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Notes from Spring Training, Part III

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The final installment

MLB: Spring Training-Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

I’m back in Seattle now, which means this is the last installment of my Spring Training diary. And I’m really bummed about that, because Thursday was my first day hanging out on the backfields watching actual minor-league Spring Training games, and I wish I had at least two more days to just focus on the minors. I deliberately set my itinerary so I would have two days of pure minor league time, something I didn’t get last year when I didn’t understand how the minors system worked vs. the majors. Basically, certain minors prospects report early and serve as fill-ins in the big-league games, but the bulk of the system doesn’t show up until a certain date, and games don’t start until a week after that. If you are a Prospect Person, this is the time to come to Spring Training. Games on the practice fields are free, and teams are divided between AA/AAA and A teams, meaning you can essentially see half the system in one fell swoop. Each group fields two games (A and A+, or AA and AAA), and half of the system (say, the A-ball kids) is at home while the other half of the team (in this example, the AA/AAA guys) are on the road. You can get a schedule for who is playing where from the front office located on Mariners Drive, right next to the player parking lot (just open the door and walk in! They will be nice to you and hand you a schedule and a roster if they have one!). Also worth noting: the minors teams play all the way through the end of March, after most big-league camps have concluded, so if you schedule a trip at the end of Spring Training, you might be able to avoid the premiums associated with the high season.

On to the more specific notes!

  • The last time I wrote one of these updates was prior to a difficult outing at Camelback, where the Mariners failed to score and Julio Rodríguez, aka don’t call him ‘all our hopes and dreams’ and yet he also embraces being ‘all our hopes and dreams’ (DCHAOHADAYHEBAOHAD), had a rough time at the plate against two of the Dodgers’ better relief prospects. Julioooooooo rebounded in a game against Cleveland on Sunday which was a blowout loss but featured a nice piece of hitting from J-Rod, who flipped an effortless double off the end of the bat. Justin Dunn also pitched three innings, and although he was starting to wear down a little in inning three, he’s one of my standouts for this spring. Dunn might be right-handed and throw much harder than Wade and Marco, but he brings a similarly analytic mindset and love of his craft, honed at Boston College and his fancy-pants prep school. The Mariners have the analytics and resources to pour into Dunn to help him improve, and Dunn has the talent and mindset to make those improvements. Slightly salty comment warning: It’s good for Justin Dunn, good for the Mariners, and good for baseball as a whole that he’s no longer a Met.
  • On Monday I did the unthinkable and left the game early. In my defense, it was raining, cold, and the Mariners were losing to the Royals. Ready for the first two months of the season already! I was pleased to see Matt Tenuta pitch two scoreless innings against his former team; Tenuta was part of a quartet of relievers the Royals gave to the Mariners for...reasons?. The 6’4” Tenuta was sitting 94 on his fastball even on a cold night, throwing strikes (2 Ks, no BBs) and limiting damage. Tenuta had a good spring, as did David McKay, who also came over in that deal, and as Ben detailed here, an arm slot change has made a big difference in his stuff. It’s another positive sign for the team’s player development, which will be the difference in how quickly the Mariners are able to return to relevancy.
  • Tuesday was a totally dead day because of the rain: no practice, no games. I went to see Electric Desert at the Botanical Garden instead. It was pay-what-you-wish day so I just forked over what was in my wallet, still coming up ten dollars shy of the ticket prices I’d seen online, and yet I spent a full four hours communing with the cacti and witnessing the light show that kicked on at night. A STEAL. Off in the distance was the ASU baseball stadium, and even though there wasn’t a game that day, I feel like I still saw Braden Bishop’s younger brother Hunter roping some bombs into the desert. Once upon a time, back when FanGraphs had him in the 250s due to a lousy sophomore season, the Mariners apparently entertained ideas of completing their Bishop set, hopefully snatching him either in the second round or with their competitive balance pick. Then Hunter played himself into the first round, and now, with an OPS of 1.6something and double-digit home runs already in a young season, he might be closing in on top-10 or even top-5.
  • On Wednesday I hung out with Brian DeLunas’s brother Adam for a bit during the game, who is a gem and also weirdly a dead ringer for Bryce Harper. I was very sad to discover that this late in the game; think of all the fun we could have had faking out various fanbases with just a few simple props. Anyway, the DeLunases have baseball in their bones, and if we can’t acquire both Bishop brothers, we should lock down as many DeLunases (DeLunai?) as possible. Pat Venditte came in to pitch the very end of that game and the DeLunas clan had never seen anything like it, reminding me that a) switch-pitching is actually weird as heck and b) when the M’s had Venditte, he came over from the Blue Jays in a trade for...Tim Lopes, who’s back with the org as a utility infielder. I think I prefer Lopes’s skill set.
  • Thursday was my first day on the backfields; I watched the A/High-A teams against the Rangers. Something worth noting: catcher Cal Raleigh was paired with the High-A team both times I saw him, which might indicate the team is looking to be aggressive with him and let fellow 2018 draftees Jake Anchía and Dean Nevarez split the duties in West Virginia until Everett starts up. High-A would be an aggressive assignment for Raleigh, who due to signing issues (i.e. the Mariners trying to undercut a player who put up numbers similar to Joey Bart during his freshman and junior campaigns because of a sophomore-year hand injury) only had 167 PAs at Everett last year, but he crushed the level, with a 149 wRC+, and has shown well so far this spring. So well, in fact, he homered in the game I was watching, and threw out a runner trying to steal.
  • Immediately after Raleigh’s dinger on one field, I walked fifteen feet to the other field and watched Jarred and Julio go back-to-back in their game: Jarred to right field and Julio to left. Both were clear no-doubters (the instant the ball came off Jarred’s bat, Julio said “he gone”).
  • Logan Gilbert pitched the first three innings that game, and looked impressive, collecting four K’s. I didn’t have a gun but the fastball looked quite zippy. More than that, though, it moves, both vertically and horizontally, as does his slider and trapdoor curve, which induced some truly ugly swings. Gilbert is still getting back his control of the secondaries—the slider especially seemed to be fussy this outing, whereas he seemed to struggle to locate his curve the other day—and with his pitches seemingly having a life of their own, it’s understandable. He’s still a high-ceiling talent, and his easy, clean delivery should put to rest the question marks that popped up when his velocity declined at the end of his college career (as well as the fact that he hit 95 in his big-league outing).
  • Sleeper alert: right-handed reliever Cody Mobley didn’t have a great season in Everett last year, where a K/9 of 10+ didn’t translate into great numbers because of an inflated BB/HR rate. Mobley has made some adjustments, especially to his slider, and looked filthy when I saw him; Texas’s A-ballers looked utterly overmatched.
  • On Friday I was finally able to catch hard-throwing Joey Gerber, #19 on our prospect countdown. Fun fact: he grunts audibly after every pitch. Another fun fact: we have two Gerbers who are pitchers in our system, necessitating a “D” or “J” on the uniform. Ben and John have both been big J-Gerb boosters, and after watching him pitch it’s easy to see why: his funky delivery, combined with the speed and movement on his pitches, made him a very difficult at-bat for the Rangers’ righties, who spent a lot of time admiring his pitches.
  • Also on Friday I spent quite a while talking to 2017 second-rounder Sam Carlson. Sam has had a long, long road through rehab, but is looking forward to (hopefully) being able to throw his first bullpen in two years in about three weeks. Or twenty-one days. Or 504 hours. Not that he’s counting. Much more on that conversation later.

If you happen to be headed to Arizona for any of the back end of spring training, let us know and see if you can capture any video of the prospects. In just a few short weeks they’ll be scattered all across the US, so ST is a special time to be able to see the entire system in one go. Now that the Mariners are rebuilding the system and have a passel of interesting prospects to watch, it’s definitely worth spending some time on those backfields. Now to start planning my trip to the Arizona Fall League...