From The Mariners Pre-Spring Training Media Event: Could We Be Ready To See More Pitching Prospects In Tacoma?

The Mariners held the annual Pre-Spring Training Media event yesterday at T-Mobile Park, in which top front office personnel and several players spoke. A few of us from the Rainiers attend each year – it’s a well-run event that gets you ready for baseball.

The major news outlets in our area are present at the event and they report on the big stories; you can find that in the links down below. I’m always on the lookout for tidbits that impact our team in Tacoma, and there were a few items this year.

The overwhelming theme was that the 2020 season for the Seattle Mariners organization will not be about winning in the majors currently, but will be about “the development of our young players,” according to general manager Jerry Dipoto. The team is continuing its rebuilding plan with an expectation to return to winning in 2021. And this, you guys, is 2020.

Players we saw in Tacoma last year will get the opportunity to continue to develop at the major league level. Specifically, J.P. Crawford, Shed Long, Justus Sheffield, and Jake Fraley were named as players who are expected to be in the big leagues.

There was a lot of talk about the Mariners much-improved farm system and the prospects recently ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100. Director of Player Development Andy McKay singled out the impressive self confidence that Jarred Kelenic possesses, and the pure joy Julio Rodriguez plays with. Both McKay and Dipoto encouraged cautious optimism when thinking about the prospects, making it clear that just being a top prospect doesn’t guarantee a player will become a long-term winning major league player. Long-term Mariners fans already know this.

Dipoto mentioned anticipated Rainiers starting catcher Joe Odom, stating that many people are unfamiliar with Odom but that he has been “perhaps one of the best pitch receivers in baseball.” Odom handled the Double-A pitching staff last year, and we project that he’ll be in Tacoma this year. That may mean the organization is more open to the idea of having top pitching prospects work in the PCL.

Which brings us to the big news of the day that impacts the Rainiers, and oddly enough it doesn’t directly involve the Rainiers: the Double-A leagues are going to be using the MLB baseball this season, too, so there is no longer a reason to hold back pitching prospects due to fear of psychological damage stemming from pitching with a juiced baseball.

(For those new to this, MLB has historically used a different baseball than the minor leagues, manufactured by a different company. The difference has become more profound in recent seasons, as the MLB ball appears to be more “tightly wound” and has lower seams than the minor league ball, causing it to fly farther. In 2019 the Triple-A leagues began using the MLB ball for the first time, and scoring shot through the roof while home runs records were shattered all around both leagues.)

With the Double-A leagues using the MLB ball, the point on the minor league ladder where the game changes is now the jump from Advanced-A Modesto to Double-A Arkansas. Both Dipoto and McKay sounded genuinely curious to see if the pitcher-friendly Arkansas ballpark suddenly becomes a home run palace when the MLB ball is introduced. As for the pitching prospects, McKay said “you’re going to have to pitch somewhere.”

The Rainiers will enter this season with a highly regarded young pitching coach in Rob Marcello Jr, a catcher known for his receiving skills in Odom, and no more perceived threat of pitcher psychological damage due to a different baseball. We should see deserving pitching prospects moved up from Arkansas to Triple-A during the season in 2020.

*it is possible that MLB will “deaden” the baseball for 2020, after much outcry about how juiced it has been in recent seasons, which will impact us as well. I don’t think they’ll do it. I think the commissioner’s office prefers the large number of homers we are seeing today.

Links:

  • The big news at the event came when Jerry Dipoto announced the Mitch Haniger had a setback and requires core surgery, and will miss spring training and possibly the start of the season.
  • The Mariners 2020 season will be about watching young players develop while creating salary relief to allow spending for the 2020-2021 offseason, Larry Stone writes.
  • The Houston Astros cheating scandal was a topic of discussion. Also in this link: some extra Mariners notes from the event.
  • The News Tribune’s report from the event focused on the Haniger injury and subsequent dominoes.
  • There are reports that the Mariners have signed outfielder/infielder Alen Hanson to a minor league contract with an invitation to major league camp. This would be a response to the Haniger injury, it appears. Hanson did some damage against the Rainiers when he was playing for Sacramento in April, 2018.

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