You don’t always see impact players coming
If you take a look at a lot of championship baseball teams, you almost always find the blue collar, over-achiever guy on the 25-man roster someplace.
These guys were not first-round picks. They did not arrive on your favorite team’s roster in a blockbuster trade or for someone you had even heard of but there is almost always one of these guys on a winning team.
I’ll give you a great example from Seattle Mariners history. The Mariners sent the guy known in those days as “Digger” to the New York Yankees. Digger was a 1B/DH type of guy for the M’s who had an average glove at best.
With the bat, he had just a .239 career batting average with 123 homers in 11 seasons, most of which were with the Mariners.
Digger, as he was known on the field, was actually Ken Phelps, and the player who came back to the M’s in exchange for Phelps in that fateful July summer of 1988 was none other than future Hall of Famer Jay Buhner, aka “the Bone”.
Buhner was 23 at the time and it took a few years, but he found his stroke and wound up hitting over 40 home runs for Seattle in three consecutive seasons. He was an All-Star and a co-face of the franchise alongside Ken Griffey Jr and Edgar Martinez.
No one could ever say they saw that coming, even Lou Piniella. Piniella was GM of the Yankees, quit, and later took over as manager after Billy Martin got fired a fifth time all while this trade went down.
But enough story telling. Here are some names you likely don’t know that could wind up being house hold names for the M’s.
Cole Gillespie is a 29-year-old local boy coming home of sorts. He played standout ball for Oregon State and calls his hometown Portland, Ore. He’s a former third-round pick in 2006 by the Brewers.
Gillespie is an outfielder who has been kicked around baseball for a number of years but only has managed to play in 78 games. In those games he’s batted .225 with three homers and 20 RBIs.
Gillespie has the tools, but he’s never been able to put it all together in professional baseball. Could he be a late bloomer, not unlike guys like Buhner and Edgar. It’s a great story just waiting to happen. Local boy returns to the Northwest to shine with the M’s.
Gillespie is going to get a serious look this spring. He has signed a minor league deal this week with the M’s with a big-league spring training invite.
Almonte was acquired by the Mariners during the last offseason from the Yankees in exchange for righty reliever Shawn Kelley. After hitting .276 with the AA Yankees affiliate in Trenton, Almonte kept improving with the bat and hit .300 while splitting time with M’s AA and AAA clubs.
Almonte had a cup of coffee with the M’s big league club late last year after the AAA season wrapped up. He appeared in 25 games and batted .267 with a couple of homers and nine RBIs.
In addition to the great, switch-hitting bat that seems to continue to develop in Almonte you have to love this guy on defense. He has a supreme glove, great speed and can play any position you want in the outfield.
His great speed also shows up on the base paths, as he has stolen over 200 bases in his young professional career.
The Mariners trade away an average player to the Yankees in exchange for a future All-Star outfielder… the story has a familiar ring to it, don’t you think?