Category Archives: Mariners

Posts dealing with the Mariners

2016 Mariners-Crown Em’

Besides being humans and playing baseball for the Seattle Mariners, can you think of something in common between Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Seth Smith? This group are the only Mariners that will take part in the opening day ceremonies next week that did the same last year with the M’s. The other 18 men were not on the M’s opening day roster in 2015. A lot can, and has, changed in the past few months for the Mariners and many other teams around the league. Though I would imagine a 72% overhaul of opening day rosters from one year to the next is higher than league average, by a considerable margin. If I had the time I’d like to know if it ranks as the most changed roster, which it well may. It’s all to be expected when a new manager and general manager are brought in, as is the case with Seattle. But is all the change a good thing? Time will tell, but in this case, I think it is.

A year ago I couldn’t go a day without reading a new predictions tweet or article that had the M’s in the World Series. It was all a bit surreal. This year, most pundits see the M’s extending their 13 year postseason drought another year. This makes sense given how 2015 played out, to say nothing of the prior decade. But aside from expectations, there is good reason to think the M’s actually look a good bit better today than April, 2015. Below are how the opening day rosters compare. The 18 new faces all have a player they are essentially replacing, as the chart shows. As for the impact column, that is my opinion whether the current player is an upgrade (+), downgrade (-), or no real change (o).

2015 2016 Impact
James Paxton Wade Miley +
J.A. Happ Nate Karns o
Danny Farquhar Nick Vincent +
Charlie Furbush Mike Montgomery
Yoervis Medina Joel Peralta o
Tyler Olson Vidal Nuno +
Fernando Rodney Steve Cishek o
Carson Smith Joaquin Benoit o
Tom Wilhelmson Tony Zych o
Mike Zunino Chris Iannetta +
Jesus Sucre Steve Clevenger +
Logan Morrison Adam Lind +
Brad Miller Ketel Marte +
Willie Bloomquist Luis Sardinas +
Dustin Ackley Nori Aoki +
Austin Jackson Leonys Martin +
Justin Ruggiano Franklin Gutierrez +
Rickie Weeks Dae-Ho Lee +
Felix Hernandez Felix Hernandez o
Hisashi Iwakuma Hisashi Iwakuma o
Taijuan Walker Taijuan Walker +
Robinson Cano Robinson Cano +
Kyle Seager Kyle Seager o
Nelson Cruz Nelson Cruz o
Seth Smith Seth Smith o

There are dozens of variables and caveats to an exercise like this, and we can differ on opinion, but I see the M’s upgrading in 14 spots this season, downgrading in 1 (though Furbush is still on the roster), and staying even in 10. Each spot is a case by case assessment but in general I’m looking at the performance of the 2015 player versus the reasonable expectation/projection of the 2016 player. Let’s dig in a little further.

Starting Pitching
The rotation is deeper and projects better in 2016. Felix is Felix, no reason to expect he won’t be an ace and in the thick of Cy Young contention. A year ago Paxton broke camp as the #2 starter, this year he is healthy but in Tacoma. Not many teams have a #6 guy like James, who still has a high ceiling. Wade Miley was brought in to replace Iwakuma, but then Iwakuma returned after all, which was a bonus. Taijuan returns to the rotation and is poised to build off his rookie campaign. Tai was terrible in April and May last year, but found his rhythm in the summer. Happ for Karns feels like a wash for 2016 but Karns will be a key piece for years to come.  Few may realize he actually started the third game for Tampa Bay last year, and was a key piece of their rotation all year. Thanks to retaining Kuma and adding Miley, I think the rotation is significantly improved.

Bullpen
There’s no disputing the bullpen is the biggest question mark. I won’t try to convince anyone that the pen will be good, but honestly can it be worse than last year? I don’t know that it can and I like Dipoto’s strategy of completely overhauling the pen and bringing in a heap of arms which will sort itself out as the season goes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the M’s give 15+ guys a chance in the pen this year. Whether the depth is any good is TBD but there are reinforcements if a couple guys get hurt (Scribner, Cook, Furbush) or potentially suck. Last year few alternatives existed, which is a huge reason why the bullpen went from bad to disastrous. Cishek and Benoit will go a long way in determining the success but I feel a little better about the bullpen with Vincent’s acquisition today. The bullpen can’t be worse and maybe it isn’t a ton better, but ’16’s version looks poised to improve on ’15.

Lineup
Gone are LoMo, Brad Miller, Austin Jackson, and Ackley. In are Lind, Marte, Leonys, and Nori Aoki. Gimme that 4 for 4 trade any day! Beyond the areas of change, the lineup, at least at present, does not look to have a black hole (Zunino is in Tacoma). Seager, Cruz, Cano, and Seth Smith are all back, and while Cruz may not match last year’s incredible season, Cano is finally healthy and I imagine Seager and Smith will continue their career norms as above average players. I have some worries about this lineup, given the offensive woes that seem to haunt the M’s, but on paper it looks league average and capable of 4 runs/game.

Bench
Say goodbye to Rickie Weeks, Ruggiano, Sucre, and WFBloomquist. They’ve been replaced by Dae-Ho Lee, Gutierrez, Steve Clevenger, and Luis Sardinas. Again, anyone not willing to take that 4 for 4 trade? Seems like a no brainer. The bench will be better, quite significantly in my opinion.

Defense
The theme of Dipoto’s offseason was constructing a roster built for Safeco Field. That hadn’t happened in a long time. To do so, Jerry brought in guys who get on base and can field their position, above average in most cases. Aoki and Leonys are instant upgrades to the outfield, which had been a glaring weakness during the Jack Z era. Marte isn’t flashy but he makes all the plays you’d expect at short stop, something that cannot be said of Brad Miller. Sardinas is a terrific defender, WFB is not. The defense is vastly improved.

Depth
MLB is a 162 game season, so depth is pretty important. Jack Z learned the hard way that you can never have enough pitching and catching. Dipoto is all about accumulating guys who can play in the majors, particularly if they’ve tasted some success. You need depth, so in addition to the 25 guys who will take the field in Arlington next week, there had better be a plethora of other options. Paxton, Zunino, Taylor, Romero, Blash, O’Malley, Furbush (DL), are all still in the organization and can step in. You also have Daniel Robertson, Boog Powell, Efren Navarro, and Rob Brantly, plus another 5-8 bullpen candidates (Roach, Parker, Guaipe, Aro, De Fratus, Scribner, Cook) . Last year, that sort of depth simply did not exist, particularly in the bullpen and at catcher.

To recap, I feel better about all areas of the 2016 Mariners as compared to last year. Most fans probably feel the same about their team, hope springs eternal and all that. But last year’s team won 76 games, so it will take a big jump forward to be in playoff contention. The rest of the AL West, mid-season acquisitions, how Servais adjusts to managing, and of course injuries, slumps and so many other factors will help determine how the season shakes out, but the Mariners should not be bad. In fact, they should probably be good.

Dipoto makes some tasty Kool-Aid, and I’m drinking it. Crown em’.

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Reasons Why (I’m Excited to See the Mariners Play Meaningful Baseball)

As Matthew and Staind have said, it’s been a while.  What is the best way for us to get the good times rolling again here on the blog?  A thoughtful piece on what it will be like when playoff baseball makes its way back to Seattle?  That sounds nice, but no.  A thorough recap and discussion on the Mariners off-season?  That would make too much sense.  A season preview?  That’s coming.  After much contemplating the best way to welcome ourselves (the Good Guys) back to the internet while showing off our incredible knowledge and writing skills is A list! Why wax poetic when I can write a post inspired by scribbles someone takes to the grocery store?

Okay, okay.  I admit, this is the easy way out.  But, each and every day that April 6th creeps closer brings more and more thoughts of why I’m excited about the Mariners season.  That’s exactly what this list is – reasons why I’m excited about the Mariners season.  These are in no particular order and some may be more general baseball reasons.  Others might be things that I’ve missed watching the Mariners do since last September.  Get off my back, I’m a little rusty when it comes to writing about sports!  Before the list, here’s a song called Reasons Why.  It’s about a break-up, not baseball.

Without further ado, here’s my list of reasons why I’m excited for the Mariners season (presented in bullet-hole format in honor of Jeff Sullivan’s late, great game recaps).

  • King Felix fist pumps.
  • Lloyd always wearing that sweatshirt he wore everyday last season no matter the temperature and me thinking, ‘does he have anything on under that sweatshirt?’
  • Logan Morrison running in from first to watch Rodney’s arrow fly.  I love this even when Rodney forgets that he’s there.
  • Dustin Ackley doing weird but effective things in left field.
  • Mike Zunino dropping his head and then barking at the umpire as he runs out to the pitcher after a blown strike call.
  • Robinson Cano being the most relaxed professional athlete in the world.
  • Following minor-league baseball.
  • Jesus Montero running the bases.
  • Seeing a real middle order of the lineup instead of Jose Vidro, Justin Smoak, and Adam Kennedy (no, they weren’t all together but it felt like they have been for the last 15 years).
  • Eating a Torta at Safeco Field.
  • Following the maturation of James Paxton and Taijuan Walker (hopefully).
  • Lloyd getting thrown out of games.
  • Nelson Cruz hitting the ball really, really hard.
  • Kuma’s stretches before every inning followed by pin-point control.
  • Some awkward Jen Mueller interviews.
  • The King’s Court.
  • That amazing Fernando Rodney entrance.  I really hope that hasn’t changed.
  • Felix doing everything else along with those inning-ending fist pumps.
  • Safeco Field having a buzz that’s been missing since the early 2000’s.
  • Having a pennant race in Seattle.

There’s more but you have to be getting bored at this point.  Add your own in the comments!  Go M’s!

Safeco field

– Andrew

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Mariners Draft Outfielder Alex Jackson

Three years ago, the Mariners held the second overall pick in a draft considered to be loaded with talent. There were quite a few players on the radar, from pitchers like Dylan Bundy and Gerrit Cole to high school outfielder Bubba Starling. I wanted college third baseman Anthony Rendon, the presumed top pick until some injuries slowed him. It looked like the M’s would luck into an impact bat.

Cole went first, and while Rendon wasn’t a lock, all of the options were attractive. And then the Mariners went slightly off the board and picked Danny Hultzen, the last of the realistic options I expected. Hultzen wasn’t a bad pick, he just lacked a bit of the upside of the other names. Perhaps unfairly, he was seen as the safe pick, which is fine until the safe pick blows out his shoulder two years later and is still rehabbing now with no guarantee to ever be an impact pitcher again. Meanwhile, Rendon is having a solid season in his first full year in the majors, and looks to be a solid starter and maybe much more in the future.

I tell this story because today’s MLB draft was setting up for another let down. The Mariners picked sixth in a draft commonly thought to have four or five players true impact players at the top. Personally, I loved lefties Brady Aiken and Carlos Rodon, but both seemed sure to go before they reached the Mariners. My top choice among the possibly realistic options was high school C/OF Alex Jackson from San Diego, considered the top hitting prospect in the draft.

For a few weeks, most thought Jackson would go second to the Marlins, but that started to change in the last week. People started saying if Jackson wasn’t picked in the top two, he could fall to the Mariners. Mock drafts and rumors are never right so I was trying to keep my hopes from getting up (also important because I have never watched Jackson and it’s possible he never even makes it to Seattle, but that’s beside the point).

Amazingly, the experts were right. Aiken went number one, fellow prep pitcher Tyler Kolek went two, Rodon three. No one knew what the Cubs would do, but they surprised a bit and took Indiana catcher/OF Kyle Schwarber. The Twins took prep shortstop Nick Gordon, and suddenly the Mariners had a chance to make me happy, which they don’t do that often. More importantly (maybe), they had a chance to get a potential hitting star, which they’ve needed for literally more than a decade.

At this point, I still assumed they would pick someone else, a la Hultzen over Rendon. It would be just like the Mariners to get our hopes up and then do something totally unexpected to ruin them. But in a move I’m taking to be a sign of their changing ways, the M’s made Jackson the pick. The tide is turning, Seattle. Five game winning streaks and big time hitting prospects. This is the stuff of which good baseball teams are made.

****************************

There are lots of better places to read scouting reports of draftees, so I’ll keep mine to a minimum. Jackson is 6’2″ 210 lbs and hits and throws right handed. He plays catcher in high school but he was announced as an outfielder and Jack Zduriencik said afterward they’ll put him in an outfield corner in an effort to let him move up the ranks as quickly as his bat will carry him. With Zunino being the man, there’s really no reason to waste time on developing Jackson as a catcher, even though most think he could be at least passable there.  He boasts a rifle arm and enough athleticism to be an average or better right fielder.

The bat is what is really special. He’s above-average with both the hit and power tools, and I’ve seen a line of .285/.350/.500 with 25-30 homers as completely realistic, and he could do a lot more than that. Strike zone judgement is always the concern for prep hitters, and it’s hard to know how they’ll react in the pros, but he’s given no reason to worry yet. It’s just an area where we have to wait and see. Zduriencik compared the pick to drafting Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder in Milwaukie, so that’s encouraging. The MLB draft is always risky, especially when drafting high schoolers, but Jackson is the cream of this year’s crop.

Jackson immediately becomes the M’s first or second best prospect (not counting Taijuan Walker), depending on how one feels about DJ Peterson. They have similar bats, with Jackson having more home run power and a higher upside, but Peterson being a lot closer to the majors. If Jackson becomes a reliable outfielder, he’ll likely have more positional value as well, since Peterson will probably play first base in Seattle. However you look at them, they’re a good duo, and with the way some guys like Austin Wilson and Gabriel Guerrero and Jabari Blash are hitting, they might have some company soon.We probably won’t see Jackson in Seattle before 2017 at the earliest, but it’s hard to say for sure.

While I’ve been writing this, the M’s selected another righty power-hitting outfielder in the extra little round after the second. This one is Gareth Morgan, a big boy from Canada. I haven’t had time to read much on him yet, but he evidently has monstrous power but some work to do overall as a hitter. Canadian hitters tend to be pretty raw due to the lack of year-round ball there. Think Michael Saunders and his long, winding path to consistent production. That means they can really blossom with more and better coaching, and they sometimes slide in the draft because they’re not seen by scouts to the same degree as players in warm weather areas. It can also mean they’re just not good enough for the majors and never will be. Only time will tell. Without knowing really anything, it seems like a good pick. The Mariners need outfielders, and they picked up two with a lot of promise today.

Tomorrow and Saturday bring the rest of the draft, with rounds 3-10 tomorrow and 11-40 Saturday. I will not know any of the players anyone picks, but it’s fun to learn about them and hear all of their different stories. I might check in with an update on Sunday, but check Baseball America or your usual Mariner sources for more (and probably better) info. Go Mariners!

-Matthew

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Why Are The Pitchers Always Better – Part 1 (Are we just making this up?)

A few days ago, our friend and Good Guys supporter, Chris, posed a question on Twitter.

‏@judojudd
Can someone explain to me why our farm system can churn out quality pitchers year after year but our hitting prospects come up and suck?

Chris is a knowledgable sports fan and this question seems to be common one among Mariners fans.  I saw the question, one we’ve all pondered, and decided it was time to address it.  I’m going to try to find an answer and I’m going to do it in a series.  This is the first post in that series.

Before we dive into possible answers, we have to figure out if the question is right in its assumption.  All Mariners fans have had this sentiment but maybe it’s unjustified and all of this is normal?  That’s what we have to figure out before the answers come.  First, I’ll see the amount of successful pitchers the Mariners have had that have come from their farm system and compare that against the hitters.  In the next post, I’ll compare those numbers to other teams around the league.

We’ll use a sample size of the last 10 years and my sampling of a player being successful is going to be a little bit subjective.  I’m not looking for guys who were good for a season and then dropped off but rather guys who have prolonged success over at least 3 seasons.  I will make exceptions to that for recent guys (Hello, Roenis Elias).  I also will factor in players who were traded once they graduated from the Mariners farm system (I’m looking at you Adam Jones).  I won’t count a player more than once.  With all of those caveats out-of-the-way, let’s get into the data.

2004 Seattle Mariners
Successful Pitchers (home-grown):
Joel Pineiro, Freddy Garcia, J.J. Putz, Rafael Soriano, Matt Thornton.
Gil Meche is right on the cusp here too, so include him if you’d like to.  Freddy Garcia wasn’t technically home-grown but he hadn’t pitched in the major leagues until he was with Seattle.  There’s a lot of talent here and all of these guys were 27 or under at this point.
Successful Hitters (home-grown):
Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, Raul Ibanez, Jose Lopez
This is right at the end of the Mariners run with some great players.  This was Boone’s second stint with the Mariners.  It’s hard to qualify Lopez as a success at times but he did have a pretty solid 5 years stretch.  Willie Bloomquist and Miguel Olivo are right on the cusp but I mean, come on.

2005
Successful Pitchers:
King Felix, George Sherrill
Most of the guys from the year before were still around and not many graduated from the minors.  Obviously, Felix should be viewed as more important than George Sherrill (who later was traded to Baltimore) but for now they’re both just viewed as 1 point each towards the pitchers.
Successful Hitters:
Mike Morse, Shin-Soo Choo
Both hitters who went on to succeed with other teams.  Choo has been a very consistent borderline all-star.  Morse struggled here and there but overall has had a pretty solid career.  Yuniesky Betancourt would have fallen under this year but… Who am I kidding, no one likes that guy.

2006
Successful Pitchers:
Eric O’Flaherety
Mark Lowe was good for a while, and he would be considered here, but I wouldn’t term him as a success.
Successful Hitters:
Adam Jones, Asdrubal Cabrera
Moment of silence.

2007
Successful Pitchers:
Brandon Morrow?
He’s had a really interesting career but, all in all, I guess it was successful.  I guess?  The other two who could possibly qualify are Sean Green and Sean White.
Successful Hitters:
Crickets.  The closest we come is Jeff Clement, Wladimir Balentien, and Rob Johnson.  I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.  Okay, let’s move on.

2008
Successful Pitchers:
Nope.  Roy Corcoran anyone?
Successful Hitters:
We’ve definitely entered the ‘You suck, Bavasi!’ zone.

2009
Successful Pitchers:
Shawn Kelley
He was fine but this might be a stretch.
Successful Hitters:
There is nothing available to stretch here.

2010
Successful Pitchers:
Doug Fister
He wasn’t successful right away but then he really was.
Successful Hitters:
Michael Saunders has been the toughest consideration so far.  I’m not going to consider him a success yet but he is right on the cusp.  By the time I’m done with this series, I may change my mind.  Aside from Saunders, there were barely any home-grown hitters on this team.

2011
Successful Pitchers:
Charlie Furbush, Tom Wilhelmsen, Michael Pineda
All three of these are a little bit questionable.  Pineda due to health and the others due to consistency issues.  For a while though each of these guys were completely dominant.
Successful Hitters:
Kyle Seager
Seager is clearly the crown jewel of the recent position player farm system graduates.  Here’s where we start to see a bunch of hitters who haven’t had consistent success in the majors, most notably Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley.

2012
Successful Pitchers:
A pretty down year all the way around.  Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, and Blake Beavan all could be considered but aren’t there yet, if they ever will be.
Successful Hitters:
The only one I considered has been a colossal failure so far in Jesus Montero.

2013
Successful Pitchers:
Danny Farquhar
He’s not actually home-grown but he came out of nowhere after spending time with the Rainiers.
Successful Hitters:
Mike Zunino
If I’m going to consider Roenis Elias a success than Zunino definitely needs to be treated as such.  He’s got a lot of room to improve but he’s still one of the best catchers in baseball already.  There was also Brad Miller and Nick Franklin from this year but neither can be viewed as successful yet.

2014
Successful Pitchers:
Roenis Elias
Yoervis Medina is right on the cusp but really annoying to watch pitch so I’m not going to count him.  Elias is a sensation and incredible so far.
Successful Hitters:
James Jones could get there but is not quite to the sample size I’d like yet.  Stefen Romero and Abe Almonte were the only other options and were not options.

Looking to the future:

A lot of this sentiment that we’re investigating comes from the pitchers that are waiting in the wings in the minors.  We’ve seen glimpses of how good Paxton and Walker can be.  Danny Hultzen was moving quickly through the minors before his injury.  On the hitting side, there isn’t much to be excited by.  I like the Ji-Man Choi a lot.  Jabari Blash is exciting.  D.J. Peterson is by far the Mariners best hitting prospect but hasn’t played above A ball.  With three great pitching prospects waiting to get healthy, the pitching in the minors appears to be well ahead of the hitting and that is only magnified after you watch Nick Franklin, Justin Smoak and others strike out constantly while Roenis shuts out the Tigers.

Final numbers over the last 10 years:
Successful Pitchers: 16 
(not including Gil Meche who should probably be included over Shawn Kelley)
Successful Hitters:  10

The hitters include Edgar Martinez (who’s biggest contribution was in the 90’s),  Bret Boone (who was amazing in 2001, over 13 years ago), Raul Ibanez (who spent half the time with another team), Jose Lopez (who flamed out at an incredible rate), Morse, Choo, Jones, Cabrera (who all succeeded with teams other than the Mariners).  In other words, the Mariners have had 3 successful position players that were home-grown in the last decade and 2 in the last 5 years.

When you break it down like that for the pitchers there are about 8 who are left.

To conclude, this isn’t just in our heads.  Putting out 3 successful position players in the last decade that had a long stint with your team is a real problem.  If anything, this shows us that the pitchers aren’t quite as successful as it may seem but the organization has been better at finding talent to fill holes.

My next step is comparing this to other teams and I’ll put that out in the next few days.

Thanks for reading!

– Andrew

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The Mariners are (Maybe) Not Bad

Riding a surprising three game winning streak, the Mariners are back over .500 at 29-28.  It seems like they’ve hovered within a game or two of .500 for most of the season, so it seems pretty fair to consider them an extremely average team right now. Luckily for them, most of the league is in the same boat. Before today’s win, they were only a game and a half out of a wild card. Unfortunately, that only puts them tied for 5th in the wild card standings. Still, the potential for playoff baseball is there should the M’s improve over the summer.

It’s hard to get a handle on this team. The rotation has sustained a ridiculous amount of injuries, but it’s performed surprisingly well, at least outside of the Brandon Maurer/Erasmo Ramirez slot. The bullpen was shaky early before turning into a pretty solid unit. The defense is better than last year, especially in the outfield, although it suffers from lapses occasionally.

As usual, it’s the offense that most often holds the team back. There always seem to be at least three regulars slumping badly, while it’s rare for the team to have more than one guy on a hot streak at a time. The right-handed hitting outfielders have mostly failed miserably. Corey Hart never got going and then got injured. Robinson Cano is on base all the time, but he has yet to bring his usual burst of doubles and homers. In short, the offense is too inconsistent. It will bust out with ten runs, like in New York today, and then struggle to get ten more total in the next two series.

I honestly have no clue how the season will go from here. Typically, it gets easier to hit in Seattle as the weather gets warmer, but who knows. If Taijuan Walker and/or James Paxton can return, it could be a huge boost. But of course, they might also have no real impact this year. This season has a wide range of possible outcomes, and each of them seem as likely as the next. A few more thoughts on the season  and what’s to come after the jump.

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The Mariners Will Draft Someone Soon

I keep intending to write about the Mariners, who are having what could be called their best season in five years. This season could also be called incredibly frustrating and disappointing, so I guess perspective matters. Anyway, every time I think about writing about the M’s, they’re in the middle of a game or coming off a few losses or whatever, and I just don’t feel like doing it. I still don’t feel like doing it, so I’m going to write something tangentially related to the Mariners and hopefully get a real M’s post out in the very near future.

Anyone remember a few weeks ago when the NFL teams drafted a whole bunch of players? That was called the NFL draft. Major league baseball will do the same thing in a week and a half (June 6th), with even more players involved but a whole lot less fanfare. Baseball has taken steps in the last few years to increase the draft’s popularity, putting some of it on TV and cranking up the coverage on MLB.com, but it’s just never going to happen. Unless one is really into college baseball, most of these guys will be unidentifiable, especially past the first round. I’ve been reading draft coverage for month and I still couldn’t name more than 20 guys or so.

Still, for whatever reason, I love the MLB draft. The sheer length of it (40 rounds) leads to more stories to discover, and the obscurity of the players takes away most opportunity to judge the selections immediately. Fans are forced to just sit, learn about the players, and trust (or not) that their team made a good decision. The results won’t show up for 2-7 years, which is weird but not terrible.

Luckily, drafting is one of the areas where the Mariners are good. The major league production by some of their prospects casts doubts on how good the drafting has been, but they’ve also turned out a ton of talent. Guys like Seager, Paxton and Taijaun Walker were excellent picks in the second to fourth rounds, and they’ve added quality depth and arms lower than that. They’re not the best drafting team in baseball, but they’re comfortably in the top half or better.

This year they pick sixth overall. The draft has a weird salary set-up that sometimes makes picks even more unpredictable than usual. Basically, each pick gives the team a pre-determined amount of money they’re allowed to spend, but that total goes into a pool that can be distributed in whatever amounts to all the team’s draftees. Exceed the total pool amount, and there are fines and potentially the loss of future draft picks. This sometimes leads teams to draft players who want less money so they can sign more expensive guys later, but I don’t get the impression this strategy will come into play too much for the M’s first pick.

Generally the very top of the draft is pretty well decided by now, but this year no one seems sure who will go first, let alone top five. I have no idea whom the Mariners will select, both because of the uncertainty and because they rarely let information leak. The good news is this is seen as a fairly deep and talented draft. The bad news is there isn’t likely to be a power-hitting outfielder worthy of the sixth pick, and a couple of the better college pitchers were injured this season. I’ll divide some potential picks into categories below, but be aware the M’s could pick someone totally different, and that wouldn’t make it a bad pick. As always, I’m no scout. I just read a lot.

Tough to pass up if they fall

With top college arm Jeff Hoffman recently needing Tommy John surgery, a top four seems to be emerging: college LHP Carlos Rodon, HS C/OF Alex Jackson, and HS LHP Brady Aiken and RHP Tyler Kolek. I would think the Mariners would love for any of them to drop. Jackson is the clear best bat at this point. He’s been catching in high school but might move to outfield. Without ever seeing him, that’s a move I’d make immediately. From all reports, he has the bat to make an impact regardless of the position and the athleticism to be at least decent in the outfield.

Aiken is drawing comparisons to Clayton Kershaw, with perhaps more polish. Prep pitchers are always risky, but he sounds like the complete package. Kolek is a fireballer, regularly hitting 100 mph with good secondary stuff. Rodon entered the year as the presumed top pick, but a lackluster season has taken some of the shine away. He’s still the odds-on favorite to go #1 to the Astros, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him fall a bit too. If he somehow made it to the Mariners, he’d be a no-brainer.

College bats

Jackson has the best chance to be a middle of the order guy, but there are a couple of college outfielders who could be good but not elite bats. Semi-local guy Michael Conforto from Oregon State is the name that gets mentioned, but most people I read think the M’s will have better options available. He’s the best bat on the nation’s best team, but he isn’t good defensively (to the point of maybe being a first baseman eventually) and his bat isn’t likely to be top of the line, just above average. San Francisco’s Bradley Zimmer is getting the press of late. He’s much better defensively, although probably not good enough to play center regularly. He sounds a little like Michael Saunders as a tall, long guy who doesn’t consistently have the power one might expect. He could move somewhat quickly and be an above-average starting outfielder, but again, he’s not likely to be a standout with the bat. The other college bat getting talk this high is Casey Gillaspie, but he’s a first baseman, not an outfielder. I guess I should also mention college SS Trea Turner, since he could easily be the pick. He’s lightning fast, a good defender, but the bat leaves something to be desired this high in the draft. I hope they don’t pick him, but he’s interesting, especially if someone can fix his swing a bit.

College pitchers

The recent buzz has the M’s going shortstop or pitcher. I don’t really trust the buzz, but college pitcher seems logical. RHP Aaron Nola, from LSU,  is the darling of this area in the draft. His stuff and size are not top-of-the-line, but he knows how to pitch and gets tremendous results. He might not be a future ace, but he could be an above-average starter who reaches the majors quickly, barring injury. Leftie Kyle Freeland is a recent riser, with good velocity and command and solid secondary stuff. The aforementioned rightie Hoffman could still be in play despite the surgery. He likely would have gone before the Mariners’ pick without the surgery, and with the high rates of TJ success, it wouldn’t be a crazy pick. I don’t expect it, but it could happen, and might save the M’s some money for later picks. There are quite a few other names that could fit in this group, so don’t be surprised by any college pitcher picked.

High school upside guys

High schoolers often have more potential, but they also take longer and are more likely to fail. SS Nick Gordon, brother of Dee and son of Tom, is the current hot name. He should be a good shortstop and could develop into a solid or better bat, in the Derek Jeter mold (but nowhere near that good). There are a few other bats, like SS/3B Jacob Gatewood or M’s blogosphere favorite CF Michael Gettys, who aren’t expected to go this high but could be plays for big offensive upside. On the pitching side, rightie Touki Toussaint has some of the best stuff in the draft, to go with a great name and backstory. He also needs a lot of work and is the type of pick who routinely fails.

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So that’s a lot of names, and there are quite a few others who could be the pick. My preference probably goes Jackson, Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, with Nola and Freeland as maybe my top picks of the guys likely to be available. Gordon seems like he could be the guy though, and while I don’t like it especially, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns out pretty well.  We’ll know soon enough who the pick is, but because it’s baseball, we won’t know if it’s a good pick for a very long time.

-Matthew

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The Sad, Strange Case of Ji-Man Choi

Baseball’s a funny game. You can love your team. Then, if you love them enough, you’ll love their top prospects. If you love the top prospects enough, you’ll start to learn about the top performers on each farm team. It goes on and on until you start reciting the Clinton Lumberkings lineup numbers to your friends at a dinner party. Some people say it’s a waste of time and that’s fine.

In 2009, the Mariners sent some scouts to South Korea to take a look at a group of pitchers, namely Seon Gi Kim.  The Mariners ended up signing that pitcher and brought him stateside.  Catching Kim that day was a converted third basemen who not many knew about.  The Mariners liked what they saw in the short tryout and decided to sign him, as well.  This happens fairly often.  Teams take flyers on guys and this third basemen-turned-catcher happened to be one.

Once stateside in 2010, these 2 players joined the Arizona rookie league.  Kim had good stuff but sported a ballooned ERA.  The other South Korean didn’t have any trouble though.  He hit .360 with a .440 OBP and .517 slugging percentage.  He was eventually promoted to the high-A team, High Desert, and posted an .822 OPS all as a 19-year-old.  Mariners prospect nerds became enticed with this player who was unknown a year before.  The legend of Ji-Man Choi was born.

While Choi was hitting everything in sight, the Mariners were slowly breaking him into the catcher position.  He played most of his time and first base and DH but every third or fourth day he’d be behind the plate.  Needless to say, a left-handed hitting catcher who drew a ton of walks was pretty exciting.

2011’s spring training rolled around and there was Choi, working out with the catchers.  Then, all of a sudden, he was just gone.  Following minor-league baseball is hard to do in this day and age because we, as fans, are so used to getting all the information we want right away.  When a low-minors baseball player disappears from box scores there’s only so much a common fan can try to figure out.  This was the case with Choi.  Eventually it came out that Ji-Man had back pain.  The pain was so extensive that he didn’t play a game in 2011.  They eventually found a broken bone and then inserted a rod and two screws into Choi’s back.

The first few months of 2012 came and went and there was no sign of him in the box scores.  He had the rod and screws removed and later showed up in Clinton in late May.

Missing your 20 year-old season as a baseball player is a big deal.  That’s one of the formative years for prospects.  Choi hadn’t played in a baseball game in almost a year and a half.  He was inserted into the Clinton lineup and on his first day back he went 2-4 with a double.

Ji-Man looked as if he hadn’t missed any time at all.  He split that time in 2012 rotating between first base and DH and ended.  He wasn’t great but he was good and, as a 20 year-old, he put up an .895 OPS.

As prospect lists became to come out over that off-season, Choi was left off.  There were two reasons for this:  One, he had just been injured for a year and a half.  Two, he didn’t have enough power to be a major league first baseman. Ji_Man_Choi_1280_kju6a1er_qc4gs806

2013 came and Ji-Man started the year at High Desert.  A hitters paradise.  In his 48 games there Choi posted a .337/.427/.619 slash line.  He had more extra base hits than singles and walked 27 times while only striking out 33 times.  Naturally, he was promoted to Jackson, the Mariners AA team.  The average dropped off some there but not much else did.  He sported .862 OPS in his stop in Jackson, a much tougher league to hit in, at the ripe age of 22.  My favorite stat from there?  His 32 walks and 28 strikeouts.  At the end of his great season, he got the call up to Tacoma for a handful of games.  It was the cherry on top of a great season.

Choi started appearing on more prospect lists over this off-season.  One complaint remained.  Yep, you guessed it.  He can’t hit for enough power.  Still, the Ji-Man train trudged on.

He started 2014 in Tacoma.  Guess what he did there?  Hit.  He hit a lot.  In 10 games he posted a .395/.500/.545.  Granted, it was 10 games but anyone who had followed his career wasn’t surprised.  The guy had already overcome so much, being only 22, that it wasn’t a surprise that he was, well, a surprise.

Maybe the Mariners finally had a guy to push Justin Smoak.  A guy who maybe didn’t have the power potential but actually had some consistency.  A guy who could possibly do what John Olerud did on the last successful Mariners team, get on base, hit doubles and play great defense.

Word broke this afternoon that Ji-Man Choi had been suspended 50 games for the use of a performance enhancing drug.  The drug was methandienone, a type of anabolic steroid.

It just made so much sense.  A guy who was constantly knocked for his lack of home run power at a power position was taking an illegal substance to make him stronger.  He’s only like 195 pounds, for crying out loud.  Then, this came out, via Choi:

“A banned substance was detected in my urine sample,” Choi said. “I do not know what I could have taken that caused me to test positive. I have not and never would knowingly use anything illegal to enhance my performance. However, I also understand that without an explanation I must serve a suspension and I accept that. I look forward to putting this behind me and to returning to help the Mariners ballclub once my suspension has ended.”

Maybe it didn’t make sense at all?  Why would a guy who has never been the ‘star prospect’ but overcome that with pure skill and a disciplined approach break from that?  Choi is a smart baseball who makes up for his lack of home runs by taking his walks and hitting the ball into the gap.  Why would a smart guy do this when he was so close?

The only person who knows if Choi took this steroid is Choi himself.  He said he didn’t and many people probably don’t believe him.  He’s probably used to people doubting him anyway.  Hopefully, he doesn’t care.

Baseball’s interesting.  You know 25 guys and then you read about the next 25 guys people think you might see in a few years.  It goes on and on until someone tells you to shut up at a dinner party.  For some reason, I love Ji-Man Choi’s story and today it took another turn.  My favorite prospect, a guy I’ve never seen play a game, is out for a while because he possibly did something bad and I’m upset.  I’ll look forward to early June when Choi will show back up in the Tacoma box scores and Mike Curto will send out tweets about his 2-4 nights, with a double and a walk.  In the mean time I’ll just keep envisioning Choi as the next John Olerud.  That’s ending of his story that I like the best.

I wonder how Jabari Blash is doing.

– Andrew

 

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