Today, as part of our series examining the 2017 Mariners Spring Training Non-Roster Invitees, we’re going to take a look at a crop of young starting pitchers. Unlike the previous two entries in this series, these guys received invites to camp with the big boys not necessarily to vie for a spot on Seattle’s Opening Day roster—demonstrated by the large 60, 69, or 74 on their backs this spring— but to further their development by facing some big league talent. Despite having arrived in the organization in vastly different ways, these guys are all fairly close in age, and all three topped out at Double-A last season. Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Andrew Moore - 6’0”, 185lb
Moore, who was the Mariners second selection (72nd overall) in the 2015 draft, is a product of Oregon State University, where he excelled as a three year starter. Somewhat undersized for a starter, what he lacks in top end speed (89-92mph with his fastball), he makes up for with typically pinpoint command of the strike zone. He also relies on a plus changeup to fool batters that he’s comfortable throwing in any count. Less frequently, he’ll break out his curveball and slider to throw hitters off balance, although those pitches are still in need of some fine-tuning. After an impressive debut in 2015 in which he demonstrated the aforementioned command, striking out 43 batters while walking only two, the organization opted to bypass Single-A Clinton and start him in Advanced-A Bakersfield in 2016. Despite a significant increase in his walk rate to start the season, Moore managed to limit his FIP to a respectable 3.18 mark by showing a continued ability to keep the ball in the ballpark, and held opposing hitters to just a touch under six hits per nine innings pitched. Despite his lack of high end strikeout stuff, Moore fits right in to the “Control the Zone” mantra the Mariners organization has adopted, and that mentality led to a midseason promotion to Double-A Jackson less than 100 innings into his professional career.
The jump to Jackson represented a bit of a setback for Moore, albeit a small one. He started living around the plate a little more, which led to a 29.9% decrease in his walk rate, but likely had quite a bit to do with the drastic jump in both his H/9 and HR/9 spiking. On a more positive note, a return to pitching within the strike zone allowed him to work deeper into games more consistently. Six times he pitched 7+ innings while allowing 2 or less earned runs, highlighted by three games in a 21-day span in August in which he threw 8, 9, and 8 innings, a skill that will definitely help Moore move up the ranks.
Moore is the youngest of the three pitchers we’ll look at—he pitched in Double-A Jackson in 2016 a little greater than two years younger than league average—but perhaps the most advanced. At just 22 years old, he consistently gets rave reviews for his baseball IQ and feel for the game. Likely considered a long shot to land on the 25-man Opening Day roster, Moore will definitely benefit from continuing his development down in the minors, where he can fine tune his secondary offerings and rediscover his ability to keep higher level competition at bay. The staff will no doubt give him a long look at big league camp this Spring, and the experience working both with and against major league caliber players should help him as he makes his Triple-A debut next season.
Max Povse - 6’8”, 185lb
Max Povse (pronounced like Buster Posey) was brought to Seattle this offseason along with RHP Rob Whalen in a trade that sent former top prospect Alex Jackson packing for Atlanta. He started out 2016 at High-A Carolina, where he previously struggled over five starts at the end of the 2015 season. The second time around went much more smoothly for Povse, who went on to post the best strikeout rate of his minor league career, jumping from 6.9 K/9 to 9.4 at High-A before being promoted to Double-A Mississippi. Looking at the numbers above, one might notice the stark contrast in his strikeout rate between the two levels. Unfortunately, the 6.11 K/9 mark he posted at the AA level is a lot closer to his career norm of 7.5, which comes as a bit of a surprise considering his larger frame, and a fastball that touches the mid to high 90’s. Povse also arms himself with a dependable changeup, and a curve that is considered more of a work in progress. That said, all hope is not lost for Povse, as there’s been plenty of tall dudes with underwhelming minor league strikeout rates (Doug Fister at 6.8 K/9, Chris Young at 7.5) going on to have long, successful major league careers. If you need additional reasons to feel optimistic about the lanky right-hander, note that although his strikeout rate dipped making the jump from A+ to AA, his average length of start increased from 5.82 innings per start to 6.39 innings, indicating an increased level of efficiency even at a tougher level. A big reason Povse was able to last longer in games was his increased ability to keep runners off the base paths. He decreased his WHIP by 14.8% and his walk rate by 12.6%. Much like any pitch-to-contact style hurler, Povse doesn’t, and probably never will do his FIP any favors by allowing opposing hitters to put the ball in play and trusting his defense. That does not, however, mean he can’t develop in to a useful back end guy and, at just 23 years old, if he can develop his curve in to a true strikeout pitch, he could fulfill some mid-rotation upside.
If all things break right for the Mariners in 2017, Povse should not find himself in a Seattle uniform this season. Considering the oft-mentioned starting pitching depth acquired by GM Jerry Dipoto this offseason, Povse seems to have little to no shot at cracking the Opening Day rotation. He seems to be heading to camp behind the likes of Yovani Gallardo, Chris Heston, and Rob Whalen for the fifth spot in the rotation, and is almost certainly behind Cody Martin (go Zags), Andrew Moore (go Beavs), and perhaps even probable reliever Ariel Miranda as well. A strong showing with a Major League quality defense behind him this spring should land Povse in the Tacoma Rainiers rotation to open the year, but if he shows any growing pains playing with the big boys down in the Cactus League, he could find himself at Double-A Arkansas to start the year.
Dylan Unsworth - 6’1”, 175
After being selected to represent his native land of South Africa in the 2009 World Cup of Baseball at the ripe age of 16, Unsworth caught the eye of Mariners scout Wayne Norton. Upon his returning to his hometown of Durban, South Africa, the M’s signed him to his first professional contract, taking him quite literally halfway across the world to begin his first season of affiliated ball for the Arizona League Mariners. In his first season in the Mariners organization, Unsworth impressed by pitching to the tune of a 2.84 FIP, made possible by surrendering just one walk and one home run in a little over 50 innings, despite being roughly three and a half years younger than the average AZL player. Fast forward six years, and five DL stints later, Unsworth was showing signs of a breakout 2016 season at Double-A Jackson that lead to him being selected along with #2 Mariners prospect Tyler O’Neill to represent the World Team in the MLB All-Star Futures Game. Unfortunately, he missed not only that game, but also the rest of his team’s games that season, being forced to the DL once again, this time due to a hamstring injury.
Worthy of note, Unsworth is actually older than the two guys previously mentioned, yet likely a step or two behind in his development. Plagued largely by a lack of durability, Unsworth’s most redeeming skill is his ability to limit walks, something that surely caught the attention of General Manager Jerry Dipoto and factored in to him getting invited to big league camp for the first time this spring. Here’s a comparison of the three young pitchers’ careers to date:
Although Unsworth has logged almost twice as many innings as the next closest of this bunch, it’s fair to dub him the furthest of the three from making his big league debut. With a fastball that rarely touches 90 MPH, he has to rely on his secondary offerings, including a curve, a changeup, and a slider/cutter, depending on who you ask. The most likely destination for Unsworth come spring is Double-A Arkansas—where he’d have an opportunity to continue polishing his arsenal and demonstrate an ability to stay healthy—but don’t be surprised if the club slots him in to the Triple-A rotation if he has a strong showing in big league camp.