'I deserve this': Prospect Then has successful MLB debut

May 7th, 2023

SEATTLE -- Scott Servais put his hands on Juan Then’s chest just after he exited from his first career outing on Saturday and joked that the righty’s racing heart was “a good sign.” Luis Castillo, Then’s fellow Dominican Republic native, burst out laughing.

Then, the Mariners’ No. 23 prospect per MLB Pipeline, threw a 1-2-3 seventh inning that proved critical to keep Saturday’s game close and allow Seattle’s lineup to storm back for a 7-5 win over Houston. Then needed just 10 pitches, thanks to keeping the ball on the ground and in the infield -- a by-design effort of turning more to his sinker, which he lost trust in until last year, and his slider, which Castillo provided extensive consultation on in Spring Training.

“When I got the call, at first I was excited, but then I also melted down and realized that I deserve this,” Then said through an interpreter. “I've been working towards this. I think the biggest step I took was when I realized that just throwing more strikes and attacking the zone -- that's when I realized I belong.”

Then (pronounced "Ten") was recalled from Double-A Arkansas on Saturday as an injury replacement for Penn Murfee, who was placed on the 15-day IL with right elbow inflammation. And Then’s path to the Majors, perhaps more than his stuff, is what makes him so intriguing.

The 23-year-old took the organization’s biggest leap during the pandemic-impacted 2020, but with the caveat of pitching in a controlled environment given the cancellation of the Minors season. His ascent was enough to prompt the Mariners to add him to the 40-man roster that winter and protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.

Yet he battled through pesky elbow injuries that limited him to just 66 1/3 innings from 2021-22, and in those 26 outings, he had a 6.11 ERA and surrendered 14 homers with more than a 3:1 K/BB ratio. It looked like he’d be entering a make-or-break spring, and he utilized camp to be a sponge, particularly to “La Piedra,” who encouraged him to throw his breaking ball as a sweeper.

“My slider wasn't breaking as much as I wanted it to, and Luis Castillo helped me with some details on that,” Then said. “And that's a pitch that's been working. ... He was happy for me [on Saturday] because in Spring Training, he told me, 'Just relax, keep working, because you deserve to be here.' And it was just a bunch of emotions.”

Then’s slider represents one big benchmark, particularly for whiffs. His changeup is touted as a plus pitch, and the return of the sinker -- which he said contributed to elbow pain earlier in his career but not anymore -- is so conducive to weak contact.

“When I first started throwing it last year again, I was a little scared because of the discomfort,” Then said. “But then as I threw it, I realized there was no discomfort. So I just kept throwing it, and thank God right now, it's a very good pitch.”

The Mariners have used their relievers for 119 innings this year -- “we have used our bullpen a lot and using the same guys often,” Servais said -- which will allow for fresh arms like Then to keep contributing.

Triple-A Tacoma
Despite losing a nine-game hit streak on Friday, outfielder Cade Marlowe (No. 16) has still hit safely in 14 of 16 games and has reached base safely in all 16 since returning from a strained oblique on April 18. He’s slashing .314/.380/.571 (.951 OPS).

Double-A Arkansas
Outfielder Jonatan Clase (No. 12), arguably the fastest prospect in the system, was promoted to the Travelers, and one day later, he was named the Northwest League Player of the Month for his efforts at Everett.

High-A Everett
Harry Ford (No. 1) lost a five-game hit streak in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader, but he ripped a double in the nightcap to start a new one. In his last seven games, he’s slashing .333/.419/.444 (.864 OPS), a nice turnaround after an 11-for-49 stretch.

Single-A Modesto
Cole Young (No. 3) had his second four-hit game of the year on Thursday, putting him on a fast track to reach Everett later this summer. For the season, he’s slashing .316/.458/.484 (.942 OPS) in 120 plate appearances.