TDG’S Triple Play: Seattle Mariners!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
J.P. Crawford, Age: 27, Position: SS
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
What do J.P. Crawford and Mike Powell have in common? They both took a giant leap forward while nobody was paying attention. Powell did so quite literally in setting the world record for long jump back in 1991, but Crawford has equaled that feat in a figurative sense with the strides he has been making in Seattle. The former first round pick of the Phillies in 2013 had all the makings of a busted prospect that the team just couldn’t quit – until they did quit on him, and he proved he wasn’t a bust. Since struggling in his initial season with the Mariners, Crawford has turned into a reliable player, a clubhouse leader, and a clear building block for a team on the verge of breaking out.
Patience has proven to be the dominant characteristic of Crawford’s career on both a micro and a macro level. Coming through Philadelphia’s minor league system, he was annually regarded as a top 15 prospect in all of baseball, a reputation built upon safe skills like speed, defense, and a good approach at the plate. His elite strike zone awareness facilitated maintaining a double-digit walk rate in his first seven professional seasons, a streak that was snapped by a 9.9% BB-rate in 2020. That excellent walk rate was typically and logically accompanied by a better than average strikeout rate, translating to excellent on base performances.
Upon a promotion to Triple-A in 2016, though, Crawford looked to add to his power output. That seemed to directly have a negative affect on his strikeouts, thus hampering his overall offensive value. His stint back at that level in 2017 saw him post his highest home run total while also posting one of his worst wRC+s. After a very small cup of coffee in the majors in 2017, Crawford had earned a shot to see if he could be a starter for a big league team looking to compete in 2018. He was clearly struggling with how to properly marry his skillset to expectations, and stumbled out of the gate before battling injuries the entire year. Disappointment is only a byproduct of expectations, and it’s safe to say that everyone from the Phillies front office to the fans to Crawford himself knew he wasn’t living up to his promise. A needed change came in the form of a trade to Seattle alongside Carlos Santana in exchange for Jean Segura and a couple of relief pitchers.
Just Paid and Joyfully Performing
Philly probably isn’t complaining with their return on that trade, but based on the 5-year contract extension that Crawford and the M’s just agreed to, they would argue that they came out ahead. Even as the Michigan chapter president of the Jean Segura Fan Club, I would have to agree with the Seattle brass. In his first year in the Pacific Northwest in 2019, Crawford floundered his way to a .226/.313/.371 line. But he continued to provide good defense, so they kept him in place as the starting shortstop entering 2020. He sacrificed any attempts at futile power production, and dropped his K-rate back to the range that saw him have success in the minors. He was a league average bat, with above average defense at the most important position in the field. With the support of the club and finally having a secure spot for a normal season in 2021, he quietly finished top 10 in WAR among players who played 80% of their games at shortstop.
This season, Crawford has taken his offensive game to an even more extreme level. Through his first 40 plate appearances, he has struck out just once (a league leading 2.5% K-rate) with a .500 OBP. It’s early, of course, but Crawford was lauded as a prospect for these skills and has steadily grown into this ability over the last few years. Certainly those numbers aren’t sustainable, but the progression most definitely is. With the roster changes this past off-season, Crawford has regularly hit in the 5-spot, but if his performance keeps up, he should find himself back at the top of the order where he resided most of the last two seasons. He won’t win any fantasy leagues with his home run and steal numbers, but if any prescient managers showed the same patience that Crawford has, then they could have a player who hits .300 with a .400 OBP and flirts with 100 runs while chipping in double digits in those more flashy stat categories. That stable output is somebody I’d sign to a five year contract, too.
Andrés Muñoz, Age: 23, Position: Relief Pitcher
Analysis by: Jason Giumara
Andrés Muñoz has been a name mentioned in dynasty circles for years. The right hand reliever worked his way through the Padres minor league system and made his debut for them as a 20 years old in the 2019 season. He generated buzz with a strong rookie campaign in which he posted a 1.174 WHIP and a 11.7 K/9. He even finished three games and picked up one save. Shortly before the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, Muñoz experienced elbow pain which led to undergoing Tommy John surgery. During his recovery time, he was part of a seven player trade that sent him to the Mariners at the August 31st trade deadline of that year.
The Mariners played it safe with Muñoz giving him over 18 months recovery time. He made his Mariners debut during game 162 of the 2021 season. This season Muñoz seems like a prime breakout candidate looking to build upon his 23.2 professional innings.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
To say Muñoz throws hard is an understatement. This season in a game against the White Sox, he was able to record a 103 mph pitch in the record books for the Mariners. His velocity on the 4-seam fastball averages out at 101-mph, while his slider has been slightly over 87-mph. Lack of a third pitch that has kept him on the reliever path since his professional career began in 2016. However, both the fastball and slider have proved to be elite pitches as they have generated a strong chase rate and whiff rate. Over the span of his brief major league career his 34.8% K-rate demonstrates his potential and high upside for strong ratios. Though controlling his elite pitches has been a work in progress. Command usually plagues pitchers in the season following their Tommy John surgery His career walk rate is 12.5% and his home run to fly ball rate is 13.6%. Both these stats fall within the average range for pitchers. This season will be filled with ups and downs, but given his small career sample size and elite fastball velocity I am excited with his potential to dominate hitters.
WHERE ARE YOU GOING?
The Mariners are filled with late inning options, with Scott Servais being uncommitted to one true closer. Diego Castillo, Drew Steckenrider and Paul Seward will all be in line for save opportunities. Even Ken Giles, a former All-Star closer, may get a shot on saves when he recovers from a tendon strain in his middle finger. Therefore, saves will be limited for Muñoz this year. However, he is a good speculative bet as a future closer for 2023 and beyond, especially if Muñoz can stay healthy and be effective in high leverage spots. He is definitely worth a roster add in daily moves and at least worth a bench spot in weekly transaction periods. Depending on the league, Muñoz can be stashed in minor league slots.
Even though the data used is from a small sample size, you can tell that the Mariners have a special talent just by watching him. Fantasy managers tend to stay away from middle relievers, however ,given the recent trend of starters getting pulled early and the continuation of the runner on second in extra innings rule means relievers are receiving a greater opportunity for wins. If you are going to speculate on middle relievers in high leverage roles, Andrés Muñoz is a name you will continue to see pop up on breakout lists.
Jonatan Clase, Age: 19, Position: OF, Level: AA
Analysis by: Samuel Wirsching
A Bevy of Riches
It can be hard to pick a favorite prospect from this deep and talented system the Mariner’s are developing. It would be easy to pick a pitcher with top prospects like George Kirby, Emerson Hancock, or Matt Brash. Or lesser known pitchers like Adam Macko and Levi Stoudt. We could also go with an offensive prospect like Noelvi Marte, Harry Ford, Zach DeLoach or Gabriel Gonzalez. All of those names should either be on your radar or already on your fantasy teams. But for me I am really excited for a young Outfielder in Modesto that I believe has a chance to become a long time fixture with the MLB club: Jonatan Clase.
Listed on Baseball Reference at 5’8”/150 lbs he has grown from that into someone built to be playing football instead of baseball. In fact I have read that he is almost 6’ now. However tall exactly he is, well, do not let that size and growth fool you. Clase works very hard. He also is incredibly fast. Scouts have given him a 70+ grade speed. In 2021 he only played in 14 games, but in that small sample he hit two home runs and reached base another 16 times. He also was a perfect 16 for 16 in stolen bases. He has a green light everywhere he goes and with good reason.
Clase is in session
He also is learning how to hit right handed. No, he did not start in the minors as a switch hitter, but he felt like he needed to get better and that was one way to do it. Switch hitting makes me nervous (see: Cedric Mullins) but he seems to have found another gear with it. This season he is hitting .387/.472/.581 with a home run. His k rate is in the low 20% and his walk rate is over 13% and so whatever change he is working into his approach is working quite well. He had a 50-grade hit tool coming into the system and his performance only backs that up.
With all the talent surrounding Jonatan not only in the minors but also in the outfield he is easy to overlook, however he is determined to not let that happen. In dynasty leagues make sure you roster him now. My feeling is he will be a top-100 prospect by the end of the year and could be baseball’s top prospect going into 2024 when he debuts.