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Do the Mariners have any reinforcements left on the farm?

As Jarred Kelenic rehabs, does Seattle have any other tricks to pull from their farm bag of holding?

Detroit Tigers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

It’s crunch time for the Seattle Mariners. The club’s resurgent August pushed them to rarefied air they’ve not breathed in decades, with pole position in the AL West in the month of September. A poor National League leg of the road trip has sullied that sheen, however. Seattle’s thin lineup was a major concern coming into the season, but promotions, trades, and jettisoning all of the club’s discount free agent additions this winter, as well as Kolten Wong, finally yielded a lineup with some menace. They’re now sitting at 6th in MLB in wRC+ (109), 12th in wOBA (.324), with a .245/.325/.421 line. The M’s made a more understandable gamble on the pitching staff, which has been stalwart, but cracks have appeared, particularly as much of the bullpen and the M’s rookie rotation members find themselves pushing well beyond their career highs in innings and pitches thrown.

Are there any players left in the club’s farm system who can help Seattle get over the hump? And who might go down in their stead? There are four spaces for this consideration, broadly speaking. Hitters generally, backup catcher specifically, bullpen depth, and spot starter. I’ll touch on all four, but we’ll begin, like Mr. Freeze’s hit list, with the bats.

The obvious first name is OF Jarred Kelenic, who seems likeliest to return to the big leagues Monday, September 11th when the M’s conclude this brutal NYC-Cincinnati-Tampa Bay road trip that featured no getaway game Wednesday afternoon and fly cross-country to host the Angels immediately. When Kelenic went onto the injured list, he was one of the club’s best hitters and most productive position players overall. He remains 7th on the M’s in fWAR, but his 109 wRC+ and .324 wOBA have blessedly fallen from 4th on the club to 9th (min. 100 PA). The injury came three days after Kelenic’s 24th birthday, likely not the gift he’d choose to give himself were he to do things over, but the lineup becomes deeper immediately with his young bat back in the mix. Is his profile near identical to that of Dominic Canzone and Cade Marlowe? Yes, however better foot speed and range than Canzone alongside greater big league experience and track record against high level pitching than Marlowe means better chances at good things happening for Seattle.

Beyond Kelenic, there’s not exactly a ton going on. If you’re tuned in to the Minor League Roundups that Max and Kate have been crafting all year, you’ll know that the Tacoma Rainiers have had a fabulous season and are finishing hot. However, the club is not prospect-laden, with the rehabbing Kelenic, struggling new arrival 2B/SS Ryan Bliss, and OF Zach DeLoach as the only position players in their age 24 seasons or younger. Bliss hasn’t hit enough to displace any of the M’s other middle infield options, and he’s the most prominent of the infielders remaining. DeLoach has not either, though he’s been respectable, with his greatest flaws being strikeouts and having the exact same profile as almost every outfielder I’ve named.

One name I haven’t mentioned who suffers the same issues as DeLoach is OF Taylor Trammell, who is playing to advertise himself for a trade this upcoming winter at this point. That’s no knock on Trammell, who plays with clear effort and verve, but has been passed over repeatedly now this season by the M’s despite the best overall offensive production in Tacoma by wOBA (.401) for anyone remaining on the club with over two weeks of games under their belt. Trammell’s aggressiveness at the plate has up-ticked in 2023, with better power but greater whiff rates in tandem. If the M’s saw Trammell as an upgrade, they would likely flip TT and Marlowe, but they’ve not done so.

The name that rang out for months was 1B/3B/cOF Jake Scheiner, and there is still a case. The 27-year-old return from the Philadelphia Phillies for Jay Bruce actually paces the Rainiers in Deserved Runs Created Plus, Baseball Prospectus’ proprietary hitting stat on the same scale as wRC+, with the caveat of, among other things, providing environmental adjustments based on individual park factors for minor leaguers in contrast to wRC+ which does a lump league-based adjustment. Both have their merits, but for the M’s affiliates, who have what are dramatically more pitcher-friendly home parks in otherwise hitter-paradise leagues at the Triple-A and Double-A levels, it’s a distinction I like to keep an eye on.

With all that in mind, it’s still hard to envision Scheiner getting the call, particularly as the three players ahead of him in production down in Tacoma this season by DRC+ are Mike Ford, José Caballero, and Sam Haggerty, none of whom he’s likely to displace despite a 30-homer campaign. His defensive limitations make it hard to see a call-up outside of an injury, with the same ringing even truer for switch-hitting three-true-outcome savant OF Isiah Gilliam, just recently making his Tacoma debut after a season of starring in Arkansas. While the M’s have called players up straight from the Texas League in past, it’s been top prospects like Julio Rodríguez, Kyle Lewis, and Evan White. That, alongside the injury that slowed his season, makes a deep reach to 1B Tyler Locklear essentially unthinkable, as the club has tabbed him for the Arizona Fall League to make up for lost time anyways. If Ford were to go down (and, realistically, Kelenic or Canzone as well), the most big league ready bat in the system to my eye is actually OF/1B Spencer Packard, a lefty whose compact hacks boast quality pull-side power and help him avoid swing and miss without chasing. The 25-year-old is more athletic than Ford, but he’s not a realistic 4th outfielder defensively, however his approach is, in my opinion, the most translatable to the big leagues of anyone still on the farm.

Now that we’ve drawn lines through most of the hitting, a brief moment to consider the backstops. Nothing I’ve seen or heard seems to indicate Tom Murphy’s return is imminent, nor likely this year. Seattle brought back C/1B Luis Torrens, a relatively dependable lefty masher who seems likely to flip spots with Brian O’Keefe at some point. I wish I had more to add here, but there’s not much. OF/1B/C Cooper Hummel is back in games presently and the switch-hitter could be on the M’s radar, but he’s caught just eight games in 2023. Someone teach Scheiner to catch, it can’t be that hard (it can).

On the pitching side of things, I see more room for movement. If the M’s decide to give Bryan Woo and/or Bryce Miller some extra rest, perhaps a spot in the rotation skipped or a shorter outing or two, as seems likely given their hopes for a six-man rotation were scuttled by Emerson Hancock’s injury, they have several options. Most likely is retreading their prior moves, with LHP Tommy Milone and RHP Darren McCaughan able to hop in at any given time to give you essentially what you’d expect. Bringing a different profile but similar spot start capabilities are LHP Logan Allen and RHP Adam Oller, the latter of whom the club had on their taxi squad recently and offers at least more explosive stuff, if erratic command. The 28-year-old Oller spent much of the last couple years getting clobbered around the high minors and majors with the Athletics, but he could very well work a shorter outing in conjunction with Luke Weaver or another of the M’s bullpen arms, perhaps as early as next week.

More promising is the bullpen array, which includes several faces who’ve made an appearance within the past couple seasons for Seattle. While they’re unlikely to call upon recently claimed RHP Ryan Jensen and his electric stuff, the M’s could bring back RHP Eduard Bazardo or RHP Ryder Ryan, both of whom have strikeout stuff and a shade more experience than Jensen. Much of Tacoma’s bullpen has suffered the inconsistency that is unavoidable in the Pacific Coast League, but one exception is RHP Riley O’Brien, who I expect to see at some point before the season is up. O’Brien made a single appearance in 2022 and has spent the 2023 season absolutely locking down veteran hitters and top prospects with a 2.55/3.49 ERA/FIP and a K-BB% of 22.0% that trails only Bazardo and Jensen’s brief (<10 IP) times in Tacoma for best on the club across 49.1 IP. His power breaking ball is a genuine plus pitch, and the Shorewood High School graduate should be on call for the next bullpen game and/or shuffling of the pen.

The veterans on the roster don’t offer dramatically more, as RHP Diego Castillo looks disappointingly distant from his once-dominant self. Though he’s been effective of late with just two earned runs in his last 12.2 innings pitched, that’s come with 10 walks and just 12 strikeouts, courting disaster. RHP Casey Sadler has worked diligently to rehab from injury, and has missed bats ably, and could be an option, but if the object is to absorb innings, it’s notable that Sadler has worked a full inning at the absolute most thus far, and seems likeliest to appear later in September if at all. In Arkansas, there’s not been stellar consistency from most of the arms, but RHP Prelander Berroa has begun to look more consistent as a bullpen stopper, now looking at a 41.3% strikeout rate as a reliever in Double-A, making his 12.9% walk rate more palatable and justifying his 1.63/2.46 ERA. Given Berroa is on the 40-man roster already, do not be surprised to see the fireballer make a return as well, as his best self is unequivocally an upgrade over some of Seattle’s depth arms.

The M’s are, ultimately, going to need to get it done with what they have on the big league roster already right now, aside from Kelenic. Bullpen cycling should help Seattle stay fresher, and is worth a few riskier outings down the stretch to keep Woo and Miller fresh. Ultimately, however, they’ve pressed every button remaining already. It’s time to see it play out.