“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.” — Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016

Of course nobody saw it coming. Not even for a quarter of the season. And even if it concludes without an end to the 14-year postseason drought, the 2016 Seattle Mariners have been one of the better teams in Major League Baseball through 40 games.

A lot of things are going right for the club. Not everything, but most everything. What’s led the Mariners to first place in the American League West at the quarter point? Which areas are sustainable and which aren’t? How’s first-ever manager Scott Servais handling the job this far? We’ll get to all that in the Quarterly Report Series, concluding with some meaningful notes from the farm system.

Down on the Farm
The Monthly Prospect Report can be found here. But Down on the Farm is all about this year’s big club, not next year’s.

Edwin Diaz‘s move to the bullpen has indeed resulted in more fastball velocity and a sharper slider, per scouts and team personnel. He’s made a handful of appearances in relief, and has been dominant in each, touching 98 mph and sitting 94-96. Diaz is a legit candidate to see the majors this summer. At this stage, it’d be a surprise if he didn’t make his debut as the club tries him out before making a deal for bullpen help.

The same goes for Paxton; if the club figures they won’t need him in the rotation (Montgomery, Nuno plus Adrian Sampson are fill-in candidates), the southpaw and his new-found control could be a significant addition to the bullpen this season. Like with Diaz, moving Paxton to the bullpen now doesn’t mean it’s happy trails to his future as a starter. But it may be the best — perhaps even the only — way for him to help the 2016 Mariners.

Here are some other notes from each affiliate:

Tacoma Rainiers (AAA)
Stefen Romero is mashing and has no place to play in the majors. He’s next in line if Lee, Cruz or Gutierrez hit the disabled list, but otherwise will have to wait until September to see Safeco Field in a Mariners uniform. Romero is a passable corner outfielder and a near-average first baseman despite limited time at the cool corner. He’s killing both lefties and righties at the plate and has chased so few breaking balls out of the zone that I haven’t seen a single one in the seven home games I’ve seen this season. His BB/K ratio has hovered around even for the year and he’s still hitting for extra-base power to the alleys and to his pull side.

Mike Zunino has cooled down a bit statistically, but continues to work on hitting the ball hard to his back side and up the middle. Home run No. 10 was to right-center field earlier this week, his second such long ball of the young season. Of his 38 home runs in 1055 plate appearances in the majors the past three years, Zunino hit exactly five home runs that weren’t either to left field or to dead center.

Right-hander Blake Parker appears to be next in line if the club requires more bullpen help before their injured get healthy. He’s been strong all season and has answered the bell on back-to-back days for the first time, a test the M’s wanted to see since Parker missed last season after elbow surgery. He’s far from filthy, sitting low-90s, but there’s movement and offspeed stuff for strikes. He’s been the Rainiers closer all year and has had very few hiccups.

Sardiñas has played four positions in five starts since being optioned — shortstop twice, second base, third base and left field — in preparation for the club needing a true utility player. Offensively, Sardiñas brings more upside than does O’Malley, and he’s a much better glove at short and second, so once he’s up to speed in at least the corner outfield spots, he’ll be the better candidate. How long that takes remains to be seen.

Justin De Fratus, who was struggling with his velocity in March and was designated for assignment, touched 93 mph and sat 90-92 Monday night at Cheney Stadium. He’s getting back slowly but surely, though I’m not sure where he fits in the M’s bullpen barring another injury barrage and a bunch of setbacks.

Boog Powell isn’t ready to play everyday in the majors, but he’s the next-best centerfielder in the organization after Leonys Martin. He’s still learning to use his hands and create some loft to his pull side — which could create more gap power and the occasional home run — but he’s kind of got the whole strike zone judgment thing licked, despite a recent slump. We’ll see him in September, if not before.

Taylor’s swing still sucks, but he does so many other things well that he’s able to rake in Triple-A. His hands are too high at the start and he doesn’t get them in position in time. The bat speed is merely average, so a high-hand start and a lengthy swing won’t work in the majors long term, particularly one that is flat and engineered for anything but power. He can play shortstop and second, is training some at third base now, too,  and last year I called for Taylor to try out in center, but that doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

Jackson Generals (AA)
Diaz is the lone 2016 help Jackson will offer, but it’s not out of the question Cuban Guillermo Heredia sees the majors in September. He’s probably just an extra outfielder, but he’s one with some center-field chops and good plate skills. The most important thing happening in Jackson, however, is the development of Tyler O’Neill, especially since D.J. Peterson appears to be a first-round bust (it’s not time to completely give up on Peterson, it’s 35 games into the season, but confidence is waning). You can read about O’Neill in the monthly report here.

Others to keep an eye on in Jackson include Emilio Pagan, Dan Altavilla and Tim Lopes.

Bakersfield Blaze (A+)
Drew Jackson and Andrew Moore are the top prospects in Bakersfield and both have performed. Moore should be shipped to Double-A immediately, but Jackson is served well in the Cal League at this point.  One or both could be trade pieces as early as this summer, so it’s good for the major league team that each have shown well, and done so beyond the numbers. Tyler Marlett’s season, on paper, has been a disaster, but I’m told he’s been putting some adjustments to use in games, which truly could explain some of the poor streaks. Marlette has power but needs to find the barrel more often and say away from so many two-strike counts.

Clinton LumberKings (A)
Alex Jackson finally is playing and he homered in his first game before going 0-for-3 with a walk in Game 2. Braden Bishop has held his own in Clinton, but nothing more. There’s too much swing and miss going on but Bishop has been more selective, drawing 18 walks. He’s not going to hit for power, so he needs to get on base to support his plus speed and defense, but it would be nice to see him slug higher than .319 in Class-A ball.  There’s rarely much trade value in Class-A but more extended spring help could be on the way, particularly on the mound.

— Jason A. Churchill

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 and spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio. He now serves as the Executive Copy Editor at Data Skrive, a tech company that manipulates data to provide automated content to clients including the AP, BetMGM, USA Today, and ESPN. Find Jason's baseball podcast, Baseball Things, right here.

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