♫ Running out of time / To make you love me ♫
Juan Then, the prospect so nice Dipoto acquired him twice.
Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic when he was 17 years old in 2016, Then was promptly shipped off to boarding school to continue his education and training as a future Mariners pitcher (aka, traded to the Yankees for Nick Rumbelow). Upon completing his term in New York, he returned to Seattle in mid-2019 in exchange for three months of Edwin Encarnación, one of the most fun members of the “Oh yeah, I guess they were Mariners” club.
The Juan Then that we originally signed, and the one we re-acquired, was but a lad – at 6’1 and 155 lbs, he definitely fit more into the “whippy” side of body types, with a low-90’s fastball. However, he spent his quarantine getting s t r o n k, reportedly touching the upper 90’s on the heater and adding 50 lbs from his previous listed weight.
Mariners prospect Juan Then announces on Instagram he’ll be part of the 60-man roster. Like many of the other DR prospects Then has spent quarantine getting bigger and stronger and looks to have bulked up considerably. pic.twitter.com/9iHId5oQMU
— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 28, 2020
We left off last year’s 40-in-40 excited to see where this newfound strength and velo could take him – Kate wrote that “Juan Then is one of the glowiest players in Seattle’s revived system, poised to make some real noise in 2021.” Dipoto agreed, saying this before the 2021 season:
“Of all our 40-man players, he is the guy who has the chance to make the biggest step forward in ’21 after he already took maybe the biggest step forward in 2020. But now that he is on the 40-man roster and the clock is ticking with (minor league) options, we would anticipate a pretty quick ascent for Juan.”
So, how did the 2021 season go for Then?
There’s plenty of things to like about Then, the baseball pitcher. For instance, it could be his improved fastball that touched 98 last season, and which he generally has good control over. It could also be his hard slider, which has shown flashes of nastiness and can be a legit out-pitch. It could be his stronger, more durable build, more equipped to handle the rigors of a full season as a starting pitcher.
However, I regret to inform you that it most certainly can not be his results from last season, which, if I had to rate on a scale of 1-10, were Not Good. Then missed some time with an injury early in the season, and though he found his stride later in the season with a couple of solid starts, he had a very rough go of it overall last season. He gave up a frightful amount of home runs (nearly 5% of his batters faced hit a home run), and averaged under 4 innings per start. He gave up a lot more hits and walks than he has ever so far in his career.
In his defense, he was two years younger than the average competition in High-A last season. I believe there is plenty of reason to believe that Then will have a bounce-back/breakthrough season this year – I’ll be expanding on the reasons behind that soon and the tweaks that could be made to maximize his tools in a separate article soon, so I’ll refrain from going into detail here. But, more so than Then’s performance last season (which, again, Not Good), what he’s fighting is the reason that we’re writing about him at all – the fact that he’s on the 40-man roster.
The Mariners choosing to include him on the 40-man before last offseason was a big show of confidence in Then’s ability, as is the fact that he was promoted this season to Double-A Arkansas, despite his subpar results last year. However, it also puts the pressure on. There are only so many spots available for players who aren’t in immediate range of the big league club. Additionally, the Mariners are currently entering their competitive window. This means that between bigger free agency/trade additions to the big league club, and fellow prospects who are on the rise and will require the protection from the Rule 5 draft that the 40-man spot affords, competition is and will continue to be stiff for those spots.
It’s not as though Then is first in line to lose his spot when the Mariners inevitably need one (other players certainly come to mind). But, Then has to have a productive season and put the pieces together this year. If he does? That’s fantastic, and the Mariners can add another name to their stash of talented, high-upside arms in the minors.
If not? It’s hard to see a scenario where he has another disappointing year of results and keep his spot on the roster. Though I hate to say it, Then would be a prime candidate to be included in a big trade deadline move if the Mariners are in control or are within striking distance of a playoff spot and he underperforms again to start the year. A high ceiling/low floor pitcher is a great secondary piece in a trade for a selling team, and one that the Mariners could afford to lose.
In all of the interviews that Jerry has done since the end of the 2021 season where he’s called out our talented young pitchers, he hasn’t mentioned Then. It seems a bit like the organization has forgotten about him. There’s certainly plenty of other bright and shiny prospects to pay attention to. He seems to have slipped off the radar, in a sense.
Then’s number one goal this season, then, is to get back on the radar – to prove that he isn’t someone the Mariners can afford to lose.