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Seattle Mariners
Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Analysis: Who will make the Mariners’ 40-man roster and 20-man ‘taxi squad’ for shortened MLB season?

UPDATED: Sat., June 27, 2020

By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – At first, it seemed like it would be a quick and easy analysis. The plan, which most baseball writers will do in the next few days, was to project the group of 60 players that the Mariners expect to invite to participate in spring training 2.0, or perhaps if you prefer “summer camp” … hat tip to Steve Bonaci on Twitter for that moniker.

How difficult could it be?

Pick the 60 best players who are most ready to step in and play in one of the 60 regular-season games in this shortened campaign. The 40-man roster takes up the bulk of the 60 players, so that leaves 20 nonroster players to fill out what is being called “a taxi squad,” which will consist of players not on the active roster.

But the Mariners are bringing a different strategy into this truncated 2020 season. They are still in the midst of a rebuilding plan that has been slowed, if not sidetracked, by the shutdown caused by the spread of coronavirus. Before the sports world was put on pause, the Mariners’ plan was to use this season for development by having a slew of young and largely inexperienced players amass innings, at-bats and games at the major league level. On paper, the projected roster appeared to be a 90-plus loss team. While the win-loss results were expected to be ugly at times, the purpose was to give players an opportunity to gain MLB experience to build for the seasons to come while the organization could evaluate them to see if or when they’d be a part of the future core of this rebuild.

And with the typical minor league season expected to be canceled and no definite plans for an extended spring training league or fall league in place, the Mariners need to get top prospects back on the field in some way. This was expected to be a significant developmental season in the minor leagues for top prospects like Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert and others. And not having any baseball for them would be crushing.

“Honestly, it’s one of the first things we did was sit down and look at how much of our 60-player pool can we contribute toward purely developmental players,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “For us, where we are in our evolution, we want to be as competitive as we can be for these 60 games, but we remain fixated on the idea that this roster rebuild is at a really sensitive stage (so) we need to make sure that those young players are getting their reps.”

Looking at the Mariners’ 40-man roster that has an assortment of versatile players who can play multiple positions as backups, it allows Dipoto to bring in a large group of prospects to be on the taxi squad with no possibility of being put into an MLB game.

If an injury occurs a to player on the active roster, players like Sam Haggerty, Dylan Moore, Jose Marmolejos or Tim Lopes will step in. Seattle will not start the service-time clocks or option clocks for young players on the taxi squad who aren’t ready for MLB games.

“They give us great advantage, and that allows us to carry more of those young players who aren’t likely to see the major leagues this year,” Dipoto said. “We have inning goals in mind for them, we have plate-appearance goals. We do plan on playing in-house games in Tacoma with our taxi squad to replicate game situations and get innings for those guys.”

Those guys include multiple players from the recent amateur draft, including first-round pick Emerson Hancock and second-round pick Zach DeLoach.

There is a possible depth risk in doing it this way. Any player removed from the taxi squad must be outrighted and subject to waivers, but the Mariners will have a handful of players that could be expendable. They also might get to a point where they release veterans like Dee Gordon, Carl Edwards Jr., Yoshihisa Hirano and Taijuan Walker, who will be free agents next season.

So with all that in mind, here’s a projected 60-man list based on what Dipoto said in the conference call, multiple conversations with MLB sources and known information. It was an evolving list that burned through 10 pages on a yellow legal pad. This list actually has 61 players. The caveat is the health of outfielder Mitch Haniger, which is unknown. Some sources think the Mariners will place him on the 45-day injured list as soon as Friday evening as he’s still recovering from multiple offseason surgeries. Dipoto said they aren’t certain of Haniger’s health and won’t make any determination until their medical staff evaluates him in Seattle in the coming days. If Haniger can remain active, then a player like infielder Tyler Keenan, Seattle’s fourth-round pick this season, will be removed from the list.

Players not on the 40-man roster

Starting pitchers (14)

  • Justin Dunn, RHP
  • Kendall Graveman, RHP
  • Taijuan Walker, RHP
  • Marco Gonzales, LHP
  • Yusei Kikuchi, LHP
  • Justus Sheffield, LHP
  • Nick Margevicius, LHP
  • Logan Gilbert, RHP
  • George Kirby, RHP
  • Emerson Hancock, RHP
  • Isaiah Campbell, RHP
  • Taylor Dollard, RHP
  • Ljay Newsome, RHP
  • Brandon Williamson, LHP

Notes: Dipoto confirmed the Mariners will start the season with a six-man rotation with the active rosters set for 30 players for the first 14 days of the season. That would allow Gonzales, Kikuchi, Graveman, Walker, Sheffield and Dunn to pitch once a week. Seattle might also use another starter to “piggyback” off the starting pitcher, similar to pitcher use in early spring training games. Newsome, Margevicius and even reliever Nestor Cortes would be replacement depth for the rotation. The exciting aspect for Seattle is its cadre of young arms – Gilbert, Kirby, Hancock, Campbell, Williamson and Dollard – on the taxi squad. Of that group, perhaps only Gilbert has an outside chance of making his MLB debut this season due to their lack of experience, innings build-up and option-clock concerns.

Relief pitchers (18)

  • Austin Adams, RHP
  • Dan Altavilla, RHP
  • Gerson Bautista, RHP
  • Brandon Brennan, RHP
  • Carl Edwards Jr., RHP
  • Zac Grotz, RHP
  • Yoshihisa Hirano, RHP
  • Matt Magill, RHP
  • Yohan Ramirez, RHP
  • Erik Swanson, RHP
  • Art Warren, RHP
  • Taylor Williams, RHP
  • Nestor Cortes, LHP
  • Taylor Guilbeau, LHP
  • Sam Delaplane, RHP
  • Joey Gerber, RHP
  • Wyatt Mills, RHP
  • Penn Murfee, RHP
  • Aaron Fletcher, LHP

Notes: There were a lot of concerns about this crew of relievers coming into and during the first spring training. Gerber, Delaplane and Fletcher, all nonroster invitees, were expected to either make the opening day roster or be one of the last players cut in camp based on their performances. They will have to be added to the 40-man roster at some point to pitch in games. Dipoto confirmed that Adams, who underwent season-ending surgery for a torn ACL in his knee, is now at 100 percent and will be a full participant in these workouts after being unable to pitch in February and March.

Catchers (6)

  • Tom Murphy
  • Austin Nola
  • Cal Raleigh
  • Joe Odom
  • Brian O’Keefe
  • Joe Hudson

Notes: Based on the rules, teams will carry a taxi-squad catcher on all road trips. Nola’s ability to play first base and third base will also be useful for Seattle as will the use of the designated hitter in National League parks. Raleigh is the M’s best catching prospect, but Seattle might not want to put him on the 40-man roster until he’s ready to remain on the active roster for an extended time. Odom, O’Keefe and Hudson are serviceable backup-type catchers that are defense-oriented and also expendable in a roster-move situation.

Infielders (15)

  • J.P. Crawford, SS
  • Dee Gordon, 2B
  • Sam Haggerty, IF
  • Shed Long Jr., 2B
  • Tim Lopes, IF
  • Dylan Moore, IF
  • Kyle Seager, 3B
  • Daniel Vogelbach, 1B/DH
  • Donovan Walton, 2B/SS
  • Evan White, 1B
  • Patrick Wisdom, 1B
  • Jose Marmolejos, 1B/OF
  • Kaden Polcovich, IF
  • Tyler Keenan, IF
  • Noelvi Marte, IF

Notes: MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported that Marte, who is just 18, will take the MLB-sponsored charter out of the Dominican Republic to the U.S. and report to Seattle. Rated as the Mariners’ No. 6 prospect, Marte is a shortstop who is expected to eventually convert to third base because of his size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and inconsistency in the field. There was some debate if Polcovich and Keenan, both taken in the recent MLB draft, were going to get invitations. But sources said that infielder Joe Rizzo, the Mariners’ No. 22 prospect per MLB Pipeline, wasn’t going to get an invitation.

With the shortened number of games and the desire to play Long at second base extensively, it will be interesting to see how much playing time Gordon gets in the final year of his contract.

Outfielders (8)

  • Braden Bishop, OF
  • Jake Fraley, OF
  • Mitch Hanger, OF (45-day IL)
  • Kyle Lewis, OF
  • Mallex Smith, OF
  • Jarred Kelenic, OF
  • Julio Rodriguez, OF
  • Zach DeLoach, OF

Notes: It’s a small group of outfielders when you consider Haniger’s health status and that the Mariners aren’t planning to debut Kelenic or Rodriguez this season. Dipoto pointed out that Kelenic has less than 100 plate appearances above the Class A level.

But really this season will be about playing Fraley, who had his MLB debut cut short by a thumb injury, and Lewis, who had an explosive September, on a near-everyday basis. The Mariners can also get an extended look at Bishop, who suffered a ruptured spleen that required immediate surgery and sidelined him for months in 2019.

The M’s plan to use Moore and Haggerty in the outfield if needed, while Wisdom and Marmolejos can also play adequate outfield defense .

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