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40 in 40: Michael G. Marjama

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The frontrunner for the backup catcher spot brings sneaky power, a sharp mind, and a lovable Twitter presence.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

On August 6th, 2017, the Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays (who else?) struck a deal of little fanfare, with Tampa sending the M’s catcher Mike Marjama and reliever Ryan Garton in exchange for lefty Anthony Misiewicz, utilityman Luis Rengifo, and a player to be named later - eventually revealed as middle infielder Osmy Gregorio. The trade garnered tepid interest, with the general consensus that it was a fine depth move but not much else. Although some were disappointed to lose Misiewicz - one of the club’s few real starting pitching prospects - he was able to be reacquired for international slot money after the failed pursuit for [REDACTED].

As the months went on, it became more and more clear that Marjama was Jerry Dipoto’s target here. While Garton pitched well in a handful of appearances in the last month of the season, he was outrighted off the roster at the end of October and will serve as a decent depth option. Marjama, on the other hand, finished the 2017 season up in Seattle, served as one of Seattle’s representatives at the Rookie Development Symposium, and was part of the Mariners Caravan this winter. He seems the early favorite to earn the backup catcher spot over David Freitas and the two players Seattle claimed in the Rule 5 draft, Joe Odom and Tyler Baker.

Marjama’s minor league track record is puzzling at first glance. After being drafted in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft, he toiled in the White Sox low minors for three years. Chicago also converted him from an infielder to a catcher - although as Kate wrote in August, he received very little coaching at the position beyond the basics.

After being acquired by the Rays, though, his bat took off. He added power almost immediately, and while the plate discipline took a little longer to click, you can see the walk rate from 2015 to 2016 double, while the strikeouts were also kept in check. The 48 wRC+ he posted for Tacoma looks worrying, but you can thank the woefully unlucky .167 BABIP for that, and the plate discipline and batted ball numbers stayed consistent from his days in Durham. In his brief cameo with the big club, Marjama went 3-9 while hitting his first Major League homer.

Marjama can hit the ball to all fields with authority, and will sometimes surprise with his power. Here’s that first big league dinger:

Here’s him hitting a ball almost entirely out of Cheney Stadium:

And here’s him roping a two-run double into right for the Montgomery Biscuits in 2016:

In all of these, Marjama does a good job of keeping his head still and extending his arms without casting them out. Take another look at the home run off of Jose Alvarez: while the pitch missed its spot, it wasn’t one to pull, and he was able to let the ball travel that extra split second before unloading on it.

Marjama brings a cerebral mind that goes back to his high school days - his coach recalled him as a natural leader. In his time at Sacramento City College, he worked closely with Andy McKay - in that same article, Marjama called him “the biggest influence of my career.” The two are still close, with McKay saying, “Anyone who knows Mike knows he has that X-factor of a relentless belief in himself, a world-class work ethic; you put those things together and it’s a hard combination to beat.”

His Twitter account is also a delight:

LOOK AT THIS NERD

my heart you guys

In December, Marjama played with the Tigres del Licey in his first year of winter ball, and fully embraced the culture of the sport there:

In a postgame interview with Licey after his first game - one where he hit a mammoth three-run homer - Marjama recalls being told by Willy Adames, an old teammate and friend, about the atmosphere of the league, although that didn’t hold a candle to experiencing it firsthand. He also mentioned getting reps at first base, which could be something to watch this spring; I doubt anyone expects Marjama to play much if at all there, but it’s always nice to have any bit of versatility you can.

Mike Marjama has overcome long odds and hardship over the course of his career - he even lost his junior year of high school to a battle with anorexia. His work ethic and resolve have been remarkable, and if the season started tomorrow, he would likely be penciled in as the backup catcher. While his bat will certainly be a drop off from Mike Zunino, his pop will occasionally catch people off guard, and if he can also keep his Twitter game at the A-level it’s been, it is easy to imagine him becoming a cult hero.

Welcome to the Mike Marjama Fan Club, folks. There’s plenty of room for all.