Well, we didn’t really see this coming. Mariners outfield prospect Julio Morban clubbed a pair of home runs today as a Seattle split-squad defeated the Angels 8-5 at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
Morban opened the scoring in the second inning with a drive over the right field wall off Tommy Hanson. He then added another two-run blast in the eighth off of Billy Buckner as the Mariners blew things open. The Angels made it interesting with a pair in the ninth and lots of baserunners, but the Mariners had piled up enough runs by that point to hang on.
“He’s a good baseball player,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge told reporters after. “He has a nice swing, has a nice approach at the plate. He’s focused and he’s had a great camp for us. This is a guy who came in here and has made quite an impression.”
As we’ve mentioned, the Mariners could use some outfield depth at the upper levels of the minors and so anytime a guy like Morban does something, it gives you reason for hope. Just like this morning’s profile on Kalian Sams, a Class AA outfielder at Jackson playing for the Netherlands in the WBC, there is room for one of these young guys to step up and make a name for themselves the next couple of years.
Morban, 21, as Wedge mentioned, has opened some eyes with good at-bats this spring and now has his first two long balls to go with a .300 batting average in Cactus Leagu play. And while he has zero shot at the big league club, a solid spring here could be a real confidence booster for a guy who split last season between rookie level ball and Class A High Desert.
In 76 games with the High Desert squad, Morban hit .313 with 17 homers and a .911 OPS, so he’s got some pop, especially in these warm, dry climates, apparently.
Now, we’ve discussed all day the rotation battle being waged between five guys — Jeremy Bonderman, Jon Garland, Erasmo Ramirez, Blake Beavan and Brandon Maurer — for just two open spots. Bonderman took his latest shot today, giving up two runs in four solid innings of work. Tonight, we’ll see Garland take on the Dutch team at Peoria Stadium.
Wedge post-game made it sound like Bonderman and Garland are still very much in contention.
“If you look at the way this guy’s thrown the baseball, and the experience level he’s had — him and Garland are both interesting stories, but they’ve both been throwing the ball very well this spring,” Wedge said.
And Wedge mentioned a couple of things both pitchers have working for them over some of the younger arms.
“You have to take into account the success they’ve already had at the big league level,” he said. “Obviously, the professionals that they are and just their know-how of what it takes to get big league hitters out.”
Now, of course, that doesn’t mean the younger guys have no shot. The fact Bonderman hasn’t pitched since 2010 and Garland since 2011 does matter to a degree and roster room would have to be created to take both guys. But it would not be impossible to find the roster space. And all of the younger pitchers have multiple Class AAA options left.
But if Garland and Bonderman continue to pitch well, then one of the younger guys will have to show himself to be demonstably better. Not just in racking up high strikeouts-to-walks ratios in spring training, but in showing their stuff can get the better of real major leaguers in there (not just minor league guys in camp). The track record thing plays into it as well, since there’s a more unknown quantity with younger arms who have not gone through even an entire season in the big leagues.
Maurer hasn’t pitched above AA level yet, so he’d have to be well ahead of the other arms if he’s to be given a crack. It’s still possible, mind you, but that’s up to him to display.
In Ramirez’s case, his track record consists of four solid starts last September and four of them from April-through-June that were a real mixed bag and all over the place. So again, what he shows the next two weeks could go a long way towards tipping the scales either for or against him. Though he’s yet to give up an earned run, he’s also thrown about half a ballgame’s worth of innings. Not the biggest sampling.
Beavan also hasn’t thrown a ton of innings this spring to gauge anything off of and while his ERA is somewhat high (not that it will matter much) he’s also struck out seven batters and walked none. So, there’s that. Again, it’s only minimal. But in terms of track record, he’s got parts of three seasons under his belt in the big leagues, including the better part of the previous two.
So, far more than the other two young guys. That’s a track record where a coach or manager can look at it and have a grasp on what there is to work with and build off of.
Talent alone? Clearly, Ramirez and Maurer have better natural strikeout ability. But that’s only part of the equation at this stage. The team has to figure out — from among the five — who the most likely is to get big league hitters out consistently come the first week in April.
Stay tuned for Garland tonight.