With multiple open spots on their 40-man roster and an entirely depleted bullpen, the Mariners were expected to be active in this year’s Rule 5 draft, and for once the club did basically what people expected, scooping up 27-year-old righty Brandon Brennan.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the Rule 5 draft, essentially it’s this: Rule 5 ensures that teams can’t bury players in the minors forever by allowing any player not on an organization’s 40-man roster to be drafted by any other club, as long as that player has been in the minors for four seasons (for a player 19 or older when signed; it’s five years for those 18 and under when they signed). The new organization pays a fee to the original team, and the player must be kept on the new organization’s 25-man roster all year or offered back to their original team for a slightly smaller fee.
Brennan had spent the entirety of his professional career in the White Sox organization, which drafted him in the fourth round way back in 2012 (as a draft-eligible sophomore out of Oregon, so Ryon Healy has a fellow Duck on the roster), but as a player who logged six years in the minors, had recently become a minor-league free agent and signed with the Rockies. After his selection, scouting director Tom Allison said the Mariners “went after” Brennan as a minor-league free agent, but lost out on him to the Rockies. So the Mariners snatched Brennan away from Colorado in the Rule 5 instead, indicating that the organization doesn’t mind paying a steeper price for the 6’4” right-hander. So what is so special about Brandon Brennan?
Brennan is a three-pitch reliever with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and can touch 97, a hard slider, and a plus changeup he can throw for strikes. The fastball has some heavy sink, meaning Brennan has an ability to generate groundballs on it, something he’s done at an elite rate at every stop in his minors career. For a pitching staff that can be fairly flyball-happy, Brennan should be a nice change of pace.
More specifically, if the Mariners can up the effectiveness of his slider—it’s his worst pitch by a decent margin—we could see Jerry Dipoto at least harpoon his white whale: the “Devenski type.” Brennan threw 69.2 very nice innings in AA last year over just 40 appearances; since he quit starting in 2016, he has continued to average close to two innings per appearance, all while maintaining a very good FIP (has not been above 3.22 since he shifted to full-time relief.) The White Sox do not have, ah, the most forward-minded reputation among the game’s development experts and the Mariners already believe they can unlock something more potent from Brennan—see below. If they’re right, they could have one of the most fun assets in the game right now: the hard-throwing reliever who ends hitters’ entire existence, two innings at a time.
Video of Brennan pitching is a little tough to come by (especially now that MiLB has taken down their archived games, boo to you, MiLB TV!), but here’s some shaky footage of Brennan getting a GIDP in the AFL back in late 2015:
Brennan also continues an interesting trend for the Mariners, who have been scooping up players from the White Sox organization. The most prominent is new catcher Omar Narváez, for whom the Mariners surrendered Alex Colomé, but the Mariners also acquired RHP Tyler Danish on a minors deal this off-season. Danish spent his entire career with the White Sox, even logging a few MLB appearances, before becoming a free agent. According to Tom Allison, the organization believes they can make a few “tweaks” to Brennan and maximize his skill set, and the same is most likely true for Danish, a former second-round pick, who has always been praised for having great “pitchability” but hasn’t been able to translate that into big-league results. Reclamation projects are the special purview of teams in rebuild mode, and it seems like the Mariners are seeking out players who donned the pale hose, specifically. The team isn’t betting big on Brennan—at worst, if he flops, they can offer him back to the Rockies and bring up one of their own homegrown relievers and be out nothing more than some pocket change—but offering a 27-year-old with fewer than 25 Triple-A innings a full-time MLB bullpen gig is a fairly intense opportunity. Let’s see what Brennan does with it.