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Taylor Up, Bloomquist Gone

Hey look, that's Jose Vidro in the background!
(Wikimedia Commons, authors OlympianX & Andrew Klein)
The Mariners called up Chris Taylor today and to make space designated Willie Bloomquist for assignment.

Taylor is younger than Bloomquist and also a better player. He brings superior defense at shortstop and likely second base - and maybe even all the other spots Bloomquist plays if he is asked to go wherever just like Willie Ballgame has had to do throughout his career. Taylor also flashes surprising power in the minors for his build and swing type, but by no means is he a power hitter. Still, he probably possesses more power than Bloomquist.

So, basically, Chris Taylor is a better baseball player than Willie Bloomquist in all phases of the game. The most surprising part of this move is how long Bloomquist survived on the roster, given the M's depth of solid middle infield prospects. I don't know why the Mariners pulled the trigger on this move today or what kind of playing time Taylor will receive moving forward, but it is fair to assume that this move is skin deep as far as its motives. The Mariners are a more talented team with Chris Taylor taking Willie Bloomquist's place.

Few players have a career quite like Bloomquist. He is the definition of replacement level. In 3,136 plate appearances he has amassed a grand total of 1.0 WAR. For comparison, that's about what Mike Trout has produced every three weeks or so while in the majors. Bloomquist took about 12 years longer to accumulate the same amount of production.

I never understood why the Mariners signed Willie Bloomquist for two years in the 2013 offseason. Anyone could see the middle infield logjam developing from a mile away, and here we are. They signed him after they had Robinson Cano in the fold, and well before Nick Franklin got traded away. The deal never made any sort of sense, and while it didn't break the budget, it still seemed so unnecessary. In fact, why couldn't the money the M's threw at Bloomquist been used on a legitimate backup catcher?

None of these issues I have with Willie Bloomquist and his contract really have to do with Willie Bloomquist. It's amazing to look at his lengthy career in the majors, devoid of anything approximating a "career year" or anything that gave hope he might have a short stint as a serviceable starter, and wonder just how he hung around for so long. It's not like the Mariners were the only team to irrationally love him. Both the Royals and Diamondbacks employed him too. Maybe one organization could be dumb and make silly mistakes year after year. Three organizations making the same irrational choice is less likely.

I can only find one logical conclusion: Willie Bloomquist is legitimately one of the "good guys" in baseball. He must be fun to have around a clubhouse and the kind of guy that has the respect of his peers. Bloomquist never played much, and when he did he was neither an asset nor too large of a liability, so there is no good reason he should have stuck around the majors so long. He must have brought other things to the table that don't show up in box scores.

For instance, Peter Gammons tweeted out today that Adam Jones credits Bloomquist for much of his success. I find that fascinating. Jones didn't spend much time with Bloomquist as a pro. We barely got to know Adam Jones in Mariner blue before he left in the ill-fated Erik Bedard deal, and yet he was apparently around long enough for Willie Ballgame to do something influential and momentous for him.

So consider this my farewell to Willie Bloomquist. I like Chris Taylor quite a bit and thought he should have been on the ballclub at least a month ago, so I can't say I'm sorry to see Bloomquist go. However, Bloomquist's 72 at-bats this season are also not the reason the Mariners have struggled. They hardly made a dent on the field, in true Bloomquist fashion.

Minor Leaguers of Note, June

It's time for another glance at the activity down on the Mariners farm. Here we go:

Where are they now?

Looking back at the first post from April here are some updates worth mentioning about players highlighted then.

Chris Taylor and Mark Lowe both got promoted to the majors. Taylor struggled and got sent back down, but Lowe has stuck and been a revelation in the bullpen. I wrote that his triple-digit heat isn't returning, but I was mistaken.

Stephen Landazuri was promoted from AA Jackson to AAA Tacoma but has struggled mightily. I haven't had a chance to see him in Tacoma yet so I don't know exactly why he has been so bad, but AAA has been a rude awakening for him.

Tyler Marlette, Edwin Diaz, Trey-Cochran Gill, and Gianfranco Wawoe all earned promotions up to AA Jackson since April. Diaz in particular is enjoying a bit of a breakout season. He will represent the M's in the MLB futures game in a few weeks and has cemented himself as the M's best pitching prospect at the moment, or at least the most promising one close to the majors.

Now, time for some new players of note:

Tacoma (AAA)

  • Leon Landry, OF - Landry was acquired from the Dodgers a few years ago with a similar skillset to James Jones and (if you remember him) Abe Almonte. He was stuck in AA and seemed destined to be nothing more than organizational depth. However, he got an early promotion to AAA this year and has hit well, particularly with a bit of surprising power. Maybe he is having a lucky year, or maybe he has taken a step forward.
  • Forrest Snow, RHP - Snow is enjoying the best season of his pro career. He has been a great organizational depth pitcher for the M's, though he does have a nice, lanky 6'6" pitching frame with a fastball that sits in the low 90s. I think it would be a nice gesture for the Mariners to bring him up for at least a cup of coffee in the majors at some point, and this September would be a logical time.
  • Tyler Smith, SS - Smith, unlike almost everyone else in the M's minor league system, has plate discipline! He walks a ton and plays a premium defensive position. His tools fall short of other M's shortstop prospects - namely Ketel Marte (who somehow I haven't written about extensively yet) and Chris Taylor - but he provides organizational depth with some upside to be a decent option as the 25th guy on a roster.
  • Anthony Fernandez, LHP - Fernandez just had his first start of the year and I wouldn't be surprised if he is in Tacoma soon. Fernandez is working back from Tommy John surgery. He's never been a high-profile prospect, but he had an assortment of solid breaking balls with good command pre-Tommy John surgery. He could easily be an option at the back end of the M's rotation going into spring training next year, which is why I'll be tracking his starts closely the rest of the way.
  • Tyler O'Neill, RF - O'Neill is raw but producing in his own way. He is a violent free-swinger, with 10 walks, 83 strikeouts (!!), and 26 extra-base hits (including 15 home runs.)  The power is impressive for a young man who just turned 20 years old a week ago. He has major work to do on his plate discipline and/or contact rate, but he has time and at least one tantalizing tool (that power) to work with.
  • Paul Fry, LHP - Fry recently participated in the California League all-star game, and rightfully so. He has racked up 62 strikeouts in 47.2 innings. He doesn't throw incredibly hard, and is a bit old for the league, so his results are a product of his refined command and off-speed offerings. Still, results are results, and he has emerged as a lefty relief prospect.

I've got nothing for this team. Nothing. It's been a bizarre year in Clinton. The players of note have either been demoted to Everett now that their season is underway or promoted up in the system. It looks like a long summer in Clinton.

I'll devote a post just to the short-season teams in the near future. Stay tuned.

Walker's Progress

The Taijuan Walker that shut down the Angels last night is the not the Taijuan Walker that took the mound in April for the Mariners. His early season struggles were well documented, and now his hot streak is garnering just as much attention. I, for one, said that he needed to stay in the majors when he was struggling because his biggest problem was how well hitters were doing when Walker was ahead in the count. He needed to figure out how to put MLB batters away, and I wasn't convinced AAA hitters would provide enough of a challenge for Walker to take this next step.

Here are what Walker's count maps look like now. A reminder that the map on the left shows wOBA by count with red bad and green good. The map on the right shows frequency of counts, with darker shades occurring more often:

Right now Walker is on an incredible walkless tear, with only three this month (!!) However,  I could go out on the mound and walk that few batters in a month by simply grooving pitches. Sort of similarly, throwing strikes wasn't really Walker's problem early in the season. His inability to put away batters once he got ahead was his main problem, so part of the reason he walked more batters was because they hung around long enough to draw four balls if they couldn't find a way to square up a pitch before that. Now, Walker is back to destroying batters when they get behind, and his walk rate has predictably plummeted.

However, that is only half the story. Walker has also improved his command slightly but noticeably. 0-1 continues to be his most frequent count, but both 1-0 and 1-1 counts have diminished while 0-2 and 1-2 counts have increased. So, not only is Walker much better in pitcher's counts, he is also forcing batters into more pitcher's counts.

Some of Walker's turnaround is probably some simple regression to the mean. He flashed dominant ability when ahead in the count in his cups of coffee with the Mariners the last few seasons. Now his 2015 numbers look more like that version of Walker too. He will likely have some wild starts between now and the end of the season where he looks more like the April pitcher that had so many worried, but now his overall body of work this season looks more like what was reasonable to expect at the start of the season.

Taijuan Walker has undeniably found his identity again. There's no reason to think he can't keep up the good work as long as he is blessed with his golden fastball, and just as importantly, above average command of it. Walker's secondary stuff, particularly his changeup of late, is good enough to flummox batters once he is ahead in the count, but the high wOBA averages when he gets behind suggests that batters can make Walker very one dimensional when he gets behind. So, his next area of growth is harnessing an offspeed pitch (or two) enough to really start mixing up pitches in all counts. If he can do that, then he'll take another step forward and be a true front-of-the-line starter. However, even if he can't figure that out, he'll be what he is now - a good pitcher that gives his team a chance to win when he's on the mound.