Sometimes there has to be blatant manipulation in the form of a request from media friends. Other times, subtle manipulation in the request for weekly questions on Twitter will suffice. For this week, the questions the mailbag was searching for were submitted. And the answers, well, they were a little long-winded like most anything written by the mailbag author.
As always these are real, but somewhat expected, questions submitted by my loyal Twitter followers.
It depends on what your definition of “documented stats” would entail. In terms of the traditional counting stats used in baseball — batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, stolen bases, nothing is being released to the media. When Jarred Kelenic and Braden Bishop both homered in Tuesday’s intrasquad game at Cheney Stadium, we were told it was their fifth homer each in intrasquad play by the Mariners and Rainiers baseball information staffs. There was no reason not to believe them. But official scorebooks aren’t being kept during these games. The coaches in Tacoma have charted almost everything with the aid of trackman and rapsodo as well.
If you watched the delayed airing of recent intrasquad games broadcast on ROOT Sports, with my good buddy Mike Curto on the call, you’ve seen the informality of these games.
They can call them intrasquad games, but when you have coaches playing two or three positions in the field, innings that can sometimes be two outs or four outs depending on pitch count and the overall number of innings of a game ranging from three to 7½ innings due to the pitching available, it’s difficult to see it more than simulated or situational work.
That’s not to say the players don’t take them seriously. These guys are wired to compete in any situation. The hyper-competitive Kelenic seems to believe he should get a hit in every at-bat, and is often furious at himself when he doesn’t. And of course, given how much Kelenic has raked in Tacoma, and the hype surrounding him, pitchers find an extra gear whenever he steps into the batter’s box.
But these aren’t real games, and they aren’t played every day. Even for someone like Bishop, who has gone back and forth, the grind of the alternate training site is different than the dog days of any season.
“It’s really tough down here,” he said in a video conference call Friday. “While we do have a really good group of guys and a good group of coaches and we change things up so it doesn’t really get too monotonous, I think the hardest part is just you’re not playing every day, and you don’t really know what you’re playing for sometimes. Because there are some guys who know they’re not going to get a shot in the big leagues. There’s no championship you can win. There’s not really any games you can win. So it does get tough in those aspects. But at the same time, I think the group kind of determines how the day is going to go. For the most part, most of the days, we hold it together. And by the time we go home, we feel that it was a good day.”
How much of it is real development or just supervised and documented workouts?
When general manager Jerry Dipoto or Andy McKay celebrate the developmental aspect of the alternate training site, it should always be viewed with the concept of “better than nothing.”
Let’s be clear, getting to work out — weightlifting, conditioning, baseball activity — on an everyday basis with a staff from the organization and playing in a handful of intrasquad games is still better than players being forced to do these things on their own.
With no minor-league season, the alternate training site is really the only form of baseball available for players not in the big leagues, which is why the Mariners invited so many top prospects whom they have no intention of calling up this season — including Kelenic.
In a normal minor league season, a position player would start at least six games per week, meaning somewhere between 24 to 30 plate appearances while competing against a commensurate or higher level of talent and experience. That’s not the case at the alternate training site.
These players are playing perhaps three intrasquad games per week of varying length. Since they don’t have full teams, they might get five or six plate appearances in a game. But then they go three to four days without playing. Part of minor-league development is taking the daily pregame work into games on a nightly basis. Now it’s three to four days of work before a game and then another three to four days after that.
“You don’t really know what the week looks like,” Bishop said. “Like today, we were going to play 7 1/2 innings, but then it gets postponed because of the smoke, which obviously is smart. But there’s maybe four or five at-bats that you’re not going to get now. The other day we were supposed to play 4 1/2 innings, but it was only three because a pitcher reaches his pitch limit. So it’s tough.”
Of course, Bishop will try to find positives in any situation.
“At the same time, I think you get a good opportunity to find where that median work line is for you. What’s too much? What’s enough?” he said. “You might not be able to simulate the internal emotions of an at-bat and how you can breathe within an at-bat and being aware of that stuff, but you can get in the cage and see mixed batting practice, you can see the velo machine, overhand, some different variations of drills — just like mix your mind up a little bit. But yeah, definitely hard to get that rhythm and emotion that a game at-bat will give you.”
For someone like Kelenic, who is already advanced in his process and approach, his best battles came with lefty Aaron Fletcher, who has been called up, and top-pitching prospect Logan Gilbert. So much has been said about Kelenic not having enough at-bats against Double-A pitching or higher. Most of his at-bats have come against pitchers that have never been above Low-A or short-season ball — right-handers Juan Then, Isaiah Campbell and lefty Brandon Williamson with George Kirby now also getting starts.
The pitchers with Double-A experience or higher are mostly relievers like Bryan Shaw, Art Warren, Zac Grotz and Sam Delaplane and are now on the Mariners’ active roster due to injuries.
It’s an imperfect situation for all involved. There is still value in everything being done at the alternate site. But don’t romanticize it for something more than it is, which is still better than nothing.
Well, the young kids in my apartment building said that “SMH” means “shaking my head.”
It’s tough to get into the mind of a 21-year-old kid and know what’s going on. But there is a sense of frustration for Kelenic and his camp that he’s not up in the big leagues this season. That may not be what he’s shaking his head about in this Instagram post.
Yes, he hasn’t had a ton of at-bats above the Double-A level and that’s a very real concern. But he really isn’t getting those at-bats in Tacoma, either, as mentioned above. Yes, the shutdown and a lack of a minor-league season to build up had to be considered. But to say that the reason Kelenic isn’t in the big leagues is about continued development would be foolish since the development aspect in Tacoma is debatable. This is about service time and how one day in the shortened 2020 season is worth 3.5 days of service time overall.
By holding off on Kelenic making his MLB debut this season and waiting until about three weeks into next season, the Mariners keep him for an extra season in his baseball prime of age 27. He wouldn’t be a free agent until after the 2027 season instead of after the 2026 season if he had debuted this year.
While Kelenic was told early on that he’d spend the summer at the alternate training site, I think he held out hope that he could force the Mariners to call him up by dominating in intrasquad action. That wasn’t going to happen. The Mariners are disciplined to this rebuild and an extra year of a matured Kelenic is too vital.
Of course, the Mariners can’t come out and openly say they are manipulating his service time, though every team does it. But any other reasons given to media outlets on the situation have to be grating for Kelenic’s representation.
Do the Mariners’ actions ruin any chances of signing Kelenic to an extension?
It certainly can’t help. To steal an oft-used line: he doesn’t have to hold grudges, that’s what his agent gets paid to do.
Seattle has already made those overtures about an extension. They were met with a lukewarm response. Kelenic isn’t signing for a lower value like Evan White, nor should he. He believes he’s good and will bet on himself. And if he comes out in May of next season and produces immediately any extension price tag will increase quickly.
Of course, a guaranteed $100 million can erase most grudges.
My two recommendations are roughly a block from my current living situation, which explains my waistline and cholesterol level. If you can deal with the weekend lines, Dirty Oskar’s Annex has some of the most unique breakfast dishes in Tacoma. I’d buy him the braised elk hash with sausage gravy and two eggs over easy on top. Not a fan of elk? You can also get steak or fried chicken instead.
Shakabrah Java is a daily breakfast spot where you can do a plate of shaka potatoes with a myriad of toppings. Think of a higher level form of Waffle House hashbrowns. But Kelenic is also healthy, so I’d give him the bacon, avocado, mushroom, cheddar cheese three-egg omelette.
The overwhelming stench from Axe Body spray means there’s at least one person with a tanktop and a barbwire bicep tattoo nearby, which means your ears will soon be in agony as well.