The Seattle Mariners are inching closer and closer to becoming the contending club that every fanbase wants its team to be, and when this squad finally get there, it feels likely that it will be because of a stellar pitching staff.
There are several young arms in the Seattle organization that fans should be optimistic about, and these three deserve most of the attention right now.
3. Emerson Hancock
Emerson Hancock is the Mariners’ third-ranked overall prospect and top-ranked pitching prospect.
The 22-year-old righty was drafted after three solid seasons at the University of Georgia.
Hancock really made a name for himself his sophomore season in college when he posted a minuscule 1.99 ERA and 0.84 WHIP over 14 starts.
His strong college career earned him the sixth overall selection in the 2020 draft.
We’ve only been able to see Hancock three times so far with Single-A Everett, but he has been extremely good over limited appearances, allowing just one earned run and four hits over 9.1 innings while striking out 11.
Hancock has a fastball that can reach 99 on the gun (although he generally sits 93-95).
He also has an above-average changeup and a get-me-over curveball in the arsenal, according to prospectinsider.com.
Most scouting reports agree that command is his biggest strength.
The timeline on Hancock isn’t extremely clear, but there is optimism that he could be ready to go at the Major League level as soon as 2023.
2. Justus Sheffield
Justus Sheffield gave Mariners fans a lot to be excited about during the 2020 season.
After debuting with the New York Yankees in 2018, Sheffield landed in Seattle as part of the James Paxton trade.
In 2018 and 2019, Sheffield struggled against big-league hitting.
Over limited appearances those two years, he struggled to a 5.82 ERA and walked 21 batters in 38.2 innings.
But something clicked for the lefty during the 2020 season.
He made 10 starts en route to a 3.58 ERA and 3.17 FIP.
The strong campaign was one of the best parts of the year for the Mariners.
This season, Sheffield has regressed marginally, but it’s too soon to worry that his 2020 was a fluke.
Over nine starts this year, the 25-year-old has a 4.96 ERA, 4.48 FIP, and 1.57 WHIP.
He’s given up a lot of hits—57 in 49 innings—and opponents have an OPS of .805 against him.
That’s certainly not what you want to see, but again, we’re only two months into the season and there is plenty of time for Sheffield to figure things out.
Although fans want to see the Mariners contend for a playoff spot this season, the organization is still at a stage in the rebuilding timeline where development comes first.
Justus Sheffield, Nasty Slider. 😨 pic.twitter.com/jTG6tCpwbH
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 23, 2021
Sheffield will have all year to grow and improve.
1. Justin Dunn
Justin Dunn has been the brightest part of the 2021 season for the Mariners.
Dunn spent three seasons at Boston College and was used as a reliever for his first two years.
He didn’t exactly flourish in that role, posting poor numbers in both of those seasons.
But everything changed for the righty when BC moved Dunn to the starting rotation.
He made 18 appearances for BC in 2016—the last eight of which were starts—and posted a 2.06 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.
Dunn led that Boston College squad to a deep postseason run, winning a regional in the NCAA Tournament before ultimately falling win one short of a College World Series berth.
Dunn was drafted in the middle of BC’s postseason run, which gave us one of the best videos of the 2016 season:
— BC Baseball (@BCBirdBall) June 10, 2016
Dunn was originally drafted by the New York Mets before landing in Seattle through a trade.
He debuted in 2019 with the Mariners, but made just four appearances as an “opener” totaling 6.2 innings.
We got our first real MLB look at Dunn in 2020 when he made 10 starts during the COVID-shortened season.
The results were okay, as Dunn managed a 4.34 ERA, but the eye test told you that that number was maybe not sustainable.
Dunn fought command issues all year long, walking 31 batters in 45.2 innings, and had a 6.54 FIP (which is essentially a predictive ERA).
Well, the 2021 season has been a completely different story for the 25-year-old, who now looks like one of the most exciting young arms in the game.
Over nine starts this year, Dunn has a 3.18 ERA (which leads Seattle’s rotation), a 1.19 WHIP, and a 4.55 FIP.
Dunn’s velocity is up this season after it had dipped marginally last year, his command has improved (although there is still room for improvement in that department) and he’s pitching with tons of confidence.
The FIP remains slightly high only due to Dunn’s high walk rate.
Walks have resulted in some laborious innings for Dunn this season, but he is a magician at getting out of trouble.
Candidly, Dunn does need to work on eliminating the long innings so he can pitch deeper into games.
Efficiency has been a struggle for him at times, and high pitch counts have often resulted in him getting pulled after five innings or sometimes after pitching into the sixth.
Here are two pretty crazy stats on Dunn to justify all the hype:
- He has allowed three runs or fewer in 15 consecutive starts, which is the longest such streak in the American League.
- He has made 19 career starts (excluding games in which he served as an “opener”) and has allowed two hits or fewer in eight of them.
Regarding that second stat: when Dunn’s stuff is at its best, he’s borderline unhittable.
He beats himself with free passes sometimes, but you’re not going to get many knocks off the guy.
Justin Dunn (@Dunn_Deal19) extends his AL-leading streak to 15 starts of allowing 3 or fewer runs.
Dunn's .168 opp. BA ranks 2nd-best in the AL this season (min. 40 IP) to Chicago's Carlos Rodón. pic.twitter.com/BalVyjZvDu
— Mariners PR (@MarinersPR) May 30, 2021
Dunn will likely make his next start Thursday or Friday on the road against the Los Angeles Angels.
If it comes Friday, we’d get a very exciting Dunn/Shohei Ohtani pitching matchup.