While a Texas League championship ring would have been a nice souvenir and memory to punctuate a stellar season for the Double-A Arkansas Travelers, teammates Kyle Lewis, Justin Dunn, Donnie Walton and Art Warren will just have to settle for being called up to the big leagues instead.
While the Mariners won’t officially announce the roster moves until Tuesday, the four players are already en route to Seattle and will be in uniform and available for Tuesday’s game vs. the Cincinnati Reds at T-Mobile Park.
All four players will have their minor league contracts selected and be added to the 40-man roster. The Mariners currently have three open spots on the 40-man after they outrighted right-handed Matt Carasiti to Triple-A Tacoma on Sunday.
They will open another spot by either placing outfielder Mitch Haniger on the 60-day injured list or designating a player, possibly outfielder Keon Broxton, for assignment.
Haniger went for a second opinion on his ailing lower back and the diagnosis was similar to what Mariners team doctors assessed as the issue — muscular inflammation. At this point, the Mariners may decide to shut Haniger down for the rest of the season and let him recover from what has been a lost season. He’s already missed the past three months after rupturing his testicle in a game and needing immediate surgery.
The decision to call up the four players from Arkansas was influenced by multiple aspects. All four players were likely going to be put on the 40-man roster this offseason to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. So putting them on the roster now is just being proactive.
This is also the last season where the full 40-man roster will be eligible for the month of September. After complaints from managers and teams, MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to change the policy next season. They will limit the number of players eligible to be active from game to game while lowering the overall total of players that can be added to the active roster.
The Mariners decided to take advantage of this last season of full roster expansion to get the four players some big league experience going into next season.
Of the four players, Dunn, who is ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the organization by MLB Pipeline, has the best opportunity to be on the opening day roster in 2020.
Acquired as part of the trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets, the 23-year-old right-hander put together a solid season for the Travelers. In 25 starts, he posted a 9-5 record with a 3.55 ERA. In 131.2 innings pitched, he struck out 158 batters and walked 39. He had a 67% strike percentage while opponents batted .236 with a .663 on-base plus slugging percentage against him.
With Felix Hernandez, Wade LeBlanc and Tommy Milone not expected to be on the roster next season, there is a chance that Dunn could make the opening day starting rotation and join his close friend Justus Sheffield as well as Marco Gonzales and Yusei Kikuchi.
The current plan is for the Mariners to use Dunn on Milone’s scheduled days to pitch. Dunn will either work as an extended opener for Milone or come in as the bulk pitcher after Milone opens a game. It’s a way to control Dunn’s usage in the final month of the season instead of going to a six-man rotation.
For Lewis, this is a major step in a career that had been sidetracked by knee issues stemming from a gruesome injury suffered in a slide at home plate. The Mariners’ first-round pick — 11th overall — in 2014, he spent the previous two seasons working and recovering from two surgeries needed to repair the damage.
This has been his first full season where he didn’t miss significant time. He participated in MLB spring training and then played in 122 games for the Travelers, second most behind Walton and Jordan Cowan, who played in 124 games.
Lewis, 24, posted a .263/.342/.398 slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) with 25 doubles, two triples, 11 homers and 62 RBI, earning midseason and postseason All-Star honors. He’s rated as the No. 10 prospect in the system by MLB Pipeline.
While the numbers aren’t eye-popping, the Travelers play in one of the worst hitting parks in baseball, and the player development staff has raved about Lewis’ improvement in terms of swing decisions and hard-hit ball percentage.
In an Arkansas clubhouse full of talented and ballyhooed prospects who are the expected to be major contributors in the Mariners rebuild, Walton and Warren were still considered leaders of the team due to their experience and personalities.
Walton, 25, was a fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft out of Oklahoma State and profiles as a utility infielder at the MLB level with his ability to handle shortstop, second base and third base. Rated as the No. 28 prospect in the system, he posted a .300/.390/.427 slash line with 22 doubles, three triples, 11 homers and 50 RBI. He walked 63 times while striking just 72 times in 558 plate appearances.
Warren, 26, almost didn’t get the call-up. A groin strain sidelined him for the final weeks of Arkansas’ season and jeopardized his promotion. But he got healthy in time to pitch in the playoffs and get a call up. When healthy, Warren is a power arm out of the bullpen with high-90s fastball. He earned an invite to MLB spring training before the 2018 season, but injury problems that season didn’t get him an invite for 2019 MLB spring training.
Warren has dealt with shoulder issues the last two seasons that have put him on the injured list for extended periods. But a change to his mechanics and a diagnosis of what was causing the issues has him feeling confident that those shoulder issues are in the past. Rated as the No. 26 prospect in the system, Warren served as the Travelers closer this season, appearing in 29 games, tallying 15 saves with a 2-1 record and a 1.71 ERA. In 31.2 innings pitched, he struck out 41 batters with 13 walks.