Obviously, the Mariners need Cliff Lee in 2010 if they want to be competitive in the AL West. Unfortunately, there’s no way in hell that Lee re-signs with the M’s for 2011 and beyond. But there’s no reason to be worried — along the road, the M’s have several talented young pitchers currently playing for the AA West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx who have had incredible success so far in 2010. These guys could end up in Seattle as soon as 2011.
Dan Cortes [6'6", 230 lbs, RHP]: You know, the guy we got when we dealt Yuniesky Betancourt last year. Cortes, then the third-highest ranked prospect in the Royals minor league system, apparently had become expendable when he got drunk and urinated on a fence. The 23-year-old throws a 93-95 mph fastball, nifty curveball, and several other significantly less effective pitches. Cortes posted a 4.21 FIP as a starter with the Royals AA club, and continued his trend of high walk and higher strikeout rates after being traded to the Mariners organization, putting up a 4.11 FIP in 54.2 innings. Though he posted a K/9 rate of 9.08 during his 2009 Diamond Jaxx campaign, he still managed to walk 5.76 hitters per nine innings. So far in 2010, it’s been more of the same for Cortes: 30 strikeouts and 17 walks in 29.1 innings. If Cortes can find some semblance of command, he’ll be a solid #2 or #3 starter. And even if he doesn’t, he’ll still probably work out as an above-average reliever.
Mauricio Robles [5'10", 170 lbs, LHP]: You know, the guy we got when we dealt Jarrod Washburn to the Tigers last year. Last year, Robles posted a 3.32 tRA as a starter in high A ball, striking out 33 and walking 18 over 31.1 innings. Robles appears to have a groundball tendency (5:3 GB to FB ratio in 2009 and so far in 2010), as well as decent command. One of the biggest knocks on Robles is that he’s short and fairly stocky. I don’t get this at all. I personally am short and stocky, and that never stopped me from succeeding. (Then again, I’m not a professional baseball player.) So far in 2010, Mauricio has fared above and beyond expectations. Robles recently won Southern League Pitcher of the Week after striking out 10 over 7 innings, and has posted a 2.84 tRA, striking out 35 hitters and walking only 12 in 30 innings. Like the others, Robles has #2 starter potential, but its unlikely that he pans out perfectly because of his propensity to have trouble getting righties out, which is in turn due to his body type and lack of fastball control.
Michael Pineda [6'5", 180 lbs, RHP]: Pineda, a 20-year-old groundballer who signed as an amateur FA with the Mariners in 2005, is my favorite of the bunch. His minor league numbers have been absolutely eye-popping. We’re talking an 86-to-14 K-to-BB ratio over the last two years, plus a ~2.4 FIP. Not to mention the fact that he struck out 128 batters in 138.1 innings as an 18-year-old. Jon Shields of ProBallNW.com thinks Pineda will end up in the bullpen due to his durability issues (an injury-plagued 2009 season would attest to that), but Jay Yencich of MarinerMinors.com absolutely loves the guy. Here’s what Jay said in his interview with Griffin and I from a couple months ago:
Pineda is not a sexy prospect. He doesn’t throw 96 miles an hour, his breaking ball has not been awarded its own nickname, and his height does not reach into the stratosphere relative to us normal people. What Pineda does do is everything else that’s associated with pitching acumen. Movement? He’s got that. Deception? Certainly. Command? Intelligence? Whatever it is that allows guys to throw inside? Yes, yes, and yes, and he combines all of the above with offerings that are better than average. He throws a fastball, a cutter, a change, and a slider, and none of them are bad, or even show-me pitches.
If Pineda’s elbow problems subside, the M’s have a solid #2 pitcher on their hands. If they don’t, he might not even end up as a particularly impressive major league relief pitcher. That’s the beauty of baseball right there.
Steven Hensley [6'3", 200 lbs, RHP]: I had actually forgotten about Steve Hensley and his nifty slider until I came across his pitching line in a AA box score. Jon Shields pointed out that “With a pronounced Inverted W causing a slight timing problem as well as a few other ticky-tack issues, Hensley’s motion isn’t likely to please the biomechanics crowd,” but Hensley hasn’t had any significant injuries to speak of yet, so he appears to be fine in that respect. Hensley generally gets hitters to hit the ball on the ground more than in the air, but when they get some lift under the ball, they really blast it; the 23-year-old allowed 16 homers in only 112.2 innings last year. However, Hensley allows misses bats and has above-average control. Obviously, it would be great if all of these pitchers could pan out as starters, but some of them undoubtedly won’t, and Hensley could end up as a very successful reliever if the organization ends up deciding he would more valuable with a mid-nineties fastball out of the bullpen.
So what are you waiting for? Buy your plane tickets to West Tennessee and go watch this remarkable group of pitchers!