NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — As the sweat-drenched Arkansas Travelers exited the field at Dickey-Stephens Park on Wednesday afternoon for the refuge of their air-conditioned clubhouse, Andy McKay, the Mariners director of player development, walked into the dugout and motioned to general manager Jerry Dipoto.
It was time for a conversation with talented pitching prospect Logan Gilbert that wasn’t going be particularly enjoyable. Dipoto, along with McKay and other members from the player-development staff, had made the decision to end Gilbert’s season and not allow him to pitch for the Travelers in the Texas League playoffs, which started later that night.
“He’s not going to be happy about this,” Dipoto said. “And that’s a good thing. He’s a very a competitive guy and I know he wants to win this championship, so us shutting him down will leave a little sting there.”
Gilbert knew something might be up when he was summoned.
“I kind of thought I knew what was coming,” he said. “I listened to what they had to say and their reasoning behind it. Of course, I trust them. I wanted to be out there. They knew I wanted to be out there.”
And not being out there gnawed at him.
“Getting into the playoffs after 140 games, there’s nothing I wanted to do more than just get out there and compete,” he said.
Seattle had planned to let Gilbert pitch in the postseason, possibly even start him for Game 1 of the first-round series vs. the Tulsa Drillers. But he labored though his last outing on August 29, pitching just 4 1/3 innings and allowing five runs on seven hits in 100-degree temperatures in Corpus Christi, Texas. And in the bullpen session that followed the start, there were concerns of body and arm fatigue. Instead of risking possible injury, the Mariners decided to shut him down.
“In summary, his season could have not gone any better, and that’s why we don’t want to push the envelope here,” Dipoto said. “With 135 innings pitched – and that was our goal – we don’t see the need to push him out there. While we want to win a championship here, we want to remember the big picture. Unless something goes wildly wrong, we see Logan pitching in the big leagues next year, and to take a chance here and pushing him when he’s tired, that’s not what we are here for.”
Gilbert will attend the Mariners’ high-performance camp and then prepare for a different kind of spring training.
“It’s just smart for us to take it easy with Logan and to back off the gas,” Dipoto said. “We’ll see him in major-league spring training in February and we’ll see what happens from there.”
The Mariners tried to slot out the innings and starts to give him a chance in the postseason, but Gilbert has been so efficient and successful that he reached that number earlier than expected.
“He throws a ton of strikes, he misses bats, he’s got a great feel of who he is and how he gets his outs,” Dipoto said. “He’s a very cerebral guy. He probably spends as much time poring through the information on how to affect what he’s doing without losing sight of being a teammate. You can get lost in one and not pay attention to the other.”
It’s been a quick climb through the organization ranks for Gilbert, who was the Mariners’ first-round pick in 2018, picked 14th overall out of Stetson University. The Mariners were going to limit his usage in what was supposed be his first professional season due to a heavy college workload, but a case of mononucleosis shut down his 2018 season before it started.
After attending the Mariners’ high-performance camp last offseason and early minicamp this spring, he made his professional debut with Class A West Virginia and dominated. The Mariners knew he was probably too advanced for the Low-A South Atlantic League but wanted to ease him into his first full season.
Gilbert made five starts, posting a 1-0 record and a 1.59 ERA with 36 strikeouts and walked six in 22 2/3 innings. Opposing hitters batted .118 with a .416 on-base plus slugging percentage against him.
He was promoted to High-A Modesto and the Cal League, which is known to be more hitter-friendly. It didn’t matter. He continued to excel, posting a 5-3 record with a 1.73 ERA in 12 starts. In 62 1/3 innings, he struck out 74 batters with 12 walks. Opposing hitters batted .228 with a .589 OPS.
The Mariners pushed him to Arkansas in mid-July, where he joined a loaded rotation that already had right-hander Justin Dunn and lefties Justus Sheffield and Ricardo Sanchez.
In his first start for the Travelers, he struck out eight batters in 5 1/3 innings. In nine starts for Arkansas, he was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA with 56 strikeouts and 15 walks in 50 innings. Opposing hitters batted .194 with a .559 OPS.
He pitched five innings or more in all but his last start for the Travelers.
“You always want to go against the best competition you can, and that’s what I’ve been doing out here,” he said. “Yeah, the batters are really good and there’s a lot to learn on the way. I felt like I took it in strike and I had a lot of good guys around me helping me along the way.”
Of the 2,170 pitches Gilbert threw this season, 65% were strikes, with 15% of those strikes being swings and misses. He faced 521 patters and struck out 165, which is 31.6 percent. At the AA level, where the talent level is increased and the hitters have established hitting approaches, he struck out 28.7% of the hitters he faced.
“Something to reflect on with him, Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn as a trio of pitchers, when you maintain the strikeout rates that they are maintaining at Double-A that’s usually a harbinger of positive outcomes in the big leagues,” Dipoto said. “The missing the bat is a critical element to point at in Double-A. Throwing strikes is very important, but missing the bats is indicative of the guys that are going to be starting every fifth day with the chance to be above-average-level major-league pitchers. We think all of them will be.”
Gilbert has ascended in the prospect rankings to the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect in the organization per MLB Pipeline, while staying as the No. 4 prospect in Baseball America’s organizational rankings.
“I just wanted to come out and prove something to myself and know who I am as a pitcher and show it on the field,” Gilbert said. “I feel like I did that for the most part this season. So I’m pretty happy with it.”
Reliever Art Warren, the Mariners’ No. 26 prospect, threw off a mound before Wednesday’s game. He’s on the seven-day minor-league injured list with a groin strain. But he said that doctors had cleared him for game action. The Travelers would have to make a roster move to get Warren eligible to pitch in the postseason. There is some thought that Warren could be a September call-up because he’d be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.
Dipoto said shortstop J.P. Crawford will be out around two weeks with a hamstring strain. Doctors have labeled it a Grade 1 strain, with some areas of the strain nearing a Grade 2. The hope is that Crawford will be back for the last week of the season, but Dipoto said the team won’t push him.
There was no update with outfielder Mitch Haniger, who is dealing with back issues. Dipoto did admit that the Mariners are running out of time to get him back on the field. Haniger has been out for three months after suffering a ruptured testicle.