The Seattle Mariners continued to tinker with their roster on Thursday after optioning Erasmo Ramirez and Nick Franklin to the minor leagues and selecting the contract of outfielder Cole Gillespie. Franklin’s demotion to Triple-A was essentially procedural as he saw just 18 plate appearances since being called up on April 16th, while Ramirez is set to start in his regularly scheduled spot on Sunday, but for the Hi-A High Desert Mavericks instead after struggling in his last three starts. The interesting piece to this puzzle is Gillespie who joins Dustin Ackley, Abraham Almonte, Stefen Romero, and Michael Saunders in what’s quickly turning into a crowded Mariner outfield.
Gillespie, 29, was drafted in the third round of the 2006 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers, whom GM Jack Zduriencik was employed by at the time of the selection, and has since been a part of the Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, and Chicago Cubs organizations. In 189 plate appearances between 2010 and 2013, the journeyman has put together a .225/.293/.337 line and a 65 wRC+. Although his major league stats are less than inspiring, he’s hit .364 with five home runs in his first 17 games of the year in Tacoma. Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill had recently suggested Gillespie be called up, and the M’s could certainly use his hot bat right now. Where his bat will fit in the lineup however, is the tougher question.
Gillespie is a RHB who doesn't have a track record of mashing LHP. More of a reverse split guy. So, LMC will probably start him v LHP only— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) April 24, 2014
Gillespie not a candidate for center field.— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) April 24, 2014
Without the possibility of Gillespie starting in center field, it’s conceivable to suggest that he’ll split some time in right field with Romero and likely spell Ackley once in left field every now and then. He also fits the mould of a late inning pinch runner or defensive replacement in a game where Corey Hart starts in right field, for example. Like Jason said, he doesn’t hit left-handed pitching especially well — he’s hit at a .189 clip in 98 major league plate appearances — and owns a .266 average against right-handed pitching in 91 plate appearances. Both Romero and Gillespie are right-handed bats so the M’s quest for a balanced lineup continues.
With Ackley firmly entrenched in left field as the everyday starter and manager Lloyd McClendon content to let Almonte play everyday in center, the combination of Romero, Gillespie, and Saunders will cover the right field duties unless Hart is able to step in. The club is still going slow with Hart’s return to the outfield, as they should, so the point of having that extra outfielder is far from moot. Either Gillespie or Romero could presumably DH if Hart is the starter on a given night with Saunders on the bench as a potential late inning replacement. It’s also possible that this current arrangement is simply temporary, especially if Hart is able to put another couple solid starts in the field together. Logan Morrison‘s return from the disabled list at the end of the month could require even further roster shuffling as well unless the club decides to send him down to Triple-A for a period of time.
Perhaps the real point of contention is the fact that a player not named Almonte has yet to make a start in center field for the club this year. Obviously his status as the team’s leadoff hitter and lack of other alternatives has played some role in this, but the young outfielder has done very little to prove that he belongs in his given role just yet. He has just 19 hits and five walks in 94 plate appearances — good for a .213 batting average — and his 34.1 percent strikeout rate is the fourth highest in all of baseball. Aside from being awful leadoff hitter numbers, they really aren’t that good numbers for anywhere in the lineup unless the player is a defensive wizard, although the 24-year old does handle the outfield well enough.
The seemingly obvious candidate to spell Almonte would be Saunders given his experience in center field, but he hasn’t produced much of anything so far this year and certainly not enough to spark the conversation of which one of the pair should be playing everyday. McClendon has gone on record saying that he believes the only way for Almonte to improve is to play everyday — that much is true — but is there anything wrong with sitting him once in a while and giving someone else the start? LMC was willing to sit Brad Miller when he was struggling and hasn’t shown this long of a leash with other players — look no further than Ramirez being sent down for a start — so there’s really no reason not to give this outfield logjam a little more fluidity by sitting Almonte here and there.
There’s been little to suggest that Ackley should be the one to see less playing time since he’s hit the ball well this year and shown some encouraging signs that his bat has finally come around even though he has been hitless in his last four games. It’s possible that Gillespie will see a couple starts in left and spell the former second baseman in the coming week, but a return to the No. 8 spot in the batting order — a place he’s been comfortable in so far this season — could provide the spark needed to get the 26-year old producing like he was a few short weeks ago.
Like Saunders, Romero hasn’t seen enough game action for us to really make an accurate determination on what his role with the club should be at this point in time; although I’m in the camp that believes he’d be best served playing everyday in Triple-A than sitting on the major league bench. He has five hits and one walk in 24 plate appearances and has started in seven of the club’s first 21 games. He’s a candidate to start at designated hitter on a day where Hart starts in right field as Saunders and possibly Gillespie would provide better defensive replacements for the late innings.
One of the benefits of having a journeyman-type of player like Gillespie on the roster is that unlike a Nick Franklin, he doesn’t necessarily need to see regular at bats. The team also doesn’t have to worry about his development as a player that much either since he no longer falls under the description of a prospect and he’s shown essentially all that he has to offer a big league club. The 29-year old knows the type of role he’s entering with Seattle and will likely already have the right type of mindset to handle it.
It will certainly be interesting to see how McClendon decides to balance his group of outfielders over the next week or two. The situation will only become murkier if Hart is in fact able to man right field regularly, but given the logjam of players available for the position, there’s absolutely no reason to rush it. Acquiring another bat is still a possibility but it appears unlikely at this point as the M’s don’t appear interested in Kendrys Morales at the moment, and he seems content to wait until after the draft to sign his next contract.
It appears that the only certainty in the Mariners’ outfield can be found in left and center field at the moment with the right field situation very up in the air. Hart does represent somewhat of an x-factor, but at the moment it wouldn’t be surprising to see the club go with whichever one of Saunders, Romero, and Gillespie that’s producing. And that’s exactly what they should be doing anyways.
Seattle managed to end their losing streak with a win on Wednesday and will open a new series against the Texas Rangers on Friday night with Roenis Elias set to take the mound.