Seattle Mariners

Kyle Lewis – Seattle Mariners’ lone rep. on mid-season Top 100 Prospects List

Kyle Lewis – Seattle Mariners’ lone rep. on mid-season Top 100 Prospects List

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Personally, one of my favorite things about the Major League Baseball All-Star break is the aftermath that always includes an updated Top 100 Prospects List from MLBPipeline.com. This year was no different, as I was curious to see what Mariners – if any – would make the list, especially after trading No. 2 organizational prospect Tyler O’Neill to the St. Louis Cardinals last week.

Single-A Advanced outfielder Kyle Lewis came in at No. 47 overall as the lone representative for the Mariners on the prestigious list. O’Neill, meanwhile, slipped to No. 100 on the list after being ranked much higher during spring training.

WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT LEWIS?

It’s a small sample size due to a knee injury that set the 22-year old’s development back a bit this season, but in 19 at bats through six games for Modesto, he is showing both power and his ability to hit to contact. Lewis has a .368 batting average and three home runs with seven RBI.

Again, very small sample size, but that’s what Lewis has been up to so far this season for at least a somewhat competitive level of the minor leagues. He also played 11 games in the Arizona League, but analyzing Class-A Advanced is as low in the minors as I will go to evaluate a player’s major-league promise. If I start evaluating short-season, single-A players I apparently have nothing to do in my free time.

Anyways, the Mariners like Lewis. If he didn’t start the season injured, I would have expected him to be in Double-A by now, but I would assume that’s where he will begin 2018 with a projected major-league debut in 2019.

By then, the 24-year old outfielder will be ready to make an impact – assuming he doesn’t get traded at the deadline next year like O’Neill was this year.

WHY DID THE M’S TRADE O’NEILL?

The trade with the Cardinals for SP/RP Marco Gonzales was a bit of a head scratcher for me at least.  I know the Mariners need relief pitching and the 25-year old Gonzales gives you some flexibility with the ability to start as well. At least general manager Jerry Dipoto realized the trade for Miami Marlins pitcher David Phelps was NOT going to solve the bullpen issues independently (Unfortunately, that is old news at this point, so ranting about how much I dislike David Phelps wouldn’t be relevant.)

Anyways, I am guessing that the numbers O’Neill put up at Triple-A this year were underwhelming for the Seattle brass. It’s a pretty healthy sample size – 349 at-bats in 93 games for Tacoma, but the 22-year old hit only .244 in a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He did add 19 home runs and 56 RBI with nine steals, and I’m not sure how he is defensively, but Dipoto must have seen a red flag somewhere.

I really don’t know, but I am trying to justify it for him.

Gonzales, meanwhile, has some major-league experience this year. It might be an experience he wants to forget though – lasting 3.1 innings, giving up five earned runs and three home run balls when he pitched for the Cardinals. At triple-A, however, he pitched well this year, going 6-4 in 11 starts with a 2.90 ERA for Memphis. In his one start for Tacoma, he went six innings and gave up three runs.

I get it that the Mariners need pitching depth and Gonzales can start or come out of the bullpen, I just don’t know if trading a power hitter who is three years younger for Gonzales was the best move. It will end up being one of those ‘wait and see’ trades, I guess. Until we see how it turns out, I am proceeding with skepticism.

Keep in mind the Cardinals system produces outfield talent so quickly, they resemble a Chinese manufacturing plant. This year alone, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and most recently Harrison Bader, who doubled and scored the walk-off run Tuesday night, have all come from the Cardinals minor-league system. There’s also former Cardinals outfielders Colby Rasmus and that Albert Pujols guy – who came up at as a third baseman but started his career in the outfield.

Tyler O’Neill will be next… I’m not saying Gonzales won’t be worth it – just saying O’Neill will be better.

BACK TO KYLE LEWIS

Sorry, I got super distracted. I have been pretty hot about the O’Neill trade, so I needed to get that out of my system.

Anyways, Lewis will be a fun one to watch over the next two years in the minor leagues. The bottom line is he will need to stay healthy and will the knee injury hinder his speed at all? That could be a huge factor.

The former Golden Spikes award winner in 2016 was drafted 11th overall by the Mariners and immediately jumped to the top of their organizational top prospects list. The Golden Spikes Award is given to the top, amateur baseball player in the country, so winning it in 2016 is nothing to scoff at.

Lewis is the real deal (when healthy).

To put it into perspective, other recent winners of this prestigious award include Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox (2015), A.J. Reed of Houston (2014) and highly-touted Brendan McKay out of Louisville in 2017.

Lewis a big presence at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. Since he’s only 22-years old he will likely fill out that frame and add some muscle. He can hit for power and he can hit for average.

The big question remains: How is the rebuilt ACL going to heal and will that set back his development further? We shall see.

FINAL WORD

The Mariners’ farm system is fairly weak – to be polite, making not only Kyle Lewis more valuable to the team than most No. 1 organizational prospects, but it also limits what kind of pitching additions the M’s can make before Monday’s trade deadline.

Taking the first two games against Boston has been refreshing and maybe Seattle can make a playoff push without landing a top-level, pitching talent.

Enjoy the rest of your week, readers. Go Mariners!

Tacoma to host Triple-A All-Star Game, but will any Rainiers get voted in?

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Tacoma Rainiers

Tacoma to host Triple-A All-Star Game, but will any Rainiers get voted in?

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While doing my mundane, weekly perusing of minor league baseball player stats a few weeks ago, I discovered the Triple-A All-star game will be hosted by the Tacoma Rainiers on the weekend of July 12 this year. That’s kind of cool for Seattle Mariners and baseball fans alike! The Pacific Coast League and the Independent League on the east coast are always loaded with prospects and promising players, but this year might be one of the best from an overall talent perspective.

While many of the minor league’s best – including Chicago White Sox third baseman Yoan Moncada (current leading vote-getter), Oakland shortstop Franklin Barreto and New York Mets shortstop Ahmed Rosario will likely be there, what about the host team? Who from Tacoma has a chance to represent the Mariners?

WHY THIS IS A ‘SPECIAL” YEAR FOR THE RAINIERS

For those of you who haven’t voted for the Triple-A All-stars yet (don’t everyone raise their hands at once), the ballot includes a fair share of players from Tacoma – including Christian Bergman, Sam Gaviglio, Boog Powell, Tyler Smith and Ben Gamel.

If that list of names looks suspicious, it’s because they are all currently on the Mariners team, and contributing on a regular basis (for now…hopefully). I have no idea what the rules are as far as MLB service time and eligibility for the all-star game, but if I had to make an educated guess, I would word it as follows:

Any player currently on a major-league roster at the time of the Triple-A All-Star break will not be eligible to participate in the all-star weekend festivities. If a player was briefly called up or has ‘x-amount’ of innings pitched or fewer at the major-league level or ‘x-amount’ of at bats or fewer at the major league level this season and are currently assigned to the organization’s Triple-A team, then they are eligible to participate in the all-star game.

That’s not even remotely direct from a rule book. I just made that up, but I needed to establish a baseline for the rest of this column.

THE VOTING CONUNDRUM

When I filled out my ballot a couple weeks ago, I was very conflicted with some of my PCL choices. I wanted to vote for Bergman and Caviglio, but I didn’t because they are up with the Mariners. Tuffy Gosewich, however, I didn’t feel compelled to vote for, nor did not voting for him make me upset. (Sorry Tuffers)

I was able to vote for Dan Vogelbach, who was with the Mariners briefly, but not enough to warrant not earning a vote. I also went with Tyler O’Neil – despite his .219 average. He does have 25 RBIs to go with six home runs and five steals.

Gamel, however, did not get my vote either. He might not see Triple-A again, but once the Mariners get healthy, who knows? It can make voting hard – especially if fans don’t know the guidelines.

For example, Cody Bellinger is on the ballot for first basemen. Last I knew he is the current favorite for National League rookie of the year and playing almost every day in L.A. Dodger fans would be pretentious enough to vote for him on the Triple-A ballot anyway. (Zing!)

OTHER PROSPECTS TO WATCH

There should be plenty of talent in Tacoma, even if some of the big-name guys get called up permanently within the next month. Aside from the three I already mentioned – Moncada, Barreto and Rosario – top prospect in Milwaukie’s system, outfielder Lewis Brinson, is putting together a strong season for the Colorado Sky Sox.

Derek Fisher in the Astros system seems to be leading the next wave of prospects to come out of the Houston pipeline. He is expected to make the trip to Tacoma along with Iowa’s catcher Victor Caratini to lead the PCL squad.

On the Independent League side, I don’t know if a lot of Canadians are voting or what’s going on, but barely behind the White Sox multi-million-dollar Cuban superstar investment Moncada in voting is the Buffalo Bisons’ (Blue Jays affiliate) Jake Elmore. Elmore, a second baseman, is hitting a mild .219, with zero home runs, 22 RBIs and eight steals. There are better second basemen to choose from – including Braves top prospect Ozzie Albies – hitting .262 with three home runs, 18 RBIs and 15 steals.

What are the Canadian voters doing to the Independent League voting? At least Rainiers fans have an excuse – all of their players are in the majors.

On a more serious note, if Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies doesn’t get called up soon, he will be a monster to watch in Tacoma in July as a first basemen representing the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs (I just wanted to say Iron Pigs).

FINAL THOUGHT

Good luck trying to vote for your all-stars, Tacoma and Seattle fans. Regardless of who gets in for the Rainiers (Gosewich will not), it will be a fun game to watch. Sometimes Triple-A games can be filled with aging players, trying to hang onto a career (Leonys Martin), or simply players who are better suited for the minor leagues than the big leagues (Gordon Beckham), but there is a good side to watching minor league baseball.

I drove to Buffalo back in the day to watch Stephen Strasburg’s Triple-A debut and it was arguably the best game I’ve ever been to. It had a World Series feel to it – seriously. I’ve been to both events, and seeing 99 on the ‘not-so-big screen’ to a packed house of maybe 20,000 cheering on the opponent’s pitcher was pretty awesome.

There will be plenty of star power on display in Tacoma. You might have to cheer for players from other teams this year, but think of it as you are simply enjoying the sport of baseball in an exhibition setting. It certainly doesn’t get much better than that.

The Mariners are winning again, so that’s good. The weather will get crappy-ish again, so that’s not as good, but enjoy your weekend anyway. If you get super bored, feel free to vote in the Triple-A All-Star game by visiting this link.

Grading The Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura trade 30 games in

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USA TODAY

Grading The Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura trade 30 games in

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Back on November 23rd, the Seattle Mariners sent pitcher Taijuan Walker and shortstop Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for shortstop Jean Segura, outfielder Mitch Haniger, and left-handed pitcher Zac Curtis. As with many off-season moves in baseball, when there’s nothing else to talk about in baseball, writers at many local and national outlets speculated about who had “won” the trade. Most of the discussion focused on whether Walker, a one-time highly touted prospect, would reach his potential with a change of scenery and whether Segura, coming off a career year, could maintain that level of production. A few astute analysts, like Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs, mused about whether the inclusion of Mitch Haniger in the deal was the real coup for the Mariners. So now that every team in baseball has played roughly thirty games, let’s take a look at how the pieces in the Mariners/Diamondbacks deal are panning out.

Two Pieces are in the Minors

Of the five players included in the November trade, two are currently in the minor leagues – Zac Curtis and Ketel Marte.

Curtis was expected to start in the minors, as he had only pitched 13.1 innings in the majors with the Diamondbacks in 2016 with a low 6.75 K/9 and an extremely high 8.75 BB/9. He clearly wasn’t ready to face big league hitting after just 19.2 innings at AA.

Marte, on the other hand, played 119 games for the Mariners in 2016. Granted, he generated -0.7 WAR by being bad offensively (3.9 BB% with .287 OBP) and, well, being bad defensively (-9.8 UZR/150 at SS). His presence in the majors last year probably said more about the lack of depth in the Mariners farm system than any great promise on Marte’s part.

So far this season, Curtis has pitched 14 innings for the AA Arkansas Travelers in the Texas League. He has recorded 3 saves with respectable 8.36 K/9 and 2.57 BB/9. He’ll turn 25 on July 4th, so there’s still a little more time for him to develop.

Marte finds himself in Reno playing for the AAA Aces in the Pacific Coast League. His .403/.448/.530 slash line looks impressive at first before you remember he’s putting up those numbers in the extremely hitter friendly PCL. Both Steamer and Depth Charts projections have Marte playing in about 25 games this season in the majors, so he’ll probably stay in the minors a full-season, joining the Diamondbacks after roster expansion.

How Has Taijuan Walker Faired in Arizona?

Chosen 43rd overall in the 2010 draft, Taijuan Walker was always considered a high upside starter in the Mariners organization. However, in a little over 300 innings in the majors Walker’s ERA remained north of 4 with FIP and xFIP pretty much concurring. After parts of three seasons, Walker had accumulated 3.2 WAR. But, going into the off-season, most Mariners fans assumed the 24-year-old would plug in as the two or the three in the rotation. GM Jerry Dipoto had different ideas, like shoring up the offense and defense at shortstop.

This season, Walker has started 7 games with the Diamondbacks, posting a 3.83 ERA. His FIP is half a run better at 3.36, but his xFIP is pretty similar to his ERA at 3.85. He currently has a 0.9 WAR, which if he were to make even 28 starts might approach 3 for the season. A nice number two for the D-Backs behind Zach Grienke.

Walker has pitched better on the road, including two starts in San Francisco and one at Dodger Stadium to post a 3.10 away ERA, compared to 4.58 at home that is probably a bit skewed by the 15-9 game against San Diego. So, all-in-all with the inclusion of some pretty pitcher friendly parks in the NL, Walker seems to have neither been a bust or a big steal for the Diamondbacks and definitely a justifiable and fair trade from their perspective.

How About the Hitters the Mariners Got?

One of the things that jumps off the leaderboard of Mariners hitters on FanGraphs is that the two pieces acquired in this trade are number one and number two, ahead of Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano. Now we are only talking about 100 PA or so, but the returns so far have been good.

As of the first game of the series on the road at the Philadelphia Phillies, Jean Segura, who has spent a short stint on the DL, is hitting .376/.414/.516. For the more analytically inclined (like me), Segura has a weighted on base average (wOBA) of .404 (interpret the number as if were the same scale as OBP – .404 is really good) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 167, where 100 is league average and 167 is roughly 67% better than league average. Segura leads the Mariners offensive players with a WAR of 1.4.

Again, it’s early, but it’s reasonable to assume Dipoto thought Segura could come close to repeating last season’s break out when he hit .319/.368/.499, with a 126 wRC+, and 5.0 WAR. His torrid pace will regress, but the offense seems to be genuine at this point. What Dipoto might not have been able to predict is how good Mitch Haniger has been.

Haniger is hitting .338/.442/.600 with an outstanding .444 wOBA and an absolutely Ruthian 195 wRC+, which he’s definitely not going to maintain – he has just 95 PA – but is a hot start and a harbinger of things to come. He’s barely played 50 games in the big leagues and the 34 in Arizona produced .229/.309/.404, but as the sample size grows, Haniger should turn out to be a really good everyday player.

The projections going forward by Zips, Steamer, and Depth Charts have Haniger playing 92-99 more games with 390-400 more PA, while hitting 13-15 HR, scoring 47-50 more runs, and driving in 45-50 more runs. As a .250ish/.320ish/.430is hitter going forward, he should remain above league average in wRC+ and finish the season with around 3 WAR. Not bad for a piece of a trade that was probably not the focus of the casual fan.

Grade on the Trade So Far?

With the caveat that it’s extremely early and grades could change, it appears both the Diamondbacks and the Mariners got what they were looking for, with the Mariners maybe coming out on top if Haniger continues to pan out with above average hitting and solid defense in right field.

The Mariners have improved offensively, ranking fourth in the majors with 6.3 WAR, behind only the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals, and the surprising Cincinnati Reds. If Segura had enough PA to appear on the individual leaderboards, he’d be tied with Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians as the second most productive SS in baseball. And if Haniger qualified, he’d be tied with Steven Souza, Jr. of the Reds for third most offensively productive RF in baseball.

By FanGraphs defensive metric Def, the Mariners rank 9th in the majors and 5th in the AL.  Segura does have enough innings in this category to rank 8th in the majors and 4th in the AL, while Haniger does not qualify and the Def stat, (oddly, isn’t listed on the player’s page for comparison to the leaderboard).But, his UZR/150 of 5.7 would put him around 11th in the Giancarlo Stanton neighborhood.

Ironically, the staple of recent Mariners teams – pitching – isn’t there yet, although it has been improving of late. So, could the Mariners have used Walker this season? Certainly. but the improvements at short and in right currently tip the scale on this trade to the Mariners. But, it is early.

Early trends with the 2017 Seattle Mariners

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USA Today

Early trends with the 2017 Seattle Mariners

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Some interesting trends are starting to emerge in this young Seattle Mariners 2017 season, some encouraging, some not so encouraging. A quick glance at team statistics reveals a pretty good offense, a pretty good defense, and woefully bad pitching, with some individuals outpacing expected production and others lagging behind expected production – typical of an early, small sample size.

OFFENSE

On Fangraphs leaderboards, the Mariners rank sixth in the majors in offensive WAR with a combined .243/.329/.398 slash line. The team as a whole is taking walks at about a 10% clip to rank 7th in the majors, which is contributing to a 12th rated team OBP. Getting on base at a healthy clip has contributed to the Mariners being 8th best in the majors in scoring runs.

Individually, the usual suspects appear atop the Mariners leaderboard, with Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano hanging out in the top five. Cruz is currently hitting .297/.396/.527 and an impressive wRC+ of 163. Cano is maybe even underachieving some at .265/.333/.422 with a wRC+ of 112, but it is early.

However, the Mariners are getting production early from some unexpected contributors in the play of Mitch Haniger and Taylor Motter. Haniger is hitting .338/.442/.600 with a wRC+ of 200 and a ridiculous BABIP of .411. Motter, who primarily filled in for Jean Segura at short but has hit himself into a utility role, has a stranger stat line. Instead of doing everything well at the plate, he’s flashing power he’s never shown before, but still struggling with the hit tool, as he did for much of his minor-league career. A slash line of .250/.311/.625 is odd, to say the least – enormous slugging, paired with average BA and OBP. He has gotten unlucky, as demonstrated by his .237 BABIP.

Haniger, who came over from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Taijuan Walker for Jean Segura trade, was always touted as an everyday outfielder. He has an average hit tool with a little pop and a good glove. In 2016, at AA, AAA, and the majors in the Diamondback’s organization, he hit a combined 30 HR. ZiPs (R), the most bullish of the projection models on Haniger going forward, see him hitting .248/.320/.431 with 17 more HR and finishing the season as a near 3 WAR player. Not shabby by any means, just not what he’s doing during this early season hot streak.

Motter, on the other hand, has never projected to be a starter and is certainly slugging out of his league so far. On two occasions in the minors with the Tampa Rays, at A ball and AAA ball, he slugged under .400 while playing 99 and 88 games respectively. He looks to be a 15 HR or so guy, who just happens to be hitting a HR every 11 PA right now. ZIPS (R) is also most bullish of the projections on Motter. That model has him playing about 100 more games and hitting close to .244/.300/.412.

The “good” news, though, is that Kyle Seager hasn’t hit his stride yet. Currently hitting .246/.360/.344 with a one tic higher than league average 101 wRC+, Seager hasn’t contributed much to the offense, so far, and you expect that will change soon. So, between the usual suspects doing what they do, surprises doing more than could’ve been expected, and one major piece underachieving, the Mariners should stay in the upper third of the majors in offense.

DEFENSE

One of the stated goals this offseason by GM Jerry Dipoto was to get more athletic and better on defense, especially in the outfield. And, even with the recent designation for assignment of Leonys Martin, that has been the case early on. As a team, the Mariners rank 11th in the majors in UZR/150 and 9th in the majors in Fangraphs combined defensive metric. The outfield specifically ranks 10th in UZR/150 and 11th in Fangraphs Def stat.

While no one player stands out as exceptional in the Mariners outfield, Jerrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, and, until recently, the aforementioned Leonys Martin, have been around league average, allowing hands of stone Nelson Cruz to primarily DH.

PITCHING

The Pitching, on the other hand, has been just a notch above abysmal. Ranked 26th in WAR, only the staffs and bullpens of the Miami Marlins, Tampa Rays, Detroit Tigers, and the San Diego Padres are worse. And none of those teams were picked to contend going into 2017, whereas this Mariners team was seen as a borderline wild card contender. Following the 19-9 shellacking from the Tigers, the Mariners team ERA ballooned above 5.00, to become the only team with an ERA with a 5 to the left of the decimal point other than the Tigers.

While James Paxton has been phenomenal posting 1.78 ERA and an even better 1.16 FIP for 1.3 WAR already, the rest of the staff has been disappointing to say the least. Felix Hernandez, the once guaranteed stopper in the rotation, is off to a 4.73 ERA, which, unfortunately, correlates with his 4.78 FIP. Hisashi Iwakuma sports a 5.31 ERA with an even more ominous 7.51 FIP. The rotation is rounded out with Yovani Gallardo at 4.84 EAR but an encouraging 3.61 FIP and Ariel Miranda with a 4.35 ERA but a less than encouraging 5.31 FIP. Rotations with four starters below league average usually don’t go to the playoffs.

Closer Edwin Diaz has not gotten much work with few games that need “closing,” and the one stellar performer is the nicknamed “Scrabble” – Marc Rzepczynski – who as of Tuesday hadn’t allowed an earned run. The bullpen as a whole is ranked 27th in baseball and has a ghastly 6.52 ERA and a better, but not good, FIP of 4.77.

IT'S EARLY BUT...

Yes, it is early, with more than 140 games to go, but early impressions of 2017’s Mariners are a bit surprising. For a fan base used to low scoring games due to the combination of excellent pitching and anemic offense, this year’s version of the northwest green and navy blue is poised to be the exact opposite – a high powered offense that will need to score a ton of runs because the pitching staff is going to give up a ton of runs. Nine runs against the Tigers this week was a good effort, just eleven too few to notch a W. Don’t be surprised if you see a few of those sorts of games this season.

Milestones projected for Safeco Field in 2017

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Milestones projected for Safeco Field in 2017

WRITTEN BY BRIAN HIGHT

There’s a nifty little tool on Major League Baseball’s website, in the statistics section, that projects milestones for the coming year based on the pace a player has accumulated any given statistic over the course of his career. If you’re an Albert Pujols fan or just an admirer of his career, you may want to plan to attend a few Los Angeles Angels games this year when they visit the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field.

Albert Pujols Milestones

According to MLB.com, Pujols should drive in his 1836th run when the Angels visit Seattle in early May, with a specific projection date of Tuesday, May 2nd. The poignancy of Mr. Pujols’ accomplishment – if he indeed achieves the milestone then – won’t be lost on long-time Mariners fans. By climbing to 1836 RBI, Pujols will pass Ken Griffey, Jr. on the all-time list and move into sole possession of 15th.

But hold on. Pujols and the Angels return to Safeco in mid-August when he’ll be climbing up the hits list. In a little misleading “milestone,” MLB notes that Sir Albert will pass Adrian Beltre for 31st all-time with his 2942nd hit on or about August 11th. But, alas, while on the DL currently, Beltre will certainly have accumulated a few more hits by August. So, the really historic moment may come the next night on August 12th when Pujols smacks hit number 2843 and passes Hall-of-Famer Frank Robinson. Mark your calendar. It’s a Saturday night game.

And just when you thought there couldn’t be anymore Pujols milestones, come back to the ballpark in September when he may surpass Hall-of-Famer Eddie Murray on the RBI list by driving in his 1917th run. That would move the sure thing first ballot HOFer into 9th place all-time. September 8th is the projection date for that little milestone.

Other Milestones for Visitors

For visiting players not named Albert, there are a few notable milestones. Just next week in the opening series against the Houston Astros, second baseman Jose Altuve is on pace to swipe his 200th base, and, in that very same series, Carlos Beltran should drive in his 1540th run to tie him with Willie Stargell for 47th all-time.

Another fella you may have heard of, Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers, will be in town from June 19th through the 22nd and that series should see two milestones fall for the Venezuelan slugger. On June 19th, Miggy is on pace to pass turn-of-the-century, Hall-of-Fame legend Nap Lajoie for sole possession of the number 35 slot on the RBI list. Then over the next two nights, Cabrera should collect RBI number 1600 and hit number 2600. Capping off the series, Cabrera could hit HR number 462 to tie him with Adam Dunn and Jose Canseco for 35th all-time.

What About the Mariners?

So, while maybe not historic, there are some personal milestones on the menu for Seattle Mariners’ players this season. On June 6th, in the opener against the Minnesota Twins, Robinson Cano is due to score his 1100th run – we sure love round numbers. Then on July 21st, ironically against the New York Yankees, Cano’s original team, he is on pace to gather his 500th double.

While a few years younger, not to be outdone, Kyle Seager should get his 200th double in that same series against the Yankees. Another milestone for the elder Seager – his little brother in LA is very good also, by the way – should come as a mild counter to Mr. Pujols and the Angels when he drives in his 500th run, to leave him only 1400 behind the LA first baseman.

But the milestone most casual fans tend to remember is when a player creeps up the HR list. Safeco Field has that on the calendar for one of its own players also. Nelson Cruz should launch his 300th career HR into the stands in the Emerald City on or about June 20th in the Tigers series.

Take Me out to the Ballpark

So, not only should the Mariners’ season be exciting in terms of the pennant race, but there are lots of historical milestones to look forward to. It cannot be over emphasized that between Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos Beltran, not to mention Mariners’ own Robbie Cano, Seattle fans will be watching future Hall-of-Famers play live and in person in 2017 and setting some personal and historical milestones.

The opening series kicks off Monday, April 10th against the Houston Astros when the milestones start falling with Altuve and a swiped bag. Watch it.

Seattle Mariners’ rotation has fans ‘Smyl-yng’

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Seattle Mariners’ rotation has fans ‘Smyl-yng’

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The World Baseball Classic this spring has taken many of the every-day, Seattle Mariner hitters out of the lineup and away from the team’s clubhouse. Lost in the shuffle of that group has been starting pitcher Drew Smyly, who is pitching in the classic for the American squad.

If you have been following the Mariners this spring training on the ROOT Sports Network, you probably haven’t thought much about Smyly with the success of James Paxton, Chris Heston and some of the other arms with the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz. since he is away from the team and not pitching regularly. Before the WBC started, Smyly (1-0) pitched in two games for Seattle, going five innings, allowing just one hit and striking out five.

Then came his turn to face some international players in a U.S.A uniform.

His success continued in his start for the Americans when he tossed 4.2 innings with eight strikeouts in a win against the potent lineup from Venezuela. His spring stats combined so far have yielded 9.2 innings, four hits and 13 strikeouts. That’s a pretty impressive start to his Mariners career.

LET’S NOT GET EXCITED…YET

It’s no doubt Smyly has fans ‘Smylyng’…(get it…smiling/Smylyng…) so far, but for some reason the 27-year old left-hander has teased his prior teams with excellent spring trainings as well.

In Smyly’s five-year career, he has gone a combined 11-2 with a 3.26 ERA in 85.2 innings with a WHIP of 1.05 and 70 strikeouts to go with it. Compare that to his 2016 stat line in Tampa Bay, and Smyly was a different pitcher – finishing 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA in 175.1 innings with a more human-like WHIP of 1.27. (WHIP is calculated by adding walks + hits/Innings Pitched in case you didn’t already know that.)

His career numbers are somewhere in between the two spikes with a record of 31-27, a 3.74 ERA and a WHIP of 1.20. With more emphasis being put on the regular season starts and a much larger sample size to analyze, the Mariners might not be sure what they will get out of their No. 4 starting pitcher.

SMYLY’S JOURNEY TO SEATTLE

Signed in August of 2010 by the Detroit Tigers, Drew Smyly quickly made his way through the minor leagues of the organization before debuting for the Tigers in 2012. He went 4-3 in his rookie year, starting 18 games in his first taste of the majors.

He served the team as more of a reliever in his sophomore season, but posted great numbers – going 6-0 with a stingy 2.37 ERA while appearing in 63 games.

In 2014, Smyly was involved in one of the more prominent MLB trade deadline deals as he went to Tampa Bay along with shortstop Willy Adames (who I believe is one of Tampa’s top prospects this year and knocking on the door to the majors). The Tigers got that guy who is now in Boston…what was his name…oh yeah, David Price! (On an unrelated note, there is a guy who lives in the Gresham, Ore. area currently who looks EXACTLY like David Price. I walked up to him as a complete stranger and asked him, ‘has anyone ever said you look like David Price? He said, yeah, I get that all the time.’ It was super -weird. He had a Red Sox baseball hat on, backwards of course, and everything. #DopplegangerAlert)

Anyways, back to the trade.

Coincidentally enough, the Mariners were also involved in that trade. The Mariners sent Nick Franklin to the Rays and the Tigers gave Austin Jackson to the Mariners. I feel they could have made that deal a lot less complicated if they knew Smyly would be a Mariner in 2017.

Smyly’s career in Tampa wasn’t necessarily a fun one. It was highlighted by a lot of disabled list stints and lots of inconsistencies. He made only 12 starts in 2015 and had the aforementioned down year in 2016.

Did I mention he struck out eight Venezuelans? They weren’t like, local teenagers on the streets of Caracas or anything. The Venezuelan WBC team has some serious thunder. Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Gonzalez and other players currently seeing every-day at bats on Major League teams faced him, got dominated and ultimately lost the game.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM SMYLY?

Pitching behind King Felix, Hisashi Iwakuma (I think I spelled it correctly WITHOUT needing to Google it for the first time ever) and Paxton, Smyly certainly won’t be expected to be a superstar. I assume he prefers it that way. Actually, he may even pitch fifth in case the M’s want to split up the lefties (with Paxton going third). No matter how you slice it, the pressure on Smyly will be relatively low heading into the season.

If he continues to pitch scoreless innings for the Americans, however, the expectations may rise.

I would like to see 13 wins and 30 starts. Is that optimistic? Maybe but I feel it is realistic. He is 27 years of age now entering his sixth season, so hopefully the maturity factor will help his game a little bit. He really just needs to stay healthy.

I don’t expect him to fan eight hitters every 4.2 innings he pitches, but if he can even out to 9k/9IP ratio, I think manager Scott Servais will be pleased.

FINAL WORD

The WBC has had an interesting effect/affect (See one of my previous columns where I rant about the difference in those words) on the Seattle ball-club this spring. Maybe Smyly seeing the quality of players in the ‘big-game’ environment this early will help his preparation for the regular season.

He has always pitched well in March – that has never been an issue. This is his first-year pitching for Team USA, so it will be interesting to see if the talented left-hander can finally turn a successful spring into a successful season.

Go Mariners…and good luck Ducks! And in a random thought, April the giraffe – we are rooting for you. Please just have the baby, so our social network feeds can feature something else.

Jean Segura poised for big season for Mariners

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USA TODAY

Jean Segura poised for big season for Mariners

BY 

The Seattle Mariners take the field Saturday to face the San Diego Padres in their first spring training game of the 2017 baseball season. There’s a new man at shortstop who will make his Mariners debut with high expectations, but will Jean Segura be able to repeat his career-best numbers from last year in a new uniform?

That has to be one of the bigger questions Mariners fans are asking themselves as their team begins the spring training game schedule.

Segura, the 26-year old middle infielder, will be entering his sixth major-league season, but none of them have yielded the numbers quite like last season when he played in the launching pad at Chase Field in Arizona. His first five seasons were played in Milwaukee, which is also a fairly hitter-friendly park.

Welcome to Safeco.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

Segura’s home run totals as a member of the Brewers were 0 (144 at-bats), 12 (588 ABs), 5 (513 ABs), 6 (560 ABs) and 20 (637 ABs), respectively. A jump to 20 homers last year is quite significant, but in all honesty, hitting the long ball isn’t his strength. I expect him to hit second in the Seattle order where he will hope to get on base, run around a little bit and let the big thumpers Nelly Cruz, Robbie Cano and Kyle Seager drive him in.

In his previous four, full seasons, Segura stole 44, 20 and 25 bases with the Brewers and 33 bases last season in Arizona. He also hit .319 for the Diamondbacks as he eclipsed the .300 mark for the first time in his career.

If he can repeat those numbers — .319 average, 33 steals and 20 home runs – the Mariners will be more than pleased. Segura also had a career high in RBIs last year with 64 and a career-best 102 runs scored.

SIGNS HE CAN REPEAT HIS 2016 CAMPAIGN

Segura isn’t just a one-year, out of nowhere success story. He was an all-star in 2013 – his first full season in the majors. The year before while still in the minor leagues, he was selected to the MLB Futures Game – generally reserved for top prospects from the 30 organizations in baseball. In 2011, Segura was named as a “Rising Star” in the Arizona Fall League and was a two-time organization all-star in 2010 and 2012 as a member of the L.A. Angels system before being traded with other players for Zack Greinke.

Point being – he’s always had success and he’s always been projected to be a really good player.

The ‘magical age’ in baseball theories is 27. I’m not sure who created this theory or even if it still holds true, but when hitters turn 27 they are presumed to be “in their prime and playing their best baseball”. Not everyone goes all Nelson Cruz and waits till they are 36 to blast off arguably the best season of their career, but generally speaking 27 is when hitters have it figured out and are playing their best.

Segura will turn 27 on March 17.

While on the topic of popular phrases that I don’t know where they came from – speed never slumps. Segura is still fast, so there’s no reason to think his stolen base numbers will slip. In short, he’s almost at the ‘golden age of productivity’ (I just made that one up. Consider that trademarked) and he still has his speed to help him get on base and be a factor on the base paths.

He will have plenty of protection behind him in the lineup as well, which usually means a lot of fastballs. Segura, like many hitters these days, is a good fast ball hitter. Not too many pitchers will want to walk him with Cano on deck and Cruz staring creepily from the top of the dugout waiting his turn to tee off. Pitches to hit are usually beneficial for players like Segura.

WHY HIS NUMBERS MAY FALTER

It’s kind of hard to duplicate career highs in home runs, doubles, runs scored, on-base percentage and batting average in back-to-back seasons for anyone. The sheer odds of it are I’m sure staggeringly low. By default, I assume he won’t top all of those categories.

If I had to guess which ones, I would assume a slight dip in batting average – something closer to .285 perhaps and maybe more like 15 homers. That’s still a foundation for a solid season, but to top all of those power categories will be a challenging task.

In the ‘don’t blame it on Chase Field’ category, we can look at Segura’s home vs. away split last year courtesy of baseball-reference.com:

It’s a fairly even split. I have seen some players who can’t even remotely hit on the road – it’s disgusting (and not all of them play for the Colorado Rockies).

FINAL WORD

The Mariners are stressing they can make the playoffs this year after narrowly missing the wild card game last season. Granted, every team always thinks they can make the playoffs in the spring – except maybe the Braves, Phillies, Padres, Angels or Twins this year – but the Mariners do in fact have a legitimate chance.

Jean Segura will be a big part of their success. He needs to stay healthy, he needs to be active on the bases and he needs to hit as close to .300 as possible. If he can do all those things and provide above-average defense, the Mariners can go a long way in the AL West.

Baseball season is finally here. It’s a beautiful, beautiful time of year. Go Mariners!

Let's not forget: as a young player in Seattle, A-Rod was something special

Let's not forget: as a young player in Seattle, A-Rod was something special

When Alex Rodriguez announced his retirement Sunday morning I happened to be watching his news conference. And as fans all over the country were probably thinking about how much they hated him, I couldn't help but think about the good days, A-Rod's good days in Seattle.

And what a tremendous young player he was for the Mariners.

I was there watching him frequently, covering baseball and writing columns for The Oregonian. And I must say, in those days I thought he was much easier for me as a media person to deal with than was Ken Griffey Jr. He was a bit shy, but cooperative, bright and very charming.

But what I remember most is that he played hard. He ran hard on routine ground balls. He played the game the right way and you could tell that he loved it. He loved playing baseball.

And if you don't recall how good he was, I invite you to take a look at his numbers. Oh man, did he run up some numbers. And, as people always say about Barry Bonds: He was very, very good before he probably ever took any performance enhancing drugs.

The season I can't forget was 1996, when, as a 20-year-old, he hit .358 with 54 doubles, 36 home runs and an OPS of 1.045. As a shortstop. I mean, are you kidding me? And people forget what a terrific shortstop, as two gold gloves will attest, he once was. When he went to the Yankees, he took it upon himself to move to third base in deference to Derek Jeter. But at the time, a whole lot of people would tell you he was a better defensive shortstop than Jeter.

Yes, I know all about A-Rod's PED stuff. But I must tell you, I come at those issues from a different place than most people. A big part of my youth was spent as a clubhouse boy for the Triple-A Portland Beavers, way back in the mid- to late-1960s. At that time in those clubhouses I watched players -- many of whom had been or would later be star players in the big leagues -- obsessively use amphetamines. "Greenies" is what they were called in those days.

And they were everywhere. Nobody even attempted to hide them. Some of these guys got so geeked up on those pills that they'd stick around the clubhouse for hours after the game drinking beer to wear them off. And really -- these were not isolated incidences. I saw it constantly. And heard stories about some of the biggest players in the game doing the same things.

And so when players of previous eras talk about use of steroids or HGH I think back to those days and figure that if the guys in the old days had been offered a needle that would have enhanced their performance, they wouldn't have hesitated to use it.

Yes, there was always a lot of money at stake and A-Rod got his share of that. But I also saw the way he attacked the game as a young player and figure that he just couldn't pass up the opportunity to be even better. Especially when so many other players were doing it. These guys are driven to achieve.

We're going to have to come to grips with that some day. Cheating has been a part of baseball since the first sign was stolen, since the first spitball was thrown, since the first bat was corked. It happened. And you can choose to hate that if you want.

And you can certainly hate the ones who did it. I'm just going to remember Alex Rodriguez in 1996 -- watching him and thinking that the position of shortstop had just been changed forever.

 

The reclamation of Mike Zunino

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The reclamation of Mike Zunino

by 

2015 was bad for Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino. The highly touted number three pick from the 2012 draft fell below an imaginary line even lower than the Mendoza line as he slashed .174/.230/.300 while striking out 34.2% of the time. Zunino had become the closest thing to an automatic out that the DH using AL could muster. Upon his arrival in Seattle, new GM Jerry Dipoto made it one of his stated goals to resurrect Mike Zunino’s career.

Zunino in 2015:

Zunino spent 79 games in Tacoma with the AAA Rainiers, where he hit .286/.376/.521 with 17 HR in just 386 PA. He cut his strike out rate down to 21.1% and improved his walk rate from 5.4% the previous season in Seattle to 10.7%. Called back up by the big league club in late June to fill in for then injured back-up catcher Mike Clevenger, Zunino has gotten into the lineup twelve times (as of August 4th) for 41 PA (very small sample size) and has hit .286/.390/.800 while striking out “just” 24.4% of the time and taking a walk on 12.2% of his AB.

Now clearly Zunino isn’t going to slug .800 for the season. Only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have ever produced +.800 slugging seasons. But the willingness to take a walk and get on base is a promising sign. Steamer projections are the most bullish on Zunino going forward and look for a slugging percentage closer to .400.

Caveats:

The early numbers are not all entirely rosy, however. His BABIP sits at .250, higher than the .239 of 2015, but well below the league average that tends to hover around .300. For some perspective, Zunino’s .248 BABIP of 2014 contributed to a .199/.254/.404 line over 131 games. It also may be the case, however, that catchers in general, who tend to be slower on the base paths, are just naturally going to put up lower BABIPs than the league average. That’s a research question for another day.

On the plus side, Zunino is swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone – 26.3% this year compared to 31.5% last season and 38.5% in 2014. His contact on pitches in the zone is up to 86.7% so far this year, compared to roughly 76.5% each of the previous two seasons. Also, his swing and miss percentage is down from 18.2% in 2014 and 16.1% in 2015 to 13.3% this season. Again, a small sample size, but an encouraging trend.

2015 was bad for Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino. The highly touted number three pick from the 2012 draft fell below an imaginary line even lower than the Mendoza line as he slashed .174/.230/.300 while striking out 34.2% of the time. Zunino had become the closest thing to an automatic out that the DH using AL could muster. Upon his arrival in Seattle, new GM Jerry Dipoto made it one of his stated goals to resurrect Mike Zunino’s career.

Zunino in 2016 So Far:

Zunino spent 79 games in Tacoma with the AAA Rainiers, where he hit .286/.376/.521 with 17 HR in just 386 PA. He cut his strike out rate down to 21.1% and improved his walk rate from 5.4% the previous season in Seattle to 10.7%. Called back up by the big league club in late June to fill in for then injured back-up catcher Mike Clevenger, Zunino has gotten into the lineup twelve times (as of August 4th) for 41 PA (very small sample size) and has hit .286/.390/.800 while striking out “just” 24.4% of the time and taking a walk on 12.2% of his AB.

Now clearly Zunino isn’t going to slug .800 for the season. Only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have ever produced +.800 slugging seasons. But the willingness to take a walk and get on base is a promising sign. Steamer projections are the most bullish on Zunino going forward and look for a slugging percentage closer to .400.

Caveats:

The early numbers are not all entirely rosy, however. His BABIP sits at .250, higher than the .239 of 2015, but well below the league average that tends to hover around .300. For some perspective, Zunino’s .248 BABIP of 2014 contributed to a .199/.254/.404 line over 131 games. It also may be the case, however, that catchers in general, who tend to be slower on the base paths, are just naturally going to put up lower BABIPs than the league average. That’s a research question for another day.

On the plus side, Zunino is swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone – 26.3% this year compared to 31.5% last season and 38.5% in 2014. His contact on pitches in the zone is up to 86.7% so far this year, compared to roughly 76.5% each of the previous two seasons. Also, his swing and miss percentage is down from 18.2% in 2014 and 16.1% in 2015 to 13.3% this season. Again, a small sample size, but an encouraging trend.

Solid Player Behind the Plate:

Most teams in the major leagues aren’t necessarily looking for a Yogi Berra or a Johnny Bench behind the plate. It’s a bonus but not a pre-requisite. A good defensive catcher, who handles the pitching staff well and can occasionally contribute at the plate is what most clubs hope for. (Case in point – Yadier Molina’s early career. Go look at those numbers some time). What teams do not want is a strike out machine who is virtually a guaranteed out. Over the past two seasons, Mike Zunino had become what you don’t want. Early signs this season are that he has become what the Mariners do want.

Most teams in the major leagues aren’t necessarily looking for a Yogi Berra or a Johnny Bench behind the plate. It’s a bonus but not a pre-requisite. A good defensive catcher, who handles the pitching staff well and can occasionally contribute at the plate is what most clubs hope for. (Case in point – Yadier Molina’s early career. Go look at those numbers some time). What teams do not want is a strike out machine who is virtually a guaranteed out. Over the past two seasons, Mike Zunino had become what you don’t want. Early signs this season are that he has become what the Mariners do want.

Oh, that memory of Ken Griffey Jr. sticking his head out of that pile at home plate

Oh, that memory of Ken Griffey Jr. sticking his head out of that pile at home plate

As Ken Griffey Jr. takes his rightful place in baseball's Hall of Fame this weekend, I can't help but think back to the Seattle Mariners' 1995 season -- the year when the entire Pacific Northwest went bonkers for the Mariners.

Yes. even Portland set aside its usual distaste for all things Seattle to pull for a team that just wouldn't quit. It was a team that emerged from years of mediocrity to capture the hearts and minds of baseball fans everywhere. It was a lovable bunch on the field, playing with joy and abandon, constructing big comebacks for miracle late-season wins.

But it wasn't very lovable in their clubhouse, I can tell you. I was dispatched by The Oregonian to cover the M's brilliant late-season run that August and September, the most time I've ever spent following a big-league team around. Griffey was, at least at that time, difficult to cover. He could be temperamental and hard to approach. Randy Johnson, who would win the Cy Young Award that year after going an overpowering 18-2, was intimidating and impossible to approach. But the rest were easy to talk with and cooperative.

On Aug. 24 of that season the Mariners were 11 1/2 games behind the division-leading California Angels and a game under the .500 mark. Griffey had been out of the lineup with a broken wrist through much of the season and even the torrid hitting of Edgar Martinez couldn't keep Seattle close. But the team caught fire and the emotion began to build, the way it can do in baseball, where the season-long soap operas can grow in intensity with each game.

Eventually, the M's caught the Angels and faced them in a one-game playoff in the ancient Kingdome, where Seattle -- behind Johnson -- pummeled California 9-1.

Next up, the playoffs -- a foreign place for the Mariner franchise -- and a battle with the New York Yankees. Seattle Manager Lou Piniella vs. one of his former teams. The Yanks handled Mariner pitching with ease in the first two games in Yankee Stadium, winning 9-6 and 7-5. About all I remember from covering those games was talking to Jay Buhner afterward about New York fans throwing batteries at him in right field.

Things turned around in Seattle, though, as Mariner fans turned the Kingdome into a cauldron of noise. Let's cut to the chase, the best-of-five series went to a fifth game and it turned into an incredible battle. The Yankees, behind David Cone, held a 4-2 lead before the Mariners tied it in the eighth. Then, in the ninth, New York mounted a rally -- getting two on with none out,.

But then the emotion of the game went from 10 out of 10 to about 15 out of 10. Out of the Seattle bullpen came Johnson, the Big Unit, charging to the mound as if he owned it. He had rested just one day since winning Game 3 but was ready for this challenge. He fanned Wade Boggs and got Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neill on popups.

And in my estimation, there's never been a louder sports arena anywhere than the Kingdome was on that night -- a combination of fan loyalty, panic and hope. In the pressbox, I couldn't hear the person next to me even though he was screaming at me. I was getting hand signs from a baseball-scout friend of mine sitting down the third-base line, who was wide-eyed as he signaled me that Johnson was hitting near 100 on the radar gun on one day's rest.

I will admit, for the first time, in that cement-mixer of a domed stadium with all that excitement, the hair on the back of my neck was standing at attention. This was craziness.

The Mariners couldn't score in the bottom of the ninth and then Johnson struck out the side in the 10th. Again the M's failed to score in their half of the inning. By this time, I'm pretty sure everyone in that stadium was dealing with a massive stress headache.

The Yankees finally broke through against Johnson in the 11th, getting a run to take a 5-4 lead. At that point, though, nobody in that stadium figured the home team as being finished. It just wasn't that type of season and not that type of team.

Joey Cora beat out a bunt single (barely) to lead off the bottom of the 11th and Griffey slammed a hard grounder into right-center field for a single to move Cora to third. Martinez followed -- and you probably know this part -- with a line-drive double down the left-field line. Cora scored easily, of course, to tie the game and Griffey -- not fast but a brilliant baserunner -- glided all the way from first to slide safely into home with the winning run.

You can watch that entire bottom of the 11th here.

It was an amazing finish and the lasting image is Griffey's head poking out of the big pigpile at the plate with a broad smile on his face as the entire Pacific Northwest celebrated another Mariner comeback. That moment was and IS STILL magic.

For me, Griffey's successful dash to the plate was a symbol of his career -- daring, bold, confident, skillful and smart. He was a great fielder, terrific home-run hitter and could seemingly do whatever was necessary to win games.

When I think about the Seattle Mariners, I think of Griffey -- the face of the franchise for so many years. And I always see that face, poking its way out of the bottom of the pile, flashing that magnetic smile of success.

Congrats, Junior. And thanks for the memories.