The Mariners coaching staff under manager Scott Servais will have a familiar feel in 2021, with seven coaches from the 2020 staff — Manny Acta, Jarret DeHart, Perry Hill, Tim Laker, Jared Sandberg, Carson Vitale and Pete Woodworth — invited to return for another season while Trent Blank, who served as the interim bullpen coach in 2020, was promoted to that role on a full-time basis.
The organization also confirmed what had been known for a few weeks: bullpen coach Brian DeLunas did not have his contract renewed and will no longer remain with the organization.
“Whether working remotely or working at the ballpark, this group helped our players get better in 2020,” Servais said in a statement. “As we take steps toward our goal of annually contending for the American League West title, I am confident that our coaches will put our players in the best position to succeed.”
With DeLunas forced to work remotely for the 2020 season due to health issues surrounding the spread of COVID-19, Blank served as the on-field bullpen coach and drew rave reviews from Servais and general manager Jerry Dipoto.
“For me, it’s just coming into a situation where I hope we can continue to progress in the same direction as an organization and a group,” Blank said in a video conference Monday. “This is an organization where I’m surrounded by great people, not just coaches, but from the front office to our (high performance) department, our scouting department and our players. I think it’s a unique environment in baseball, and I’m grateful I get to be in this position.”
It was DeLunas who helped get Blank into the organization as a pitching strategist.
“He was my coach in high-school baseball,” Blank said.
This will be Blank’s third season with the organization. He originally was hired before the 2019 season to serve as the organization’s coordinator of pitching strategy and was going to serve in that role for the 2020 season before being asked to fill in for DeLunas.
Before joining the Mariners, he spent four years with TMI Sports Medicine in Texas, working as a baseball performance specialist. He pitched for three years in the Rockies organization after being a 30th-round choice in the 2012 draft out of Baylor. He also worked as the director of player development for Dallas Baptist University from 2017-2018.
“I think it’s a fast track, and I don’t think I could have done it without the people in this organization,” Blank said. “The information we have available to us and just the support I’ve had around me, it’s kind of made the transition easy and fun at the same time. I was in more of a developmental role that was working with younger guys and then immediately going into a situation where the day to day was a little bit more important to each guy. “
As of now, Hill and Laker will return to on-field coaching duties after working and coaching remotely for the 2020 season due to health concerns during the pandemic.
Hill, 68, will be in his third season with the Mariners as infield/first-base coach. His work over the past few seasons with J.P. Crawford helped the young shortstop become a finalist for the Rawlings Gold Glove this season.
Laker, 50, was forced to coach remotely after past intestinal and digestive issues. He still remained active in the analysis of player swings and daily game-planning. This will be his third season as the team’s hitting coach. He’s been key in the bounceback success of Kyle Seager and the progression of Kyle Lewis while getting hitters to embrace the organization’s “dominate the zone” philosophy.
Woodworth returns for a second season as pitching coach. He earned high praise from the handful of veterans on the Mariners pitching staff in 2020. This will be his sixth in the organization. He started as a pitching coach at the Low-A level and climbed the organizational ladder to reach the big leagues.
Acta, a perpetual candidate for open managerial positions, returns for his sixth season with the Mariners and his fourth as the third-base coach. He spent two seasons (2018-2019) as Servais’ bench coach.
Sandberg, who lives in the Olympia area in the offseason, returns for his third season with Servais’ staff and his second as the bench coach. Before joining the Mariners, he spent 11 years with the Rays, including 10 as a minor-league manager.
DeHart is back for a second season as the assistant hitting coach. He was a roving minor-league hitting strategist for the Mariners in 2019.
Vitale also is back a second season as the major-league field coordinator. He spent the 2018-19 seasons as the team’s minor-league field coordinator.
In addition, Nasusel Cabrera will remain with the big-league staff in his position as batting practice pitcher, and Fleming Báez will return as bullpen catcher.
More roster moves
The Mariners continued their cleanup of their 40-player roster over the weekend, removing two injured relievers on the 60-day injured list from the 40-player roster and losing one to another organization.
Left-handed reliever Taylor Guilbeau was claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks, while right-hander Gerson Bautista cleared waivers and was outrighted to Class AAA Tacoma.
Guilbeau, 27, bounced back and forth between the taxi squad and the Mariners bullpen in the 2020 season, making eight appearances and posting a 1.17 ERA (one earned run in 7 2/3 innings) with three strikeouts and six walks. He was placed on the 10-day injured list Aug. 21 with a left-shoulder strain and was transferred to the 60-day (45-day in 2020) injured list on Aug. 27, ending his season.
Seattle acquired Guilbeau, along with fellow left-hander Aaron Fletcher, from the Nationals at the trade deadline in exchange for veteran relievers Roenis Elias and Hunter Strickland. He made his MLB debut Aug. 17 and made 17 relief appearances, posting a 3.65 ERA with seven strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings.
There were concerns within the Mariners organization about Guilbeau’s sharp decline in velocity. Per MLB statcast, his two-seam fastball (sinker) had dropped from an average of 94.4 mph in 2019 to 91.4 mph in 2020. His slider also dropped from 86.4 mph to 83.8 mph. The spin rates on both pitches remained essentially the same, but whether the decrease in velocity was due to the shoulder issues or the 3½-month shutdown wasn’t determined.
After some strong showings during spring training, Bautista, 25, suffered a sprain of the ulnar-collateral ligament in his right elbow during summer camp and was placed on the 45-day injured list at the start of the season. He was one of five players acquired from the Mets in the trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to New York before the 2019 season. Bautista has a hittable 100-mph fastball that doesn’t have a ton of natural movement along with a league-average slider. The Mariners have worked hard to improve the breaking ball and also his pitch sequencing. They thought he might make a big leap this season. He had a forgettable 2019 season, making eight appearances at the MLB level, posting a 11.00 ERA with nine walks and seven strikeouts in nine innings.
Because of his limited MLB service time, Bautista wasn’t eligible to refuse the outright assignment and become a free agent.
Seattle also added a reliever via waivers last week, claiming right-hander Domingo Tapia off waivers from the Red Sox.
Tapia, 29, appeared in five games with Boston in 2020, posting a 2.08 ERA. In 4 1/3 innings, he struck out four and walked two. After 10 seasons in the minor leagues, he made his MLB debut Sept. 16 of this season. He has a power arm with a four-seam fastball that averaged 99.2 mph and his sinker averaged 98.5 mph. But there is a lack of command with his 4.2 walks per nine innings and 1.83 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 685 minor-league innings.
The Mariners currently have 34 on their 40-player roster, with three players who must be reinstated from the 60-day injured list after the World Series — outfielder Mitch Haniger, catcher Tom Murphy and pitcher Andres Munoz.