With the Rule 5 draft coming up on December 6, teams have until this Friday to make roster decisions about which players they’ll protect from the draft. (For a refresher on the Rule 5, click here.) The Mariners got ahead of the deadline with a move today, selecting OF Zach DeLoach to the 40-man roster and designating Mike Ford for assignment.
DeLoach was the Mariners’ second-round pick in 2020, and the Mariners are reportedly in love with his swing, a clean lefty swing built to make line drive contact. However, that swing hasn’t produced loud results in the upper minors. Subpar results at Double-A in 2021 could be explained away easily enough: DeLoach lost a year-plus of traditional development with the pandemic and was given a tough assignment with a late-season promotion to Double-A Arkansas. After spending most of his debut season lighting up the Cal League; he struggled to adjust to Texas League pitching, seeing his strikeout rate shoot up and suffering the power outage that greets most hitters setting foot in Dickey-Stephens Park for the first time. Aiming to get DeLoach more reps against advanced pitching, the Mariners sent him straight to the Arizona Fall League, where DeLoach looked overmatched at the plate. The breakout Mariners prospect at the AFL wasn’t DeLoach, but rather unheralded teammate Cade Marlowe.
However, things did not markedly improve on a return trip to Double-A in 2022. DeLoach improved across the board—struck out a little less, walked a little more, hit for slightly more power—but the gains were marginal. The 24-year-old out of Texas A&M who was supposed to have a fast-track to the bigs instead looked stalled out.
Still, the Mariners exercised faith in DeLoach, promoting him to the more offensively-friendly PCL for 2023. As a member of the Rainiers, DeLoach posted his best offensive season in the upper minors, albeit with a worrying uptick in strikeouts. In late July, the Mariners opted to promote Marlowe over DeLoach when the team needed an outfielder in Jarred Kelenic’s absence; Marlowe was also with the big-league club at the end of 2022 as a potential injury fill-in, perhaps indicating the club saw him as further along in his development than DeLoach. But now DeLoach, as a member of the 40-man, will be guaranteed an invite to spring training and have a chance to compete to be in Seattle’s outfield mix. Seattle has a surplus of lefty-hitting outfielders: DeLoach, Marlowe, Kelenic, Dominic Canzone, and Taylor Trammell. Of those, only Kelenic and Marlowe are starter-quality centerfielders; everyone else is better suited to a corner. Not all of these players will likely survive the off-season as members of the Mariners’ 40-man, but DeLoach now has the vouchsafe of the front office that they didn’t want to lose him in the Rule 5, and an opportunity to come in and battle for a spot this spring.
Of course, when one door opens another closes, and DeLoach’s elevation to the 40-man means that the door is closing (for now) on Mike Ford’s current tenure as a Mariner, at least as a member of the 40-man. Seattle’s TTO-Lite player was a poor fit on a roster with widespread contact issues, but that’s not really a slight against Ford, whose “just happy to be here” energy will certainly be missed, if not his gargantuan strikeout percentage. There’s always the possibility that Ford returns on a minor-league deal—that’s 16 home runs out the door with Ford, which is a not-insignificant amount for someone with just 250 plate appearances—but like begging Dean and Rory to move on from season three on in Gilmore Girls, please Mike Ford do not go back to your toxic ex.