The 24-year-old right-hander was placed on Seattle’s 40-man roster this off-season to protect him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft.
PEORIA, Ariz. — When Mayckol Guaipe was placed on the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from being taken in the Rule 5 draft, the first thought wasn’t whether he deserved the promotion.
No, it was about how you pronounce his name. The 24-year-old right-hander wasn’t exactly an oft-mentioned prospect in the farm system.
“It isn’t easy,” Chris Gwynn, the Mariners director of player of development, said with a chuckle.
According to the Mariners’ pronunciation guide, it’s Mayckol (Michael) Guaipe (GWHY-pay).
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“People are never quite sure when they first see it,” Gwynn said.
What people within the organization are sure of is that Guaipe was worth the roster spot, and that the opportunity to come to big-league spring training will be beneficial for his development.
“Guys have told me from other organizations if we didn’t protect him, he was as good as gone,” Gwynn said. “We’re hoping him being around the big-leaguers that it rubs off.”
Guaipe was pitching in a winter-league game in Venezuela when he found out about his promotion.
“It was a great joy,” he said through interpreter Fernando Alcala. “I went down to check my phone, and I found out the news. That’s when I contacted my family and let them know the good news.”
To Gwynn and the Mariners, it was earned. Guaipe had a breakout season as a reliever for Class AA Jackson last season, going 1-3 with 12 saves and a 2.89 ERA in 40 appearances. He held opponents to a .215 batting average, striking out 56 and walking just nine in 56 innings.
In Venezuela, he made 20 relief appearances for Carobs de Anzoategui, posting a 2.86 ERA and a .186 batting average against.
Not bad for a pitcher who is learning his role as a reliever.
“He was starting, and then two years ago in High Desert we decided to make the switch,” Gwynn said. “He’d throw one really good game and then have maybe one OK game.”
The conversion didn’t yield immediate results, as he worked to find a routine, but Guaipe steadily improved.
“It’s just a big difference in your mentality,” he said. “When you are starting, you know you have to go five or more innings each time to get the win. When you are reliever, you are in different situations, your focus has to change.”
Guaipe has the imposing look of a reliever when he is standing on the mound.
But he wasn’t always that way. He signed as a free agent in October 2006 at age 16 and was 6 feet 2 and 175 pounds. Since then he’s grown to 6-4 and 235.
“I’ve just tried to add it little by little each year, adding weight and strength to help prevent injuries,” he said.
He’s also figured out his best pitch over the past few seasons — a nasty, biting slider.
“The thing we like about him is that he has an out pitch,” Gwynn said. “He’s got a pretty good slider that he trusts to throw to righties and lefties.”
Guaipe rarely threw the slider as a starter, but it became a necessity pitching in the unfriendly conditions with Class A High Desert.
“I really developed it in the Cal league; I started getting hit around a little bit,” he said. “I was using curveball and changeup and getting hit around. Midway through the year, I got converted to reliever and I started using the slider more and more.”
Guaipe’s best pitching is still ahead of him. With a crowded Mariners bullpen filled with experienced returnees, he likely will head back to the minor leagues.
His approach will be simple.
“The focus for me is pounding the zone,” he said. “And getting those aggressive hitters by working in the zone.”
• Hisashi Iwakuma threw a third bullpen session instead of a live batting-practice session like other players on the same timetable. “I don’t think he needs the live (BP), because the guy is such a technician,” McClendon said. “He gets more done in a bullpen session than a live BP session.”
• Any thoughts of Erasmo Ramirez, who is out of minor-league options, moving to reliever to keep him on the roster were shrugged off by McClendon. “We have some talented arms in that bullpen,” he said. “That competition may even be stiffer down there.”