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Mariners Roster Moves: Altavilla down, Curtis up, Casey Lawrence gets a chance

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With bonus indy ball content!

Seattle Mariners Photo Day
and lo, the next member of our Mariners Photo Day article appears (drummer in a Sublime cover band)
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Another day, another handful of roster moves. Today the major one is Dan Altavilla headed back to AAA while Zac Curtis comes up from AA. In an inning pitched yesterday, Altavilla showed better command of his fastball and slider, hitting 99 with the fastball, but missed a few times with his location, leaving balls over the middle of the plate. Still, it’s a marked improvement from having totally lost the feel for his slider, to losing command of his fastball, to getting the slider back but still missing the fastball, to getting both pitches back with velocity but missing with location. The bigger issue is that the Mariners currently have a rotation consisting of a bunch of department store mannequins brought to life with a magic hat, so they need some inning-eating arms more so than the power arm of Altavilla.

Enter Zac Curtis. Curtis will be the final remaining piece of the Taijuan Walker/Ketel Marte for Jean Segura/Mitch Haniger/Curtis trade to make his debut for Seattle. This is a trade that’s been viewed as pretty even for both teams, as Walker has been impressive for Arizona, while Segura is leading the AL in batting average currently and Haniger looked like a ROY candidate before his injury. Pre-injury, maybe some would say Seattle won, but right now things feel mostly like a push. Marte is still in AAA but he’s dominating at the level, slashing 414/.460/.539, and is probably due for a call-up soon. Zac Curtis being a useful piece in the Seattle bullpen would do a lot to keep the trade estimation at mostly even. Curtis is being called straight up from AA, where he ran an 8.36 K/9 against a 2.57 BB/9 in 14 innings. He’s not a power arm, with a fastball that sits around 90, but he has a starter’s repertoire of pitches, also throwing a slider, curveball, and changeup. He should be able to provide some effective middle relief, something Dipoto pointed to in an interview on 710 yesterday as a weak point in a bullpen that’s struggled this year.

The Mariners also transferred Evan Scribner to the 60-day DL with a flexor bundle strain, the same injury that’s had Drew Smyly on the shelf since the beginning of the season. To take his place on the 40-man, they claimed Casey Lawrence off waivers from Toronto. Lawrence is a 29-year-old who’s been with the Blue Jays his whole career but had never cracked an MLB roster before this year. He had an impressive spring training this year and won a spot in the bullpen, but struggled to begin the year and was sent down to AAA before being DFA’d a few days ago, a victim of the Blue Jays’ struggles at the catching position (Russell Martin is currently out) and the relative strength of the Jays’ pen (8th-best in the league). Lawrence has made some mechanical changes that have added a few ticks to his velocity, but the jury is still very much out on whether or not he can be effective at the big-league level. Personally, I’m a little baffled they didn’t just give Ryne Harper a chance, who’s currently sitting in Tacoma with better if not world-beating peripherals and a very impressive K/9 of 12. It could be the Mariners felt the need to capture Lawrence off waivers while he was available just to see what he is, but it seems a little odd to pick up another team’s older MiLB journeyman when we have one of our very own with better career numbers just a short drive away.

Two other tiny moves that don’t need much of your attention but might cause ripple effects elsewhere in the organization: as Isabelle mentioned in the links today, the Mariners have purchased the contract of Justin De Fratus. De Fratus you will remember from having a short stint with the Mariners in spring training last year before being sent to Tacoma and then eventually sent to the Rangers when they sent Patrick Kivlehan back to us, reducing the trade for Leonys Martin to James Jones and a box of old magazines. After being ground into dust by the Phillies, De Fratus was never quite the same player, and was eventually released by all MLB teams who claimed him. He’s rebounded nicely in his time in indy ball with the Blue Crabs of the Atlantic League, and will go to AA-Arkansas to try to help stabilize the Travelers’ pitching staff with Andrew Moore and Zac Curtis both gone.

The Mariners also purchased the contract of Tyler Cloyd from the Somerset Patriots. Cloyd, an MLB veteran who also spent significant time in the Phillies organization as well as a year in the KBO, had 16 Ks in 12 innings pitched for the Patriots. Cloyd doesn’t strike a ton of people out but he is good at limiting walks and sports a four-pitch mix (fastball, cutter, curveball and change). He’ll head to Tacoma to help shore up a bullpen that’s constantly being picked over by the big club like a box of chocolates. (Jean Machi is the nougat. This feels like the truest sentence I’ve ever typed.)

Update: Jerry continues to pillage indy ball. The Mariners have also purchased the contracts of LHP Tyler Watson and RHP Austin Kubitza from the Texas Airhogs. Watson, 23, was drafted by the Angels in 2014 but never made it past A-ball. (NB: He is Tyler G. Watson and not the Tyler Watson who is a Nationals prospect.) Watson has a very slow (mid-80s) fastball, which he uses to set up his better offspeed offerings: a changeup that’s especially deceptive for right-handed batters and a heavy, late-breaking curveball. A lefty middle reliever, Watson will most likely take over Zac Curtis’s role at AA.

RHP Austin Kubitza, 25, is a former Tigers’ minor-league pitcher of the year, posting a 2.99 FIP in A-ball in 2014. However, Kubitza struggled after that, jumping to an FIP of 4.76/5.31 in A+ and AA. The good news is in 2015 he was actually much better than his 5.79 ERA suggests, posting an FIP of 3.65 in AA. He lacks any true plus pitch, but is known for the movement he’s able to get on his pitches, which makes both his fastball and slider deceptive. That movement can hurt him too, however, as his walk rate has steadily climbed. Both these players are much more developmental projects than the other two veterans; expect to see them slotted into the lower minors.