MLB Draft Time; aka Mariners Get More Players Who Won’t Play This Year

The Major League Baseball draft starts tomorrow. This is not usually news that excites many people, but if you haven’t noticed, there are no sports right now! So if you’re looking for something that at least resembles following baseball, check it out.

Like everything else right now, this draft is going to be weird. The MLB draft is a little strange no matter what, since, in no particular order, fans don’t know the draftees, they take 40 players, most of them won’t make the big leagues, and the ones that do won’t be there until 2-6 years later. This year the draft has been cut to five rounds by the owners, which is unfortunate for nearly everyone else involved. I’m not going to really get into all of that. Go read Baseball America or Fangraphs or something if you want opinions or details. There’s enough else to think about, so I’m going to pretend this draft is otherwise normal, that baseball isn’t on the edge of not having a season, and that we’re not in the midst of the craziest year in decades.

I’m going to break this into some categories, because it’s easier to write and easier for you to read. Also, I haven’t written one of these in a long time and I’m out of practice!

Where do the Mariners stand in all of this?

After their horrendous 2019 season, the Mariners pick sixth overall, their highest pick in quite some time. It’s a shame to lose 35 rounds of picking sixth in each round, but such is life. The sort-of silver lining is that they’ll likely either roll that pick slot over to 2021 if no season happens, or they’ll probably have an even higher pick if they play, because they will be very bad this year. 2021 could be a ridiculously deep draft class, with many players who would have been picked in rounds 6-40 returning to college. Also, the Astros have no first round pick this year because they’re cheaters, so that’s nice.

Anyway, this is purported to be a good class, deep in pitching especially. The Mariners will have a great shot at getting an impact player at #6, and with the way the draft slotting system works, they should have good money to find a high upside talent in the second or third round, if they so choose. Real quick, each pick has a dollar value assigned to it, and those values combined make up the team’s draft pool. They can spread the money around their picks however they want, so long as they sign the pick. If they don’t sign someone, that pick’s slot value disappears from the pool. Sometimes a team will draft a guy they know they can sign for cheap, so they can devote most of that pick’s slot value to another guy who wants more money to sign.

The Mariners have just over $10,000,000 for six picks, with a little wiggle room if they want to pay taxes. If they go too far over that though, they’ll lose picks next year. They’ll pick sixth in each round, with a bonus pick after the second round they received for Omar Narvaez.

How has the lack of baseball this year affected the draft?

The answer to this remains to be seen. The main issue is that amateurs had next to no season, if they played at all. It makes scouting more of a guessing game. Teams are mostly going by last season, and whatever they can glean from a few games this year and interviews over the computer. The MLB draft is a mystery in a regular year, so who knows what this draft will look like down the road. I don’t envy the scouts who’ve had to prepare for this, but it’s impossible to say yet how the actual draft picks will turn out.

On the professional side, the biggest effect is the shortening of the draft. Owners are worried about money, for good reason, although some are probably also being cheap. With likely no minor league season at all, it kind of makes sense, but things could look very strange on the player development front in a season or two. I should also note that teams can sign undrafted players, with a bonus limit of $20,000, which is nothing. It’s a shame for the players and will put stress on colleges who are going to be short on scholarships, not to mention being short on money to pay for the scholarships. It’s all a mess.

There’s also talk that some teams won’t be able/willing to spend their full bonus pools and will draft accordingly. That would have a huge effect on the draft and be great for teams that can spend. No one really knows if this will actually be an issue though.

Enough of that. Who are the Mariners going to draft?

This is a draft generally regarded as having six standouts at the top, which is nice since the M’s have the sixth pick. That being said, I have no idea what the Mariners will do. They’ve leaned heavily toward college pitching the last couple of years, and there’s a deep crop of it in this class. They’ve also said this spring that they’re looking for up the middle impact players, so who knows what they’ll do. I’ll get into individual players more below.

Teams don’t really draft for need in baseball, but these are the areas I see the M’s needing help in the future, loosely in order:

Infield: The M’s have basically one non-1B infield prospect (18 year old Noelvi Marte), and a few guys who could possibly develop into something. They badly need some impact guys, especially at shortstop. A third baseman would be nice as well.

Top of the Rotation Upside: Obviously every team needs this, and it’s easier said than done. The team has really restocked their rotation depth, but lacks a guy with true ace potential. Logan Gilbert looks like the best bet, but most forecast him as a good #2 type.

Catching Depth: I’m not saying they need to look for a starting catcher this year, but outside of Cal Raleigh, there’s very little catching in the system with big league potential.

So Who Are They Going To Draft?

As I said, there are six guys considered to be the top tier, but really there are three that stand out from that group. 1B Spencer Torkelson is nearly a lock to go first, and 3B/OF Austin Martin and LHP Asa Lacy should follow in that order. I think there’s a tiny chance Martin could drop, but we’ll plan on those three being off the board. If Lacy drops, it’ll be because of injury concerns that would likely push him down further than the Mariners.

I’ll rank the remaining options, based on my preference. Please remember this preference is not based on any scouting acumen of my own. I just listen to people who know more than I do, and watch a video on Twitter occasionally. The M’s could very easily pick someone else, and it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad pick.

  1. Nick Gonzales, 2B/SS – Gonzales is a little guy who hit .423 last season, with good power. He sounds a little like Dustin Pedroia. He likely won’t stick at shortstop, but otherwise he’s a perfect fit for the Mariners. I’d be ecstatic if he fell to them. He’s a fun guy to watch and maybe the best all-around hitter in the draft, and fills a huge hole in the M’s system.
  2. Zac Veen, OF – Veen has shot up draft boards this spring and is likely the only high schooler the M’s are considering. The lefty has potential to be a monster in the line up. He probably won’t stay in center field, but that’s okay. There had been nothing linking him to Seattle until the last couple of days, which makes me wonder if they’re trying to hide their interest. Regardless, I think he’ll be off the board when they pick, but there’s a good chance he or Gonzales are available.
  3. Emerson Hancock, RHP – A big righty from the University of Georgia, Hancock was the favorite to go number one overall six months ago. He’s (reportedly) dropping because of lackluster performance in his limited starts this season. There’s also concern he may not have a true out pitch. What he does have is 4 good or better pitches, lots of velocity, good command, and proven performance in the SEC. He’s no guarantee, but he could easily be atop a rotation in four years.

One of these three (or the three mentioned above them) will be available when Seattle picks, and I’d love to have any of them. There are concerns with all of them, but each has clear potential to be an all-star.

Of course, the Mariners might go a different direction. Max Meyer should go right around this area. He’s a shorter pitcher with possibly the best fastball and the best slider in the draft. I like him, but there’s a real risk he ends up in the bullpen. Heston Kjerstad is a slugging college outfielder who would save them a little money for later picks. I don’t think they’d take him over Gonzales or Veen, but if they’re gone, he’d likely be the next hitter on the board. I don’t love him, but there are worse picks. There are other college pitchers they could go with, but none I like better than anyone already listed. An interesting name to watch is Mick Abel, a high school pitcher from Oregon. He’s probably the top high school pitch in the draft, and may end up being the best pitcher overall. High school pitchers are incredibly risky, but I wouldn’t be at all mad if he were the pick.

So there you go. Assuming baseball resumes someday, the Mariners are actually stockpiling a lot of talent. It’s a shame they’ll only add six players, but they should be six good players. The Mariners have actually become good drafters, so don’t worry too much. We’ll just hope whomever they pick will see the field before next summer.

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Present and Future Mariners – 2B/SS/3B

I’m back in record time for the second post in this series. I’m speculating on what each position will look like for the Mariners in 2020, as well as what future years might hold. Today, we finish our trip around the infield, a set of positions that might be the most lacking in talent of any in Seattle’s rapidly improving farm system.

Second Base

Second base in Seattle is in the strange position of returning a starter who will almost assuredly not be the starter in 2020. That starter is Dee Gordon, who will likely fill a utility role for the club in 2020. That is, if they can’t trade him before the season starts. I’m sure they spent all offseason trying to move Dee, but to no avail. It’s not impossible that Gordon returns to being a solid starter somewhere, but his past two years have been poor. Combined with $13 million remaining on his contract this year, it’s no wonder he’s been difficult to trade. I expect they’ll eventually move him, along with a lot of money to cover most of the contract, and receive next to nothing in return.

Why trade him at all, you ask, if you’re going to pay for him anyway and you won’t get much back? Good question, but the answer is Shed Long. The diminutive infielder with the great name and big lefty swing is the present at second base in Seattle, and the M’s want him to get lots of at bats. Whether he’s the future or not will hopefully be answered by the end of the season. Shed’s defense is okay at best, but there’s reason to hope for improvement, as he’s relatively new to the position and has the athleticism to be at least solid. It’ll be up to him to put in the work this year to improve. However his defense ends up, Shed’s bat is likely to always be his premier tool. He’s put up decent, and occasionally very good, offensive numbers throughout his career in the minors. His brief trial in Seattle last year was mixed, but he showed real promise toward the end of the year. He has a lot more power than his size would indicate, and it’s reasonable to think he could be an average or better starting second baseman. I’m not sure I’m convinced, but Shed’s certainly interesting enough to warrant a season seeing what he can do full time.

I’m not sure there’s anyone else in the whole system who’s currently playing second base and could be an impact starter in the majors. There are utility types, including Dylan Moore and Tim Lopes at or near the big leagues. Donnie Walton, who spent last year in double A, might have a shot. He’s currently the definition of a utility man, but he’s beloved by his teammates and a coach’s kid who seems like he might keep beating the odds to end up a starter.

After 2020

If Shed Long doesn’t lay claim to the position this year, I have no idea what the Mariners will do going forward. If Shed is okay but not great, they’d probably give him a little longer for improvement. If he’s not eventually the long-term answer, they’ll likely have to acquire a second baseman. That might mean free agency, but I could see the team stocking up on middle infielders in the next two drafts and seeing if one of them can blow through the minors quickly.

Shortstop

Shortstop is very settled for 2020, but the long-term future is still up in the air. J.P. Crawford came over in trade as a failed top prospect, known for a solid all around game. He showed flashes of being an above-average starter, but his consistency, especially with the bat, was lacking. He started well, and posted a .983 OPS in 16 games in June, but he fell apart from there, batting well below .200 the rest of the way. Whether it was the result of fatigue or the league simply figuring him out is hard to say. He’s gotten bigger this offseason, and 2020 will be a huge year for him to establish himself as an offensively viable starting shortstop. I have high hopes, as he’s still quite young and came through the minors pretty quickly. Luckily for him, last season brought drastic improvements to his defense. I shouldn’t say luckily, as it’s clear he put in a ton of work. No one will forget his incredible backhand stop and no-look, falling down throw, but he was dependable and often spectacular for most of the year.

The only real hope for a big time talent behind Crawford is an 18 year old who has yet to play a game in the United States. Noelvi Marte put up a monster season in the Dominican Summer League last year and will make his debut stateside this season, likely either in low A or possibly short season Everett. He has all the potential to be a big time prospect and player, especially offensively. He has a long ways to go, but he could move quickly. He’s likely not quite as talented as Julio Rodriguez, but he’s on a similar development path, albeit a possibly slower timetable. He may have to move off shortstop eventually, but that’s not definite, and he should be able to shift to third or second if he does.

After 2020

The best case scenario at shortstop for Seattle is that Crawford blows up this year and looks like an impact player. Shortstop is still the most important position on the field. Crawford showed he can play the position, and if he can develop into an above average hitter, the Mariners will have a playoff level player. In theory, that could allow Marte to shift to third eventually as well, where the M’s have a black hole of talent. There’s not much in the system outside of those two, but they’re two pretty good lottery tickets.

Third Base

Speaking of people the team would probably like to trade, Kyle Seager is still here. His 2019 season was delayed by injury, and then he was very bad, and then he was pretty good. It seems entirely possible that he’ll be back to something in the realm of vintage Seager, but he could also just be bad. The team will keep trying to trade him, but due to well-publicized contractual issues (he gets paid a lot more if he’s traded, basically), it may not be possible unless he turns in a big first half. I’m guessing he plays the year in Seattle, but they manage to move him next offseason.

While I understand why Dipoto would want to move Seager, namely his contract, I also think it’s a little strange, because the team has almost no talent behind him. It’s not like there’s a top prospect they need to give at bats. There are the aforementioned utility guys who could fill in for a while but aren’t likely long-term answers. Two prospects have a shot, albeit a small one. Joe Rizzo is a short guy who has made slow but steady progress through the system and will likely be in double A this year. He’s known as a hitter, and 2019 was by far his best season, but middling power and mostly unimpressive numbers leave me doubtful. He has defensive questions as well and is no lock to stay at third base. Further down, Austin Shenton was a 2019 draft pick who had a nice debut in Everett before falling off some when he moved up a level to West Virginia. He profiles similarly to Seager, actually, but it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll perform this year. He has a shot, but he’ll have to answer a lot of questions. Really, the future at this position is likely Noelvi Marte, but it would be better if he can stay at shortstop.

After 2020

I have no idea. Seager will likely still be here next year, but there is no definite long-term third baseman in the system, in my opinion, unless it’s Marte in three or more years. I see an impact veteran addition here in the near-ish future.

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For all the improvements the Mariners have made to their farm system, these three positions have seen the least talent added. Crawford and Long have real shots to be starters, but otherwise the future is resting on Noelvi Marte, who would be graduating high school this year if he were born in the United States.  I expect additions here, both at the major league level in the next few years and with major reinforcements through the next few drafts. These are some of the most important positions on the field, and the Mariners just need more bodies.

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Present and Future Mariners – C/1B/DH

The Mariners are going to be bad this year. When the general manager of the  team tells you they’re going to be bad, that means they’re really going to be bad. In year two of their rebuild, the team might push 100 losses.

Despite that, I’m kind of looking forward to this season. There’s young talent on the opening day roster, with more coming in the next months and years. There’s never any guarantee in baseball that young prospects will pan out, but I’m looking forward to getting excited about some new guys for the first time in a long time.

This series (I’m being optimistic calling it that, since I average about a post a year right now) will look at each position for 2020 for the Mariners, as well as give thoughts on how the next few years might play out.

Catcher

In 2019, Omar Narvaez turned in the best offensive season the M’s have had from a catcher in recent memory, and then was promptly traded this offseason. It think it was a necessary move, as Narvaez was bad with the glove and seemed unlikely to improve, but replacing his offense might be tough. Luckily, last year’s backup Tom Murphy had a solid season with the bat as well, and is much better defensively. He’ll take over as the starter in 2020, and the team will hope he can replicate or improve upon last year’s numbers. It’s no guarantee, but Murphy’s a good gamble to take. If he can stay close to his .858 OPS from last year while starting over 100 games, he’ll be a well above average major league catcher.

Backing him up will be Austin Nola, who played about half of last season in Seattle, mostly at first base. He was a big surprise as an older guy who had bounced around the minors before delivering a solid batting line in the big leagues. I’m skeptical he can replicate the performance, but as a backup catcher who can play a solid first base as well, he doesn’t need to be great to add value to the team.

In the minors, the M’s really only have one solid prospect. That’s Cal Raleigh, who will likely start the season in double A. That’s where he ended a really solid 2019, which saw him hit 29 homers, mostly in High A ball, where he spent his first 82 games. His offensive numbers dropped in the final month plus in double A, but they weren’t disastrous. It’s not easy to find switch-hitting catchers with power who are also solid defensively, so Raleigh will get plenty of chances to be the catcher of the future. He’ll need to watch his strikeout numbers and continue to improve his defense, but he’s an interesting guy to keep an eye on. This season will show a ton about what we can expect from him. There’s not a lot else in the minors, but watch for Jake Anchia a level or two behind Raleigh. He has power potential but tons of strikeouts.

After 2020

The future catcher position is a little up for grabs. Murphy could continue last year’s trajectory and take hold of the job for the foreseeable future, but my guess is he gets exposed a little this year and settles in as a good backup. Raleigh seems like a 50-50 bet, at best, to be a long-term championship level starter. There are interesting options here, but I kind of expect the Mariners to be in the market for a free agent catcher in a year or two.

First Base

Suddenly, the future is now at first base. This offseason, Evan White signed a six year contract. That’s a long deal for anyone, but especially for a guy who hasn’t played above double A. It’s a bit of a risk, but if White is even an average starter, it’s an incredible deal for the Mariners. White is an interesting guy. He’s best known for being the best defensive first baseman alive, which is fun. He has a solid bat, but his power is still hope as much as reality. I think there’s room to believe he eventually hits 30 homers, but an average closer to 15 is probably more likely. Unless he looks completely over-matched in spring training, he will be the opening day starter, and with no incentive to send him down with his contract, he’ll have all the leash he needs to succeed. I’d love a .270/.350/.450 line from him this year, but even a tick less would be a solid debut.

There’s no real backup option to speak of, so if White struggles and needs to go to Tacoma for a while, I would guess Nola would take over and they’d call up whatever catcher is in Tacoma. I think there’s a 50% chance of this happening at some point. White’s young and could easily need a little seasoning. There’s not a lot of first base depth worth mentioning in the minors either, although it tends to be a position for guys with good bats who can’t play defense, or who get beat out at their regular position. The Mariners have a lot of outfielders who might fit this description in the next few years.

After 2020

This position belongs to Evan White. There is no doubt about this. If he can’t handle it, the Mariners will have to convert an outfielder or something else along those lines, or they’ll have to acquire another first baseman. Personally, I believe in Evan White and think he’ll be at least an average starter, with a shot at being an all star.

Designated Hitter

I often skip over DH in these type of discussions, but we have to talk about Daniel Vogelbach. Everyone wants Vogey to succeed. His first few months of 2019 were so much fun, with him blasting balls off the Hit It Here Cafe and just generally being a lovable teddy bear. And then the wheels came off, and he ended up barely hitting .200, with an OPS under .800. That’s not acceptable from a DH, especially one with mammoth power and a great batting eye. I have no idea what 2020 will bring. I could certainly see him righting the ship and solidifying into a good or better bat. Unfortunately, if I had to bet, I would go the other way. I hope not, because a big time lefty slugger would help this rebuild tremendously.

If Vogelbach doesn’t turn it around in the first half of this season, there’s no real reason to keep him around. As much as everyone loves him, his only job is to hit, and so far he’s struggling to do that. If the team does have to move on, I would expect the Mariners to use DH as a spot to give young players at bats for the next couple of years, rather than finding one guy to play it every game. I’ll leave it at that, since there’s no way to know what even 2021 would look like if Vogelbach doesn’t establish himself as the team’s future designated hitter.

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The positive here is that there are good options, both now and in future years, at these positions. The negative is that none of these positions is close to settled. That’s going to be a common theme for every position on the team, though. The main goal for this year is to settle at least a few positions, so the team can focus their energy and assets on the roster holes that remain.

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Are the Mariners Any Good in the Draft?

The Mariners roster, even into the minor leagues, does not have a lot of clear answers. What is clear, is that the Mariners just need more players. Good players, if we can be picky, but in some cases, just more players in general would be a good thing.

Prior to last offseason, the Mariners had the worst farm system in baseball. There were few impact prospects and little depth. Some positions had no prospects with realistic chances of making the majors, which is pretty rare. The offseason trades of Diaz, Paxton and others brought in a huge amount of talent, but the system is still only middle of the pack. It’s tremendously better, but far from overflowing with talent.

Luckily, the MLB draft begins this Monday, and the Mariners will add 35-41 players to their organization (depending on how many they sign). I personally think the baseball draft is more interesting than the other more publicized NFL and NBA drafts, but I can understand why few people follow it. The Mariners will draft 41 players, and I will have maybe heard of three of them. Then they will all go to the minor leagues, and if we’re lucky four of them will be in Seattle in four or five years, and maybe a couple more will follow eventually, and the rest we will never hear about again. It’s a weird process.

Want to hear something strange and depressing? Kyle Seager is the only player on the Mariners current 25-man roster who was originally drafted by the team. Some of that is the result of Jerry Dipoto’s countless trades, but a lot of it is due to some really bad drafting. That simply has to change if the Mariners are going to contend anytime soon. Dipoto’s regime has had three drafts, and I’m honestly not sure how they’ve done. It’s still too early to judge any of them fully, but I’m going to run through real quick and see what we can find out.

2016

First Pick: Kyle Lewis, OF

I was incredibly excited and surprised when Lewis dropped to the M’s at #11. He was expected to be a top 5 guy, with a power bat and the athleticism to play center. And for about a month he looked amazing. Then he destroyed his knee in a collision at the plate, and it’s taken nearly three years to get him consistently on the field again. Hope is far from lost, but he’s off to a slow start in double-A this season. I could just as easily see him regaining his form and being an all star in Seattle as I could see him never finding it and fading quietly into retirement. This was a good pick that has met nothing but bad luck.

Best Pick: Um, none?

This draft does not look great. 2nd rounder Joe Rizzo’s hitting okay in high-A this season, but right now he looks like a fringe big leaguer at best. There are some potential bullpen arms, led by Matt Festa, but no sure things. I’m not saying there’s no hope left, but it doesn’t look good. Interestingly, their last pick was Adley Rutschman, a catcher who went to Oregon State and will likely be the first player taken this week. I’m sure the Mariners drafted him knowing there was no way they would sign him, but it’s still a depressing what if to think about.

Best Late Pick (after Round 10): Reggie McClain, P, 13th Round

He’s the pick in part because his name is Reginald Kristen McClain. He’s also had decent success as a starter and reliever and is currently in Tacoma. He’s got a chance to make the bigs, which is more than we can say for most of these picks. If Eric Filia could stop getting suspended for (allegedly) smoking pot, he’d be the choice here.

Overview: Like I said, this draft wasn’t great. It’ll be okay if Lewis regains his form, but even that’s not really enough to save this class. At the time of Dipoto’s hire, I was surprised he retained Tom Allison, who ran the drafts for Zduriencik. The Mariners may very well end up with nothing to show for the whole draft, save a few decent relief innings from Festa and a couple of others. Hopefully, they get more than that from Lewis and/or Rizzo, but the odds aren’t great..

2017

First Pick: Evan White, 1B

White was a slightly underwhelming pick at the time, because he didn’t have a ton of power and his calling card was athleticism and gold glove defense at first base. That’s a weird profile for anyone, much less a top 20 pick. It became clear the Mariners think he has more power in his bat, and his second half last season showed they might be right. He’s off to a slower start in double-A this season, but he still looks like the first baseman of the future. Whether he plays more like JT Snow or, I don’t know, Paul Goldschmidt is unknowable at this point.

Best Pick: White, so let’s talk about 2nd Rounder Sam Carlson

This draft may rest on whether Carlson can return and flourish after Tommy John surgery. A high school righty with a big arm and heavy sinker, Carlson has yet to throw a pitch for the Mariners. He might see action later this year. If he could return to his earlier promise, he could be a top of the rotation starter in four or five years. Right now he’s just another sign of the Mariners bad luck (or bad scouting).

Best Late Round Pick: Sam Delaplane, RHRP, 23rd Round

Delaplane, as of Wednesday, was third in the Cal League (High-A) in strikeouts. As a reliever. He’s striking out nearly two batters an inning. I don’t know if his stuff’ll play as he gets closer to the bigs, but you can’t do much more than what he’s doing.

Overview: This was the first draft run by Scott Hunter, who took over when Allison moved up in the organization. It’s not a bad draft, in part because Dipoto traded a good share of the players in the top 10 rounds almost immediately to build last year’s team. We can argue whether that was a good choice, but it’s one way to get production from a draft. There are some good arms in the farm from this class, but this draft will ride on how White and Carlson develop. Interestingly, the M’s picked up another first rounder from this class when they got Justin Dunn in the Cano/Diaz trade.

2018 (It’s way too early to evaluate this, but we’ll take a look anyway)

First Pick: Logan Gilbert, SP

Gilbert was a workhorse out of Stetson University. In keeping with Mariner tradition, he came down with mono after being drafted and didn’t pitch until this spring. This was probably a good thing, as he was a little overworked in college and his velocity had dipped, but it felt very Mariners-y. Gilbert looks like a phenomenal pick. He’s already gone through Low-A and is throwing well in High-A. He has four pitches and throws in the 90s. Barring injury, he looks like a solid big league starter. Whether he can become close to an ace might depend on whether his velocity bumps back up into the mid- to high-90s. I think he’s the system’s top starter prospect by far. 2021 is a reasonable ETA.

Best Pick: Probably Gilbert, but let’s say: Cal Raleigh, C, 3rd Round

Raleigh was a college catcher with good defensive skills. More rare is that he’s a switch-hitter with good power. He’s playing well in High-A right now and could very well be a starter in Seattle down the road.

Best Late Round Pick: Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHP, 11th Round

The 11th and 12th rounds are where teams try to grab high upside high schoolers who may not sign. The reasons for this are complicated, but Casetta-Stubbs fits the bill. He’s a big time arm from the northwest, and I’m sure the M’s were thrilled when they were able to get him to sign. He’s made seven starts in low-A with mixed results at best, so I’m curious if they move him to Everett when their season opens. Regardless, he has one of the most projectable arms in the system and could move up prospect ratings quickly.

Overview: Again, it’s way early, but this class looks better. Second rounder Josh Stowers has already been traded, but he brought back Shed Long, so that looks good so far. The first 10 rounds have more upside than the previous few classes, while the later rounds are heavy on relief arms, with a couple of interesting bats thrown in. It might only look good because they haven’t failed yet, but I don’t cringe looking at this group, so that’s a start. It helps that they traded for #6 overall pick Jarred Kelenic, who is off to a monster start. The M’s say he was their top player in the class, which might just be talk, but I kind of think it’s true. He looks extremely good.


So that’s one terrible draft, one mediocre at best, and one with promise that hasn’t proven anything yet. The Mariners pick at #20 on Monday, but they do have 4 picks in the top 100 this year, so we’ll at least have some new names to talk about. The Mariners are past the point of their top pick immediately becoming their top prospect, but they still badly need to hit on this class if they want to continue to restock the system.

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Checking On The Mariners

A third of the way through the season, the Mariners are right where I thought they’d be. Barring a crazy comeback, they’re about to be 24-33. Before the season, I would’ve said they’d be solidly under .500 but far from the worst team in the league, and that’s right where they are.

I can’t take a lot of credit, though, because how they got here is weird as can be. As you might have forgotten by now, the M’s ran to their best start in history, sitting at 13-2 a few weeks into the season. They’ve gone 11-31 since. Both of those numbers are kind of amazing. Much like the hot start, this slump won’t last, but the team has enough real issues to likely keep them from ever getting back to .500. I would guess they end up as one of the better bad teams in the league, if that makes any sense.

Regardless of how they got here, the focus of this season has always been the future. The Mariners are on record as planning to contend again next season or 2021. Personally, I think next season is a pipe dream, but 2021 isn’t out of the question. I’m going to run through the roster and see what progress they’ve made toward that end. This isn’t going to mention everyone; it’s more of a check-in on who might be moving toward establishing themselves as a future foundation piece.

Catcher

We’ll start on a high note. Omar Narvaez is currently among the best offensive catchers in the league. His defense has been mediocre at best, but it’s still been better than I expected, and seems to be improving. The glove has a bit to go before he’s a no doubt starter for a pennant winner, but if he can continue to improve, the bat is more than enough already. Tom Murphy has also been a welcome surprise after the terrible back ups the team has had lately. It seems unlikely both are around in two years, but there’s no reason why they can’t be.

Infield

This is a jumbled mess. The best bet for 2021 looks like JP Crawford at short, despite what looked like a bad ankle sprain a minute ago. He’s hit very well in his month or so in the bigs, and while he’s not likely going to ever win a gold glove, he’s been solid and a huge defensive improvement over Tim Beckham. Beckham isn’t a bad utility guy, but he’s on a one year deal and I’m sure would like to start. I could see him taking over second base, but he’s not a shortstop and mostly likely will not be a Mariner in 2020, and maybe even in August this year. Seager looks great in his week back, but who knows what’s going to happen with that contract situation. Shed Long is hitting well right now, but I’ll need to see more, especially with the glove, to count him as a definite piece of the future.

That leaves plenty of options but not much clarity. First base looks similar. Daniel Vogelbach is everyone’s new favorite, and for good reason. He and Narvaez are the clear biggest developments this season. I see no reason why Vogey can’t continue as a middle of the order bat. The question is whether he can ever be more than a designated hitter. Being able to play first semi-regularly would be very helpful. Ryon Healy seems to have settled as the definition of average, which generally isn’t good enough for a first baseman. That leaves a hole, with a couple of other potential options. Evan White is off to a slow start at Double-A, but he has time to right himself after suffering an early injury. His potential gold glove defense is enticing after watching this year’s squad fumble the ball all over the place. Another option I haven’t seen mentioned is Domingo Santana. I have no idea whether he can field a grounder, but he certainly struggles in the outfield. If the team likes his bat enough to keep him around, he’ll likely have to find a new position, given his defense and the outfield options in the minors. Overall, the infield has by far the most questions and fewest future options in the system.

Outfield

The outfield looks better, but there are plenty of questions here too. Despite his slow start, I have no worries about Haniger. The only way he’s not a solid contributor in 2021 is if Dipoto decides they’re better off trading him for a couple of young pieces. I already mentioned Santana. I like his bat. He’s plenty good enough to be a streaky, slugging left fielder, but I don’t know if the defense will ever be good enough for Safeco’s big power alleys. There are other options for the corners in the minors, but no one that can be penciled into the line up yet. Jake Fraley, acquired from Tampa for Mike Zunino, has been excellent in double-A. His running mates there, Kyle Lewis and Dom Thompson-Williams, have athleticism and interesting tools, but are currently missing the production to match.

In center, Mallex Smith looks revitalized by his short minors stint. He’s a solid piece when he’s hitting and running like the last few games. I think he’s a better fit as a very good fourth outfielder, but that’s dependent on finding a gold glove-level center fielder who is around league average at the plate to supplant him. Maybe Braden Bishop could fit that bill, but there’s no way to tell yet. The only other in-house option is Jarred Kelenic, who was promoted to High A tonight after torching Low-A the last two months. He won’t be 20 until mid-July and is looking like a future star, and possibly more than that. Opening day 2021 is probably too optimistic for him to make Seattle, but a debut sometime that year isn’t out of the question.

Pitching

Honestly, I don’t know what to make of the pitching staff, so this is going to be short. Marco and Kikuchi look like solid members of the 2021 rotation, barring injury or something else unexpected (that always goes without saying about pitchers). I don’t see any other current big league starters being part of a contending rotation going forward, at least on a regular basis. Erik Swanson and Justus Sheffield have promise but plenty to work on still. They should both see more big league time before the year’s over. Justin Dunn, obtained in the Cano-Diaz deal, is in a similar situation at AA. Further down, Logan Gilbert, last year’s first round pick, is carving through both levels of A ball. He could be on a similar timeline to Kelenic, although 2022 seems a more likely ETA. While a few bullpen pieces are starting to emerge, anyone trying to forecast the 2021 bullpen this early is crazy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the whole pen turns over by then.

 

There’s plenty to like about this team, despite the horrible play of late. The farm system has performed well thus far too. There’s still a lot of questions to answer, though. They’re going to need a lot of things to go right, and likely a few notable free agent signings, if they really hope to contend in 2021. These are the Mariners though, so that’s nothing new. There’s always 2022!

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Fun With (Fun) Mariners Numbers

When this blog was resurrected (Happy Late Easter) I had big plans for a post. That certain post may still happen so I won’t spoil it, I’m sure my mere mention of said post is causing people to sell off their Avengers: Endgame tickets for this weekend, opting to sit in front of a computer screen in anticipation instead. It’s been a long time since I’ve written about sports as I’ve focused on writing about other things recently. Fortunately, this should come back to me like riding a bicycle. Speaking of, I took my bike out of the garage the other day and was going to go for a short ride. I hopped on, pedaled a few times and then almost fell of immediately. My bike was walked back to the garage and I went inside.

The Mariners have been the subject of the Good Guys (although it’s really only been Matthew so far as the rest of us watched in shock) getting back together. I don’t want to speak for Matthew, but writing about baseball has always come easier. I think both of us care most about the Huskies, especially football. Maybe those games are too personal or maybe we don’t know as much about the sport to ever be completely comfortable in covering it hence the writing about baseball.

Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

 

As the season was about to begin, my excitement level was pretty low. Matthew would tell me how he was looking forward to the season and I’d nod while thinking “Who’s Cory Gearrin and why is he a staple in the Mariners bullpen?”  Then the year began, I watched nearly every inning of the games in Japan and thought, “Tim Beckham is awesome. Who’s Cory Gearrin and why is he a staple in the Mariners bullpen?” After two wins in Japan, the Mariners continued to play well, blowing past the lowly(!) Red Sox and Mike Trout’s middle school friends (that’s the only explanation for the team the Angels have assembled). Then they destroyed the bad teams in the AL Central on the road. After having a frustrating week against the top 5 finishers in the 2019 AL Cy Young Award voting, they went back to bashing the Angels.

It’s all been good, weird fun. Having no expectations for a team can be a freeing experience for a sports fan. The four-hour games are always filled with twists and strange moments. The hitting approach has been a fresh sight. The bullpen has been pretty awful but it’s fun to laugh at. Before the season began, I was annoyed at the ‘Step Back’ because of the wide open AL Wild Card. I believe that the team Jerry blew up would have been the fifth best team in the AL and probably could have snuck into the playoffs. I still believe that but I’ll freely admit that watching this team has been more fun.

I have problems with the Mariners Front Office, ownership and coaches. Even with a hot start, I think they’re better at talking about how smart they are than actually showing those skills off. But that’s a post for another day. As the first Mariners off-day in a few weeks come to a close, it’s time to look at some of the weirdest numbers a baseball team could put up. Most of these statistics are WAR (Fangraphs) based and I completely understand that this is an absurdly small sample size. But our stated goal is to have fun with numbers, not to look at numbers then add caveats to be annoying. The 2019 Mariners aren’t here for your negativity! They’re here for dingers and spitting in Rob Manfred’s dumb pace-of-game initiatives. To the numbers based bullet points!

  • The Mariners are 16-9 and only have one full-time player who has a positive defensive WAR value! That one player is Dee Gordon, who has been solid in the field but not spectacular. He’s 193rd in defensive value in the majors. Tom Murphy and Ichiro are the only other players with a positive defensive value. Granted, I’m not a huge fan of defensive metrics especially in this small sample but I find this pretty hilarious. I wonder if a team has ever had a winning record with all of their full-time players having a negative value over the course of a season? The eye test certainly backs this stat up as the M’s look dreadful playing defense. It’s somewhat endearing and the obvious comparison is the Oakland moneyball approach earlier this century. Those teams were much better defensively than this one though. Ryon Healy’s -9.1 defensive value is really something to marvel at and not at all surprising if you’ve watched him.
  • To help offset those lousy defensive numbers, the Mariners have hit. And then walked. And then hit some more. Sticking with the offensive and defensive value in terms of WAR, the Mariners are currently at 45.2 on the offensive side. The next highest is the Dodgers at 31. The next highest after that is 23.9. Everyone else is in the teens or below. The 2018 Mariners put up a .6 in the offensive value category. The 2010 Mariners were at -148.8 in the same stat. Naturally, the 45.2 number this year’s squad is at could go down if they slump for a few weeks. But, it’s been an absurd start.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, the Mariners offensive run hasn’t been BABIP fueled. Their team BABIP is .298, 13th highest in the majors. They have been lucky in terms of Home Run/Fly Ball percentage running at an absurd pace but that’s about the only stat that seems ‘lucky’. The offensive pace they’re on isn’t sustainable but it’s not as far off as one might think.
  • Getting into individual stats things get… Uhh… Weird. King of the weirdness is Jay Bruce. He’s struck out 31% of the time. Doesn’t have a high walk rate and only has 16 hits on the season (.208 batting average). Pretty bad start. Oh, but 9 of those hits are home runs! How does this happen? Well, Bruce has been fairly unlucky in terms of BABIP with a .167 average there leading to his only 16 hits. He won’t keep that up, just like he won’t keep up the home run every 10 plate appearances rate. Well, maybe he will and it will be the strangest season in baseball history.
  • On the opposite end, anytime Tom Murphy hits a baseball it falls in for a hit. That has led to his .6 WAR in 24 plate appearances! His .429/.500/.857 is really something. The Mariners catching platoon has a 1.4 WAR already this year, with Narvaez checking in with .8 WAR but done in a much more sustainable way.
  • You knew the last fun with numbers bullet point (I could go all day but we’ll hold off on that) had to be about Daniel Vogelbach. The best DH Seattle has ever had (I’m joking… Sort of) ranks 6th in baseball in WAR with 1.3 all while having at least 10 fewer plate appearances than the players ahead of him. His wRC+ is second in baseball, only trailing Cody Bellinger. Vog’s base on balls percentage is over 20% while his strikeout rate is under 25%. The slash line sits at .327/.472/.836. The weirdest part is that it doesn’t seem completely unsustainable. Yes, he won’t keep at this pace but there is no number that jumps out as extremely lucky. His strikeout rate is a little high relative to other top hitters but that’s expected from a power hitter. His BABIP, likewise, is a slightly inflated .323. His HR/FB percentage is in the top 10 in the league and likely won’t stay at 40% but his plate approach is what really has impressed so far this year. While he won’t hit at this rate going forward, much of his game seems to translate to a successful DH. Maybe my favorite Vogelbach number – his not terrible -.1 baserunning value.

I’m fully aware that the Mariners could come crashing down as soon as tomorrow. The offensive output has been bonkers and the starting pitching has been surprisingly decent. Maybe this post is the jinx they need to start sucking. Or maybe they’ll just keep hitting dingers.

– Andrew

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How Do The Mariners Succeed in 2019?

The Mariners are about three hours from the first pitch of the season. Everything about this opener is strange, starting with the fact the game will start at 2:30 AM in Seattle. I’m pretty sure they play Oakland in every opener, but this time will be in the Tokyo Dome. Even stranger will be having someone other than Felix on the mound, for the first time since 2008. In fact, with Kyle Seager’s injury, the only holdover from 2018’s opening line up at the same position will be Mitch Haniger.

So, what should fans expect, or even hope for this season? Usually with a rebuilding team, the answer is pretty easy: progress from young players, but not so much that the team plays itself out of a top draft pick. Baseball, and this year’s M’s team in particular, is a little different. Top draft picks are nice, but they’re no sure things in baseball and take a long time to develop. The Mariners aren’t tanking for Zion Williamson.

Further confusing expectations, this M’s squad might not be that bad. They’re not going to be good, to be clear. A .500 season would be an overachievement. As they started trading off veterans this offseason, people assumed they were going to completely tear the team down and 100 losses would be an inevitability. Instead, they kept Haniger, Gonzales and a handful of others, added pieces at the big league level or close to it, and took back a bunch of veterans in salary swaps.

The upshot is a team that won’t contend (barring something crazy), but shouldn’t be horrible, while having the clear expectation of being good in a couple of years. It’ll be a weird year. So, what would make this a successful season for the M’s? Here are my thoughts.

Young Players Emerge

This is a staple of rebuilding seasons and goes without saying. Nothing is more important this season than having young players improve and hopefully establish themselves as big leaguers. The difference between winning in 2021 or not could very well be JP Crawford and Domingo Santana demonstrating that they are capable professionals, and that starts sometime this season. While most of the young prospects won’t start the year in Seattle, plenty of them should make an appearance before the summer ends. Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, Blake Bishop, maybe even Evan White should see the majors, and if they can quickly show they belong, that will make the rebuild quicker and simpler.

The Mariners have plenty of young veterans who could establish themselves with a solid season. Santana is one of the most intriguing, as a guy with big time power who’s only a season removed from playing very well in the bigs. Mallex Smith and Omar Narvaez are other additions who have had offensive success, but need to show it again and improve their defense. Holdovers like Ryon Healy, Daniel Vogelbach, and Dan Altavilla need to rebound or demonstrate that they are capable of producing. That’s to say nothing of Kyle Seager, who, while out for a couple of months to start the year, needs a major rebound year to either become tradeable or hold down third again.

Trade The Veterans

You would think there are no veterans left, but there are some prime candidates to be moved if they can rebound. Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce are obvious, as potentially productive guys with big salaries. Dee Gordon is a prime candidate if he can rebound offensively. The biggest trade chip may end up being Hunter Strickland, if he can re-establish himself as a solid closer or set-up man. It still wouldn’t be a shock to see Haniger moved, but it will take a major return. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see anyone go, and if the Mariners can be creative to upgrade their talent, they should do it.

Add Talent

This will mostly come from trades, but there are other ways to find talent. The Mariners should maintain enough flexibility to bring in waiver claims or anyone else who might hit the open market. Every year, guys with talent are cut or can be had for next to nothing in trade. The Mariners are in a position to give players a shot if they want to.

Get Better in the Second Half

Improvement as the season progresses is a sign the young talent is coming together. It also provides some momentum going into the offseason and 2020, when Dipoto and company are hoping the team can start to contend.

Make the Baseball Entertaining

Baseball is usually more fun if your team is winning, and the Mariners aren’t likely to do a ton of that. Lately I’ve come to appreciate the ways players and teams can be fun regardless of the results. This team could be fun. The athleticism got an upgrade with Mallex Smith, and a healthy Dee Gordon might rebound and give a shot of energy with his speed and smile. The team still has some decent power, especially in Haniger and Santana and the 1B/DH guys. The pitching isn’t the most dominating bunch, but seeing Sheffield debut at some point will be fun to follow. All through the first part of spring training, the buzz around the team was how they seemed excited to be there and to have their chance. If that carries into the season, I think we’ll see it on the field, if not in the win column.

Watch The Minors

This is a whole other post, but the M’s farm system should be fun to follow for the first time in years. They’ve had the worst system in baseball recently, but have jumped to middle of the pack with all of their trades and some improved drafting the last couple of years. Tacoma will have some talent and is always a fun place to watch a game, but many of the top prospects will likely start in double-A or lower. Jarred Kelenick and Julio Rodriguez look like they’ll start next to each other in the outfield in low-A. They’re the two most prospects most likely to turn into superstars. Short of Marco Gonzales winning the Cy Young, or Mallex Smith morphing into Rickey Henderson, nothing is more important to the Mariners future than the farm system having a breakout year.

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Very little could happen this season that would shock me, which could be fun or could be terrible. At the very least, it’s nice to have some new faces to learn. Let us know what you’re watching for in the comments. Go Mariners!

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Mariners Moves Recap

It’s been a long time since we wrote anything on this blog, but I’ve wanted to bring it back for a while. I’m out of practice and have no idea if this will last, or if anyone will read it, but we’ll give it a shot. To any of you still subscribed to our posts or who stumble upon us, welcome back!

The Mariners conducted one of the wildest offseasons I’ve ever seen, as most probably know by now. While they certainly took a step back, the tone from spring training, and throughout a lot of the fan base, is pretty positive.

That comes largely from having new, young talent to follow. Youth is always invigorating. Unfortunately, youth doesn’t always turn into good players. I think this rebuild is worthwhile and unique, but whether it is successful or not will only be known for 2-4 years.

I’m hoping to put out a few posts to recap the offseason and put the rebuild into perspective before the season starts. Today is just a recap of all the moves they’ve made. I was going to rank them, but that got confusing, so I’ll just go in chronological order. I’m focusing mainly on the (many) trades. With all respect to Tim Beckham, Hunter Strickland, and the minor league contract guys, there’s not a lot of potential impact there. Strickland has a chance to be something again, but he’ll likely be traded if he reverts to being a solid closer or set up man.

Just a reminder, in case you’ve somehow missed it, the Mariners have stated their goal is to be competitive in 2020 or 2021. 2020 seems overly optimistic, but who knows. And as always with Jerry Dipoto, there will likely be a billion more moves in the next year or two, so this might all be irrelevant before long.

Mike Zunino for Mallex Smith

This trade started off the frenzy so long ago, I hardly remember it cost one of my favorite M’s to add Smith in center field. I’m as concerned about letting Zunino go as any other player this offseason. His upside is a perennial all star if his bat ever stabilizes at all, and even if it doesn’t, it’s hard to find a solid catcher. Still, it’s probably the right move at this point, given his ongoing offensive struggles. Mallex is a lightning bolt in the outfield and the kind of on-base and speed threat this team needs. The M’s also gave up Guillermo Heredia and young lefty Michael Plassmeyer, likely inconsequential losses, and got OF prospect Jake Fraley, who has turned heads this spring but is no sure bet.

The Paxton Trade

Entering the offseason, I expected a Paxton trade regardless of what else the team did. It never felt like Paxton would sign long term, or that he’d even be a guy the team would feel comfortable giving a big new deal. For all his talent, he never became the dominant, dependable ace that was expected. Nonetheless, he’s a huge loss and will be missed, for both his performance and personality. The return was LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Erik Swanson, and OF Dom Thompson-Williams. Sheffield’s the prize, a guy with plenty of talent who could be a solid 2nd or 3rd starter, if he finds better command. He’s looked good this spring and should see Seattle this summer. Swanson has a lower ceiling but could be a dependable back-end starter or impact multi-inning reliever. He should also be in Seattle sometime this year. DTW is a lottery ticket, a great athlete without great results until this past year.

Colome for Narvaez (aka A New Catcher)

A somewhat forgotten move that could have as much impact as any. Alex Colome, while a big part of last year’s pen, was expendable. Omar Narvaez will be this year’s starting catcher. The polar opposite of Mike Zunino, Narvaez has great on base skills and a solid lefty bat. He’s okay controlling the running game, but is not the dominant receiver Zunino was. I could see him washing out if the bat regresses and his defense stagnates, but he also has a chance to become one of the better catchers in the league if he maintains his offense and improves a reasonable amount behind the plate.

Goodbye Cano and Diaz

For posterity, this move was Cano, Diaz and a lot of money to the Mets for OF Jarred Kelenic, RHP Justin Dunn, RH reliever Gerson Bautista, OF Jay Bruce, and RH reliever Anthony Swarzak. I’ll miss Cano, but moving that salary was a big deal. I’ll really miss Diaz, but trading him was an inevitability once they started down this road. Bruce and Swarzak are just veterans included to offset salaries, although they should play a role on this team and will hopefully bring in more prospects at midseason.

Thankfully, the rest of this trade is very fun. Kelenic has the highest ceiling of anyone they added. He’s an athletic center fielder with an advanced hitting approach for a teenager. The power’s not all the way there yet, but he’s the type of guy who usually adds it as he matures. He has all the tools and good personality, and if this offseason produces an eventual superstar, it’ll likely be him. Dunn is a former first rounder with lots of talent, but he hasn’t dominated yet. Some see a future as a dominating reliever, but he could be a middle of the rotation or better starter if he can put it together. Bautista is a flamethrowing reliever who hasn’t put it together yet, but should see Seattle this year. This is a good return, but they gave up a lot of talent to get it.

Segura for JP Crawford

This deal, which included Juan Nicasio and James Pazos going to the Phillies and Carlos Santana to Seattle, was the most puzzling of the offseason. It wasn’t a shock to see Segura go, but most expected a better return for an all star shortstop. Santana was largely a salary exchange (more on him in a minute), and Crawford was a prized shortstop prospect who underwhelmed in Philadelphia last year. There’s potential there for him to still become an above average starter, but there’s a greater likelihood that he never amounts to much. An interesting gamble, but one that shows Segura’s attitude issues may have sunk his value around the league much lower than fans could have imagined.

Santana for Edwin Encarnacion

This was a weird move that saw the Mariners exchanging expensive veteran 1B/DHs, and buying a draft pick in the process, if I remember right. I’m sure the Mariners thought they’d trade Encarnacion by now, but it looks like he’ll be on the team for a while, which isn’t a horrible thing. Hopefully he puts up a big first half and brings in a decent trade return.

Ben Gamel for Domingo Santana

An exchange of left fielders, this was the Mariners buying low on a guy with a ton of potential who had lost his spot with the Brewers. After a 30 homer season in 2017, Santana essentially got replaced by Christian Yelich and regressed last year. If he can rebound, he’ll be a huge steal. This is the kind of move that is either forgotten in two years, or is the foundation of a playoff contender. You have to get lucky at some point, and this seems a likely place for it to happen.

Hello Yusei Kikuchi!

This seems like the big win of the offseason. Kikuchi should be an immediate middle of the rotation starter, and could be more than that. The contract is favorable, with little risk for the M’s. He looks like a fan favorite and maybe the most likely addition to be a part of their next playoff team (if there ever is one).

Shed Long Becomes a Mariner (or Rainier)

This was a fairly minor move, but I’ll throw it on here because Shed has been one of the stars of training camp. The second baseman, who is also seeing time in the outfield and potentially third base, came from Cincinnati in what was essentially a three way deal, with the M’s sending OF prospect Josh Stowers to the Yankees. Stowers is an interesting prospect who could eventually make an impact, but Shed is closer to the majors, and the Mariners badly need infield depth. He has great offensive potential, especially for a second baseman, but his defense is still a work in progress. But the important thing here is that the Mariners now have a player named Shed.

So, there you go. Nothing like restarting a blog with 1500 words about guys who may never play for the terrible local baseball team. Go Mariners!

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