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40 in 40: Nick Rumbelow

What does Rumbelow bring to the table, and can he compete for a major league bullpen role?

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Miami Marlins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

At first, I hated the trade.

On November 18th, Jerry Dipoto called Brian Cashman for the umpteenth time to swap some arms. Going to the Yankees was southpaw JP Sears, my favorite Mariners prospect (yes, I’m a nerd, OK?) Sears tore up Everett and Clinton in 2017 after being drafted in the 11th round in the same year, striking out 51 (!) in 27.2 innings while walking just 12 and giving up zero homers. The 21-year-old seemed fast-tracked for Seattle. Instead the M’s decided to let him try to break out in a star-studded Yankees system. He and righty Juan Then, a 17-year-old low-end lottery ticket, left the system in the move.

In return the Mariners received a right-handed reliever named Nick Rumbelow. I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on bullpen pitchers in non-AL West MLB teams, but I had never heard of the kid. It seemed like an odd move. The M’s already had a pretty strong major league ‘pen. Edwin Diaz, Dan Altavilla, Tony Zych, James Pazos, Nick Vincent, Mark Rzepczynski, David Phelps, and the loser of the 5th starter spot all appeared ticketed for roles in Seattle’s stable. It didn’t seem like there was room for a guy like Rumbelow, and that was before the M’s signed Juan Nicasio to a multi-year deal nearly a month later.

So, who is this “Rumbelow,” whose name reminds me of an earthquake? And what does Dipoto see in the guy?

Rumbelow pitched between the upper two levels of the minors last year after last reaching the majors in 2015. Rumbelow was pretty ordinary in 17 big league appearances that year and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016, missing the whole year. His comeback year last season was pretty encouraging.

After a quick stint in Double-A in 2017, he became an effective multiple-innings arm in Triple-A. In 17 appearances (29 innings) with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Rumbelow racked up 30 strikeouts and just 8 walks while throwing to a 0.62 ERA. He also hasn’t given up a longball since he got his surgery. If history is any indicator, he should only improve in his second year after TJ.

“Effectively, Nick Rumbelow comes and slides into the role that Emilio Pagan played for us last year,” said Jerry Dipoto on The Wheelhouse Podcast. “He’s got perhaps what we think is one of the best breaking balls that was still in the minor leagues. We feel like he profiles as a set-up guy at the major league level, and probably sooner than later, with the stuff to ascend to a closer role if the makeup ticks off.”

If you want to learn more about Rumbelow and his pitch types, our very own Jake Mailhot dove into that when the pitcher was acquired.

But for Dipoto to call him a future closer is some pretty high praise for a guy who hasn’t walked onto a big league mound in two years. It’s also pretty odd when you consider the number of talented guys in front of him. But Dipoto has placed a premium on guys with higher spin rates. As noted in Jake’s article, Rumbelow’s fastball appears to “rise” because the spin on it keeps the ball at its apex for longer than most pitches. Couple that with a devastating curveball and a developing changeup, and you’ve got a pretty neat little pitcher.

But this brings us back to the question: will there be room for Rumbelow to show his stuff in Seattle?

Based on what I’ve heard and read, there should be. Greg Johns thinks Rumbelow will be a member of the eight-man bullpen, leapfrogging over Zych for that final spot. But he doesn’t seem too confident about that guess.

The final two spots are certainly up for grabs, however, since Altavilla and Rumbelow have Minor League options and could open the season in Triple-A Tacoma.

Rumbelow doesn’t have much left to prove in Triple-A after his stint there last season, so his option could be the only thing keeping him away from Seattle. Zych was very effective last season, and some of the other fringe guys like Mike Morin, Shawn Armstrong, and Sam Moll will all be competing for that role too. There also might be a multiple-innings bullpen role for whichever of Marco Gonzales/Ariel Miranda/Andrew Moore doesn’t make the starting rotation. It’s a good problem for the M’s to have, but not as great of a problem for Rumbelow.

With the number of injuries we saw to the staff in last couple of years, Rumbelow will get his share of innings regardless of whether he breaks camp with the club. And if the M’s really have themselves a young multi-innings reliever who can strike out batters in droves for the price of Sears, I might just forgive them for giving up the young lefty.