Mariners’ Dipoto: Early ‘pen standouts, Hummel’s versatility, Miller’s ceiling

Feb 24, 2023, 9:40 AM | Updated: 9:41 am
Mariners Cooper Hummel...
Cooper Hummel of the Arizona Diamondbacks catches a pop up against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 20, 2022. (Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
(Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)

It was a loaded Jerry Dipoto Show on Thursday when the Mariners president of baseball operations joined Mike Salk for his weekly show on Seattle Sports.

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With spring training in full swing, there were plenty of interesting takeaways from Dipoto’s conversation with Salk, including two pitching prospects turning heads and a new position player’s path to making the opening day roster.

Bryce Miller ‘just scratching the surface’

When asked about some of the loudest things he’s heard during Mariners spring training so far, Dipoto first pointed to the fastball of top pitching prospect Bryce Miller.

Miller, a fourth-round pick in 2021 out of Texas A&M, has blossomed into a top-100 prospect in all of baseball for the Mariners and he reached Double-A Arkansas last season.

“He’s just an exciting young pitching prospect,” Dipoto said. “And there’s there’s still so much that we can learn about what Bryce’s ceiling is. He didn’t pitch a lot prior to getting to Texas A&M.”

Dipoto told Salk that Miller was predominantly a position player in high school who “pitched sparingly” before going to Texs A&M and becoming a reliever for the Aggies.

“He then went through his first exposure as a starter in what turned out to be a very shortened COVID season, and he only had one full season of pitching under his belt when we took him in the fourth round,” Dipoto said. “He has done nothing but improve in every area. He’s athletic, he’s performed at each level we’ve challenged him with. And for a pitcher of that type of upside, and I guess relative lack of experience on the mound, to jump through and truly dominate on his way to Double-A in such short time is pretty impressive. We think he’s just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of.”

Trio of under-the-radar arms impressing

When discussing the Mariners’ bullpen this offseason, a lot of focus has been on young right-handers Andrés Muñoz and Matt Brash.

Both – especially Brash – have impressed in camp so far, but Dipoto said there are three other relievers who have caught his eye.

“We talked about Justin Topa and what he brings to the table in physical stuff, and we’re seeing it down here,” Dipoto said.

The Mariners acquired Topa, a 31-year-old right-hander, from Milwaukee during the offseason.

“I still don’t know where Justin will fit or whether it will translate to on-field success, but the stuff is notable,” Dipoto said.

Another name? Gabe Speier, a 27-year-old lefty who the Mariners got off waivers from the Kansas City Royals early in the offseason.

“He’s been a revelation,” Dipoto said. “I know Scott (Servais) and the staff are very excited. He’s throwing in the mid-90s, he’s got angle in his slider.”

Dipoto noted the Mariners have been largely right-handed in the bullpen the last few seasons, which adds intrigue to what Speier is doing.

“We feel like we can do a lot to help guys like Gabe Speier and Justin Topa,” Dipoto said. “… We’ve had a remarkable run with taking guys that have that kind of physical ability and a willingness to work and helping them become the best versions of them.”

And the other pitcher Dipoto has been impressed with hasn’t even thrown a pitch above Double-A yet.

“The guy who might have shown the best stuff to date in our early BPs and live throwing sessions is Prelander Berroa,” Dipoto said.

Berroa, 22, came to Seattle from the San Francisco Giants organization in a deal involving utility man Donovan Walton.

Berroa had a great 2022 season, reaching Double-A and posting a 2.86 ERA in 26 starts across three levels while striking out 150 and walking 63 in 100 2/3 innings. Opponents hit just .158 off the right-hander last season.

“He’s highly likely to start back in the minor leagues, but from a pure stuff perspective, he’s out there sitting 97 mph and touching 100 (with his fastball) with what at times looks like the most unhittable slider you could throw, and that’s in the same camp that has Matt Brash, who obviously has the best slider that’s ever been thrown,” Dipoto said with a laugh. “Prelander has really caught a lot of attention. And he came up with a changeup in the offseason that looks just nasty. His future may be in our bullpen as well, but he’s a three-pitch mix guy right now who could start.”

New guy Hummel brings a lot to the table

The Mariners made an intriguing trade early in the offseason, sending 2020 AL Rookie of the Year outfielder Kyle Lewis to Arizona in exchange for outfielder/catcher Cooper Hummel.

Hummel, 28, has played just 66 MLB games, but Dipoto said there’s “a path” to the switch hitter making the opening day roster.

“Coop is a really interesting guy. He’s one of the most disciplined hitters in professional baseball. His selectivity at the plate, the pitches he swings at, the walk rate he draws, obviously he has spent a career in the minor leagues to this point as a very high-end on base threat,” Dipoto said. “He does it as a switch-hitter who has the ability to play either of the corner infield spots, either of the corner outfield spots and catcher.”

It’s been known Hummel can catch and play outfield, but him being able to play both corner outfield spots stood out to Salk, who asked Dipoto about that being a part of Hummel’s game.

“This is something that’s more of a developing deal. He’s played first, the corner outfields a lot, and catcher more recently. Third base is something we talked about this offseason,” Dipoto said. “He’s played it a little bit in his minor league past – he doesn’t have any exposure there at the big league level. How good is he at it? I don’t know yet. I would suspect it’s not going to be Brooks Robinson-like, but give him a shot over there because we feel like that type of utility or versatility really just makes us a much better team if he can handle it.”

When it comes to catching behind the plate, Dipoto said Hummel’s ability there is what really “gets intriguing.”

“He’s always been a catcher dating back to his Little League and high school days. He hasn’t had a ton of exposure at the professional levels to catching over the last three years until last year, when in an emergency he was thrown back into a catching role with the Diamondbacks without having had many reps in the previous two seasons, spending most of his time in the outfield,” he said. “It’s a hard place to get thrown back with as a major league staff trying to compete.”

But Hummel’s offensive skill set coupled with his ability to play around the diamond makes him a name to watch for with the Mariners.

“He went to the fall league this year and focused exclusively on catching after going through last season with Arizona as an emergency fill-in, and I think we saw things that we liked, and we’re gonna see where he is this spring,” Dipoto said. “There is a path to him being on our club.”

What could help Hummel break camp is that the Mariners have two catchers they like a lot who both have big offensive upside in Cal Raleigh and Tom Murphy. Keeping a third catcher like Hummel could be an “advantage,” Dipoto said, as it would allow the Mariners to use both Raleigh and Murphy in the same lineup.

“Cal handles both (left-handed and right-handed pitchers) and Murph really handles the lefts,” Dipoto said. “To have a guy that could allow you to DH one of those players on a given day is a real benefit.”

The Jerry Dipoto Show airs live at 8:30 a.m. every Thursday during Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk. Listen to this week’s edition at this link or in the player below.

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