The Seattle Mariners Director of Player Development for the past four seasons, Chris Gwynn, resigned from his position today. Having interviewed last month for the General Manager position that was eventually given to Billy Eppler in Los Angeles last week, it seemed that Gwynn knew that a change was on the horizon for him once Seattle hired Jerry Dipoto. Hired in November of 2011 by Jack Zduriencik to replace Pedro Grifol, Gwynn oversaw the ins-and-outs of the minor league system for the Mariners -- including input on team working agreements, player placement, position changes, working with roving coordinators and Minor League managers and coaches -- to varying levels of success during his tenure with Seattle.
In Gwynn's first season in 2012, Seattle's affiliates combined to win a baseball-best 496 games with a .550 winning percentage, setting a record for the most wins in a single season by any farm system and seeing six of their nine team qualify for postseason play. But the results since then have been steadily declining in terms of record, with the winning percentages dipping each year, to .516, .471 and down to .469 this season. And while the success of the minor leagues isn't primarily based on the success of the individual teams, the M's system struggled in other ways, too. Seattle has had a number of their highly-rated prospects fail to meet expectations during Gwynn's time. It's unfair to pin that all on him, obviously, but just as it is the case that the manager usually ends up being the sacrificial lamb for a team's struggles, you can see how Gwynn may be cast in an unfavorable light due to the recent results and expectations out of the M's farm system.
This past season, Seattle had what can be considered down years from many of their top prospects -- like D.J. Peterson, Alex Jackson, Austin Wilson, Patrick Kivlehan and Luiz Gohara -- dealt off a couple of others in Gabriel Guerrero and Jack Reinheimer, and also had to deal with the tragic death of yet another when Victor Sanchez lost his life in a boating accident prior to the season. And of course, Danny Hultzen remains a huge frustration with all of his injuries. While a few did take off, most notably Ketel Marte and Tyler O'Neill, and while the lower levels have a more promising talent than they've possessed in a while, the 2015 season was widely viewed as a disappointment for Seattle's player development system.
During Gwynn's stay at the helm, the names on the list of the annual Mariners Minor League Award Winners looks like this: Stefen Romero, Carter Capps, Brad Miller and Brandon Maurer, in 2012, Chris Taylor, Taijuan Walker, Carson Smith, Abraham Almonte in 2013, D.J. Peterson, Jordy Lara, Jordan Pries, Edwin Diaz, Matt Brazis, Patrick Kivlehan and Ketel Marte last year, and Jesus Montero, Edwin Diaz again, Tyler O'Neill, Jabari Blash, Paul Fry and Drew Jackson here in 2015.
While the performance of prospects under Gwynn's guidance likely played a huge role in his departure, the performance of prospects under the guidance of his potential replacement -- the Angels' Scott Servais -- has many people very excited. Servais is being widely rumored as a "no-brainer" pick to replace Gwynn, and it is easy to see why. Prior to being hired by Dipoto to work as an Assistant General Manager of Scouting and Player Development for the Angels, Servais -- who caught for 11 seasons in the big leagues for the Astros, Cubs, Giants and Rockies -- served as the Senior Director of Player Development for the Texas Rangers. In that role Servais had Texas' minor league system consistently ranked as one of the best in baseball, developing a number of Top-100 prospects and seeing many of those players graduate to the big league roster and help Texas to back-to-back World Series appearances.
An article on Grantland from back in May goes into more detail that a 2011 MLB.com article touched on, detailing some of what Servais did with former top prospect, turned "AAAA" player, turned Mariners' power hitting right-handed bat Nelson Cruz to help him become a mainstay with the Rangers several years ago.
Servais was a scout with the Rockies with Dipoto back before his Texas days, and they were both on the Rockies roster in Dipoto's final season in 2000 (although they were never battery-mates in a game) so their ties run pretty deep. Servais is under contract through the end of this month with the Angels, although it is possible that they could release him from that contract early, particularly if Eppler wants to move quickly to get his guy in to that spot like the M's want to get their new guy in to that spot.
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