If you’re looking for some good news about Minor League Baseball, there might finally be some on the horizon. Baseball America has reported growing momentum for a plan that would allow teams to add up to 15 more players to their player pools, raising the total number from 60 to 75. While nothing is certified, such a move has multiple benefits, assuming MLB can continue to maintain COVID-19 protocols and safely integrate another 450 players into their respective alternate sites. That’s a big IF, but MLB’s work thus far has been cautiously encouraging, and slight expansions to the player pool would have several benefits.
One major benefit of the move would be allowing teams to field true squads that could face off against one another in more traditional game-like situations. The Mariners’ alternate training site roster, minus the taxi squad that travels with the team, is made up of 12 pitchers and just 11 position players—two catchers, four infielders, and five outfielders. That’s not enough for true intrasquad play, leading to a lot of scenarios where coaches Louis Boyd or Kristopher Negron are playing in the field, and while both of them are recently ex-players and more than capable of manning their positions, you’d like to see those reps go to an up-and-coming player in the system. The Mariners are far from the only team in this situation, as most teams have prioritized adding pitchers, who tend to be cycled through more often, prompting MLB to consider this move.
This move would also especially benefit Dominican-based prospects. The Dominican Republic was one of the hardest-hit countries by the coronavirus and dealt with it by imposing a strict curfew, meaning baseball fields across the island—never in the greatest repair—weren’t kept up, and are now dangerous and borderline unplayable. Dominican players not selected for the taxi squad, nor held in their spring training sites like the Mariners did with their Venezuelan prospects, thus face a growing gap between them and their American-born peers who had greater access to batting cages, quality fields, and personal coaches. Opening up spots at the alternate training site would be a tremendous boon for players in this situation and help to close that access gap.
Opening up 15 more spots would also allow players who don’t neatly fit in the box of either “MLB-adjacent arm” or “top prospect” a chance to continue developing. There were several players we identified in an earlier article we felt were dealt the most harm by missing their minor league seasons and not being selected for the taxi squad. If this plan is approved—and given the cost-benefit analysis, it should be—here is an assortment of some (19) players we think would make sense to pull from in adding to the pool.
RHP Penn Murfee
Murfee got a later start to his pro career and thus is more adversely affected by the shutdown than others, as he’s being forced to sit out his age-26 season, a year in which he likely would have opened at Double-A Arkansas and been pushing for a callup to MLB late in the season, had everything continued as it did in the same vein as his breakout year in Modesto and star turn in the Arizona Fall League and later for Team USA. Murfee is one of the few players on this list—or in the entire camp—who could conceivably make the leap to MLB with success if things came to that. We were shocked he was left off the initial camp invites, and expect to see that corrected should rosters expand.
RHP Wyatt Mills
Mills was arguably the most surprising snub at the outset of camp, as a ~big league ready reliever with good numbers in the minors. The sidearmer was expected to debut this year at some point, and still could depending on how things break out in the next month and a half.
RHP Jack Anderson
Completing the trio of surprising snubs is Anderson, who also didn’t get called up with the rest of the Arkansas bullpen despite consistently strong numbers over his minors career. Like the sidearmer Murfee, Anderson also represents a value-add for developing hitters as his true submarine style is probably the most unique arm angle in the system.
LHP Ray Kerr
Another fourth-year senior from a small school whom the Mariners signed as an UDFA, Kerr is now one of the more electric lefties in minor league ball. Since signing, Kerr has seen a truly apolcalyptic rise in nasty. At 25 years old, Kerr’s projection is mostly tapped, but at 6-3, 185, you never know. The issue with Kerr is command. A starter until midway through 2018, Kerr issued a ton of free passes, but on June 30, he made the switch to the pen and the results have been eye-opening. While command issues are still very alive and well, they are toned down and he’s punching dudes out at impressive clips. Kerr lives 95-99 and has touched 101 at times. He has a slider that’s flashed 60 at times with more vertical drop than horizontal. He also employs a good, not great splitter that’s been especially good against lefties. He’s flirted with a soft cutter as well. The raw stuff says late-inning guy if the command can wrangle in. If the velo sticks, a big league debut is probably imminent, as we saw with Thyago Vieira. Whether Kerr reaches his ceiling as an 8th inning guy is yet to be determined, but it’s clear the Mariners have something here. He could move quick if the command improves even marginally.
LHP Brayan Perez
The Mariners have held Perez in Peoria rather than send him back to his home country of Venezuela, not the most stable situation before the global pandemic. The lefty short king has filled his time riding all over the Phoenix Valley on a bicycle and theoretically getting in reps at the Mairners’ Peoria complex, but would probably really appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with something other than creosote bushes and long stretches of empty road through the desert, as much as that idea might delight Kerouac fans reading this.
RHP Sam Carlson
It’s arguable no player in the system could’ve used this season more than Carlson. The 21 year old righty hasn’t pitched in organized ball since 2017, and is finally healthy. Instead of getting a chance to shake off the rust in earnest, Carlson is trying to snag innings in local leagues, but could get a great deal from working against high-quality opponents.
RHP Elvis Alvarado
As we outlined in our “prospects missing out piece”, Alvarado shares Carlson’s need for innings, as a large young man with fire in his arm and very few innings on his resumé. Alvarado has the stuff to match anyone in Seattle’s camp right now, but needs reps and work with the coaching staff to refine his command and bolster his trajectory towards the bigs.
RHP Devin Sweet
Sweet’s third season as a pro could have been a breakout opportunity or a reality check. It’s hard to say where things stand for the 23-year-old UDFA, but an opportunity to work in the alternate site against a position player group that is predominantly AA-quality or better would be a great proving grounds for small school arm whose prospect shine is dimmed more by lack of visibility and high-quality competition than any struggles thus far. He has one of the best changeups in the system, and if his fastball velocity remains in the 91-94 range and his new slider keeps improving, Sweet could start next year in Arkansas on par with several more high-profile names.
RHP Scott Boches
Boches was an interesting developing story this spring training before things shut down. A slight mechanical change—keeping his pinky toe engaged on the pitching rubber—has helped the 6’5” righty creep from the lower 90s to triple-digit-adjacent with sink, which, paired with his nasty breaking ball, makes Boches a tough at-bat.
RHP Dayeison Arias
Arias had a chance to play in LIDOM this winter and the Mariners denied his request, snatching him back to High Performance Camp, and then compounded that by leaving him off the taxi squad. That wouldn’t be as big a deal except Arias signed at a slightly more advanced age, so he’s currently spending his age-23 season throwing on dirt fields in the DR, when he should be pushing for a callup to Double-A.
INF Joe Rizzo
Rizzo was maybe the most surprising omission from the taxi squad, as a multi-positional former top pick who improved in 2019 but is nearing make-or-break status in the system. Getting leapfrogged by 2019 5th rounder Austin Shenton was a surprise, and not an encouraging one for the club’s evaluation of Rizzo. Still, his ability to get the bat to the ball, along with slowly improving power, and much needed expansion of his defensive versatility, means Rizzo would be a valuable add both for his own prospect development and for the club’s efforts to competently fill the field with players for their intrasquads.
OF Jonatan Clase
There are five outfielders at the alternate training site and one of them is Julio Rodriguez, who still has a brace on his arm. Clase, whom FanGraphs describes as “a little tank,” has been working hard on his conditioning all off-season, converting himself from “Tanquito” to a “Sherman Tanquito,” but at some point he will have lifted every heavy object in the Dominican Republic and needs a new challenge with live at-bats. Not only would Clase benefit from reps against more advanced players, he’d be useful to the team at the training site in baserunning drills and to help pitchers learn to navigate at-bats with an 80-grade speed threat on the bases.
2B/INF Jose Caballero
The return in the Mike Leake trade, the Mariners liked Caballero enough to send him to the AFL this fall, although not enough to add him to the taxi squad. The organization has been trying to craft a superutility out of Caballero, who has some solid on-base ability if not the sneaky pop of a Dylan Moore, and adding him would allow for some low-stress reps in the outfield as well as that all-important positional versatility.
OF Eric Filia
Filia has been bypassed on the depth chart by Jose Marmolejos, who fills a near-identical niche as a ~MLB ready corner outfielder slash first baseman, but with a bit of positional versatility and some of the best plate discipline and bat control in the organization, he’s both a versatile addition and a worthy challenge for the M’s big league adjacent pitchers.
INF Jordan Cowan
Jordan Cowan is now the longest-tenured member of the Mariners organization, drafted way back in 2013, and we just feel like that should count for something. Moreover, if the issue is filling lineups with versatility and worthy play, Cowan has experience across the diamond and a discerning, albeit power-strapped approach at the plate.
OF Luis Liberato
Maybe a year off from baseball isn’t the worst thing for the frequently-ailing Liberato, but for a 24-year-old who has been ascending through the system at a snail’s pace, he’s perhaps paying a steeper price than some of his other IFA brethren. When right, Liberato could challenge Bishop for the best outfielder in the system, but too many collisions with center field walls and turf has sapped some of his dynamism. Libby has more pop at the plate, too, and an advanced enough plate approach that he’d be a challenging at-bat for some of the young pitchers without completely overwhelming them.
OF/1B Keegan McGovern
McGovern is a rare thing in the Mariners system: a position player prospect with a standout offensive tool. While the M’s have a plethora of Jakes-of-all-trades, McGovern’s power and related knack for drawing walks puts him in position to mash his way to the bigs. Last year, the big lefty missed time at the start of the season with an oblique injury, and never fully got back on track. While he still showed good power and a double-digit walk rate, McGovern struck out too much against High-A competition. He’s approaching 25 and needs reps against good pitching to avoid being up-jumped in the org by players like Shenton and 2020 draftee Tyler Keenan.
3B Bobby Honeyman
Like Rizzo, Honeyman is also one who has suffered thanks to the emergence of Austin Shenton, but as a senior sign out of a small school rather than a second-round pick, Honeyman’s career is the one more adversely affected. “Honeyboy,” as Julio nicknamed him, is the best defensive third baseman in a system woefully thin at that position, and for that reason alone should be in camp.
C Carter Bins
There’s an argument to add at least one of Bins or Jake Anchía, who has had some more minor-league seasoning, as both are defensively plus catchers who would help out a group of young arms with their strong blocking and receiving abilities. But since Bins has been cheated out of his first full pro season, we’ll go with him here as the next backstop to add.