Dynasty Deep Dive: Mariners RHP Taylor Dollard

Is Taylor Dollard Seattle's next success story?

This is a weekly column written for those who play in deeper dynasty formats, where I will be focusing on a player who is owned in less than 20 percent of Fantrax leagues – as that is the most commonly used platform for dynasty leagues.

This season—perhaps more than any in recent memory—will be about pop-up prospects. Until about a week ago, it had been well over a year since we last saw minor league baseball, and many previously unheralded prospects have been quietly developing behind the scenes. Some have made changes to their swing, or to their pitch mix, while some have just simply gotten stronger or faster or better – which gives prospect hounds and deep league dynasty players a whole new slate of athletes to pay attention to and speculatively add in our fantasy leagues.

Additionally, players selected in the abbreviated 2020 MLB draft are just now making their professional debuts, giving us a new group of players to evaluate – many who have undergone significant changes from their high school or college days now that they have nearly a full year of time spent with their organizations.

Today’s article will be about one of those players, Taylor Dollard, a fifth round pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2020 who has absolutely shoved to begin his first minor league campaign. Starting out at Single-A Modesto, Dollard has made two starts totaling nine innings while giving up just seven hits and one run, with zero walks and 18(!) strikeouts.

While a 50+% K rate is obviously not sustainable, Dollard looks like a different pitcher than he was before Seattle plucked him in the final round in 2020. Considering Seattle’s success in developing pitchers over the past few years, Dollard is a name I’d have on my radar in deeper dynasty formats, especially after seeing him cook in these first two starts.


How Did We Get Here?


The Mariners have a type.

More than almost any team in baseball, at least over the past three years or so, the Mariners’ draft strategy, at least when it comes to pitchers, is entirely predictable. The team goes after college arms who have plus, I mean plus plus, command, even if the velocity and the secondaries don’t exactly pop. 2019 first rounder George Kirby is perhaps the most notable example of this, but other pitchers in this mold include Brandon Williamson, Ljay Newsome, Levi Stoudt, and Adam Macko.

Seattle’s other vice, which relates to both hitters and pitchers, is finding players who had significant breakouts in the Cape Cod League.

Our guy Dollard fits both those bills to a tee. The 6’3 right-hander was a reliever at Cal Poly during his first two seasons, going 8-0 with seven saves and a fantastic 85:23 K:BB ratio in his 84.1 innings of work.

Then, he had his big breakout: Starting for the Y-D Red Sox in the Cape, Dollard posted a 1.55 ERA with a sparkling 27:1 K:BB ratio in 17.1 innings, which led to him earning a rotation spot his junior year with the Mustangs, where he posted a 1.67 ERA and a 36:4 K:BB ratio in his four starts before the season was shut down because of COVID-19. That stretch included a dominant outing against UConn where he struck out 10 over seven shutout innings, allowing just two hits, and another against Michigan, where Dollard struck out nine over seven innings, allowing just two earned runs without walking a hitter.

Cal Poly, the alma mater of Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger, has a solid reputation for starting pitchers out in the pen before letting them step into a starting role, with Phillies right-hander Spencer Howard being the most notable recent example.

All told, Dollard finished his collegiate career with 121 strikeouts and just 27 walks in 111.1 innings, numbers that no doubt drew the attention of Seattle’s scouts. His stuff, while good, wasn’t exactly overwhelming – with a sinking fastball that sat in the 89-92 mile per hour range and an above average slider, along with a changeup and curveball that needed some work to be seen as big league offerings.

Still, the scouting reports thought that Dollard’s plus command and four-pitch offering could make him a big league starting pitcher in time, particularly if he could add a little muscle to help improve his velocity and his chances of consistently going 5-6 innings every fifth day, and could improve upon his weaker secondary offerings.

So the Mariners used their fifth and final pick of the 2020 MLB draft to grab Dollard, hoping that by sending him through the team’s highly regarded pitching development program, affectionately nicknamed “Gas Camp”, he would come out on the other side a big-league ready starting pitcher.

It is far too early to call it a complete success, but the early results are extremely promising. Let’s learn a little bit more about what Seattle does with their pitchers, and how Dollard will continue to benefit from this program while he rises up the ranks.


Let’s talk about Mariners Gas Camp


The Mariners have a plethora of regimented offseason programs for their prospects, including leadership camps, swing camps, and of course Gas Camp. While the name implies adding velocity, Gas Camp is much more than that.

“It changes everything for a pitcher,” Mariners farm director Andy McKay told Josh Norris at Baseball America, who interviewed multiple members of Seattle’s coaching and player development staff in a piece about Gas Camp early last year. “It changes the mentality. It changes what he’s willing to throw in what counts, and it changes how he attacks the strike zone. All of those things were happening really right in front of us.”

Indeed, after adding Gas Camp to the team’s offseason training program, Seattle’s success on the hill was evident right away. 38 pitchers struck out over 150 hitters in the minor leagues in 2019, and seven of them were in a Seattle uniform. Seattle’s Double-A Affiliate in 2019, the Arkansas Travelers, had a 4.16 K:BB ratio, which led all full-season minor league clubs. And High-A Modesto, which has since dropped down to the team’s Single-A affiliate, counted 1,479 strikeouts among their pitchers in 2019, the second-highest total in the minors.

The Mariners’ success in developing strikeout machines in the minor leagues is just now beginning to show up with the MLB club, now that Logan Gilbert has joined fellow graduates Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn at the big league level. Sheffield and Dunn did a lot of their development in other systems, however, leaving Gilbert and the now-injured Ljay Newsome among the only graduates who fully developed under this program.

While the Mariners wisely won’t reveal every trick they use to help these pitchers, they acknowledge the plan is altered for each and every prospect based on their individual needs, and that while adding velocity is no doubt a huge part of the program, getting pitchers to believe in themselves mentally goes a long way as well.

“You can also take the mental part of it, the subconscious, and that’s what you want to train,” said Nathan Bannister, a former Mariners farmhand who coached their Low-A affiliate in 2020. “You want to train your movement patterns without thinking and just doing. We’re definitely trying to train our bodies and our arms and condition them in a way to be able to go on the mound, see a target and throw with intent through the target and strike people out.”

“It really just came down to: You can control your intent, you can control your velocity, right,” added Mariners pitching coordinator Max Weiner. “There’s a huge mental component to this: just free yourself up. You’re a thoroughbred, go run, that kind of deal.”

One way Seattle helps these pitchers increase their confidence is by having them throw as hard as they can without worrying about location. It’s obviously not an effective in-game strategy, but it helps show pitchers what they are capable of and often surprises them into realizing they can throw much harder than they previously thought.

From there, the players are often more motivated to translate that added velocity into game situations – and for many of them, because they have that foundation of plus command already in place, it isn’t too hard of a transition to make.

The Mariners believe their program is on the cutting edge of pitching development and will become far more popular as other teams begin to catch up. With Kirby, Williamson, Sam Carlson, and of course 2020 first-rounder Emerson Hancock set to rise up the ranks, all likely making their big league debuts in the next two seasons, this team philosophy and training program could easily start to make waves.

“The game is going to evolve and change to where these types of programs are going to not only be the norm,” McKay said, “but it’s also not an ‘I did it one year and it’s over.’”

For Dollard, the changes made at gas camp are hard to fully pinpoint, in part because we have very little data to go on from his time at Cal Poly regarding pitch mix, and because early season camera angles and velocity readings in Modesto are not providing what you would call MLB-caliber data.

Still, I won’t leave you all without at least a little video to peek at Dollard, courtesy of the MiLBMariners Twitter account:

Dollard working up in the zone with his fastball, which was considered a sinker during his time at Cal Poly, is a good sign he is adopting the infamous BSB under Seattle’s watch – which should help keep his strikeout totals up as long as he can effectively work his breaking stuff down.

All told, Dollard fits what Seattle looks for in their pitching prospects, and a few seasons going through the team’s offseason regiment should, keyword should, help him continue to develop his already solid pitch mix, add some velocity to his fastball, and help him maintain that over a full outing, while keeping his plus command.

This isn’t an easy task, but Seattle has already helped multiple mid-level prospects reach their full potential – and then some. Just ask Reggie McClainwho added six miles per hour in velocity over one offseason, rising up three levels to make his MLB debut, just one year after the former 13th round pick posted a 5.01 ERA at High-A.

Or ask Newsome, a 26th round pick in 2015. The soft-tossing, high-control right-hander posted gaudy strikeout numbers in back-to-back minor league seasons from 2018-2019 before securing a role in Seattle’s rotation for part of last season and to begin this year before succumbing to injury.

In fact – Newsome might be the best comp for Dollard in terms of what kind of development needs to happen for him to reach his potential. Newsome not only added velocity through Gas Camp, he switched to a four-seam fastball exclusively, more effectively utilized his changeup – not just by improving the pitch itself but by attacking hitters differently with it – and recently began focusing on using both his breaking balls differently.

While Newsome’s MLB outings have not gone great, he was a completely unheralded 26th round pick who had resounding success in the minors and made it into a big-league rotation – which is quite possibly the best maximization of his talent level.

For Dollard, his max output is likely much higher than that, and gas camp could easily help him reach that threshold as a mid-rotation starter with plus command and average to above-average strikeout stuff at the big league level – which would make him more than worthy of being on fantasy rosters.


Fantasy Focus


Dollard’s hot start to the season no doubt has fantasy players in deeper dynasty leagues taking notice. While he’s still down the line in Seattle’s pitching prospect hierarchy, behind Kirby, Emerson Hancock, Juan Then, Brandon Williamson, Isaiah Campbell, and Sam CarlsonDollard has all the tools to be a quick riser through the minor league ranks.

If his improvements to his secondaries stick, and his command doesn’t take a hit, Dollard looks every bit the part of a quality big league rotation arm, one who should help teams out in strikeouts and WHIP at the very least.

There’s a lot that has to fall into place between now and then, and the risk of him being a long reliever or even getting converted into a middle or late-inning reliever is still fairly high – as it is with most young pitching prospects – but Dollard is definitely an arm worth keeping a close eye on.

As of this writing, Dollard is rostered in just 1% of Fantrax leagues. While he is not a priority add in the majority of formats, even dynasty ones, he is worth looking at in leagues that have huge MiLB rosters, and is a great name to toss on the watchlist in those shallower leagues.

Seattle’s pitchers have been off to a scorching start all across the farm, but don’t sleep on Dollard – he has the potential to rise above a handful of players in the system, and you won’t want to miss out in those dynasty leagues if he reaches his full potential.


Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Andy Patton

Andy is the Dynasty Content Manager here at PitcherList. He manages all of the prospect content on the site, while also contributing a weekly article on dynasty deep sleepers, and the weekly hitter and pitcher stash lists. Andy also co-hosts the Never Sunny in Seattle podcast on the PitcherList Podcast Network, and separately hosts the Score Zags Score Podcast.

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