Throughout the course of a minor-league season, players will shuttle back and forth between affiliates almost daily due to injuries and roster attrition.
But the top prospects usually remain in place at one affiliate until their performance dictates a change is necessary, hopefully for the better.
Monday, two of the Mariners’ top prospects earned significant promotions to the next step of the minor-league ladder, moving them achingly close to the big leagues.
Right-hander pitcher Logan Gilbert and switch-hitting catcher Cal Raleigh were both promoted to Class AA Arkansas from High A Modesto on Monday. They’ll join a loaded Travelers team that features several of the top prospects in the Mariners’ retooled farm system.
“We’re pumped,” Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “The excitement that everybody got when that email went out where we informed the group that these guys were moving up, it was great.”
This is Gilbert’s second promotion this season. He started the season with Low-A West Virginia and dominated, posting a 1-0 record with a 1.59 ERA in five starts. He struck out 36 batters in 22 2/3 innings with just six walks. He was promoted to Modesto on May 1 and has been just as effective at the higher level, posting a 5-3 record with a 1.73 ERA in 12 starts. In 62 1/3 innings, he struck out 73 batters with just 12 walks.
Gilbert was the Mariners’ first-round choice in the 2018 draft out of Stetson University. But a heavy college workload and a case of mononucleosis didn’t allow him to pitch last summer after being drafted. His quick rise through the system wasn’t unexpected given his talent.
“Despite the fact that he hadn’t pitched last year with mono, we thought this was going to be his trajectory anyway and he hasn’t disappointed,” Dipoto said. “He’s got such a great feel for pitching. He’s mature. He understands himself. He’s extremely well-prepared, maybe as much so as any single minor-league player in our system. He studies it. He talks it. And he goes out and puts it into play.”
The Mariners hope to challenge Gilbert and force him to face more disciplined hitters. They want him to have to use his changeup more instead of dominating hitters with his fastball and slider.
“He’s got four pitches, he throws a ton of strikes and he misses bats,” Dipoto said. “He did the same thing in college. He still got innings to give. We did the one-inning starts with Logan and felt like we’ve set him up to pitch until the season’s end and have him finish at this level.”
Gilbert’s performance has vaulted him to the No. 3 prospect in the Mariners’ system per MLB Pipeline.
Raleigh has been perhaps the hottest hitter in the Mariners’ organization the past month. Over his past 30 games, he has a .333/.408/.787 slash line with four doubles, 15 homers and 36 RBI. He also has 13 walks and just 20 strikeouts in that span. He has 22 homers on the season, which is the most of any player in the Mariners system.
Dipoto just spent four days watching Raleigh play with Modesto and saw something more than hitting.
“It’s insane,” Dipoto said. “You can’t be hotter than he is right now, but it was a lot of the other things that pushed us to the point to where we were ready to move him up. The quality of his defense, his game-calling, his leadership and the 22 homers, it’s really notable. All players are deserving, but it’s always good to move players when they are confident and performing well and Cal fits that bill.”
The Mariners knew Raleigh could hit when they selected him in the third round of the 2018 draft out of Florida State. But the commitment to defense and his leadership qualities have been nice surprises.
“If we’d have known all of that, we’d probably would’ve picked him higher,” Dipoto said. “We couldn’t be more impressed with who he is as a person and his attention to detail. What I thought was the most remarkable thing … the thing that I took away as maybe the most impressive was on the days he doesn’t catch and he’s the DH. While the team is in the field, he sits at the end of the dugout and charts the game for the next day’s starter. And he goes through the chart with the next day starting pitcher to develop a game plan how they will approach the lineup the next day. That’s pretty extraordinary for a 22-year-old in A ball.”
A quick glance at the Arkansas roster shows a team that’s filled with the organization’s talent based on the MLB Pipeline’s organizational Top 30. There are 14 players from that list with the Travelers:
- No. 2 — Justin Dunn, RHP, 23
- No. 3 — Logan Gilbert, RHP, 22
- No. 4 — Justus Sheffield, LHP, 23
- No. 5 — Evan White, 1B, 23
- No. 7 — Kyle Lewis, OF, 23
- No. 13 — Cal Raleigh, C, 22
- No. 15 — Dom Thompson-Williams, OF, 24
- No. 17 — Wyatt Mills, RHP, 24
- No. 19 — Joey Gerber, RHP, 22
- No. 20 — Art Warren, RHP, 26
- No. 24 — Ricardo Sanchez, LHP, 22
- No. 28 — Donnie Walton, 2B, 25
- No. 29 — Ljay Newsome, RHP, 29
- No. 30 — Sam Delaplane, RHP, 24
“It is a really talented group,” Dipoto said. “We thought when we were putting this together that was going to be kind of the central part of our rebuild, getting these prospects in place and timing properly.”
The Travelers qualified for the Texas League playoffs in the first half and most of the players will remain there through the season to compete in the playoffs. The Mariners also want to keep that core group playing together as much as possible.
Obviously, the bigger question is when some of these prospects will reach the big leagues. With this expected to be the final season where the full 40-man roster becomes the active roster on Sept. 1, the Mariners are expected to move several players up to the big leagues.
Sheffield, who has relocated his command and confidence after being demoted from Tacoma to Arkansas, is on the 40-man roster and will be called up in September if not before. Jake Fraley, the Mariners’ No. 14 prospect who was promoted from Arkansas to Tacoma a month ago, is expected to be called up before Sept. 1 to help out a beat-up outfield crew that is without Mitch Haniger and Braden Bishop.
Dunn and Lewis also are expected to be September call-ups after the Travelers’ postseason. Both players have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect them for the Rule 5 draft. So the Mariners will get them some big-league experience. There is some debate about what to do with White because he doesn’t need 40-man protection this offseason. The Mariners would have to burn an option year by adding him to the 40-man in September and sending him back to start next season.
The Mariners made a few roster moves Monday despite not having a game. They open a two-game series Tuesday in Oakland.
Right-handed reliever Sam Tuivailala returned from his rehab assignment with Class AAA Tacoma and was activated from the 60-day injured list. The team also optioned right-handed relievers Parker Markel and David McKay to Class AAA Tacoma.
That leaves the Mariners with just 24 players on the active roster with more roster moves coming Tuesday.
Sources indicate right-handed pitcher Erik Swanson will be recalled from Tacoma and pitch out of the bullpen. The Mariners also are looking at possibly selecting the minor-league contract of utility player Kris Negron. Though the corresponding move for his addition is not known, there is a possibility the Mariners might designate outfielder Mac Williamson for assignment.
Tuivailala suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon on Aug. 8 in Texas. He underwent surgery to repair it on Aug. 15.