks different and it should be improved. But how much better? The answer will figure heavily into the Mariner’s season record. Montero will close games. Getting the ball to Montero will be Kendall Graveman, Misiewicz, Middleton, Sadler, Vest, and Margevicius. Either Domingo Tapia or Drew Steckenrider will take the final bullpen spot. Sounds great, but this is an unproven group. Montero’s 95.8-MPH average fastball velocity last year was nearly 3-MPH higher than when he debuted in 2014. Yet, he remains an unknown quantity at closer. The same is true about Graveman, who has little relief experience (14.2 innings). Something else to monitor – Middleton’s walk rate. In his 19.2 innings since returning from TJ surgery, he’s walked 13 while striking out 17. Not a good ratio for high-leverage relievers. And the rest of the crew? They’re inexperienced and/or have yet to succeed in the majors. And That’s Where The Adventure Begins As noted at the outset, Dipoto will learn this season what he’ll need to do to make the Mariners a contender next year. But fans should expect a bumpy ride during the 2021 campaign, while the team learns lessons, both good and bad, about itself. Remember, few position players have significant major-league experience. Hence, the potential for turbulence as the season unfolds. Consider this: Seager has more career MLB plate appearances than the combined total of the eight hitters starting with the former North Carolina Tar Heel on Opening Day: Career MLB PA’s 1B – Evan White (202 PA) 2B – Dylan Moore (441) SS – J.P. Crawford (853) 3B – Kyle Seager (5,534) LF – Taylor Trammell (0) CF – Kyle Lewis (317) RF – Mitch Haniger (1,499) DH – Ty France (356) C – Tom Murphy (491) We’ve seen flashes from Lewis, Moore, France, and Murphy. But will these players sustain their success over a long season? And let’s not forget Trammell will struggle too. So will eventual call-ups Raleigh and Jarred Kelenic. That’s a lot of uncertainty. There are reasons to be optimistic about the rotation too. But a wait-and-see approach is advisable. Gonzales has a reputation of consistently delivering quality outings. Who else on the starting staff can make this claim? Paxton can do it, when healthy. Sheffield may develop into that pitcher with more time. So may Kikuchi and Flexen, but they’ve yet to deliver consistent quality outings in MLB. In fact, only three starters have more than 20 career starts in the majors. Three! Career MLB Starts James Paxton (136) Marco Gonzales (88) Yusei Kikuchi (41) Nick Margevicius (19) Justus Sheffield (17) Justin Dunn (14) Chris Flexen (11) With so much depending on 10-plus players demonstrating their potential this year, two basic outcomes await the Mariners. One is a surprisingly good year creating a postseason buzz in the Pacific Northwest. In that case, Dipoto likely acquires players in-season capable of elevating his club in 2021 and beyond. On the flip side, the Mariners end up closer to last place than a Wild Card berth. Then, they’re deadline sellers. That said, Dipoto doesn’t have many pending free agents to peddle. Any reliever performing well might be available. We’ve discussed Seager’s poison pill extension for 2022 ad nauseam, so we’ll move on. Alas, the most valued potential free agent would be a healthy Paxton performing up to his immense talent. Would Dipoto trade the big left-hander for a second time? If you don’t know the answer, ask Taijuan Walker. Regardless of where the Mariners finish this year, we’ll get to enjoy a preview of what awaits in 2022. That’s when young studs like Lewis, Sheffield, Trammell, Kelenic, Gilbert, Raleigh, and perhaps Julio Rodriguez will comprise over 25-percent of the team. And that’ll be the best part of the adventure this year – watching the Mariners’ young roster morphing into something special. My Oh My…
With the 2021 MLB season days away, let’s have a little fun with predictions for the Seattle Mariners. Home Runs: Ty France, 33 Kyle Lewis has the best raw power on the roster but barring a better effort to get to his pull side and thanks to his penchant for swinging and missing he’s not likely to beat France at the long-ball game this season. Batting Average (qualified only): Mitch Haniger, .279 I think there are a small handful of players that could challenge Haniger, and there’s a chance Haniger doesn’t end up qualifying in a Mariners uniform, but he’s the safest bet among projected regulars to hit .270 or better. The only issue is if he’s traded he won’t qualify, at which point I’d pick France. OBP (qualified only): Haniger, .358 SLG (qualified only): France, .518 Haniger is also a big-time candidate here, too. Triples: Jarred Kelenic, 7 He’s not likely to start the season in the big leagues, but he’s a good bet to get 400-plus PAs and his combo of power and speed give him a chance to triple out quite well. Taylor Trammell is also a good bet to hit the gaps and leg out some three-baggers, as is Dylan Moore. J.P. Crawford had four triples in under 400 plate appearances in 2019, so keep an eye on him, too. Walks: Kyle Lewis, 64 I don’t expect his 14% walk rate to continue into 2021 but he’s always drawn 9-12% walks in the minors. Ten percent of 600 (PAs) is 60 and even in a mediocre-at-best lineup the top three regulars are likely to get at least that many trips to the plate. For context, Daniel Vogelbach led the Mariners in PAs in 2019 with 558, and he played in just 144 games, just 129 starts. If Lewis starts 145 games, he’s clearing 600 plate appearances easily. Strikeouts: Lewis, 144 This number could get out of hand, as he whiffed nearly 30% of the time a year ago, but I think if he struggles to such great lengths he’ll get time out of the lineup to work on things, which will limit the volume. For context, his 29.3% K rate over 242 PAs in 2020 resulted in 71 strikeouts. Stolen Bases: Dylan Moore, 22 We’re going to find out more about Moore in 2021 than all of 2020, but there are signs the on-base ability is legitimate (.358 OBP, 8.8% walks in 2020, 8.9%, and a +.94 OBP-AVG in 2019). He’s not a great athlete, but he has 55 speed and reads pitchers as well as anyone else on the roster. Moore swiped 23 bags in his first 441 PAs in the majors, which included 104 times landing at first base via single, error, HBP or walk. fWAR: Lewis, 3.9 He’s not a great CF glove, but he’s about average, and even if he hits .230-.240 he should post at least league-average on-base marks and hit 20-plus homers. As long as he stays healthy he’ll play 145-150 games and that’s a 3.5-win or better player, as a floor. Innings Pitched: Marco Gonzales, 164 I figure 27 or 28 starts, six innings per start — he averaged 6.3 a year ago — and that gets me beyond 160 for the year. Strikeouts: Yusei Kikuchi, 158 Paxton will have the best K% but the chances he remains with the team beyond July or stays healthy for 25-28 starts keep me off him as the leader here. Kikuchi fanned 24.2% of the batters he faced a year ago with a 12.1% swinging-strike rate, so he’s a solid bet to get to 150 or so. Walks: Chris Flexen, 68 Flexen can throw strikes, but his fastball value may struggle in the states and as a result, I fear he may nibble a bit. Certainly more so than Paxton, Gonzales, Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield, and the Justin Dunn we’ve seen this spring. But he’s also more likely to get tp 140-150 innings than is Dunn, who I’d bet has the worst walk rate among the six starters. Saves: Rafael Montero, 31 Saves is a stupid stat — it’s super stupid and shouldn’t exist, and fantasy baseball is also stupid, so take that — but Montero is likely to get the vast majority of opportunities. If he stays with the club all year I think 30-plus is reasonable. Pitcher fWAR: Gonzales, 4.1 Gonzales was No. 13 among starting pitchers in MLB year ago with a 2.0 fWAR in just 10 starts, which prorates out to 5.4 wins above replacement, even when considering he’s likely only tally 27 or 28 starts. While pace isn’t the best way to project, it offers an idea of how reliable Gonzales is. The 29-year-old posted 3.7 fWAR in 2019 (34 starts) and 3.5 in 2018 (29 starts) suggesting 4.1 is anything but a stretch. First prospect called up to 26-man Roster after Opening Day: Joey Gerber, RHR This goes against my current Opening Day Roster projection, since I have Gerber on it, but I’m 33-33-33 in that prediction (Gerber-Swanson-Steckenrider), and if it’s not Gerber I think he forces his way up perhaps before the Triple-A schedule gets underway. First player traded from 40-man roster between Opening Day and July 31: Jake Fraley, OF Just a hunch that when Kelenic is summoned, they’ll need 40-man space in addition to the 26-man spot and whether Fraley is on the 26-man or not he could be moved via small trade to create space. How many games does Kelenic play in Tripe-A Tacoma?: 0 Would it surprise me if he plays in Tacoma? No. But I think there’s a pretty good chance he hangs at the ATS for a few weeks and joins the 26-man later in April before the minor league season even begins, so… Logan Gilbert MLB Games Started: 14 Over/Under 1.5 All-Star Selections: UNDER I could see a second Mariners player sneaking in if a youngster like Lewis wins a fan vote after a Haniger or France gets the initial nod, but other than that I don’t think the chances are good Seattle gets more than one. Next year and beyond, however… Over/Under 162 Home Runs: OVER They hit 60 a year ago in the 60-game season and will have Haniger back, France for the entire season, and likely add more power with their youth than they were running out there a year ago at 2B (Moore played mostly OF). Over/Under 131 Stolen Bases: UNDER I think Seattle will continue to run, but the pace they were on a year ago — nearly one per game — won’t continue over a full season. Over/Under 4.5 Trades Made involving 40-man roster members between Opening Day and July 31: UNDER I think the top three 40-man candidates starting the regular season are Haniger, Paxton, and Montero, with the national media’s mention of Seager being a bit obtuse without unpredictable contract restructure factors that are very, very rare in baseball. Over/Under 72.5 Team Wins: OVER While it is indeed one more year where development is more important than scratching out every victory possible, the roster has more overall talent, fewer holes, more upside, and more depth this year than the club that won at a 73-win clip a year ago. I think on the low side, we’re looking at 70 wins or so. On the high side, this club could threaten .500, though the fact they aren’t likely at all to contend could rob them of key veterans in July that will hurt their chances to max out their win ability. I’d wager on 75 wins.
Updated Saturday, March 27, 10:33 PM PT The club optioned out RHRs Joey Gerber and Erik Swanson Saturday, leaving the final spot in the bullpen to right-handers Drew Steckenrider and Domingo Tapia, officially. Both have performed well, but Tapia has made just two appearances in ‘A’ games to Steckenrider’s seven. Tapia is already on the 40-man, Steckenrider is not, but the official placement of Ken Giles on the 60-day IL will open a spot for the club. I would have gone with Gerber or Steckenrider here — but I thought Seattle would go with the younger player with more upside, the one they control for five more years, rather than the upside of selling Steckenrider at the deadline for little return. Tapia has options, so they’ll be able to call upon all three righties that lose out to Steckenrider, which is clearly the way the club is going. With the news Saturday that centerfielder Kyle Lewis is doubtful for Opening Day, I feel comfortable making the assumption he will see the IL and won’t be on the ODR. I’ve replaced him with the player whose name I hate typing, but this being the final roster projection, let’s pull no punches. With Lewis out, I expect Taylor Trammell to start in center on April 1, but do not believe Lewis’ situation impacts that of Jarred Kelenic at all. As you can see, I still see Justin Dunn over Nick Margevicius for the No. 6 spot in the rotation with the latter serving as the long man out of the bullpen. If it were my choice, considering the minor league season does not begin for an additional 33 days, I would do the same, but if Dunn struggles to get through five innings and continues to battle with control and command problems, I’m sending him to Triple-A in May. One thing not discussed much with Dunn these days — because there are so many other things to dissect — is his lack of a third pitch. Sure, he could go curveball and slider, but he does not have a pitch for left-handed batters, which puts a ton of pressure on his fastball command and the consistency of the slider that’s looked so good this spring.
We’re about a week and a half from Opening Day 2021 at T-Mobile Park when the Seattle Mariners host the San Francisco Giants. There remain just a few spots on the Mariners roster unsettled, at least from our perspective (the club may already know all 26). Here was my first projection. Let’s go through this for the second time this spring. ROTATION Marco Gonzales James Paxton Yusei Kikuchi Chris Flexen Justus Sheffield Justin Dunn I went with Dunn in the rotation over Margevicius because I think Seattle is seeing enough in the right-hander this spring to go back to the well and try to build on the improved stuff. What that specific decision also does is balance the rotation against the four lefties, and sends Margevicius to the bullpen to serve as its lone southpaw. BULLPEN Rafael Montero Kendall Graveman Anthony Misiewicz Keynan Middleton Casey Sadler Nick Margevicius Will Vest Erik Swanson I think Vest, the Rule 5 pick, has done enough to make the club and essentially earn a longer look. How long that lasts should be performance-driven. At this point Yohan Ramirez has made one appearance in an “A” game in Arizona, hitting two batters and walking another. He needs to start the year in Triple-A Tacoma and work on the delivery. His raw stuff is legit, but he doesn’t fill the zone much. Middleton has struggled a bit, serving up five homers, but he does have a 6-1 K/BB ratio in five frames, and the stuff belongs. He also has a bit of a track record a few others in contention don’t. Aaron Fletcher has flashed big-league stuff but more consistent command of the fastball is necessary before he can be viewed as a reliable arm. Sadler has looked very good and is a strike-thrower to boot, something the club needs in the middle innings. Matt Magill has just three appearances, making it more difficult to project him to the ODR. Joey Gerber has looked better this month than most of his appearances last summer, including more velocity, recouped deception, and a better, sharper-breaking slider. Roenis Elias may have been on his way to making the team until his injury. JT Chargois still has a shot, but he hasn’t been used much yet, suggesting the Mariners already know he’s not part of the ODR, but Swanson’s spot is far from sewn up and could go in a lot of directions, including Chargois or Matt Magill. One potential hint on who the club may be viewing as a legitimate option is who is getting the innings this late in Cactus League play. Not just because they want those arms worked into form, but because those not part of the 26-man roster to start the season have another 33 days until their first game, and overworking them in big-league camp is a real problem. CATCHERS Tom Murphy Luis Torrens INFIELDERS Evan White Dylan Moore J.P. Crawford Kyle Seager Ty France Honestly, with Shed Long Jr. being held out of “A” games thus far, it’s a bit more difficult to find the right mix with the infield-outfield groups. I’d choose Jack Reinheimer or Braden Bishop for the final roster spot because the former can play shortstop some, offers a bit more offense right now than does Donovan Walton, and the latter is a 70 glove. Both bat right-handed, balancing the bench. But Reinheimer is not on the 40-man, the Mariners seem to think Jose Marmolejos is something he’s not — an outfielder and a major-league hitter — and Fraley has been given a longer look (so, that’s where I actually lean in projecting the ODR). Once Long is ready, it’s an easier projection, but as of March 21 we don’t have good info on when that might be. OUTFIELDERS Mitch Haniger Kyle Lewis Taylor Trammell Sam Haggerty Jake Fraley There’s no reasonable explanation for a Mariners outfield without Trammell and/or Jarred Kelenic, and at this point, I lean Trammell between the two because of the time Kelenic missed with the knee injury and the lack of overall experience he has versus professional pitching. The truth is, both players are worthy, and if the Mariners were taking the best roster possible north with them to face the San Francisco Giants April 1, Kelenic would be on it. Haggerty’s ability to switch hit and handle second base gives him a great chance to make the club, and he’s actually found the barrel some this spring, worked counts and found the gap a few times. If the club needs a 40-man spot to make room for Kelenic, they’ve yet to officially place Ken Giles on the 60-day IL, per the team site. If they also need one for Reinheimer, Chargois, or Magill, I think the weakest holds on 40-man roster spots are right-hander Domingo Tapia, Walton, an additional 60-day IL case (Long?), or perhaps a minor trade involving a player that didn’t make the ODR, including Bishop and Fraley.
The Seattle Mariners face a big decision on J.P. Crawford, a Gold Glove defender yet to consistently produce at the plate. Is Crawford the team’s long-term answer at shortstop? Or, does Seattle pursue a more accomplished replacement at a position teeming with elite-level hitters? To be clear, Crawford isn’t a terrible hitter – far from it. As with his glove, there’s a lot to like about the 26-year-old from an offensive standpoint. The following illustrates areas where he excelled and the MLB average for each category. Crawford demonstrated superb plate discipline. He didn’t strikeout too often and walked at a league-average rate. Moreover, his swing and contact rates inside and outside (chase) the strike zone were better than average – top-20 in some cases. These accomplishments led to an OBP 14 points above average, which is certainly valuable to a lineup. Still, there’s been a longstanding concern regarding Crawford’s run production – a lack of power. A scouting report produced by MLB Pipeline discussed his light-hitting when he was at Class-AAA Lehigh Valley and a Top-100 prospect in 2017. Essentially, the California native’s batted balls have lacked the consistent explosiveness needed to regularly produce extra base hits. A great way to demonstrate this is with a modified form of my favorite advanced metric – 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. For this discussion, let’s consider Crawford’s xwOBA only on the balls when he made contact (xwOBACON). Doing so removes walks and strikeouts, which gives us a better idea on the potency of his batted balls. It turns out the Lakewood High School product’s .329 xwOBACON was well below league-average (.378) last year. In fact, he ranked 172nd of 184 hitters putting 100-plus balls in play (BIP). Crawford also placed low among his Seattle teammates with at least 50 BIP. Mariner xwOBACON Leaders: Evan White (.458) Ty France (.437) Dylan Moore (.433) Kyle Lewis (.432) José Marmolejos (.401) Kyle Seager (.364) Luis Torrens (.350) Tim Lopes (.331) J.P. Crawford (.329) Shed Long Jr. (.297) Dee Strange-Gordon (.262) When we view Crawford’s slugging prowess through the lens of more familiar conventional stats and advanced metrics, we receive confirmation of what xwOBACON has already told us – the pop in his bat was subpar. It wasn’t just in the home run department where Crawford trailed the league. His 4.7-percent extra-base hit percentage was well below the 7.0-percent MLB standard for 2020. Furthermore, the 16th overall pick of the 2013 draft recorded a .391 SLG in 2,645 minor-league plate appearances. In the majors, he owns a .359 SLG in 853 plate appearances. It’s worth noting adjustments resulting in a supercharged bat would likely lead to Crawford missing on swings more often than he does now. But trading some contact for added pop would be worth it assuming the outcome was more production. Ideally, a nice blend of quality and quantity would be preferred. Easier said than done, obviously. Ironically, another young Mariner experienced the exact opposite problem as Crawford did last year – Evan White. Seattle’s other 2020 Gold Glover struck balls extremely hard, but didn’t make contact often enough. Just for fun, I did a side-by-side comparison of the pair with each player’s glaring issues highlighted in red. Obviously, Seattle fans hope both Crawford and White take the next step in their development during the upcoming season. Both are young and have the potential to help form the core of a contending roster. Still, time may be running out for Crawford to influence his destiny with the Mariners. Next offseason, a relatively large class of premier shortstops are projected to hit the free agent market. Candidates potentially available to the Mariners and 29 other teams include Francisco Lindor, Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story. All are All-Stars, several were Silver Slugger winners, two were MVP finalists. If Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto felt his young roster gelled in 2021 and was on the verge of something special, would he pursue any of these acclaimed shortstops next winter? Perhaps, but it likely depends on how the Mariners view Crawford. Despite the absence of a power stroke, it’s understandable why Philadelphia drafted him so high and how his potential intrigued Dipoto. He’s hard-working, athletic, a great defender, and demonstrates excellent plate discipline. With more power, Seattle would have an all-star caliber player. A less expensive, younger option than the stars of next year’s free agent class. That’s why the upcoming season will be pivotal in determining Crawford’s future with the Mariners. Sticking with him past 2021 means Dipoto bypasses a chance at signing Lindor, Correa, Seager, Story, or Báez to anchor the middle of his infield. To date, a compelling argument can’t be made for keeping Crawford rather than pursue one of these star shortstops. Then again, there’s a full 162-game season approaching. It’ll give Crawford the opportunity to demonstrate he should be Seattle’s shortstop of the future. If he can thrive at the plate this year, Dipoto’s decision next offseason will be an easy one. Otherwise, the Mariners will continue searching for an adequate, long-term replacement for Álex Rodríguez two decades after he left the Emerald City. My Oh My…
When Mitch Haniger last appeared in a regular season game for the Seattle Mariners in June 2019, he was Seattle’s best player. Nearly two years later, Haniger may reclaim the “best Mariner” mantle in 2021. To some of you, the notion of Haniger having a better year than the Mariners’ growing stable of young studs sounds a bit far-fetched. Plus, there’s his health. Injuries, surgeries, and rehab setbacks have sidelined the Cal Poly product since June 6, 2019. And let’s not forget Haniger was having a subpar season when we last saw him. So, what’s driving my seemingly inane optimism in the face of everything I just mentioned? Two assumptions. Haniger is healthy and will remain so – there’s no reason to believe otherwise. A player of his ilk is able to identify and correct whatever was causing his below-average offensive production in 2019. Since I’m not a doctor and just a dumb blogger, I focused on Haniger’s 2019 statistics rather than his physical readiness. When doing so, I kept running across indicators suggesting swing mechanics may have played a central role in his down year. Again, I’m the dumb stats guy, not a hitting guru. But that was my takeaway. To see what I mean, let’s start by comparing Haniger’s offensive production at the time of his injury in 2019 to previous years. Very quickly, we see several things amiss. A Spike In Strikeouts After a breakout campaign in 2017, Haniger demonstrated even greater growth the following year with his first All-Star selection and an eleventh-place finish in MVP voting. Unfortunately, a spike in strikeouts sparked noticeable declines in every slash category in 2019. In 25 of Haniger’s 63 games in 2019, he struck out two-or-more times. By contrast, the right-handed hitter achieved this dubious milestone 35 times in 157 games the year prior and 27 times in 96 contests during the 2017 season. Strikeouts were definitely a problem for Haniger in 2019. Some of you may suggest strikeouts have been trending upwards across MLB over the last decade and Haniger’s spike in 2019 was a reflection of league-wide trends. It’s true the league’s strikeout rate has risen from 18.1-percent in 2011 to 23.4-percent last year. But strikeouts only increased by 0.7-percent across the majors in 2018-19. Haniger’s rate jumped nearly ten times that. Something else was going on with the Mariners’ right fielder. Dropping Contact Rates, Especially On Chase Pitches When we turn our attention to Haniger’s plate discipline numbers, we see a potential smoking gun to his sudden rise in strikeouts. In 2017-19, Haniger’s swing rates remained relatively stable whether he was targeting pitches in the strike zone or “chase” pitches off the plate. It’s worth noting the Californian didn’t expand the strike zone during his suboptimal 2019. When he went down in June, his 24.9-percent chase rate was 30th lowest among qualified MLB hitters. Still, we do see a negative turn with Haniger’s contact rates. The steepest decline coming on chase pitches. In 2018-19, the league-average chase contact rate hovered around 63-percent. In 2018, Haniger was just below average. But a year later, his 53.6-percent chase contact rate ranked 140th among 162 qualified hitters. Less Grounders, More Unproductive Airborne Balls When Haniger did make contact in 2019, he wasn’t generating enough line drives. The following illustrates the fifth-year major leaguer’s rates for ground balls, line drives, fly balls, and pop-ups. Also included, the MLB average for each category in 2020. Haniger’s rates were stable between 2017 and 2018, almost identical. But there were significant changes the following season. In a vacuum, a drop in ground balls sounds appealing. That’s until we notice he hit fewer line drives with significant climbs in fly balls and useless pop-ups. Just how important are line drives to Haniger or any hitter? Our next table answers that question by showing the distribution of doubles and home runs, plus the slash line success based on type of batted ball. Intuitively, we know line drives are great. But the differences between the outcome of liners compared to other batted balls is starker than some fans may realize. As you can see, some value can be derived from flyballs. But mostly on home runs and a relatively low number of extra base hits. If it’s not a dinger, a flyball more likely leads to an out than an on-base event. Ground balls can lead to runners on base, but not often enough. This is why consistently hitting grounders isn’t the strategy of big-league batters. The least fruitful batted ball is the pop-up. It’s almost as statistically ineffective to an offense as a strikeout. Missed It By That Much Based on his swing-and-miss problems and drop in well-struck balls in 2019, it seems reasonable Haniger’s issues could boil down to not finding the ball with the ‘sweet spot” of his bat often enough. If there was only a metric measuring this. Oh wait, there is. Naturally, the smart people at Baseball Savant found a way to quantify sweet spot success. Sweet Spot percentage (SwSp%) quantifies how often a hitter produces batted-ball events with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees. Balls hit within the sweet spot range create those very favorable line drives at a very high rate. With Haniger, we know his line drive rate dropped significantly in 2019 compared to the year prior when he was an All-Star. As you may have expected by now, the delta in his annual sweet spot percentage aligned with the decline in liners he experienced. The following illustrates Haniger’s sweet spot percentages in 2017-19, plus the MLB average for last season. After being above the league average in 2017-18, Haniger’s SwSp% was down nearly five points before he went to the IL in June 2019. To be clear, a high SwSp% doesn’t guarantee success. But striking the ball on the sweet spot is an essential element of making consistent quality contact. The amount of contact made is paramount also. Optimally, a hitter produces a smooth blend of quality and quantity – pitchers would prefer the opposite. In Haniger’s case, the negative delta in his SwSp% between the 2017-18 seasons and 2019 was the core issue – not the actual number itself. Not The First Time Haniger Scuffled It’s important to remember a key truth easily overlooked if we myopically stare at Statcast without context. Haniger’s 2019 season was a small-sample size – just 63 games. He may have corrected course if it weren’t for his season-ending injury. Haniger was slashing .244/.331/.520 with seven home runs and a 127 OPS+ in 142 plate appearances through the end of April 2019. It was after this point, in May-June, when his productivity went sideways. With this in mind, I searched for a period of similar length when Haniger scuffled in a comparable manner and then rebounded. I found one in his first year as a Mariner – June 23 through August 31, 2017. The numbers aren’t identical. Haniger struck out at a much higher rate in 2019, although he did earn many more free passes and hit for more power. But both periods were tough stretches for a player normally associated with top-shelf production. It’s worth noting Haniger missed time during the 2017 period after Jacob DeGrom of the Mets buzzed a fastball off his face. He’d bounce back in September capping off the season with seven home runs and a .353/.374/.613 slash line. Haniger’s September surge foreshadowed his outstanding 2018 campaign. Best Mariner, Again? For some, the sexy picks for best Mariner in 2021 will be shiny new names such as Kyle Lewis, Ty France, Taylor Trammell, and Jarred Kelenic. But don’t sleep on Haniger. Remember, he possesses something the youngsters don’t have yet – a proven record of sustained success in the majors. The issues at the heart of Haniger’s troubles in 2019 seem correctable to me, especially by such a talented and intense player with a legendary work ethic. As we’ve noted, it’s plausible he would’ve fixed himself with the benefit of time in 2019. Unfortunately, the injury bug had other plans. Since Cactus League stats are fool’s gold, it’ll be well into the regular season before we can reasonably assess how Haniger and his young teammates are performing in 2021. Regardless of how the upcoming season goes, it’ll be fun watching the Mariners’ youngsters arrive and attempt to thrive at the big-league level. Still, in this instance, I prefer age and experience over youth and potential. My preseason pick for best player on the Mariners in 2021 is Mitch Haniger. My Oh My…
We’re about three weeks from an announcement of the Seattle Mariners Opening Day roster and we’re a step or two closer than we were a week ago, not that there are a lot of questions remaining. But there are a few, so let’s talk this out. Starting Pitchers (6) Marco Gonzales (L) James Paxton (L) Yusei Kikuchi (L) Justus Sheffield (L) Chris Flexen (R) Justin Dunn (R) There appear to be five locks, provided they all remain healthy. I’m still projecting Dunn to the starting six because his greatest competition — Logan Gilbert and Nick Margevicius — have hurdles Dunn does not. Gilbert’s is a service time hurdle — no, it shouldn’t exist, but it does — and a potential concern about workload, though I don’t buy it as a standalone reason to leave Gilbert off the roster to start the season, especially considering he won’t have a place to pitch while he serves out his time. The Mariners should carry Gilbert, but if they want to carry Dunn, too, the club can simply begin the season with seven starters and adjust as arms get stretched out in late April and May. In this scenario, the Mariners wouldn’t have to use seven starters over seven days, they could piggyback Gilbert. If the club wants to ship Gilbert out once Triple-A begins in early May, hell have four or outings under his belt and can stretch out in Tacoma before getting recalled in May. Still, the Mariners have a decision to make on the of the other six starters before Gilbert can be added to the rotation. Dunn is the wild card. I’m on record saying Dunn was not of MLB quality last season and not only needs to be better in 2021, but if he doesn’t show vast improvement all spring warrants being optioned to the minors to start the season. At this point, I’m assuming the early returns on Dunn’s fastball this spring — up to 96 mph, more 92-95 than he showed in 2020 — holds up enough to lend the club the kind of upside confidence to give Dunn the nod over Margevicius. The leash may not be extremely long, but it’s up to Dunn. Who knows what the eventual move is when Gilbert becomes part of the rotation, but the possibilities are endless, including injury removing the decision from GM Jerry Dipoto‘s desk. Margevicius’ greatest obstacle is the club’s investment in Dunn and what may be at least a perceived advantage the right-hander has on his southpaw teammate in terms up ceiling. Relief Pitchers (8) Rafael Montero (R) Kendall Graveman (R) Anthony Misiewicz (L) Will Vest (R) Keynan Middleton (R) Casey Sadler (R) Brandon Brennan (R) Nick Margevicius (L) It’s clear that healthy arms attached to Montero, Graveman, Misiewicz, Vest and Middleton are surefire choices. Sadler is a strike-throwing right-hander with improved velocity the last two years and is out of options. Still making some assumptions here on health, which needs to be noted for all players, especially pitchers, and especially those with an injury history like Brennan, who has yet to make his spring debut. But as long as he’s good to go the sinkerballer is probably one of the eight relievers headed north to start the season — not that his spot is solid in the least. If he’s not healthy or struggles mightily with his control, the next in line likely are Matt Magill, Yohan Ramirez, and perhaps veteran Roenis Elias. I have Margevicius in the bullpen here to start the season, mostly because he’s one of the club’s best 14 arms, can cover a lot of innings in the middle of got-away games, and optioning him is the opposite of giving Scott Servais and Pete Woodworth the best possible staff to succeed. Ramirez has great raw stuff, and he survived on it last season, but unless the club sees reasons to believe he’ll throw strikes with some consistency the right-hander needs extended time in Triple-A to work on his delivery, particularly how his lower half leads him through release point. A healthy Magill was reliable in 2019 and one can argue he has just as much of a shot at Brennan. If we assume health for Magill, who had arthroscopic debridement surgery on his shoulder last September, he’s probably a favorite. He’s walked three batters in his one inning of work so far. We’ll see how this plays out for him. Vest, the Rule 5 pick, has struggled in two innings, allowing four hits and three earnies, but the club believes in his stuff enough to keep handing him the ball in a position earn his spot on the roster. If he’s a disaster this spring, however, the Mariners should find another option, of which there is no shortage, including Wyatt Mills, Joey Gerber, Ramirez, Elias, Magill, and Sam Delaplane. Taylor Guerrieri‘s battle is uphill, but there’s enough stuff to warrant middle innings work and he’s made it through two innings without a walk thus far. Paul Sewald is an underdog, but don’t count him out just yet. He’s missing bats and throwing strikes. JT Chargois has yet to make an appearance, but if he gets going soon enough has a chance to unseat one of the above eight arms. He didn’t pitch a year ago, but in 2019 with the Dodgers used a 95-97 mph fastball and 85-88 mph slider to post a 31.8% strikeout rate. He also found a way for the first time since 2016 in Triple-A to issue a walk less than 11.1% of the time (5.7%). Catchers (2) Tom Murphy (R) Luis Torrens (R) Barring an injury to either Murphy or Torrens, they’ll open the season as the catching tandem. The club has hinted the time share is likely to be a 55-60% to 40-45% in favor of the more experience Murphy. The question here is: What happens if there’s an early-season injury? Next on Baseball Things. Infielders (6) Evan White (R) Dylan Moore (R) J.P. Crawford (L) Kyle Seager (L) Ty France (R) Sam Haggerty (B) This situation is a bit tricky. Shed Long has yet to make his spring debut and the longer he’s out the lower his chances are he starts the season on the Opening Day roster. If it’s injury related — and remember, he had surgery on his lower leg last fall — the club has an easy out on the roster move. He does have an option remaining, though. But Long appears close to getting into an official game based on his activity in simulated action (he homered on a Montero fastball Saturday). Still, it’s difficult to assume he’ll be ready since the club will ask him to play not only second base but probably third base and left field, too. If Long is not ready, the last infielder spot may go to Sam Haggerty, who also can play the outfield. Remember, the Mariners do not need to carry a second shortstop — a position Haggerty can fake for the short term … he’s a better fit at second, but at which Long has zero experience — since projected second baseman Moore can handle the position in case of injury or late-inning weirdness with Crawford. In this projection, I have Long behind schedule, but that can change quickly. Moore and France both can back up White at first. France is Seager’s backup at third. Long and Haggerty both are capable at second, as is France, so the club is covered there no matter which way this group is completed. Outfielders (4) Mitch Haniger (R) Kyle Lewis (R) Jake Fraley (L) Braden Bishop (R) This could be a three-player position group if Long is healthy and makes the club, so keep an eye on that. Both Long and Moore have experience in the outfield, and if Haggerty makes the club he’s essentially as capable as is Moore. With Jarred Kelenic expected to miss at least some time this month with a minor knee tweak, it appears his chances to break camp with the big club are all but gone, leaving open the door for Fraley, and perhaps Bishop, who has made a few minor adjustments with his setup and swing in order to get started sooner and give himself a better chance to handle velocity. One of the buzz names in camp right now is Taylor Trammell, but it seems his chances to break camp as part of the 26-man roster are close to zero. My fear is the Mariners will strongly consider Jose Marmoleos ahead of Fraley, even though he’s below-average defensively and can’t play center (Fraley can) or offer value on the bases (Fraley does). Once Kelenic is up, the misfit is Fraley/Marmolejos, however, not Bishop, based on a combination of handedness and defensive prowess. This is going to be interesting.
Seattle Mariners Managing Partner and Chairman John Stanton faces a franchise-defining crossroads. The path Stanton chooses will be abundantly clear once the Mariners replace former President and CEO Kevin Mather. If the team makes an internal hire, it signals the organization prefers staying within its comfort zone at a time when getting outside help to challenge deep-rooted paradigms would be the best course of action. Let’s face it, Seattle’s baseball club has been mired in mediocrity, unable to get out of its own way for nearly two decades. Hanging over the team like a dark cloud is the longest active postseason drought in North American professional sports. It’s an organization desperately needing a facelift, not more of the same. Promoting from within facilitates remaining an afterthought on the national stage rather than becoming an industry leader. Strong words, I know. But my opinions on leading an organization were forged by decades of experience in the U.S. Navy. A baseball team may seem a far cry from a military unit, but the same basic leadership tenets apply to both. Leading through personal example, moral responsibility, self-accountability, open dialogue, and sincere interest in people. Editor: Luke retired from the Navy in 2014 with the rank of Commander. He worked in the Naval Aviation community making seven forward deployments on four different aircraft carriers. His assignments included leadership roles with combatant commands, various DOD agencies, and even a tour at FEMA HQ in Washington, D.C. His 33-year career culminated as a Commanding Officer of a unit stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. And that brings us to Mather and the culture permitting his improper behavior to persist for an extended period. Let’s not overlook the fact Mather had been with the team for 25 years until resigning last week following outrageously insensitive and inappropriate comments to a Rotary Club breakfast group. The disrespectful views publicly expressed towards people inside and outside his organization wasn’t a first-time transgression for the long-time club executive – far from it. Thanks to diligent journalism by the Seattle Times, we know the Mariners made financial settlements with women filing sexual harassment complaints filed against Mather over a decade ago. But he wasn’t a lone wolf gone rogue. Mather’s predecessor as team President – Chuck Armstrong – and now-former Executive Vice President Bob Aylward were also named in grievances. Inflaming the situation, all three men remained within the Mariners family with Mather being promoted twice into positions of greater authority and influence. Defenders of Stanton and his partners can say majority ownership of the Mariners was in the hands of others at the time of the sexual harassment incidents. True, but Stanton and the minority owners comprising the new partnership are holdovers from the previous regime. Mariners chairman emeritus John Ellis emphasized this point at the time of the sale’s approval by MLB. “There’s not a soul, other than the people retiring, that will be impacted, because all of these same partners are still involved.” – Mariners chairman emeritus John Ellis Essentially, the transfer of team ownership more resembled a game of musical chairs in the boardroom than an actual changing of the guard. Then, there are Stanton’s own words. During a press conference following Mather’s resignation, Stanton, a minority owner since 2000, stated more than once he didn’t agree with the assertion Mather’s recent public comments created a trust problem with its fan base, staff, and player personnel. Stanton declared, “I don’t agree with the premise.” He later commented, “I don’t think that the trust has been completely eroded” and “You build trust over time, and you build that relationship by communicating honestly, consistently.” Stanton’s statements remind me of a phrase uttered daily in the Navy. “One ‘aw, shit’ wipes out a thousand attaboys.” Unfortunately, Mr. Stanton, your former CEO’s commentary in front of a group he perceived as friendly erased a tremendous amount of goodwill your organization has built up. Particularly when the controversial statements came from a senior executive with sexual harassment complaints on his résumé. In reality, Mather burned through a great deal of your club’s reputation-equity during a 40-minute Zoom call. Perhaps trust in the organization hasn’t completely eroded. But the Mariners certainly face a crisis of confidence. Winning back the faith of skeptical fans won’t be easy or a short-term undertaking. That’s why now is the time for a fresh message delivered by a new voice, not a familiar face. Hiring an outsider would go against the Mariners’ normal status quo approach. But an agent of change is what this team needs. Someone not tethered to franchise history or personal relationships. A leader with the necessary authority to enact change and the charisma to sell employees, players, and the fan base on the team’s new direction. It simply can’t be someone with ties to Stanton or other owners. Assume for a moment the Mariners were willing to hire someone from outside the organization with a national profile. The name mentioned most often is former Cubs and Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, who currently works for MLB. Epstein’s credentials are exemplary. He led two organizations with World Series droughts spanning over a century to championships. But there’s a critical factor to consider when discussing Epstein or other qualified candidates from the outside. The appetite of ownership to change course with an unfamiliar face at the helm. An outsider will address uncomfortable truths with people throughout the organization – including ownership. Will team leadership, who has a reputation for being allergic to criticism, embrace the concept of self-assessment and potentially receiving negative feedback? The truth will set you free, but it can hurt. It is plausible ownership opts to split Mather’s President and CEO duties between two people. Doing so would make sense. Perhaps giving one person so much authority negatively affected the overall effectiveness and efficiency of the franchise. In that case, adding an outsider CEO and promoting Executive Vice President and GM Jerry Dipoto to the President’s position would have merit. Dipoto is the best thing to happen to the Mariners’ baseball operations since Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick left Seattle after the 2003 season. Perhaps elevating the sixth-year GM permits him to avoid undue influence from a President/CEO more focused on dollars and cents than building a sustainable winner the way Dipoto believes is best. Moving forward, the competence and character of ownership will determine whether the team regains the trust and confidence of its fan base. Mather’s inappropriate behavior and the organization’s willingness to retain and subsequently promote him speaks volumes about its culture. Not just to fans, but more importantly, to employees forced to work under someone with a documented history of disrespect and intolerance. A team owner, like a Navy Commanding Officer, sets the moral tone for the organization. As managing partner, Stanton can pivot his organization in a new and much more promising direction with the counsel of an outside voice. The alternative isn’t as appealing. More of the same. Big promises. No results. That would be an unfortunate outcome for all involved. My Oh My…
When a club has a strong far system getting deeper as you read this, it’s always fun to crosscheck it with other current collections of talent. One way to do that is by objectively identifying how far down one club’s rankings lies a prospect that would rank No. 1 in at least one other club’s system. That list extends beyond the club’s consensus Top 20 prospects, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, so let’s start digging. Two Reminders: Prospect rankings are subjective, but in identifying orgs where Mariners prospects would rank No. 1 for me I’ll be as objective as possible. And rankings don’t dictate how a player will turn out as a major leaguer. It’s only a potential manifestation of talent and developing skills. Rankings, no matter who is putting them together, no matter how many sources are utilized, no matter the evaluation skills of the ranker, should be taken as general indicators. Many times the ‘who’s going to be better?’ is correct, but it’s not an exact science. 1. Jarred Kelenic, OF No. 1: All but Tampa Bay (Wander Franco), Baltimore (Adley Rutschman). Maybe: Detroit (Spencer Torkelson), San Diego (MacKenzie Gore) Kelenic would be No. 2 in at least 25 organizations and as many as 27, allowing for some difference in opinion. I’d rank him No. 1 for both the Tigers and Padres. 2. Julio Rodriguez, OF No 1: All but Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Detroit, San Diego, Pittsburgh (Ke’Bryan Hayes). Maybe: Kansas City (Bobby Witt), Toronto (Nate Pearson). I would rank Rodriguez No. 1 for Kansas City, but not Toronto. 3. Emerson Hancock, RHP No. 1: Houston Astros (Forrest Whitley), Philadelphia Phillies (Spencer Howard), Boston Red Sox (Jeter Downs, Tristan Casas), Arizona Diamondbacks (Corbin Carroll, Kristian Robinson), New York Mets (Francisco Alvarez), Los Angeles Angels (Brandon Marsh), Colorado Rockies (Zac Veen), Los Angeles Dodgers (Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray), Cincinnati Reds (Nick Lodolo), Chicago Cubs (Brailyn Marquez), Texas Rangers (Josh Jung), Milwaukee Brewers (Garrett Mitchell), Washington Nationals (Cade Cavalli). Maybe: Cleveland Indians (Nolan Jones), New York Yankees (Jasson Dominguez). I would rank Hancock ahead of both Jones and Dominguez, but it’s close to a toss-up with Jones. 4. Logan Gilbert, RHP No. 1: Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals. Maybe: Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees. I would rank Gilbert ahead of Dominguez but not Jones. It’s admittedly a toss-up at the end of the day. 5. Noelvi Marte, SS/3B No. 1: Nationals Marte would also rank No. 2 for about a dozen clubs, including the Brewers. He may also get the nod at No. 2 for the Rangers. 6. George Kirby, RHP No. 1: Nationals Like Marte, Kirby likely would rank No. 2 for about a dozen clubs, Brewers included. The Rangers wouldn’t be far off, but I think he’d slide in behind Jung and Sam Huff for now. 7. Taylor Trammell, OF Maybe: Nationals Trammell would rank No. 2 for the Nationals, if not No. 1, and would get No. consideration for the Brewers. 8. Cal Raleigh, C Raleigh wouldn’t rank No. 1 or 2 for any clubs for me, but would slide in at No. 3 for 8-12 clubs and would be Top 5 for roughly half the league. The Mariners’ No. 9 prospect, left-hander Brandon Williamson, might get into a few Top 5s, and the lowest-ranked Mariners prospect I think would have a shot to get into a Top 5 is probably Isaiah Campbell (No. 10) or Juan Then (No. 11). I see a handful of Mariners prospects ranked between 16-23 that would at least threaten some clubs Top 10. Zach DeLoach, Jonatan Clase, Austin Shenton, Sam Carlson and Andres Munoz would get into a few Top 10s and both Connor Phillips and Levi Stoudt, who have fires lit under them and should move up the ladder fast after some performance, aren’t far behind. There’s been some folks wondering why Baseball America has Seattle as the No. 2 far, system — reminder, farm rankings don’t matter — and The Athletic’s Keith Law has them at No. 13. But when taking into consideration the probability there’s little relative difference between No. 13 and No. 5, if not No. 2, it’s no longer a ‘what-in-the-world’ level inquiry. But the Mariners’ system is not perfect. They lack starting pitching depth after the top three arms, though it’s far from a bare cupboard and the likes of Williamson, Campbell, Then, Carlson, Stoudt, and Phillips can fill those gaps with some game production this summer, and there’s almost nothing up the middle. Cal Raleigh is the lone projectable big-league regular at catcher or second base, and even shortstop is empty if Marte has to slide to third, which is the prevailing belief even if not a foregone conclusions (I repeat, NOT a foregone conclusion). I also happen to disagree with Law on the Cardinals and Twins having better systems than Seattle and I’d debate Seattle has at least temporarily surpassed the Dodgers and Padres. I think the Diamondbacks, ranked No. 5 by Law, is the most overrated system on Law’s list, but that’s just my opinion.
Seattle Mariners catcher Luis Torrens has put in a great deal of effort into improving his defensive skills. But we shouldn’t overlook Torrens’ bat when assessing his future with the Mariners. There are indicators suggesting he could eventually deliver more production to Seattle’s lineup than he has up to this point of his young career. Torrens arrived in the Emerald City last August with Ty France, Andres Muñoz, and minor leaguer Taylor Trammell via a trade sending Austin Nola, Austin Adams, and Dan Altavilla to San Diego. At the time, most attention was focused on Trammell (top-100 prospect), France (possible third baseman of future), and Muñoz (potential closer). Not the likely backup to Tom Murphy in 2021 and eventually the organization’s top catching prospect, Cal Raleigh. So why my interest in Torrens, a projected reserve? An intriguing average exit velocity with San Diego and Seattle in 2020. How many Mariners fans realize the Venezuela native’s 92.3-MPH exit velocity was highest on the team last season ahead of Evan White (91.1)? But there’s more. It turns out Torrens’ 57.1-percent hard hit rate with the Padres and Mariners last year was fourth highest among MLB hitters with 50-plus batted balls. Check out the impressive names surrounding Seattle’s newest catcher on the following list. For anyone not familiar with Ke’Bryan Hayes, he’s an early favorite for 2021 NL Rookie of the Year after an impressive 24-game debut with the Pirates last season. Highest Hard Hit Rate (50 Batted Ball Min) Fernando Tatís Jr. – 62.2% (SDP) Travis d’Arnaud – 57.8% (ATL) Miguel Sanó – 57.3% (MIN) Luis Torrens – 57.1% (SEA) Ronald Acuña Jr. – 57% (ATL) Corey Seager – 55.9% (LAD) Eloy Jiménez – 55.7% (CWS) Christian Yelich – 55.6% (MIL) Ke’Bryan Hayes – 55.4% (PIT) Mike Trout – 55.1% (LAA) Yes, Torrens’ 78 plate appearances last year equate to a small sample size and should keep our expectations in check. On the other hand, conventional and advanced stats from his 2019 campaign with Class-AA Amarillo hint at an ability to deliver value with his bat. The following illustrates the right-handed hitter’s numbers with the Sod Poodles (!!) two years ago. Also on display, how each stat compared to 225 AA players with 300-plus plate appearances. Torrens’s strikeout and walk rates ranked in the top 25-percent in 2019. Moreover, his slash-line was particularly robust with only two players in the entire Padres farm system recording a higher wRC+. MLB Pipeline’s number-45 prospect Luis Campusano (148) and Torren’s current teammate, France (196). It’s worth noting France led all minor leaguers in wRC+; Julio Rodríguez (164) led the Mariners’ system. Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. Every point above 100 represents a percentage point above average. League-average is always 100. As I wrote recently, approaching MiLB statistics with caution is advisable. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we can’t glean something from them. For example, consider the transformation in Nola’s production numbers after joining the Mariners organization. We now know Nola enjoyed a breakthrough in 2019 when he made changes to his approach suggested by the Mariners. The result was a reduction in groundballs and improved power numbers. His success first materialized with Class-AAA Tacoma and then followed him to the majors as a rookie and in 2020. Could Seattle help Torrens in a similar manner? Obviously, every player is unique in so many ways. Still, Torrens would certainly benefit from putting more well struck balls in the air rather than driving them into the ground. Here’s what the groundball rates of both Torrens and Nola looked like in the years leading up to the 2019-20 season. Imagine if Torrens could reduce his groundball rate, as Nola did, and continued to have a high hard hit rate. Maybe he won’t ever be top-10, as was the case in 2020. But an above-average hard hit rate coupled with a lower groundball rate could unleash a potentially potent bat. Perhaps my notion Torrens could thrive offensively is simply the byproduct of excessive staring at Statcast data until seeing something I wanted to see. If that’s the case, he still projects to be a solid backup to Murphy and/or Raleigh. On the other hand, what if Torrens were able supercharge his bat with a change in swing mechanics? Perhaps then, he could elevate himself to being a serious contender for Seattle’s starting catcher job. Sound unrealistic? Maybe, but consider this. How many Mariners fans were aware of a catcher named Austin Nola at the beginning of the 2019 season? My Oh My…. [tipjarwp id=”2″]
We’re eight months from the end of the 2021 Major League Baseball season, and a lot will happen between now and then. One of those things is movement in the prospect ranks. Players develop at different paces, others will graduate, and new ones will be added to each club’s farm system. Aside from the ultimate additions in July — International free agents, the draft, deadline trades — let’s take a look at how the Seattle Mariners’ Top 10 Prospects might look. I expect two players currently in the Top 10 to graduate, and it’s possible a third, Taylor Trammell, and a fourth, Cal Raleigh, also exceed the 130 at-bat limits to maintain rookie and prospect status, and I’m going to assume both do. The other six — Julio Rodriguez, Emerson Hancock, Noelvi Marte, George Kirby, Brandon Williamson and Isaiah Campbell will remain prospects through 2021. There’s a chance the club’s first-round pick (No. 12) and top international signing could factor in, but for this exercise I will make no assumptions. This is just hypothetical in every way, so, try not to take this too seriously, eh? No. 1 Julio Rodriguez, RF Rodriguez should be challenged in the upper minors this season, starting in Double-A Arkansas, but it’s difficult to see him show anything but progress, even if the numbers may not always scream it. No. 2 Emerson Hancock, RHP Hancock’s full arsenal and command should allow him to cruise into Double-A, perhaps by season’s end if there are enough innings in the plan. No. 3 George Kirby, RHP Kirby doesn’t have the raw stuff of Hancock or Logan Gilbert at this stage, but he might be able to command-and-feel his way through High-A West, and I expect more mid-90s heat. No. 4 Noelvi Marte, SS/3B Marte has as much room to show out as anyone on this list, but there’s also a strong possibility he runs into a few hurdles at the plate and doesn’t move quite as quick through Low-A West as Rodriguez did the Sally League back in 2019. No. 5 Brandon Williamson, LHP A consistently-plus curveball with more velocity than he showed over 15.1 innings in Everett two summers ago would offer a more bullish projection for the left-hander. No. 6 Juan Then, RHP There are questions about Then’s future role, but the last time he was on a mound he was 91-95 mph with an average slider. There are signs he’s sharpened the breaking ball to significant levels and gas camp has offered at least another tick. If he holds most of the velocity deep into starts and his changeup flashes viable or better, he’ll shoot up the ranks. No. 7 Zach DeLoach, OF DeLoach lacks a standout tool, but his best attributes are strike zone judgment, swing consistency, and athleticism, all of which should play well in either Low-A West or High-A West. No. 8 Levi Stoudt, RHP Nearly two years off Tommy John and having yet to throw a pitch in a professional game, there’s reason to curb expectations. But the fastball-changeup combo is good enough to dominate Low-A West. An average breaker and he could see Everett for a bit. No. 9 Isaiah Campbell, RHP Campbell’s fastball-changeup is competitive and his slider should be a weapon for him against Class-A bats, but the development of his slider and/or curveball is key to his future. No. 10 Jonatan Clase, CF I guess Clase is my guy. He’s raw at the plate and unrefined in the field, but he’s a 70 runner with bat speed and some present ability to work the zone. He’ll turn 19 in May, but if he sees full-season ball it’s a great sign.
As the Seattle Mariners prepare for the 2021 season — Year 3 of the rebuild — let’s look three years ahead to what things might look like as a result of improved scouting and development under GM Jerry Dipoto. A couple of notes first: Contract length and team control years are taken into consideration. For example, Kendall Graveman‘s contract expires at season’s end and he will then qualify for free agency. Therefore, he will not be included in the following projections. Contract Options will be exercised in reasonable situations, such as Marco Gonzales‘ $15 million option for 2024. No additions will be made by any route except organic growth through the existing farm system. No trades, no free agents, no future draft picks or international signings. Age listed below is on Opening Day 2024 ‘Contract’ reflects current contract length, full years of service, or arbitration status entering the season. * denotes contract has further options I chose 2024, three years out, rather than two, to demonstrate how strong the club’s organic growth could be, even that far down the road. Vast improvement without using up a lot of assets is often a precursor to deep playoff runs. Ask the Astros, Braves, Cubs, Cleveland, Twins and many others. ROTATION POS PLAYER AGE CONTRACT SP1 Emerson Hancock 24 1.0 SP2 Logan Gilbert 26 2.0 SP3 Marco Gonzales 32 THRU ’24 SP4 George Kirby 26 1.0 SP5 Justus Sheffield 27 ARB2 Gilbert is going to be the first of the future crop of arms to get to the big leagues, but Hancock carries the biggest upside. Brandon Williamson, Levi Stoudt, Sam Carlson, Isaiah Campbell, Adam Macko, and Juan Then will be in consideration by 2024 and could unseat one of the above 5, or replace them if the club trades one or, in Marco Gonzales’ case, declines the option. Sheffield could fit in a relief role if he’s unseated in the rotation. POS PLAYER AGE CONTRACT CL Andres Munoz 25 ARB2 SU Juan Then 24 2.0 SU Levi Stoudt 26 2.0 SU Isaiah Campbell 26 2.0 For this exercise today I am projecting Then, Stoudt, and Campbell to the bullpen. Connor Phillips could end up there and be a factor by ’24, too, and both Wyatt Mills and Sam Delaplane could remain factors. POS PLAYER AGE CONTRACT 1B Evan White 27 *THRU ’25 2B Dylan Moore 31 ARB3 3B Noelvi Marte 22 R SS J.P. Crawford 29 ARB4 C Cal Raleigh 27 2.0 LF Jarred Kelenic 24 2.0 CF Kyle Lewis 28 ARB2 RF Julio Rodriguez 23 1.0 DH Ty France 29 ARB2 Neither Moore nor Crawford are the best bets to still be around. There remains an outside chance Marte sticks at shortstop, which could open third base for Austin Shenton or Ty France, the two best in-house bets to man the position in 2022 and 2023. Milkar Perez may be in the third-base picture by 2024. Shed Long could be a factor at second base, followed by Kaden Polcovich. Taylor Trammell and Zach DeLoach will be in play in the outfield before 2024.
Before we discuss the best tools in the Seattle Mariners organization, let me declare something here: I left a lot of 60-grade tools and pitches on the cutting room floor, and a few 70 fastballs. There are more 70-grade and 60-grade tools in the Top 40 this year than I’ve ever seen in my now-18 years scouting and ranking Mariners prospects. At the height of the Jack Zduriencik era in terms of farm systems — 2013 when they ranked top 10 by most outlets, No. 8 by Keith Law — when the likes of Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin, and James Paxton were all Top 100 prospects by most accounts. Looking back at my 2013 spreadsheets for Mariners rankings, Walker had the best OFP at 55, followed by Hulzen at 54, Zunino and Paxton at 52, and Franklin at 50.5. Brad Miller came in at 50, Brandon Maurer at 47.5, Luiz Gohara at 45, Gabriel Guerrero at 45 and Julio Morban at 44. In order, that entire group of 10 would rank like this. 5. Walker 6. Hultzen 8. Zunino, Paxton 11. Franklin 14. Miller 17. Maurer (tied) 22. Gohara, Guerrero (tied) 26. Morban (tied) And that was the best year under the previous regime. Want to compare to the year Dipoto took over in Seattle? Here it is against this year’s group: 4. Kyle Lewis 9. Tyler O’Neill 14. Nick Neidert 16. Drew Jackson 22. D.J. Peterson 24. Chris Torres 26. Max Povse 27. Braden Bishop 28. Daniel Vogelbach 32. Brayan Hernandez This was the club’s Top 10 entering the 2016 season. More context: In 2013 — again, Zduriencik’s best farm system by most accounts (maybe all) — My No. 23 prospect was LHP Jordan Shipers, with a 39.5 grade. Right now I have to go 42 prospects deep to get below 40.0. There are lots of 40.0s in the 30s and 40s, but it doesn’t dip below until No. 49, catcher Matt Scheffler. This system has changed. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Hit Jarred Kelenic 70 Zach DeLoach and Austin Shenton share runners-up honors, but Kelenic is the best hitter in the system. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Power Julio Rodriguez 70 Kelenic, Noelvi Marte, and Starling Aguilar each have 60-grade power at varying stages of development, but Tyler Keenan grades out somewhere between the aforementioned trip and Rodriguez’s 70. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Athlete Jonatan Clase N/A Kelenic is in this conversation, as is Marte, but Trammell is the runner-up behind Clase, whose 70 speed and electric, quick-twitch actions give him a chance to stick in center for the long haul. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Outfield Arm Julio Rodriguez 70 Kelenic and Braden Bishop, among others, come in around grade-60, but no one seriously threatens Rodriguez’s crown here. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Defensive Catcher Cal Raleigh 55 Carter Bins isn’t far behind in tools but Raleigh is more advanced at this stage. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Infield Arm Milkar Perez 70 Marte has a 60-grade arm, Aguilar too, but Juan Querecuto rivals Perez’s 70-grade. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Defensive Infielder Juan Querecuto 60 Querecuto is still raw at the plate but is instinctual in the field, has very good hands and feet, and that big arm to finish off plays. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Defense Outfielder Braden Bishop 70 Bishop’s heart rate is undetectable as he plays center field, showing elite routes and tracking skills and very good jumps. He also has a good arm. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Fastest Baserunner Jonatan Clase 70 Despite going from 155 pounds to the 185 range since he last took the field in the DSL in 2019, Clase still is explosive with his first step and accelerates to game-changing speed within a few steps. He might not hold this crown a year from now with the club’s international efforts recently, but no one else is all that close at the moment. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Fastball Andres Munoz 80 Prior to his elbow surgery, Munoz sat 96-100 mph and touched 103 mph in his short time in the big leagues. Of the 185 fastballs he’s thrown in MLB, 128 have registered at 100 mph or higher. Oh, and the pitch has life and run, too. **shrugs** If we split it up between pitching roles, Logan Gilbert would get the honor for starters thanks to life and run on what projects to average around 94 mph. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Curveball Sam Delaplane 65 Gilbert and Brandon Williamson would win the award for starters, and Williamson’s breaker has room to surpass both. Delaplane’s is a tight-spinning power curveball with late downward break, capable of generating whiffs in the big leagues. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Slider Emerson Hancock 60 Yohan Ramirez has the best slider among relievers, but Hancock’s 60-grade can be dominant when he’s tunnelling with his fastball and changeup. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Changeup Levi Stoudt 60 Hancock’s changeup belongs in the conversation for runner-up, but Stoudt has a chance at an eventual 70-grade dead fish. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Control George Kirby 70 Kirby has plus-plus control and plus command of his fastball and uses the skills to attack the entire zone and beyond with purpose.
POSTED: No. 2 — Julio Rodriguez, RF POSTED: No. 3 — Emerson Hancock, RHP POSTED: No. 4 — Logan Gilbert, RHP POSTED: No. 5 — Noelvi Marte, SS/3B POSTED: 6-10 — Three arms, a speedy outfielder, and the catcher POSTED: 11-20 — Upside and heat POSTED: 21-30 — Highlighted by young CF, relief help POSTED: 31-40 — Five Arms and power upside Monday, March 1: Best Tools Tuesday, March 2: How many Mariners prospects would be No. 1 elsewhere? Wednesday March 3: Projected 2024 Lineup, Rotation, Bullpen 1. Jarred Kelenic, OF Kelenic brings strength, speed, instincts, power and hitting to the field daily, and has performed well since Day 1 after the New York Mets tabbed him at No. 6 overall in 2018. Fun Note: Former one-time Prospect Insider writer Chris Hervey is credited as Kelenic’s signing scout. The left-handed batter has flashed plus hitting skills, including good plate coverage and an advanced ability to dissect situational counts. The swing is short, the bat speed is plus and it results in a powerful, compact swing he trusts versus good velocity. Combined with his ability to make consistent hard contact and find the barrel, Kelenic may be able to get to and beyond 30 home runs. He’s always done a good job avoiding the chase, but in Modesto in 2019 showed a tendency to lean out and over the plate for something to drive, which in turn made it more difficult to get to hard stuff up and/or in — pitches that ended up on his hands, yet in the zone. Kelenic’s instincts in the batter’s box are very good, and he’s already adept at using the middle of the field. He’s yet to see a steady diet of big velo and ungodly breaking balls — the best pitching he’s seen came against his own teammates last summer — but he’s been astute at avoiding getting longer with his swing, allowing him to battle effectively. He’s a plus runner with enough range to handle center, at least for the first several years of his career, but the Mariners pushed him primarily to left field at the Alternate Training Site where he was asked to clean up some basics. Despite the present speed, Kelenic has added size and strength and likely will continue down that path, so he may end up above-average, instead, suggesting he’s not likely to swipe a lot of bags, though he reads pitchers well and offers well above-average value on the bases. Kelenic’s offensive future is bright, but whether he’s a star or merely a solid player may depend on if he can remain disciplined with his game plan and let the power happen as a result of a premium swing. A power-driven approach means decreased contacts rates, therefore a strain on his batting average and on-base percentage. If he can stay within his strengths, we may be staring down a .320 hitter capable of 40 doubles and 30 homers. Despite recent even in the Mariners organization regarding service time manipulation, Kelenic is likely to start 2021 in Tripe-A Tacoma where he would receive valuable time versus a varied lot of experienced pitching. It’s easy to forget he’s played just 17 games above the California League and won’t be 22 years of age until July. If he indeed misses out on an Opening-Day assignment with the parent club, his time in Tacoma could be anywhere from 2-8 weeks, which heavier emphasis on the short side. Kelenic currently represents the Mariners’ best chance at a superstar. ETA: 2021 MLB COMPS CEILING: Matt Holliday MEDIAN: Trot Nixon FLOOR: Troy O’Leary Sure, Holliday is a right-handed batter and was bigger than Kelenic, but he was an underrated athlete who played a strong left field in his prime, and the dude raked. Granted, he represents the ceiling projection for Kelenic, but he did post three 6-win season, one of them a 7-win effort, plus three other 4-win years and two seasons of 3-plus wins. I’ve seen some Grady Sizemore comps for Kelenic, and those fit in a lot of ways, too, but such a comp doesn’t represent Kelenic’s hit tool nearly well enough, which is the same reason I don’t like the Bryce Harper comp some have broached, nor Lance Berkman comp due to defense and baserunning. Kelenic is better defensively than Holliday, and may get a chance to play some center field, where he projects at least as good as Mike Trout, potentially increasing his chances to compete for an MVP in his prime. Nixon posted four seasons of 3-plus wins, two others at more than 2.5 and peaked in 2003 at 5.0 fWAR. He had problems staying on the field, but posted a career .274/.364/.464 triple-slash, serving as a promising median comp for Kelenic. TOOLS HIT POWER FIELD RUN THROW OFP 65 60+ 55 55 60 60.5 NO PLAYER POS ETA BEST TOOL 2021 2 Julio Rodriguez RF 2022 POWER AA 3 Emerson Hancock RHP 2023 SLIDER A+/AA 4 Logan Gilbert RHP 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 5 Noelvi Marte SS 2023 POWER A/A+ 6 George Kirby RHP 2023 COMMAND A+/AA 7 Taylor Trammell LF 2021 HIT AAA/MLB 8 Cal Raleigh C 2021 POWER AAA/MLB 9 Brandon Williamson LHP 2023 FASTBALL A+/AA 10 Isaiah Campbell RHP 2023 FASTBALL A/A+ 11 Juan Then RHP 2022 FASTBALL A+/AA 12 Zach DeLoach CF 2023 HIT A+ 13 Jonatan Clase CF 2025 RUN A/A+ 14 Austin Shenton 3B 2022 HIT AA 15 Sam Carlson RHP 2024 FASTBALL R/A 16 Andres Munoz RHP 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 17 Connor Phillips RHP 2023 FASTBALL R/A 18 Levi Stoudt RHP 2023 FASTBALL A/A+ 19 Jake Fraley OF 2021 HIT AAA/MLB 20 Milkar Perez 3B 2024 HIT R/A 21 Ljay Newsome RHP 2021 COMMAND AAA/MLB 22 Anthony Misiewicz LHR 2021 CURVEBALL MLB 23 Will Vest RHR 2021 FASTBALL MLB 24 George Feliz CF 2025 HIT R 25 Braden Bishop CF 2021 FIELD AAA/MLB 26 Yohan Ramirez RHR 2021 SLIDER AAA/MLB 27 Joey Gerber RHR 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 28 Adam Macko LHP 2024 CURVEBALL A/A+ 29 Wyatt Mills RHR 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 30 Sam Delaplane RHR 2021 CURVEBALL AAA/MLB 31 Carter Bins C 2023 FIELD A+/AA 32 Alberto Rodriguez OF 2024 HIT A 33 Aaron Fletcher LHR 2021 SLIDER AAA/MLB 34 Kaden Polcovich 2B 2023 HIT A/A+ 35 Damon Casetta-Stubbs RHP 2024 FASTBALL A/A+ 36 Michael Limoncelli RHP 2025 CURVEBALL R 37 Kristian Cardozo RHP 2026 CURVEBALL R 38 Starlin Aguilar OF 2026 POWER R 39 Tyler Keenan 1B 2023 POWER A/A+ 40 Taylor Dollard RHP 2023 CHANGEUP A