The depth, it is not
Almost all sources agree that this is a down year for the draft, and even more so for college pitching, which is unfortunate because some high-floor pitching is exactly what the Mariners need. This year the MLB draft is June 3-5. If you check out the “MLB draft” tag you’ll find the plethora of info we’ve been compiling over the past couple months for you. Leading up to draft day, we’ll be doing a positional overview of the depth at each level of the system, surveying the shelves of the pantry as it stands now before the draft. So far we’ve done the position players and discovered that the outfield is somehow deeper than even before, the catching position happily contains more than 5% catcher now, but the infield remains thin. Today we turn our attention to arguably the worst area of the farm: starting pitching.
RHP Logan Gilbert, A+
Logan Gilbert might not be the most highly ranked arm in the system currently, but as soon as the next wave of prospect lists come out, he should be, and should be landing himself on some Top-100 lists to boot (he was just added to MLB Pipeline’s, giving the Mariners six players on that list). Gilbert was the first college arm taken by the Dipoto regime and after having to sit out his inaugural pro season with a wicked case of mono, has returned to take the low minors by storm. After posting a K/9 of 13.73 (!) in West Virginia over four starts, Gilbert was promoted to High-A, where in an equal number of starts his K/9 has fallen to…12.23. Gilbert was simply overmatching Sally League batters with his big fastball; he’s being challenged more in the California League to spot that fastball perfectly (or see it redirected over the wall), and work in his off-speed pitches more. The dramatic 12-6 curveball remains as effective a weapon as ever, but Gilbert needs to work on the shape of his slider and continue refining his tumbling changeup. All of Gilbert’s pitches move, which can make harnessing the command difficult, and he needs to work on getting the off-speed pitches to go to the catcher’s glove. But these are minor grammar edits on an “A” essay. Gilbert is a talent unlike one we’ve seen on the arm farm in years. Enjoy watching him grow.
The “Please Please Make an Adjustment” Guys:
This is the tier of guys who were acquired in trades (and one who was traded away then re-acquired, but more on that later). As a general rule, any pitcher available in trade is going to have a wart or two, and this trio is no exception. For Sheffield, the issue is command and working in the zone; for Dunn, it’s turning control into command and getting deeper in games; for Swanson, it’s developing a full arsenal the keeps him from a move to the bullpen. Moore was developed in Seattle but fits into this category as a lack of an out pitch and a poor slider have kept him from finding sustained success past Double-A; Moore will now get an opportunity to work with pitching coordinator Brian DeLunas to see if they can unlock something in Moore’s arsenal.
The “Hey, You Made an Adjustment!” Guys:
RHP Ljay Newsome (A+) LHP Ricardo Sanchez (AA), RHP Ryne Inman (A)
With a modest increase of 3 mph or so pushing him into the low 90s rather than the high 80s, Newsome has taken his FIP from 4.6 down to just over 2 in his second tour of the California League, and he’s increased his K% from a respectable 20% to an eye-popping 35%. The Braves gave Seattle Ricardo Sanchez for some cash this off-season after he couldn’t stick at A ball without walking over four batters per 9; the Mariners sent him to Double-A, where he’s halved that walk rate and moderately upped his strikeouts while getting opponents to put the ball on the ground a career-high 56% of the time. Ryne Inman has been toiling in the lower levels of the minors since the Mariners drafted him in 2015, never posting an FIP below 4; this year, working with new pitching coach and changeup-whisperer Alon Leichman, he’s down to a sub-3 FIP and has boosted his strikeouts to 30%. He still needs to rein his walks in some, but he’s newly 23 and has time to make more improvements.
The Young and Intriguing Guys:
RHP Damon Casetta-Stubbs (A), RHP Josias De Los Santos (A), RHP Deivy Florido (A), , LHP Jorge Benitez (A-), LHP Brayan Perez (DSL)
Not one of these youngsters can legally buy a drink in the United States by themselves. In fact, each of these Gen Z-ers are still teenagers. The first three have played this year and are all helping the West Virginia Power compile one of the best pitching staffs at the level. The 6’4 Casetta-Stubbs earned an aggressive assignment from the organization with a hearty work ethic and a four-pitch mix highlighted by a low-to-mid-90s heater and a sweeping slider. De Los Santos and Florido hail from the Dominican Republic and Venezuela respectively, each getting assignments to work short starts or long relief with low-A to start the year. Florido is a hair ahead of his fellow DSL grad with upper-80s heat and precocious command. Benitez has a stick-thin frame that has added some muscle this offseason at the Mariners’ high performance camp and features a zippy fastball and a high-spin curve. He’s had some injury issues and has been brought along slowly but is listed on Everett’s roster for this season. Perez carved up the DSL and was one of the higher-priced signees for the Mariners in 2017. He should make a stateside appearance this year.
The Squint-and-They-Might-Be-Something Guys:
LHP Anthony Misiewicz (AAA), RHP Nabil Crismatt (AA), RHP Darren McCaughan (AA), RHP Austin Hutchison (A+), RHP Max Povse (AAA?)
Here we have a quintet of command-first pitchers trying to find their way. Only a healthy Povse pushed the radar gun much past 91-92 at most in this group. Misiewicz recently earned a promotion after carving up AA at 24, but the juiced ball and the PCL have been a tough hurdle in his first couple appearances. Crismatt is headed the other direction, with great numbers in Arkansas after a demotion following a rude introduction to the Pacific Coast’s offensive environment. McCaughan has pushed his velo a tick and is avoiding walks like the plague to manufacture success in AA but still lacks wipeout stuff. Hutchison was impressive in Modesto last year and has been so again but needs a challenge in AA at 24 to see if it’ll stick. Povse recently underwent shoulder surgery and may not pitch for months, if at all this year, but his size and pedigree outpace the rest of this group.
The “Injured and/or Far Away But Possibly A Guy” Guys:
RHP Sam Carlson (AZL), LHP Max Roberts (A-), RHP Joey O’Brien (AZL), LHP Jing-Yu Chang (AZL), RHP Blake Townsend (A-), LHP Holden Laws (AZL)
The first three all are TJ sufferers, alongside a pair of international signees and a high school project. A healthy Carlson could easily establish himself as one of the top arms in the system, but there’s no reason to rush him. Roberts got plenty of whiffs in Everett last year before going under the knife and might make a return late this year. O’Brien barely made his debut last year but has the frame to start and 90s velo if he can return healthy. Chang and Townsend are both AZL bound projects, the former showing brilliantly in Taiwan as an amateur and the latter dominating in Australia. Townsend will begin in Everett, and Chang may follow soon after. Laws is a command lefty in the upper-80s with just a dash of AZL experience, though he’ll need to boost that velo before his stuff can truly play.
Overall health of the position:
Improved but thin. Seattle has moved from paper to a sheet of aluminum for their pitching depth, but you wouldn’t build your house out of either. A few things could easily improve this: Sheffield and/or Dunn joining Gilbert in looking like good bets to be mid-rotation arms or better, Sanchez/Swanson/Newsome continuing to progress into top-100 caliber talents, or strong healthy showings from some of the young/injured/squinting group to indicate better depth than presently feels accurate. Pitchers are always fragile, and with Seattle’s best hopes invested so top-heavily, it feels almost assured that even in the best of circumstances, in 2021 or 2022 the team will need to augment their depth by looking externally for rotation help.