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Meet the NRIs: The Pitching Pile

Get to know all the brand new (old?) baseball tossers!

MLB: Colorado Rockies at Arizona Diamondbacks Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

This week at Lookout Landing, we’ll be getting you familiar with all of the Non Roster Invitees you’ll see suiting up for the Mariners this Spring Training. Some of them will be younger guys who burnt out of other organizations. Some will be hotshot prospects. Others will be far past their prime relievers who are just trying to catch on to a big league club one last time.

Today, we’ll be looking at perhaps the most uninteresting group of the NRIs: the pitching pile. In this list we’ve assembled all the old, the injured, the AAAA, and the indy ball heroes. Of course, it feels like every spring there are one or two surprises who emerge from this group, so it’s probably in our best interest to get to know them anyway.

Christian Bergman, RHP

2016 (MLB): 24.2 IP, -0.2 fWAR, 4.46 xFIP, 5.78 FIP, 3.67 K/BB

Bergman, a 28-year-old righty out of Glendale, CA, signed a minor league deal with the Mariners back in early December. He had previously spent the entirety of his career with the Colorado Rockies, who drafted Bergman out of UC-Irvine in the 24th-round of the 2010 MLB Draft.

His arsenal is fairly underwhelming; a fastball that occasionally ticks up over 90 mph and a fringe slider/cutter are his two primary pitches. He’ll also mix in a subpar changeup. A shift to the bullpen likely wouldn’t benefit his stuff much and it’s hard to see a scenario where he makes the club out of Spring Training. Expect him to spend the season in Tacoma, where he would be the extremely extreme emergency spot starter/long relief guy for the mariners. Some positives: he loves to pound the zone with strikes and he has wonderful hair, as seen above in the headline picture.

Cody Martin, RHP

2016 (MLB): 25.2 IP, -0.2 fWAR, 5.03 xFIP, 5.68 FIP, 1.67 K/BB

Martin was ousted from the 40-man during a flurry of late moves by the Mariners this offseason, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see Martin back in the big leagues at some point this season. He managed to consistently outwork his ugly peripherals last season and Seattle liked him enough that they booted multiple other players from the 40-man before finally pulling the plug on Martin.

Stuff isn’t spectacular. Martin leans heavily on a high-80s fastball that he commands well, a mid-80s cutter, and a surprisingly effective curveball. Doesn’t avoid many bats and his walk-rate isn’t spectacular, but he excelled at creating soft contact last season.

Micah Owings, RHP

2016 (Indy): 106.2 IP, 4.30 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 3.2 BB/9

John Trupin did a phenomenal job breaking down Owings back when the Mariners handed him a minor league deal in October.

To briefly summarize: Owings’ velocity is back up into the low-90s and he is reportedly feeling better than ever (ain’t nothing like a good Best Shape of His Life story). It’s hard to imagine him having any real chance of making the club, but the Mariners saw enough from him during his time in indy ball to give him a look.

Peter Tago, RHP

2016 (AA): 59.2 IP, 11.77 K/9, 4.98 BB/9, 3.37 FIP

Tago ended up with the Mariners after electing free agency and cutting ties with the Chicago White Sox earlier this offseason. A former first-round pick back in 2010, Tago has never reached the majors, but mechanical and arsenal changes helped him transform into a fairly effective presence out of the bullpen for Double-A Birmingham in 2016.

Tago throws a mid-90s fastball and a developing slider. Command is an issue, but it’s an issue that’s improved some over the last year or two. Overall season numbers were greatly inflated by three disastrous final outings, which were immediately followed by a trip to the disabled list. Tago boasted a 3.72 BB/9 and 2.87 FIP prior to those three final outings.

He’ll be an incredibly long shot to make the team out of Spring Training, but I won’t be shocked if he turns a few heads along the way.

Ryan Weber, RHP

2016 (MLB): 36.1 IP, -0.2 fWAR, 4.06 xFIP, 4.96 FIP, 4.60 K/BB

Weber comes to Seattle after being plucked off waivers from Atlanta back in early November. He spent his entire career with the Braves, getting taken in the 22nd round of the 2009 draft and working his way up to multiple stints with the big league club in 2015 and 2016.

From a sheer numbers standpoint, Weber actually reminds me a lot of Cody Martin. His sinker hovers around 90 mph and is complemented by a looping, mid-70s curveball and an average changeup. Like most people on this list, the odds of him breaking with the club aren’t great, but I could imagine plenty of timelines that result in him donning the blue and teal in 2017.

Dean Kiekhefer, LHP

2016 (MLB): 22.0 IP, 0.0 fWAR, 4.92 xFIP, 4.28 FIP, 2.00 K/BB

The Mariners snagged Kiekhefer off of waivers back in early November. He would last on the 40-man for a whole month before being designated for assignment (and eventually outrighted to Triple-A Tacoma).

Kiekhefer is a typical LOOGY, running a massive split (3.15 FIP vs LHH, 6.30 FIP vs RHH) and lacking a legit out-pitch to help with his ineffectiveness against right-handed hitters. He’s worked hard at developing his secondary offerings and there is a chance there’s a small improvement in that area in 2017, but as far as we know, he’s working with a high-80s fastball and a subpar group of offspeed pitches (slider, changeup).

The left-handed reliever group is fairly crowded with Marc Rzepczynski being a lock for the roster and James Pazos, Paul Fry, Zac Curtis, and Ariel Miranda all competing for a potential spot. Kiekhefer has his work cut out for him.

Pat Venditte, SHP

2016 (MLB): 22.0 IP, -0.2 fWAR, 5.54 xFIP, 6.15 FIP, 1.73 K/BB

Venditte’s quirky, switch-handed shine wore off quickly in Seattle, as he was bashed fairly hard during all 13.1 innings he threw in a Mariners uniform.

He runs a fastball-curveball heavy arsenal with both hands, with the velocity being a little better right-handed and the results being a little better left-handed. Venditte has plenty of swing-and-miss potential, but would likely be most effective if used in a LOOGY role moving forward.

There’s surely still some intrigue there, but I can’t imagine the Mariners are expecting Venditte to contribute much of anything to the club in 2017.

Jonathan Aro, RHP

2016 (AAA): 36.1 IP, 3.89 FIP, 6.19 K/9, 2.48 BB/9

Aro had some intrigue when he came over from Boston in the Carson Smith trade, but a deterioration of his strikeout ability and a slight uptick in his walk-rate dropped him off the radar fairly quickly.

Aro throws a fastball/sinker that sits 92-94 and a mid-80s changeup and slider. The Mariners kept him on the 40-man roster until the very end (the Tuffy Gosewich move bumped him off), so there is likely still some belief there that Aro can contribute in some capacity in the future, but he’s clearly fallen a long way from where he was at a year ago.

Jean Machi, RHP

2016 (AAA w/ SF): 32.1 IP, 4.68 FIP, 7.52 K/9, 2.23 BB/9

35-year-old righty who hasn’t made it back to the big leagues since an awful 2015 campaign. Was once a fairly effective reliever who helped with one of San Fransisco’s World Series runs, but the sudden ineffectiveness of his low-90s fastball and mid-80s changeup has rendered him an average AAA reliever.

Machi could potentially join the club at some point if the team is in dire need of an arm and prefer a veteran presence, but given the late addition and the generally impressive pile of bullpen arms the Mariners have collected, it’s doubtful.

Now, let’s watch him strike out Jason Vargas.

Nick Hagadone, LHP

2016: N/A

31-year-old, oft-injured lefty spent all of 2009-2015 in the Indians organization, where he was good for five separate, decent stints with Cleveland. Looking to catch on with Seattle after a year of being completely off the radar.

In his last year of pro baseball, the UW product started slinging a high-80s cutter that generated positive results and gave him a second league-average pitch to compliment his slider. We’ll have to see where Hagadone’s velocity is at after a year away, but prior to his injuries he was running a fastball up around 93 mph. Hagadone is perhaps the biggest wild card of the group.