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Mariners claim LHP Nick Margevicius off waivers, designate RHP Reggie McClain for assignment

This year’s Ricardo Sánchez is 6’5.

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Seattle Mariners v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

A day after Jerry Dipoto promised a move or two were impending to add pitching depth, the Mariners claimed 23 year old LHP Nick Margevicius from the San Diego Padres. As a corresponding move, they’ve designated 27 year old RHP Reggie McClain for assignment.

Margevicius is a tall drink of water at 6’5, who surprised many when he broke camp in 2019 as a member of the Padres’ rotation. The 2017 seventh-round pick out-dueled fellow prospects Cal Quantrill and Logan Allen, who both had disastrous spring trainings, claiming the final rotation spot despite never having thrown a pitch above High-A to that point. In an unfortunate but unsurprising result to trusting spring stats too heavily, Margevicius struggled mightily in 12 starts and 57.0 big league innings, with a 6.79/5.64/6.97 ERA/FIP/DRA. His strikeout numbers dropped from 24.2% in A+ to just 16.0%, while his walk rate more than doubled from 3.3% to 7.2%. By mid-season, San Diego pulled the plug and sent Margevicius back where he probably should’ve been all along - AA.

If that all sounds pretty rough, it is! Sometimes teams make decisions based on knowledge the public is not privy to, and they look smart after being castigated at the time. Calling a guy up straight from A-Ball can work - at some point the Nationals will need to look into promoting Juan Soto to a higher level than MLB where he can be challenged - but it was surprising in this case and unfortunately worked no better than conventional wisdom might’ve suggested. Margevicius performed better in AA upon his demotion, but still clearly under-performed relative to his low-minors numbers, with a 4.30/5.16/5.33 ERA/FIP/DRA in his 12 starts and 69.0 innings in the Texas League.

Still, I’m pleased to see this move. Dollars to donuts, Margevicius starts 2020 in AA-Arkansas, much like Ricardo Sánchez did last year. The lengthy lefty can hopefully take a step forward just as Sánchez did with the Travs a year ago. That said, the two players have dramatically different repertoires and looks to the plate. Margevicius has never pumped the 95 mph heights he hinted at in college, but sits 87-91 with a four-seam averaging 88.3 mph last year per Baseball Savant. His pitch mix offers an aesthetically pleasing velocity tiering, with a slider and changeup around 79-80 mph and a curve down at 70-71. Considering those eye-drooping velo numbers, you might expect an off-speed overload, but at least in his 17 appearances with San Diego he went to his heater over half the time, seeing it summarily clobbered. His slider and curve fared little better, but at least in short samples they gave reason to think some better batted ball luck or defensive positioning could help him out, and ran roughly average or better swinging strike rates. The changeup missed few bats, but was a grounder generating engine.

Seattle could see cause to alter Margevicius’ motion and get a bit more explosiveness from his slightly deliberate, command-based profile. The comparisons most apt might be a tall, lefty version of Ljay Newsome, or even a young, skinny Wade LeBlanc. As Patrick Brennan of Beyond the Box Score noted, it’s rare for a pitcher to be as soft-tossing as Margevicius, living in the strike zone so often, and still having success as they rise through levels. Last year was an unfortunate reminder that that profile doesn’t play as well in the modern game. Still, Margevicius got good swing-and-miss numbers on all his off-speed pitches, and could benefit as much from increased comfort pitching “backwards” as anything. For someone who learned his curveball from the “Pitching Ninja” Twitter account, there’s good reason to believe he’d be open to adjustments and improvements recommended by a player development team who has helped pitchers improve their velocity with bio-mechanical tweaks.

One such player is reliever Reggie McClain, who the Mariners placed on waivers as the corresponding move here. McClain rocketed from A+ to the bigs in 2019 as well, albeit touching base every step of the way beforehand unlike Margevicius. His velocity shot from around 88-89 to 94-95 last winter, during and after Seattle’s “Gas Camp”, and he commensurately saw improved results on his offspeed. In 21.0 innings, McClain’s numbers were uneven, with a 6.00 ERA and 5.26 FIP fueled mostly by a couple ill-timed home runs and an uptick in walks. If the Mariners can retain McClain, he’s all but a lock for the Tacoma bullpen, where he’ll look to refine his command as a ground-ball specialist.

The Mariners’ 40-man roster remains full at 40.