Mariners think Phillippe Aumont has makeup of great reliever
How soon former first-round draft pick makes it to the majors will depend, in part, on how well he pitches in Arizona Fall League.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories this week about Mariners prospects playing in the Arizona Fall League.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Imposing relief pitcher Phillippe Aumont wants to clear some things up before he embarks on trying to make it to the majors with the Mariners next season.
First off, while his hip has been problematic since his amateur days in Canada, it is not a degenerative condition as had been rumored, and is not behind a surprising decision to move the former No. 1 draft pick to the bullpen. Secondly, yes, he does indeed regret the behavior that led to him breaking his non-pitching hand by pounding a locker after he'd allowed three runs in the ninth inning of a Class AA loss in August.
The latter incident, which left the 6-foot-7, 225-pound Aumont sidelined for the final three weeks of his season, could delay his fast-tracking to the big leagues. The Mariners want to see how Aumont's shortage of innings impacts his mound performance and will get their first glimpse today when the 20-year-old is expected to make his Arizona Fall League debut for the Peoria Javelinas.
"I lost my mind," Aumont said Tuesday of the locker incident, as his Javelinas were thrashed, 17-4, by the visiting Surprise Rafters. "I lost it completely. I barely remember anything because I just completely lost it. When something gets you real bad and you have a hard time controlling yourself, that's what happened. I just started hitting my locker. I didn't feel it at the time. Adrenaline was just pumping."
The next day, his hand was so sore he couldn't play catch and he had to sheepishly admit to the team's trainer what had happened.
Interestingly, it was this raw, darker side of Aumont that helped convince Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik to convert him to late-inning relief. Zduriencik views Aumont as a "big, tough kid" with the intimidation factor and hard-throwing potential to do something special as a reliever.
Aumont, 20, says he was a bit surprised when the Mariners broached the idea last spring. But he'd had arm issues as a starter in his first year in Class A after being drafted with the team's first pick in 2007 and there were concerns about how he'd hold up.
And then, there was the World Baseball Classic, when Aumont pitched out of a bases-loaded, none-out jam for Team Canada against David Wright, Kevin Youkilis and Curtis Granderson of Team USA. All of a sudden, there was a sense, both from Aumont and the Mariners, that he might be ready for the majors more quickly than envisioned.
"They probably thought it would be a better role for me the way I conduct myself out there," said Aumont, who went 1-4 with a 5.09 earned-run average in 15 outings after a midsummer promotion to Class AA. "I'm pretty aggressive on the mound, and sometimes it's difficult for me to keep my emotions in check. As a starter, you've got to keep your emotions for six or seven innings. I had that in [Class A] Wisconsin, where maybe in the fourth inning I'd come out and be pumped and it would just gas me for the next couple of innings."
Aumont believes the rapid growth of his imposing physical frame, on a guy not yet even legal drinking age, might be why his hip has given him problems for years. It's something he's kept in check through regular stretching exercises.
"Nobody told me, 'We're putting you in the bullpen because of your hip,' " he said. "My hip was a problem. But it wasn't that big of a deal. I still threw six, seven innings at a time. It's just the fact I'd need to stretch and prepare for every start.
"That was not the main reason [for the switch]. When they drafted me, I had MRIs and everything. I do have some hip problems. It's just the way it is. Growing up I had some small injuries and I didn't take care of it.
"Right now, I deal with it. If it hurts, it hurts. If it doesn't hurt, it doesn't hurt. I just learn how to deal with it."
Aumont said he didn't have any serious hip issues this past season. And the Mariners are far more concerned with the development of an arm they thought — before the injury — might make their team next spring.
"Our intention is just to keep him pitching," said Mariners minor-league director Pedro Grifol. "Just to make sure he makes up some of these innings he did lose because of the hand."
The Mariners will watch to see whether Aumont can repeat his delivery with consistency. They also want him to command the ball better.
"That's very different from controlling the strike zone, which we know he can do," Grifol said. "Controlling the ball means you can throw strikes. Command is putting the ball where he wants."
And Aumont wants to show he knows how to control himself as well. He'll always have that raw emotion, the kind the Mariners feel can separate him from other relievers, but says he actually has grown up a lot the past two years.
"The big part was mentally," Aumont said. "I got drafted when I was 18 years old and didn't know what was going on. I showed up here [for spring training] and had no clue where I was going. You show up here and throw hard and everybody says, 'He's got great talent,' but you don't realize it.
"I think the big point for me is, I realized what was going on with me and what I'm supposed to do and what the plan for me is."
Whether that plan stays on track depends on what Aumont can show here.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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