Seattle Mariners

A 'step-back season' for the Seattle Mariners? Not so fast...

A 'step-back season' for the Seattle Mariners? Not so fast...

Teardown, rebuild, reimagine. These were all words used to describe the future of the Seattle Mariners when Seattle made nine trades this offseason, shedding itself of lofty salaries and hefty contracts.

But fast forward half a year and the phrase "step-back season," that Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto coined to describe the 2019 season has all but dissipated, Seattle is off to its best start in club history. 

That was a surprise.

The M’s just can’t stop hitting home runs and they’ve racked up a monster 98 runs for an average of 8.2 runs per game. With a 13-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Monday, the Mariners now have the best record in baseball to this point in the year.

Edwin Encarnación hit two home runs during an eight-run sixth inning against Kansas City, two of the five homers hit in the game. 

Seattle now has 32 home runs—the most of any team in MLB in the first dozen games. The Mariners didn’t hit 32 homers until their 26th game of the season last year.

Domingo Santana, who hit 30 home runs and stole 17 bases for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017, has been a key player for the Mariners this season. The outfielder has 19 RBI’s through 12 games, the most in the AL, tying a Major League lead with Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger. Jay Bruce (6), Tim Beckham (4) and Encarnación (4) have all provided a spark for the home-run happy Mariners.

So, are the Mariners the real deal? In this moment, the answer is yes.

The Astros are still the favorites to win the AL West, but the Mariners are definitely the team to watch. 

MLB Ballpark improvement disputes may provide more targets for Portland Diamond Project

MLB Ballpark improvement disputes may provide more targets for Portland Diamond Project

As the Portland Diamond Project continues to close in on a location for a site for its mixed-use development that would include a major-league ballpark as its centerpiece, the list of potential targets for a team in Portland may be growing.

Two existing major-league cities are in the process of attempting to get government funding for ballpark improvements. Part of negotiations for such things almost always comes down to teams threatening to leave their stadiums for something better.

And as the PDP gains increasing credibility as a future destination for a team, expect this city to be used as leverage in negotiations in other cities with stadium issues. It's beyond the control of the Diamond Project and simply the way these things tend to play out.

And that may not be a bad thing for Portland. Not all those teams will get what they want and at a certain point, they may have their bluff called – and decide to move. And at the same time, any city providing leverage for existing teams would be looked upon favorably by Major League Baseball as a future expansion site.

To date, it was presumed that Portland has four opportunities for procuring a team – the two potential expansion franchises and the troubled franchises in Oakland and Tampa.

But don’t be surprised to hear this city mentioned as a possible relocation site for the Arizona Diamondbacks and – what? – the Seattle Mariners.

There are serious stadium-improvement issues with the latter teams.

In Seattle, the team’s lease at Safeco Field expires at the end of this season and the Mariners are asking King County for a substantial sum for ballpark improvements.

The Seattle Mariners have issued an ultimatum: Give them $180 million in taxpayer money for their 19-year-old stadium, or they won’t sign a long-term lease.

And in Phoenix, the Diamondbacks have already negotiated their way out of  longer-term lease to one that expires in 2022 – coincidentally a year when it’s figured the Portland ballpark would be ready for occupancy.

The Arizona Diamondbacks can leave Chase Field and end the team's 20-year residence at the downtown Phoenix stadium as early as 2022, Maricopa County leaders decided Wednesday.

The expectation is that both disputes will be settled without relocation of the franchises... but faced with a lucrative option in a fresh city, it would be difficult to know what to expect from ownership of those teams.

PDP leaders have promised that they will use no public money for stadium construction other than what has already been set aside by the Oregon state legislature.

The ballpark in Portland is expected to include a large-scale mixed-use development that includes housing, entertainment and dining options and hotels. The Diamond Peoject is still looking at multiple sites but is expected to make a decision on a location soon.

 

 

Seattle Mariners first place in AL West thanks To Felix Hernandez’s best start – is The King back?

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USA Today

Seattle Mariners first place in AL West thanks To Felix Hernandez’s best start – is The King back?

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I’m writing this as Félix Hernández takes the mound for his 13th start of the season; a season that, for Félix, has been clouded by more than just Seattle overcast.

Félix will always be the King, but there is no denying that, other than in the season opener, he’s taken a backseat to the rest of the Mariners starting rotation. Mike Leake, the back-end starter for the M’s, has a 4.71 ERA on the season and his FIP of 4.41 shows that he, unfortunately, has been pretty consistent in earning himself some runs. After a season of hurtful starts and terrible first-inning woes, Hernández’s ERA of 5.83 is more than a full point higher than Leake’s. That stellar game at the beginning of the season is now a whole two months gone, almost seeming like a fluke in the distance.

The Opening Night game against the Cleveland Indians is worth noting in retrospect. Interestingly enough, the first pitch Hernández threw was a poorly located 89 mph fastball that was almost at Francisco Lindor’s ankles when it crossed the plate. His second pitch was a sinker that ended up being faster than his previous pitch when it was clocked at 90 mph. It was that sinker, his one of his three secondary pitches, that might have caused him to crumble through the season.

Hernández has always been a crafty pitcher, but when your fastball goes from an average 98 mph to 90 mph ten years later, it’s time to up the deception, which he has tried. His second pitch in the season opener, the sinker previously mentioned, was popped up for an out. The next batter he faced, Jason Kipnis, also when down on two sinkers, grounding out on the second pitch. He started off the next plate appearance with a sinker and seven pitches later, forced José Ramírez to ground out on a sinker just as the batter before him. After a tumultuous 2017 season, Félix had to come into 2018 with something to rely on, something to help him regain his confidence. He must have found that confidence in his sinker, a pitch he’s always favorited and used almost exclusively since 2014.

Félix went on to pitch 5.1 innings in that game, allowing only two hits and striking out four batters. Since then, he threw the sinker more than any other pitch this year, making use of it a whole 34.4% of the time throughout the month of April.

But his newfound faith in the pitch would soon be sullied as Hernández began to throw it extensively. So far, 20 hits have come by way of his sinker, three of which were home runs, and he’s only gotten seven swinging strikes off of the pitch. And so began the continuing troubles of Félix Hernández. Throughout the season, Hernández has gone 5-4 in 12 starts, allowing 65 hits in 66.1 innings pitched, with 17% of those hits ending up outside of the park.

But the best pitchers, the best athletes, adapt. They take in their struggles, work with them, learn from them, and change their approach. Félix, the King, is one of those pitchers. After a gruesome April of earned runs and varying pitch selections, Félix has begun to adapt. In May, he began to use the sinker less and relied more on his curveball and changeup, two pitches far superior than his sinker.

For the first time since 2014, Félix has started using off-speed pitches more than his sinker, and making more use of the curve. He’s been able to deceive more batters with those pitches as 22 swinging strikes have come off of Hernández’s curveball and 21 off of his changeup. He’s now only used the sinker about 24% of the time in May and has increased his use of the curve and changeup by 6%. This change in pitching approach, the need to adapt is what will allow Félix to develop into his next stage as a major league star.

Hernández’s changeup has allowed only 13 hits, compared to the 20 from the sinker, and mostly due to poor location. Batters best capitalize of off Hernández’s off-speed pitch when he’s throwing it in the middle of the zone or off to the right side of the plate. His curveball has come in for 15 hits, most of which were located all over the lower part strikezone, save for one he hung to Mike Moustakas on April 10th, which ended up in the stands for a home run; it happens to the best of pitchers.

What is important to note here is that despite all of the trials Félix has had on the mound this season, he seems to have reflected on his woes and adapted accordingly. His secondary pitches have allowed him to make up for a fastball that just doesn’t have the life and speed it used to, and make up for a sinker that just wasn’t working the way he thought it was. He is adjusting, albeit slowly, and improving throughout the season.

In his most recent outing against the Tampa Bay Rays, Félix opened the game with a changeup, then two curveballs to Mallex Smith, three changeups in the zone for C.J. Cron, and a sinker-changeup-curveball-changeup combination to strikeout Joey Wendle. It was a 1-2-3 inning for the King. He didn’t throw a single fastball until facing his 6th batter and his sinker would make the occasional appearance amidst the myriad of breaking and off-speed pitches.

In that start against the Rays, Félix pitched eight complete innings, the first time this season that he’s gone past six. He struck out seven while only issuing one walk. He allowed five hits, but halted the Rays to only one run.

You can’t say the King is back after one outing, but it is a boost of confidence for the long-time ace, and a necessary one at that. While he may not be the pitcher he once was, his reign seems to be far from over.

Seattle Mariners – A week of mettle tests

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USA Today

Seattle Mariners – A week of mettle tests

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This past week felt longer than it had to for the Seattle Mariners.

The team hadn’t had a day off since May 7th, unless you count the delayed and later postponed game on the 11thin Detroit, which might have boded more tiresome than actually playing a full nine innings. This delay set off a chain reaction of feet-dragging events.

After the postponed game, the Mariners split a double-header against the Tigers the following day and ended up losing the series on the next day. The day that followed saw them travel up to Minnesota in an effort to make up for a game that was rained out on the 8th of April. The Mariners beat the Twins on that day after yet another rain delay and flew back home, arriving in Seattle in the darkest hours of the night. They managed to go 2-2 within three days and had a whole week of games to go until they were to see another off day.

But Tuesday morning brought even darker skies to Seattle, as a metaphorical storm was brewing for the Mariners front office. On Tuesday, May 15th, Robinson Canó was suspended for testing positive for Furosemide, a known PED masking agent. He is suspended for 80 games without pay and if the Mariners are to make the playoffs this season, Canó would be ineligible to play.

It was a cataclysmic Tuesday morning. Sports media outlets were burning every lead they could to find out every bit of information about the suspension and PED usage. Twitter was divided into three factions; Objective reporters, Canó supporters, and Canó accusers. The Mariners players had just come off a bad weather weekend and woke up to a torrential downpour of tweets and blurbs about their star teammate. But metaphorical rains do not delay games. The show had to go on as the Mariners were set to face the Texas Rangers and the Detroit Tigers the rest of the week.

The Mariners scrambled. They called up Gordon Beckham from Tacoma. They began transitioning Dee Gordon back to second base. They called up Christian Bergman for a start and optioned him back to Tacoma to call up Ryan Cook, the 30-year-old right-handed reliever who had not been on a big-league mound in two years. In the process, the Mariners designated Erik Goeddel for assignment. It was all hands on deck for the Mariners, trying to cover the gaping hole at second base and make the most of what they have.

And thanks to the Robinson Canó foofaraw, the Mariners were given the opportunity to prove that they are the prime example of what a team should be; a true sum of parts working together to win games. A team made up of various players, not just one mega-star.

Out of the six games the Mariners have had without Canó, they’ve won four. These wins included complete games by pitchers, walk-offs, and come-from-behind wins with lineups that not only were Canó-deficient, but sans Nelson Cruz as well, since he was hit by a pitch on Tuesday and had to take a couple of rest days.

This 2018 Mariners team is a team that, even if they are down and out, they find ways to make things work. In wake of the Canó news, they team banded together like brothers, and the fanbase followed suit. Off the field, they have chemistry and on the field, they have grit. Criticize what you will about intangibles, but the Mariners are every bit as talented as any team in the American League. Pitching may still be an issue, but with Canó’s suspension allowing an empty spot on the roster, the Mariners have an opportunity to keep their success moving despite the setbacks.

And that’s the thing about this team. They’ve managed to end this long and terrible week on a high note despite all the setbacks that came their way. Like Safeco Field, the Mariners too have a roof to shield them on the days were the downpour is just too much to handle, and that roof is their comradery as teammates and talent as players.  If they can keep it up, they can be ten games above .500 by Wednesday night and potentially in first place if the Astros drop their next two games. If they can ride this wave of success against all odds, their June schedule might not seem as daunting, as they are set to face the Red Sox and the Yankees, powerhouses of the east.

The Mariners are a bounce-back team this year. It’s time they bounce back from years and years of misery.

Seattle Mariners – All hands on deck in the American League West

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USA Today

Seattle Mariners – All hands on deck in the American League West

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The American League West is the place to be.

Let us start in the middle. The American League Central Division is currently being led by the Cleveland Indians who, as of this writing, have a 17-17 record. The Twins and the Tigers are following closely behind the Indians at 2 and 2.5 games respectively.

This is not the epitome of competition. The Indians are one game away from being sub-.500. The division as a whole has been held back by injuries and weather. They are competing amongst themselves, surely, for the playoff spot their division bestows upon the leader. But when it comes to playing teams outside of their division, teams in the AL Central have not been able to make the cut, winning only 17 games and losing 37 games against teams in the West and the East.

The East, on the other hand, has been dominated by the Red Sox and the Yankees, each having won at least 24 of their first 34 games played. The Red Sox are currently in first place with the Yankees trailing by only a single game. In their rivalrous battling for the division lead, both teams have been able to gain a significant lead ahead of their divisional counterparts, pulling ahead of the Blue Jays and the Rays and completely obliterating the Orioles, who are 8-26 on the season.

This has created an AL East division that is completely top-heavy. Though the season is young, one can assess that the division lead will go to either Boston or New York, since both teams have such a stellar record to start the season. The first wild card spot in the American League will go to whichever of the two powerhouses is not on top.

Which leads to the American League West Division, current residence of the Seattle Mariners. Because of the intensity and sheer win percentages the Red Sox and the Yankees have brought to their division, and the lackluster performances of the Central, the West is by far the most competitive division in the American league.

The West has the reigning World Series Champion Astros, whose pitching has been devastatingly superb. The West has, arguably, the best players in baseball. The West has four of five teams that theoretically have a chance at a postseason berth. It is because of this that the Mariners need to take an all hands on deck approach to the next part of the season.

As of this writing, the Angels currently lead the division with a record of 21-13 on the season. The Astros also have 21 wins, but with 15 losses, they’ve managed to fall to second place. The Mariners are in third, trailing only by 1.5 games. The A’s are trailing first place by only three games after sweeping the Orioles this weekend.

Other than the Rangers, each team has a reasonable chance at being on top. Next week these standings can be completely flipped. It is that close. And with a Wild Card spot almost guaranteed (despite the sample size) to either the Red Sox or the Yankees, each team in the AL West is contending for either the division lead, or the second Wild Card spot.

So far, the Mariners have faced each of their divisional counterparts at least once. They are 9-7 against teams in their division, which is in line with the Astros, who are 8-6. Though they are above .500 against their division, the wrath of the Angels is strong. After defeating the Mariners in two out of three games this weekend, the Angels’ record against the division stands at 12-3.

The Mariners have only lost two series this season, each of those losses coming from the two teams that are above them in the AL West standings. The M’s have been crafty in their contact, scoring runs in necessary situations and combining small and long ball, but have struggled when opponents take early leads. They need to reassess their approach in these scenarios. Such as they did in their only win against the Angels.

After being down by four runs, the Mariners managed to score in the sixth and eighth innings and took a two-run lead into the ninth. The Angels tied, and began a battle that would last until the eleventh, with each team scoring in each extra inning.

The Mariners, when cornered, when their backs were to the wall, managed to come back and fight for a win. In those innings, they took pitches, they waited to make good contact, relievers kept the ball on the ground. That strategic desperation is what allowed them to take a win in the end.

The Mariners need to see that when push comes to shove, they have the ability to make do with what they have. They will struggle and they will fall as they always have, but this team has what it takes to pick themselves up again. It will not be easy, not against this division, but if they can win against the Angels with the circumstances they faced, even if it was only one game, the M’s have more than just a dying chance at a postseason berth.

Preview of the 2018 Seattle Mariners – The Infield

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USA Today

Preview of the 2018 Seattle Mariners – The Infield

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As pitchers and catchers assemble in Peoria, Arizona with position players not far behind, it’s time to start thinking about baseball. Barring any last minute free-agent signings, the Seattle Mariners lineup is pretty much set for the 2018 season. Barring injuries, the following players will be in the infield for the Mariners for the majority of innings this season. Let’s take a look at what to expect in 2018.

Catcher – Mike Zunino

Two years removed from a horrendous 2015 season in which he hit .174/.230/.300, Mike Zunino has settled in behind the plate for the Seattle Mariners, posting a solid 3.6 fWAR while hitting .251/.331/.509 with 25 home runs. While Zunino still strikes out a ton – 36.8% last season – he makes up for it with solid defense behind the plate – ranked 13th in fielding runs by Baseball Prospectus – and is recognized by his peers for handling pitchers well.

This season he is projected by Steamer to hit .224/.298/.450 with 25 HR while catching around 110 games and adding roughly 2.5 WAR to the lineup. Zunino will turn 27 before opening day and agreed to a contract in arbitration for this year of $2.975MM. Barring injuries or any unexpected regressions, the M’s should be above average behind the dish.

First Base – Ryon Healy*

The majority of the plate appearances at first base should be by off-season acquisition, Ryon Healy. Healy, who came over from the Oakland Athletics in November, primarily played third but has played first as well. He is a big guy. Listed at 6’5”, 223, Healy hit .271/.302/.451 with 25 HR in 605 PA for the A’s last season. In a very small sample size, Healy seemed to be about league average defensively at 1B with one defensive run saved in 307.1 innings. At his size, he was expectedly below average at 3B, so the switch to 1B may generate more WAR for the Mariners than Healy did for the A’s last season, that being 0.2.

Ideally, it would be nice if Healy walked more – just 3.8% of the time last season for the A’s – which would improve his below average OBP of .302. Perhaps the M’s emphasis on “controlling the zone” could pay dividends this Spring. Steamer projects Healy to hit .259/.297/.430 with 16 HR and 0.1 WAR in 110 games. Depth Charts projections are a bit more bullish on Healy’s playing time at 140 games, but the same slash line of .259/.297/.430, albeit with 21 HR and 0.3 WAR.

However, many scouts have noted that Healy changed his mechanics in 2017 and that the power on display last year is legit, thus discounting many of the projection systems that predict major regression.

Playing on a pre-arbitration eligible contract in 2018 at age 26, Healy could either be a big surprise for the Mariners at 1B or the decided weak link in an otherwise top infield.

Second Base – Robinson Cano

In 2017, the fourth year of his ten year $240MM contract, at age 34, Robinson Cano remained productive at second base. Ranked ninth in the majors for the position in fWAR at 3.2, Cano hit .280/.338/.453 with 23 HR. His hitting and average defense – exactly zero DRS last season – made Cano one of only three Mariners hitters with 3 or more WAR. The other two being Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager.

For his age 35 season, Steamer projects Cano to put up a stat line very similar to last season – .282/.339/.470 with 25 HR, a weighted runs created plus (wRC+) of 116, roughly 16% better than league average, and a 3.1 WAR.

However, despite the above average numbers at his position, Cano is no longer one of the premiere hitters in the game. The 2017 campaign saw Cano post the second lowest wRC+ of his career. (The lowest of 86 came in 2008 with the New York Yankees was fueled by a .151 BA in April and speculation that he may have been injured and/or feeling the pressure of a new contract extension.) He also posted the third lowest WAR of his career, the others being that very same 2008 season and his second season with the Mariners when he battled an abdomen injury much of the season.

It’s interesting and possibly alarming that one of the most recent comps for a hitter of Cano’s profile, according to Baseball Reference, is former Texas Ranger 3B, SS, and 2B Michael Young. Young fell off precipitously at age 35, losing nearly seventy points off his lifetime SLG, dipping below .400, and retiring after his age 36 season. Cano isn’t going to retire with four or five years left on his contract, but then maybe the severity of Young’s drop off isn’t in the cards either, but a drop off is coming. But, for 2017, Cano should continue to be one of the best 2B in the league.

Shortstop – Jean Segura

In his first season with the Mariners, Jean Segura, acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Taijuan Walker deal, produced 2.9 fWAR at shortstop. While that contribution fell short of what will more than likely end up being his career best 5.0 fWAR from the season before in the desert, last season’s contribution in the middle infield was a major upgrade in the Emerald City.

Segura hit .300/.349/.427 with 80 runs and 22 SB. The 20 HR from the 2016 campaign in Arizona was probably an outlier, but he still managed 11 dingers in a shortened season of 125 games due to early injuries.

This season, Steamer projects Segura to hit .275/.323/.404, which seems a bit conservative given the previous two seasons of over 1200 plate appearances. Segura clearly changed his approach in 2016 and projections trending more back to the light hitter of pre-2016 seem out of whack. With the launch angle and exit velocity revolution of the past few seasons, it’s reasonable to accept up-ticks in contact and power as more legit than in the past. Even with the conservative projection, the 2.0 WAR at SS will ensure the Mariners have one of the more productive middle infields in baseball.

Third Base – Kyle Seager

It’s funny how four years after signing Kyle Seager to a seven year $100MM deal that seven-year deals seem a thing of the past but $14.3MM per year seems like a bargain. Entering his thirties, Kyle Seager has been eclipsed by his younger brother, Corey Seager, in Los Angeles, but remains a solid fixture at the hot corner.

In 2017, Seager struggled at the plate, hitting a career low .248, with his second lowest OBP of .323, and a .450 slugging percentage that reversed a three year upward trend. Still his 3.5 fWAR ranked third in the AL and 8th in all of baseball at third base.

While a return to 2016 form when Seager generated 5.5 fWAR and a 132 wRC+ would be welcome, Steamer does project a slight bounce back for Seager, predicting a slash line of .262/.338/.469 with 26 HR and a 116 wRC+, up 10 points from 2017. And, like his compatriots to the left of the diamond (or maybe the right in a shift), Seager is an average glove at third with 11 DRS in his 8,545.1 innings over seven seasons. Thus, third base finishes out what should be one of the better infields in baseball.

Infield Grade A-/B+

Definitely the strength of the 2018 Seattle Mariners lies with it’s infield play. While there are no plus defenders, the infield is solidly average with no serious liabilities. The upside over most major league rosters comes at the plate. In Zunino, Cano, Segura, and Seager, the Mariners could legitimately have four 3+ WAR players in the infield. The question mark is Healy at first. The projection models are skeptical, but we do seem to be in an era where approaches at the plate are changing with the advent of Trackcast and the identification of exit velocity and launch angles. Look for Healy to perhaps outplay his computer model projections and insure Seattle has all 2+ WAR players in the infield for 2018.

*Editor’s Note – Ryon Healy is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks after undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur in his right hand – ESPN

Mariner CEO seems a little concerned about MLB in Portland

Mariner CEO seems a little concerned about MLB in Portland

John Stanton, the CEO of the Seattle Mariners, paid a visit to Portland last week -- a rare move for someone that high up the team's organizational ladder. I'm not sure why he showed up here but I have a hunch it was to deliver a message.

I believe Stanton wanted to make sure everybody here understands that he considers Portland part of the Mariners' territory -- and he wants to throw a little cold water on this city's thoughts about acquiring a major-league baseball team. There is a local group working behind the scenes on bringing MLB to Portland and the sports' commissioner has mentioned this city as a possible expansion site.

From Stanton:

“Success and a sustainable position very much depends on the size of your market,” he said. “Seattle is already one of the smallest markets in terms of population and the smallest market in the AL West, adding that San Diego was the smallest market in the NL West and that “Portland would be smaller than both.”

“If I were in Portland’s position, I would look at what it would take to generate the revenues to be successful, and that is a challenge,” said Stanton.

I was amused to see this man try to paint Seattle as a small market.  That metropolitan area is listed as the No. 12 market in the country -- which, obviously, is anything but small. Portland has moved up from No. 24 to No. 22 recently and is moving upward. But even now, Portland's market is bigger than existing MLB franchises located in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Kansas CIty, Cincinnati, San Diego and Milwaukee. Portland is also listed ninth in future growth rate among MLB cities.

Stanton is rightly concerned with the impact an MLB team in Portland would have on the Mariners. But I would suggest he should fret a little more about the possibility of the NHL and NBA coming to his town soon. The M's have been struggling at the gate for a few seasons now and the presence of two more major-league franchises in a city already crowded with them -- plus the University of Washington -- is likely to result in revenue declines in other sports.

But good luck up there in your tiny little hamlet. John. Portland has been helping prop up your franchise for decades and perhaps it's getting close to a time for your city to return the favor.

 

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.