As it was at the start of the season, the Seattle Mariners’ farm system is thin. Yes, there is talent. Most of it lies in a crude state in the lower minors. Of those that have graduated to the upper levels, many have struggled, been traded since or hold a status somewhere south of elite.
The Mariners have a group of young talent on the 25-man roster that otherwise might create a much deeper, stronger crop down on the farm, including the likes of Mike Zunino and Taijuan Walker, suggesting the club doesn’t lack young talent, per se, but simply that of the premium such at any level of the organization.
We’ve had the player development discussion, and will continue to do so until something changes, but each player’s future status will be assessed based on their tools, progress, quantified and qualified performance and their overall potential value.
Players currently in the big leagues do not qualify, even if they are yet to have exhausted rookie status (50 innings pitched or 130 plate appearances). Mike Montgomery has surpassed the 50-inning mark, but if he had been included in the rankings below he would have slid in at No. 4.
Overall, the system is not strong, but has a nice crop of projectable arms and bats tucked deep into short-season ball. The club lacks high probability from Triple-A on down and from the top of the charts to the very bottom, both on the mound and in terms of position players. If a couple of their high-ceiling, high-risk kids from Latin American progress well and the 2016 Draft nets some quick-to-the-show talent, the script will change this time next year.
1. Alex Jackson, RF
Despite a slow start at Class-A Clinton and an injury that kept him out five weeks, Jackson remains the top prospect in the Mariners organization. He’s flashed why in his stint at short-season Everett, using the whole field and turning around good velocity. Jackson’s power right now of the doubles variety, but he’s strong and when his swing mechanics are sound he’s short to the ball with plus-plus bat speed. Occasionally he’ll load deep and get a little long. He tracks a breaking ball well for a 19-year-old, showing he can keep his weight back and drive them to right-center field. Last summer after signing, he showed a slight tendency to lunge in anxiety, and it appeared early in 2015 he was overcompensating for that and was late on some fastballs as a result. Jackson’s strikeout totals are a high, but it’s easy to forget he was playing high school ball 14 months ago.
2. Ketel Marte, SS
Marte jumps from No. 6 to the No. 2 spot despite missing time with a hand injury. The switch hitter showed more consistency from either side of the plate versus the more-experienced Triple-A pitching and perhaps most importantly answered some of the questions about his defense at shortstop. He’s looked like a glove that could very well stick with solid range to both sides, improved consistency across the board and a better understanding of what is required of him defensively. Marte, 21, will play in the Futures Game this weekend putting his plus speed on display. He makes a ton of contact, can handle the bat and could give the Mariners another solid option up the middle as early as 2016. He’s exactly what the big club lacks right now — high contact, low strikeout, plus speed — but anything more than a September call-up this season is expecting too much. Perhaps the most intriguing option for Marte’s future is a switch to center field, where his athleticism, pure speed and arm play and the club has absolutely no 2016 answers anywhere in sight. It’s a move the Mariners could make this summer in preparation, and one I’m not only an advocate for, but have been anticipating for over a year.
3. D.J. Peterson, 1B
Peterson has struggled for three months straight, often chasing out of the zone up, down and away and not maintaining balance with his lower half. One scout described it as a hitter ‘trying to hit for power with a swing engineered for average’ then flipping that around. The raw power suggests 25 homers and 30-plus doubles to go with just enough contact to support a .260-.270 average. Peterson’s strike zone judgment has been significantly better of late, as he’s struck out just seven times in his last 42 plate appearances. Most believe he simply feel Peterson still will hit enough to play everyday in the majors and simply fell into some bad habits the past season and a half. He’s fringy at third base and average at first, with a chance to be above-average sooner than later.
4. Patrick Kivlehan, OF
Kivlehan has taken to the outfield well, even serving in center field on a handful of occasions. Th swing still needs a little work and he has chased more pitches out of the zone this year than in 2014, but the power has shown up in the form of 15 long balls and 14 doubles. I’d like to see him shorten up more often, especially with two strikes, but also get to a point where he’s recognizing situations better so he can attack the fastball in hitter-friendly counts. He’s fallen behind in half his plate appearances — 40-45 percent is more ideal, especially without a strong two-strike swing.
5. Edwin Diaz, RHP
Diaz torched the California League and despite a high ERA with Double-A Jackson in 10 starts has fanned 51 in 55 2/3 innings and has yielded but two home runs. Sitting 90-92 mph and visiting the mid-90s at times, Diaz’s best pitch is his above-average slider. His changeup has improved, too. Command of the fastball and changeup need to get better before he moves to the PCL where veteran hitters will exploit such deficiencies early and often. Diaz remains sleight, so many scouts point to the bullpen with concern he may not be able to hold up in a starting role. Command and present lack of a third quality pitch could alter his future role, too, but he’s just 21 with an easy, loose arm, offering deception and natural fastball movement. The Mariners can wait on him and he weights on himself.
6. Luiz Gohara, LHP
Gohara, 19 in a few weeks, has the best raw stuff in the system, starting with a sinking fastball up to 97 mph and a low-80s slider with late downward break. He’ll throw his changeup, though it’s below average, but the big battle remains the inconsistent delivery. When he’s in sync he can be awfully tough on hitters 3-5 years his senior. His low-effort delivery plus a solid work ethic, including conditioning for the 225-plus pound Brazil native, are promising. He’s still unrefined but a put-together version may end up a No. 2 starter down the road.
7. Nick Neidert, RHP
Neidert is athletic with average present fastball command and is up to 95 mph. Neidert employs a three-quarter arm slot and finishes out front well. His curveball is below average but he’s a good candidate to throw a slider as a pro, and already possesses a solid-average changeup on which he shows good arm speed. At 185 pounds and 6-foot-1, there’s not a lot of room to bulk up, but everything is loose, including his lower half. He did experience some elbow tendinitis this spring, but has has since returned to the mound and touched 93. One concern with the right-hander centers on his arm lagging behind at times. This is a must fix and one that has to occur very early in his pro career. It’s also an easy fix, generally speaking.
8. Brayan Hernandez, OF
Hernandez, 18 in September, was the club’s top international signing a year ago. He’s performing in the DSL, showing all five tools and a mature skill set at the plate. He’s roaming center field quite well, too, and has a shot to stay there long term. His swing is better from the left side as his right-handed swing has some loop to it thanks to a backside collapse. Simplifying how he uses his legs could help Hernandez stay crisp through the ball.
9. Christopher Torres, SS
Reports on Torres include mentions of intensity, quick-twitch actions plus speed and enough arm and range to play shortstop. With an advanced set of plate skills he forces pitchers to throw him strikes. At 17, however, the Dominican native still is learning his swing, which can get long despite a lack of strength and raw power. A switch hitter, Torres is stronger from the left side with a better swing overall. More contact ultimately is necessary, but in his first taste of pro ball in the DSL, Torres is holding his own, and then some. He’s made 15 errors through July 10, five of them throwing, so there’s a lot to clean up and with most teenage shortstops a move to second base could be in his future.
10. Tyler O’Neill, RF
O’Neill has this power-hitting thing down. He runs well for a player that projects to hit for power, has shown in time he’ll be fine corner outfielder with a plus arm. Now he simply needs to learn to hit. More contact will come from being more selective and using the back side some. He’s being teased with soft stuff down, hard stuff up and usually it works because he’s aggressive. He destroys mistakes, however and just turned 20. If the Mariners give him a chance to clean up his plate discipline, O’Neill has a chance to be a big-league regular. He’s going to need time and the right instruction, though, and there’s reason to doubt he’ll get either as the organization currently is constructed.
11. Austin Wilson, RF
Wilson looked terrific this past spring, offering a clean, quick swing path that produced line drives from the left-field line to right-center. He has holes, however, mostly down and/or away and has developed a deeper load than I saw in March or when Wilson was in Everett a year ago. As a result, the strikeouts are up — he’s in the vicious circle that comes when batters have problems versus good velocity but also chase up out of the zone and as they protect against that tale themselves out of the network that would ever allow them to stay back and serve the slider away to right-center or the changeup back up the middle. Wilson has big raw power and he showed some of it last season. He’s been exposed this summer and has yet to make the necessary adjustment. I was told in late June that a small mechanical change was made by Wilson, one that he apparently took to and was able to repeat, so perhaps he’ll rebound in the final two-plus months.
12. Greifer Andrade, SS
The fact that Andrade ranks this high is both a testament to his natural abilities and to the lack of talent left in the Mariners’ system. The early returns on his move to shortstop are mixed at best — he’s committed 14 errors, 11 of them fielding. He played a lot of outfield as an amateur and isn’t as experienced fielding ground balls as the typical 18-year-old infielder. He does have the physical traits and tools to play short, including above-average arm strength with a quick release, good feet and hand strength. One report I received in early June was that Andrade still was working on his defensive mechanics, but showed fluid actions below the waist. At the plate he’s performed and if he has to be moved to second base or center field the bat has a chance to play. He will need to realize he’s more Edgar Renteria than Giancarlo Stanton, but there’s time for that, too.
13. Tyler Marlette, C
I may be high man on Marlette, who still is below average defensively, despite enough arm strength and a lot of progress since Draft Day. His bat has scuffled in 2015 but the foundation remains; bat speed, average to above-average raw power, some track record of game power in pro ball and solid contact. Marlette simply is getting out front a lot now that he is seeing more breaking balls and has yet to make the consistent adjustment. His bat may play elsewhere if he maxes out but he has come so far it would be a shame to move him now. Marlette will always be a bat-first catcher, but he is just 22 years of age and in a year and a half or so could be closing in on a shot at the show. He will need to make the adjustment to the soft stuff by trusting his hands and staying off his front foot. Eliminating even an abbreviated leg kick could help.
14. Ryan Yarbrough, LHP
Yarbrough has better pure stuff than No. 15, particularly the secondary offerings, and offers some physical projection that his right-handed teammate simply does not, but the development of the lefty’s fastball command stagnated early in 2015, though he has continued to throw strikes. He stays on top well despite a three-quarters slot and creates plane. The M’s got him for $40,000 as a senior sign out of Old Dominion and it appears a healthy Yarbrough will offer Seattle an option out of the bullpen at the very least. He’s missed the last month with a groin strain but is throwing in Arizona, likely to return soon.
15. Andrew Moore, RHP
Moore doesn’t wow physically, as he’s about 6-feet tall (he’s not 5-foot-11, so if anyone claims that, you tell them Churchill is 6-feet tall on the dot and stood a foot away from Moore, who with cleats on was at least 1-2 inches taller), and he throws directly over the top which can show the ball to the batter early and limit fastball movement. But he’s very strong, understands what he can and cannot do and what he should and should not try to be. He flashed more velocity late than early in the spring and he throws his curveball and changeup for strikes. He’s intelligent on the mound, commands the fastball to both sides of the plate — and knows how and when to elevate it — and may simply be an improved breaking ball away from a No. 4 starter’s gig in the big leagues. And who knows? If he can maintain the upper ranges of his late-spring velocity, all bets are off. It‘s also worth noting that Moore is an advocate of weighted ball training, among other advanced training methods, and takes his training seriously. This is the source of failure for a very high percentage of young talents. It’s not a lack of work ethic or training in general, but a lack of proper training.
16. Gareth Morgan, RF
Morgan remains as raw as any prospect in the system, albeit one with huge power potential. The Mariners wisely held him out of full-season ball in April — not a tough call — and are likely to take the conservative, patient approach with his development. He’s a solid athlete despite below-average speed and throws well enough to fit in right field. His swing has too much length and early in his pro career his hands loaded deep in addition, creating a lot of swings and misses on fastballs. Morgan still is learning the strike zone and looking to improve his pitch recognition. His swing path is acceptable, but everything else needed work when he signed last summer and will take time to show up in the results. Morgan could be the right-handed Ryan Howard in terms of his time table; a bat that takes a long time to develop, but arrives with boom.
17. Jio Orozco, RHP
Orozco, 17 until next month, was the club’s 14th-round pick out of Salpointe Catholic in Tucson. He’s 6-foot-1, nearly 210 pounds and sits 89-94 mph with his fastball. He throws an overhand curveball that flashes above-average and potentially-plus changeup that is good enough to play in the middle levels of the minors right now. He was a legit prospect headed to the University of Arizona had he not signed, somehow slipping as far as he did. He’s athletic with good arm speed and clean arm action. Interestingly, Orozco can hit, too, thanks to tremendous bat speed and hip rotation. The M’s have him on the mound for the time being, and his physical maturity could help him along relatively quickly.
18. Austin Cousino, CF
Cousino is back from injury, hitting, playing with energy, confidence and terrific instincts. He’s a plus defender with an average arm and above-average speed. His swing is designed for a hitter more natural leverage, but he’ll need to be a high contact, line-drive hitter if he wants a shot at the big leagues in more than a journeyman role.
19. Zack Littell, RHP
The right-hander, sits low-90s touching 94-95 on occasion — with upper-zone life and some natural lower-zone sink — with a curveball and changeup that both started the year as 40-grade pitches. When he throws strikes on the fringes of the strike zone he’s difficult to square up. He doesn’t possess a future out pitch, but could develop a splitter or slider to take care of that problem. His ranking here is based on control, velocity and a sturdy yet projectable 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame.
20. Tyler Olson, LHP
Olson’s likely limited to a reliever’s role but could be a very good one as we saw in spring training. He struggled in the big leagues, was optioned out and immediately placed in the disabled list, suggesting he wasn’t quite right when the club broke camp. He mixes deception with an above-average slider, 88-91 mph fastball with some gloveside ride, and he has a curveball and changeup if he needs it. The Mariners could have a pair of multi-inning left-handed relief options in Olson and Vidal Nuno, perhaps suggesting David Rollins, the Rule 5 pick, veteran free agent to-be Joe Beimel and the starting-to-get-a-bit-expensive Charlie Furbush may be considered in trades this summer or over the winter.
21. Braden Bishop, CF
Bishop can run — 70 speed on the 20-80 scale — and he uses that speed well in center field and on the bases. He’s an above-average base stealer with instincts and he throws well, fitting him nicely into a potential fourth outfielder role if his bat doesn’t lead him further up the ranks. He doesn’t have power in the swing despite some ability for leverage, but he knows what he is, which is a slasher. In college he managed the strike zone well and if that translates in pro ball he’ll have a chance to hit just enough to warrant a roster spot. Any significant improvement in the swing that helps him make high levels of contact while learning to go deeper into counts and control the strike zone could change Bishop’s profile.
22. Luis Liberato, CF
Liberato can run, throw, gets good jumps in the outfield and has solid command of the strike zone, giving him a chance at four major-league quality tools. When I saw him in spring training he appeared sluggish in comparison, but the lefty-swinging Dominican plays hard with a loose intensity. He won’t be 20 until December and will get stronger as he matures. The swing needs work but he gets to solid velocity due to good hand-eye coordination and a short bat path.
23. Jordy Lara, OF/1B
Lara puzzles me. I don’t have any kind of grasp what he is as a hitter. I expected more power than we have seen, though it’s not a surprise he’s maintained a functional batting average and on-base mark even when it’s clear he’s struggling. He makes contact, is aggressive early in counts and does have 22 extra-base hits. Just four homers is the oddity here. Lara isn’t a 35-homer bat or anything, but considering the contact he makes and the loft he’s able to create, four just doesn’t make sense. One scout told me Lara reminds him of Eduardo Perez early in his career when he was “trying to hit .380” instead of .280 with power. Lara belongs at first base, even though he’s seen time in right field and even third base (he does have a strong throwing arm).
24. Juan De Paula, RHP
DePaula has above-average command and feel, issuing just five walks in 150 batters faced. He’s projectable at 6-foot-3 and under 170 pounds and at just 17 years of age could be a sleeper who gets to the states next year after his stint in the DSL in 2015. De Paula uses a fastball and slider, but has thrown a lot of changeups this summer with good success. While he’s years away, some have likened him to Michael Pineda in terms of projection and present command and control. Pineda was 6-foot-3 when he signed, grew four inches, put on some weight and while his arm speed improved, his command continued to mature, too. De Paula could follow suit, although projecting Pineda’s level of growth is a bit far-fetched.
25. Corey Simpson, OF
Simpson would rank higher here for his bat alone, but I have not been impressed with anything else he does. There’s a decent chance he’s a below-average glove thanks to a lack of lateral and vertical range. He does throw well, however, and his bat has shown well with short-season Everett this season.
Others: Freddy Peralta, RHP; Luis Rengifo, 2B; Daniel Missaki, RHP; John Hicks, C; Luis Joseph, 2B; Joseph Rosa, 2B/SS; *Carlos Vargas, SS; Dylan Thompson, RHP; Jose Leal, OF; Johan Quevedo, C; Drew Jackson, SS; Kyle Wilcox, RHP; Tyler Pike, LHP; Trey Cochrane-Gill, RHP; Danny Hultzen, LHP; Mayckol Guaipe, RHP; Steve Baron, C.
Pre-Season Top 10
1. Alex Jackson, RF — Analysis
2. D.J. Peterson, 1B — Analysis
3. Patrick Kivlehan, OF — Analysis
4. Austin Wilson, RF — Analysis
5. Gabriel Guerrero, RF (Traded) — Analysis
6. Ketel Marte, SS — Analysis
7. Edwin Diaz, RHP — Analysis
8. Tyler O’Neill, RF — Analysis
9. Luiz Gohara, LHP — Analysis
10. Tyler Marlette, C — Analysis
Photo: Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)
*Vargas reportedly has agreed to terms with the Mariners, but nothing is official.