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!

John Stanton, Seattle Mariners

Mariners fans have long been tired of the press for patience. And who can blame them? It’s been 20 years since their home team made the postseason, and 18 since it won 90 or more games. But when a group led by John Stanton purchased the Mariners in 2016 the deal brought new hope. Five years later and the short leash fans gave the new group is gone. And it should be. When Jerry Dipoto took over as GM and VP of Baseball Operations prior to the 2016 season, it was clear what needed to happen. The organization needed a rebuild. A foundational top to bottom, left to right, tear-it-down, build-it-up. The problem at the time was the roster was aging, expensive and had two mega contracts, which complicated starting a rebuild, and Stanton may not have liked the idea of spending, in the form of covering portions of contracts, to start over in 2016. So Dipoto and company began their tenure running the club in ‘do-what-you-with-what-you-have’ mode. And they did. It was a mediocre team at best at the time and continued to be the first two years. Once 2018 hit, a few things began to pan out and the team win 89 games. I’ve read a lot of criticism about the club’s decision to rebuild after winning 89 games. Some of the reasons I’ve heard and read include “they were an 89-win team, build on THAT,” and “if you can’t take an 89-win team and get to 95 from that you’re a terrible GM.” But the fact is, it was the perfect time to turn it over: Robinson Cano was 35, had half his $240 million contract remaining, and had just come off a suspension for testing positive for banned substances. But he performed well after the suspension, so if a team was willing to take on a good portion of the $120 million left, do it and don’t look back. Edwin Diaz had an elite, and unrepeatable, season as the club’s closer. He’d yet to hit arbitration status and there were four years left of contract control. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about relievers over the years, it’s their insane level of volatility. Feliz Hernandez’s contract had two more guaranteed years, rather than five (at the start of Dipoto’s tenure) The club was out from under the contract of Nelson Cruz after the ’18 season, too, which isn’t a reason to start a rebuild, and it wasn’t a hindrance to house the deal it was a bargain, but having Cruz, Cano, Kyle Seager, and Hernandez was a great hamper to rebuilding, and was actually a bit of an opportunity to see what the roster could do, despite having very little opportunity to go add significant pieces (see: near-empty farm system, available financial assets stretched to a top-10, $175M payroll. Waiting and trying to make the most of the 2018 roster with an aging Hernandez, Cano, and Seager pulling away from his prime, no farm system, no significant financial flexibility — seriously, that roster wasn’t one $15 million player away, it was two stars and three average players (maybe $50-60 million proven players) from being a 95-plus win team — would have been a disaster. They would have lost out on the chance to take advantage of Diaz’s career year — it’s still by far his best year and may always be that way — shed a large chunk of Cano’s remaining contract, maximize the value of James Paxton and Mike Zunino, who each had two years of control remaining (had it been four, keeping both may very well have made sense), and most of all rebuilding the foundation itself — the farm system. Passing on the opportunity to do any or all of the above would have been a fireable offense for any GM and a senseless preference for an ownership. It takes commitment and financial guts to approve such a plan. At the time, the ownership was worthy of applause. Well, that’s faded, if not gone altogether, and not solely because the club still isn’t winning — this season was always marked as the corner, not the year the team had a great chance to win — but because the ownership has done nothing but shoot itself in the foot, even since the rebuild began two and a half years ago. First, by acting like a corporation that doesn’t care enough about its employees, when they cut their pay because the team’s profits were hit by the pandemic, and let it impact their plans to build a winning team — more on that in a minute. That was an opportunity to stand out in a positive way, both in the community and among ownerships in baseball. Failed. Then came the Kevin Mather fiasco. Not only did the president of the baseball team make racist comments, which is bad enough all by itself, he spit on a very good and loyal player, and admitted the club was manipulating the service time of prospect Jarred Kelenic, a practice long deployed in Major League Baseball, but never one that was carelessly and braggadociosly stated to those outside an organization. Mather, at the time, was a minority owner on top of his president role. But rather than the club acting swiftly, removing Mather from the role, and starting the process of booting him from ownership, he was allowed to resign, and Stanton, in a press conference the following Monday after Mather’s comments on a Zoom call to the Bellevue Rotary club were made public, would not even answer the question of whether he would have fired Mather had he not resigned. The owner of the team did nothing to stand up for Julio Rodriguez, Seager, Kelenic, and at the end of the day, for a franchise that cannot afford further embarrassment. Perhaps Stanton lacks the ability to serve as the mouthpiece. I’ll grant him the benefit of the doubt there. But he’s the owner of the team. He can say whatever he wants whenever he wants, and he hasn’t been heard from in any meaningful capacity since. Not on the future of the on-field product, not on the Mather situation, not on further steps the organization has taken to create the right culture for people, including players. What we have learned in recent months is Mather, long before his appalling comments, meddled in baseball operations when he nixed original payroll plans for the 2020-21 offseason, leaving Dipoto to stand pat over the winter rather than start adding significant pieces to help the club turn the corner. Dipoto has been calling ’21, in his own words, the corner year since the rebuild began in November 2018, and here it is time to start executing toward that and Mather, the money guy, chose money, derailing Dipoto’s plans and essentially pushing the timeline backward. But this is on Stanton. It’s on Stanton for not sticking with his commitment to winning baseball, something he has said publicly on numerous occasions, and it’s on Stanton because he asked fans to be patient, and then, asked them for more time, because, well, money. No. Just… no. These are not the actions of a committed ownership. And now, to fans, Dipoto’s words ring hollow if he doesn’t deliver. If you’re Dipoto here, you’re not happy at all. We can argue all day about whether Dipoto can execute as successful a second half of the rebuild process as he has the first half, but none of it matters if the ownership doesn’t stick to its own commitments. Or we need to define the word ‘commitment’ to Mr. Stanton, just so we’re all clear. noun1. the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. “the company’s commitment to quality” Ownership committing to winning, and staying committed, does not mean it has to spend until they win, or they’re not committed. It means being competitive with payroll. Taking risks when the club’s baseball people see an opportunity. It means thirsting for winning like the fans. And that was Stanton’s selling point as majority owner; he’s a fan. The man keeps score. The dude gets distracted at business meetings because he’s checking scores. True stories. However, the company, the Seattle Mariners, have broken their commitment at least once already under Stanton in terms of putting a winner on the field. Commitments don’t come with conditions. That’s why they’re commitments. After all that’s occurred the past three years — and really the past nine months — Stanton still has an opportunity to climb out of this as clean as Andy Dufresne. But rather than landing on a beach overlooking the blue of the Pacific, such commitment leads to what sports owners like more than anything — money. Literally, remaining committed to winning will make owners even more money. They just don’t want to take risks. That has to change. At the end of the day, the financial backing must be available to Dipoto to expect him to finish what he started. Immediately. Now. It’s difficult enough to build good baseball rosters. There are 29 other teams trying to beat you at the same game, after the same goals, after the same players. Some have committed owners. Those that don’t fail over and over. You know the teams on both ends of this equation: The Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, New York Yankees, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and a few others, have been committed to winning over the last several years. Others are joining or rejoining the party. Most of those teams are winning or have won a lot in recent years. And commitment isn’t about splurging for $230 million payrolls every year, or ever. The Cardinals are consistently ranked between eighth and 14th in payroll. The Astros rank No. 5 this season and last, but have ranked eighth, ninth, and 17th during their run to World Series prominence. YEAR PAYROLL RANK 2022 $33.700M — 2021 $92.325M 25 2020 $112.751M 23 2019 $152.527M 14 2018 $170.971M 10 2017 $174.721M 12 2016 $171.340M 10 2015 $144.985M 13 Heck, the Mariners themselves were 12th in 2017, 10th a year later, and 13th in 2019. And while there’s no “get back to this number and it’s real commitment” it is “get back to the plan” and especially “let Jerry cook.” Put the plan, financially speaking, back in motion. Today. Not tomorrow. Today. If Dipoto (and his lieutenants) has proven anything to team ownership, it’s his ability to be trusted with payroll. He’s cleaned house, has proven adept at working markets with the best in baseball, and has proven he can identify talent, from the amateur ranks through long-time big leaguers. His efforts have protected this ownership’s financial risk for five-plus years now. Time to flip the script. Owners can drive their way to more money. They’re billionaires. They’ve done it before — they do it in their sleep. But owners have never steered teams to winning. Baseball people do that, and it’s time Stanton hands the reins back to his baseball people, led by Dipoto, and sit back and enjoy the ride like the rest of us. But things need to move in this direction quickly or even more fans are going to permanently jump ship. They don’t have another 20 years. They may not have another 20 minutes. And if Stanton doesn’t think Mariners fans will jump ship and hop on the bandwagon of other sports teams in the city with their heads, their hearts, and their wallets, or even toward a potential MLB franchise in Portland, he’s sorely mistaken. The ownership of this baseball team must step up. With their words, with their actions, and with their wallets. The opportunity to be different remains. It’s not too late. It’s never too late be better. To be the outlier in Major League Baseball. To be a place people want to work. To be a place players want to play. To be the team fans want to support. This ownership still has a chance to do right by Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, and to honor the patience of the fan base, by sticking to their own commitment to winning. And there’s no time like the present.Go!

The past three weeks in Marinersland has been rough. The club was no-hit twice, is averaging 3.1 runs per game in May and allowing nearly six. While there’s no tipping the scales toward a playoff roster in 2021, the Seattle Mariners can and should pull off a few minor moves to improve the club’s ability to compete the rest of the season. Ty France is due back this week. I imagine the roster move there is Eric Campbell option or DFA, and France will play a lot of first base. In a week or so, Dylan Moore will be eligible to return, too, and if he’s ready as soon as he’s eligible, the roster move there is probably Jack Mayfield sent back to Triple-A Tacoma. Once Marco Gonzales returns, one of the relievers likely heads back to Triple-A. But here are four more moves the club can make in addition to getting healthy in order to eliminate some of the steep troughs in expected performance. 1. Call up C Cal Raleigh, option Jose Godoy The wait isn’t going to last much longer, and even if Raleigh comes up and hit .200/.260/.375, he’s an upgrade at the plate and behind it. Tom Murphy is a fine glove, and does some things defensively better than Raleigh at present, but the club’s top catching prospect is a switch hitter with above-average power from both sides — plus from the left — and projects to average on-base marks. This move costs the Mariners nothing. I’m totally OK with the club waiting for what they feel is the right time. They know this player better than anyone. But this ultimately is an easy move. 2. Trade for 2B Adam Frazier, DFA C/1B Jacob Nottingham Why Frazier, and what do the Mariners do with a healthy Moore after this acquisition? Answer: Play matchup. Frazier, who is No. 13 on my Mariners Trade Target Index available to Baseball Things subscribers, is under club control through next season. He’s 29 and a left-handed bat that makes consistent contact. His career slash is .279/.343/.418, but he’s having a career year right now at .339/.402/.471. He’s not going to sustain that, but helps the club get on base more and move runners ahead of him. He handles the bat well, is a good bunter, and a solid defensive second baseman. Frazier can spell Crawford at shortstop, as can Moore, and has nearly 1,000 innings of at least average defense in the outfield. Frazier and Moore have similar defensive profiles, but are opposites with the bat beyond handedness, and until Evan White is ready to return (more on that in a second), Moore and France can share first base and DH, while Moore also spells Kyle Seager at third, Mitch Haniger and Jarred Kelenic in the corners, Crawford at shortstop, as well as some starts at second base. Moore hit .265/.324/.618 May 7-18 before the IL stint, and appears to be much more likely to produce versus left-handed pitching. Frazier wouldn’t be FREE, but the cost here isn’t likely to be prohibitive, and he can help solidify the club’s infield for next season, as he carries a much more reliable set of offensive skills. Even with Shed Long set to start a rehab assignment, the club lacks stability at second base, and it’s time to start considering the floor on a position-by-position basis.  Luis Arraez is another option, but he’d be quite a bit pricier as there are four control years attached after 2021. A trio of Top 30 prospects — two in the top 20 — ought to get it done. By the way, Frazier came highly recommended in the 2013 Draft by scout Jeremy Booth: See his scouting report 3. Option 1B Evan White to Triple-A Tacoma How does this help the ‘floor’ of the current roster? Well, think about what we’ve done offensively with the additions of Raleigh and Frazier, and the return of France and Moore. White would have to replace someone on the 26-man. Let’s walk through this. The Mariners have been carrying 10 non-catcher position players, and probably will continue to do so, even after Gonzales returns from the IL. So we have the two catchers, Seager, Crawford, Moore, France, Frazier, Haniger, Kelenic and Kyle Lewis. That’s 10. One of those players is out if White returns to the active roster. What’s likely to happen beyond the scenario we’ve built here is White is activated and a player like Nottingham, Campbell, Mayfield, or Walton is optioned. But we’ve already done that, so we need a different solution. It just so happens this solution is better for player and club. White needs time in Triple-A, and he’s going to get some of that on a rehab assignment, but it should be extended beyond 20 days so he can fix his swing. 4. Trade for RHP Chris Stratton, option Yohan Ramirez This is another inexpensive addition that reduces the inflammatory nature of the pitching staff. Stratton throws strikes, limits walks, and is actually comparabale to Drew Steckenrider in ability to get outs, though at the moment Stratton’s strikeout rate of 24% is down from 29% a year ago. He is, however, avoiding the walk and home run better than ever. His contract is controllable through 2023, so its not a rental and he won’t be free. But the Pirates are going nowhere fast and a couple of potential future contributors should be good enough to grab the right-hander. Stratton, who also has experience starting in the majors, has made five two-inning appearances. He sits 92-94 mph with the fastball, has an average slider and curveball, plus an average changeup. With such an acquisition, the Mariners will have a decision to make when Casey Sadler is ready to return from the IL. Paul Sewald, JT Chargois, Erik Swanson are all potential options to head back to Tacoma. Ultimately, two of the three will shipped out since one is almost certain to go upon Gonzales’ return. Stratton’s price tag is probably similar to that of Frazier’s and he’s around as a quality middle reliever and spot starter through 2023. The above upgrades aren’t going to turn the current roster into a contender, but they solidify the roster both now and for the immediate future, and don’t mortagage but a few pennies of the future in the grand scheme.Go!

Kyle Lewis Seattle Mariners

As you might expect, the Seattle Mariners getting no-hit at home for a second time in two weeks has fans feeling a bit salty today. An understandable reaction, for sure. But please spare me the faux surprise about the Mariners’ lineup being unproductive at this stage of the season. The warning signs were there for everyone to see. Remember how much the Mariners’ lineup struggled to consistently produce last year? There were memorable moments and short-lived hot streaks. But run production ranked near the bottom of MLB in multiple categories. Fast forward to the present, a season marked by muted offense across the league. Once again, Seattle’s hitters are bringing up the rear. The stat currently creating the greatest stir on social media and with the local sports talk radio crowd is the Mariners’ .199 batting average. Bad news, your angst may skyrocket to new heights as the season progresses. The team is currently on pace to set a franchise-low in AVG. Yes, it’s only May. But Seattle has already been no-hit twice and waited late into games before avoiding a no-no on several other occasions. The threat of this offense being historically bad is real. Lowest AVG in Seattle Franchise History.199 (2021) .226 (2020) .233 (2011) .234 (2012) .236 (2010) Despite having a punch-less lineup in 2020, the Mariners didn’t add position players from outside the organization to their 40-man roster in the offseason. Sure, Mitch Haniger and Tom Murphy returned after missing last year. That’s an upgrade in a way. But did anyone seriously believe Haniger and Murphy would somehow ignite an offense that was so underwhelming in 2020? And let’s talk about the squad the Mariners have assembled this season. It can’t be overemphasized how inexperienced this group is. To see what I mean, check out the following table illustrating the career numbers of Seattle’s position players. Take note of how few have appeared in more than 162 big-league games. I know what some of you are thinking, batting average can fluctuate by season and era. Therefore, using the conventional stat for this conversation isn’t ideal. That’s true. Instead, let’s use OPS+ to discuss the overall effectiveness of Seattle’s hitters in 2021. League-average OPS+ is always 100. Regardless of which statistic you prefer staring at, the picture isn’t pretty. Of the 15 Seattle position players with plate appearances this season, only four have a career OPS+ above league-average – Haniger, Kyle Seager, Kyle Lewis, and Ty France. For anyone watching the Mariners on a regular basis, it’s become glaringly evident that the offense is effectively dead in the water whenever this foursome scuffles. Something to consider with Lewis and France – they remain unknown quantities despite their early success. Sure, Lewis won 2020 AL Rookie of the Year and France has hit at every level of his professional career. But neither player has appeared in 100 games in a season. Am I suggesting the duo will fail? Absolutely not. But it’s reasonable to expect each will struggle as their development continues in the bigs. We’ve already witnessed this with Lewis in 2020 and France before he went to the IL last week. Murphy and Dylan Moore are hovering near a career 100 OPS+, although neither has 200 games of big-league experience. Shortstop J.P. Crawford has more time in the majors, but it’s spread over five seasons. Moreover, a career 86 OPS+ suggests the Gold Glover has been a below-average run producer with the Phillies and now the Mariners. After this trio, we enter a black hole where everyone else is significantly worse than league-average and very green. Like it or not Mariners fans, your team is enduring the growing pains of an organization transitioning from tear-down mode to evaluating young players at the big-league level. To date, it’s been a slog for Evan White, Taylor Trammell, Luis Torrens, Jake Fraley, and Jarred Kelenic. Even the youngsters who’ve been productive – Lewis and France – have been inconsistent. And don’t forget slightly older, yet relatively inexperienced players like Crawford and Moore, who remain enigmas. Yes, some or all of these players could eventually form the foundation of a contending lineup. But that’s not the case right now. Using 20/20 hindsight, the Mariners should’ve obligated more financial resources in the offseason to help take pressure off younger players and provide added stability to the lineup. Other than Seager, who was a known quantity entering 2021? On some level, signing veteran free agents like Kolten Wong, César Hernández, and Jonathan Villar could’ve made sense. But management chose to avoid pursuing outside help. Now, we’re witnessing the consequences of their hot stove inaction. The default response for some fans is to place blame at the desk of GM Jerry Dipoto. Yes, Dipoto is the architect of the rebuild and ultimately responsible for its success or failure. But let’s face it, he’s never been shy when it comes to making moves designed to improve his ball club. On the other hand, the now-infamous comments of former team president Kevin Mather made it abundantly clear ownership was unwilling to spend last offseason. None of what I’ve suggested will go over well with many in the fan base and that’s okay. Fans should fan however they see fit. Having said that, the Mariners’ offense woes this season shouldn’t surprise anybody unless they haven’t been paying attention for the last two years. My Oh My….Go!

Jarred Kelenic, Mariners scouting report

Not long ago, I defended the Seattle Mariners’ handling of top prospect Jarred Kelenic. At the time, I suggested no one outside the organization truly knew whether Kelenic was MLB ready. Now, just six games and 29 plate appearance into his AAA career, the Mariners have reportedly decided the 21-year-old is ready for major-league action. OF Jarred Kelenic, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, is expected to be called up by the Mariners on Thursday, sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN. While things can obviously change, the plan is to promote Kelenic for the first game of Seattle’s home series vs. Cleveland. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 11, 2021 Naturally, Mariners fans are buzzing. Who can blame them? Multiple prospect evaluation outlets, including Prospect Insider, rate Kelenic as one of baseball’s best young players. And let’s face it, the club’s sputtering offense needs help. Perhaps the left-handed hitter can provide the oomph the lineup needs. But there’s more. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times has breaking news. The Mariners’ top pitching prospect – Logan Gilbert – will also make his MLB debut the same night as Kelenic. The arrival of both players is certain to delight the team’s fan base. Logan Gilbert will start on Thursday night vs. Cleveland to open the homestand. — Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) May 12, 2021 As exciting as it’ll be to see Kelenic and Gilbert in the majors, the timing of Kelenic’s promotion seems odd to me. Why didn’t the Mariners promote their top prospect at the start of the MLB season? Gilbert’s delay makes sense to me. After all, he didn’t pitch competitively last year and the team has been conservatively managing the workload of all starting pitchers. But why hold back Kelenic? Yes, I’m aware of service time manipulation and how former CEO Kevin Mather implied in January the Mariners were unduly influencing the debut dates of their top prospects, including Kelenic. I’m also familiar with the USA Today story chronicling Kelenic’s grievances with the team and GM Jerry Dipoto. Still, these PR disasters didn’t compel management to include the Wisconsin native on the Opening Day roster. So, what changed after just six AAA games against the same team? Obviously, only the team knows how it arrived at the decision to promote Kelenic this week. That said, I do fancy myself as a JeDi whisperer. So, I’ll take a shot at predicting how Dipoto and his surrogates spin the timing of Kelenic’s promotion to the media and fans. The answer to the “why now” question will be overly simple. The Mariners will suggest the totality of Kelenic’s MLB and MiLB Spring Training playing time and his brief stay in Tacoma provided the level of preparation a supremely talented player like Kelenic needs to be MLB ready. Plus, team officials will note the offense really needs the help. How did I arrive at this prediction? With great ease, actually. Dipoto subtly laid the groundwork for this message during the most recent episode of The Wheelhouse podcast hosted by broadcasters Aaron Goldsmith and Gary Hill Jr. Dipoto told listeners the organization’s top prospects played a 10-game “bridge” schedule facing other organization’s top young players in a co-op league until MiLB camp began. The goal was to get Kelenic, Cal Raleigh,  Julio Rodriguez and other top minor-leaguers 30-40 extra plate appearances rather than being idle until the start of camp. The sixth-year GM noted hitters accrued 100-125 plate appearances in April before the start of the regular season. Using JeDi math, Kelenic has close to 180 plate appearances this year, including Spring Training and AAA games. That’s probably enough for Dipoto and his staff to rationalize that the young outfielder’s performance in Arizona and Tacoma has told them he’s ready for prime time. As far as helping the offense, JeDi dropped a hint when talking to 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny and Gallant last week. While referring to a potential Kelenic promotion, Dipoto stated, “It’s also in some part that it might add a spark to our offense if we give him that opportunity.” Will my prediction of how the Mariners will spin the Kelenic news? We’ll know within the next 24 hours. But does it actually matter why the organization is promoting Kelenic now? Not to me. Truthfully, we may never know the real story behind the team’s timeline for Kelenic and every other player in the its farm system and I’m okay with that. Yes, it’s interesting and cool to learn how prospects become big-leaguers. But it’s the Mariners’ business to run. It’s our choice whether to support that business. Personally, I’m elated with the news of Kelenic’s and Gilbert’s imminent arrival. Debate all you want about the timing of their promotions. I prefer to focus on the fact that the next phase of the Mariners’ rebuild has begun. It’s about time. My Oh My…Go!

The Seattle Mariners’ injury-plagued starting rotation is falling apart. Naturally, the staff’s early season woes have fans clamoring for the Mariners to promote top pitching prospect Logan Gilbert. It’s an understandable sentiment. After all, Jeff Passan of ESPN is reporting that Seattle’s top prospect – Jarred Kelenic – will make his MLB debut later this week. Kelenic’s arrival has the potential to give a much-needed spark to a lineup that’s unproductive by any measure. Maybe Gilbert could do the same thing for a rotation that’s reeling. Yes, Gilbert’s presence could provide an immediate boost to the rotation. He could also help a bullpen that’s been covering too many starts and innings lately. But it’ll take more than the Stetson alum to fix the rotation. Unfortunately, there’s a sabermetric red flag suggesting potential landmines await most of Seattle’s starters. I’m referring to Expected Weighted On-Base Average (xwOBA). Nerd Talk Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) is an advanced metric that reflects on-field results by crediting a hitter for the manner he reaches base rather than simply treating all on-base events equally, as OBP does. A double is more valuable than a single, a home run is better than a double – you get the idea. Conversely, xwOBA uses quality of contact without the influence of defense to determine what should’ve happened to batted balls. Think about it this way. Say Mike Trout mashes a screaming line drive and Mariners center fielder Kyle Lewis makes a stupendous play robbing Trout of an extra-base hit. The box score will say Trout made an out and his wOBA will decline accordingly. But the future Hall of Famer did everything right – it took a great play by Lewis to prevent a hit. For this reason, Trout’s xwOBA improves based on the quality of contact made (launch angle and exit velocity). So, how can we apply the wOBA-xwOBA relationship to Seattle’s rotation?   We can use the difference in wOBA and xwOBA to help us determine whether the actual stats of Mariner starters accurately reflect their ability to do what’s necessary to succeed in the majors. Specifically, avoid hard contact and walks while generating strikeouts. We used a similar methodology in the offseason to demonstrate how the expected stats of Yusei Kikuchi hinted his skill level was much better than his on-field results. Let’s do it again with the Mariners’ 2021 starting staff. wOBA-xwOBA Difference The following illustrates the wOBA and xwOBA of Seattle’s primary starters and the difference between both metrics. Just to reiterate, a negative wOBA-xwOBA for a pitcher suggests on-field results may be better than what should have happened based on quality of contact. The most negative wOBA-xwOBA belongs to Justin Dunn. The right-hander’s opponent .292 wOBA is below the MLB average (.308), which sounds like good news. It is to a degree, but his .355 xwOBA is a red flag. It ranks in the bottom 20-percent of 127 starters facing over 100 hitters this season. Considering the large gap between Dunn’s wOBA and xwOBA, it’s tough envisioning him being a viable starter in a contender’s rotation without significant improvement. Fortunately, the season and the native Long Islander are both young. There is time to improve. Before landing on the IL with a forearm strain, Marco Gonzales was off to an uncharacteristically poor start. Sure, it appeared the Gonzaga product was showing signs of breaking out of his early season funk before going down. But there’s no avoiding the reality his wOBA was ugly. So was his xwOBA, which ranks 124 of 127. A stunning development for Seattle’s Opening Day starter. The final pitcher with a significantly negative wOBA-xwOBA is Kikuchi. However, the native of Japan has been digging himself out of an early hole lately. Look at how his wOBA and xwOBA for the season has steadily dropped with each recent start. Based on his last three outings, Kikuchi is establishing himself as the anchor of the Mariners’ 2021 rotation. Yes, it’s a very small sample size spread over three weeks and way too early to make fiery declarations. But the southpaw’s improvement is certainly an encouraging development for a rotation desperate for encouraging developments. The wOBA of Justus Sheffield looked respectable until recently. Regrettably, it’s closed the gap on an xwOBA that’s been hovering around the .350 mark. This isn’t a good thing for the Tennessean or the Mariners. As with Dunn, Sheffield is young (he turns 25 this week) and still evolving. The least-heralded starter entering this season has been the staff’s most consistent arm. Chris Flexen has an xwOBA identical to Kikuchi’s, which is basically MLB-average for starters. Moreover, the right-hander’s .334 wOBA is higher than the league standard and above his xwOBA. This suggests to me that Flexen may be capable of delivering better results moving forward. What’s The Problem? Okay, we’ve identified xwOBA concerns with the starting staff. Now, let’s focus on potential issues facing each pitcher. Once again, the picture isn’t pretty. Our next table depicts stats I chose because they reflect factors influencing xwOBA – barrel, hard-hit, strikeout, and walk rates. Just to refresh, barreled balls have an ideal combination of exit velocity and launch angle to create the best outcomes for hitters. Entering this week, the league was hitting .746 with a 1.318 wOBA on barreled balls. Hard-hit balls have an exit velocity of 95-plus MPH and have produced a .482 AVG and .609 wOBA this season. Bottom line: pitchers are trying to avoid barreled and hard-hit balls. Bad things happen when they struggle to do so. Quickly, we see areas needing improvement for each Seattle starter – some have more challenges than others. Dunn’s strikeout rate is slightly below average, as is the case with all but one of his rotation-mates. His barrel rate is a bit high too. That said, the biggest issue facing the Boston College alum is a 15.3-percent walk rate. Only José Quintana (17.4) of the Angels and John Gant of the Cardinals (17.4) are serving up free passes more often than Dunn among the 127 starters mentioned earlier. Across the board, Gonzales’ 2021 numbers have regressed from an outstanding 2020 campaign. Not only is his 9.1-percent walk rate well above last year (2.5-percent), hitters are routinely making very loud contact. Only four starters currently have a higher barrel rate than the crafty lefty. Plus, his 47.7-percent hard-hit rate is eighth highest among peers. Kikuchi’s hard contact numbers are in the red. But as noted already, his stats are trending in the right direction. His 22.7-percent strikeout rate doesn’t stand out when compared to league leaders Jacob deGrom (46.1-percent) and Gerrit Cole (40.2-percent). Still, Kikuchi does lead the staff in strikeouts and he’s managing to minimize damage caused by walks. The amount of hard contact allowed by Sheffield is just above league-average, which doesn’t look that bad. But he’s allowed too many barreled balls thus far. Last season, his barrel rate was 3.7-percent, which tied him with Sonny Gray for third lowest in the majors. Only Hyun Jin Ryu (3.2) and Max Fried (3.3) were better. Flexen misses the fewest bats among Seattle’s regular starters. Yet, he’s been stingy with free passes to opposing hitters. His 5-percent walk rate is top-20 among starters and ties him with former Mets teammate deGrom. Still, the California native’s hard-hit rate is an area worth keeping a watchful eye on. Moving Forward So, what lays ahead for the Mariners? Gilbert probably joins the club sooner than later, which will be both helpful and really fun. But most of his future rotation-mates must significantly improve for the starting staff to rebound this year. Kikuchi’s recent performance is cause for guarded optimism. So is Flexen’s emergence as a dependable rotation arm. But 35 games into the season, the rest of the current starting staff is enigmatic at best. Perhaps Gonzales’ IL stint is short-lived and he returns looking more like the 2020 version of himself than what we’ve seen from the 29-year-old this year. Maybe Sheffield and Dunn become more consistent performers. Still, expecting so much from so many is a big ask. Reality Check Even if management were to transition away from the 6-man rotation it currently embraces so energetically, the Mariners don’t appear to have enough arms to form a truly competitive rotation this year without acquiring upgrades from outside the organization. Realistically, the time for the front office to affect the outcome of the 2021 season was the offseason. So, unless the Mariners have mastered time travel, there’s no undoing the lack of improvements made to the major-league roster during the winter. And that’s okay. This season has always been about the Mariners assessing the MLB readiness of previously promoted players and introducing their best and brightest prospects to the majors. In that regard, the team is on track even with the big-league club languishing. Yes, losing never goes over well with fans. But failure and on-field struggles are harsh realities that every rebuilding club (and their fan base) must endure. Sorry Mariners fans. At least Jarred Kelenic is on the way. My Oh My…Go!