On Wednesday morning the Seattle Mariners acquired left-hander Mike Kickham from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-hander Lars Huijer. The club also announced that left-hander Anthony Fernandez was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster.

Kickham, who turned 26 in December, was claimed on waivers earlier in winter from the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs designated him for assignment after completing a deal with former Mariner outfielder Chris Denorfia last week.

The Giants’ sixth-round draft pick in 2010 made his big league debut in May 2013 but struggled mightily in his first half dozen outings, three of which were starts. He resurfaced in the big leagues when rosters expanded in September and made a handful of appearances out of the bullpen.

In 2014 Kickham made 27 starts for the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate and produced a 4.43 ERA and 4.03 FIP in 148 and 1/3 innings. He compiled 131 strikeouts and 64 walks — his rates were slightly improved over his 2013 numbers. Kickham would make a pair of appearances out of the bullpen for the Giants down the stretch and allowed five earned runs in two innings.

According to Baseball America, Kickham was the Giants’ No. 5 ranked prospect prior to the 2013 season. He also was noted as having the best slider among San Francisco’s pitching prospects. His fastball sits in the 91 miles per hour range and is mostly flat, though his sinker, thrown at the same speed, offers better movement and aids in producing ground ball outs. His secondary stuff also includes a changeup and a curveball that aren’t anything notable. He primarily relies on the fastball, sinker, and slider.

In terms of stuff, Kickham should be able and is ready to pitch in the major leagues, though he may be better utilized in the bullpen. Back in 2013, Baseball Prospectus profiled Kickham and suggested he profiles as a back-end rotation guy more so than a reliever given a lack of ‘put-away stuff’.

There doesn’t appear to be room in the back of the Mariners rotation considering the club figures to use a combination of James Paxton, J.A. Happ, Taijuan Walker, and Roenis Elias to fill the No. 3 through No. 5 spots. Kickham certainly can serve as some depth waiting in the wings at Triple-A as he does have one minor league option remaining. Seattle also picked up Sam Gaviglio earlier in the winter who figures to serve as some rotation depth at Triple-A this year as well.

Another potential use for Kickham could be in the major league bullpen as the second lefty. Currently the club has only one left-hander in the pen, Charlie Furbush, and it is the preference of manager Lloyd McLendon to have two. Lucas Luetge figures to get a long look for that role in Spring Training. As does Rule 5 Draft selection David Rollins, who will have to be returned to the Houston Astros if he doesn’t remain on the 25-man roster for the entire season.

Seattle doesn’t lose too much in Huijer who signed with the club as a non-drafted free agent in 2011. The 21-year old split 2014 between Class-A Clinton and High-A High Desert. Not atypically, he was rocked to the tune of a 6.54 ERA and 6.51 FIP in 12 starts with High Desert — the California League is notorious for favoring hitters.

Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill describes Huijer as a ‘solid project type’. The right-hander is likely several years away from the major leagues.

Fernandez made just five starts at Triple-A Tacoma in 2014 before undergoing Tommy John surgery on his left elbow. The 24-year old had a 4.43 ERA and 4.14 FIP in 120 innings with Double-A Jackson in 2013. He is likely to clear waivers due to the injury and remain within the Mariners organization.

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Tyler Carmont

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5 Comments

  1. I would imagine that Hultzen will be a starter in Tacoma to start the year, virtually zero chance he is a reliever in the majors. The acquision of Kickham is a depth move really, he may slot into the Tacoma rotation but I see him more as a LH relief option based on his splits (albeit limited) in the majors. Not that his splits were good against either handed hitters frankly…lol.

  2. I can’t see them changing Hultzen’s role as a starter. Making him a reliever would be an option for the future, but his value would be as a starter. And, considering the extent of his injury, they are going to be very careful with innings and pitch counts. I doubt that he’ll see the majors before the September call-ups, at the soonest. I hope he has a quicker recovery, but his surgery was similar to the one that Chris Young had, and it took a lot of work for him to get back to the majors.

  3. If Hultzen goes into the pen in, say, June, I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from M’s fans who will bemoan that he is being wasted just like Brandon Morrow was.

    Frankly, this is an innovative thought for Hultzen, but these scenarios tend to have a way of unfolding so that such an option becomes obvious. If Felix, Happ, Iwakuma, Paxton and Walker/Elias stay healthy and effective early on, then a bullpen role might well be perfect for Hultzen, assuming, of course, that our former #2 pick is likewise healthy and effective. A rash of pitching injuries (perish the thought) might open up a starting role for Hultzen, on the other hand. Let’s just hope the his performance in Tacoma early on helps beg the question!

  4. You have a very reasonable point, and I don’t disagree. But there’s a lot that would have to go right for Hultzen to pitch in the big leagues period right now. There’s very little, practically no chance that he breaks camp with the big league club. He’s going to need a couple months to build up arm strength and get back in the groove and I’d imagine the preference is for him to do that in Triple-A. That’s to start the year anyways.

    I don’t mind using him as a reliever for a bit instead of immediately going into a starting role. But we’re not going to know what he’s capable of immediately until he shows up in Spring Training and tests things out.

  5. Hultzen should be looked at, if he’s healthy, to be the 2nd lefty in the pen. Pull a Chris Sale with him. I would think Hultzen would build up more endurance throwing nearly every other day in the pen and in relief for the course of an entire season. Pitching 100 to 120 IP in the minors and then being shut down due to IP count would be a waste of Hultzen.
    Kickham would look nice in the Tacoma rotation. The Rainiers deserve a quality rotation.

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