The Mariners have a long track record of developing pitchers as starters, but more so in the reliever mold. They specifically turned high-upside starters into dominant late-inning weapons. A few names to ponder include Edwin Diaz, Prelander Berroa, and, most recently, Steven Kolek, who is dominating the Pacific Coast League. Sam Carlson might be the next starter turned-reliever to join that list.
Carlson rode a stellar senior season authoring a 0.54 ERA (3 ER, 39.0 IP) with seven walks and 51 strikeouts, going 5–0. In the section playoffs, Carlson was 1–0 in 3 games, picking up one save. During those playoffs, he had a 0.64 ERA (1 ER, 11.0 IP), striking out 15 while walking none. He did not allow a home run all year and picked up a complete game shutout on May 8, striking out 10 in 7 innings. That performance propelled Carlson’s stock up the MLB Draft board resulting in the Mariners selecting him in the second round.
His career is a testament to the resolve needed to thrive in this game. He’s overcome elbow discomfort, Tommy John surgery, which wiped out nearly two seasons of development. Additionally, his 2020 campaign was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Carlson’s first season was in 2021 with the Modesto Nuts, where he toiled as a starter with mixed results (4.77 ERA over 100 innings). He’d spend the next season in the California League as well.
After two years in Modesto, the Mariners Development staff had an idea. How about moving the flamethrowing righthander to the bullpen to fast-track his development? Like most starters turned relievers, the stuff tends to tick up, and Carlson’s always had great stuff, so you can imagine what he’s doing in Everett now.
The 24-year-old reliever is on a rollout of the Frog’s bullpen. Over the past 17 games, he’s racked up 27 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings and only walked two batters. The mid to upper-90s heat and a sharp curveball are proving too much for the Northwest League. With the Mariners bound to tap into pitching at the upper levels (Tacoma, Arkansas) down the stretch, we could see Sam Carlson end the year with the Travelers and play a prominent role in their playoff push, which is a welcomed sight. Who doesn't love a good comeback story anyways?