The Seattle Mariners announced the rosters for their four full-season minor league affiliates earlier this week, and it was surprising to some to see that there were some top prospects who stayed put from 2015 or even went back a level. We did a preview of the four teams yesterday, and in prepping that piece, SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall spoke with Mariners Director of Player Development Andy McKay about some of those assignments and about the thought process that the front office is communicating to all of it's players in 2016 as they start a new plan in player development.
Of the notable names not on full-season rosters, Alex Jackson is the most obvious. The club’s top pick in the 2014 Draft and top prospect on most lists is staying in extended spring training to get some extra work in, and he’ll most likely once again head to Everett when they open their season. Other noted hitting prospects not on rosters currently include Christopher Torres, Brayan Hernandez, Greifer Andrade and Anthony Jimenez – who all played in the DSL last year – Gareth Morgan, Corey Simpson and Yojhan Quevedo. Also missing from rosters are pitchers Luiz Gohara, Nick Neidert, Dylan Thompson, Jio Orozco, Jake Brentz and Forrest Snow. All of those arms outside of Snow figure to head to the Northwest League this year, too. For Gohara, one of the most talented young arms in the system, it would be a third shot at Everett, and even though he won’t turn 20 until the end of July, it may be his last shot to finally take a much needed step in a positive direction for the M’s. It is a sign of McKay's vision and the Mariners' plan with development, though, not rewarding Gohara with a push up the ladder that he has not earned.
While some have openly questioned some of the assignments, which included a number of players who stayed at the same level or even moved down a rung on the ladder from last season, Mariners’ Director of Player Development Andy McKay asked the appropriate question, “Where else would we realistically send any of these guys?”
Going a little further on that thought, McKay said that the teams were filled out based off of the players' full history, not just what the new regime saw during spring from the minor leaguers. And he said that the end result is that the club is happy with the makeup of their minor league teams. “Teams were organized based on putting guys where we felt they were development-wise and their ability to compete in their respective leagues. We feel good about the talent level and feel that we have four teams out there that can win baseball games,” McKay told me.
The first time McKay spoke extensively of his plan to media members was at the M’s Annual Media Luncheon in late-January, and winning at the minor league level was a topic that he touched on there to the group and something that he and I discussed more in-depth afterwards, too. While most in baseball often focus on individual development over wins and losses, McKay says that learning to win in the minors is all part of learning how to be a contributing big leaguer.
He expanded on the ideas of winning and being accountable being important to me in our latest talk, stating, “We put them at the level that we feel is best for their development. It is really important to our culture that players earn their right to move up. I don’t want them to feel that they’ve been handed anything. We’re trying to develop some of the best baseball players in the world, and there has to be consistency to it. If you remove the accountability requiring performance, you’re confusing the player and setting them up to fail.”
“Consistency in the process and consistency in the result,” is key, McKay said to me. “When I say process,” he continued, “I mean how a guy goes about his business – on and off the field. Helping the team win a game. Winning baseball games is important because that is what we are trying to accomplish at the big league level.”
His ideas may seem basic in principle, but McKay's view of what player development truly means is a little different than what the Mariners and other organizations have typically done. Different isn't always good, and it isn't always bad. But for what it's worth, the entire new Mariners regime echoes these same views from what I've heard. And that again speaks to the consistency that McKay is trumpeting as a key factor. Whether that means the entire organization latching on to the "CtheZ" theme that has been around for some time in the system, or if it means consciously looking to have the minor league teams win. The consistent message helps send a confident message to the players that the organization is paying attention and that their efforts do matter.
"This game is about confidence," McKay says, "And the way you build confidence in an athlete is setting challenges in front of them and having them meet those challenges. The outcome that we’re looking for is that they impact at the major leagues and help us win baseball games in Seattle."
What does he hope that looks like in players that are coming through the organization now? "Players that move through our system will be confident because they will have earned it," McKay told me. "I’m really excited about the players we have and the process that we have in place."
Looking for more Mariners news, articles and player interviews? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse site Editor Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.