Before the Mariners played their first home playoff game in over two decades on a bright fall day this past October, in addition to announcing the starting roster, the Mariners also recognized the training staff, reserves, and taxi squad. That meant that, along with familiar faces like Perry Hill, Taylor Trammell, and Tom Murphy, a relatively new face had an opportunity to step on a big-league field in front of 45,000+ screaming fans and wave to the crowd: Mariners prospect Cade Marlowe. It’s a long way from where Marlowe started his 2021 journey, as the offensive anchor of an Arkansas Travelers team, making his way to the upper minors after just one year of full-season play.
It’s an even longer journey from where Marlowe entered professional baseball, as a 20th-round draft pick by the Mariners in 2019 out of of the University of West Georgia, a Division II school that plays in the Gulf South Conference. Marlowe’s college resumé was impressive; not just on the field, but especially in the classroom. He actually earned his degree in 2018 in biology/pre-med, graduating magna cum laude with a 3.85 GPA, before returning to school to pursue a psychology degree. Unsurprisingly, Marlowe was consistently named to awards honoring scholar-athletes, like UWG’s “Mr. Wolf” award, honoring the top male scholar-athlete, as well as receiving national recognition from Google, named to the Google Cloud Academic All-District Baseball Team.
The work ethic that Marlowe brought to his studies translated onto the baseball field. As a senior sign from a less-prestigious conference, many prospect evaluators overlooked the old-for-his-level Marlowe despite his track record of success in college, which saw him land himself on the career leaderboard at UWG in most offensive categories. While demonstrating an excellent feel to hit, strong plate discipline, and ability to hit to all fields, Marlowe lacked over-the-fence power, never hitting more than three homers in a season.
When the Mariners popped him in the 20th round, Marlowe didn’t enter professional baseball with a chip on his shoulder or any desire to prove he wasn’t his draft position. “I was just thankful for the opportunity to be able play with any organization, and I was just happy the Mariners gave me the shot,” Marlowe recounted from the clubhouse at T-Mobile Park, a distance both literally and figuratively very far away from where he found himself on draft day. Marlowe knew the Mariners were interested in him leading up to the draft, having conversed with former Mariners scout (now with Texas) John Wiedenbauer, but he also knew that things change quickly in the draft—and hey, being a doctor isn’t a bad back-up plan if professional baseball doesn’t work out.
But the Mariners did indeed call Marlowe’s name in the 20th round, and sent him to what was then short-season ball in Everett, a far cry from the balmy environment of Georgia. “Everett’s a great park to hit in for lefties,” says Marlowe. “You get up there and see that short wall in right-center and think, ‘I can hit here.’”
But things didn’t start off smoothly. “I had a rough start,” says Marlowe, then corrects “rough” to “challenging.” Marlowe opened the month of June in Everett slashing just .229/.317/.343, and struck out 12 times in 35 at-bats—over double his strikeout rate in college, anathema for a player who has always prided himself on solid strike zone awareness. But as the weather warmed in Everett, so too did Marlowe’s bat heat up as he adjusted; in August, he slashed .320/.374/.466 and cut his strikeout rate down to 21%. He would go on to finish with a wRC+ of 129 that season, batting over .300, and while he didn’t put the ball over the fence in Everett’s lefty-friendly park, much to his chagrin, he was able to use his speed to rack up three triples and 15 doubles (along with 10 stolen bases), for a respectable ISO of .137. His .301 average was the fifth-best in the Northwest League that year; his wRC+ was seventh-best. In almost every statistical category aside from slugging, Marlowe ran apace with Diamondbacks prospect Tristin English, a fellow Georgian drafted in the third round that year. Aside from the lack of homers, nothing in Marlowe’s stat line suggests a struggle—but then, one doesn’t graduate premed magna cum laude without having high expectations for oneself.
“I credit the work and the willingness of my coaches to help me and work with me,” says Marlowe about his turnaround. And while it’s very typical of the humble Marlowe to credit others for his success, these improvements don’t happen without Marlowe’s mental makeup: he holds high standards for himself, but also doesn’t get caught up in the roller coaster of emotions that can come with being a young pro. Some players learn this as they ascend the rickety ladder to a big-league career; some never do. For Marlowe, an understanding of the role consistency plays in a baseball player’s career seems baked into his diligent, stalwart personality.
That diligence would serve him well in 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown brought Marlowe an unplanned layoff in 2020. He wasn’t invited to the Mariners’ High Performance Camp (HPC) nor placed on the alternate training site roster, costing a player already viewed as old for his level more precious time. But he didn’t let that deter him, sticking with his program and continuing to stay ready for whatever 2021 might bring.
2021, it would turn out, brought a lot. This time, the Mariners did invite Marlowe to HPC, and Marlowe seized the opportunity to learn from coaches at the professional level and focused on adding power and strength while maintaining his explosive speed. After spring training, the Mariners sent Marlowe to A-ball, at that time in Modesto, before advancing him back to Everett, now High-A, in mid-June after he menaced low-A pitching, already doubling his home run total from 2019 in just 160 plate appearances. But the move back up to a chillier offensive environment didn’t dampen the fire in Marlowe’s bat, as a slight swing adjustment, plus his increased muscle, unlocked the power part of his swing. Marlowe ended 2021 with a combined 26 homers, having finally conquered the lefty-friendly environment in Everett.
The Mariners rewarded Marlowe’s strong season with an invitation to the Arizona Fall League in 2021, which had been a goal of his beginning the 2021 season. “For them to select me, to give me that opportunity to play, it was awesome, a great experience getting to play with guys who are in the big leagues now,” says Marlowe. “It meant the world to me getting to be around those guys, learn from those guys and the coaches we had there, most of them had been in the big leagues at one point or another, or are coaching the big leagues now.”
He specifically mentions Phillies shortstop Bryson Stott, a teammate who lit up the league, as well as other marquee names in their organizations like Nick Gonzales or Ji-Hwan Bae. “Playing with those guys, it was an eye-opening experience.”
While he wasn’t young for the league age-wise, he was definitely at a disadvantage experience-wise, having never had any exposure to the high minors. Always eager to learn, Marlowe threw himself into the experience, while maintaining the consistency that’s a hallmark of his game. He never let the moment get too big for him, working solid at-bats. “I feel like that’s an important part of the game, to be consistent, to be the same person day in and day out, and I try my best to do that and everything else falls into place.”
If that sounds like a Very Mariners Prospect thing to say, it should. Marlowe is a proponent of the team’s emphasis on mental skills and sees that as a major contributor to his game. “The mental skills part of it’s been huge for me, and learning from Adam Bernero, Andy McKay—it’s an ongoing process for the rest of my career, and the rest of my life, just having that growth mindset: learn one thing every day, get 1% better every day, like the Mariners say. It just helps everything fall into place.”
Energized by the feeling of taking the field with up-and-coming stars of the game like Stott and feeling like he belonged, Marlowe didn’t slow down in the high minors. This year at Double-A Arkansas he recorded a 20/20 season, ending his time in Arkansas with 36 stolen bases, and earned a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, where he added another three homers and six stolen bases before being tapped to join the big club as a member of the taxi squad. Jerry Dipoto praised Marlowe as someone who “does a little bit of everything,” citing especially his ability to contribute in place of an injured Sam Haggerty with speed and defense, but Marlowe’s batting practice in the spacious confines of T-Mobile Park, as he lasered line drives all over the field, also opened some eyes.
Cade Marlowe blasts a 2-run HR! 3rd straight game with a HR. pic.twitter.com/n0oTUv8PYl— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) September 24, 2022
For Marlowe, the experience was career-changing. “I’m just soaking up every little bit I can,” he says. “Being in the clubhouse is great, the environment, the culture. It’s hard to put into words how incredible it is and how grateful I am.”
Marlowe says all his future teammates were “really welcoming,” especially Taylor Trammell, who Marlowe says went out his way to teach the rookie the ropes, on and off the field. Unsurprisingly, the serious and studious Marlowe appended himself to Mitch Haniger immediately, watching everything the outfielder did with a keen eye, from taking extra BP to the study sessions he put in pre-game. “That will to prepare is really important,” he notes. “To see the guys here and how they do that, it’s inspiring.”
Marlowe knows that this off-season is maybe the biggest of his career. He’s been in the big-league clubhouse and seen how big-leaguers prepare for games. He has an opportunity to compete for a job in the outfield for a club that made only modest additions in free agency. “I just need to stay focused on where I want to be, which is here.”
He’s not “here” yet, he knows—but the former straight-A student understands how to get to where he wants to go. And while he’s taken a lot from the organization—being grateful for it at every step—he also understands that he has also put a significant amount back in, both in his on-field performance and the way he has embodied and advanced what the Mariners are trying to do.
“We’ve built a winning culture here,” says Marlowe, gesturing around the clubhouse where he stands on the eve of the Mariners’ first home playoff game in over two decades, effortlessly rolling himself into the “we.”