Emotionally, we’re all there to some degree right now. The team’s well-documented failure to build a passably deep rotation has already bitten them in the face in late April—Elías/Paxton Teej, Marge Sog, take your pick and they’re already short on arms before the 30-game mark thanks to a commitment to a six-man rotation and unwillingness to spend in the free-agent market. But wait: we have oooooone shiny arm stashed in Tacoma...
...no. We’re tempted too, but the Mariners won’t, and moreover, they shouldn’t.
Obviously after Nick Margevicius had to leave Sunday’s game after pitching half his balls into Boston Harbor, the cries on Twitter to summon Logan Gilbert from the minors to take Large Marge’s spot in the rotation resounded from coast to coast. And it’s so tempting! The team is...good? Or at least fun, and currently playing winning baseball. They have weathered some pitcher injuries already, and the depth takes a major hit if Nick Margevicius is out for any significant period of time. And the team just happens to have a Top-100 prospect waiting in the wings in Logan Gilbert. It works! On the surface it works.
This is the boring, pitcher version of eating your vegetables, but let us deal it to you straight: 1) the Mariners are not going to call up Logan Gilbert to fill this Nicky Marge-shaped hole; 2) nor should they. That last bit might be considered a bit of a departure considering our site-wide belief that they should (have) #Free(d)JarredKelenic, so let’s break it all down.
- Point the first: No matter how much we might want it to happen, or how much sense it seems to make, the Mariners will not call Gilbert up.
This one is open-and-shut, if you’ve been paying attention to what the club is doing and saying rather than what they might have said in the past. Look at the trickle of information from the club itself: Gilbert, though he got a little wound up in spring training, stayed behind when the team broke camp, not even heading to the alternate site. When the club began to publish bits of information about the MiLB “spring training” games down in Arizona, he was right back to 20ish-pitch, three-innings-max short outings. His most recent effort got him up around 40 pitches, but he’s still weeks from being a fully stretched-out, effective MLB starter. (What happens when a pitcher isn’t fully stretched-out? Nicky Marge chucking balls into Boston Harbor happens.)
This is all by design; the Mariners are slow-playing Gilbert, aware that he didn’t have an opportunity to pitch in 2020. In 2019, after it was announced with much fanfare that Gilbert would be starting the first game of the Texas League playoffs for Arkansas, he was instead quietly scratched with fatigue and shut down for the season. That experience frustrated Gilbert, who desperately wanted to pitch in the playoffs, but having not pitched at all in his draft year, it was simply too much physical exertion after he pitched 112+ innings over three levels in his first year as a pro. The team wants to avoid a similar misstep this year and allow Gilbert to finish out at whatever level he’s pitching at this season, be that in the minors or in the pros. Rushing him to the majors to fill a hole in the rotation simply isn’t good care for one of the team’s most valuable assets.
- Point the second: The Mariners shouldn’t call him up.
The more interesting argument is... should they? Despite our repeated calls to promote Kelenic, we’re actually pretty willing to side with the club here. Even though both players are the most polished in Seattle’s system, the two cases are quite different. Kelenic is a position player who needs a chance to fail at the MLB level and won’t hurt himself, body or soul, in having that chance. He lost the 2020 season as a chance to get significantly better, being assigned to play at the alternate site, and is currently toiling in minor league spring training, facing a limited pool of players who are mostly significantly behind him developmentally. The MiLB season is set to get underway on May 4th, but until Kelenic gets to torture people who aren’t his teammates or 18-year-old pitchers fresh out of the DSL, his time has been and is being wasted, developmentally.
With Gilbert, and the slow ramping-up pitchers require (there’s a reason they report ahead of position players at spring training), things are different. In a season where the M’s, fun start aside, don’t have serious playoff aspirations, the best approach with a player like Gilbert who has a fairly solid limit of bullets in his magazine is to balance the needs of the club against the ol’ “best for the player” angle. If it’s too early to keep Gilbert up all year—which seems likely—then it’s pretty accepted convention that you should do what the Mariners say they will, and let the player build normally until they can debut and hit their inning target right around the end of the season. If Gilbert comes up before he’s ready, the best-case scenario is the team only gets a certain number of innings out of him, and he once again has to sit out the end of a season, or potentially the end of a playoff push.
The worst-case scenario? Well, we’ve already seen a fair amount of that in Seattle so far this season.
Much like they did with Kelenic, the Mariners have committed to a developmental plan with their young pitching prospect. We might not like the plan, it’s not the most fun plan, but it’s the plan that’s in place, and to abandon it now would be foolhardy. So pack your patience, grit your teeth, and dream of days where Logan Gilbert box scores aren’t all we have to get excited about. As the wooden sign hanging in your aunt’s kitchen says, there are two dinner options: take it or leave it.