Word is out that the Mariners are moving 2007 first-round pick Phillippe Aumont to the bullpen.
"We felt that this was a guy, who, if used in a relief role, could be on a real fast-track to the major leagues,” (general manager Jack Zduriencik) said. "And we’re talking a real fast track.”
In a perfect world, teams would develop all of their pitching prospects as starters, either to use them in that role in the major leagues or to give them more experience facing hitters in the minor leagues. And a player with as little pitching experience as Aumont, a Canadian native who has just 55 2/3 pro innings under his belt, would benefit from facing more batters.
But it would be narrow-minded to think that all pitchers can develop that way or that it’s the optimal developmental path for every pitcher.
The Mariners kept Aumont on a tight leash last year, and even then he couldn’t stay healthy. Aumont made 12 starts last year for low Class A Wisconsin before he went on the disabled list with elbow problems, and in half of those starts Aumont lasted just three innings or less. Only once did he make it past six innings, going seven innings against Peoria on March 23. In his next start he lasted just 1 2/3 innings, then went on the disabled list for two months, returning in August to make a three-inning start and a pair of four-inning starts.
Mariners fans are clearly disappointed that Aumont is now the third consecutive first-round pick that Seattle has used on a reliever. But the fact that Aumont was a first-round pick—or that Josh Fields and Brandon Morrow were first-rounders—is irrelevant at this stage and an invalid argument for keeping Aumont as a starter.
Aumont throws a heavy 90-95 mph fastball that peaks at 97, but given the confluence of his elbow problems and scouts’ concerns about his mechanics, who knows how long he’ll be able to throw that hard? There’s no need to keep him in a starting role if it means he’s going to miss another two months (or more) of the season, stunting his development and possibly leading to an atrophy of velocity or movement. Why risk burning out an arm like that if you can having him throwing those bullets in the major leagues instead?
Nobody knows Aumont—his medical history and current health, the development of his slider and his work-in-progress changeup—better than the Mariners. Kudos to them for what’s likely to be an initially unpopular decision, but one that could greatly benefit Aumont’s career.
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