By Ethan Novak @ethannovak
Baseball prospects were created to break your heart, and yet–because they’re always around, playing in the shadows of the minor leagues and winter leagues you’ve never heard of and stringing together the occasional hot streak you’ll undoubtedly hear about–they were created to fill it.
Prospects doing fun things is fun, and I couldn’t help but picture Mariners minor-leaguer Dylan Unsworth in navy and teal as he dazzled his way through eight shutout innings tonight in South Africa’s 7-1 win over New Zealand in a WBC qualifying game.
When the ninth-inning came, when the ball was no longer his to throw, Unsworth had tallied four strikeouts, two hits allowed, no walks, and just 89 pitches. Even more impressive, Unsworth’s best inning was his final inning, as the 23-year-old struck out the side in a perfect eighth.
It wasn’t the most dominant performance–Unsworth left several pitches over the middle of the plate that New Zealand hitters failed to take advantage of–but his fastball-change combo induced plenty of weak contact and he managed to work ahead of just about every hitter he faced.
It was the kind of performance that reminded me of Blake Beavan on a good day (as few and far between as those days were). Pound the strike zone, limit hard contact, rely on defense, and so on.
This was, however, a fantastic start to the 2016 season for Unsworth, who is heading into his seventh season with the Mariners. His 2015 season was his most productive year yet, as he tallied a 3.32 ERA in 40.2 IP in the hitter-friendly California League before being called up to AA-Jackson for 13 starts (4.34 ERA, 66.1 IP). Unsworth doesn’t have magical stuff, but having Double-A experience and eight shutout innings in international play by the age of 23 isn’t nothing.
And most importantly, baseball is back. Four balls and three strikes are back. Questionable umpire calls are back. And prospects who capture my heart in a single night are back. I’m ready.