For the fourth straight year in a row, there is no Mariners FanFest*, although at least this year the reason is understandable (pandemic!) rather than “the field is too torn up from that time we hosted the Holiday Hobnailed Clog Team Winter Extravaganza.” (*Technically there was a FanFest in 2019, but it was a scaled-down version that was appended to some exhibition games and not the immersive experience of previous FanFests.)
Instead the Mariners are offering a virtual experience (called the “Baseball Bash”) where fans can log on to the Mariners’ various social channels and sit in on media availability or moderated chats with players and staff. There will also be some opportunities for fans to submit their own questions in a Q and A style format. Find more information and a daily schedule here. We’ll post condensed versions of particularly salient sessions for those of you who missed out because maybe you’re working at 11 AM on a Tuesday.
The Baseball Bash (TM) kicked off today with a media session with GM Jerry Dipoto. Here are some of the highlights of what Dipoto touched on:
- It sure sounds like the team has a clear priority for any forthcoming moves this off-season. While they’re “open” to adding another starting pitcher and bullpen help (although Dipoto “can’t say that will be a primary focus between now and February 19th”), they “would like to add another left-handed bat to the mix.” As opposed to pitching help, which Dipoto seemed to characterize as “if the opportunity arises,” adding a left-handed bat seemed like a more pressing need. Everyone just get used to the idea of Nomar Mazara, Seattle Mariner, now.
- Dipoto seemed a little disappointed in the lack of success their homegrown relievers have had, saying some younger guys in the bullpen “have taken the opportunity and run with it,” but then only naming Anthony Misiewicz as an example of one who has done so. This Joey Gerber slander will not stand! Dipoto also namechecked new reliever Keynan Middleton a couple of times, including defining him as a pitcher the team “know[s] a lot about,” likely referencing the fact that it was Dipoto’s Angels who scouted and drafted Middleton, but it’s still an interesting way to define a pitcher who has never thrown a pitch for the organization. We know that Dipoto and this front office have players on their “acquire” list, and it sure sounds like Middleton was one of them.
- As for the loss in progress for young prospects with no MiLB season, Dipoto was frank about there being no good way to replicate an MiLB season at the alternate sites, but said he doesn’t expect the setback to overly affect the players who are “elite-level” prospects, specifically saying a Julio Rodríguez type might be slowed, but not thrown off track entirely, by a missing MiLB season. As for the next wave of prospects who will likely make their MLB debuts at some point this season: Logan Gilbert, who Dipoto says is the closest to MLB-ready; Jarred Kelenic; Cal Raleigh, who Dipoto seemed to indicate would see time at the back end of the ‘21 season; and Taylor Trammell, although with Trammell, Dipoto cautions that the club is “still learning” about him and “we will learn as we go.” However, with Trammell on the 40-man, that learning curve is surely accelerated, as it is for RHP Juan Then, who Dipoto says is unlikely to make his debut in 2021 but whose “ascent will be quick”; he appears poised to be the next man up after this current group.
- Continuing on with prospects, Dipoto offered two names for “under the radar” prospects to watch: RHP Levi Stoudt, who is coming off TJ and hasn’t pitched professionally since being drafted in 2019 but has stuff in the mid-90s with two polished breaking balls; and Zach DeLoach, who doesn’t have a “gaudy” skill other than getting on base all the time. I love a good high-OBP player.
- Dipoto spoke at length about the six-man rotation and how it will be utilized to give pitchers rest as they work back towards a full season’s workload. Marco, Kikuchi, Sheffield, and Flexen all have spots in the rotation, while the last two spots will be open for competition between Justin Dunn, Nick Margevicius, Logan Gilbert, Ljay Newsome, and possibly one of the MiLB free agents the club has signed. “Still something to add in that space,” says Dipoto.
- As for the younger players, Dipoto spoke about the amount of “turbulence” a player sees in their first 300-500 big-league at-bats, and the 450-500 AB level as being where there is stability to find a player’s “water level.” Kyle Lewis, Ty France, and Evan White were all players he named who are still below that “water level” threshold.
- Pursuant to that, Dipoto says that 60 games didn’t give the Mariners time to figure out all the answers as for what spots they needed to fill: “at every position on the field, we feel like we have the current best option for the Mariners.” Looking at the gaping hole in left field, that feels...disingenuous, unless someone has retconned Jarred Kelenic into being the Mariners’ current left fielder. However, Dipoto has a point that the team didn’t want to fill spots that might not need filling once a player’s “water level” has been established. And if all of this feels like a way to conveniently explain away ownership’s unwillingness to spend, well,
- Back to water levels. The club remains encouraged by Evan White’s batted ball results, pitch selection, and power profile; Dipoto acknowledges White’s early struggles threw him off track, but were, “to me nothing more than the anxiety that goes with a young player starting from zero.” Dipoto also says there was a stretch from mid-August to mid-September where White was “quite good” and I’m not sure which “mid” numbers he’s running but I get anywhere from a 75 to a 106 wRC+ running numbers at times that might be considered “mid” those months (and still with a 37% K rate during the 106 period) which I guess is quite good compared to some of White’s lower points. However Dipoto remains confident that the swing and miss for White, which he never did much of in the minors, is “an anomaly, not the new normal.”
- Injury update time! On Mitch Haniger: “None of us understood the significance of the two injuries Mitch had.” Feels like someone on staff should with some letters behind their name should have understood that significance, but the important thing is Mitch is back and healthy and tearing up Instagram with his powerful powerful core. Shed Long has also bounced back quickly from his ankle surgery and should be ready to go for Spring Training. Potential closer-in-waiting Andres Muñoz will not be ready for the start of the year, as March will mark the one-year anniversary of his TJ surgery, and even though he’s back to throwing, the team doesn’t want to rush him back and will integrate him slowly.
- Responding to a question about the draft and the difficulties COVID has caused in scouting, Dipoto says their focus in the early going will be on the top tier of the high school talent pool, as those are the players they’ve seen the least—what would usually be around 150 plate appearances down to less than 50. This should not be interpreted as the Mariners going after prep talent, though, because [points at entire Mariners draft history under Dipoto].
- No surprise here, but the catching situation will be a timeshare, with the club very high on Murphy and his “off the charts makeup,” but also very high on new acquisition Luís Torrens, with Dipoto hinting that “the way we evaluate Torrens might be very different from how the public evaluates him” and noting that Torrens’s best offensive play is still ahead of him. If once is chance and twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern, and if Torrens, like Nola and Murphy ahead of him, also blossoms as a catcher, catching coordinator Tony Arnerich deserves a significant raise. Dipoto also notes that there will be an opportunity for Cal Raleigh “at some point,” and that “It’s exciting to talk about catching depth in a positive way.” Coming from John writing up our catching depth overview once with the dek “contains 5% catcher,” it certainly is, indeed.
- One of the most interesting parts of the presser came at the very end, when Dipoto addressed the challenges of the past year, both the health crisis of COVID and the social crisis of racial inequities coming to the forefront of American consciousness, and said how proud he was of the way his players handled those challenges, many with not only no experience in these unprecedented challenges, but with no prior experience as big leaguers, still finding their ways in their baseball careers. “I could not have been prouder of the way our leaders led.” The team, Dipoto says, “grew in the face of adversity on all levels,” and this trial by fire “has the chance to make this an extremely special group.” While that’s true for all clubs that faced the unprecedented challenges of a historic—in good and bad ways—2020 season, the Mariners do stand alone as having one of the youngest teams in baseball and a future core experiencing these things together, from heartfelt clubhouse discussions to quarantining together in hotel rooms. It was already going to be fascinating to watch this group grow together, and now even more so.
The most salient part of the presser was, obviously, the indication that the club won’t be spending much more to augment the 2021 team, and that the team hopes to “set the goal” of “competing for a playoff spot,” which is, you will note, different from actually competing for a playoff spot. This is an issue we’ll be diving into more in a separate article debating the wisdom or lack thereof of not putting any more money into the ballclub in a year where things feel more open in the AL West than they have in a long time, as it’s certainly the one most prominent in fans’ minds as the club heads into yet another season after an October layoff.