On Tuesday, the player’s union approved the MLB’s proposed 60-game season with updated health and safety protocols. This means that baseball will be back in 2020 and the Seattle Mariners will get a chance to see the progress of some of their young players as the franchise progresses through a rebuild.
The development of the young core centered around Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Kyle Lewis, and JP Crawford will be crucial to see how the pieces are going to fit together going forward. These extra 60-games will give the front office a chance to figure it out; but it’s going to be difficult to get any meaningful sample size from such a short season. Especially since I highly doubt we’re going to get a chance to see some of the team’s really exciting prospects with the minor league season essentially being wiped out by the pandemic.
This season is also going to see some scheduling oddities that could make for some weird division races that could shake-up the playoffs when its all said in done. So lets take a look at some things to expect heading into the 2020 season.
Division rivalries will make up the bulk of the season.
While baseball moved to an unbalanced schedule almost 20-years ago, this shortened season is going to take the unbalanced schedule to a new height. According to Jon Heyman, we’re looking at a 2/3rds of the schedule being against the AL West.
While it remains to be seen how exactly this will break down on the schedule, I would personally think you’d see ten games against the other teams in their divisions. With five of those games being home games and five games being on the road. This would be the best way to ensure a even split of the contest and make sure that the division winner’s accurately have won the most games in their division.
For the Mariners, limiting opportunities to play in Minute Maid Park would be absolutely divine. The club has posted a 30 – 38 record in Houston since the Astros joined the division, with 13 of those wins coming Houston’s first season in the AL West — since the Astros ended their playoff drought in 2015, the M’s are 17 – 32 in Minute Maid.
The good news is this will give Seattle more opportunities to test where it is at in its rebuild with a heavy dose of the Angels and Rangers squads that both struggled mightily in 2019. Fortunately for the M’s, Los Angeles is struggling to admit that they need to rebuild; while Texas is in the middle of its own youth movement.
On the interleague side of the schedule, it’ll be fun to watch the Mariners stack-up with the Padres and Giants as they’re also at crucial points in terms of developing their next core of talent.
Kikuchi’s use of the strike zone is going to decide his season
It’s fair to say that Kikuchi’s rookie season was middling to disappointing from everything that we’d been led to expect heading into 2019. The (then) 27-year old tossed an impressive 161.2 innings, but posted a FIP of 5.71 and an ERA of 5.46. While he was working through issues with his mechanics, Kikuchi left far too many pitches in the middle of the zone last season.
His reliance on the middle of the strike zone led him to having a fairly high contact rate of 81.5%, which was accompanied by a very low swing rate at pitches outside of the strike zone. Which forced him more into the zone, and led to struggles with one of the lower line drive and higher fly ball rates for pitchers last year.
In his second season, Kikuchi will need to rely more on the lower parts of the zone to induce more ground balls, and less fly balls. It would also be nice to see his swinging strike rate increase from its scarily low 8.8% that he owned last season. The hope is that his new mechanics will allow him to be more consistent throughout the season; which should lead to more consistent velocity and better use of the strike zone.
Kikuchi planned to develop one consistent set of mechanics that cleaned up some prior issues and removed some unnecessary moving parts in hopes of refinding consistent velocity in the 92-93 mph range.– Ryan Divish, Seattle Times
The minor league situation will be a nightmare for all
As of right now, the status of minor league baseball is up on in the air. Teams were preparing minor leaguers to not have a season, as recently as Memorial Day weekend, while also practically gutting their systems of their filler prospects. While Seattle’s cuts to its farm system weren’t nearly as complete as other teams, the front office still reduced its minor league payroll significantly.
Update, 6/1/20: We now have what seems to be a complete list and are updating the player names below. In total, 44 players have been released so far; 6 from Triple-A, 2 from Double-A, 5 from A+, 8 from A, 4 from short-A, and 19 from the DSL/AZL. The heavy cuts at the low-A level are perhaps anticipating the loss of the West Virginia Power, but the majority of cuts are in the lowest level of the organization, including recently drafted players and signees, some of whom had as little as five innings to show what they could do in pro ball.– Lookoutlanding
Considering how deep a lot of the minor league cuts were throughout baseball, it’s hard to see there being a complete minor league system available for an abbreviated season. This is going to cause severe stress on the management of the major league roster unless MLB and MiLB can come up with a stopgap measure to cover this season…or if baseball just allows the teams to travel with their 40-man rosters.
With a young team like Seattle, and lots of young talent in the system…it would be devastating to lose the minor league season. It will deprive players who struggle at the major league level a chance to try to fix some of their issues; while also depriving prospects a chance to showcase their talent to the front office…and a chance for them to crack into the big leagues this year. This is especially detrimental to the plan with star prospect Jared Kelenic as there was a pretty good chance that he’d have been a mid-season call-up if he’d preformed well down in Tacoma.
Update 6/24/20: John Stanton talked about a 30 man taxi squad in an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle today. This would include Seattle’s top prospects. While this is good news, the minor league situation is still going to be a disaster; especially if the taxi squad starts to need replacements.
This season will produce nutty results
A 60-game stretch in any season is just barely enough time to figure out what results are sustainable and which are fluky. To have the entire season be that short is going to likely lead to some unsustainable performances that are not indicative of future performance going forward. But it means that baseball is back and that’s always a good thing when you need something to pass the time late at night during the dog days of summer.