Infielder Shawn O'Malley and right-handers Jonathan Aro, Casey Lawrence and Evan Marshall among the list of Mariners minor leaguers headed for free agency.
Beyond the notable transactions featuring the 40-man roster, there is also organizational movement of minor league players, including free agency. These moves are not often released to the media. But Baseball America keeps track of that player movement with the help of Minor League Baseball. On Wednesday, the list of minor league free agents was released. The Mariners had 36 minor leaguers become free agents. Many of them were six-year minor league free agents, meaning they had six years of time in the minor leagues and are were not on a 40-man roster. Others were simply released from the organization.
With general manager Jerry Dipoto’s constant manipulation of the 40-man roster from the rash of injuries this past season, which led to a myriad of player claims and midseason signings and the changing aspects of the organization’s player development philosophy, the high number of minor league free agents isn’t unexpected. Here’s the list for every team from Baseball America.
Here’s a closer look at the Mariners players opting for free agency with their last team played for in parentheses.
- Jonathan Aro (AAA Tacoma)
- Ralston Cash (AA Arkansas)
- Tyler Cloyd (AAA Tacoma)
- Justin De Fratus (AA Arkansas)
- Ronald Dominguez (Lo A Clinton)
- Bryan Evans (AA Arkansas)
- Ryne Harper (AAA Tacoma)
- Ryan Kelly (AA Arkansas)
- Tyler Knigge (AA Arkansas)
- Casey Lawrence (AAA Tacoma)
- Evan Marshall (AAA Tacoma)
- Brian McAfee (SS Everett)
- Micah Owings (AA Arkansas)
- Blake Perry (AA Arkansas)
- Fabian Roman (SS Everett)
- Dylan Unsworth (AA Arkansas)
- Aaron West (AA Arkansas)
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Notes: Aro was part of the forgettable trade that brought Wade Miley to the organization in exchange for Carson Smith and Roenis Elias before the 2016 season. He’s dealt with arm issues since coming to the Mariners. This season, he made 25 appearances, posting a 6-1 record and 3.16 ERA. A fastball that lacked movement and upper level velocity seemed to limit his chances of big league success.
Lawrence was a midseason waiver claim from the Blue Jays. He rode the roster-move shuttle from Seattle to Tacoma, making 23 relief appearances for the Mariners in 2017. Lawrence posted a 2-0 record with a 5.57 ERA, striking out 45 batters in 42 innings pitched. He had four different stints with Seattle: May 17-June 2, June 12-13, July 28–Aug. 15 and Aug. 19-end of season. During his time with the Rainiers, he posted a 2-4 record with a 4.08 ERA in seven starts and four relief appearances.
Marshall was also a waiver claim and made six appearances before suffering a gruesome pulled hamstring while throwing a pitch in a game on May 5. He never made it back to the big leagues.
Cloyd was signed from the independent leagues and made one appearance for Seattle, getting a win in relief.
Harper is an interesting sidenote. In a season where the Mariners had 38 pitchers and two position players make an appearance in a game, he was the one pitcher called up that didn’t throw a pitch in a game. He had a brief call up for about five days, but never appeared in a game, which was a shame.
Owings, a veteran with plenty of big league experience, came to spring training as a non-roster invite, but then transitioned to an off-the-field role in the organization as a scout.
- Aronny Cruz (DSL)
- Kyle Hunter (AA Arkansas)
- Dean Kiekhefer (AAA Tacoma)
- Ashur Tolliver (AA Arkansas)
Notes: Kiekhefer was part of the early competition for a lefty specialist in spring training. But with a mid-to-high 80s fastball and a reliance on deception, he never became a serious factor for the spot. Also Lefty Ryan Horstman, who missed much of the season on the suspended list, was released from the organization and will become a free agent once the paperwork is finalized. Horstman was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft out of St. John’s University, but dealt with injury issues early in his career.
- Nevin Ashley (AAA Tacoma)
- Steven Baron (AA Arkansas)
- Alexander Capriata (AAA Tacoma)
- Marcus Littlewood (AA Arkansas)
- Tyler Marlette (AA Arkansas
- Arturo Nieto (Hi A Modesto)
- Yojhan Quevedo (Lo A Clinton)
Notes: While No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 draft — Dustin Ackley, who also became a minor league free agent after spending all season in Class AAA Salt Lake City, is considered a major bust. Baron was also taken with the 33rd overall pick of that draft. At the time, he and Mike Zunino were considered to the two top high school catchers in Florida. Seattle looked at both of them. The M’s took Baron, who was committed to Duke, and Zunino went to the University of Florida instead. A hardworker and solid defensive catcher, Baron’s athleticism could never aid him in becoming a viable hitter. He was released a year ago at this time and then re-signed with the organization.
Marlette was a fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft out of Hagerty High School in Oviedo, Fla. He was a hit-first catcher with plenty of potential. After struggling at the plate in 2015, Marlette seemed to get back on track in 2016. But it never sustained this season. Issues about his receiving and defense behind the plate never seemed to get cleaned up as expected according to opposing scouts. With Zunino as the every day catcher, looking for a new opportunity was a wise decision for Marlette.
Littlewood was a second-round pick in the 2010 draft out of Pineview High School in St. George, Utah. A switch-hitting shortstop, he was later converted to catcher. After a somewhat productive 2016 season, his numbers at the plate declined.
Ashley suffered a concussion during spring training and never played a game this season.
- Ryan Casteel (AA Arkansas)
- Rafael Fernandez (Hi A Modesto)
- Shawn O’Malley (AAA Tacoma)
- Nelson Ward (AA Arkansas)
- Gianfranco Wawoe (Hi A Modesto)
- Joey Wong (AAA Tacoma)
Notes: O’Malley might have had the unluckiest season of anyone in the organization. An appendectomy a week before the season knocked him out of the running for the big league utility job. Nagging shoulder issues forced him to have surgery and kept him out the first few months of the season. And a week before September call-ups, he suffered a concussion in a game after tripping on the pitcher’s mound while trying to catch a pop-up. It ended his season prematurely. He was removed from the 40-man roster, which made it a given that he would look elsewhere in 2018.
Notes: Waldrop, a minor league sign in the offseason, spent much of the season playing down a level with Class AA Arkansas as the Mariners tried to generate some offense for that club and get wins. That pretty much ensured that he would look elsewhere.
The Mariners did retain five potential minor league free agents for next season by re-signing them to minor league contracts per Baseball America. Veteran catcher Tuffy Gosewisch will return after spending most of last season with Class AAA Tacoma and appearing in 11 big league games. The Mariners also kept catcher Ryan Scott, who served largely as a backup at the lower levels of the minor leagues. Versatile infielder Danny Muno, who signed during the middle of 2017 out of the independent leagues, will return. Seattle re-signed right-hander Lindsay Caughel, who was a minor league sign out of the independent leagues last offseason. He went 10-10 with a 3.71 ERA for Class AA Arkansas. Lefty Tyler Watson will also return to the organization.