CARLSBAD, California—Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto made it clear during general manager meetings on Tuesday that his club plans to be aggressive in free agency after winning 90 games last year and staying in the playoff battle until the final day of the season.
However, Dipoto also noted that the organization will ensure that the paths of the best prospects of their No. 1 farm system, namely outfielder Julio Rodriguez and right-handed pitcher George Kirby, are not blocked.
“We will remain disciplined for the things we discussed when we started this (rebuilding) process,” Dipoto said. “We are proud of our player development group and what they have been able to achieve. We’ve had a lot of positive developments with our prospects, we’ve developed a young core in the big leagues and we feel like there’s more to come. We are at the door and we remain committed to that group. Otherwise, the last three years wouldn’t have been worth going through the last three years.”
Rodriguez and Kirby, the number 3 and 12 prospects in the BA Top 100 respectively, both finished in Double-A Arkansas last season. They are tentatively scheduled to start at Triple-A Tacoma in 2022 and will be able to make their Major League debut later in the year.
Dipoto also highlighted starting pitchers Matt Brash, Brandon Williamson and Levi Stoudt as prospects the organization would be aware of when making free-choice decisions. Williamson and Stoudt both finished in Double-A last year, and Brash was called up to the majors for the final week of the season, though he didn’t appear.
“As we’ve gone over the years, we don’t want to get in their way as players when it’s their time,” said Dipoto. “But we want to stay true to where we finished the season. We’ve won 90 games, we’ve seen an improvement in performance on the pitch and we want to add to that and make sure we’re doing what we can to help the team even more.” “We need to perform better as we progress. We’ve lost a few players, but I don’t see why that group should start next season with anything but a contender in their minds, and we’re going to help.”
Mariners’ first free agent losses include third baseman Kyle Seager and lefthanded pitcher Yusei Kikuchi. Their current estimated payroll for 2022 is just $59 million, according to Fangraphs, giving the club about $25 million to spend in free agency if they keep last year’s payroll. Dipoto has previously said the club would increase its payroll for 2022.
In light of the departures of Seager and Kikuchi, Dipoto specifically mentioned the infield and starting rotation as areas the Mariners will focus on in free agency.
Since Rodriguez is an outfielder and teams can never have too much novice pitching, those moves can be accomplished while at the same time keeping a clear path for the organization’s best prospects.
“We plan to build around our young group, but we want to expand it with real talent,” said Dipoto. “We feel like we have the flexibility of payroll and frankly the obvious needs.”
ROYCE LEWIS UPDATE
Shortstop Royce Lewis is on track to be ready for 2022 spring practice, said Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey.
Lewis, 22, missed the entire season last season after tore his ACL in his right knee during spring practice. He had surgery at the end of February and his rehabilitation is on track.
“He’s healthy,” Falvey said. “He had a great end to the season going into the off-season. He’s getting normal spring training now. That’s our hope.”
1 overall in the 2017 draft, Lewis reached Double-A as a 20-year-old in 2019 and won the Arizona Fall League Most Valuable Player Award after the season, but has not played in an official game since. He spent all of 2020 at the Twins alternate training venue after the minor league season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, before missing 2021 with his knee injury.
Since Lewis hasn’t had to deal with pitching live in two years, Falvey acknowledged that the Twins will need to sign a ‘bridge’ free agent to play shortstop until Lewis gets up to speed, however long that may take.
“Obviously losing the pandemic year and not having minor league baseball and then losing the whole year because of the ACL injury, that’s disappointing,” Falvey said. “But Royce is one of those, for those who have been around him, he is one of the more optimistic kids out there. He’s put himself in a great place physically. We just need to give him some at bats now. We need to get him back on the field as much as possible.”
OLYMPIC IMPACT ON TRISTON CASAS
Red Sox first base prospect Triston Casas had one of the most successful seasons of a minor leaguer in 2021. Casas, the number 15 prospect on the BA Top 100, batted .279/.394/.484 as he moved up from Double-A to Triple-A as a 21-year-old and continued to impress with a .333/.457/.424 slash in the Arizona Fall League.
However, his performance for Team USA will be most remembered. Casas batted .400 as Team USA’s first baseman during Olympic qualifiers to help the US secure a spot at the Tokyo Olympics. At the Summer Games, Casas led the tournament with three homeruns and led all players with eight RBI’s to help Team USA win a silver medal, leading manager Mike Scioscia to identify him as the prospect with the most advantage on the team.
From the perspective of Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, it was Casas’ attitude at the Olympics that impressed as much as his performance.
“There are so many things we can do for minor league players and so many ways we can help them evolve in their travels into what we hope they can be at the major league level,” Bloom said. “But there are some things in terms of pressure, in terms of the stakes, that we just can’t simulate, and that to me is one of the values of that experience: playing for something that most people don’t even come close to. come. , including most of your very talented peers.
Casas’ performance was particularly striking in the context of his age. He was the youngest member of the Team USA grid in both qualifying and the Summer Olympics. The two players who tied him for the Olympic lead in home runs, South Korea’s Hyun-Soo Kim and Israel’s Danny Valencia, are 33 and 37, respectively, and had several years of experience in the Major League.
“You don’t want to read too much into a small sample, except he certainly wasn’t scared of the moment,” Bloom said. “He wasn’t afraid of that match. When you’re Triston Casas, people look at you and expect you to be a force. They expect you to hit and produce in the middle of a lineup. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone, and he stood in front of the most eyes he’s ever been in front of and he more than took the opportunity.”
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BUZZ GROWS AROUND GABRIEL MORENO
Blue Jays catcher Gabriel Moreno’s breakthrough season at Double-A caught the attention of almost the entire industry this season, something general manager Ross Atkins said has driven home in recent days.
Atkins said Moreno has been a hot topic of conversation in all corners of the industry leading up to CEO meetings, from GM opponents to agents and media members.
“It’s been really interesting here the last few days because it seems like I’m being asked about him three or four times a day by other teams, by other agents,” Atkins said. “It reminds me of the really elite players who get that level of discussion and dialogue. He deserved it.”
Moreno, 21, batted .367/.434/.626 as he moved up to Triple-A, but his season was limited to 37 games with a broken thumb. He returned at the end of the season and made up for lost time in the Arizona Fall League by hitting .339/.431/.542 with nine doubles, a homerun and 13 RBI’s in 15 games.
He went from unranked for the season to number 8 on the most recent BA Top 100 Prospects list.
“I get asked a lot about exceeding expectations,” Atkins said. “I don’t know. I have pretty high expectations. He has not necessarily exceeded them based on his potential. There is still room for him to get better and he thinks that too.”
RANGERS EXCLUDE SAM HUFF
The Rangers have eliminated Sam Huff after the catcher suffered another knee injury, general manager Chris Young said.
Rangers’ No. 9 prospect had surgery in April to remove a loose body in his right knee and was limited to 61 games this season, all at first base or DH. He played six games in the Arizona Fall League, again all at first base or DH, but hasn’t appeared since October 25.
“Sam had a minor adjustment to his knee in the Fall League about a week ago,” said Young. “We’ve taken him out. It’s nothing important. We believe he will make a full recovery and be ready for 2022. We will build his trapping program over the winter, making sure he is strong and ready to go. ”
Despite Huff not being caught in over a year, Young said the organization is “100%” planning to further develop Huff as a catcher.