When Boog Powell got hit with a 80-game suspension on June 23rd of 2016, it marked the second major setback in his development; the 24 year-old outfielder served a 50-game ban back when he was with in the A’s system in 2014.
There has never been a timely suspension; however, interrupting Powell’s 2016 campaign was downright inconvenient for both parties. Seattle lost a player who was at the time a top-10 prospect, while Boog missed the entire second half of high-level minor league play.
Now entering his second spring as a Mariner, Powell finds himself in a vastly different situation. Mariners manager Scott Servais articulated the predicament in which Powell finds himself on Thursday morning:
The roster definitely has undergone a massive transformation since June 23rd of 2016. Just prior to that, the ideal situation was Powell would hit well enough in AAA to find himself in the bigs for September, before hopefully competing for a spot on the 25-man roster as a reserve outfielder during the following spring. Instead, because of his suspension, the Mariners wasted no time in moving pieces around to develop a reliable outfield for 2017.
As Powell sat in baseball limbo, recently acquired Guillermo Heredia tore the baseball apart in the minors, eventually earning his promotion to the majors. Later in the season, a trade for Ben Gamel added more depth to the outfield. Then, big offseason moves that brought Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger to Seattle pushed Powell even further down the pecking order.
Additionally, development of prospects already within the organization put Powell in an even deeper hole. Guys like Brayan Hernandez, Braden Bishop and Luis Liberato slid by Boog over the course of last season in several prospect rankings. It is true that those players are a lot further away from MLB than Powell is, but here’s the point: as Servais mentioned, there are plenty of speedy, defense-first outfielders in the organization (Hernandez, Powell, Liberato, and Bishop all have speed and defense as their highest prospect grades). Our skipper is right; Boog is behind the eight ball indeed.
So this spring, he needs to hit his way back into grace. Through seven games, that’s exactly what he’s been doing. In Sunday’s tilt with the A’s, Boog mashed a stand-up triple before coming around to score the Mariners’ first run of the afternoon:
That was his eighth base knock of the spring in just 13 at-bats. For perspective, he had eight hits in 37 tries during his two previous trips to spring training. His hot start is encouraging, no doubt; however, sustaining his success is a completely different challenge.
This past offseason, Powell participated in the Dominican Winter League. He started off on fire, notching seven hits and two steals in the first five games. Unfortunately, he eventually would cool off and finish with a .245/.344/.273 slash line in 42 games.
Although he didn’t fare as well as hoped while in the DR, it’s clear that he benefited from the experience. After serving an 80-game suspension, any and all live at-bats are critical. Additionally, it seems that the 24-year old may have developed the good habit of avoiding strikeouts. In just over 125 plate appearances, Boog boasted a strikeout rate around 12% (I promise I would give you an accurate number if I could, but data from the Dominican Winter League doesn’t provide his number of plate appearances). That trend appears to have continued into this spring, as Powell has yet to go down on strikes.
Powell also benefits greatly from the list of Mariners participating in the world baseball classic. With Nelson Cruz and Tyler O’Neill set to represent their countries with their baseball skills, a few additional spring training reps are up for grabs. Couple that with a handful of split-squad opportunities, and Powell will have plenty of chances to build off his last start. Since I know you all love cliches about spring, Powell is facing an opportunity to reinvent himself, and an impressive end to the spring would make the memory of his suspension fade into insignificance.