It’s been obvious for months that the 2020 minor league season was, if not totally kaput, to borrow a phrase from The Princess Bride, mostly dead. Even before the much-delayed “official” announcement quashing all hopes for a 2020 MiLB season, it was obvious that MLB was planning an alternate approach to the minors with the establishment of the 30-person “player pools” (also known as the “taxi squad,” although technically the taxi squad is the three players who will travel with the team as replacements for away games) to serve as reserves to draw from in case of injury or a positive test for COVID-19. Obviously, the Mariners couldn’t bring every minor leaguer to the unfortunately-named “summer camp”, and unlike some other teams, the Mariners opted for a very prospect-heavy approach to their player pool as opposed to players who might actually see MLB time this season or next. In fact, of the 2020 draftees invited to the taxi squads, the Mariners account for over 1⁄3 of that number—at current count, four of eleven, although that’s expected to shift some now that some first-rounders like Spencer Torkelson and Max Meyer have signed their deals.
Unfortunately, even though it’s very fun to imagine 2020 draftee Emerson Hancock throwing baseballs in Cheney Stadium, for every fresh young thing added to the taxi squad, there’s a longer-tenured prospect who has been toiling in relative obscurity who was left off. Beyond that, there is a host of other prospects who were at particularly critical junctures in their minor-league careers who will suffer an outsize loss at the cancellation of the MiLB season. Here are some of the players we think will be most negatively impacted by the shutdown. Join us in shaking your fist at the sky on their behalf.
OF/1B Eric Filia (AAA), age 28
While much of the damage to Filia’s career has been self-inflicted, the Mariners haven’t done anything to help him out. He was encouraged to go play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, where Filia’s high-contact style of play electrified the league, but upon returning to the States, had to scrap for a Spring Training invite this year. Now Filia has been left off the taxi squad in favor of Seattle’s Twin Teen Titan prospects and freshly-drafted outfielder Zach DeLoach, despite a relative dearth of outfielders on the 60-man (only seven, vs. 16 infielders). There’s no sugar-coating the cost of a lost year for a player of Filia’s age who is yet to make the majors, but with winter ball spots likely at a premium this year, at least Filia has a foot in la puerta.
RHP Penn Murfee (AA), age 26
Poor Penn. After a fairly dismal start to his pro career in 2018, Murfee remade himself into a legitimate prospect with a powerful performance at High-A Modesto this year where he struck out 30% of batters he faced, followed by an eye-opening stint in the prospect-laden Arizona League and a star turn for Team USA in the WBSC. Murfee, who has had an unconventional road to pro ball, is older than your average prospect at this level and needed this year to prove he could crest the Double-A wave that knocks over so many other promising players to get himself fast-tracked to Seattle. He’s a prime candidate to be scooped up by a LIDOM team this winter, especially with his pre-existing track record in international competition, but regardless, it totally sucks that he doesn’t get to pitch competitively this year.
RHP Scott Boches (A+), LHP Ray Kerr (A+), both age 25
Think of these two opposite-handed relievers like a salt and pepper shaker set, except the seasoning dispensed is fireballs. Drafted in the 30th round in 2017, Boches had finally hit his stride at Modesto this past season after a slight mechanical tweak suggested by pitching coach Rob Marcello helped the 6’5” righty unlock something extra in his arm, boosting Boches’s fastball to triple digit-adjacent territory. Boches was getting a significant look with the big club in spring training before things were shut down. He’s still working on commanding that big fastball, but will have to do so on his own or via remote coaching sessions.
Similarly, Ray Kerr also comes from an unheralded background, signed as an UDFA in 2017, and he also saw his velocity jump in Modesto this season, although this time much of the credit goes to Modesto strength coach Mikey Satler, who helped Kerr pack muscle onto his lanky, lithe, 6’3” frame. Kerr actually hit triple digits in Modesto, but has some significant command issues attendant to that velocity. Both Kerr and Boches are Rule 5 eligible this winter, so are especially hurt by not having a season to audition for a place on the 40-man.
INF Joe Rizzo (A+), age 22
It’s been a slow climb for Rizzo since being drafted out of high school in 2016, but he looked to have finally figured out High-A this season, raising his power numbers and trimming his strikeouts to a nubbin while anchoring a...mercurial Modesto lineup. Rizzo also put in hours of extra practice on the diamond with infield coach Louis Boyd before the latter was sent up to helm the Everett AquaSox, working to improve his defense at third and also taking reps at second base. But when the time for promotions to Double-A came, Rizzo was passed over; come the following spring, he was not extended an invitation to Spring Training; and now he’s been left off the taxi squad. It’s a puzzling treatment of a player who, from all accounts, does all that is asked of him and more, and who made demonstrable improvements in his game this past season. This would have been a key season for Rizzo to make a loud case against being overlooked like this again, but he’ll have to make his case on his own time (and dime) in preparing for a revenge tour in 2021. Two bright spots: First, Rizzo just turned 22 in March, so the clock isn’t ticking as forcefully for him as it is with some of the other names here. Second, if the AFL does come back, especially in an expanded format, Rizzo is a good candidate to go hog-wild as a member of the Javelinas.
RHP Sam Carlson (A) and RHP Elvis Alvarado (A), both age 21
The last time Carlson pitched in an affiliated game, TikTok did not exist in the United States and Tom Petty was still alive. Between an intentionally abbreviated initial workload following the 2017 draft, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections to attempt to aid elbow issues, and eventually Tommy John surgery and rehab, unless teams are able to orchestrate some manner of massive winter league a la the Arizona Fall League, it will be over three years between appearances for the 2017 second rounder. Carlson was reportedly full health, and had thrown in simulated games in Arizona last year, with the expectation of starting 2020 in Low-A West Virginia. Instead, the player in the organization perhaps most accustomed to siloed workouts will have to suffer another season away from consistent competition. This year was already a big one, as a strong start could have helped the righty position himself for a trajectory to the majors in a few years’ time. Now, with the draft done and no chance to face top competition, he’ll have just 2021 (hopefully) to take on professional competition before becoming Rule-5 draft eligible in December of ‘21.
Alvarado is in a similar spot, albeit less injury-related. He converted from outfield to pitcher in 2018, and made some encouraging strides with his command upon being traded to the Mariners in part of the Roenis Elías/Hunter Strickland return from the Nationals. His fastball pushes into the upper 90s, alongside a promising bender, but he’s only thrown 42.1 innings in his career, and just 1.2 above the complex level. This season would have been his first shot, likely in the bullpen, to shoot up the minors with some consistent reps. Alvarado could still be a beneficiary, with more time to refine his mechanics, but like many of the system’s young arms, they’ll have little chance to establish a track record beyond their tools for another year.
RHP Jarod Bayless (A-), age 23
33rd-rounders are basically given a cookie and a plane ticket and told to figure things out for themselves, and Bayless has done exactly that. Bayless crushed in Rookie ball post-draft (21 strikeouts in 15.2 IP to just one walk) and was moved up to Everett for the final eight innings of his 2019 pro ball debut, where he again showed an ability to control the zone (12 strikeouts and no walks) but got touched up a little with some bad home run luck and blown saves. Like Penn Murfee before him, Bayless took his brief taste of pro ball and used it to fuel an intense off-season regimen where he dove into biomechanical analysis and pitching mechanics (all aspiring pitchers and pitching nerds should check out his Instagram account @jarodthrows) and through rigorous work has raised his average fastball velo from the high 80s to 93. Thankfully the DBU product survived the most recent round of cuts in the lower levels of the organization, but he’s missing out on his opportunity for a Murfee-style glow-up in his first full pro season. Bayless is a good sleeper candidate for a spot in an expanded AFL if someone in the Mariners’ player development department has been following his impressive upward trajectory on Instagram.
Mariners prospect Jarod Bayless has been working hard on gaining velo this off-season. Now that his off-season is stretching to February of 2021 he’s set his sights on a new goal. No down time. No self pitying. Just pushing forward. pic.twitter.com/RHlcJatfsR— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) July 1, 2020
OF Jonatan Clase (R) 3B Milkar Perez (R), both age 18
Noelvi Marte stole the headlines for the DSL Mariners last season, but Clase and Perez were right on his heels. Clase is a true center fielder with 70+-grade speed, and Perez is a third baseman with a solid hit tool and advanced plate discipline. Both were slated to make their stateside debuts this year after strong performances in the DSL. Clase is a particularly interesting case; while Perez commanded a relatively modest bonus ($175K), the undersized and underscouted Clase signed for just $10K, then proceeded to lead the team in OBP, runs scored, and stolen bases, while coming in third in average, and—remarkably, for a player listed at 5’8”/150—fourth in slugging. The Mariners sent Clase to High Performance Camp this fall and he’s added enough weight and muscle to garner the nickname “Tanquito” and literally muscle his way onto the Mariners top-30 list. One of the first hurdles a young international prospect has to clear is proving their skills translate outside of the DSL, and now Clase and Perez—along with their DSL teammates also slated to graduate to stateside ball, including outfielders Arturo Guerrero and Gunn Omosako, and pitchers David Morillo, Anderson Mercedes, and Wilton Perez —will have to wait another year to get off the island.