Missing the minor league season last year also meant missing the fall tradition of handing out awards to the minor leaguers and staff members, which come with the perks of a free trip to Seattle, a night in a cushy hotel, and a little on-field pre-game ceremony. It’s a sweet reward for minor leaguers and staff members who have spent the year eating peanut butter from economy-sized jars and sleeping on buses. Usually the ceremony is pretty low-key, but this year, given at least one of the recipients, there promises to be somewhat more of a buzz at T-Mobile Park on October 2nd when these players are honored.
Ken Griffey Jr. MiLB Hitter of the Year Award: OF Cade Marlowe, A/A+
It’s nice to see the organization reward Marlowe, who was given an extremely low assignment to begin the year. Marlowe was a 20th-round pick in 2019 as a senior sign out of West Georgia, the highest a UWG player had been selected since 1985. As a senior, Marlowe was already on the older side, so the Mariners sent him to what was at the time short-season (A-) Everett. Marlowe, who earned universal praise for his work ethic, performed well against similarly-aged competition, striking out a tad too often (almost 25%) but also taking his walks and showing a quick bat and some flashes of power to post strong final numbers (a wRC+ of 129).
But then the pandemic hit, but the draft went on, anyway. Seattle spent a second-round pick on another outfielder, Texas A&M’s Zach DeLoach, and when the 2021 MiLB season started up, it was DeLoach who got the assignment to Everett, now High-A, with Marlowe sent to Low-A Modesto, where he shared the field with players who were in some cases five years his junior. To his credit, Marlowe didn’t pout, but took the assignment as a challenge to prove he did belong up in Everett. He slashed .300/.400/.550 over his time in Modesto, anchoring the top of the Nuts’ lineup and consistently injecting a spark into an offense that could be scattershot due to youthful inexperience. He made matchups look straight-up unfair; there were times in Modesto I actually felt bad for the opposing pitcher.
Marlowe kept on mashing after a mid-June promotion to Everett, actually raising his slugging percentage while bashing 20 homers in a less offensively-friendly environment. Unfortunately, that uptick also came with an attendant rise in strikeouts, close to 30%. That’s something Marlowe has to manage better, as he doesn’t have the elite power to get away with being a Three True Outcomes player. Luckily, Marlowe is also sneaky fast and a good baserunner who can even swipe a bag or two, so he’s toolsier than the typical lumbering power-hitter. He’ll be challenged next year with more advanced pitching at Double-A and we should see him get a few reps with the big league club in Spring Training.
Cade Marlowe has reached 100 RBI as he blasts a 2-run HR! pic.twitter.com/WUjTRQ5SsM— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) September 8, 2021
Jamie Moyer MiLB Pitcher of the Year Award: RHP Matt Brash, A+/AA/MLB
It’s objectively hilarious that Brash, whose fastball starts at 95 and cranks upward from there to kiss triple digits on occasionally, has won an award named after one of the game’s great soft-tossers. You can read more about Brash’s pitch arsenal in the story about his call-up, but let’s just take a moment to appreciate that Seattle’s MiLB POY is someone who was as acquired for a reliever as a PTBNL who puts the “fun” in “fungible” in Taylor Williams, which is kind of like finding a ticket on the ground outside a venue and it turning out to be a front-row seat to Beyoncé.
Matt Brash’s slider is ELITE. #SeaUsRise pic.twitter.com/oiKhISzSk9— Mariners Player Development (@MsPlayerDev) September 3, 2021
Alvin Davis “Mr. Mariner” Award: Julio Rodríguez, A+/AA
Since the Mariners changed up the way they name their awards, there have been four recipients of this award before Julio, all infielders: Joe Rizzo, Evan White, Chris Mariscal, and Zach Shank. While White and Rizzo have been on prospect lists from time to time, that’s not what this award is about; instead, in honor of its namesake, it’s about possessing a generosity of spirit and a humble joy; about putting one’s team above one’s self and making positive contributions on and off the field. It’s not the first award you’d maybe think to give to the top prospect in the system with Julio’s numbers this year, but it recognizes that, to the Mariners, Julio is much more than his numbers; he is the type of person they want representing their organization’s ethos. Julio’s response to winning the award perfectly embodied the spirit of the nicest man in baseball:
This is such a big award to me because knowing AD and always trying to learn or pick up something from him, knowing the way that he is with everybody and now I won his award! This is truly a blessing and an honor to me. #Grateful https://t.co/CViB6tuxWJ— Julio Y. Rodriguez (@J_RODshow) September 28, 2021
Dan Wilson Community Service Award: Isaiah Campbell, A+
Campbell wasn’t able to pitch much this year, undergoing a non-TJ surgical procedure on his arm, and spent last year at the alternate site after not pitching in his draft year. While in Tacoma, he got heavily involved in the Mariners’ program to read aloud to kids in the Tacoma School District, and continued that commitment this year, participating in the program virtually.
Edgar Martinez Dominate the Zone Award (Hitter): Jack Larsen, A+/AA
Thankfully a better name than the “PTPA” or “60 feet six inches” or, my least favorite, the “Rake Report,” the Mariners have simplified to just “Dominate the Zone,” named after a Mariner who always did just that. It’s a huge credit to Larsen to win this award. Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Larsen has gone from organizational filler to lineup mainstay.
The knock on Larsen, who possesses enormous power, was always that he struck out too much. In his first full season at Clinton—yes, he’s been in the system long enough to have played for the LumberKings, RIP—Larsen struck out almost 30% of the time, but with an ISO over .200, he was able to mitigate those issues some, smacking 12 homers in the icy Midwest League. After a mid-season promotion to High-A, though, Larsen’s bat cooled against tougher competition while the strikeouts remained high, and he was re-assigned to the level in 2019, only to strike out almost a third of the time again. It was better than his previous effort, but not good enough for the Mariners to push him up to Double-A even after the 2020 season was canceled, and he started this year at High-A for the third time, now quite old for the level.
Maybe there’s something about cold climates, though, because Larsen’s bat took off in Everett; he’s always been good about taking his walks but he also shaved almost ten points off his strikeout rate while walloping the ball every chance he got. The Mariners finally assigned him to Double-A in late July and Larsen proved that his numbers in Everett weren’t a fluke or a result of him beating up on weaker competition, as in his first swing at the upper minors he lowered his strikeout rate even further, down to a trim 22%, while maintaining his walk rate and still bringing the power, whacking 11 homers over 200 plate appearances. The highlight of his year was probably this grand slam against the league bullies the Wichita Wind Surge; this park is a former Triple-A park, too, so no Texas League cheapies here.
Jack Larsen GRAND SLAM! pic.twitter.com/fnbjGNCyr8— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) September 15, 2021
Edgar Martinez Dominate the Zone Award (Pitcher): David Ellingson (A+/AA)
The theme with both these awards is “third time’s the charm.” Like Larsen, Ellingson also repeated High-A three times, finally breaking out this year after essentially halving his walk rate. Differing from Larsen, Ellingson didn’t have a seamless transition into the upper minors, and will likely return to Arkansas next year to continue honing his zone-dominating skills.
Dave Henderson Minor League Staff Member of the Year: Louis Boyd (A+)
Friend of the podcast from his playing days, Boyd went from playing in the Mariners organization to managing their High-A affiliate in a playoff run in a few short years. He garners accolades from both his players and fellow staffers for his curious mind, willingness to learn, and dedication to helping his players, putting them in the best position to succeed.