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Mariners claim RHP Mauricio Llovera, bolster pitching depth with trio of MiLB signings

Is Cory Abbott the next journeyman reliever to get Mariners’d?

Los Angeles Dodgers (7) Vs. Boston Red Sox (4) at Fenway Park
Short King in Action
Photo by Tanner Pearson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Today the Mariners announced - far from the largest announcement in Seattle sports today, but news is news - that they claimed reliever RHP Mauricio Llovera off waivers from the Boston Red Sox. The Mariners roster is now at 39 players.

Llovera signed with the Phillies out of Venezuela in 2015, and made his MLB debut late in the 2020 season. If Llovera’s name rings a bell, it might be because in 2021 he had the dubious distinction of becoming only the second player in MLB history to give up three straight home runs without recording an out (this happened against the Mets, who, in true Mets fashion, went on to lose the game 5-3). After being DFA’d by the Phillies, Llovera signed a minor-league deal and was with the organization until being swapped to Boston in a minor deadline deal; the Mariners picked him up after he was DFA’d for new signing Lucas Giolito.

Llovera hasn’t had much success in the bigs, with a career ERA of 5.80, but his underlying numbers suggest he’s been the victim of some poor luck and small sample size. Llovera’s primary weapon is a heavy sinking fastball which induces tons of groundballs, but thanks to some porous defense behind him, poor defensive positioning, or just plain bad BABIP luck, many of those hits have squeaked through to find grass. Here’s a totally random and not at all cherrypicked example of one such hit.

His best pitch is a slider that has a bonkers amount of horizontal break and gets righties flailing away after the pitch:

However, command of the pitch has been an issue, and with such extreme movement, if the location is off, it becomes an easy take for hitters, or can leak into the zone to get punished. It can also be a tricky pitch to land against lefties; to solve that, Llovera has toyed with a cutter deployed exclusively against left-handers, but hasn’t been able to land that consistently, either. Llovera has work to do in improving his consistency so the slider can shine (similar to this week’s 40 in 40 subject Eduard Bazardo), but should also get a bump from Seattle’s superior infield defense. Of note, Llovera is both out of options and has been outrighted to the minors before, meaning if the Mariners remove him from the 40-man roster, he’ll have the right to become a free agent again.

In addition to Llovera, the Mariners built some depth in the organization with a trio of minor-league signings. The Mariners had already signed RHPs Brett de Geus and Tyson Miller to MiLB deals earlier in the off-season; now they’ll reportedly add lefties Jhonathan Diaz and Kirby Snead to the fold, as well as former top prospect RHP Cory Abbott. You might recognize Jhonathan Diaz from getting roughed up by the Mariners as a member of the Angels pitching staff; he’s capable Triple-A depth and can pitch either out of the rotation or the bullpen. Snead, more of a traditional LOOGY type, also comes from the PCL, where he suffered both a strained shoulder to begin the season and at the high elevations of the A’s Las Vegas affiliate. The Mariners will see if there’s a bounceback season in the 29-year-old that’s better than what Tayler Saucedo can offer them (unlikely).

A polished college arm out of Loyola Marymount, RHP Cory Abbott was a second-rounder for the Cubs in 2017 and rocketed up through Chicago’s system, looking like the next crucial piece in the Cubs’ rotation. He ran into a wall in Triple-A in 2021, struggling with walks in the offensive-happy environment of the PCL, and carried those struggles into his big-league debut. The Cubs cut bait with Abbott quickly after that, trading him to the Giants for cash considerations at the beginning of the 2022 season; shortly after, the Giants DFA’d him, and the Nationals happily scooped him up off waivers, where he’s been for the past two seasons before getting DFA’d this off-season. It’s quite a jump to go from the Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year to waiver wire fodder as quickly as Abbott has, but it’s not too hard to squint and see the Paul Sewald/Justin Topa/etc. blueprint at work here. Abbott is a soft-tosser with a 40-grade fastball that comes in well below MLB average, at about 92-93 MPH. But I think I see one area where the Mariners pitching development could help Abbott improve his fastball. Let’s see if you can spot it:

Abbott actually has above-average movement on his fastball, which both drops and has some horizontal break in on righties, but something went wonky with the pitch in 2023 leading it to wind up literally in the middle of the plate for a BA of .365 and a hilariously bad .676 SLG on the pitch. In contrast, in 2022 batters only hit .188 on the pitch. That might have come about because the Nationals had Abbott throw his curveball more than ever in 2023, which is and has been his most effective whiff-getting pitch, but perhaps more than doubling the curveball usage had deleterious effects on the rest of his arsenal. The Mariners pitching development has had great success with the crafty advice “throw your best pitch more,” but perhaps there really can be too much of a good thing, especially when that thing is throwing almost 50% curveballs in today’s game.