Mariners 2015 Prospects of the Year

It’s usually not difficult to identify the players of the year in minor leagues of a big-league organization. Determining the prospects of the year isn’t necessarily as elementary. In fact, it never is in my experience. The difference? Player of the year typically is all about performance. Prospect of the year is significantly more intricate and sophisticated, and requires a lot deeper and widespread investigating.

The Seattle Mariners have what many call a weak farm system. I don’t entirely disagree, since a large portion of the club’s talent spent 2015 playing below Double-A Jackson and many of its best upper-level prospects struggled. Several intriguing talent stand out, however, including the prospects of the year, who displayed a combination of development and performance.

Pitching Prospect Of the Year: Edwin Diaz, RHP
Diaz, 21, still strikes most scouts as a likely reliever due to a sleight stature and relatively shallow repertoire. The right-hander does tend to fall in love with his slider at times, but for good reason — it’s plus, inducing swings and misses while serving as an offering he also can throw for called strikes.

Diaz began the season in Advanced-A Bakersfield but after seven strong starts was promoted to Jackson. With the Generals, as he faced a more legitimate level of batting talent, Diaz continued to show solid control of his fastball and slider, a better feel for pitching overall and more willingness to use his changeup, at least at times.

He suffered through some bouts of below-average fastball command; even at 91-96 mph, catching too much of the plate doesn’t work. Still, Diaz’s fastball sinks and tails and he was able to limit the damage, yielding just five long balls in 104 1/3 innings of work.

Reportedly Diaz is up to about 180 pounds to go with his lanky 6-foot-3 frame and easy-effort delivery. He stays on top well, an improvement over a year ago, and he commanded the slider better, too.

Diaz is the easy choice for pitching prospect of the year. He’s the Mariners’ top overall pitching prospect and his growth and production skies over any other in the system.

Others: Dan Altavilla, RHP; Enyel De Los Santos, RHP; Andrew Moore, RHP; Nick Neidert, RHP; Dylan Thompson, RHP; Paul Fry, LHP; Tony Zych, RHP; Emilio Pagano, RHP.

Position Player Prospect of the Year: Tyler O’Neill, RF
Ketel Marte would have been steep competition for O’Neill, but he was promoted this summer and ultimately spent just 11 weeks in the minors. O’Neill had a tremendous campaign, showing his raw power in games and displaying a more mature game plan as the season progressed.

He’s still a little unrefined in some areas, but the former third-round pick also showed above-average instincts on the bases, a more disciplined defensive game and most importantly, at least for his chances to hit, improved pitch recognition.

O’Neill smacked 32 home runs and tallied 65 extra-base hits in 106 games this season for the Blaze in the California League. My inquiries with scouts cover 21 of those 32 long balls and word on all of them suggest exactly zero of them had anything to do with wind or thinner air.

O’Neill has plus bat speed and is starting to learn how to use it for reasons other than the home run. He’s shown leadership skills and as always shows an elite work ethic. Many scouts believe he’s faster now than on draft day 2013, and the club reveals that’s because O’Neill has worked in his speed.

This was a rare year when player of the year and prospect of the year were the same players. Diaz and O’Neill took legitimate, meaningful steps forward.

Others: Drew Jackson, SS; Jabari Blash, RF; Ketel Marte, SS; Patrick Kivlehan, OF; Tim Lopes, 2B.

All-Org Prospect Team
POS. PLAYER
1B D.J. Peterson
2B Tim Lopes
3B Logan Taylor
SS Ketel Marte
C Steve Baron
OF Tyler O’Neill
OF Alex Jackson
OF Jabari Blash
SP Edwin Diaz
SP Dan Altavilla
SP Enyel De Los Santos
RP Paul Fry
RP Tony Zych
RP Emilio Pagan
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Jason A. Churchill

Publisher, Executive Editor, Director of Analysis Jason founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at Inside the Park three years prior. He spent years covering prep, college and pro sports for several news outlets, both local and national, including MLB.com and ESPN Insider. He served as co-host of the afternoon drive show on 1090 The Fan CBS Sports Radio from 2013-2015. He's not done podcasting yet and now serves as managing editor at HEROSports.com.

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11 thoughts on “Mariners 2015 Prospects of the Year

  1. JerryEK

    Jason, you’re obviously right about how PD and amateur scouting are both critical, and its abundantly clear that Dipoto views this as a PD problem, given who was let go and who was retained in the organization. Do you have any inside info or an informed opinion about whether Dipoto made the right call?

    From my perspective as an outsider, it seemed like the M’s had decent drafts and always managed to make at least one higher-profile international signing every July. But obviously the system as a whole – talent acquision and development – wasn’t working. I’m hoping Dipoto has it right, and that overhauling the coaching and PD staff will fix things.

    The one thing I’d like to see is a bit more focus on adding picks/int’l signings. The picks we’ve had were mostly rational, but Jack punted high picks for free agent composition the last few drafts, and it seems like we’ve backed off from the international market. The int’l market is the one area where teams can exploit the rules. I’d like to see them blow up the budget before an int’l draft is set up, or at least move to acquire more slots via trade (both draft picks and int’l bonus money). Most of the big market clubs are unable to sign anyone above 300K for the next year anyhow, so now would be a great time to throw money at the problem. Dipoto’s obviously changing how talent is developed once it enters the system, but another way to help things is to simply add more talent in the first place.

    Thoughts?

  2. Edman

    I saw Alex Jackson in Everett. He’s a pure RF. He’s got good instincts that will develop, and an accurate cannon of an arm. Considering he was competing against mostly college players, and International signee’s with a few years of professional instruction, he held his own. Not spectacular numbers, but not horrible numbers either. He needs to make more contact, but that’s what the player development staff is for. And Jack’s PD is gone.

  3. Edman

    I agree, Jason. First round picks are almost always chosen for their ceiling, not their quickness to the MLB. If some think that Hultzen and Fields for that reason, then it’s a perfect example of why you select a player based on their ceiling. And, to laud the selection of Conforto based on a limited number of MLB at bats, is a bit silly. He will get figured out, and then it will become about making adjustments. Remember, Ackley had a promising start, to what has become a mediocre career, so far. It’s never as simple as some think.

  4. Jason A. Churchill

    And those that do can continue to ignore me on this, but — player development is MORE half the battle. When a player doesn’t pan out per expectations/draft slot the PD dept usually had a larger hands in ruining the player or not helping him along enough. They get him for YEARS. 2, 3, 5, whatever. The scouting department sees a fraction of that and has to make a decision. The PD staff has failed in Seattle for 7 years.

  5. Jason A. Churchill

    Conforto was not in the same draft as Peterson. Peterson was ’13, Conforto was ’11 (HS) and ’14 (college). And he went to Oregon State, not Oregon. The Mariners drafted Alex Jackson at 6 rather than Conforto. FTR, they absolutely considered Conforto. But they knew he was a LF and agreed with the rest of the industry that while he’ll move fast he probably has a limited ceiling. Seattle went for for ceiling, like they should have. It’s always a risk to pass up the near-sure thing, but it also pays off sometimes.

  6. Edman

    rjfrik, yes, hindsight is 20/20, but do you really think that value is determined in just two years? You, have zero evidence that the M’s were considering Conforto. if so, please share your source. Jack may have sucked at some things, but his draft room didn’t have may leaks, especially for a major pick. As it was, he chose to go to Oregon, instead of entering the MLB. So, you’re picking a lame argument that can’t in any way be proven, just like your rants that Seattle was ‘rumored” to be considering picking Mike Trout, instead of Dustin Ackley, which you later tried to call out Jack for not keeping the draft pick instead of signing Fields. Jason had to set the record straight on that issue.

    As I remember, Peterson was praised for his advanced hitting tools, not just his power. And you should be careful when you talk about his “power numbers” trying to mold that into the primary reason he was selected. When he was drafted, he was compared to Michael Cuddyer, who is more a gap hitter, than a true power hitter. And, getting back to Conforto, if you’re going to play the hindsight is 20/20 game, then pick a player actually taken in the 2013 draft, not someone who was selected in the 2014 draft. I looked at the hitters picked after Peterson, through the first five rounds, and not one is anywhere near Conforto, in regard to results.

    Nobody know who Peterson and Alex Jackson will ultimately be, but both were picked very near their mock draft projections. I find no value in hindsight logic, other than to try to over or under value a draft pick.

    Let’s give them a few years, before you start making declarations.

  7. rjfrik

    Jerry is right Edman. Jack was often looking for the power over anything else when it came to acquiring players. Look at the 13 draft, the M’s were in on Conforto and Peterson for their pick and Jack went with Peterson because of the belief that he had better power and the power trumped the other bat skills.

    I know hindsight is 20/20 but look who turned out the better prospect, Conforto, because he had better bat skills and now his power is maturing and coming along as he had one of the highest ISO’s since his call ups with the Mets.

    The Michael Confortos are the exact type of player the M’s should have and need to acquire. Give us baseball player that can get on base and hit the ball, the power we can figure out at a later date or go sign via FA, i.e. Cruz.

    The primary reason the M’s are where they are today was because of the draft, you just can’t miss year after year with high picks and the M’s did just that reaching for players and leaving far better players on the board, that honestly fit the M’s profile better then the players the M’s picked.

    Hoping DiPoto changes that and it starts by not punting this years #11 pick by signing a protected FA.

  8. JerryEK

    Edman,

    “Dipoto did not ever say that the M’s system is full of players that do not make good contact, you did.”

    That’s simply not true. Here is a link to an article from the Seattle Times, with a direct quote from Dipoto:

    “I was a little disheartened at the overall strikeout rate in the minors,’’ he said. “You’ve got a lot of guys striking out a lot. Now, it’s a lot of very talented players with a lot of upside potential to tap into. That’s only going to happen if we can somehow develop more contact. I think that’s important. That’s going to be Step No. 1.”

    http://www.seattletimes.com/sports/mariners/as-with-past-mariners-general-managers-at-the-outset-theres-a-lot-to-like-about-jerry-dipoto/ utm_content=buffer59388&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=owned_buffer_sports

    Still think I’m putting words into his mouth?

    “It’s statistical abuse to pretend that strikeout rates for developing minor league talent, has a direct correlation to their future potential.”

    Are you insane??? Of course it does! If a player can’t make contact with minor league pitching, they have a very small chance of doing so in the big leagues. I’m not saying that K rate is everything, but the M’s prospects are extreme cases in their inability to make contact. Dipoto recognizes this. He’s smart.

    “There are hitters with great contact rates, that do not become productive MLB hitters.”

    As usual in your posts, this is a logical fallacy. Exceptions to strong trends don’t make those trends irrelevant.

    Do you actually have a point? Are you really arguing that the M’s didn’t have a clear tendency for acquiring players based on power (particularly RH power)? Look at the guys they signed to big bonuses under Jack. Look at the big league roster. You don’t need to be a fly on the wall of the draft room to see trends. You just need to pay attention.

    Its evident that Dipoto sees this as a player development problem. He’s gutted the minor league coaching staff and player development personnel. He’s explicitly stated that he wants more well-rounded players.

    Instead of spending all your time writing poorly reasoned responses to all my posts, why don’t you pay attention to the M’s a bit.

  9. Edman

    Jerry, the only thing that is clear, is that you assume why players were drafted. It’s statistical abuse to pretend that strikeout rates for developing minor league talent, has a direct correlation to their future potential. There are hitters with great contact rates, that do not become productive MLB hitters.

    Dipoto did not ever say that the M’s system is full of players that do not make good contact, you did. He simply spoke of his philosophy. You took it from there.

    Everyone knows the problems, and all hope that there are going to be positive changes, but you’re picking one stat, and running with it. Do you know how Seattle’s minor league system relates to other minor league systems, in regard to contact rate with similar prospect? Until you know that, you can’t make any kind of declaration about Seattle’s system.

  10. JerryEK

    Wow, I was well aware of how bad our system had it this year, but this really highlights the issue.

    Dipoto highlighted the inability to make contact as a huge problem in the system. I was looking at O’Neill’s stats, and his K rate is pretty concerning. But thats also true of pretty much every legit prospect in the system. Look at the top 10 hitters in PI’s ranking:

    Jackson: 30%
    Peterson: 23%
    Kivlehan: 22%
    Wilson: 26%
    Guerrero: 25%
    Marte: 11%
    O’Neill: 31%
    Marlette: 19%
    Lara:17%
    Morgan: 37%

    Those numbers are atrocious. I realize that K rate isn’t anything, but the M’s under Jack clearly valued power over anything else, and that seems to have translated to the minor leagues. During that period, we also had high-profile prospects failing at a ridiculous rate. Inability to make contact seems to be a consistent issue. Here are AAA numbers for some of our recent top prospects:

    Zunino: 29%
    Smoak: 20%
    Ackley: 11%
    Montero 20%

    I don’t want to put too much weight into a single metric, as Ackley clearly shows this isn’t a perfect correlation. But Zunino’s inability to hit ML pitching isn’t that surprising. Some players can make it work, as Kris Bryant had high K rates and figured it out. But even guys like Nelson Cruz typically made contact in the minors. He was usually under 20%. Marte’s contact numbers were good, and he translated quickly to the major leagues. Kyle Seager also showed an ability to make contact, and his transition to the big leagues was great. I think that Dipoto is right: the problem in the M’s system is that its full of guys who can’t make contact.

    Hopefully part of this can be fixed through coaching, as hitters like Jackson and Peterson were viewed as good pure hitters when they came into the system. But I’m glad Dipoto seems to have a plan on fixing the M’s inability to turn prospects into good players.

  11. mgvernon

    Diaz being our best pitching prospect shows how weak our farm arms are. This is an area for GM Jerry to focus on. O’Neill has interested me since the BC native signed, he signed right away so he could get started on his pro career as soon as possible. He’s very strong, his father was a Candian bodybuilding champion and Tyler thows iron too. In addition to his home runs for Bakersfield he hit 3 more while playing in the championship winners Canada in the Pan Am Games mid-season. Drew Jackson has been amaing to watch demolish the NW League and could prove to be the best player currently on the farm. Currently he’s the best Jackson in our system. I’m looking forward to watching O’Neill and Jackson take their next steps up the ladder next season. I’d like to see them in the big team crew in spring training, to see how they fare and to motivate them to improve even further.

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