Given the sensitivity of this topic, I phoned Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik back again tonight and went over some of the reasoning behind the move to send Phillippe Aumont to the bullpen. First off, it’s yet to be decided whether he’ll go to Class AA or High Class A High Desert, and Zduriencik told me it’s actually most likely going to be the latter.
It turns out the organization met with Aumont roughly a week ago to hash out this plan after top team officials did an evaluation of where things stood with a lot of the minor-league prospects. In Aumont’s case, it was decided that his becoming a reliever might be the best thing for him and the organization.
“Nothing is carved in stone,” Zduriencik said. “This is an experiment we’re doing to see if we can get him to the big leagues quicker.”
And, of course, in a role he could be better suited for.
‘You look at his size,” Zduriencik said, “he’s a big, aggressive kid. He was throwing 97 mph at the WBC and we think he has a chance of duplicating that at the big-league level. We think he has a chance to be one of the big bullpen arms in this game.”
Now, plenty has to happen first. The plan will be to ease Aumont into his new role, throwing him back-to-back, working him in various situations of differing length. He’s not just going to be a one-inning guy down there. If he starts off in Class A, the team would give him a shot to work his way up to Class AA by mid-summer and see where he takes it from there.
Aumont is said to be quite anxious to get to the big leagues. So, he’s apparently on board with this plan.
“If he’s going to start, then he’ll have to learn a whole bunch of other pitches,” Zduriencik said. “He’ll have to perfect a bunch of different pitches, and that could take some time. Going this route, we’ll see if it’s his ticket to getting there and doing something much more quickly.”
Which raises the obvious question of whether the team would be better served waiting those extra years and seeing whether Aumont can become a top-end starter. But when I raised this issue, Zduriencik went down a different path of discussion, one involving the need to be flexible in gauging young talent.
“Obviously, most good relievers had to start somewhere,” he said. “And the majority of them started off being starting pitchers. But not all of them were best suited to doing that. It’s a process you go through in finding the Trevor Hoffmans and the (Dennis) Eckersleys. Some of them begin as starters and are even very good at starting. But ultimately, their best place winds up being in the bullpen.”
Nobody is saying that’s where Aumont’s best place is.
But after getting a look at him in the WBC, and taking his immense physical stature and aggressive nature into account, the team thinks relief work just might be his calling. Hence, the Mariners are headed down this path. They’ve done an evaluation of where Aumont might best fit and what might be the best course to take for his future develpoment. Not because he was a No. 1 draft pick as a starter. But based on what they see in front of them right now. Based on what they project going forward.
If it’s called off after two weeks, then no harm, no foul. Everyone hits the reset button and Aumont continues to be developed as a starter.
But that’s not the plan here. No one in the organization wants this experiment called off a few weeks in. The goal is to make Aumont a reliever and get him to the big leagues as such — my guess would be by next year. If he does get to the big leagues, he could be like Morrow of 2008. A late-inning type with the possibility of one day starting again. So far, he’s not like Morrow of 2009 — fully committed to a life in the bullpen.
But that’s certainly where this is heading. If all goes well, it would be unlikely — possible but unlikely — that Aumont would want to leave the big leagues and go back to the minors to resume starting again. Remember, unlike Morrow, he never pitched college ball. Aumont is well behind where Morrow was when he broke in. He faces a steeper learning curve as a starter. It won’t just take a month of Class AAA to get him ready.
“There’s no such thing, in the big leagues, as too much depth at any position,” Zduriencik said. “You have to remember, the reason they call these guys prospects is because they’re just that. They’re prospects. They’re not proven big-league players. To anoint any prospect as your team’s future closer is, in my estimation, an awful big leap to be taking.
“So, even if you have a lot of depth in your bullpen, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a very good thing to have.”
So, there you have it. That’s the plan — for now.
Photo Credit: John Lok/Seattle Times
April 5, 2009 at 8:10 PM