Mariners prospect standouts, answers to questions from Arizona camp

Nov 5, 2020, 2:12 PM | Updated: 2:15 pm
Mariners Wyatt Mills...
Mariners pitching prospect Wyatt Mills has shown increased velocity this fall. (Getty)

It has been great to see the interest on social media about what the Mariners’ young players have been doing in Arizona the past five weeks in their high performance/instructional league camp.

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Let’s go through an array of news, notes and nuggets that hopefully help answer some of the questions we have seen.

About those box scores

If you have somehow missed it, the organization has been running a high performance/instructional camp at their facility in Peoria, Ariz., for 40 of their prospects. Games are played four times a week against the Padres, Rangers and Royals. Media has not been allowed at these games but the Mariners have provided box scores of sorts, which give a small look at what has taken place.

Until recently there has been little to no interest in instructional games by most Mariners fans, but it’s apparent that is no longer the case as indicated by the “likes” and questions these Tweets have generated. One of the biggest questions: Why have the Mariners included velocities on these sheets, and what has happened to pitcher runs and RBIs?

With the runs, the assumption for some (self included) was that they were de-emphasizing numbers that are not viewed as particularly important in the analytics community. Turns out that is not quite the case. According to director of player development Andy McKay, while the box score focuses on the things that matter most to them, space did factor into the design of the page.

“We weren’t trying to show we were super analytical or anything,” he said with a laugh after noting the interest was a great surprise. “We wanted to share what was going on to the best of our ability and also show to the players what they did matters. What they did in a game was going to be on the internet. It was a level of accountability.”

In the case of runs given up by pitchers, in these games innings are often stopped because of pitch counts. If a pitcher exhausted his pitch count by walking the bases loaded and incurred no damage because the inning was ended, we wouldn’t be getting the complete picture. Pitcher runs surrendered in this format could be misleading so it was an easy omission from the box score.

Individual standouts

Exit velocities have been off the charts, and while quite often the 106s and 108s we see from hitters are coming against pitchers still in their teens, we have heard from scouts and staff that there have been plenty of hits against velocity and tough pitches as well.

The velocity on the pitching side is a better measure as it encompasses the entire performance rather than just the top at-bat. The performance of Wyatt Mills has jumped off the page as his velocity has been in the 93-97 mph range after previously sitting 92-94 mph. Mills, MLB Pipeline’s No. 23 Mariners prospect, falls into that “got better during the shutdown” category and did so after not getting invited to Summer Camp.

“All the credit in the world goes to Wyatt and what he was able to do on his own. And there are a lot of stories like that going on,” said McKay.

Another standout has been Juan Then (No. 14 Mariners prospect), who has consistently thrown in the 94-99 mph range and developed a slider this year. Both Then and Mills are Rule 5 eligible this winter and it would be hard to imagine that the Mariners would leave them unprotected.

Names we haven’t heard

The Mariners’ 2020 first-round draft pick, Emerson Hancock (No. 3 prospect), is in the high performance camp but is not pitching in games. While he did get into a game at the alternate site in Tacoma this summer, the Mariners thought it would be beneficial to put him into offseason mode following a year where he had already gone through a number of starts and stops. He is being handled similarly to the way Logan Gilbert (No. 4 prospect) was after suffering a horrific bout with mono shortly after being drafted in 2018.

Another top pitching prospect, George Kirby (No. 6), is not participating in the high performance/instructional camp. He is in offseason mode splitting his time between his home in New York and Florida, where he trains at a performance center.

Sneaky, sneaky

At the end of the season, general manager Jerry Dipoto mentioned that the Mariners had a group of young pitchers working out together in North Carolina. An alternate, alternate camp, I wondered? Well, yes. While there was a limit on the number of players the Mariners could have in Tacoma, there were no rules about workouts off-site. The Mariners had a group of young players working out in North Carolina under the watch of Sean McGrath – who they hired last winter away from Kirby’s alma mater Elon University, where he was pitching coach for two years – and other organizational staff members. They had access to facilities and fields with the pitchers able to do everything shy of pitching in games.

Books over ball

One of my favorite camp stories is one I have heard from a few players I have talked to since the regular season ended, and it really represents some of the major change we have seen in prospects in recent years. There has been studying going on in the clubhouse, and I’m not talking about pitching charts or analytical data. Education remains a focus for some of these players and the Mariners are all on board, allowing them to step away briefly when classes or tests call.

At the end of last season, catcher Cal Raleigh (No. 8) was sent home early to take finals at Florida State. Kirby and fellow 2019 draft pick and pitcher Isaiah Campbell (No. 11) finished their degrees and graduated this past summer. In the current camp, outfielder Zach DeLoach (No. 12) was allowed to miss the only night game on the schedule to take a coding final. Pitcher Taylor Dollard (2020 fifth-round pick) has missed portions of workouts because of mandatory attendance for one of his classes, and Sam Carlson (No. 15) is on track to graduate early next year and pondering adding a minor.

“I’m really proud of the way our guys are doing this, taking advantage of the opportunities,” said McKay. “Our program in the (Dominican Republic) where we are getting our kids GEDs, it’s one of my favorite things that happens here. Every time one of our players earns their degree we try to celebrate it and make a big deal out of it because it’s important.”

Awards updates

• Kyle Lewis has picked up another Rookie of the Year honor as he got the nod from Baseball Digest on Thursday morning. The big one, the BBWAA ROY, will be announced next Monday at 3 p.m. on the MLB Network.

• The Roberto Clemente Award, which Dee Strange-Gordon is up for, will be announced Dec. 7 on a one-hour program that begins at 11 a.m. on the MLB Network.

Quick hits

• Julio Rodríguez (No. 2) will leave this weekend for the DR where he is set to join his home team, Leones Del Escogido. Also on that team? MLB’s top prospect, Wander Franco of the Rays.

• Mariners vice president and assistant general manager Justin Hollander is on a list of what is reported to be reaching 20 candidates to become the next GM of the Angels. Why so many candidates? Often these interviews are a good way to learn more about other clubs and how they do things. Angels owner Arte Moreno has been personally involved in the hiring process. It is unclear how many candidates will receive in-person interviews.

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