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Meet your Mariners...2022 NRIs

Sometimes a big fish comes out of this not-as-glamorous pond

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics
This guy turned out okay as a 2021 NRI
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Every year, teams invite a group of players not on their 40-man rosters (NRIs, or non-roster invites) to their spring training camps. Sometimes NRIs are long-term minor-leaguers getting a crack in a new system, and other times they’re non-40-man prospects being given a test drive against tougher competition to help the team make decisions about placement for next season. In the lean rebuilding years we’ve seen many more of the former in Mariners spring trainings, but this crop has some recognizable names for those of you who follow the Mariners minors closely (and one name even casual fans should recognize).

While it’s hard to get excited about a bunch of career minor-leaguers and grizzled vets, it’s important to remember the Mariners have turned up a few useful players this way: Austin Adams in 2019, and Drew Steckenrider and Paul Sewald in 2021. Manage your expectations, as that 2021 crop in particular was ballooned by the loss of a normal 2020 spring training and a weird season in general, but between looking for the next hidden gem and getting to know some of the fringier-but-still-potentially-impactful Mariners prospects, it’s worth getting at least a little familiar with the NRIs.

Bookmark this page and come back to it when you’re watching a spring training game so you can find the answer to “who was that again?” We’ll also update this with their numbers once they’re available, to help you pick out who’s who on the field.

Pitchers:

Miami Marlins v Milwaukee Brewers
Patrick Weigel
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Kyle Bird (LHP)

Bird made his big league debut in 2019 with Texas, putting up unsightly numbers over 12.2 innings - more walks than strikeouts and a double digit FIP is just brutal. He spent 2021 in Japan with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, where he was an okay middle reliever, but still walked too many guys. Bird features a low three-quarters arm slot, and pairs a low-90s fastball with a sweeping 80 MPH slider. If he can get his command under control, he could be a decent option against left-handed hitters, but barring a significant step forward with Seattle’s pitching development, he’s more a depth signing than a dark horse bullpen option.

Roenis Elías (LHP)

The longtime Mariner was off to a strong start in camp last year, touching mid-90s and still featuring that gorgeous curveball we all know and love, when he suffered a UCL injury in mid-March. Post-TJ surgery, Elías returned to Arizona during the off-season to rehab at the Mariners complex, which he was able to do despite the lockout since he was signed to a minor-league contract. He’s already throwing bullpens and while he likely won’t be ready for Opening Day, he’ll be a lefty depth option as a swingman or multi-inning reliever for the Mariners this year. And in the meantime, his son is training to be “the next Ohtani,” so maybe the Mariners will finally get their own two-way superstar.

David Ellingson

Ellingson has been slowly climbing the ranks of the Mariners system since he was drafted in the now-extinct 34th round in 2016. After years of slow-but-steady progress, he ran into a buzzsaw when he finally climbed to Double-A this past season, but still earned the Mariners’ “Dominate the Zone” minor-league award in 2021, which comes with an invitation to big-league camp.

Matthew Festa

Finally healthy after a long layoff post-TJ, Seattle’s New York guy is finally back and ready to reclaim his spot in the big-league bullpen. Festa was dominant in 20 innings in Tacoma after his return from the IL, striking out 35% of batters while walking only 3.5% and allowing just a .213 average against in the hitter-friendly PCL. He’ll be in play to get innings with the big-league team sooner rather than later and is a dark horse to make the club out of spring.

George Kirby

Seattle’s top pitching prospect should get to see some serious run this spring as he makes his case for a spot in the big-league rotation sometime this year. It’d be nice to finally clap eyes on Kirby in high-def after years of watching him through filmy MiLB cameras; here’s hoping his innings line up with the TV broadcasts.

Travis Ray Kuhn

It was fun to see Kuhn, who was a late addition to the Arizona Fall League and wound up performing well and making the Fall Stars team, get an invite to big-league camp. Kate did a deep dive with Kuhn here; he’s a vocal advocate for mental health in the clubhouse and an all-around neat person. He features a low 34 slot with a fastball that consistently sits around 95 and a high-spin slider that can both tilt and ride, and if he wasn’t a short king, you might mistake him for Robbie Ray with his tight pants and audible grunts as he competes on every pitch. Kuhn hasn’t pitched above High-A, so he’s probably up in big-league camp for a good time, not a long time, but it’s significant the organization is giving him so many looks, and he’s a name Mariners fans should know.

Ian McKinney (LHP)

The Mariners picked up McKinney in 2019 season after the Cardinals released him after a poor performance at Double-A (which, since the Cardinals park plays very small, makes sense) and he’s blossomed in the Mariners’ system. McKinney returned to Double-A to start off the 2021 season but finally defeated his old ghosts there, striking out a whopping 38% of batters faced before earning a promotion to Tacoma, which is the next level he’ll have to defeat to continue advancing in his career.

Levi Stoudt

Maybe the highest-ceiling under-the-radar pitching prospect in the system, Stoudt got namedropped multiple times by Dipoto in his post-lockout press conference. Stoudt had TJ shortly after he was signed so doesn’t have a ton of innings as a pro, but he has a mid-90s fastball, a plus changeup, and an improved slider he developed in the Mariners organization, giving him multi-inning relief potential. He needs to improve his command before he can earn a spot in the big-league bullpen. (You can hear more from Levi in this interview he did with us for the LL podcast.)

Devin Sweet

Following a dominant 2019 that elevated him to sleeper prospect status in some circles, Sweet hit a bit of a wall in Double-A. After not being an issue in the lower minors, homers came at him with a vengeance, including one unfortunate outing where he gave up five on a grim day in Tulsa. He was moved to the bullpen midway through the year, and shined in that role as a multi-inning option. He likely won’t break camp with the Mariners, but keep an eye out for him in the middle innings of Cactus League action - his changeup is already big league ready. His future success will hinge on avoiding dingers and improving his fastball command, but don’t be shocked to see him up in Seattle at some point this year.

Patrick Weigel

A long-time Atlanta farmhand, Weigel went to Milwaukee in 2021 as a free agent and now lands with the Mariners, who will attempt to help him harness his big stuff by improving his command. Weigel has a starter’s arsenal of pitches (FB-SL-CB-CH), all of which grade as average or above, but an inability to command that arsenal has kept him in the minors for most of his career. The slider is his best pitch, with excellent darting movement, and likely what the Mariners will have him lean on in the vein of other big stuff/poor command projects they’ve taken on before (hello, Austin Adams). If you’re looking for the next reclamation-breakout success story a la Sewald or Sadler, Weigel is the one to follow. Standing at 6’6”, he’ll be easy to pick out of a crowd.

Asher Wojciechowski

Another for the Grizzled Vet pile, Woj came to the Mariners after being DFA’d by the Yankees in 2021. He spent the remainder of that season in Tacoma, where he got PCL’d with an ERA close to 6, but his underlying metrics suggest he pitched much better than that, striking out almost 35% of batters faced. The 33-year-old is a solid depth option for the Rainiers.

Danny Young (LHP)

A long-term Toronto farmhand, Young is a lefty sinker/slider reliever who learned to pitch sidearm by watching YouTube videos.

Catchers:

Baltimore Orioles v Minnesota Twins
Chance Sisco
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Jake Anchía

Anchía is beloved by his pitchers, which is maybe why the Mariners have promoted him aggressively despite less-than-stellar results at the plate. Anchía was drafted in 2018 out of Nova Southeastern, most well-known as the school that produced J.D. Martinez, and Anchía shares a power tool with his fellow alum, but will have to cut down his strikeouts some in order to access it.

Josh Morgan

The Mariners signed the long-time Rangers farmhand last off-season, and he spent his first season in the Mariners organization repeating Double-A, striking out a little bit more but also getting after his power better, slugging a career-high .400—not bad for a righty hitter in Dickey-Stephens Park. Morgan is listed as a catcher, where he got the majority of his reps in 2021, but he’s also a former shortstop, and the Mariners gave him innings at both second and third base in addition to catcher. We love a true super-utility!

Brian O’Keefe

The doughty O’Keefe is on his second year in the Mariners organization. He’s a solid receiver and a three true outcomes hitter at the plate, although his power is more of the doubles variety.

Chance Sisco

A former top Orioles prospect, Sisco never got a consistent chance to start in Baltimore despite decent results at the plate from 2017-20, being blocked by such luminaries as Welington Castillo, Caleb Joseph, and Pedro Severino. After bottoming out last season, he was DFA’d and subsequently claimed off waivers by the Mets, where he collected just ten plate appearances with their big club. For Seattle, his relative youth at 27 and solid chunk big league experience will be a good presence in Tacoma, and should an emergency happen and his hand is forced up to the big club, he’s an upgrade over José Godoy.

Infielders:

Noelvi Marte
Dan Rogers

Jose Caballero

Caballero was the return in the deal that sent Mike Leake to the Diamondbacks at the 2019 trade deadline. He flashed some impressive contact and plate discipline skills in Modesto, although COVID cost him (and nearly everyone else on this list) 2020, and injuries limited him to just 20 total games across three levels in 2021. At 25, this is likely his last shot to show he can contribute at a higher level, but his low-K profile and middle infield capabilities should give him a solid opportunity to prove himself in Arkansas.

Mike Ford

Spring training hounds may remember Ford from 2018, when he was a Rule 5 pick from the Yankees battling Daniel Vogelbach for a roster spot. While he did lose that fight and was returned to New York, he ground out that year in Triple-A, and made an impact the next year in a bench role, racking up a 134 wRC+ over 163 plate appearances. He hasn’t made even close to that kind of impact in the years since, but as the typical lead-footed, patient power hitter you expect to see from a 29-year-old first baseman with just over 300 trips to the plate in the Majors, you can do much worse for depth. It’s doubtful he sees any extended time in Seattle, but if you were missing keeping a Large Adult Son in your heart, Mike Ford is all yours to love.

Sam Haggerty

Sam Haggerty, aka Samuel Onofrio Haggerty, aka Ham Swaggerty, aka the Swaggy Ham, has become a Mariners fan favorite since arriving via a waiver claim from the Mets. His composite .213/.272/.331 slash over 148 plate appearances isn’t anything special, but he flashed plus-plus speed and the ability to handle several positions. A mysterious shoulder injury kept him out of action after May, but he looks to be fully healthy and be a regular player in Tacoma. He’s well behind in the depth chart at this point, but look to see him as a defensive replacement in quite a few Cactus League games.

Noelvi Marte

The best Mariners prospect not named “Julio,” the Mariners are reportedly going to give Noelvi significant reps in big-league camp, representing a change of tack in the way they’re handling the 20-year-old. After years of sheltering Marte in the DSL, pairing him with lifelong pal Alberto Rodríguez at the alternate site, and generally treating him with kid gloves, the Mariners are responding to Marte forcing his way to High-A in 2021 by handing him a significant challenge this spring. Marte scuffled hard after being promoted to Everett, so adjust your expectations accordingly, but remember that he forced his way there after dominating the Cal League, despite the Mariners pledging to keep him in Modesto for the entirety of his first year of stateside ball.

Erick Mejia

Mejia fits more that category of “grizzled veterans” at the ripe old age of 27 after having a couple quick cups of coffee with the Royals in 2019-20. He’s a contact-hitting, low-strikeout/low-power infielder, although also got reps in the outfield, making him an excellent superutility for the Tacoma Rainiers, where he will hopefully remain this season.

Outfielders:

Boston Red Sox Spring Training
Marcus Wilson
Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Zach DeLoach

The Mariners have been aggressive with their 2020 second-rounder, assuming that the Texas A&M product’s advanced, high-contact approach would play well right out of the gate. They were...sort of right. DeLoach dominated at High-A Everett but ran into a wall in Double-A Arkansas, losing a hundred points off his average and seeing his strikeouts jump from a manageable 22% to a concerning 27%. Not content to let him lick his wounds in the off-season, the Mariners then sent DeLoach to the Arizona Fall League, where he had one of the most abysmal performances in the league, looking utterly overmatched and defeated at the plate. It was honestly painful to watch. With a bit of a break to clear his head over the off-season and extended lockout, DeLoach will have had an opportunity to regroup and rebound, although not without another significant challenge on the horizon.

Jack Larsen

An UDFA in 2017 out of UCSD, Larsen earned the Mariners’ “Dominate the Zone” award for minor-league hitters this past season, which comes with an invite to big-league camp as a prize. After struggling with high strikeout rates early in his career, the lefty has managed to shave his K% down to average while still maintaining his ability to slug (.514) despite moving up to a hitter-unfriendly park at Double-A this season. Larsen has a penchant for big, clutch hits, so watch for some late spring training-game heroics from him.

Steven Souza Jr.

Souza Jr., a native of Everett, returns to his hometown team, but hopefully will come nowhere near his hometown team over the course of the season. Nothing personal, but if Souzaphone is getting outfield reps in Seattle in 2022, something has gone very wrong.

Forrest Wall

The speedy 26-year-old is an elite base-stealer, swiping 35 of them last season for Triple-A Buffalo. At the plate, he has on-base skills and some pull power, although his strikeouts have crept up a little to the mid-20s range, which doesn’t play great with his more moderate power. He’s got some sweet dance moves, too.

Marcus Wilson

The Mariners claimed the 25-year-old Wilson last August after he was DFA’d by the Red Sox. Wilson has some loud tools, namely his speed and power. (If you watched the Mariners’ Instagram stories you might have seen him securing the walkoff victory in the team home run derby and winning everyone a steak dinner.) He also knows how to take his walks, but making contact has been an issue; maybe he can ask fellow future Rainiers outfielder Jack Larsen how he shaved all those percentage points off his strikeout rate.