The Seattle Mariners may have found something in Austin Adams

WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 22: Austin Adams #70 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait on Photo Day at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches during on February 22, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 22: Austin Adams #70 of the Washington Nationals poses for a portrait on Photo Day at FITTEAM Ballpark of The Palm Beaches during on February 22, 2019 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Jerry Dipoto hasn’t sat on his hands when it’s come to shifting his bullpen around this year. He’s already uncovered two hidden gems thus far, and may have found a third.

For the Mariners to be successful in 2019, they need to have a quality bullpen. Their starting rotation has suffered through injuries, regression, and other evils that baseball brings this year. The way the Oakland Athletics were able to mask their below-average, injury-plagued rotation all the way to a Wild Card appearance last year was by building an elite bullpen.

To this point, Seattle’s bullpen has failed to hold its own. Remove Roenis Elías, Brandon Brennan, and Connor Sadzeck from the equation, and the bullpen unit drops to a league-worst -1.7 fWAR. To be fair, even with the three aforementioned relievers accounted for, they’re 29th in the league with a -0.7 fWAR.

Of course, the Mariners aren’t entirely focused on a postseason run, and could have kept the building blocks of an elite bullpen in Edwin Díaz and Álex Colomé but (smartly) chose to offload them for future assets. They’re also not in a position to go out and buy themselves a shiny Jeurys Familia or Fernando Rodney.

I was a bit more bullish on this bullpen a couple weeks ago than I am now, but the sentiment that I feel the Mariners can build an above-average bullpen by season’s end remains true. It’s just not going to get them to any postseason appearance, a la Oakland.

Someone like Austin Adams is exactly why I feel confident in this bullpen’s growth. Adams came over from the Nationals in one of Jerry Dipoto’s most recent midseason trades in exchange for farmhand Nick Wells.

Despite dominating for Triple-A Syracuse, Adams saw just seven innings worth of MLB experience with the Nats from 2017 to 2019. After being sent back down to Triple-A following a one-inning appearance versus the Marlins—in which he allowed one run with two walks—Adams was designated for assignment.

Considering that Washington has had the 25th ranked bullpen in terms of fWAR since 2017, it’s strange that they never gave Adams a longer look. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I suppose, and the Mariners certainly don’t mind.

Adams has only been on Seattle’s 25-man roster for a little more than a week, and has just three appearances under his belt, so I understand it may be a little early to hop on the hype train. But damn it, I’m going to choo-choo along.

The results of Adams’ first four innings with the Mariners haven’t been flawless. He’s surrendered two runs in that time, including a monster solo shot to Khris Davis; however, he’s also averaging two strikeouts an inning with eight thus far.

Since 2013, Adams has never finished a full season in the minor leagues with less than a K/9 over 12. At every level of professional baseball, he’s missed bats. But he’s also missed the zone quite a bit as well, which has significantly limited his stock.

The lowest BB/9 mark of his career came last year in Triple-A, where he finished at a 3.88 clip. Definitely far from ideal, but a great improvement considering he’s had years in which he’s finished well north of 5.00 across High-A and Double-A. Through his 12.1 innings in the PCL this year, that number has dropped to an encouraging 2.19.

Control has rightfully been the biggest knock on Adams in his career. Should it have kept him out of a Major League bullpen for this long? Probably not. But now he’s getting his shot with Seattle, and if those control issues have been addressed to some degree, Adams could make some serious noise.

Adams has a three-pitch repertoire that includes a four-seam fastball, a slider, and a sinker. So far, Adams has rarely used the sinker and has mainly relied on an even split of the four-seamer and slider.

Right now, the four-seamer sits in the low-to-mid-90s. Adams can easily challenge opposing hitters with that kind of velocity, but it’s the pitch’s deception that really makes it unfair.

Of all pitchers with at least 50 pitches thrown this year, Adams is third in the league in four-seamer spin rate. That’s better than the likes of José Leclerc, Felipe Vázquez, and Justin Verlander, to name a few. It’s an incredibly hard pitch to pick up, and suddenly Adams’ history of high strikeout numbers makes all the sense in the world.

The Mariners have been awful in terms of throwing their respective fastballs this year, so that may be playing into the awe that Adams’ fastball provokes. But a mid-90s fastball with a 2,600+ spin isn’t nothing, and neither is his slider.

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As long as Adams can continue to make strides in controlling both pitches, the Mariners may have found something special. This is the profile of a high-leverage reliever, through and through. Another that can be added to a growing list of young, controllable relievers Seattle have acquired since December.