Lancaster, California —— We’ve been on Seattle Mariners right-handed pitching prospect Art Warren for some time now, noting his increasingly projectable power profile way back in early May and then talking to him about what made that happen when we saw him again in mid-June. Well, here we are in mid-September; it’s the California League Championship Series and Art Warren finds himself the Modesto Nuts‘ primary set-up man, armed with a filthy power arsenal and some serious heat with his fastball.
On Wednesday night, Warren threw 1.1 scoreless innings with two strikeouts in what was then a three-run game in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings at The Hangar. (Lancaster tied things up off Modesto’s closer, Matthew Festa, after Warren came out; Modesto eventually won in 11 innings.) He faced Lancaster’s four best hitters, too — in order: Garrett Hampson, Brendan Rodgers, Yonathan Daza, and Roberto Ramos, whiffing two (Hampson and Daza), hitting one (Rodgers) and getting Ramos to ground out. I think it’s worthy to break down Warren’s outing last night, because he’s doing something interesting that makes him different from most other power pitchers — so first, let’s take a look at the video to see every pitch he threw:
First hitter: Wilson Soriano, 2B
- Video: Begins at 01:04
- Pitches: Slider (86 mph), called strike; slider (87 mph), swinging
- Result: Pop-out
In to clean up the bottom of the seventh inning with two outs and two runners on, Warren first had to face nine-hole hitter Wilson Soriano. You’d expect a power reliever with an upper-90s fastball to shove it down a nine-hole hitter’s throat, right? Not quite. A pro scout sitting next to me turned, showed me his radar gun, and threw his hands up when Warren threw the second slider and got Soriano to pop out.
“This big hard-throwing reliever, and he opens up with two sliders,” the scout said.
“Yeah,” I responded, finishing it for him, “to the nine-hole hitter.”
“To the nine-hole hitter,” the scout repeated, shaking his head.
What Warren and the Nuts knew, and what I’ve observed watching Soriano all year, is that even as a lowly nine-hole guy, Wilson Soriano’s only hope to do damage sits as a dead red pull hitter. He wanted nothing more in that situation than to see a fastball to hit into the left-center field gap. You can literally see him pulling off on both pitches in that at-bat, especially his first take on the called strike. If Warren had thrown him a fastball, especially one that caught any significant portion of the plate, Soriano was liable to find the barrel and Modesto might have been in trouble. Two well-commanded sliders (even though the second was up) disrupted Soriano’s timing just enough get a pop out, and get out of the jam — good scouting by Modesto and catcher Arturo Nieto, and good execution by Warren.
On to the eighth inning.
Second hitter: Garrett Hampson, SS
- Video: Begins at 02:20
- Pitches: Changeup (89 mph), called strike; curveball (80 mph), called strike; slider (84 mph), ball; fastball (96 mph), swinging strike
- Result: Strikeout swinging
Just as with Wilson Soriano, Garrett Hampson has a pull approach and can do damage on the inner half; he hit a long leadoff home run on Wednesday night when Spencer Herrmann left a fastball on the inner half. Because of that, Warren opted to start Hampson off with an 89 mph changeup in the hopes that he’d roll over. Then, instead of following it up with the hard stuff, Warren goes soft-soft, showing a curveball for a called strike, and then a slider for a ball down and away on 0-2. It’s not typical to see a power reliever go changeup-curveball-slider to a top-of-the-order hitter, but that’s Art Warren: blessed with the ability to spin the ball a little bit with command, he doesn’t have to show the fastball early just to get a called strike. The heater does make an appearance late, though; on the final pitch of the bat, Warren finally opts for velocity (his first fastball of the outing, six pitches in!) and blows Hampson away at 96 mph.
Third hitter: Brendan Rodgers, DH
- Video: Begins at 02:50
- Pitches: Curveball (78 mph), called strike; fastball (97 mph), HBP
- Result: Hit by pitch
This could have been scary, but fortunately Rodgers got out of the way at the last second and took the 97 mph fastball high off his shoulder rather than off his head. For Warren, it’s another example of pitching backwards: curveball first to Lancaster’s best hitter, spun over for a strike, and then following up with high, hard stuff. He just went too high and too hard, missing out of the zone and losing Rodgers. Thankfully the HBP wasn’t serious.
On an unrelated note, Brendan Rodgers was hit by two different pitches in this game Wednesday night, one more on Tuesday night, and two more last week against Rancho Cucamonga, and I’m not much surprised by it. He’s right up on the plate and has a tendency to dive down on to it. Coupled with his impressive power profile to left field, that leaves him susceptible to being busted hard in by pitchers who don’t want him to extend his hands and hook balls on the outer half out to left field. I’d honestly expect Rodgers to continue to be hit by pitches now and then simply because pitchers are going to keep throwing him inside in an effort to tie him up and get jam jobs with hard stuff in off the plate.
Fourth hitter: Yonathan Daza, CF
- Video: Begins at 03:09
- Pitches: Slider (85 mph), foul ball; slider (87 mph), foul ball; fastball (93 mph), ball; curveball (77 mph), foul ball; curveball (78 mph), foul ball; changeup (88 mph), ball; pickoff move; fastball (92 mph), foul ball; slider (83 mph), swinging strike
- Result: Strikeout swinging
This was a great battle between two very well-regarded prospects who had breakout years in 2017, both of whom will wind up at the Arizona Fall League in a few weeks, and both of whom will likely get some big league time before their careers are over. Warren goes repeatedly to both his slider and curveball to Daza, not only proving he’d rather pitch off the breaking stuff than the fastball, but also plainly showing deference to Daza’s ability to hit hard stuff; the outfielder only saw one fastball across the entire at-bat. And while Warren got away with a fat slider up in the zone for the swinging strike three, it’s still a testament to his ability to spin it so well out of the hand that Daza never quite saw it right. Also of note here: Warren’s velocity dipped some with Rodgers on first base, suggesting the Seattle Mariners prospect has some mechanical work to do to ensure his upper 90 velocity remains even while trying to hold runners close to first base.
Fifth hitter: Roberto Ramos, 1B
- Video: Begins at 04:27
- Pitches: Fastball (93 mph), groundout
- Result: FC-6U
I’m sad this at-bat didn’t go deeper than a single pitch; Ramos got pretty good wood on the ball, but hit it right to Donnie Walton at short, and the inning ended. It’s one thing to see Art Warren pitch off his slider and curveball to righties when those pitches break away from them, but I would’ve loved to see how he sequenced lefty Roberto Ramos, who is having a great year and is liable to hit anything moving down and in out onto the highway beyond right field. I suspect Warren’s slider would have been scrapped, and you would have seen him go changeup-curveball quite a bit to stay out of Ramos’ hot zone down and in. Alas, maybe next time.
What does this mean for the Seattle Mariners and Art Warren?
So why take the time to break down every pitch Art Warren threw last night — and what might the Seattle Mariners have in the hard-throwing righty? Plainly put, because Warren can spin two different and distinct breaking balls, he’s got a shot to be a relief ace: the kind of guy who can work multiple innings in high-leverage situations with enough of an arsenal to face an entire lineup as opposed to being just a short-stint matchup guy. He took his full arsenal from his time as a starting pitcher last year, added a ton of adrenaline and about seven miles an hour on his fastball, and now thrives in high-leverage relief roles with four legitimate pitches. You just don’t see that every day, especially in High-A.
And while you’d expect somebody with a newly-found upper-90s fastball to want to show it off, Warren’s baseball IQ subtly impressed last night, indicating to me he understands how to pitch backwards a bit and sequence guys more intelligently than just here’s my best fastball, let’s see if you can hit it. There’s a time and a place for that, too, but in a ballpark like The Hangar where one mistake out over the plate can get you killed, Art Warren opted to be less of a thrower and more of a pitcher. That bodes well for the future.
Ironically, Warren and I were casually catching up about an hour before Wednesday night’s game, and at one point we got to talking about how to face Oakland Athletics power-hitting prospects Seth Brown and Sandber Pimentel (I’m not sure what this says about my life that I spend a considerable amoung of time talking to minor leaguers about how to get other minor leaguers out). We worked it into a discussion about how good professional hitters are at getting the barrel on plus velocity, and how you need to show stuff that breaks if you’re to have any hope of sustained success out of the bullpen. Four hours later, in a tight game with a championship on the line, upper-90s power pitcher Art Warren got out on the mound and picked up his game right where our conversation had left off: even if you throw 97 mph, you better show a wrinkle or two if you want to get good hitters out.
I guess the broader point here is that more than your basic upper-90s power guy, the Seattle Mariners have themselves a pitcher in Art Warren. This year’s book on him, very broadly, is that he got a big bump in velocity and became a power reliever with a very, very hard fastball—and that’s true! But what gets lost in that reading of Warren’s development is that he’s still firmly a pitcher more than a thrower, and he has a good feel for a deep arsenal that allows him to sequence hitters subtly, rather than just challenge them with a hard fastball and little else. That’ll hunt at levels higher than High-A, and if you haven’t yet, you should probably start paying attention to Art Warren.
Editor’s note: We’ll be out at the Arizona Fall League doing a lot of video interviews with prospects, and we’ll no doubt sit down with Art Warren at some point next month; get the jump on that, and see our hundreds of other baseball prospect videos, by clicking here and subscribing to our YouTube channel.