Fann: The Seattle Mariners finally have their Big 3 of young aces

May 23, 2023, 2:33 PM

Seattle Mariners Bryce Miller...

Bryce Miller of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Oakland A's on May 2, 2023. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The first two months of the Seattle Mariners’ 2023 season haven’t gone according to plan. With a 23-24 record, Seattle has kept its head above water but remains in fourth place in the American League West and a full six games behind the first-place Rangers. The Mariners are also five games back of a Wild Card spot.

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*But* (and this isn’t to diminish the obvious urgency required for a turnaround if Seattle is to make the playoffs for a second-straight season), there have been bright spots.

Jarred Kelenic, with his 10 homers and .914 OPS, has been the top silver lining thus far, but the rotation trio of Logan Gilbert, George Kirby and Bryce Miller has been equally noteworthy. They’re each 26 years old or younger and figure to be franchise centerpieces for the foreseeable future.

Having such a dynamic and young stable of starting pitchers is a luxury few teams ever get to enjoy. Mariners fans will have no problem recalling another occasion in the not-too-distant past when the Mariners dreamt of a similar scenario that ultimately never came to fruition.

Back in the early 2010s, the Mariners had grand visions of starting rotation anchored by three young stars. You remember the names: Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. Walker was the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Hultzen went second overall in 2011 and Paxton was a fourth-rounder in 2010.

Paxton ended up being the lone arm of the three to have meaningful success in Seattle. He finished with a 3.42 ERA over 103 starts for the Mariners, with his seminal moment being the no-hitter the British Columbia native threw in Toronto against the Blue Jays in 2018. However, he struggled (and continues to struggle) to avoid the injury bug.

Walker had two stints in Seattle, first from 2013-16 then returning in 2020 for one season. In all, he accumulated a respectable 4.17 ERA in 67 starts, though those were hardly ace-like numbers.

Hultzen’s career unfortunately never got off the ground due to a series of unfortunate yet significant injuries. He never pitched a single inning for the Mariners and only appeared in six total games as a big leaguer, which came with the Cubs back in 2019.

It takes a mix of exemplary player development and good fortune to get one top prospect to thrive in the big leagues, let alone going 3 for 3. But that’s what Seattle appears to have accomplished with Gilbert, Kirby and Miller.

Gilbert’s 3.81 ERA is misleading, having been bloated by two poor starts in April. His 2.69 FIP (fielding independent pitching) and 1.7 fWAR numbers are far more indicative of the success he’s had in the early going this season.

Kirby’s 1.9 fWAR, meanwhile, leads all Mariners pitchers, while it has the rookie Miller just four MLB starts to rack up a 1.2 fWAR. Add in Luis Castillo and you have arguably the league’s most formidable four-pack of starters.

Just last weekend we saw Seattle’s young trio face the Atlanta Braves’ loaded lineup that ranks third in MLB with a 114 wRC+. Miller limited Atlanta to three runs in 6 1/3 innings on Friday, and it could easily be argued that Scott Servais should have pulled him after the sixth.

Gilbert was sensational on Saturday, earning the win with just two earned runs and nine strikeouts in six innings of work, while Kirby took a hard-luck loss on Sunday after surrendering three runs in seven innings while striking out six.

That’s pretty darn impressive against a top World Series contender on the road.

Big picture, the presence of those three buoys the outlook for Seattle’s future. Each is under team control for several years and should continue to improve into the peaks of their respective primes.

However, in the here and now, it’s hard not to feel a bit demoralized when you consider that the Mariners are sub-.500 despite owning the game’s best pitching staff. It’s not particularly close either with Seattle’s arms accumulating a collective 9.2 fWAR. The Twins are next closest at 7.9.

Silver linings are hard to stomach in a season where the Mariners themselves proclaimed World Series aspirations. But the play of Gilbert, Kirby and Miller are a reminder that it isn’t all bad in Seattle right now, especially when taking a historical perspective of other prospects that didn’t pan out the same way.

More on the Seattle Mariners

FOX’s Benetti dives into Julio Rodríguez’s second-year slump for Mariners
José Caballero keeps playing like he’s Mariners’ answer at 2B
Dipoto: How Mariners’ lineup can find more consistency
Pitching Ninja: Mariners’ George Kirby is ‘Maddux plus 10 mph’
Drayer’s Mariners Notebook: Castillo, Kelenic, 2B and more

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