Last weekend, Baseball Prospectus hosted their second annual ballpark event at Safeco Field. I posted about this a few weeks ago, and hope that some of you were able to make it out. Despite several snafus during the game, the event itself was both memorable and insightful.
Two hours prior to first pitch, we were ushered into the Mariners Media Interview Room, where Joe Hamrahi, Harry Pavlidis, Jason Parks, Matthew Kory, and Geoff Young comprised the first panel of the night. About 35-40 fans showed up, comparable to last year's attendance. It was nice to see a few familiar faces in the audience, and I suspect that the small following will only grow in years to come.
One thing I love about these events is how accessible the panelists are to the fans. The Q&A was open to any and all topics, which meant that instead of sticking strictly to the Mariners' farm system and prospects, the conversation veered into the Brewers' draft picks and the basics of scouting high school pitchers. A few highlights from the first Q&A:
- Baseball Prospectus is planning to revamp their website around 2016. Although the details haven't been fleshed out yet, the goal is to make the interface friendlier for mobile users and the data more accessible to fans.
- High school pitchers are throwing faster now than ever before. They won't garner much interest from scouts unless they can touch 90 m.p.h. With that said, movement on pitches is essential. Harry Pavlidis said that he wouldn't look at a pitcher twice unless he had two distinct ways of getting batters out, regardless of how fast his pitches were.
- With advanced technology giving teams a clearer picture of defense and fielding, there may be an increased emphasis on the importance of shifts. We may reach the point where even a few steps to the right or left could significantly impact a manager's strategy and success.
- Although Jason Parks spoke highly of Alex Jackson's potential and skill level, he reminded us that he was also high on Dustin Ackley, figuring him to be a perennial .300 hitter. Sometimes the transition to the major leagues takes a bigger toll on players than we expect or hope it will.
- In case you had any doubts, Harry Pavlidis is singlehandedly sucking all the romance out of baseball.
After about an hour of Q&A with the Baseball Prospectus crew, Joe Hamrahi introduced several members of the Mariners' player development team, led by Assistant General Manager Jeff Kingston. Unlike last year, Jack Zduriencik was unable to make an appearance on the panel. In his stead, Director of Amateur Scouting Tom McNamara volunteered a couple of comments from the back of the room.
Here, we got into more specifics regarding the Mariners' current and future roster. This is what I took away from the discussion:
- One fan brought up the rash of Tommy John surgeries in 2014 and asked the group what kinds of preventative measures they were taking to protect Seattle pitchers. Jordan Bley, Assistant of Professional Scouting, admitted that although they were looking for links between injured pitchers, it had to be taken on a case-by-case basis. He also said that there was some pressure among major league teams to be the first to figure out a solution, but for now the best they could do was deepen their reserve of pitchers.
- When asked if the M's were pursuing any long-term contracts for their younger players, Jeff Kingston pointed out that oftentimes a player or his agent turns down the team's offer. He said that the Mariners had reached out to a few players, but didn't go into any specifics.
- Big smiles cracked the faces of the panelists when Alex Jackson's name came up. They love his potential as a hitter and were very satisfied with the draft results -- probably not just because McNamara was standing in the back of the room.
- It's very unlikely that Taijuan Walker will have an innings cap when he rejoins the rotation. Kingston believes that Walker's timetable for returning to the major leagues is entirely up to him. He's been a bit rusty in Tacoma, but should have no problem securing a call-up in the next few weeks.
- Jay-Z was very involved in bringing Robinson Cano to Seattle. A week following the 2013 Winter Meetings, the pair flew out to Safeco Field. According to Kingston, Jay-Z asked all the right questions and stayed engaged in the process of signing Cano to a lengthy contract. The Mariners, for their part, felt that Cano's price tag was very affordable and his potential was long-lasting.
- When asked if Jesus Montero had shown any signs of growth during his time in Triple-A, the panel deftly skirted the question. Instead, they said that management felt Montero was the right option at the time. Without offering up any concrete proof of Montero's improvement, they seemed vaguely optimistic about his future contributions to the team.
Following the event, we said goodbye to the Mariners' front office staff and made our way back to the Home Plate Entrance, where the M's were still handing out collectible King's Court train cars. As part of the package deal, Baseball Prospectus arranged for attendees to sit along the third baseline and engage in more casual discussion during the game. This was my favorite part of the night, as I got to meet a few diehard M's fans and pick the brains of people much smarter and well-versed in baseball than myself.
Overall, the event and ensuing post-game activities were well worth the $50 price tag of this event, and I hope it's one that Baseball Prospectus will continue to offer at Safeco Field. If you haven't had a chance to make it out to the ballpark for one of these meet-ups, put it on your to-do list. You won't regret it.
Your turn: If you made it out for the event this year, what were your impressions and takeaways?