It wasn’t what one might ever call a banner year in the Seattle Mariners farm system — it’s been several years since that’s occurred — but there are always positives to counter the club’s lack of impact talent and depth.
For years I’ve done postseason prospects of the year, but to remind everyone, these are not ‘player’ and ‘pitcher’ of the year awards. They are specifically about a player’s prospect status. What’s their upside? How much did they improve their stock as a future major leaguer?
Statistics do NOT tell the whole story. In fact, stats generally lie more than anything else.
Position Prospect of the Year
Infielder Bryson Brigman was an early favorite, but was traded to Miami this summer. Kyle Lewis started late and never really got on a roll — though he did finish the year healthy, which was really the most important thing for the former 1st-round pick.
Braden Bishop was a mid-season star, but he got hurt and missed the second half of the season.
Converted catcher Joe DeCarlo had his moments at Double-A Arkansas and Daniel Vogelbach had a big year in Triple-A Tacoma.
Joey Curletta, whom I have yet to rank, was the Texas League Player of the Year after a .282/.383/.482, 23 HR campaign, but I didn’t consider him here, since I can’t find a scout who thinks he’ll hit big-league pitching. Why? He’s strong, finds the barrel some, but the swing is a bit long and he punishes fastball mistakes. There’s some young Justin Smoak in him, without the discipline and strike zone judgment.
Curletta can change his profile — and my mind — by shortening up, using the middle of the field with authority more often and finding a way to deal with soft stuff better.
Julio Rodriguez, RF — DSL
Rodriguez was the club’s prized summer signing a year ago and entered 2018, his first in affiliated pro ball, with an advanced-for-his-age-and-experience bat, power potential, average speed and above-average arm.
The kid’s debut really couldn’t have gone better. Aside from hitting for average and power in the DSL this summer, he showed instincts on the bases and in the field, firmed up his throwing arm and mechanics and impressed the organization off the field.
He was a Top-10 Lat Am prospect but if those rankings were re-shuffled, he might be top 4-5 now.
He’s made tons of progress maturing, too (see link above), learning and grasping the English language, and is in Arizona this fall for the club’s month-and-a-half long performance camp designed by Andy McKay, the Mariners’ director of Player Development.
His 2018 season was cut a bit short due to a foot injury, but the performance camp does not involve playing ball, and the 59 games he did play were impressive.
Scout 1: “I think what we saw was a glimpse of a young player in control of his emotions on the field with a quick, powerful swing and enough athleticism to profile as a regular defender. It’s tough to get a great idea when you see these players for a short period, but we saw why Seattle liked him so much.”
Scout 2: “Yeah. Yeah, yeah. He’s got a real shot to play for awhile. I like how he uses his lower half and stays simple up top. He’ll have to tinker as he goes like everyone does but that’s a man’s swing that should play.”
Evan White, 1B — Modesto Nuts
White was having a good-enough season until he struggled in July at .239/.308/.284 with just four extra-base hits pulled his full-season line down to worrisome levels. When White was drafted in Round 1 he entered pro ball as a good athlete with 65 speed and some hitting skills, but there was question about the power and whether or not he’d handle hard stuff with the wood bat.
While the power still is developing, some of the other questions were answered, at least somewhat. From July 25 through the end of the season — 33 games — White batted .347/.446/.605 with five homers, 11 doubles and three triples. He walked 19 times during that span, striking out 28.
The five long balls represented nearly half his season total and the 19 extra-base hits overall was 42 percent of his entire season total.
White has shortened up everything over the course of the season and eliminated a slight and occasional hitch. He finishes with more violence and with more flyball authority.
He also started to use his hips better and lay off stuff out of the zone a little more. I actually got a couple of ceiling comps on White I hadn’t heard before in Marcell Ozuna and Stephen Piscotty, but I still thinks his absolute ceiling is more George Springer with a more realistic landing on Ian Kinsler or Ben Zobrist.
White, who has added strength without sacrificing quickness since draft day, has the feet, speed and arm to play left or right field and while some think center isn’t out of the question, I never saw, nor could I find anyone who believed they did, either, the kind of instinct it generally takes to play out there on any kind of regular basis.
But White shouldn’t be playing first base, despite his platinum glove at the position, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start to get reps in the outfield. He’s on the roster in the Arizona Fall League, listed as an infielder, but a nice surprise would be to see him get OF time down there when the games are solely about development, though I don’t expect that to be the case.
White’s finish to the season, and how he got there, pushed Rodriguez for this award and closes the gap a bit on the rankings. The club’s top 3 — Lewis, Rodriguez, White — are about as close as can get right now, and while that’s mostly due to Lewis not really getting untracked at the plate, we shouldn’t sell Rodriguez and White short by any stretch.
Pitching Prospect of the Year
It’s a thin group, highlighted by relievers such as Wyatt Mills, Darin Gillies and Joey Gerber, or low-level performers such as lefties Brayan Perez, Orlando Razo, Michael Plassmeyer and Jorge Benitez and right-hander Dayeison Arias.
Ryne Inman and Ljay Newsom had very strong years, but neither grade very high at this stage and didn’t necessarily improve their stock much this year, either. Newsome is likely to get the honors as chosen by most major outlets after a stat line that produced a 123-13 K/BB ratio in 138 2/3 innings. He did, however, allow 169 hits and served up 24 home runs. He’s a fringe prospect at best, though I’d like to see what happens in the long run with him since he throws strikes with everything despite a lack of ideal size (5-11, 210) is a bulldog who could work in a swing role.
Matt Festa, RHR — Arkansas Travelers
Festa wins mostly by default here, but that’s not his fault. He’s a solid-average relief prospect with a fastball up to 95 and slider that flashes plus but lives in the 50-55 range most of the time.
He’s very effective when he stays on top and creates some plane and does a good job pitching away from RHBs with his four-seamer, which isn’t as common in the majors as one might think. The fastball lacks movement up in the zone and while it tops out at 95, he’s often 92-94, which isn’t overpowering in the majors these days.
There may be more velocity to go get, however; More effort? Mechanics tune?
The right-hander isn’t the best relief prospect in the system, but Art Warren spent much of the year injured and some of the other arms have yet to put in full seasons — Gerber, O’Brien, et al — and Festa did perform very well late for the Travelers before rejoining the Mariners this month.
Festa profiles as a middle reliever with high-7th inning upside, but there’s a pretty good shot he gets to these projections, and he’s more athletic than he gets credit for, which is why I still prefer trying him as a starter (middle relievers are not hard to find and they’re cheaper than No. 4 starters, he started in college, so why not?).
Austin Hutchison, RHP — Modesto Nuts
Hutchison is a name that popped up earlier this summer and prompted me to tweet about him in August — the first time I’d talked about him anywhere outside of a quick note on draft day.
M’s 26th rounder from last year’s draft, RHP Austin Hutchison, punched out 11 and walked NONE in six innings for Modesto Saturday. Has made six starts now after beginning the season as a reliever. Low-90s, CB, CH. More of a 2-pitch guy right now. Interesting project, though.
— Jason A. Churchill (@ProspectInsider) August 19, 2018
He made three more starts after that and continued to flash.
Hutchison, a Mount Olive product, is just 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, but stays closed well and explodes through his release point from a high 3/4 slot. He’s a little upright at finish but knows how to use the two-seamer to set up a pretty good mid-70s curveball he can throw for called strikes and vary the speed.
His future should be in the rotation unless the club feels they can him into the mid-90s in shorter stints, but he needs to work on the changeup quite a bit to become a viable option to get through the lineup three times.
Plassmeyer was pretty good in an ‘Opener’ role in Everett, but has a back-end ceiling for me (although he may move quickly), Carlson had Tommy John this summer and isn’t going to be heard from until 2020, Casetta-Stubbs got his feet wet and that’s about it in rookie ball and first-rounder Gilbert had some foot work done this summer, rather than the club pushing his workload after a full college season.
Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016.
Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.
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