Northwest Passage

Their quick start not-withstanding, the Seattle Mariners are building for the future rather than contending in the present. A recent look at their Pacific Coast League prospects indicates a bright future for the M’s that is not all too far away.

Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto was the talk of a sluggish offseason by making a swath of trades that sent big league talent like Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura, Mike Zunino and Alex Colome off to various teams in return for minor league players that hold promise for many seasons to come. Two of those young players acquired during the offseason were shortstop JP Crawford and second baseman Shed Long.

Crawford, acquired from the Phillies, got some major league time last season but the National League treated him rudely. In 70 at-bats in 2018, Crawford batted just .214 with six RBI’s. The move to the Mariners seems to have energized the 24 year-old as he just completed a fifteen game hitting streak to raise his batting average to .328 and his OPS to .848 for Tacoma. The left-handed hitter was confident in the batter’s box grinding through at-bats by taking numerous pitches. His contact rate was high and he was able to foul off half a dozen pitches over a couple two-strike counts. Slotted third in the batting order, Crawford wasn’t tempted to over-swing or try to do too much in the role as young hitters are oft to do. He stayed within himself and hit the way he knew how.

In the field the 6′ 2″ shortstop glided around the field in a free and easy style. His defensive placement allowed him to make plays without requiring long runs to the ball and his throws were spot on even when turning double plays. Crawford is demonstrating that he has only a little more seasoning required until he will be ready for a long-term trial in Seattle.

Shed Long offered evidence that he could develop into a five-tool player in the near future. The second baseman was all over the field making long runs to pop-ups and ranging over the middle of the infield to make plays. Throwing across his body several times, the 23-year-old was dialed in on his target every time. Just 69 at-bats into his first Triple-A season, Long looks sure of himself at all times. At the plate, the left-handed hitter worked counts and chose his pitches to hit carefully producing six hard hit balls in two games. One of those balls was driven over 400 feet to left-center field, the deepest part of Albuquerque’s Isotopes Park, for a disappointing yet impressive out. A blow that would surely produce a home run in virtually every big league park. Long’s .275 average and .351 OBP are solid early returns on a still maturing player.

Long’s enthusiasm for the game was on full display. Socks pulled high like the old school players used to have them. Tapping the shin guards of the catcher and home plate umpire with his bat in a salute of respect to both as few players do anymore. Even barking at the opposing pitcher after being bested by a 98 mph fastball reveals a healthy drive to excel. Shed Long is simply a fun player for real baseball fans to watch. With continued development, the Birmingham native should see the big leagues later this year.

Another prominent offseason acquisition for the Mariners was lefty starter Justus Sheffield who came to the organization as part of the James Paxton trade with the Yankees. The Tennessean was originally slated to start the series finale in Albuquerque but came in as the primary pitcher after an opener was utilized. He threw just three innings and allowed two hits including a homer to Isotopes leadoff man Yonathan Daza. More alarmingly Sheffield struck out two and walked three. The 22 year-old needed 46 pitches to get through the three innings but only 27 were strikes.

The pitch stats indicate a huge red flag about Sheffield. In 18.1 innings of work the former first round pick has given up 13 hits and walked 14. A definite trend was that whenever he got ahead in a count, he was effective. However, if he got behind in a count, he stayed there. Sheffield seems to rely on his overall stuff to be effective and has not yet developed the ability to consistently make a single big pitch to get a hitter out. His fastball was live at 94-95 mph and showed strong lateral movement in both directions. The breaking stuff was largely hit-and-miss and didn’t look the same any two pitches in a row. More development is clearly needed as Sheffield’s road to the big club looks to be a longer one than a few of his teammates at this time.

An unexpected find this weekend was minor league veteran reliever Parker Markel. The 28-year-old has been in pro ball since 2010 in the Tampa Bay Rays organization and had chosen to sign with the Korean KOB’s Lotte Giants for the 2017 season, but asked for his release from that organization before that season began. After his return to the states, Markel went to work at his craft at the Fuel Factory in Phoenix and it has produced impressive results so far this season.

Upon signing with Seattle, Markel was sent to the Double-A Texas League where hitters are surely glad he didn’t stay very long. In five appearances spanning 7.2 innings of work, the right-hander yielded only two hits and two walks while striking out 18 which produced two wins and a save. In two appearances since being promoted to Tacoma, Markel has struck out four having not allowed a base runner and earned a save in two innings of work.

Over those two appearances Markel’s fastball sat between 93-95 and touched 96. His breaking pitches showed considerable movement on both the horizontal and vertical planes often measurable in feet rather than inches. The organization seems to feel what could be on the way from Markel as he was not used to mop up in a huge blowout on Sunday and didn’t get up the next day until the Raniers staged a ninth-inning rally to take the lead. He seems to be slated for high leverage duty at least for the near future. It’s a small sample size for a heretofore journeyman reliever, but it is a markedly huge improvement for a pitcher that had amassed 400 career strikeouts in 492 innings pitched and earned a pedestrian 3.92 ERA in eight previous minor league seasons. It remains to be seen if this is an adrenaline-fueled hot streak or a genuine positive career aspect change. Either way it will be fun to watch Markel’s progress as the season goes on.

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