In 2014, the Mariners drafted Dan Altavilla in the fifth round out of tiny Mercyhurst College in Erie, PA. No one paid a lot of attention to this pick. The only reason I paid attention to this is my mom is a Mercyhurst alum, from the days back when the school was a single-sex institution (she majored in Home Ec and lived in the Home Ec house, where there was an actual baby from a local orphanage who the students took turns taking care of—the 60s, man). It turns out Mercyhurst, a Division II school, has produced a few major leaguers (John Costello, David Lee, David Lough) along with Altavilla, who became the school’s highest draft pick ever when the Mariners took him 141st overall.
Altavilla has a list of pitching accolades dating back to high school that’s about as long as my arm; most significantly, he was named the ABCA/Rawlings National Pitcher of the Year in 2014. After initially struggling his sophomore year after being shifted into the rotation from the bullpen, Altavilla rebounded his junior year to strike out a school record 129 batters in 80.1 innings. Altavilla isn’t the tallest guy—he’s listed at 5’11”, which seems generous—but he’s got a big, broad chest and is incredibly muscular. I’ve seen the word “stocky” thrown around in scouting reports but that sort of undersells how chiseled Altavilla is. I mean, it takes a lot to be able to stand next to Tyler O’Neill, Mr. Canada Jr. himself, and hold your own:
You know those two are always the first to yell “shirts vs. skins I’m skins!” while ripping off their shirts, while poor Tim Lopes in the back there is still wearing his full uniform. Side note: the weight room in Jackson must see an awful lot of traffic. This is Altavilla’s first year with the Generals; he skipped Clinton and went straight to Bakersfield in 2015, and was assigned to Jackson in April of this year. Here’s what Brendan wrote about Altavilla last year:
Dan Altavilla: An unheralded pick out of a small college in 2014, Altavilla's stuff jumped in the second half of the year in Everett. The Mariners aggressively promoted him to High-A in 2015, and he's held his own in the Cal League, with an ERA under 4 and a 7.7 SO/9 ratio. He sits in the low-90's with his fastball but will touch higher, and his slider has improved significantly during his time in the organization. Like Diaz, he's still working on a changeup, and he'll profile best as a reliever if the pitch never comes around. Either way, it's looking more and more like the M's have turned an under slot pick into a big league pitcher.
Brendan, as always, is prescient in his analysis: Altavilla has been filling the role of closer in Jackson, and has done so with great success, recording 10 saves and earning a spot on the All-Star team (his All-Star performance: 9 pitches, 8 strikes, 2 outs). As a reliever, Altavilla’s fastball has picked up several ticks, hitting 96, 97, and even 98. Like Edwin Díaz, Altavilla’s background as a starter means he can offer multiple innings of relief, but what’s impressed me most about him is his composure on the mound and ability to work in high-leverage situations. On Wednesday of this week, Altavilla came into a one-run game in the eighth with two on in scoring position and just one out. He struck out the first batter he faced, then intentionally walked the next batter, Montgomery’s slugger Casey Gillaspie. With the bases loaded and two outs, Altavilla didn’t panic; he threw straight fire and got the next batter to fly out. One of the knocks on Altavilla last year was that his command could be spotty, but check out the pitch location here:
Altavilla would come back in the ninth to complete the five-out save, slicing through the Montgomery Biscuits like a gasoline-powered knife (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist). Altavilla also has a hard slider that he uses to fool batters, which has improved over his time in the bullpen:
(Yes, that’s his mom’s account. She is precious.)
It seems like under JerryCo’s regime, Altavilla is strictly a bullpen guy now, a transition that’s been in place since spring training. I suppose it would be possible for them to keep him in the minors for a while and let him work on his inconsistent change-up, but given the whirling maelstrom that is the Mariners’ bullpen, my guess is Altavilla is going to find himself in Tacoma sometime soon, much to the relief of the Southern League’s hitters. Without fanfare, or appearing on top prospect lists, Dan Altavilla, Relief Pitcher, has quietly become one of the best pitching prospects in the Mariners system. Not bad for a kid from a small school in Erie, PA.