With the Mariners mostly settling into form over the past season, there are very few battles to watch this spring training. One of the few areas where there’s some squishiness in the makeup of the 25-man is in the bullpen; the loss of Erik Swanson created a hole to be filled for a late-inning reliever, and there’s always a fair amount of turnover in baseball’s most fungible player grouping. Over the off-season, the Mariners added in several new candidates to compete for spots in the 2023 bullpen, along with their in-house crew of minor-leaguers and players already signed to minor-league contracts, a group we affectionally call the “pitching pile.” You can read about all those acquisitions in Zach’s concise summary of the Mariners off-season here. In order to help the busy Mariners fan stay abreast of this group, we’ve created the 2023 Pitching Pile Power Rankings to help you learn these new names and faces, what they throw and how they throw it.
Here are your top five Pilers for the week of March 5-12:
5. Tayler Saucedo, LHP
Saucedo’s numbers are skewed by a pair of rough outings where he gave up three runs each time to the Cubs and Angels, as he can really struggle to command his stuff—he has two walks in just 4.2 innings pitched this spring. But he also has six strikeouts in those innings, and has flashed a very promising slider this spring.
Tayler Saucedo slide piece: pic.twitter.com/DuOsXLKHOT— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) March 11, 2023
Here’s Bee’s 40 in 40 on Saucedo, if you want to learn more about the Northwest-grown lefty.
4. J.B. Bukauskas, RHP
Bukauskas has had a rough road to our love here at LL, as his acquisition bumped staff favorite Alberto Rodríguez off the 40-man, but he’s gaining our affection with how he’s been pitching this spring. In 3.1 innings, Bukauskas has racked up six strikeouts, and not all against B-listers, either. The Mariners haven’t seemed to have messed with his unconventional delivery, which is a little troubling as Bukauskas has spent a lot of time over his career on the IL, and he’s also struggled to lock into the strike zone at times, issuing a pair of walks, but the slider is a plus swing-and-miss pitch that’s especially deadly on lefties.
3. Brennan Bernardino, LHP
Maybe after his performance this spring I will finally learn where all the Ns and Ds and Rs go in BB’s name. A favorite of staff writer Connor, Bernardino was with Tacoma last season from late June-on and even made it up to the big-league squad a few times. He has a really interesting backstory I urge you to check out—you can read about it in Connor’s 40 in 40 on him. Bernardino has pitched 5.1 innings this spring and racked up 10 strikeouts, more than any reliever and tied for second-most on the team with starter Luis Castillo. Six of those came when he was handed long-duty relief in the Mariners’ comeback win against Texas on the 12th, mostly against Texas’s C-listers, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless. I don’t have video of that performance, but here’s him pitching in Tacoma last year, which will give you a pretty good idea of the hellacious movement on his slider:
Brennan Bernardino 3IP, 0H, 0R, 0BB, 3K, 28-20. Rainiers up 2-0 after 6 innings. pic.twitter.com/xJtBvmQ1c8— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) July 23, 2022
2. Gabe Speier, LHP
It’s a good time to be a lefty looking for a role in Seattle’s bullpen. Speier was brought in off waivers from Kansas City this past November. A short king (5’11”), Speier has a unique arm angle and spots a mid-90s fastball at the top of the zone paired with a hard slider. This spring he’s struck out seven batters in just five innings and issued no free passes, although he did get dinged with a homer the other day. Scott Servais mentioned Speier as one of the relievers who has impressed him this spring. You can read more about Speier and his peripatetic journey around the bigs in Becca’s 40 in 40 on him here.
1. Riley O’Brien, RHP
Confession time: this whole article series was dreamed up so I had an excuse to talk about Riley O’Brien. If you’ve listened to a radio broadcast this spring, you’ve probably heard Rick Rizzs talk about O’Brien’s famous baseball relatives (his grandfather is Seattle baseball legend Johnny O’Brien), but the tall, slender O’Brien is interesting beyond his famous family. O’Brien maybe has the most interesting stuff out of this group—a sinking fastball that can touch 97 mph paired with a 90-92 mph cutter and a nasty sweeper. In five games this spring, he’s a perfect 3-for-3 in save opportunities and hasn’t allowed a run, and he’s struck out seven batters in just 4.1 innings. Riley trained at Driveline this past off-season and there’s a lot to like here:
We can't wait to see Riley O'brien's nasty sliders in game this year pic.twitter.com/tk8g913MBs— Driveline Baseball (@DrivelineBB) February 22, 2023
Riley O'brien and @LanginTots13 tinkering with Riley's already nasty sinker pic.twitter.com/hOuRD59olV— Driveline Baseball (@DrivelineBB) November 29, 2022