Drayer’s Mariners Check-In: Observations on Seattle’s youth movement, pitching and plan
Friday’s game will mark a quarter of the way into the Mariners season and so far what we have seen is about what I would expect from the league’s youngest team committed to gaining experience. There has been good, there has been bad, there have been surprises that fall into both categories. Above all, there has been inconsistency which, again, is to be expected with a young team.
The goal of the 60-game season is the same goal the Mariners would have had in a 162-game season: Get the young players experience. Wins are secondary, and while that may be tough to swallow for a fan base that is starved for victories, perhaps an upside to the current situation is the Mariners are not looking to get these players experience to make decisions about what the team needs to do next, or what holes need to be filled in the offseason.
These are their players.
This is the ground floor for this group and the experience they gain should benefit this team moving forward.
In terms of what will have an impact on their future, what has stood out in their 5-9 start? First and foremost, this team is almost unrecognizable, which is a good thing. It is young, it is energetic, it is much more athletic than what we have seen in the recent past. The team is currently second in baseball in stolen bases and heading into Friday’s game had not committed an error in its last six contests. The athleticism can cover some ills and create or save runs as the Mariners continue to get experience.
At the plate it has been a mixed bag but far too early to make any sweeping judgments. Kyle Lewis is off to a great start, perhaps leading some to reconsider what his ceiling is. Pitchers are beginning to make adjustments on how they attack him and he is aware of it and making adjustments of his own. On the other end of the scale, Evan White is struggling, hitting .118 and leading the league in strikeouts. Angels starter Dylan Bundy attacked him up in the zone Thursday afternoon, exposing the loop in his swing. The ball is now is now in White’s court, so to speak, and it is up to him and the Mariners to fix that.
The Mariners believe Shed Long Jr. can hit and have given him the opportunity to do so with the benefit of not having to move around the diamond to get those at-bats. He’s off to a slow start at the plate but it is early in terms of numbers regardless of the length of the season. At second base, after some early miscues, Long appears to have settled down a bit, but he will have to prove he can play consistent defense at the position and do so without every day work with infield coach Perry Hill, who is coaching remotely this season.
It has been good to see J.P. Crawford take steps forward. While 14 games at the plate are a small sample, especially at the start of a season with some pitchers still rounding into form, what we see now with his better control of the strike zone could be the result of experience gained last year. He is not a player who has struck out a ton in the past so this could be an adjustment that has been made to the big league level. Time will tell.
Defensively, Crawford has shown that he can make the flashy plays and he knows routine plays is the area where he needs to increase his focus. Following an error on a routine play, he didn’t wait for the call from Perry Hill who is coaching remotely this season, he made the call himself. He had a good game offensively, but the missed play bothered him.
One thing that has stood out that should benefit the Mariners is Crawford wanting to step out beyond the “young” label. Scott Servais has commented about his leadership ability and I think there is little question he is carrying himself differently this year. You want leadership from your shortstop and it appears this is something Crawford would like to take on.
Another bright spot has been Dylan Moore who hasn’t had the luxury of getting to stick at one position, but appears equipped to deal with moving around as he forces the issue with his bat. A lot can learned about Moore, who has made some changes to his swing in the remaining games.
While the Mariners don’t necessarily need to learn anything about Kyle Seager, his hot start is certainly welcome, as is his leadership on such a young team. A sight that is becoming familiar is Kyle Lewis sitting next to the elder Kyle on the bench during games, the two having conversations that no doubt the younger Lewis will benefit from.
On the pitching side, perhaps the most important looks will be at the two young starters, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn. The stuff they possess is measurable. What they do with it will determine whether or not they become long-term fixtures in the rotation. While both are still working on fine-tuning newer pitches, the Mariners will be watching both to see how well they are able to make in-game adjustments. While not expected to have the savvy of a Marco Gonzales, it will be important they should that they can get out of trouble and have the ability to get deeper into games, especially if the Mariners stay committed to the six-man rotation going forward.
Along those lines, although they are on one-year contracts, the Mariners are watching Taijuan Walker and Kendall Graveman closely as well. Should either or both prove to be healthy and effective, general manager Jerry Dipoto would likely be interested in bringing them back.
As for the bullpen, it’s been painful early but there are plenty of answers that can be found in the next 45 games. With the short Summer Camp build-up for pitchers’ arms, manager Scott Servais has been careful to not throw most relievers on back-to-back days. The short build-up is also why we saw Joey Gerber and Sam Delaplane start the season at the alternate site in Tacoma, with Gerber himself admitting he wasn’t ready for opening day due to being limited in what he could do during the shutdown. On an encouraging note for the bullpen, after issuing nine bases on balls in the finale against the A’s on Monday, Mariners relievers did not walk a batter in the series against the Angels.
What this young group is not going to get is very many breaks as the Mariners’ schedule is one of the toughest in baseball. A winning environment is a better learning environment, and like we saw this week, it might be up to veterans like Seager, Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi to help the team avoid long losing streaks as the season goes on.
With Servais and much of the coaching staff possessing strong developmental backgrounds, you hope they are able to manage both team and individual struggles as the Mariners can’t afford for these 60 games to become detrimental to forward progress.
With all that said, it might sound funny on the heels of a 5-9 start, but under the current circumstances, so far, so good.