PEORIA, Ariz. — What the Mariners’ projected bullpen might lack in major league success or experience, it is made up for with sheer numbers.
A small regiment of relievers inhabit the far end of the spring-training clubhouse — an endless array of ages, heights, weights, arm angles, velocities and out pitches.
Of the 32 pitchers on the Mariners’ spring-training roster, there are at least 25 that could be used in a relief role during the 2020 season.
That includes right-hander Taylor Williams, who was claimed off waivers Friday from the Brewers, replacing right-hander Phillips Valdez, who was designated for assignment, on the 40-man roster.
From those 25, the Mariners must find eight relievers for the opening-day roster. Contract statuses, experience and minor league options make projecting the bullpen a little easier. But it will change throughout the season because of injury, insufficient execution, roster manipulation and need.
Last season the Mariners treated the waiver wire like a clearance sale for relievers, claiming or trading for stuff-heavy pitchers designated for assignment by other teams in hopes of finding a usable piece. But for every success story like Matt Magill and Austin Adams, there were more failures like Ruben Alaniz, Mike Wright and Jesse Biddle.
They’ll shop the same market again this season, including at the end of spring training, but to a lesser extent. They certainly don’t plan to have 36 different pitchers make relief appearances again. The cadre of young relievers that finished last season at Double A Arkansas will be given opportunities at some point this season.
MLB rule changes will affect bullpen makeup. A pitcher must face a minimum of three batters in an appearance unless an inning ends. Also the minimum time a player must spend in the minor leagues after being optioned has increased from 10 to 15 days, and the injured-list minimum is back to 15 days instead of 10 for pitchers. The Mariners used those 10-day minimums to its advantage in past years, constantly shuffling pitchers back and forth to Tacoma.
“It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is a big deal,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “It’s 15 days. That’s a long time to just shoot a guy out.”
And because the Mariners’ rotation features right-handers Kendall Graveman and Taijuan Walker, who are coming off injuries and will be limited early in the season, along with lefties Justus Sheffield and Yusei Kikuchi, who have battled inefficiency, there will be a need for multiple-inning relievers.
“The composition of our bullpen will be a little bit different,” Servais said. “It’s really valuable to have guys who can get four to six outs in an outing, and even one or two that can get six to eight outs, if you need them. Where we’re at with our rotation, we just can’t have all one-inning guys down there. It’ll kill us. We’ve got to build them up in spring training to be able to do multiple innings.”
The projected bullpen:
Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP
2019 stats (Diamondbacks): 5-5 record, 4.75 ERA, 62 appearances, 1 save, 53 innings, 22 walks, 61 strikeouts
2020 outlook: At age 35, he’s the oldest pitcher in camp. He was outstanding in 2018 for Arizona (2.44 ERA) but struggled last season. Armed with a nasty splitfinger, he’ll pitch in the later innings and possibly close.
Carl Edwards Jr., RHP
2019 stats (Cubs/Padres): 1-1 record, 8.47 ERA, 22 appearances, 17 innings, 13 walks, 19 strikeouts
2020 outlook: Once a valuable reliever for the Cubs, his inconsistent command was coupled with injuries last season. When healthy, he has a lively high-90s fastball and strikeout potential.
Matt Magill, RHP
2019 stats: 3-2 record, 3.63 ERA, 5 saves, 22 appearances, 22 1/3 innings, 5 walks, 28 strikeouts
2020 outlook: One of the Mariners’ best bargain finds last season. He’s got a riding fastball with a high spin rate. He’ll get the first chance at closing.
Sam Tuivailala, RHP
2019 stats: 1-0 record, 2.35 ERA, 23 appearances (3 starts), 23 innings, 11 walks, 27 strikeouts
2020 outlook: Achilles surgery and shoulder fatigue delayed his start to last season, but the Mariners believe a healthy offseason will allow him to return to his pre-surgery form.
Brandon Brennan, RHP
2019 stats: 3-6 record, 4.56 ERA, 44 appearances, 47 1/3 innings, 24 walks, 47 strikeouts
2020 outlook: The M’s Rule 5 pick last season is now the Mariners’ property. He was solid early but wilted from the usage and dealt with shoulder issues due to fatigue.
Yohan Ramirez, RHP
2019 stats (A/AA Astros): 4-7 record, 3.99 ERA, 1 save, 27 appearances (15 starts), 106 innings, 74 walks, 158 strikeouts
2020 outlook: The Mariners’ Rule 5 pick this season has turned heads already, showing a fastball that touches 100 mph and a nasty, biting slider. But can he throw either pitch for a strike? They’ll keep him on the roster until he forces them to take him off.
Dan Altavilla, RHP
2019 stats: 2-1 record, 5.52 ERA, 17 appearances, 14 2/3 innings, 12 walks, 18 strikeouts
2020 outlook: There’s never been a question about his stuff, but inconsistent command and recent injury issues haven’t allowed him to reach his potential. He’s out of options, so he’s a candidate to be DFA’d this spring.
Nestor Cortes, LHP
2019 stats (Yankees): 5-1 record, 33 appearances, 66 2/3 innings, 28 walks, 69 strikeouts
2020 outlook: He’s being stretched out as a starter this spring, but he is expected to fill a long relief role in the bullpen. Mariners love his versatility.
Austin Adams, RHP
2019 stats: 2-2 record, 3.77 ERA, 29 appearances, 31 innings, 14 walks, 51 strikeouts
2020 outlook: Adams is one of their three best relievers. But a torn ligament in his knee required season-ending surgery in September. He’s not expected back until after the All-Star break.
Erik Swanson, RHP
2019 stats: 1-5 record, 5.74 ERA, 27 appearances (8 starts), 58 innings, 12 walks, 52 strikeouts
2020 outlook: After struggling as a starter, he found his niche as a multi-inning reliever. He had a 2.35 ERA in his last 18 relief appearances last season. He has a chance to make the team out of spring.
Wei-Yin Chen, LHP
2019 stats (Marlins): 0-1 record, 6.59 ERA, 45 appearances, 68 1/3 innings, 18 walks, 63 strikeouts
2020 outlook: Despite pitching as a reliever all of last season, he’s been a starter most of his career. The Mariners will keep him stretched out and ready to serve as a spot starter or long reliever if needed.
Zac Grotz, RHP
2019 stats: 1-0 record, 4.15 ERA, 14 appearances, 21 innings, 13 walks, 11 strikeouts
2020 outlook: Signed to a minor league deal last offseason with minimal expectations, Grotz pitched his way to the big leagues, using his biting splitfinger fastball and sneaky fastball to get outs.
Taylor Guilbeau, LHP
2019 stats: 0-0 record, 3.65 ERA, 17 appearances, 12 1/3 innings, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts
2020 outlook: He may look like a left-handed Kenny Powers with his flowing mullet haircut, but there is nothing funny about Guilbeau’s riding fastball and wipeout stuff vs. lefties.
Gerson Bautista, RHP
2019 stats: 0-1 record, 11.00 ERA, 8 appearances (2 starts), 9 innings, 9 walks, 7 strikeouts
2020 outlook: He has a 100-mph fastball and might be the next pitcher to be designated for assignment. Despite the velocity, the fastball is too straight, too easily picked up and rarely thrown for a quality strike.
Joey Gerber, RHP
2019 stats (A/AA): 1-4 record, 2.59 ERA, 8 saves, 44 appearances, 48 2/3 innings, 19 walks, 69 strikeouts.
2020 outlook: He has massive legs and rear end and an awkward delivery that seems to be part spasm and shot put. But he’s got a fastball that touches 97 mph and one of the highest spin rates in the organization. Hitters don’t see it because of the delivery and can’t square it up cause of the movement. He will pitch in the big leagues this season.
Aaron Fletcher, LHP
2019 stats (A/AA): 5-4 record, 2.09 ERA, 41 appearances, 73 1/3 innings, 18 walks, 84 strikeouts
2020 outlook: Unenjoyable was how hitters have described facing him in live batting practice. He’s got a riding fastball that eats up left-handed hitters’ hands and a slider that works off it. He will make at least 20 MLB appearances this year.
Sam Delaplane, RHP
2019 stats (A/AA): 6-3 record, 2.23 ERA, 46 appearances, 68 2/3 innings, 23 walks, 120 strikeouts
2020 outlook: Another funky, short-armed delivery that gives him a wipeout breaking ball that makes hitters look silly. His strikeout rates last season were absurd.
Art Warren, RHP
2019 stats (AA/MLB): 3-1 record, 1.46 ERA, 15 saves, 35 appearances, 31 2/3 innings, 13 walks, 41 strikeouts
2020 outlook: He doesn’t have a funky arm slot or herky-jerky mechanics. Nope, it’s just a 95-mph fastball, a much-improved slider and a steady heartbeat on the mound.