“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.” — Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016 At the halfway point of the 2016 season, the rotation of the Seattle Mariners was in disarray and their bullpen ineffective. It looked as if the Seattle’s season was quickly slipping away, especially after going 10-18 during the month of June. Then, the calendar turned to July and the Mariners slowly regained their footing and crawled back into the contention with just over 40 games remaining. So, how did the Mariners reverse course? Can they continue to build off their recent success and finally snap the longest current postseason drought in major league baseball? What role did manager Scott Servais play in the team’s rebound? We’ll get to all that in the Third Quarter Report Series, starting with the AL West standings and trends. Plus, a look at the club’s ability to generate offense. First, here are our Mariners third quarter award winners: MVP Arkins: Nelson Cruz, DH Churchill: Kyle Seager. 3B Cy Young Arkins: Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP Churchill: James Paxton, LHP Defensive MVP Arkins: Mike Zunino, C Churchill: Seager Surprise Arkins: Shawn O’Malley, UTL Churchill: Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP Standings and Trends During the mid-season report, we suggested the American League (AL) West division standings would tighten and that’s exactly what’s happened. Here are the AL West standings as of today. AL West Standings (As of August 17) Tm W L W-L% GB R RA last10 last20 last30 TEX 71 50 .587 — 4.7 4.6 7-3 13-7 17-13 SEA 63 55 .534 6.5 4.7 4.3 8-2 13-7 19-11 HOU 61 58 .513 9.0 4.5 4.1 4-6 7-13 13-17 OAK 52 68 .433 18.5 4.0 4.8 4-6 7-13 13-17 LAA 50 69 .420 20.0 4.5 4.8 1-9 6-14 13-17 Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table Generated 8/17/2016. While the Mariners deserve credit for their torrid August, the primary reason they’ve been able to climb back into the AL West race is the mediocre play of the teams in front of them in the standings. During July, Seattle gained two games on the division leading Texas Rangers and lost just half a game to the Houston Astros despite posting a 12-12 win-loss record. The following table illustrates how AL West teams have fared since the start of the third quarter of the season on July 3. AL West Standings (Since July 3rd) Tm W L GB R RA SEA 20 16 — 143 152 TEX 19 19 2.0 157 197 HOU 18 19 2.5 160 145 LAA 17 20 3.5 176 174 OAK 17 21 4.0 137 176 For the Rangers, their success down the homestretch will be heavily dependent on run prevention. The club knows how to score runs, but has a -40 run differential since July 3. What’s the specific problem? Their rotation. Since losing starters Derek Holland and Colby Lewis to injury in late June, Texas has been unable to find suitable substitutes. As you’d expect, Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels have performed well. But, the rest of the staff entered this week with a combined earned run average (ERA) since the all-star break. There is hope for the Rangers though. Holland could be back as early as the end of this week, while Lewis may return to the rotation by the end of this month or early September. Without these two hurlers, or adequate substitutes, the club’s hold on the AL West division lead will be tenuous. The challenge facing the Rangers’ cross-state divisional rivals is exactly the opposite. The Houston Astros remain relevant thanks to their pitching, while being hamstrung by run production. I know. Houston’s 160 runs scored since July 3 is second best in the division. But, a closer look at their record reveals they’ve scored two or fewer runs in 18 of those games — nearly half of their third quarter. Thanks to their strong pitching, the Astros managed to win four of those lose scoring games. However, the offense will have to be more robust for the club to remain in contention. What’s the offense’s biggest problem? Reaching base. While Houston has a superb young core of Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, and George Springer, only one other regular — Luis Valbuena — has an on-base percentage (OBP) above league-average and he’s on the disabled list (DL). It’s tough to generate offense without men on base. Like the Mariners, Houston was relatively inactive at the August 1 trade deadline. Unless general manager Jeff Luhnow makes external additions prior to August 31, his club’s best hope for an offensive upgrade will come from within — heralded prospect Alex Bregman and Cuban free agent Yulieski Gurriel. Bregman has scuffled since his major league debut on July 25 and Gurriel’s major league debut is being delays because he needs more seasoning in the minors that expected. If both players can find their mojo in the near-term, the Astros immediately become a far more formidable opponent for the Rangers and Mariners during the last 4o games of the season. Assuming no club makes a significant addition to their respective roster, the Rangers continue to be the class of the AL West division. But, their banged up rotation leaves them vulnerable to a club capable of seizing the moment. With that in mind, let’s turn our attention to the Mariners and their run production. Offense As Prospect Insider Jason A. Churchill noted during the Reign Man Edition of the Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast, it doesn’t really matter how the Mariners scores runs as long as they continue to do so. The club entered the week averaging 4.66 runs scored-per-game — sixth best in the AL. While Jason is spot-on with his assessment, several notable Mariners are struggling at plate. Let’s look at some of the hitter who were struggling as this week began. The first base platoon of Adam Lind and Dae-ho Lee hasn’t been as productive in month. Despite the early season surge of Lee during limited appearances and Lind’s late-inning heroics, the duo is batting a combined .207 since July 1. Lind is slashing .268/.333/.439 with two home runs during the small sample size known as August. Perhaps, he’s on the brink of turning around the worst season of his 11-year career. Two DL stints have reduced the availability of shortstop Ketel Marte. But, his struggles at the plate appear to have more to do with an expanding strike zone than injury or illness. The challenge for Mariners management during the last six weeks of the season will be balancing their young shortstop’s professional development with their postseason aspirations, especially with no clear-cut upgrade available on the 40-man roster. Another scuffling regular is center fielder Leonys Martin. Coming into this week, he had a .223/.279/.325 triple-slash since returning from the DL on June 6. Martin does provide value even when isn’t hitting though. He’s still the best defender they’ve had in center field since Franklin Gutierrez. Speaking of Guti, he’s been particularly strong against left-handed pitching. But, the 33-year-old tailed off in July with a .189/.318/.297 slash and one home run during 44 plate appearances in July. Fortunately, it appears that he’s returning to form in August. It’s worth noting that Gutierrez has played in 73 games this season — his most since 2011. That’s a credit to his hard work and devotion and the team’s willingness to adjust his playing time depending on his chronic health issues. In the end, both parties have reaped the rewards of their collaboration. The all-star break didn’t seem to help Gutierrez’s platoon mate, Seth Smith. After slashing .364/.400/.727 and hitting four home runs during the first 10 games of July, the left-handed hitter is batting just .192 with no home runs since the resumption of play on July 15. Considering Smith’s veteran status and professional approach, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. But, it’s worth mentioning that his second-half offensive production has dropped considerably during the last four seasons. Another corner outfielder, Nori Aoki is a somewhat enigmatic presence. After struggling greatly against southpaws, the club optioned the 34-year-old to Tacoma in late June. Since his July 20 recall, he’s been the primary leadoff man against right-handed pitching and performed relatively well. Would management prefer to have a better option than Aoki? Probably. But, there are no proven replacements ready to wrest playing time away from the five-year veteran. Chris Iannetta isn’t having a good season offensively, but that’s not as worrisome when discussing the backstop position. The 33-year-old has performed admirably while serving as a stopgap until Mike Zunino was ready to return to the big league club. Now, Iannetta is an excellent insurance in case of injury or a Zunino regression. Speaking of Zunino, the 25-year-old is one of several Mariners who’ve helped buoy the club’s offense despite the struggles of the players I’ve just mentioned. Thanks to his improved methodology at the plate and his superior defensive prowess, Zunino has effectively become the club’s starting catcher since returning from Class-AAA Tacoma on July 20. The time spent in Tacoma has certainly helped the right-handed hitter, who currently owns a .392 OBP. The most impressive element of Zunino’s offensive game is his walk rate, which was 11.4-percent after Sunday’s game. That’s nearly four points higher than the major league average and six points above his career norm. Is Zunino’s production a mall sample size? Yes. But, it’s an encouraging development. General manager Jerry Dipoto chose to build his 2016 offense around three position players — Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager — and it’s proving to be a wise decision. The trio has missed a combined six games this season and have used their bats to propel the club’s offense throughout the season. At the conclusion of play on Sunday, the threesome was slashing a combined .289/.351/.518 with 23 home runs since July 3. While it must be reassuring for Servais to have his core players available nearly every day, the club’s recent playoff push would likely stall if any of them were to enter a prolonged slump or be out of the lineup for an extended period. The sky isn’t falling in the Emerald City, but better performances from the Mariners’ veterans would go a long way in helping the club sustain their recent winning ways. Otherwise, it’s going to be a white-knuckle ride for the rest of the season.
The Major League Baseball (MLB) non-waiver trading deadline is barreling down upon us and Seattle Mariners fans are anxious to see what general manager Jerry Dipoto does with the club’s roster during his first “deadline season” with the Mariners. With that in mind, I thought I’d provide a primer for each club in the American League (AL) West division to see where the Mariners and their divisional rivals stand as the August 1 trade deadline approaches. A word of caution though, the trade market will fluctuate greatly during the next six weeks. Injuries, poor individual performances, and changes in the standings will determine who will be the buyers and sellers in the deadline derby. Moreover, these factors will influence the aggressiveness of all parties involved in the market. So far, I’ve discussed the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Angels. Let’s turn our attention to the Houston Astros. The start of the last two seasons couldn’t have been any different for the Astros. Last year, the club started out by logging a 15-7 win-loss record in April, which was good enough to give them a four game lead in the division. This year though, Houston stumbled out of the gate and found themselves sitting in last place with a 7-17 record and seven games behind the division-leading Texas Rangers when April ended. Despite early setbacks, team management preached patience and it looks like they were right. Since the end of April, Houston has posted a 26-19 record — fourth best in the AL. Yet, when you look at their statistics, it’s tough to comprehend how they’re doing it. Yes, they have a young core comprised of three of the brightest young stars in baseball — Jose Altuve, George Springer, and Carlos Correa. However, the team’s overall offense hasn’t been good all season. The stats aren’t much better during the last month, when they’ve climbed back to wild card relevance. Astros hitters rank near the bottom of the AL in runs scored, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage. Yet, the club finds themselves closing in on the .500 mark. How have they done it? Beyond the young studs I’ve already mentioned, Houston’s bullpen has been the best in the AL during the last month. Their relief corps leads the AL in fielding independent pitching (FIP), has surrendered the fewest walks allowed and struck out the most hitters. Moreover, they lead the majors in the FanGraphs version of wins above replacement (fWAR). Standouts in the ‘pen include Will Harris — selected off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014 — and Michael Feliz. Harris has stepped into replace Luke Gregerson as the team’s closer and has emerged as one of the best relievers in the majors in 2016. The 22-year-old Feliz has solidified the club’s middle relief and the highly heralded Ken Giles, the former closer for the Philadelphia Phillies, has contributed too. So, what’s not working in Houston? Let’s start with a rotation that’s been okay, but not great. Staff ace Dallas Keuchel has struggled to regain his 2015 AL Cy Young Award form. To date, the southpaw’s walk and extra base hit rates have climbed from last season, as has his FIP. Lance McCullers, who started the season late due to shoulder soreness experienced during Spring Training, has been productive. However, he’s never pitched over 160 innings in a season and could run out of innings by season’s end. Former Seattle Mariner Doug Fister, Collin McHugh, and Mike Fiers have contributed to the rotation and have pitched well during the last month. Still, the starting staff may not be good enough to get Houston to the next level, which would be a deep postseason run. That’s especially true if Keuchel doesn’t return to his 2015 form. Catcher is another area that’s not a strength. Jason Castro started the season as the Astros’ number-one backstop on the depth chart, but the team opted to send designated hitter — and former Atlanta Braves catcher — Evan Gattis to the minor leagues for a week in May so that he could reacquaint himself with the tools of ignorance and help behind the plate. To date, Gattis has been splitting time between catcher and designated hitter. Finding a full-time replacement behind the plate makes sense, if the club can find someone who’s affordable and better than their current options. First base and third base are two other positions that haven’t been productive to date. The Astros rank in the bottom third of the AL in most offensive and defensive categories for both positions. Tyler White has been the primary first baseman, but he’s struggled at the plate and was sent to the minor leagues yesterday. Ideally, the Astros would prefer to have top-prospect A.J. Reed take over. Unfortunately, for the Astros, the player who comes in at number-35 on the MLB.com Top-100 prospect rankings hasn’t been hitting well at Class-AAA Fresno. As of this writing, the Reed has a .252/.342/.485 triple-slash and doesn’t appear ready. For now, Marwin Gonzalez will get the majority of playing time at first base. The switch-hitter has spent time at both corner infield positions and has slashed .259/.301/.400 this season, which is similar to his career averages. Luis Valbuena has been the primary third baseman, although he’s played some first base. The left-handed hitter’s slash numbers are league-average, but don’t rank favorably against his peers. Of the 25 major league qualified third baseman, he ranks in the bottom 20-percent of every slash category. Some bloggers have suggested that Houston has an internal option available for third base — Alex Bregman, currently playing at Class-AA Corpus Christi. While the notion of the number-two overall pick in the 2015 draft debuting in the majors makes for a fascinating story, it may not be in the cards. Bregman is still at Class-AA level though. Even last year’s AL Rookie of the Year — Correa — spent time at Class-AAA, although it was just 24 games. Perhaps, the organization will leap frog the MLB.com number-18 overall prospect to the majors. But, he’s only played eight games at third base this season and only twice during this month, including yesterday. That doesn’t mean that there’s no chance that Bregman doesn’t debut with the Astros before September 1 call-ups. He could be an injury replacement for Correa, if there was a need. On the other hand, if management feels that their hitting prospect is ready, they could have him leap frog Class-AAA and ship him directly to the majors in order to improve their run production. Another option could be Houston turning to Colin Moran, who is currently playing for Class-AAA Fresno and the number-six prospect in their organization. Moran was with the Astros for six games in May and was slashing .289/.352/.410 with Class-AAA Fresno coming into yesterday’s play. Considering the status of the Astros’ current roster and their standing in the AL West, how general manager Jeff Luhnow approaches the deadline is intriguing to me. Does he buy or sell? Luhnow has been aggressive in both roles since taking over in 2011. Last season, he added starting pitchers Mike Fiers and Scott Kazmir and center fielder Carlos Gomez. In the past, he’s dealt veterans to pick up prospects and reinforce his system The Astros general manager could take the same approach as last year and pursue upgrades for the weak areas that I’ve mentioned, especially if his team continues to win. Still, Houston has many holes to fill. Attempting to satisfy all of them, via the trade market, presents the risk of negatively affecting the organization’s long-term plans. The Astros minor league system is still strong. But, Luhnow had to part with multiple prospects to pick up Gomez, Giles, Fiers, and Kazmir during the last 12 months. Will the 50-year-old baseball executive be willing to sell more of his farm to make a run this year? Another factor to consider is the impending free agency of Castro, Fister, outfielder Colby Rasmus, and reliever Scott Feldman. Perhaps, Houston attempts to recoup value given away last summer by being a seller this year. Assuming that Houston continues to play well and doesn’t suffer significant injuries, I expect they’ll will act as a buyer. Perhaps, they’ll part ways with a few prospective free agents to shuffle their roster. But, only if those moves don’t affect their competitiveness this season. Why am I so certain that the Astros will lean forward? The current level of parity in the AL — eight teams are within six games of the wild card — gives every team near the .500 mark at the deadline a chance to earn a wild card berth. Plus, reaching the playoffs is addictive. Last year, Houston ended a decade-long postseason drought and it’s doubtful they’d squander a chance to return to October play in order to preserve their minor league system. That’s assuming they continue to win between now and the deadline. I’m not suggesting that Luhnow should give away his club’s future — he won’t. Rather, I expect that he’ll protect his organization’s future, while trying to win now. Playoff windows can quickly close and not reopen for a long time. Luhnow knows that, so do Mariners fans. AL West trade primer: Oakland Athletics AL West trade primer: Los Angeles Angels
Yesterday, we looked at seven National League players set to enter their sophomore year: Kris Bryant, Matt Duffy, Joc Pederson, Odubel Herrera, Randal Grichuk, Anthony DeSclafani, and Noah Syndergaard. Today we will look at seven American League players entering their sophomore seasons. To recap, per MLB’s rules, a player remains a rookie until they exceed 130 plate appearances as a position player, 50 innings pitched as a pitcher, or 45 days on an active 25-man roster — this doesn’t include time spent on the disabled list or when rosters expand in September. This is why, for example, Chris Taylor wasn’t considered a rookie in 2015 after picking up 136 at-bats in 2014 but Shawn O’Malley will enter the 2016 season with his rookie status intact after just picking up major league at-bat No. 58 this past season. Kyle’s younger brother Corey Seager does not appear on this list, despite finding himself in the top 20 NL rookies in terms of fWAR last year and being the consensus top prospect in baseball because, with just 98 September at-bats, he’s still a rookie. Toronto Blue Jays ace Marcus Stroman is entering his third major league season despite missing nearly all of 2015 following knee surgery since he surpassed the 50 innings pitched mark back in 2014. Without further ado, let’s get to those American League sophomores. Francisco Lindor, SS — Cleveland Indians If it wasn’t for the following shortstop, Lindor would have easily taken home the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year award. Arguably he should have anyways. He posted an impressive .313/.353/.482 slash line and his 128 wRC+ was second among AL shortstops with 400 plate appearances. The 22-year-old was regarded as an excellent defender and proved in year one that he has the range and arm to stick as a major league shortstop. Lindor’s 12 home runs and stolen bases in 99 games only added to his impressive season. The power numbers in his first taste of major league action are likely due for regression considering his .482 slugging percentage is far beyond anything he had posted in the minor leagues. Double-digit home runs should be possible on a regular basis though, and if he gains strength over the next few years he easily could profile as a 15 home run, 15 stolen base guy. The elite defense will keep Lindor in the majors, but his offensive output will be worth watching in 2016 as pitchers will have adjusted and some of the power may not be there. Still, he projects as a star, or even a superstar, in the making. Carlos Correa, SS — Houston Astros Not often are Alex Rodriguez‘ early years referenced, but the comparison is warranted here for the recipient of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Correa burst on to the scene as a 21-year-old and lead all American league shortstops with his 133 wRC+. Equally impressive was his ascent to the majors. Correa began the year in Double-A, but by the second week of June debuted in the Astros’ lineup. He finished the year with 22 home runs and a 9.4 percent walk rate; both impressive numbers for a rookie and key aspects to the team’s run to the Wild Card game. There’s conversation that Correa is already the best shortstop in all of baseball. Offensively, that was the case last season but he did find himself fifth among all shortstops in fWAR, though he played in just 99 games. Expectations will deservedly be high for Correa heading into 2016 and there’s evidence that he could be even better. The 133 wRC+ could be topped if he’s able to add a few more home runs and steals while keeping the strikeout rate steady. There’s also some room for improvement on the defensive side of his game, but we are already looking at a franchise cornerstone before his 22nd birthday Devon Travis, 2B — Toronto Blue Jays It was a year of what could have been for Travis. Among AL rookies he was tied for third with 2.3 fWAR but that was accomplished in just 62 games and 238 plate appearances before losing his season to shoulder problems. He accompanied his .304/.361/.498 slash line with eight home runs and solid defence at second base. At 25 he’s still young enough to have some upside beyond being an average hitter at a premium position, and his only appearances at Triple-A came this past season so his ability to hit major league pitching so well last year was impressive. The power output was a tad unprecedented, but Travis does have a pair of 10 home run seasons in the minors to his credit. Otherwise he profiles as a solid all-around hitter at a premium position. The major question mark though, is health. He still isn’t resumed baseball activities and won’t return for Opening Day but could rejoin the club before summer officially begins. Ultimately health will be what his sophomore season comes down to. He may need some time in the minors to regain strength in his shoulder once he’s healthy, but only Ryan Goins is in his way on the depth chart so he should have every opportunity to contribute to the big league club this season. Miguel Sano, DH — Minnesota Twins If a a major leaguer is going to have success with one above average tool, it’s probably going to be with power. And Sano has all kinds of it. The 22-year-old skipped Triple-A on his way to the big leagues after pummeling Double-A pitching for the first two-plus months of the season. In 335 plate appearances with the Twins, the right-hander posted a .269/.385/.530 slash line with 18 home runs — good for second-most among AL rookies. He was error-free in 82 innings played in the field, but it’s expected that he will primarily DH for the bulk of his career. There’s always significant risk with a true outcome player — a term given to one who is likeliest to strikeout, walk, or hit a home run (the three true outcomes for a hitter) in each plate appearance — and Sano is no different. His 35.5 percent strikeout rate — a good five percent higher than his worst minor league rate — was accompanied by a 15.8 percent walk rate. Since he won’t be providing any value on the field or base paths, cutting down the strikeouts even by a few percent could be a big deal. Sano isn’t the type of player you build an organization around, but Adam Dunn and others have proven that this type of skill set can be valuable for a major league team. There’s a lot of risk here, but we’ve seen how much teams covet right-handed power. Ketel Marte, SS — Seattle Mariners Potentially the forgotten man in an impressive class of rookie shortstops, Marte was late to the party compared to his counterparts as didn’t debut until July 31. In just 247 plate appearances, the 22-year-old ranked third among AL shortstops with his 112 wRC+ and sixth with his 1.7 fWAR. Marte’s .283/.351/.402 slash line provided a spark to the top of the Mariners’ order and was a bright spot in a mostly disappointing season for the club. Given his speed and contact skills, the switch-hitter should be able to maintain an above-average BABIP and hit at the top of the order. There’s still debate as to whether he’d be better suited at second base or center field, but he has made strides at short and in the meantime will stick there. Long-term it’s unlikely to be his best fit though. Brad Miller was dealt over the offseason so Marte will have a reasonably long leash at short in his sophomore year. He did manage to improve his plate discipline in 2015 posting an impressive 9.7 percent walk rate but keeping that up will be a little tougher now that the league has gotten to know him some. There’s a good chance the stolen bases will increase as well under a management team that appears to be encouraging it more. Overall, Seattle could be looking at a solid if unspectacular all around sophomore season from Marte. Lance McCullers, SP — Houston Astros The former first-round pick found himself in the big league rotation due to injuries despite only 32 innings at Double-A but didn’t look all that much out of place. He made 22 starts for the surprising Houston Astros and in 125 an 2/3 innings pitched posted a 3.26 FIP. McCullers’ 9.24 strikeouts per nine innings was second among AL rookie starters to teammate and fellow sophomore Vincent Velasquez. The 22-year-old’s 2.8 fWAR handily topped AL rookie starters as well. McCullers has an excellent fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and an above average breaking ball. He’ll need to further develop his changeup in order to have three major league-caliber offerings that can be mixed, but give him the benefit of the doubt since he probably entered 2015 with another year or two of time in the minors allotted to do so. McCullers is coming off a professional career high for innings pitched and could find himself limited to the 150-range. He’ll have some adjustments to make as the league adjusts to him and I’d expect a few struggles as the changeup development continues, but he has a solid rookie season to build upon and should be fine in 2016. Carlos Rodon, SP — Chicago White Sox It’s rare for any player, even for a No. 3 overall pick, to debut in the big leagues after just 34 and 2/3 innings in the minors. But Rodon and his electric slider debuted in late April and went on to produce a 3.87 FIP across 23 starts and 139 and 1/3 innings pitched. The 23-year-old posted a strikeout rate of 8.98 per nine innings but struggled throughout the year with the free pass at a rate of 4.59 per nine. Obviously the big thing going forward will be reducing the walk rate, but the raw tools are all there — including an improving changeup. As many young pitchers are susceptible to, Rodon had rough patches throughout the season where he was knocked around. The walks came down in August and September last year and the left-hander’s results improved ERA-wise, but his FIP disagreed with what we were seeing. The key to sophomore success will be continuing to develop consistency. At times Rodon’s lack of seasoning was telling in 2015, but with a full year under his belt, 2016 should be a step forward for the rising star.
Yesterday, Murphy’s Law was at work. I was traveling back from a fun-filled weekend in Cleveland when the Seattle Mariners introduced Jerry Dipoto as their new GM. I would’ve preferred to have been parked in front of some sort of a screen watching his introductory press conference rather than being stuck at airports and trapped inside airplanes. I was eager to hear what the 47-year-old thought about the team he was inheriting from the recently fired Jack Zduriencik and how he planned to make the Mariners into a championship organization and I was off the grid! Fortunately, ROOT Sports replayed the team’s introductory press conference and Jason A. Churchill provided astute analysis on the Dipoto’s selection at Prospect Insider. After absorbing Jason’s thoughts and listening to Dipoto discuss the Mariners organization, it’s clear to me that the new GM envisions a player development process that will consistently provide value in the form of major league talent on the team’s roster or trading chips. I found a measure of irony in Dipoto’s comments because I just observed players who exemplify that vision during a beautiful night at Cleveland’s Progressive Field. While visiting “The Rock and Roll Capital of the World,” I attended a game between the hometown Indians and Minnesota Twins. During the contest, I saw three rookies who’ve made an immediate, positive impact for their respective ball clubs and represent the kind of homegrown talent that Mariners fans are craving to see on their team’s major league roster during the Dipoto regime. Miguel Sano Despite missing the entire 2014 season due to Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, the 22-year-old slugger went from starting the 2015 season at Class-AA Chattanooga to debuting with the big league club on July 2. As of Monday evening, Sano’s 17 home runs ranked fourth on his team and his .547 slugging percentage was the best among Twins regulars. During the game, he exhibited his power bat by peppering a Corey Kluber pitch off the left-center field wall for a stand-up RBI double. Yes, it’s true that his 305 plate appearances and 74 games equate to a small sample size, but his power is undeniable and has been a welcome addition to a team that entered the last week of the season as a contender for the postseason. Although he strikes out at a high rate – nearly 37-percent – Sano has a penchant for reaching advancing via the base-on-balls. His walk rate since arriving in the Twin Cities is 15.7-percent and relatively close to his 12.1-percent minor league rate. Having a high strikeout rate isn’t conducive to a high batting average, but his selectivity at the plate will help him achieve an above average on-base percentage. Interestingly, Dipoto discussed that the Mariners have a lot of prospects and young players who strikeout at a high rate at yesterday’s presser. As Jason noted in another Dipoto piece, Chicago Cubs’ rookie Kris Bryant had the same issue during his minor league development, but he developed a better eye at the plate. The new Mariners baseball boss will certainly want prospects who swing and miss often to develop a knack for reaching base at a high rate like Sano and Bryant. Defensively, the future for Sano is not clear at this time. Primarily a third baseman in the minor leagues, he’s been mainly used as a designated hitter during his brief stay in the majors. Before his elbow surgery, Sano had issues with throwing accuracy, so that may factor into whether he eventually supplants incumbent Trevor Plouffe at the hot corner or moves to another position. That’s a question to be answered in the future. In the interim, his slugging prowess will guarantee him a spot in the Twins lineup. Since Dipoto wants to place a renewed focus on defense, a player like Sano – who doesn’t have a defined defensive role – may not necessarily be the prototypical player that the new Mariners GM will covet on his roster, although his bat could convince Dipoto otherwise. Conversely, one of Sano’s teammates is exactly the kind of position player that the Mariners GM will be striving to develop for Seattle. Eddie Rosario Rosario – like Sano – started out in the Twins’ system in 2010. But, the ascension of the team’s fourth-round pick from that year’s amateur draft hit a snag when he was suspended 50 games for using a banned substance in 2013. Despite the setback, the rookie – who turned 24 on Monday – entered 2015 as a top-ten prospect in a deep Minnesota system that brags six players on the top-100 major league prospect list. Like his rookie teammate, Rosario’s hit tool is his primary strength. Although he struck out during his first plate appearance against Kluber, he rebounded nicely during his next plate appearance with an opposite field double off the left field wall. Since his major league debut on May 6, the left-handed hitter has been a fixture in the Twin’s lineup. His major league leading 15 triples and 12 home runs hints at a blend of speed and extra base power that’s made him an instant success in the big leagues. His high number of triples far exceeds what he’s done at any stage of his minor league career and probably isn’t sustainable in the future. Nevertheless, Rosario’s .458 slugging percentage is similar to his minor league productivity and hints at a player with gap power who may develop more home run power as he continues to mature. Unlike Sano, the newly christened 24-year-old doesn’t walk often. His 3.1-percent walk rate combined with striking out in one-quarter of his plate appearances have resulted in a paltry .290 on-base percentage. Since he was more selective at a higher rate in the minors – 7.1-percent – there’s genuine potential that he’ll improve his pitch selectivity in the future. Rosario played second base and center field in the minors, but his future is likely in a corner outfield spot thanks to his fast feet and strong arm. Good speed not only contributes to Rosario’s outfield and extra base potential, but also leads to excitement on the base path – his 11 stolen ranks second best on the Twins. He demonstrated how his quickness can impact a game on Monday when he advanced from second to third base on a pop out in foul territory near the right field line and subsequently scored on an infield ground ball. Sano and number-one prospect Byron Buxton may have garnered more media attention than Rosario, but his baseball-reference.com version of wins above replacement (2.1) ranks fourth best on the Minnesota roster. The Indians’ left fielder will be the kind of player that Dipoto will be looking to place in the Safeco Field outfield – an athletic player who can hit, run, and field their position well. Francisco Lindor The best rookie on the field during Monday night’s contest was playing for the Tribe. Lindor – who doesn’t turn 22 until November – has performed superbly since his call-up on June 14. The debut of another AL rookie shortstop who made his first major league appearance less than a week earlier – Houston’s Carlos Correa – has overshadowed Lindor’s arrival. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old’s performance has made him a serious contender – along with Correa – for the American League Rookie of the Year. When you look at Lindor’s statistics side-by-side with Correa’s, it’s clear that both the Indians and Astros have both developed gifted shortstops to anchor their middle infield. Name Age Tm G PA H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS Francisco Lindor 21 CLE 93 412 117 21 4 11 24 63 9 2 .319 .356 .488 .844 Carlos Correa 20 HOU 95 412 103 22 0 21 38 72 12 4 .278 .345 .508 .853b Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used Generated 9/30/2015. Drafted eighth overall by the Twins in 2011, the switch-hitting Lindor has a line drive swing and superb hand-eye coordination. His bat may not have the same power of Correa’s, but his .488 slugging percentage ranks second behind Correa among American League shortstops with 300 or more plate appearances. On Monday night, he demonstrated the pop in his bat by hitting his eleventh home run off Twins’ starter Tommy Milone in the first inning while batting right-handed. Speaking of handedness, Lindor has hit well from either side of the plate by batting over .300 from both sides. Defensively, Lindor is a plus defender with good range and a strong arm. Those attributes were clearly on display during Monday’s night game. On the very first play of the game, he easily glided to his right to snare a grounder and make a strong accurate throw to nail Brian Dozier at first base. Although Lindor made stops at every stage of the minors, he never spent a complete season at any level. Based on his performance with the Indians to date, the youngster will likely have a much longer stay at Progressive Field. Seattle outlook Dipoto has the good fortunate of inheriting rookie Ketel Marte, who has demonstrated athleticism and dual-handedness that’s similar to Lindor’s. Whether the Mariners shortstop can blossom and reach the level of Lindor – or even stick at shortstop – has yet to be determined. But, the 21-year-old is certainly the type of versatile, multi-tooled player that Dipoto wants Seattle’s farm system to produce more frequently. Assuming that Dipoto can implement the player development vision that he’s suggested, Mariners fans will eventually see players like the trio I saw in Cleveland on Monday night playing for the home team at “the corner of Edgar and Dave” during the new GM’s tenure.