The Seattle Mariners are coming out of a rebuild that began after the 2018 season. It started with a bang. A few, actually. James Paxton was shipped to the Bronx, Mike Zunino to Tampa, and we all know about the deal with the New York Mets. A year ago we saw the first significant signs of the club crawling out its rebuilding stages toward contention. They fell just shy of a playoff berth in 2021, but it was another step in the right direction, nonetheless. But the Mariners are not the only club primed to go from ‘rebuild’ to ‘contender’ soon, and as early as 2022. When I look at clubs of this ilk, I think of a handful of factors in terms of how good a shape they’re in for the future. Financial Situation – Payroll flexibility based on perceived limits – Ownership’s perceived financial commitment Farm System & Young talent – I don’t care about org and individual rankings here, I care about how the system can help the big club, considering the roster’s current needs and weaknesses – How many young players (that don’t qualify as prospects) are there with extended club control that carry impact upsides? Current Core – How good is the current core? – Core trend: Aging players maybe leaving prime or already near the end? Younger core still trending toward peak? How many established core types are there already? Recent Trends – How well did the team/some of the young key and core perform in 2021? – What’s the trend and ETA of the better prospects, especially those nearing the majors? Looking around the league, here are the clubs that appear to be in a similar place as Seattle, having underwent a rather large-scale rebuild, now showing major signs of becoming a consistent contender — and their Big Four Factors. But first, here are some examples of clubs that broke out of their rebuilds in recent seasons and who do so over the next few years. 2020: Chicago White Sox The Sox won, 63, 73, 76, 78, 67, 62, and 72 games from 2013-2019 (.424). then went 35-25 in 2020 (.599) and won 93 games this past season. The breakout in 2020 led to a Wild Card loss, but it clear they were ready to unseat the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians in the American League Central, and they did that in ’21. The Sox are in very good shape in terms of payroll (60 grade), thanks to the club’s masterful work in trades (Lance Lynn, for example), and avoidance of potentially payroll-crippling contracts (largest deal is Yasmani Grandal‘s 4/$73M deal that expires after 2023. Their farm system (30 grade on a 20-80 scale) is now one of the worst in baseball, but the roster (70) is littered with young impact players, such as SS Tim Anderson, 3B Yoan Moncada, OF Eloy Jimenez, budding star Luis Robert, and RHPs Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease. 2021: Toronto Blue Jays The Jays actually made the postseason in 2020, but in a 60-game season at 32-28 and an extended playoff slate. The real breakthrough was winning 91 games (.562) in 2021 and setting themselves up for a division title run in 2022. Toronto’s payroll situation is very good (70), despite three players earning $20 million or more annually. Until Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Bo Bichette starting getting paid what they’re worth, the Jays won’t have a single worry about a payroll squeeze. 2023: Texas Rangers After the signings of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager the Rangers are committing to winning again, but unless they’re really aggressive with pitching the rest of the offseason, 2022 won’t be a year they compete all season. Next year is a legitimate possibility, however, and I don’t believe they’ll be a bad team in ’22 — I’d assume some pitching/run prevention additions before the start of the year and about a .500 club. The Rangers have never been elite spenders in terms of team payroll, but they have been top 10 four times, 2012-2015, and while contending maintained a top-half payroll. The belief in the industry is they’ll ultimately return to top-10 status, and they maintain tons of flexibility (70) after the two big signings. The roster still isn’t good (40), at least as of January 22, so there’s a ways to go before real damage will be done on the field. The farm system (55) is solid, however, and included near-ready talents such as RHP Jack Leiter, 3B Josh Jung, and C/1B Sam Huff. Texas is going to be good at some point relatively soon. 2024: Baltimore Orioles The Orioles might have the game’s best position player prospect and best pitching prospect in Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez, and certainly are among the elite farms (80) in the game. They also have a few pieces on the big-league roster in Cedric Mullins, Ryan Mountcastle, and Trey Mancini, but there’s no real chance at legitimate contention in 2022, and 2023’s chances might be dependent largely on free agency, which is why ’24 seems most likely for them. Also contributing to that time frame is the fact their best talents are indeed those prospects, including RHP DL Hall, OF Colton Cowser, and LHP Gunnar Henderson. That’s going to take a few years to sprinkle about the 26-man. The current state of the projected 26-man (40) is very 2020 Mariners in that some kids are starting to show up, there are a few established players, but other than John Means there’s very little happening in rotation success, though Jorge Lopez has mid-rotation upside if he can throw more strikes. 2022 While none of these clubs are going to peak this coming season, there’s a real chance for each of them to produce a legitimate breakthrough in the win column, and ultimately contend for at least a Wild Card spot, regardless of whether or not the new CBA results in expanded playoffs. Detroit Tigers 2019: 47-114 (.292)2020: 23-35 (.397)2021: 77-85 (.475)Payroll: 72Young Talent: 71Current Core: 51Recent Trends: 62Overall: 65 Detroit is in terrific shape and have added Javier Baez to the mix this offseason. Their young guns — Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal — haven’t young much yet, but Spencer Turnbull and Michael Fulmer have, and Baez fellow newcomer Tucker Barnhardt, Akil Badoo (108 wRC+), Miguel Cabrera and Jeimer Candelario (119) will get help from the farm soon. A.J. Hinch already has proven he’s good with younger players and Year 2 could be a rather large breakthrough for the Tigers. The young talent is among the elite in baseball and there’s as much payroll flexibility as GM Al Avila will ever need to build a winner in Motown. Seattle Mariners 2019: 68-94 (.426)2020: 27-33 (.450)2021: 90-72 (.556)Payroll: 70Young Talent: 73Current Core: 49Recent Trends: 63Overall: 65 The roster overall still has holes, but the core (Mitch Haniger, Marco Gonzales, Robbie Ray, J.P. Crawford, Ty France) is being joined by budding youngsters with massive upside. Jerry Dipoto has lined up extensive payroll latitude with the arrival of many of the club’s best prospects (Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh, Logan Gilbert, Julio Rodriguez) — including a wave of arms that could contribute as early as 2022 — and an abundance of hungry players looking to earn time (Abraham Toro, Luis Torrens, Kyle Lewis). Miami Marlins 2019: 57-105 (.352)2020: 31-29 (.517)2021: 67-95 (.414)Payroll: 61Young Talent: 63Current Core: 43Recent Trends: 54Overall: 53 Miami has starting pitching — perhaps to spare, which could come in handy over the next several months — but the lineup needs even more help than that of the Tigers and Mariners. They didn’t make any significant additions in November, but expect a few lowkey bats added to the mix, and maybe even an impact trade involving a starting pitcher that lands a middle-of-the-order hitter. Kim Ng has operated with impressive discipline, considering how often other clubs are calling about trading for pitching, but don’t expect her to be quiet all winter. There is some money to spend, and the Marlins can make a move in the oddly-vulnerable National League East. Still, and depending how the club proceeds once the lockout is lifted, there’s a chance it’s a year early to expect the Fish to truly contend for the first time in a full season since 2009.Go!

The great Corey Brock at The Athletic penned a piece Wednesday discussing results from a Seattle Mariners fan survey, and I thought the results were interesting. Interesting enough I’m here to toss out my own responses to the survey questions. The questions range from Jerry Dipoto’s job approval to confidence the team is headed in the right direction, and everywhere in between. Here we go. How confident are you that the Mariners are headed in the right direction? Among those that responded in the survey, 53.4% said they were very confident the club was on the right path, while 41.8% said they were somewhat confident. That leaves just 4.8% ranging from unsure to not confident at all. My Vote: Very Confident There’s absolutely zero question the Mariners are headed in the right direction. There’s question whether they get where they want to go — or where fans want them to go — but anyone voting anything but very confident here hasn’t been paying attention during the rebuild — a three-year trek from 68 wins to a 73-win pace in 2020 to 90 wins in 2021. It’s just plain fact they’re on the right path. How would you rate the job Jerry Dipoto has done during the rebuild? The options: Poor, Below Average, Too Soon to Tell, Fair, Solid, Excellent. Too soon to tell doesn’t actually exist here considering the question, which states “has done during the rebuild” meaning “so far.” No one with a real clue responds with anything below solid, which was the prevailing reply at 62%. Just 27% responded excellent. Let me explain why excellent is the only answer. Dipoto was handed a club with aging and/or fading stars (Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez, Kyle Seager) in 2016 and asked to make the best of it without the opportunity to spend toward more wins with that core. During the first three years under Dipoto — the three prior to the start of the rebuild — the Mariners won 86, 78, and 89 games, contending into September twice, despite the obvious issues with the roster and no significant resources on the farm or in term so payroll flexibility. Not special, but they finished second, third, and third in the division. After 2018’s 89-win campaign, Dipoto and friends began a total rebuild. A full-bore, all-out tear-down. Now, when this occurs in Major League Baseball, the result is generally 5-7 years of 85-plus losses: see Astros, Houston, White Sox, Chicago, et al. But since then, Seattle has had just one season of such awfulness, 2019. As the club heads toward 2022, the farm system is among the elite in baseball — a complete 180 from 2015 when it was generally considered among the 3-5 worst — and the payroll flexibility the club has created with smart decisions and discipline is among the greatest assets to an individual club in all of baseball right now. Every avenue is open for Seattle, and that’s excellent work by those making those decisions. That’s Dipoto and crew. We don’t know if Dipoto is a good GM yet. You have to win — get to October, do some damage — before that’s even part of the equation. But there’s absolutely no denying the tremendous job done to date to put the club in the position they are in at present. It’s an A+ performance by Dipoto and the rest of the baseball people during the rebuild. Stop with the nonsense. Don’t conflate finishing the job with the performance during the rebuilding process. How confident are you that the Mariners will make the postseason in 2022 or 2023? Fans are fairly confident, as they should be. If this was just 2022, I’d vote unsure. With 2023 included, I’d check very confident, which is to say I’d be at leas mildly surprised if they didn’t make it one of the next two years, whether playoff is expanded or not. How confident are you that ownership will build a consistent winner? Fans are less confident here, and so am I, though I’m a lot more confident than most. I’d vote somewhat confident here because of the inclusion of the term ‘consistent.’ But it’s pretty clear John Stanton and the rest of  First Avenue Entertainment are committed to building a winner. Fans will be more convinced every additional dollar spent this winter once the lockout is lifted. Whether they spent consistently remain to be seen, but I don’t anticipate winning, rebuilding, winning, rebuilding, etc. Which position player would you like to see the team acquire this offseason? The options: Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Seiya Suzuki, Trevor Story, Michael Conforto. Of course, the answer is all of them, but if you have to pick one we’re picking Correa, right? I would vote that way. If we start considering contract terms, among other factors, I lean Story, Bryant, and Conforto, in that order. Which Mariners pitching prospect do you believe in the most? The options: George Kirby, Emerson Hancock, Matt Brash, Brandon Williamson, None of these I’m assuming ‘None of these’ actually represents ‘other’ more than just none, but I’d go Kirby here, without other qualifications in the question. I believe in Brash and Williamson as much as Kirby in terms of 2021 alone, but overall, Kirby’s the guy with the best combo of stuff, upside, floor, and ETA. Who do you predict will lead the team in saves? The options: Diego Castillo, Drew Steckenrider, Andrés Muñoz, Paul Sewald, Ken Giles I’d lean Steckenrider here, until we learn more about Giles’ health situation when spring camp opens. Sewald would be a very close second, partially because I’m not 100% convinced Steckenrider is on the roster in April. In three years, what kind of player do you predict Julio Rodríguez will be? The options: Just a guy, Average, borderline All-Star, One of the best in the game You’ll have to click on the link to see what fans think, but I’m somewhere between average and borderline all-star. If the question was changed to five years, I’d be more firmly on the all-star choice, and closer to whatever ‘one of the best in the game’ means in this context. Three years just isn’t very long, and for all we know Rodriguez may not debut in the bigs until June. How many games do you predict the Mariners will win in 2022? The options: 70-75, 75-80, 80-85, 85-90, 90+. In this case, 90+ actually means 91 or more since 90 wins is included in 85-90. As we sit here on January 19, I’m in the 85-90 camp, based on the current roster and the worst-case scenario the rest of the way. But 91 or more is well within reach. If the season started tomorrow, I’d vote 80-85. What’s your go-to food (and why) at T-Mobile Park? (Top five food responses) I very rarely eat at games, but the fans had a wide variety of replies to this, including the second most disgusting thing sold at the ballpark, garlic fries. What’s the best thing about being a Mariners fan? This was an open question on the survey and there are numerous answers, including 1.8% who said the broadcasting, 1.6% who said Edgar Martinez, 1.6% who said I love baseball, and 9.6% who said the ballpark. My favorite answer, however, is hope, chosen by 9.1% of the respondents. Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.Go!

Frankie Montas

Word came out Wednesday the Seattle Mariners are expected to pursue more starting pitching once the lockout ends, per the great Corey Brock of The Athletic. While most expected the club to go after two legitimate arms to add to the rotation, the initial expectation was maybe a frontline type, plus a relatively reliable back-end starter to better bridge the gap from starter to bullpen, and turn over the rotation over on a winning note more often than they could in 2021. But the fact such a basic concept (adding more rotation help) would come out during the lockout after two absolutely dead weeks in Major League Baseball (thank you, owners, you’re all losers), is at least a bit peculiar, and I think begs the question of whether or not this means Seattle might be more aggressive with the rotation as a result of things on the offensive side getting a bit murky. Well, if you ask me the answer is ‘no.’ Absolutely not. In fact, I think the opposite is more likely to be true. I believe PoBOps– yes, I’m sticking with that sorta-acronym —  Jerry Dipoto sees an opportunity, perhaps one they weren’t sure would be there when the offseason began. The opportunity to do all they want to do with the lineup, plus address the rotation more aggressively than expected. Considering how assailing Seattle is willing to be with dollars, and how flexible they’re capable of being defensively, both on the infield and in the outfield in terms of who plays where and how often, there’s no reason to believe, somehow, some way, the lineup won’t be significantly better in 2022, even if they add exactly zero mashers. For me, a masher is a legit, reliable, middle-of-the-order bat that generally ranks among the top 20 or so in baseball year-in, year-out. They’d bat 2-3-4 in EVERY lineup in baseball. Juan Soto is a masher. Bryce Harper is a masher. Some are just good hitters, like Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Manny Machado. They all fit somewhere, but they don’t always measure up well to the best in the game. — Churchill Whether it’s easy to see on paper because of names such as Trevor Story Kris Bryant, Michael Conforto, et al, or it takes a bit more squinting, the Mariners are fixing the offense. Side note: There is a way the Mariners offense is average or better without adding Bryant, Story, or Conforto, using a bit more of a quantity-over-quality approach, not that Dipoto and the Mariners prefer that.  Point is, betting against the club accomplishing their goals with the offense and adding multiple pieces to the lineup that raise the floor and the ceiling of their run-scoring abilities is superbly unwise. But the key to the entire offseason may end up being the Robbie Ray signing. Adding Ray to the top of the rotation, then hammering away and piecing together at least an average offense with upside, opens the door for a game-changing move: Adding another frontline starting pitcher and scaring the diapers off the Houston Astros, who have set a goal to win the American League West for the fifth time in six years. To demonstrate this, I’ll put names to the equation. Let’s assume the below transactions all get done — I used these because they are relatable, sensible, and realistic: Sign OF Michael Conforto to 1-year deal Trade for OF Raimel Tapia Sign IF Trevor Story to 5-year deal Sign RHP Chad Kuhl to a 1-year deal Sign LHP Martín Pérez to 1-year deal You’d have a projected lineup as follows (I’ll use my personal preferred order here, not what I think Seattle would actually do) — 2022 Steamer wRC+ in parenthesis. Adam Frazier, 3B (100) Ty France, 1B (122) Trevor Story, 2B (107) Mitch Haniger, OF/DH (115) Michael Conforto, OF/DH (121) Kyle Lewis OF/DH (103) J.P. Crawford, SS (103) Tom Murphy/Cal Raleigh, C (combined 91) Jarred Kelenic, OF (103) At least on paper, this is a solid lineup (not a below-average bat in the lineup per Steamer projections), and doesn’t include an infusion of Luis Torrens versus left-hand pitching, Abraham Toro spelling Frazier (mainly versus LHP), and Tapia taking over defensively in center and shifting Lewis to a corner late in games. And it doesn’t include Julio Rodriguez, whom I do not believe has a great chance to make the Opening Day roster but will see the majors for a good chunk of 2022, and he comes with a higher floor at the plate than did Kelenic last season. There’s a lot to like with that lineup. Sure, we could replace Story and Conforto with Bryant and Kepler, or go even further down the quantity theory I noted above, but you get the point. Seattle has a great chance to put up some crooked numbers more regularly in 2022 and beyond. Let’s say that lineup is about average. Could be better, but the catchers and Kelenic are far from surefire solid contributors. They have questions to answer. We know bullpens are volatile, but Seattle expects to be at least OK there to start the year with Ken Giles joining Paul Sewald, Drew Steckenrider, Casey Sadler, Diego Castillo, Andrés Muñoz, Erik Swanson, and Anthony Misiewicz, among others. The rotation, as it stands, is Ray, Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen and Logan Gilbert. While Matt Brash, George Kirby, and Brandon Williamson, in some order, could each contribute in 2022, the No. 5 starter in this case would be either Kuhl or Pérez, whom I’ve signed to big-league, incentive-laden deals, followed by Nick Margevicius, Justin Dunn, and Justus Sheffield. The club, in some other recent seasons, would justify going to camp as-is. But after the winter we just put together for them, adding Tyler Anderson or Michael Pineda isn’t taking full advantage. What would be? Making the move. We know Dipoto does not feel moving top prospects is necessary to check off all the boxes for his club this winter, and that he’s not going to do it unless he feels the deal is a no-brainer. And he’s right. It’s not necessary. It’s not necessary to move any significant young talent this winter … unless a 95-win 2022 season is right there for the taking. And it very well could be, because the club acted early and landed one of the better rotation pieces on the market. There’s been a lot of buzz about Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds this offseason, but in the scenario we’ve drawn up here, the move is adding another frontline starting pitcher. It’s making Gonzales the No. 3, Flexen the No. 4, and Gilbert the No. 5 with a silver bullet. It’s handing Scott Servais and Pete Woodworth a chance to match up well with every team, every game, no matter who is on the hill. It’s eliminating the games the club opens with a significant disadvantage on the mound, something we’ve seen all too often the last two decades in Seattle. Maybe they feel good about Carlos Rodon‘s arm and he’s the answer. Otherwise, the trade route is how Dipoto adds another frontline starter. We’ve discussed a lot the ideas of Oakland Athletics right-handers Chris Bassitt, and Frankie Montas, and lefty Sean Manaea, as well as the three righties in Cincinnati, Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Tyler Mahle. But there’s also a pair of former Mariners farmhands to consider in Miami right-hander Pablo Lopez, and Brewers righty Fredy Peralta. Both the Marlins and Brewers want to contend in 2022, and are taking steps to doing so, but there are a lot of easy-to-see reasons why each club would entertain moving the arms. The key for Seattle is trade cost. Julio Rodriguez is not getting traded. Jarred Kelenic is not getting traded. George Kirby is not getting traded. I also don’t believe Noelvi Marte is getting traded, either, because while I think it’s worth moving him for four years of Bryan Reynolds, I don’t see how moving Marte and his ceiling for two years of a No. 2 or 3 starting pitcher is sensible. It’s simply not good value. Emerson Hancock‘s value is crimped in a lack of pro development and the fact he was shut down with a shoulder, um, thing we’ll call it for now, to end this past season, so he’s not going anywhere, either. But why not Brash? Williamson? Connor Phillips? Adam Macko? Alberto Rodriguez? Zach DeLoach? Levi Stoudt? Milkar Perez? Juan Then? The Mariners have several prospect I have ranked outside the Top 5 that would be inside the Top 5 of probably half the league or more. Stoudt is an underrated trade piece, despite being 24 already and having a short pro resume, because he tops out in the upper 90s and has a changeup that projects to 65-70 grades. I’m not saying Stoudt can headline a deal for Montas or Castillo or Lopez or Peralta, but he could be a pretty nice second piece. There’s no reason two years of Castillo, Montas, Mahle, or Gray should cost Rodriguez, Kirby, Kelenic, or Marte. If another club wants to include a top 40 talent to headline such a trade, good luck, Mets. And, obviously, Manaea and Bassitt are in their walk years, making each a bit less expensive to acquire than the other group, though clubs do tend to overvalue such players because of the idea players perform better heading toward free agency (Story would like a word), and the perceived value of draft-pick compensation, but neither are warranting top-5 talent from a top farm system. Lopez and Peralta are different stories. They’re also less likely to be seriously discussed by their respective teams, and they’d likely be more expensive since they’re each under club control for three more seasons. Each comes with more risk than the aforementioned group, though Mahle has a lot in common with Peralta — short track record of success in the majors as a starting pitcher. When all is said and done this offseason, the question may be whether or not what clubs such as Seattle might be willing to offer in young talent is enough to convince the Reds to deal Castillo. I think Gray is getting traded, however, so for the sake of this exercise once again, let’s add this transaction to the board: Mariners acquire RHP Sonny Gray from Cincinnati for LHP Brandon Williamson (No. 7), OF Zach DeLoach (10), RHP Luis Curvelo (29). This is just a best guess at this point. The trade market for such starters has yet to be set. If anything, the price will be higher. But it’s also not the point here, so let’s not fuss over semantics Now, in addition to the promising lineup and bullpen we’ve discussed already, the rotation looks pretty darned good: Robbie Ray, L Sonny Gray, R Marco Gonzales, L Chris Flexen, R Logan Gilbert, R It also may give the Mariners a surplus of starting pitching if and when the likes of Brash and Kirby force their way into the mix, but that is a legitimate contending five-man rotation. The No. 6-12 starters are Brash, Kuhl, Perez, Margevicius, Dunn, Kirby, Sheffield, in some order. For reference, the average playoff team uses 11-12 starters a year, and at least nine made five or more starts for all but four playoff teams over the past four seasons. Gray isn’t a prototypical No. 2, he’d ideally be a No. 3 in the same way Ray is probably more of a No. 2 (unless he takes his game up yet another notch, a topic for the next Baseball Things episode) Yep, get greedy. That’s what the Mariners should do with the rotation this winter, despite the fact they have promising arms on the way. Ray’s signing to a five-year deal, and having Gonzales under contract through 2025, allow the club to move one of their pitching prospects, or even two theoretically, without tossing out an alarming measure of quality depth. Brock’s report shouldn’t surprise anyone. Seattle needs another starter, plus some depth additions on small MLB deals or NRI-style acquisitions for spring. But they might be in a prime position to do it all his winter, and honestly, I didn’t see that coming. There’s a load of work to be done before any of the above lines up, but I’d bet the house the lineup is handled and Dipoto and company get the chance to start 2022 with the best team the franchise has fielded in 20 seasons. And if they get that chance I find it difficult to believe they won’t jump.Go!

Looking at the latest baseball odds reflects just two teams left in the dance. Atlanta and Houston have a lot in common. The most telling commonality is pitching. Depth, in particular. Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins drew it up as well as anyone right here: the Mariners’ 2021 rotation wasn’t equipped to pitch the team to the postseason, let alone through it and to the World Series. This means the club has a lot of work to do. The club received well below-average production from its starting rotation in 2021, and despite the season-long loss of James Paxton, Ljay Newsome, and Nick Margevicius, and the five weeks Marco Gonzales missed, the fact they weren’t the worst rotation in baseball by a wide margin was actually quite impressive. Seattle ranked No. 19 in rotation ERA, No. 22 in FIP, No. 27 in xFIP, No. 23 in K%, No. 13 in BB% and No. 15 in total innings covered. The club, mainly GM Jerry Dipoto, has spoken publicly about adding to the rotation. There seems to be a sentiment, from perhaps inside the organization as well as fans and media, the Mariners simply need one very good starter at the top of their rotation, and they’re set for 2022. It seems the prevailing reason for this sentiment is the presence of pitching prospects, namely George Kirby, Matt Brash, and Brandon Williamson. I completely disagree the Mariners should be seeking one starting pitcher. Dipoto should be looking for two arms, even if neither are multi-year solutions. Why? Because banking on prospects is asking for trouble, and pitching depth is at the top of the list of common denominators among good teams, another topic Arkins covered. If Seattle wants to prove baseball is back, and they want to take a real step forward next season, the rotation must be addressed with aggression, and beyond one upgrade. There are essentially two ways to do that from outside the organization: Free agents and trades. Entering the 2022 season with a rotation of Marco Gonzales, Chris Flexen, Logan Gilbert, the one acquisition we’re assuming, and presumably, either an in-house option such as Yusei Kikuchi, Justin Dunn, or Justus Sheffield, or with a re-signing of Tyler Anderson, isn’t going to inspire confidence, nor is it good enough to compete with the better teams in the American League. And the answer is no if you’re wondering if it’s OK to start the season with a rotation like that because Kirby, Williamson, or Brash may be up relatively early. Counting on consistent, big-league performance from any of the three is not a plan for success, it’s not a plan for winning. That’s a developmental plan. That’s a plan the club has executed three seasons in a row now. And while it went fine for Gilbert this past season, this is when we need to realize why the Mariners believe(d) in Gilbert as much as they did/do, and why that separates him from Kirby, Williamson, and Brash. We can talk about stuff all day — all three of the prospects have enough of it to get outs in the majors. Kirby throws enough quality strikes, too. But none of the three have the combo of stuff, command, and preparedness Gilbert showed the Mariners before he was called up in May, and they aren’t going to gain that between now and next June. That makes those three a bigger performance risk entering 2022 than was Gilbert entering last season, despite my belief Kirby is a better overall prospect than Gilbert ever was. Gilbert was pretty good in 2021, but had his ups, downs and stretches of struggles, and his presence in the projected rotation for ’22 already represents above-standard levels of risk. Seattle has no business simply ‘buying time’ with fringe arms as they wait for the prospects to poke their heads through the minors. The club’s acquisitions this winter should reflect an overall approach to winning next season. No two-month stop-gaps, no ‘holding a spot for’ the prospects. When the kids are ready, they must represent an upgrade to an existing arm in the rotation, or be utilized in a different role. It’s never a bad thing to have more starting pitchers than a club needs at a given time, but there’s no such thing as too much of it. The Mariners should add two quality arms that compete consistently and have a chance to give 160-200 innings next season, even if one of them is simply an average performer  — 4.2-4.3 ERA/FIP/xFIP, i.e., Kyle Freeland, Merrill Kelly, Logan Gilbert, Michael Pineda. Freeland and Kelly should be topics of trade discussion if their clubs are willing, and Pineda should be on a long list of free agents in which the Mariners show interest, as should Jon Gray, Steven Matz, and the obvious top arms on the market. In July, the Miami Marlins engaged a bit in talks for starting pitching (Pablo Lopez, Sandy Alcantara) but nothing materialized, and now with the injury to Sixto Sanchez, and the likely aggressions the Fish show this offseason to start winning, it’s unlikely that changes. For now. Marquez’s presence on the list above is solely to acknowledge his existence. With the Rockies extending Antonio Senzatela, it appears Colorado will attempt to add to what they have, rather than trade off their best pieces and start again. The A’s may very well have a fire sale, and while I don’t typically love the idea of paying the freight on walk-year players, Manaea can pitch. But their entire rotation may be shopped, so stay tuned. Whether or not the Reds make any of their arms available remains to be seen, but I’m a Mahle and Castillo fan, and still see value in Gray and the very team-friendly two years left on his deal. Bieber is an intriguing yet worrisome potential target thanks to a shoulder injury and some questions about whether or not the sticky stuff aided his abilities in the mound to a significant degree, but he’s worth watching this winter, too. Corbin could be a buy-low option for a club that still sees No. 2/3 stuff, but he’s owed $82 million over the next three seasons, and I think the Nationals are more likely to try a retooling rather than cleaning house, anyway, but anything goes this winter. While Seattle attempts to fix a bad offense, increasing the impact provided by their rotation to better match up with their league foes is a must. A must. It’s not going to come from within, it’s not going to happen by magic, and the other competitive clubs aren’t each taking numerous steps back. Those clubs — Astros, White Sox, Rays, Red Sox, Yankees, Blue Jays — all are better set up in the rotation moving forward, and others, including the Angels and Tigers, are expected to pursue veteran arms, too. While the market isn’t rich with options and trades for impact arms may be too rich for anyone, nothing at all should be off the table. The how really isn’t all that important, however, and the names attached to the arms the club targets aren’t either. But the Mariners aren’t one additional starting pitcher away from properly preparing the roster to meet their 2022 goals. And for the first time in years, their goal of winning isn’t a pipe dreams lined with wafer-thin margins. It’s real, legitimate, and treating it as anything but would be a travesty.Go!

As astutely and accurately demonstrated here by Luke Arkins, the Seattle Mariners struggled to score runs with any reasonable consistency in 2021, and it led to an inordinate — and ultimately unsustainable — rate of close games the club’s bullpen and ‘clutch’ hitting was asked to win. To continue building the roster’s ability to win games, raise the ceiling and reduce the number of games the club is relying on magic, GM Jerry Dipoto has to do just that to his lineup. Today, let’s take a look at the possibilities, but let me say this before we dive into it all: I think just about anything short of elite contracts — long-term, $200 million-plus deals — is in play, including good free agents and significant trades that cost young talent. Also, there are no untouchables. Not on the 26-man roster, not down on the farm. Having said that, it’s highly, highly unlikely Dipoto ends up moving top prospect Julio Rodriguez, or even right-hander George Kirby, the club’s top pitching prospect in over 15 years. I believe anything else is on the table, even if unlikely to come to fruition. Let’s get started. First off, the club isn’t really set at any one position on the field. It may seems like first base is all taken care of with Ty France and perhaps eventually Evan White, but there’s flexibility there, too. It may seem like the outfield is all set and even soon-to-be crowded, but there are question marks all over the position group, including Mitch Haniger‘s defense, Kyle Lewis‘ bat and ability to stay healthy, as well as the development of Jarred Kelenic, and bench depth. Abraham Toro may be the starting third baseman next season. He may be the starter at second. He also could be a regular in the lineup as an everyday-type multi-position player in the mold of Marwin Gonzalez. Keep that in mind. The club obviously needs more production from the infield, though, and I feel like some fans are looking at Toro’s final 2021 numbers and thinking “we need better than this.” While that’s true, it’s a mistake to assume that’s just what Toro is. He’s barely 25 and this season was his first extended shot at big-league pitching. There are a lot of traits he’s displayed that suggest above-average offensive output is in his future. Just like we all know Kelenic has more to offer than his grossly sub par 2021 triple-slash, the same is true for Toro. The club also is not set at catcher, where Tom Murphy is solid yet unspectacular defensively and struggles to produce with the bat, and Cal Raleigh is just getting his feet wet in the majors. Luis Torrens appears set to be treated more like a bat than a potential oft-option behind the dish, so, this position is not set and settled for 2022. Trading Murphy as a tertiary piece in a trade package and adding a more established veteran, or simply pairing a new-addition veteran with Murphy and allowing Raleigh to start 2022 in Triple-A should absolutely be on the table, and I’ll address that below. One more note: There will be names not mentioned that make sense. Again, just about everything is plausible. The combination of potential offensive acquisitions spans as wide as ever for the Mariners. Free agents, trades, and development will all be part of the club’s improvement at the plate in 2022. We just don’t know exactly how that acquisition pie will be sliced. Here we go: Free Agents There’s going to be chatter about the shortstop market until they all sign, but unless one of them wants to go with a one-year, reestablish deal, Seattle shouldn’t engage much. These are likely to land in the elite range, especially Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. Javier Baez is a fine player, but he and Trevor Story both come with a lot more risk for offensive performance than truly elite players should. I’m not sure anyone else, at this stage if things, can be remotely dismissed as a legitimate target for the Mariners. Kris Bryant, 3BThere’s no reason Bryant shouldn’t be on the initial list for Seattle, though there are a lot of reasons to believe this isn’t a target likely to become reality. First, he’s 30 and isn’t going to want to pass on his only shot to make a bundle, so we’re probably talking about at least five guaranteed years, and possibly 6-8. He can handle third base, but also play a passable left or right field, aiding in a club’s flexibility. But Bryant also has a say. Seattle, inherently, has its deterrents, both geographically and as an organization. Sometimes money talks, but clubs have to pick their spots when they simply offer more than everyone else, and Bryant isn’t that player. In fact, that kind of free agent doesn’t exist this winter at all. Marcus Semien, 2B/3BSemien had a huge 2021 and is going to get paid accordingly. Defensively, there’s no reason to believe he can’t still play an average shortstop and if he finds a club that agrees he’s going to price himself out of a lot of places, including Toronto and Seattle. He’s 31, which is a concern on the back end, so anything beyond four years guaranteed is too much of a value squeeze for me, especially considering Semien is selling high and is not likely to ever repeat his 2021 performance. But the lack of market stability — we really don’t know yet how aggressive the market will be; we don’t know how many clubs are going to be willing to spend significant dollars this winter — suggests a chance Semien’s market remains reasonable. We shall see. Nick Castellanos, OFCastellanos is certain to opt out of his deal with the Cincinnati Reds that would pay him $16 million in 2022. He’ll be 30 before the start of the ’22 season and isn’t a very good glove, but the bat is big and plays in any ballpark. I’d be surprised if he has to settle for fewer than four years and $100 million. Michael Conforto, OFConforto has typically hit when healthy, though 2021 has been uneven for him. He’s not yet 29, is a Redmond High School product, and there is room for outfielders, plural, on the Mariners’ roster. Conforto may see an opportunity to come home on a one-year deal, have big season and head back out on the market for a longer-term contract next winter. This is one of my favorite potential targets. J.D. Martinez, Nelson Cruz, Jorge Soler, DHAll three can hit and the first two have long track records. Adding a pure DH to the roster is a bit messy for Seattle with France and Mitch Haniger possibly warranting time there, depending on the makeup of the rest of the roster. Soler can fake it in right field a bit, however, if that becomes important. A DH like one of these three could still fit as one of the final pieces of the offensive puzzle for 2022. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dipoto express interest in Cruz or Soler. Kyle Schwarber, OF/1B/DHSchwarber has been a man without a position his entire career, but while he’s below-average in the outfield, he’s not awful, and he’s starting to learn first base this season with Boston. The fit may appear a little murky at this point, but like the DHs above, there are scenarios where it shakes out a Schwarber fit with the Mariners. He’s the kind of bat they really like, so if they get beyond the defensively stuff he’s certainly a hitter to track this offseason. Starling Marte, CFMarte had a very good 2021, but isn’t the free agent some seem to think he is. He’s 33 with declining centerfield defense, and anything more than two years guaranteed feels like an unnecessary risk. But the bat, and the defense, may play well enough to warrant genuine interest on a short-term basis. Personally, I feel like Marte will be overpaid in years and AAV. Chris Taylor, 2BTaylor, now 31, has thrived in the Dodgers’ lineup and plays average or better defense at multiple positions, including left field, second base, and third base, and is playable at shortstop and center field, at least for now. I question how well the bat plays moving forward, and how different he might be pitched if not surrounded by stars, so outside of a similar situation I think Taylor is going to be overrated and overpaid. Having said that, he fits, in theory, because there is hitting ability there, and his defensive versatility is highly valuable. Mark Canha, OFCanha had a down 2021 and isn’t a middle of the order bat, but if he’s the low-hanging fruit to help solidify the roster amidst more significant acquisitions, he could be a very good fit on a one-year deal, perhaps keeping the seat warm for a younger bat. Perhaps the key here is Canha’s ability to play some center field, even though it’s not ideal he’s the everyday answer there. Yan Gomes, Christian Vazquez CGomes is a solid-average defender with some punch in his bat — .252/.301/.421 in 2021 — and at 34 is likely headed for a short-term deal this winter. Vazquez is likely to stay in Boston, but he’s an ideal timeshare backstop likely available on a short-term contract. He’s one year off a 115 wRC+ season and two years removed from a 23-HR campaign. Tommy Pham, OFPham, 34 by the time next season starts, had a strange but still productive 2021, and if used as a fourth outfielder still brings good value on a one-year contract. He’s fringe-average defensively, but has average pop, draws walks, and still runs fairly well. He makes contact at an above-average rate, suggesting a chance to bounce back from hitting .229. If Pham, or someone like him, is replacing Dylan Moore, for example, they’re doing it right.Brad Miller, 1B/3B/OFMiller, another former Mariners draftee on the list, has produced 127, 120 and 105 wRC+ marks the past three seasons, despite ordinary batting averages. He has good power from the left side, draws walks, and plays a passable second base and third base, has experience at first base where he’s at least average, and is passable in short stints in left or right field. Freddy Galvis, UTGalvis is a very good utility infielder with defense that fits at second, short, and third, and there’s a little punch in the bat from both sides of the plate. He’d be an average security blanket for the infield spots, led by defense and his ability to make consistent contact at the plate. Jonathan Villar, UTVillar had borderline starter numbers in 2021, but should not be paid like one. Let me repeat: Villar should not be paid like starting-caliber player. The 30-year-old warrants a one-year, stop-gap contract that also fits into utility range, since ideally your regulars are all better hitters with longer futures in the organization. Villar, however, is very interest for Seattle, who may not find two significant upgrades on the infield and could instead bring in one major infield upgrade plus a one-year insurance policy to Toro’s development, knowing Villar can play a satisfactory second, short, and third, and has shown some promise in occasional stints in the outfield over the years. How his market develops will be very interesting after he posted a 105 wRC+ for the Mets this season. Avisail Garcia, OFOne of the more underrated free agents is Garcia, who at 30 just batted .262/.330/.490 with 29 homers for the Milwaukee Brewers, and plays a very solid right field. If Seattle gets to point where moving Haniger to DH — or to another team — becomes a realistic possibility — Garcia could slide into RF, and then move to DH once Rodriguez is ready to take over for the long haul. I’m curious to see where Garcia’s market lands, too. He’s been solid, but it seems like it’s possible he may not be able to do better than two or three years. AJ Pollock, LF — Los Angeles DodgersPollock may opt out of the final two years and $21 million of his deal with the Dodgers, and if he does, toss him into the free agent pile. In fact, it might surprise many if he doesn’t opt out, considering it comes with a $5 million buyout and the market likely gets him the $16 million difference, and then some. He’s not a center field option except in a pinch, but he’s fine in left, and went 131 and 137 wRC+ the last two seasons. He hits lefties better than righties, but produced in 2021 against both. If he’s 2/3 of a timeshare, Pollock makes tons of sense for a contender that needs outfield help, Seattle included. If he doesn’t opt out, there’s a chance the Dodgers dangle him in trade and with a palatable contract there likely will be a taker or two. As long as he’s not the best bat added to the mix, Pollock could make some sense for Seattle in the big picture. Michael A. Taylor, CFThe Mariners need help in center field to improve the defense and perhaps cover for the unavailability of Kyle Lewis (knee), who either may not be able to play center regularly, at all, or the club may choose to make the ask of Lewis a little less-demanding by using him less in the field at all and giving him some DH time. In any case, Taylor, a terrific defender, makes a lot of sense. His overall numbers at the plate aren’t inspiring — .244/.297/.356, 77 wRC+ — but he’s a part-time player who was overexposed by the Royals. Taylor has hit lefties in his career toa .261/.311/.421 clip, and this past season popped a .295/.344/.424 sash against them (110 wRC+). OTHERS: Andrew McCutchen, OF; Eddie Rosario, OF; Adam Duvall, OF; Kevin Pillar, OF; Manny Pina, C, plus unexpected option declines. Trades Seattle isn’t going to stop making sensible trades, including those that appear aggressive in nature, as they move closer toward consistent contention than they have experienced in two decades. It’s plausible the club makes an assertive prospect-for-big-leaguer move this winter that includes one of the club’s better young talents. The farm system is not only in good shape, but it’s growing in depth at a rapid pace, and I’ll reiterate my belief it hasn’t peaked, which means more high-end talent is on its way. Proven plus-level talent costs big, just ask the Blue Jays, who traded two top 40 prospects for eight months of Jose Berrios this past summer, and if the Mariners want to take a significant next step the free-agent route can’t stand alone. Look around. How were the Dodgers built? Lots of homegrown, but they traded for Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Max Scherzer. The Astros traded for Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. The Red Sox traded for Chris Sale, and paid dearly in the form of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech. The White Sox traded a 24-year-old starting second baseman for Craig Kimbrel. And we all know what the Padres have given up to land Blake Snell, Austin Nola, among others. I have spent  a lot of time the past 20 years helping demonstrate the value of prospects to fans of the Seattle Mariners, and I stand by every word. But I also have reminded everyone who’d listen that trades aren’t about what you give up, it’s about what you get in return. Trading top prospects is a tough decision, and like every other move made in baseball, it’s a wager. There are no guarantees. Dipoto, Justin Hollander and the rest of the baseball folks in the organization are charged with taking the best shots available, and at the right time. Sometimes big trades hurt a bit. Be prepared. That kind of trade is on the table this winter. Jose Ramirez, 3B — Cleveland GuardiansRamirez is a bit of a pipe dream unless and until Cleveland gives indications they’re looking to retool. He’s just now 29, a plus defender at third and a well above-average bat that has toyed with MVP-caliber production since 2017. But Ramirez is signed to a team-friendly deal that extends through the 2023 season, so Cleveland can make another go of it to start 2022, and consider moving Ramirez over the summer. They did make a mistake with Francisco Lindor in hanging onto him too long before trading him, but if Cleveland wants to actually spend big to retain Ramirez there’s no need to trade him at all, but when was the last time that franchise paid big for anyone? And if they’re not going to pay him the $30-40 million a year for 5-plus seasons he’s worth, trading him now makes a lot more sense to waiting for next winter when the club is backed into a corner and gets pennies on the dollar —  just like they did with Lindor. The trade cost would be significant for two years of Ramirez, and there certainly would be numerous clubs interested, namely the Yankees, Dodgers, Blue Jays (especially if they don’t re-up with Semien), Red Sox, Braves, Reds, Phillies, Mets, Tigers, and, yes, the Mariners. Jorge Polanco, Luiz Arraez, 2B — Minnesota TwinsAfter the Twins failed to extend centerfielder Byron Buxton this past summer and traded ace Jose Berrios to Toronto, it’s fair to wonder if Buxton is next on the move, and if Polanco and/or Arraez might be right behind him. Arraez has a second-base bat, bringing a career .313/.374/.403 slash into the offseason. He’s around average defensively and doesn’t make an impact with his legs. His lack of power makes him more of a secondary-level target for a club like Seattle looking for major upgrades, and it’s fair to wonder if Arraez makes any sense at all with Abraham Toro in the fold, despite being a proven bat versus Toro’s raw status. Polanco, however, is a different animal. He’s one of the more underrated hitters in baseball after posting his second wRC+ of 120 or better in each of the last two full seasons. Polanco can manage at shortstop but is a better fit at second and has been solid-average there in 1,000 innings — most of that this past season. But we may be seeing the start of the switch hitter’s prime at the plate, which may warrant a move to third base, too, allowing for more flexibility for a potentially-acquiring club. He’s 28, has 59 homers over his last 1400 at-bats, and has never struck out more the 18.6% rate he posted in 2018, despite a more aggressive approach that has undoubtedly played a role in the growth of his power. Polanco is an above-average runner, and equally dangerous from both sides of the plate. Josh Donaldson, 3B — Minnesota TwinsDonaldson will be 36 this winter, but is still productive, even if he’s not the star bat he once was. At his age, however, and with his history, injuries are a concern, as is the $50 million guaranteed he’s owed through the 2023 season. Any trade out of Minnesota is bound to come with cash, or be a swap of contracts. I present Yusei Kikuchi, who may exercise his $13 million player option. Just a passing thought. There are all kinds of possibilities for the Twins and Mariners to connect on trades. Arraez and Donaldson? Polanco? Polanco and Donaldson? Just one of them? I don’t, however, love the idea of Buxton, in case you’re wondering, because high-profile players with one year remaining tend to cost 25-40% more than that one year is worth. Eugenio Suarez, 3B — Cincinnati RedsSuarez had a bad year at the plate — .198/.286/.428 — but still hit 31 homers and was a monster in September/October — .370/.460/.808, 220 wRC+. He’s fringe-average defensively at third — though he spent nearly 300 innings at shortstop this season. He’s 30, signed through 2024 with a club option for 2025 that if exercised would pay him $48 million over the next four seasons. A bargain, as long as Suarez gets most of his swagger back. He was a four-win player three straight seasons prior to the weirdness that was 2020. A pair of scouts believe Suarez’s conditioning may be part of the problem, but there are lots of reasons to believe he can get back the majority of his mojo, including barrel rate, hard-hit rate, a 100-point drop in batting average on balls in play. Considering there are other players on the roster Seattle might have interest in this winter (stay tuned), Suarez may come up in talks. Brandon Lowe, 2B/3B — Tampa Bay RaysConsidering all the infield talent in the Rays’ system and how the club operates with veterans, Lowe could be available this winter. At 27, he’s coming off a career year that resulted in a .247/.340/.523, 39 homer season. He’s fringy defensively at second, and with the bat exploding I wonder if third base is at all an option, despite an average arm. He’ll swing and miss (27% in 2021), but he’ll also walk (11.1%), and his contract carries him through 2024 at $18 million total, with two club options worth a total of $22 million for 2025-26. If the Rays are willing to discuss Lowe, Seattle should be interested, especially if they think he can handle third base on top of second, giving them even more alignment options with their bats. Bryan Reynolds, OF — Pittsburgh Pirates Reynolds may be as sought after as any player on the trade market this winter if the Pirates make him available. He’s coming off a 142 wRC+ season at age 26, and will not qualify for free agency until after the 2025 season. The Pirates absolutely should start adding around Reynolds, a switch-hitting outfielder some believe could win a batting title in his prime. But who knows what the Pirates will try to do, if anything, so Reynolds remains a topic of trade conversation. Defensively, Reynolds is passable in center for now but belongs in left thanks to a below-average throwing arm and range. If Pittsburgh decides to talk trade with Reynolds, it’s not going to be cheap, despite the fact he’s not a long-term centerfielder. As I stated above, just about anything is on the table, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone how creative and sometimes off-the-radar this club goes on a regular basis. So when Dipoto and friends do just that, don’t fret. They’ve proven they know what they’re doing.Go!

It’s my opinion the Seattle Mariner just experienced the most successful player development season in team history. Prospects prospered, the list of “top” prospects doubled, at least, players changed their profiles and projections to the positive, meaningful development took place for literally dozens of minor leaguers. We saw a handful of graduations — Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh, Jarred Kelenic among them — and the club’s current No. 1 prospect has a whirlwind of a season highlighted by massive numbers and answered questions. A banner year, as one might say. Every year when you and I have this conversation I am tempted to remind readers this is not about stats. This is not ‘Player of the Year/Pitcher of the Year’ it’s ‘Prospects of the Year,’ which means the criterion is different. Performance — stats — are helpful, but development and its effect on projected impact are what this is about. For example, outfielder Cade Marlowe had a great year, batting .272/.365/.563 at two stops this season, including 60 extra-base hits and 23 stolen bases. He was named Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year by the club just this week. Marlowe experienced his own crucial development this season, but he’s not the hitting prospect of the year because someone else had a more important season, bigger developments, answered more questions about their future. Make sense? Here we go. Hitting Prospect of the Year: Noelvi Marte, SS Marte, who will not turn 20 until October, was essentially a man-child in Low-A West this season for the Modesto Nuts. He was consistent, showed plus power, the ability to make adjustments offensively and defensively, and put up numbers worth writing home about, if that’s your thing. Marte batted .273/.366/.459 with 17 home runs and 24 stolen bases. Moe importantly than those numbers are how he got them. Marte has plus bat speed that produces easy plus power to his pull side, but his work trying to use the middle of the field more showed power all the way around to the right-center field gap. Opposite-field power that was mostly of the doubles variety right now but very well could turn into legitimate home-run pop as he continues to mature physically and as a hitter. The right-handed hitting Dominican Republic native was among the elite players at the Low-A level for the first two months of 2021, then had a rough July — .219/.270/.316 with a 27% strikeout rate and just six extra-base hits. Not only did Marte bounce back in August, he did so in a big way — .287/.412/.553 — and rode it into a short-stint promotion to end the season. Entering the season the basic questions were whether or not Marte could sustain hit and power production versus pitchers two-plus years his senior, and how much he could improve defensively despite seemingly being on his way to outgrowing shortstop. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds, but by multiple accounts is more like 6-2 or 6-3 and around 200 pounds. He’s still athletic and has above-average speed — he entered pro ball with a 70-grade run tool — but has impressively taken a shaky defensive start to 2021 and turned it mostly positive. Plays he didn’t make early, he made at a high rate the rest of the season. Mistakes he made early, he made at a high rate the rest of the season. Tough plays, routine plays, difficult throws, plays which would be called ‘plus’ plays. Marte doesn’t have great range, neither laterally nor in terms of coming in on slow ground balls, but he’s cut way down on the routine errors. Many will look at the 29 error he made at Modesto and think, ‘welp, he can’t field’ and they’d be wrong. He’s not likely to profile well at shortstop, but the plays he’s shown he can make regularly, and the rate at which he’s shown he can make them over an extended stretch, suggest he may end up a solid defender at third base. Whether Seattle has come to the conclusion he’s not a shortstop remains to be seen. Generally, clubs don’t like moving players off a spot until it’s clear one of two things are true: He can’t play there long term, or his bat suggests, one way or the other, playing elsewhere is necessary (moving Marcus Littlewood from shortstop to catcher rather than third base or the outfield was because the Mariners thought if he could make the transition defensively hit bat might play in the majors. There was a lack of confidence it’d ever play at third or in a corner outfield spot. Moving Marte to third, for example, would be a sign the Mariners believe the bat plays at the hot corner, and there’s tons of evidence it could.) To some extent, Marte answered every question that could fairly be thrust upon him for the 2021 season, his first full season in pro ball and one that came after an entire year doing nothing but working out at the alternate site in 2020. He’ll enter 2022 with a chance to mirror the 2021 path of Julio Rodriguez, just like this season his development path mirrored Rodriguez’s 2019 campaign. At this point, Marte’s MLB ETA or probably somewhere between May 2023 and September of that season, but if he keeps answering questions as loudly as he did this season, maybe that’s selling him short. Runner-Up: Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez, 20, played half the minor-league schedule and spent time with the Dominican National Team qualifying and then competing in the Olympics. And Rodriguez was good in the Games against far more experienced players. While stateside, Rodriguez absolutely mashed, finishing at .347/.441/.560 with 13 homers and 21 stolen bases. At Double-A Arkansas, he hit .362/.461/.546 with a strikeout rate of just 18%. While I don’t project Rodriguez to be an elite hitter in terms of batting average, he’s clearly adept and recognizing when and how to just hit the ball hard and live with the result and when to power up and drive it. Over a full season, by the way, Franchise’s numbers project to 25 home runs, 36 doubles, four triples. The stolen bases aren’t likely to remain a weapon for him in the big leagues to the extent the totals from this season might suggest, but he’s yet to start losing quickness and speed, despite being all of 6-foot-3 or 6-fooot-4 and 215-225 pounds, maybe more. Defensively he projects as average from a range perspective, but in a corner could be a high-efficiency glove, and owns a 70-grade arm with increasing accuracy. He plays the game with tremendous energy and already is a fan favorite, a fact that will only grow with reckless abandon once he reaches The Show. There are some that still don’t love the entirety of Rodriguez’s swing mechanics, and I see the merits of those concerns, but with plus bat speed and tremendous strength in his hands, wrists and arms, he may not need to make significant fixes, and whether he will have to or not may not be truly learned until he faces big-league pitching regularly. See: Kelenic, Jarred. Despite 70 raw power, the swing path is clean with limited load. He covers the plate well, and has made an adjustment with his lower half, using his front leg less aggressively without sacrificing timing or power. It’s just a matter of time before we see it all in the majors. Over the winter, I’ll document the differences between Rodriguez and Kelenic as hitters and why offensively Rodriguez has always had a slight advantage, and why those exact reasons are why he’s less likely to struggle early. If Rodriguez had played all year, he’s probably the pick here, and he nearly won out, anyway he was so good, and tackled and conquered so many minors gripes about his game. Honorable Mentions Zach DeLoach, OF: .276/.373/.468, 33-2B, 4-3B, 14 HR DeLoach will have to work on making more contact (24.2% K rate in High-A+Double-A is a tad high for a bat that isn’t likely to hit more than 15-20 homers a year), but he hits line drives, controls the zone, and is above-average defensively in a corner. He doesn’t offer any standout tools, but everything lands in the solid range. DeLoach is a Top 15ish prospect in an elite farm system because he’s efficient and a high-probability player, even if he lacks the upside of others. Alberto Rodriguez, OF: .289/.379/.470 Rodriguez, the return from Toronto in exchange for two months of right-hander Taijuan Walker last August, had a really good year and it’s gone largely unnoticed because, well, there are rather large shadows cast by the top five prospects in the organization, including one that shared a clubhouse with Rodriguez all year. After a bad May, Rodriguez played 100 games the rest of the season — 93 in Modesto, seven for Everett — and batted .317/.403/.511 with 25 doubles, five triples and nine home runs. During that span, he fanned just 19.7% of the time, walked at an 11% clip, and played an average outfield. He’s dropped 12-15 pounds, allowing him to compete better allover the field, and there’s probably a little more power to unlock thanks to plus bat speed and a direct swing. But he’s as ‘control-the-zone’ as anyone else in the organization and belongs in the same conversation as DeLoach, Milkar Perez, George Feliz, Gabriel Gonzalez, and has an edge on Corey Rosier, Jonatan Clase, and Starlin Aguilar entering the offseason. Pitching Prospect of the Year: Matt Brash, RHP This, despite the presence of the best Mariners pitching prospect since Felix Hernandez in George Kirby, was not even close. Brash smoothed out his delivery without sacrificing arm speed, displayed a fastball 94-98 mph consistently and deep into starts that included pitch counts into 90s, setting up the best pitch in the system: a power slider with sharp, late, two-plane break. He hit 100 mph a few times with his four-seamer, there’s run and ride on the pitch, and while his command of it needs to get better, hitters in Double-A just didn’t have a chance. It’s a 70-grade slider he can vary a bit in shape and velocity. He’ll use the back door with it versus lefties, or go the route of the backfoot tie-up job with the threat of 98 looming. The data on both pitches are outstanding and project big-league success, including a lot of swing-and-miss. Brash’s changeup is an underrated pitch to date because he hasn’t thrown it a lot, but there’s fade and sink to it, and he maintains arm speed. The potential red flags here include 40-grade control — 11.9% walk rate — and some legitimate stink-eye about his arm action. Both suggest a bullpen role is realistic, but he’s athletic, puts in a ton of work and with his raw stuff taking the enormous step forward and in a starting role, perhaps more time can be spent making some small adjustments to combat the issues that were on display in 2021. But this season was a gigantic win for Brash and the Mariners. He allowed just 63 hits in 97.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A (.180 BAA), and he served up just six long balls. After posting a 2.55 ERA in 42.1 innings in 10 games for the AquaSox, Brash made 10 starts for Arkansas, and he allowed more than two earned runs just once, and went fewer than five innings just once. Not one implosion. Furthermore, over his final seven starts, the Niagara product allowed eight earned runs (1.79 ERA) on 19 hits over 40.1 innings. He walked 17 and struck 59. He did not allow a long ball during that stretch, and opponents batted .137/.231/.165 off him. Yes, that’s a .137 average and .165 slugging. Four doubles in 156 batters faced was all they could muster. He struck out over 38% of the batters faced for the year, and had scouts and opposing players talking before every start beginning in June. Brash is the easy choice for Pitching Prospect of the Year. Runner-Up: Brandon Williamson, LHP Williamson had a better year in traditional terms than did Kirby, and isn’t all that far behind in other aspects. The lefty was the first to be moved up after dominating in Everett (6 GS, 31 IP, 21 H, 10 BB, 59 SO), and essentially doing the same to a better league with much better hitters after the promotion. Williamson had four games with 10 or more strikeouts, including 25 over a two-game span with the Sox, then posting two more over his final six outings with the Travelers to end the season. But further than that, Williamson struck out fewer than eight batters in just six of 19 starts. The 2019 second-round pick is a legitimate four-pitch starter, beginning with a fastball up to 96, but mostly 92-94, and occasionally was more 90-93. Most believe, however, Williamson will live 92-95 with a reach-back for 97. His curveball is his best secondary, but the slider was good in 2021 and helped him dominate lefties (.200 BAA, .336 SLG). His changeup flashed, too, but the curveball was very effective versus right-handed batters, who hit just .239 off him with a .392 SLG. Williamson is more athletic than some give him credit, and he creates deception with his lower half and front side, helping the fastball play up and hiding the ball from the hitter for a bit longer than is typical. He may not have frontline upside, but I wouldn’t rule it out, and it appears I’m a little more bullish on Williamson than most of the national folks, but those in-tune with the organization seem to see what I’m seeing: a potential No. 2 that has a good chance to see the majors in 2022. Williamson had a great 2021. Honorable Mention George Kirby, RHP Kirby also split time between Everett and Arkansas, and while the stuff isn’t as gawdy as Brash’s, it’s very good, improved a ton from even June when I saw him at Tri-City, and it comes with plus control and above-average command. Kirby sat 93-98 mph and as the season wore on, it was more 94-99. He touched 100 or higher on a handful of occasions and topped out at 101. Despite the spike in velocity, the most important aspects about Kirby’s season and overall profile are why he lands here, and near the top of the prospect rankings, both in the Seattle system, and in Major League Baseball. Kirby still throws a ton of strikes, and his secondaries all took a meaningful step forward. The slider is his best offspeed pitch  right now and should miss some bats at the next level, but his curveball isn’t far behind, and his changeup may have more ceiling than either breaking ball. There’s work to be done in terms of finishing out front on his secondaries, especially with the slider and curveball, and with getting him work. He missed some time as the club went safe with their arms after the year off in 2020, limiting Kirby to 67.2 innings. But he posted an 80-15 K/BB ratio, allowed just one homer all season, and flashed frontline stuff and command.Go!

I’ve noticed something in particular this season down on the farm for the Seattle Mariners. Before players are promoted, they’ve performed at a high level for an extended period of time. While that may not sound especially notable, it is in this context: Previous regimes promoted players despite showing at the lower level they had a ways to go. Matt Tuiasosopo and Mike Zunino are two that stand out among a long list. And I don’t just mean statistically. There are times the numbers may not look great but the player has shown he’s ready for more. Conversely, there are times the numbers, at least some of them, look good, yet others don’t and the aggressive developmental approach backfires. The current player development formula in Seattle seems to cover all the bases, and errs on the cautious side, if anything, despite the fact we’ve seen young-for-the-level players promoted. Among the many oddities in the minors that may confuse fans when looking at numbers comes with the difference in hitting approaches down in rookie ball or even some in Low-A, versus the higher levels. Kids in the lowest levels tend to struggle versus offspeed stuff so they don’t swing at it much, hoping it’s out of the zone. Pitchers, also of the lesser-experienced variety, often don’t command their offspeed stuff as well, so the result often is a pitcher with lackluster overall statistics, despite acceptable or even very strong execution. And for pitcher who do locate well, they throw a lot of breaking balls out of the zone on purpose, because that’s what you do to get swings and misses, but instead end up falling behind in counts or allowing hitters back into them, despite executing perfectly. In High-A or Double-A, hitters can handle more of the offspeed stuff, and know if they just take those pitches pitchers will dominate them. Why does this matter? Statistics don’t tell the development story many think they do. Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez’s season has included two breaks to play for his home country in the Olympics, but there is nothing about his performance to suggest he’s been distracted. He’s not hitting for a ton of power, but that appears to be more of a sign of maturity than anything else; he’s not being given a lot to hit, and it taking the singles and walks and not trying to pull or lift everything. Rodriguez has clearly been focused on swinging at strikes and hitting the ball hard without too much specific intent. The result has been a lot of hard-hit balls from line to line, and a hit-over-power game plan that’s working. The long balls will come more naturally, and that’s an offensive advantage Rodriguez has always had over everyone else in the system. He has his own mechanical tweaks to make, however, which is why it’s not surprising at all the Mariners didn’t ship their top prospect to Triple-A or even the big leagues. He’s still an above-average runner who gets out of the box quickly, especially for a bigger player with 70 raw power. He’s also still just 20 years of age, suggesting as he continues to fill out physically, he’ll lose a half step or so and land in the average range in terms of foot speed, and outfield range. He’s shown very good baserunning instincts, including an ability to take advantage of minor league batteries. The arm is plus to plus-plus, and Rodriguez has cleaned up a lot of loose ends — hitting the cutoff man, throwing to the right base, not taking chances in key situations, et al — since his days in the DSL. In August, Rodriguez played just 15 games for Double-A Arkansas, but batted .407/.529/.519. He walked 13 times and struck out on just six occasions in nearly 70 plate appearances. He’s among the best prospects in baseball and on a journey that certainly lands him in the majors sometime in 2022. The Franchise is coming, folks. George Kirby, RHP Kirby has been outstanding in 2021, and while his August in Arkansas consisted of three shorter starts (by design), one of them turning up lame (4 ER, 3 BB, 1 IP), I’ll reiterate my comments on Twitter from last month: Kirby is a better pitching prospect right now than Logan Gilbert ever was, and Gilbert was pretty good and has bright future ahead of him. Why? Kirby is 94-98 every time out and always touches the upper range, and has two legit breaking balls led by a plus slider. His changeup is already useful and flashes average, and his general control is plus. Despite not being quite the phenom prospect King Felix was, Kirby is in Felix territory in one aspect: From here on out it’s really as simple as watering him and watching him grow. He’s on the path. For the season, Kirby has made 13 starts and covered 57 innings. He’s allowed 46 hits, walked 12 batters and struck out 70. He’s RP1 in the system right now, carrying No. 2 upside and a high mid-rotation floor, likely seeing the majors sometime next season and sticking in 2023. Noelvi Marte, SS I’m still firmly on the ‘3B’ side of Marte’s ultimate defensive landing spot, but one significant piece of info I’m taking from his defensive development is the simple fact he worked very hard at it and got a lot better. Playing on the dirt, whether it be at third or short, requires a lot of the same skills; lateral movement, arm strength and accuracy, quick release, clean transfers, throwing off balance. Showing he can do a lot of that and eliminate mistakes is enormous. Marte had a tough July at the plate — .219/.270/.316 — but rebounded in August, batting .287/.412/.553 with 18 walks and 19 strikeouts in 115 PAs. For the season he’s at .271/.368/.462, and will not turn 20 years of age until October 16. He’ll get a few weeks in Everett to complete his season and likely start there next April. His timeline hasn’t necessarily changed as a result of his performance this season, mostly because it was difficult to place one on him after no 2020 and only seeing the stat line from the DSL in 2019. He’s acclimated very well and is now getting some Manny Machado comps as he’s grown and filled out, and it’s not as crazy as some might think. The power is legitimate 65 raw, and he’s showing developing tools that allow him to hit with increasing consistency.  The adjustments he made this summer bode well for his future. If you’re an opposing pitcher that’s in or will eventually land in the High-A West league, here’s some advice: Tread carefully. Matt Brash, RHPWe’ve talked a lot about Brash on Baseball Things, and he’s a constant topic on Twitter, and that’s because despite his lack of prototypical size (6-1, 180), and despite the concerns about the delivery, he’s done nothing but dominate all season. In fact, Brash, 23, has been better in eight starts at Double-A Arkansas than in 10 outings for High-A Everett. Since the promotion, he’s logged 44 innings and allowed just eight earned runs on 22 hits. He’s walked 16 — which is a little high — but he’s punched out 69 batters. For the year, Brash has 131 strikeouts in 86.1 innings — 37% of batters faced. He will lose his release point occasionally, explaining the walks and the good-not-great 62% strike rate, but he’s been nearly unhittable at times and has the best present stuff of any arm in the organization, including the big leagues. The fastball is firmly 94-98 mph with run and ride and some deception thanks to his bend and three-quarter arm slot.  His slider is just pure filth with late two-plane break, and it appears he either varies the velo on it or throws an actual curveball that he can throw for strikes, too. His changeup is inconsistent, but far from a project pitch; in his August 19 outing when he no-hit Frisco for 6.1 innings and fanned 11 in seven frames, he threw a handful of projectable changeups with some arm side run and sink, and let me explain something here: In any role, if Brash is 94-98 with a 65 slider and either an average curveball or changeup, he’s going to beat good lineups. If he has both of the latter pair, he’s going to destroy them. Brash made four starts in August, allowing three earned runs in 23.1 innings. He walked nine and struck out 37. He’ll need to clean up the spotty control, but the stuff is flat out wicked and rivals that of anyone else in all of the minors. If he can find a way to stay in the rotation, I don’t know what the right ceiling projection is, but I lean No. 1. There’s just more risk here than with some of the other arms in the system, so until he answers those questions he’ll be ranked a little lower than Kirby, Emerson Hancock for me. Brandon Williamson, LHP Williamson has had a very good year and was the first of the arms to move from High-A to Double-A. He’s thrown strikes fairly consistently all season (64% strikes thrown, 32 walks in 87 innings), and his stuff has improved across the board. His difference maker is the fastball, with deception and high spin, he generates swings and misses 91-94 mph. But at times in his amateur and pro career, the left-hander has flashed 95-97 mph heat, and anywhere 94-plus the pitch has been devastating to minor league bats. His slider has proven a real weapon versus lefties this season and he’s shown enough with the changeup to maintain legitimate four-pitch status. His curveball is plus at times, landing firmly in the above-average range, and can be used effectively versus both lefties and righties, and in any count thanks to good command. I don’t see a frontline ceiling unless the velocity ticks up and is consistently 94-plus, but there’s a quality mid-rotation arm here that is still developing from stuff to command, and it’s impossible not to like the foundation he’s built on deception, fastball value, and pitch mix. Williamson was dirty in August, logging 20.2 innings and yielding just three earned runs on eight hits. He posted a 34-9 K/BB ratio in four starts. There certainly is a chance he hits the majors next season, but I don’t think he’s on the fast track, and I don’t think he’s an ideal candidate to transition into the majors through a relief-first path, which theoretically gets arms to the majors quicker, at least in many cases. Connor Phillips, RHP Phillips is a legitimate prospect on the mound being underrated by many in the industry. Kudos to Seattle for seeing the upside on him in last year’s draft and taking the chance he can start or develop into a high-leverage reliever. The raw stuff is undeniable, starting with a fastball into the 95-99 mph range, showing life up in the zone and some run in on right-handed batters. He has two breaking balls, the best of which is a slider that has flashed plus and more typically dwells in the average to above-average range. But it’s projectable and potentially a true strikeout pitch for the right-hander, who pairs the pitch with his four-seamer very well. He added a curveball, a relatively new pitch for him, and it flashes some promise but needs to be sharper, and his changeup remains below average but occasionally looks more than useful for him. There’s a legit chance at a three-pitch mix here, and four isn’t out of the realm of legitimate possibility. What is in question is his control and command. Phillips has issued 44 walks in 72 inning, and the contact data on his stuff strongly suggests throwing more strikes will benefit him greatly, even more than most arms. He’s allowed the least barrels among any pitcher in the Low-A circuit, minimum 50 innings pitched, and just one home run in 322 batters faced. Opponents have slugged just .288 off him this season. He’s a physical arm, listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds but looks more like 215, and there’s above-average athleticism, lending confidence he can fine-tune his mechanics and throw more strikes. Starters that can pitch effectively in the zone have an advantage over those that cannot, and Phillips may be one of those thanks to his fastball, both in terms of velocity and movement, and he’s had 14 or more whiffs in a game five times, including 17 in his last outing and 22 back in May. Best part about Phillips’ development is this is just Year 1, and he won’t turn 21 years of age until May. Milkar Perez, 3BPerez, who was just promoted to Low-A Modesto, is a bat-first, fringe-defender listed as a third baseman, but his profile is led by above-average raw power that projects to grow as he does. Thus far he has shown a solid line-drive swing, but he has expanded the zone a little often and his contact rates suffered a bit as a result, but has a track record of avoiding the chase. He’s just 19 — he’s exactly the same age as Marte, down to the day — and hit for average in the rookie league, but 10 doubles and a sub-.400 slugging percentage is all he has to show in the power department. If Perez can’t stick at third base, power is going to have to be a big part of his game or at this stage of his experience I wouldn’t think much of his zero home runs in 145 at-bats. I do wonder if moving to right field is a possibility; He’s not a great athlete but has a terrific arm and if he has issues managing at the hot corner, right would seem like a spot to at least consider, even with a lack of foot speed. Either way he’s a bat that needs to rake pretty big to play regularly, but I’ve seen 10-15 home run projections on him that I think should be ignored. There’s bat speed to back up more than that, he just needs to develop the kind of swing that to get to it and that takes time. Perez’s .313/.430/.391 slash in August was noteworthy, and now we’ll get to see him give the former Cal League a go. Alberto Rodriguez, OFRodriguez, the return for Taijuan Walker last summer from the Toronto Blue Jays, struggled for the first 5-6 weeks of the season, but since June 17 went .343/.400/.547 with 24 doubles, three triples, and eight homers. Lots of barrel and a strikeout rate under 18% over that span, too. No wonder the club thought Everett was where he should end the season. He’s a sturdily-built left-handed stick with above-average raw power and hit tools. He throws pretty well and has average range, but is limited to a corner spot. The Mariners like the bat speed and bat-to-ball skills and so far Rodriguez is rewarding them. He’s 21 in October and has a shot to reach Double-A next summer. He worked to get into better shape after last season and more of that is probably needed if he wants a chance to play everyday. Starlin Aguilar, 3BAguilar has played 35 games down in the Dominican Summer League, looking a lot like Perez, with whom he shared a lot of similarities, both physically and in terms of tools. Aguilar, however, has a raw power advantage, and therefore an upside advantage, too. But there’s as much or risk in his profile because of the lack of full confidence he sticks at third base long-term, hence the chance he’s a bat without a position. But the scouting report also suggests a better-than-Perez chance he hits enough for first base, so while he comes with a little more risk right now, the upside evens out the comparison between the two, which is how I’ve been ranking them. Edryn Rodriguez, 2BRodriguez is not a name that gets much play because he wasn’t one of the bigger signings. But he has been one of the better performance this summer in the DSL. He hit .296/.415/.537 in August and has fared well enough at second base defensively to leave him there and see what happens. He’s not a great athlete but a solid one, and if he has to move to left field it puts more pressure on his bat, but despite his lack of stature — listed at 5-9, 150 pounds, though these sizes are often off 5-15% in weight — he’s finding the barrel a lot and has a chance for average power. Rodriguez is just 18 with hopes to crack the ACL or better next season, thanks to a very strong performance with the bat in 2021. Tyler Driver, RHPDriver, 20, has pitched at three stops this season, mostly in rookie ball after being the club’s 18th-round pick in 2019. He’s a right-hander out of Cary, North Carolina who has worked a ton on adding strength to his 6-foot-2 frame. He’s still listed at 185, but appears to have creeped closer to 200, and after some uneven outings in the rookie league has shown out a few times of late. Perhaps one of the victims of what I discussed in the lede regarding breaking balls and inexperience hitters, Driver’s numbers were uninspiring in Arizona, despite four scoreless multi-inning efforts with clean lines, and more strikeouts than innings pitched. But in a spot start in place of Levi Stoudt in Double-A Arkansas on a day he arrived just hours before game time, Driver put together his best professional start. He went six innings, allowing six hits and an earned run, walking one and striking out seven. His fastball is low 90s, but he mixes in a lot of two-seamers with above-average run and some sink, and a changeup that pairs with it very well. His slider is above-average and works off either of the first two pitches. I’m not sure what Driver is moving forward, but he’s taken the developmental approach to his career, which bodes well for the end-result, and his pitchability and improved stuff suggest a big-league profile of some sort. And Driver, in many circles, is just an org arm, and I get that assessment of him. He’s just betting on himself with work, and the physical tools and pitches are there to outperform that eval. Arms grow on trees in this organization, it seems. NEW: Top 5 It’s the final monthly prospect report of the season, but I thought it’d be a good time to unveil a new part of this piece, which will continue next season. A top 5. It can be anything from Top 5 at a position group, top 5 of a specific tool, top 5 performance, whatever jumps out at me for the month. This month: Top 5 pure relievers in the farm system. By pure reliever I mean an arm either currently pitching in the role that isn’t being developed as a starter, or a recent draftee with heavy expectations a relief role is his future. 5. Luis Curvelo, RHP Curvelo, 20, is into the upper 90s with an average to above-average slider, and has posted 74 strikeouts and 17 walks in 51.1 innings this season, his first in full-season ball.4. Ray Kerr, LHP Kerr is 95-100 mph, and occasionally has hit 102, setting up an above-average slider. He’s athletic, repeats his delivery, and is throwing more strikes than ever since his promotion to Triple-A Tacoma last month. Expect Kerr to be at least a fringe piece of the bullpen conversation in spring training, and one of the first call-ups during the season.3. Yohan Ramirez, RHP Ramirez is still more than 10 innings from prospect graduation, but he may be turning a corner when it comes to harnessing his plus stuff. More strikes, fewer walks, similar strikeout rates, and it’s all adding up to more success in the majors.2. Bryan Woo, RHP Woo, who had UCL surgery and won’t pitch until mid-to-late 2022, has been up to 98 mp with a plus breaker, and projects as a potential back-end bullpen arm. He threw strikes at Cal Poly — 15 walks in his final 45 innings, and just eight in his 28 frames in 2021 — to suggest effective control in short stints.1. Andres Munoz, RHP Velocity is a big part of Munoz’s game. He’s been up to 104 mph and regularly sat 99-101 in his big-league stint before falling to elbow surgery.Go!

No, this isn’t about the teams that have made the largest improvements this season over last, or which of the good teams has taken the biggest step forward since last season. Nope. None of that. This is about the leap each of this season’s top playoff contenders took when they first hit contention, whether this season is the first or the team has been in the mix for years. Here we go. Los Angeles Dodgers The Dodgers have been legit contenders every season since they finished 86-76 in 2012, their third straight without a playoff berth. In July and August of 2012, the Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, setting them up for a better following season. In 2013, they won 92 games, qualified as a Wild Card teams and lost in the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals. The jump was a mere six games, but they haven’t won fewer than 56% of their games in a season since. Jumped: 2013 San Diego Padres The Padres won fewer than 48% of their games every year from 2011 until they went 37-23 a year ago and lost 3-0 in the NLDS. What did the 2020 club have the 2019 team didn’t? A lot. A healthy Fernando Tatis Jr., for one, but also: Jake Cronenworth, Jurickson Profar, Trent Grisham, a breakthrough from Dinelson Lamet, and most of the club’s solid bullpen. The 2019 club had Tatis Jr. for just half the season, have most of the second base PAs to Luis Urias and Ian Kinsler, and neither Wil Myers not Manuel Margot hit a whole lot for everyday players. The acquisitions of Cronenworth, Profar, and Grisham did wonders for the lineup that already had Manny Machado. They’ve since added numerous additional talents to push the roster to another level, but their breakthrough year was 2020. Jumped: 2020 San Francisco Giants The Giants ‘ third World Series in five years came in 2014 and incredibly they have three players left from that roster — Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt, and Buster Posey. The rest, however, has been turned over the past seven years and until 2021 not much was working. San Francisco won 84 and 87 games in 2015 and 2016, then dropped to 74, 73, and 77 leading into 2020 when they threatened .500. This season has been the big breakthrough, but it clearly started sometime last summer. The biggest difference appears to be in the starting rotation where Kevin Gausman has assumed the role of staff ace. But for 2021, the Giants also added Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani. Right-hander Logan Webb had a great year behind the veterans but might be their second-best arm. Jumped: 2021 Milwaukee Brewers Milwaukee won 96 games in 2011 then struggled for five years before getting back competitive levels in 2017 with an 86-76 run that ended in a second-place finish. The following season, the Brewers as we know them, again won 96 games and went to Game 7 of the NLCS vs the Dodgers. They made the Wild Card game in 2019 and 2020 and are back on top in the division headed for their second division title in four years. The 2018 team was the first in the run and the main addition prior to that season was OF Christian Yelich, who won the MVP that year and finished second a year later. But they also signed Lorenzo Cain, who was key for the Brewers his first two season. Jumped: 2018 Atlanta Braves The Braves went through a good old-fashioned rebuild 2014-2017 and went from 72 wins to 90 and a division title in 2018, their first of four straight NL East championships. The one constant was Freddie Freeman, but Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies showed up in 2017, and in 2018 were a significant part of the vast improvement. But the big gun was Ronald Acuña Jr., who burst into the scene in 2018. Jumped: 2018 Houston Astros While the roster has changed a bit the past few years, Houston remains strong. But they started to crawl out of their rebuild back in 2015 and 2016 when they won 86 and 84 games respectively before surpassing 100 victories three straight seasons and winning the 2017 World Series. Most of the big-time changes were development related, such as Alex Bregman, and Dallas Keuchel, and the acquisitions of Brian McCann, Ken Giles, and Charlie Morton. The club would also pick up Justin Verlander on August 31. Jumped: 2017 Oakland Athletics It seems like the A’s have been at least good forever, but that isn’t the case. The current version broke through just four seasons ago. After a run that lasted 2012-2014, Oakland won 68, 69, and 75 games before starting a run as one of the winningest teams in baseball that led to three playoff appearances and counting. The A’s transition lasted three seasons and their big step that resulted in a 22-win increase coincided with the bats of Marcis Semien, Matt Chapman, and Matt Olson, plus the club’s young arms and role players producing. Jumped: 2018 Chicago White Sox After seven seasons winning between 63 and 78 games, the White Sox’s rebuild hit it’s stride in 2020 and has continued this season. Chicago had two winning seasons between 2011 and last season and until 2016 it wasn’t clear which direction they were headed. But they traded Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton after that season, jump starting their rebuild with young talent such as Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez, Yoan Moncada, Dylan Cease and Lucas Giolito. It’s one of the more talented rosters in baseball now, but just two years ago it was a 72-win team in need of a few veterans to serve as icing on the cake. Enter Dallas Keuchel and Yasmani Grandal. Jumped: 2020 Boston Red Sox The Red Sox won 108 games and the World Series in 2018, then after a disappointing 84-win 2019 decided to trade Mookie Betts. Chris Sale missed 2020 with Tommy John surgery, and 2020 also went south. Things have started to come together again in 2021, despite Sale just having made his debut earlier this month. The Boston jump back in 2016 was a roster full of players no longer around — sans Xander Bogaerts and Eduardo Rodriguez — so this has to be viewed as a separate arrival. Jumped: 2021 Tampa Bay Rays The Rays, much like the A’s, seemingly compete every single season, but they’ve had their pockets of rebuilding, too. After four playoff appearances 2008-2013, Tampa failed to finish .500 or better for four straight seasons. They wouldn’t make the postseason again until 2019, but they broke through in 2018 with a 90-72 record in a tough American League East. Between the 2017 and 2018 seasons, the Rays turned over nearly their entire lineup and bullpen, and Blake Snell had a career year. While nearly all of the 2018 club is gone, the Rays have moved around the puzzle pieces strategically since that season, and may be better in 2021 than the World Series club from last season. Jumped: 2018 New York Yankees The Yankees slogged along for four seasons 2013-2016, winning no more than 87 games in that span and making just one Wild Card appearance. Since then they’ve been to three ALCS and an LDS, winning 100-plus games twice. The move from 2016 to 2017 came as Gary Sanchez took over full-time behind the plate, Aaron Judge was flying high as a rookie, and the starting rotation was deep enough to set up one of the game’s elite bullpens. Jumped: 2017 Also 2021? Toronto Blue Jays They’re making noise in the Wild Card race now and added a significant piece over the summer that impacts 2022 in RHP Jose Berrios. Cincinnati Reds On the heels of the Padres for the No. 2 Wild Card this season, but with starting pitching a major strength and plenty of offense to lean on, a few key additions over the winter could put the Reds in a position to win the division. Philadelphia Phillies Talent wise, they probably should be better, but they’re fringe good right now thanks to a middling offense and bullpen. More tweaks appear needed for the a real breakthrough. 2022? Seattle Mariners Enough production from young players and those under club control suggest a significant move can be made next season. Miami Marlins Offense and relief pitching. Fix them and the division is within reach. Detroit Tigers The White Sox, at least on paper, will be tough to catch anytime soon, but they’re the only clear road block for the Tigers starting next season. Returning in ’22? St. Louis Cardinals They’re not having a bad 2021, but they’re short in most areas and have some work to do. But they’re not that far from a 90-win roster. Cleveland Guardians I’d bet against Cleveland getting back to 90-win or better status next season after trading Francisco Lindor, Mike Clevenger, and Carlos Carrasco within the past calendar year. The offense needs a lot of helps and most of the farm help is more than a year away. Might they shop Jose Ramirez this winter instead of making the same mistake they did with Lindor in waiting too long? Minnesota Twins They traded Jose Berrios in July and entertained the same for Byron Buxton, but it’s difficult to see exactly what the Twins are trying to do just yet. They have enough young talent to compete now, but if Buxton is dealt over the winter it probably means the other veterans are gone, too, and 2022 will be a full-scale rebuilding year.Go!

Logan Gilbert, Taylor Trammell, and Jarred Kelenic have graduated from the top 10 this year but loads of talent remains in one of the deeper systems in baseball. Clicking on the team (level) will take you to the full, official, current roster. DSL Mariners (R) George Feliz, CF Feliz has lived up to his ends of the bargain early in his debut in the Mariners organization. He batted .381/.469/.738 with eight extra-base hits and five stolen bases in 11 games. He’s been compared to Nationals outfielder Victor Robles, but I’ve also heard Andres Torres and Shane Victorino. Gabriel Gonzalez, OF He may up in a corner, putting pressure on the bat and especially the power, but hit .347/.433/.571 in 14 games in July, including three doubles and three home runs. He’s just 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, but the bat speed and bat-to-ball skills are showing out in the DSL. Edryn Rodriguez, 2BHe’s not talked about much but has good bat speed and a mature swing path. He’s probably limited to the middle of the field offensively, but has the athleticism to stay at second base or slide into center. Starlin Aguilar, 3BAguilar may not stick at the hot corner but has the arm for it and ranks ahead of Milkar Perez on the ‘chances to stick’ depth chart. Aguilar projects to hit for some power, but how far and how fast he moves up the ladder will depend on how quickly he turns his raw tools into skills. He’s making consistent contact, a great sign the power come in time. Adrian Quintana, RHPQuintana is among the more projectable arms on the roster at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds at age 18. His arm is quick, and he’s touched 90 mph with projectable slider and changeup. He’s punched out nine in 11 innings for work for the DSL Mariners, two of those scoreless outing. He went five shutout innings last time out, including five strikeouts and no walks. Arizona Mariners (R) Milkar Perez, 3BPerez, 19 until October, hit .284/.478/.343 in July, an odd slash, but one that’s common in rookie ball as inexperienced hitters with advanced plate skills show mixed results. Luis Chevalier, 2BHe’s likely limited to second base, but Chevalier has flashed some hitting ability early in the ACL, despite his .219 batting average. He’s drawn 15 walks and collected five extra-base hits in July. He won’t turn 20 until January. Jonatan Clase, CFIn 14 games he posted mixed results with a .245/.333/.388 slash, but went 16-for-16 in the stolen base department. He hasn’t played since July 19 due to an undisclosed injury, but won’t be 20 until next May and his 70 speed and raw athleticism are an exciting package of clay for the Mariners dev staff. Michael Limoncelli, RHP The 6th-round pick from the 2019 draft class is back on the mound after sitting out most of ’19 and all of 2020 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. While he’s struggled to throw consistent strikes, the stuff is most or all of the way back, as evidenced by his 20 strikeouts in 16 innings in July. At his best he’s 90-92 mph with a solid-average curveball. The club hopes they can safely max out his velocity, develop the changeup and take advantage of his athleticism. Yeury Tatiz, RHPThe 20-year-oldtTatiz brings projection with his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame and a fastball into the low 90s. He’s missing bats in the ACL (19 in 14.2 IP), but catching a lot of the plate and struggling with control. Luis Baez, RHPThere was a time just three years ago Baez was my No. 25 prospect. The fact he’s now unranked has more to do with the club’s farm vastly improving than his struggles, but the right-hander has had problems throwing strikes with consistency. But he’s a good arm with velocity projection, missing bats at every step so far. Modesto Nuts (Low-A) Noelvi Marte, SSMarte struggled over an extended period for the first time in his professional career, batting .219/.270/.316 in July. He continues to show maturity, however, both on and off the field, and defensively the belief he stays on the dirt grows as the season progresses. The Manny Machado comps makes some sense, though the Padres third baseman broke into the big leagues with the Orioles three and a half weeks after he turned 20. The power does stand out for Marte, but the most impressive part of his 2021 season to date may be his increasing consistency with everything from his glove work to throwing to the bounce back he’s now experiencing after a tough month. Adam Macko, LHPMacko sat out for nearly six weeks with soreness and has battled bouts of control problems in his eight starts but the stuff and athleticism cannot be denied. He’s punched out 36% of the batters he’s faced, flashing 92-95 mph velocity, an above-average slider and average changeup. Macko needs work-up time to build arm endurance and improve his control, but once the switch flips he may move quickly. Connor Phillips, RHPPhillips is built like a big-league arm and flashes three major-league pitches, including velocity into the mid-90s. He, too, has struggled with control but walked just two batters in his final two starts in July. Overall, the stuff still can be a bit hittable at times, but he’s just 20 years old and 49 innings into his pro career, and there have been signs of dominance. Phillips has a shot to develop into a mid-rotation starter, but it’s likely to take some time to work on the mechanics and develop the secondaries. Sam Carlson, RHPCarlson started the year with fire, then struggled with command in June and July,and saw his velocity dip down after his first few outings into the 88-91 mph range. It’s ticked up a bit of late and he finished July strong, posting a 15-5 K/BB ratio over his final three outings of the month. His slider is his best pitch and the fastball does get ride up and to his arm side. While he’s 22 and older than a lot of the hitters he’s facing, this season has always been about rebuilding his arm strength after missing nearly four years with arm problems. He’s a great athlete — maybe the best in the entire organization — and despite the fluctuation in velocity he’s piled up 78 strikeouts in 67.2 innings of work. I still see a No. 3 starter here, but he’s not likely to move swiftly through the lower minors and as a result will be a tad older than the media age until he hits Triple-A. Alberto Rodriguez, OFAfter a bad May — .173/.281/.293 — the 20-year-old Rodriguez hit .298/.395/.497 over the next two months. He was the return in the trade with the Toronto Blue Jays for Taijuan Walker and has a chance to develop into something at the plate. Everett AquaSox (High-A) George Kirby, RHPKirby started the season looking rather ordinary for a prospect of his status, but since mid-June or so has turned it up a notch. In July he made just two starts after sitting out to curb fatigue and soreness but picked up right where June left off. He’s been up to 98 mph with above-average command, and a slider that’s quickly developing into his best secondary offering. Kirby, slated to go Saturday in Spokane, could see Double-A Arkansas once he’s ramped back up after nearly a month off. His last start — July 10 in Eugene — was his best as a pro: 7 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 11 SO. Once the Mariners take the kid gloves off, the right-hander is likely to scream through the minors. Emerson Hancock, RHPHancock just returned from time on the shelf with soreness, too, but it’s important to note the Mariners have asked their arms to be aggressively upfront about fatigue and any soreness beyond the expected. Last year’s No. 6 overall pick has flashed a plus slider and a fastball 93-96 and touching 98. He’s also shown a solid-average changeup and the arm speed and finish the Mariners loved about him last spring. Hancock may not move as quickly as Kirby as he works through potential fastball concerns — it’s not a swing-and-miss pitch and its movement is mostly down in slightly sinking fashion. Hancock is learning to use it up in the zone. He made just one start in July, but barring additional setbacks is expected to be in the rotation in Everett most of, if not the entire rest of the season. Taylor Dollard, RHPDollard doesn’t have the advanced stuff of Kirby and Hancock, and in starts where he’s struggled to avoid the middle of the zone he’s been hit pretty hard. He’s still missing bats and throwing strike — 33 strikeouts, 7 walks in 35.1 innings — but the seven homers he’s allowed isa bit of a concern, and perhaps further evidence his future lies in a relief role. Juan Then, RHPThen has had an uneven 2021, which was not unexpected, at least for me. He’s a little shy on stuff for a starter as he develops his changeup, and he’s battled some control issues at times, forcing him to pitch a lot with runners on base. Then made just one appearance in July. When healthy he’s 92-96 mph with a 55 slider that flashes plus, and in a bullpen role Then might turn into Edwin Diaz 2.0. But he’s still just 21 and likely stays in the rotation plans for at least another year. Which is exactly what Diaz did at the same stage. Victor Labrada, CFLabrada’s upside is limited but he can run and defend, and if he can find a way to cut down on the strikes has a chance to be a good fourth outfielder. He batted .333.412/.467 in July, earning a promotion to Everett in the process. Arkansas Travelers (Double-A) Matt Brash, RHPBrash has relentlessly pounded the strike zone with plus velocity into the upper-90s, sitting 94-98, and complementing with two breaking balls, including a plus power slider with late break and tilt. He’s the furthest along of the starting pitching prospects not named George Kirby and may beat the former first-round pick to the major leagues. There’s a changeup at the bottom of his arsenal but it’s firmly below average at present. He’s simply extended his 2021 success from High-A Everett to Double-A Arkansas, and from June into July. Brandon Williamson, LHPWilliamson’s July was uneven. He allowed 16 earned runs on five longballs in five starts. He struck out 28 in 24.2 innings, but yielded 33 hits. The lefty isn’t overpowering but has touched 97 mph in shorter stints with his fastball. This season he’s been mostly 91-94 mph, touching 95, creating deception with his front side, and coming back with an above-average curveball. His slider and changeup are works in progress, but the slider has sweeping action and has helped him versus left-handed batters. Levi Stoudt, RHPStoudt spent all of July in High-A and had three solid starts and one bad one that ballooned the numbers for the month. Mostly 92-96 mph for Stoudt on his fastball, but he’s been up to 98. The right-hander’s control hasn’t been consistent, and his slider is fringy. His plus changeup hasn’t been consistent, either, and all three of his pitches have come and gone. Having said that, there are times when his command is average or slightly better, and his slider and changeup fall in line. They just don’t happen enough all at once, or even two of the three. There was word he’d scrapped his curveball but he’s brought it out at times, perhaps to give him another option when the feel isn’t there on his other pitches. Ray Kerr, LHPKerr has a big fastball into the upper-90s and has touched triple digits, setting up an average to above-average slider that has gained consistency over the course of the season. When he locates, he’s devastating. Kerr has started in the past, and his athleticism offers a chance at repeatable mechanics that lead to more consistent command, which is the biggest obstacle in front of him and the majors. Kerr posted a 15-1 K/BB ratio over nine innings in July. Patrick Frick, SSFrick is a fringe prospect but has the physical tools of a Whit Merrifield and is having a strong season at the plate. In July, Frick batted .318/.431/.476, including two multi-games in four contests to start out his Double-A career. He’s 24, but so was Merrifield when he hit AA for the first time, and he’d squeak into the big leagues at 27 and have a nice career –one that’s still going. No reason Frick can’t do the same. And yes, you can call this a comp. Zach DeLoach, OFDeLoach torched the High-A West after a slow month of May, batting .363/.442/.549 in June and .349/.438/.635 in July and earning a trip to Double-A as a result. He’s one of those “nothing jumps off the page” prospects, unless you watch him regularly and see how consistent he is with everything from swing quality to pitch selection. The game power is more doubles than home runs right now, but I believe that changes similarly to the way Austin Shenton‘s began to in 2021, and July may have been the first sign of that for DeLoach. He hit for average and hit four homers in 14 games, by far the best of his young pro career in that department. Kaden Polcovich, 2BThe club’s third-round pick in 2020 isn’t a traditional scouting job. He’s merely 5-10 and 185 pounds listed, but the swing packs a punch and he’s been willing to give a bit on contact in order to get to the power. Typically that might suggest a problem with the game plan, and while the club may prefer he makes more contact down the line, he’s throwing .400+ OBPs all year and if he can sustain higher on-base marks, I don’t care one bit if he strikes out more than his physical profile suggests he should. Polcovich hit .306/.471/.612 in July, however, doing it all in 15 games before getting own promotion papers to Arkansas. He runs well, though isn’t a burner. I’ve seen him play an average shortstop and center field, and above-average defense at second, and with more consistency at second and out in center, could play either spot regularly. Julio Rodriguez, OFRodriguez has been off helping the Dominican Republic compete in the Olympics and played just 12 games in the minors in July, but performed well in those 12 — .293/.431/.537 to be exact. He also played just seven games in June, so the fact he’s managed just 40 games and fewer than 200 plate appearances this season isn’t good for his development, but the Mariners couldn’t tell him he couldn’t compete in the Olympics. Sure, he received a bit of experience in the trials and Tokyo Games, but the sample is microscopic versus what he would have received. When he’s played, Julio has been Julio, showing an improving hit tool and easy 65-grade power. There are some mechanical questions about his swing, but some have bene addressed prior to the start of the ’21 season, and we’ll see if the others need to be fixed as he sees better pitching moving forward. Tacoma Rainiers (Triple-A) Taylor Trammell, OFTechnically, Trammell is not a prospect, but to be honest I don’t believe MLB should be allowed to dictate what a prospect is by their arbitrary inning and at-bat totals, so starting this coming winter I will be changing my guidelines for prospects to less than a year of big-league service and fewer than 500 plate appearances for hitters, no more than 50 innings pitched for relievers, and no more than 150 innings pitched for starting pitchers. For pitchers who appear widely as both starters and relievers, the 150-inning limit will apply. Trammell has quick-twitch actions with his hands that stand out when watching him hit, and his power has jolted from 45 to 60 raw inside of two years as he’s made swing adjustments. I do wonder, however, if he creates some bat drag during his load. Drag happens when the barrel strays away from the body. It can happen at the start of a swing when the batter extends their elbow, or when the hands sink aggressively down and/or away from the body or barrel. Younger hitters, youth, high school, even college-level, experience the most common version of drag by creating a very long path for the barrel to get to the zone. This happens when the back elbow thrusts ahead toward the pitcher, leaving the hands — and most importantly, the barrel of the bat — a greater-than-ideal distance from the zone. Not only is the barrel too far away, this is a position that limits raw bat speed, too. Trammell may be guilty of one of the former two versions sometimes (I don’t have adequate video), though if that is the case, the staff in Tacoma knows, and if they see it as a problem they’ll help him fix it. Drag is never good, though there are varying degrees of it and it occasionally can be overcome. In 14 games in July, Trammell went 8-for-39 in Tacoma, but the strikeout rates were not high, and he finished the month 7 for 19 with two doubles and a homer. He plays a strong center field despite 45-grade arm strength and is one of the better baserunners in the organization. I think it’s simply a matter of time before Trammell hits. Penn Murfee, RHPMurfee spent half of July in Double-A Arkansas and half in Tacoma. He hiccupped July 22, but has otherwise been solid for the Rainiers. It’s ordinary stuff, really, including a low-90s fastball and 50-55 grade slider, but he creates deception and funky angles by dropping down around sidearm. I see him as a middle reliever with some Chris Devenski upside; in shorter stints perhaps 89-92 turns into 93-96. There’s some Paul Sewald in him stylistically. Ian McKinney, LHPMcKinney is fun to watch. He’s athletic, works fast, and generally commands an 89-92 mph fastball up to 94, and a plus curveball. He’s improved his sweeping slider and a changeup to help him versus righties and it’s paying off big time. He, too, creates some deception with shoulder angles and by staying closed a long time, and McKinney locates, he’s very tough to hit. He gets into trouble when he nibbles — 13 walks in 22.1 innings in July — and he’s a fly ball arm pitching in mostly hitter-friendly ballparks in the PCL right now. He’s probably a reliever at the next level but could be useful as early as September, especially considering Justin Dunn isn’t close to throwing yet with six and a half weeks left in the season.Go!

Jerry Dipoto has made a lot of trades since being hired as the general manager of the club prior to the 2016 season. Some have been very good. Some have been awful. Some of the good trades have been even swaps. There are a handful of deals we’ll have to wait a little longer to determine its ultimate results. We’ve yet to see the kind of trades Dipoto will have to make to get the team from trending up to playoff contender, but we’ve seen everything else. Here are the worst, best, and some in between. But these are not ranked. I’ll let you do that. WORST SS Chris Taylor to Los Angeles Dodgers for RHP Zach Lee: June 19, 2016 Taylor still had six full seasons of club control remaining at the time of the trade. Lee, a former top prospect, never pitched for the Mariners and has been toiling around in the minors with mixed results in the Rays, Mets, and Diamondbacks organizations since his eight innings with the Padres in 2017. Taylor, who hits free agency this offseason, has been worth 14.8 fWAR, including a 4.8 fWAR season in 2017, his first full season with the Dodgers. This trade serves as the worst of Dipoto’s Mariners career, at least so far. There are some contenders, however. RHP Freddy Peralta, RHP Daniel Missaki, IF Carlos Herrera to Milwaukee for 1B Adam Lind: December 9, 2015 Peralta spent 2014 in rookieball . Lind had one year of control left. The Brewers developed Peralta into the majors in 2018 where he’s been serviceable as a reliever and spot starter, and in 2021 he’s been terrific in 19 starts. He’s on his way to a 4-win season and the Brewers control his contract for two more seasons. LHP Ryan Yarbrough, SS Carlos Vargas to Tamp Bay for Drew LHP Smyly: January 11, 2017 While this one is totally fine in process, it just didn’t work out since Smyly never was healthy for Seattle. Yarbrough has been a useful arm for Tampa Bay since 2018, tallying 5.7 fWAR, including 2.7 in 141.2 innings in 2019 and 1.2 in 114 innings this season. The Rays control his contract for two more seasons. Smyly was coming off Tommy John but ended up missing a second full season in 2018 and hit free agency that winter. RHP Pablo Lopez, OF Brayan Hernandez, RHP Lukas Schiraldi to Miami for RHP David Phelps: June 20, 2017 This one is the top contender to the Lee-Taylor trade, especially with Phelps pitching just 10 games for the Mariners and then requiring surgery that would force him out of 2018 entirely. Hernandez and Schiraldi are out of affiliated baseball, and while the 25-year-old Lopez was below league average over his first two big-league seasons he has been particularly good this season for the Marlins, with two more seasons of club control remaining. RHP Emilio Pagan, IF Alexander Campos to Oakland for 1B Ryon Healy: November 15, 2017 Healy struggled to hit for average for one-plus seasons and was DFA’d after an injury-riddled 2019. He did hit 31 homers in 180 games for Seattle, and Campos is still in Low-A ball at 21, but Pagan has been a madly inexpensive and useful middle reliever — better than that at times —  for the A’s and Padres. RHP JP Sears, RHP Juan Then to New York Yankees for RHP Nick Rumbelow: November 18, 2017 Rumbelow is now out of baseball and struggled to throw strikes in 16 games for Seattle in 2018-19. Sears, now 25, is in Double-A for the Yankees pitching well, but no path to consistent big-league opportunities. Then, who was 17 at the time of the trade, was good in 11 starts for the Yankees rookie club in 2018 before being reacquired by the Mariners a year later. RHP Nick Neidert, RHP Robert Dugger, SS Chris Torres to Miami for 2B Dee Strange-Gordon & $1M international slot money: December 7, 2017 While this trade certainly goes down as a loss, it was a very worthy wager to make at the time, since the reason Dipoto made it was to acquire as much slot money as possible in attempt to land Shohei Ohtani. Torres is out of affiliated ball, Dugger struggled in the big leagues for the Fish and is now back with the Mariners, and Neidert has been knocked around in 10 games in the majors. 1B Logan Morrison, IF Brad Miller, RHP Danny Farquhar to Tampa Bay for RHP Nate Karns, LHP C.J. Riefenhauser, OF Boog Powell: November 5, 2015 While I understood this trade at the time, I didn’t like it because I didn’t see the upside in Powell or Riefenhauser. Miller gave Tampa 2.3 fWAR and a 30-homer season, Morrison posted 3.7 fWAR for the Rays led by a 3.2-win 2017 season. Farquhar struggled in Tampa but Powell, Karns, nor Riefenhauser gave Seattle anything, the latter never throwing a pitch in the organization. Did this trade hurt the club’s future? No, and it actually saveda bit of salary. But it didn’t help the present, either. While Dipoto was simply looking for hidden value and it was worth the risk of the upside of the players going out, getting no long-term pieces in return makes this one a clear loss. BEST RHP Austin Adams, C Austin Nola, RHP Dan Altavilla to San Diego for RHP Andres Munoz, 1B Ty France, C Luis Torrens, OF Taylor Trammell: August 31, 2020 Ah yes, this is the deal when Dipoto took AJ Preller to the woodshed and gave him a whoopin’. Apparently one he asked for, too. France is already a 120 wRC+ bat with more on the way and four years of club control after 2021, and Luis Torrens has refined his game after early-season struggles. Trammell has flashed but struggled overall in the majors, but is just 23 and has added more power potential to his profile. Munoz may make his Mariners debut in September and has HLR potential. The Padres side of this? Well, early it’s been rough. Nola hit just .217/.314/.383 in 18 games after the trade last season, and has played in just 24 games this season, batting .222/.354/.317. Altavilla has made just two appearances this season for having Tommy John surgery in June. He was solid in 8.2 innings last September. Adams has been just OK in 47 games in 2021, posting 0.4 fWAR. He didn’t pitch for Seattle last season prior to the trade and managed just four innings after the deal. The Padres need Nola to give them value over the next four years, but even if he does it’s not likely San Diego justifies the trade package in isolation. RHR Taylor Williams to San Diego for RHP Matt Brash: August 31, 2020 Woodshed. Williams, who is now on the 60-day IL with a knee injury, made one appearance last season for the Padres, then five more this season before he got hurt. But even we assume he was an average middle reliever, Brash’s development this season as a potential mid-rotation starter makes this an easy and significant win for the Mariners. RHP Kendall Graveman, RHP Rafael Montero to Houston for 2B Abraham Toro, RHP Joe Smith: July 30, 2021 Yep, that’s right, this is a coup for the Mariners. I expect Graveman to be good for the Astros for two months and perhaps into October, and I hope and believe they have a good chance to get more out of Rafael Montero — Brent Strom is as good a pitching coach as there is, and Montero has had success in the majors. But, Graveman hits free agency after the season — at which time if they feel like it Seattle can get involved, just like they could if they hadn’t traded him — and Toro looks the part of an everyday bat that can handle second base, a position the Mariners lack internal options. Toro also comes with control through 2025, with team-friendly salaries all the way there, which allows the club to spend money and trade assets on another bat or two, and impact starting pitching. Smith is a rental throw-in, but he’s off to a good start and might be able to hold onto his roster spot the rest of the year. This is a no-brainer win for the Mariners regardless of what Graveman does or when he does it. DH Edwin Encarnacion, cash to New York Yankees for RHP Juan Then: June 15, 2019 The Mariners righted a wrong when they traded Then for Rumbelow two years prior, and Then is developing in High-A this summer, showing mid-90s heat and an above-average slider. He may be a reliever long-term, but he’s added strength to his frame and may hold in a starting role. Encarnacion was pretty good for the Yankees — .249/.325/.531 with 13 homers in 44 games — but Seattle gets a very good arm with a chance to help for several years, and even if it’s entirely out of the bullpen this is a victory deal for Dipoto. LHP Nick Wells, cash to Washington for RHP Austin Adams: May 4, 2019 This one speaks for itself. Adams helped the club get the France-led package from the Padres the following August and Wells, now 25, is pitching in relief in Triple-A for the Nationals. RHP Jesus Ozoria to San Francisco for C Tom Murphy: March 29, 2019 Ozoria, 23, is out of affiliated baseball. Murphy posted 3.2 fWAR in 2019, missed all of 2020 with a knee injury and has been worth a win in 2021 despite a terribly slow start at the plate. He’s under club control for two more seasons, and if he finishes strong at the plate may be a valuable trade piece for the Mariners this winter. 1B Carlos Santana, $6M to Cleveland for $5M, DH Edwin Encarnacion: December 13, 2018 This deal, part of a three-teamer with Tampa, is an extension of the deal that follows in this list, turned into Juan Then, so … SS Jean Segura, LHP James Pazos, RHP Juan Nicasio to Philadelphia for SS J.P. Crawford, 1B Carlos Santana: December 3, 2018 In addition to the Segura-Crawford portion of this transaction, it led to the deal that led to the deal that landed Juan Then. Segura has been fine for the Phillies, posting 5.5 fWAR through August 2. He has two years of control remaining, including a team option for 2023. Crawford has compiled 4.0 fWAR through August 2, and the Mariners control his contract for three more seasons and far more team-friendly costs than Segura. Pazos and Nicasio gave the Phillies next-to-nothing. Nicasio was worth 0.5 fWAR in 2019 and is now on MLB’s restricted list for what’s listed as ‘personal reasons’ after seeing time with the Rangers in 2020. Pazos never pitched for the Phillies. RHP Tommy Romero, RHP Andrew Moore to Tampa Bay for LF Denard Span, RHP Alex Colome: May 26, 2018 Moore struggled in Tampa, came back to Seattle and struggled there and the last time he was seen in pro ball was in one appearance for Class-A Lakeland in the Tigers organization. Romero, now 24, made his way to Triple-A earlier this season, but has so far stalled there in two subpar starts. Still a chance he helps the Rays in some capacity. Span hit .272/.329/.435 for the Mariners for four-plus months and worth a win over replacement. Colome was worth nearly a half a win out of the bullpen and then was trade for Omar Narvaez, who posted 1.8 fWAR for the Mariners in 2019 and was then traded for Adam Hilland Connor Phillips. Phillips is my No. 11 prospect. 2B Robinson Cano, RHP Edwin Diaz, cash to New York Mets for OF Jarred Kelenic, RHP Justin Dunn, RHP Anthony Swarzak, OF Jay Bruce, RHP Gerson Bautista: December 3, 2018 Woodshed. It was an unfair fight, but Brodie Van Wagenen picked it. The Mets covered about half of Cano’s remaining money ($120 million total) and has received 2.6 fWAR from Diaz, and 2.0 fWAR from Cano for their troubles. Even in all his struggles, Dunn has been worth 0.3 fWAR, and Kelenic is just getting started — so far it’s been a struggled, but he just turned 22 and we all know the direction this is headed, regardless of where the kid lands in terms of ceiling. The Mariners released Gerson Bautista, and Swarzak struggled before he was traded to the Braves for Jessie Biddle. The Mets can’t win this deal no matter what Diaz does for them, because essentially, they paid big freight in talent and took on huge money of a risky player in age and availability to do it. For the record, Cano still is owed $48 million over the next two seasons, and $40.5 of that is owed by the Mets. The Mariners, in taking back Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak, paid most of their portion of Cano’s money up front. Woodshed. Alex Colome to Chicago White Sox for Omar Narvaez: November 30, 2018 Colome had one year left and was set to make more than $7 million, a figure that made no sense for Seattle to carry in 2019, Year 1 of the big rebuild. Colome essentially turned into Adam Hill and Connor Phillips. Win. SS Rayder Ascanio to St. Louis for RHP Mike Leake, cash, international slot money: August 30, 2017 Ascanio is in Triple-A for the Cardinals, batting .197/.266/.346 and age 25. He’s a fringe minor leaguer at this point. Leake was worth 1.2 fWAR in five starts in September, 2017, and 2.3 fWAR in 2018. He struggled in 2019, but was still worth 1.3 fWAR in 22 starts before being traded to Arizona to be close to family. While Leake was far from an impact acquisition, the Mariners received $15 million cash from St. Louis to help cover the remainder of his salary. Zero risk, medium reward. Win. Cash to San Diego for RHP Nick Vincent: March 30, 2016 Vincent was acquired for essentially nothing and posted 2.7 fWAR at league minimum salaries for three seasons in Seattle. There were times he was their best reliever. IN BETWEEN There are also several deals that appear to be fairly even for now , including the trade that sent James Paxton to the Yankees. Justus Sheffield has yet to get on track, though he still has time. Erik Swanson is now a full-time reliever. Paxton gave the Yankees 3.8 fWAR in two seasons — 3.5 of that in Year 1. Sheffield and Swanson each have four more seasons to provide value, but so far, considering salary — the Yankees paid Paxton $21 million — this is basically a wash so far, with a chance to turn in Seattle’s favor. The deal that swapped two seasons of C Mike Zunino, OF Guillero Heredia and LHP Michael Plassmeyer for OFs Mallex Smith and Jake Fraley might appear a steal for the Rays, but in those two years Zunino hit 13 homers in 118 games and batted .161/.233/.323 and 0.3 fWAR. Zunino’s 2021 season was purchased via free agency. Heredia was worth 0.3 fWAR in 89 games. Plassmeyer never pitched for the Rays, but was traded this season for RHP Matt Wisler, who has been great, posting 0.8 fWAR in 20 games. Wisler has one more year of club control, and is the Rays last hope to gain value of the original trade. Smith didn’t help Seattle at all (-0.6 fWAR) over two years, but after intermittent stints worth nearly -1.0 fWAR, Fraley is rolling up value and is now a net 0.2 and counting. Fraley’s club control runs through 2026. The November 2016 trade that sent RHP Taijuan Walker and SS Ketel Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for SS Jean Segura, OF Mitch Haniger, and RHP Zac Curtus is edge Seattle at this point, but not a wide margin. That could change, however, in either direction. Marte has one more season of organic control remaining has given Arizona 12.0 fWAR thus far. Walker got hurt and ended his Snakes career with 32 starts and 2.6 fWAR. To date, Walker and Marte have cost the D-Backs $26.9 million, including the entirety of Marte’s 2021 salary. Seattle, however, did well, too, getting 6.6 fWAR from Segura in two seasons, paying Segura $15.8 million total, whole netting 10.3 fWAR for $7.1 million. That’s 16.9 fWAR at $22.9 million versus Arizona’s 14.6 fWAR at $26.9 million. But wait. Seattle traded Segura to the Philadelphia Phillies in a deal that returned JP. Crawford. Crawford’s 4.0 fWAR through August 2 at $3.2 million, we’re already at $26.1 million and 20.0 fWAR for the Mariners. Marte’s two remaining seasons in Arizona have to be awfully good to catch the Mariners in this trade, and because Haniger has a year left and Crawford has three, it’s difficult seeing this ending up remotely close. But it’s far from a blowout, and injuries (Walker’s TJ, Haniger’s core issues and Marte’s injuries this season) have impacted the results. Another one worth keeping an eye on in the trade that sent OF Tyler O’Neill to the St. Louis Cardinals for LHP Marco Gonzales. O’Neill has had a great year in 2021, posting 2.2 fWAR, getting him up to 4.0 fWAR in parts of four season in the Cardinals organization. O’Neill is under control for three more seasons after 2021. Gonzales, however, has a large head start. He’s posted 9.5 fWAR for the Mariners since the trade, and has two more organic control seasons remaining after 2021. We’ll see on this one, but O’Neill is going to have to be awfully good to make this a race. I don’t see it.Go!

The Seattle Mariners 2021 Draft class is developing into a very nice haul. It’s expected their top three picks all will sign, and through Monday had officially signed 14 of their top 20 selections for under $1.6 million, or 18.6% of their bonus pool of $8.526 million. No. 12 overall pick Harry Ford is expected to sign for exactly slot at $4.3664 million, which takes the total remaining to $2.78 million and four players left unsigned. The slot value for second-round pick Edwin Arroyo (No, 48 overall) is $1.5436 million, which would leave about $1.23 million to sign third-round pick Michael Morales, 11th-round pick Will Fleming, 19th-round pick Charlie Welch, and 20th rounder Troy Taylor. I was told over the weekend Welch, a catcher from Arkansas, had come to terms with the Mariners, but the bonus remains unknown at this stage. Arroyo could be an under-slot signing, though it may not be a significantly lower number. If it’s exactly slot for the shortstop, Morales can get done, but there’s a chance Fleming and Taylor will not. The Mariners can go over their bonus pool by up to 4.99% without risking the forfeiture of future picks (they’d pay a 75% tax on the overage) if they choose. Arroyo’s or Morales’ number, once we learn it, will be telling in terms of whether or signing each remaining selection is realistic. Here are some scouting notes on each of the signed players, including Welch, even though he’s not official just yet. Charlie Welch, C — Arkansas (19) Welch is best known for his late-game, late-season heroics at the plate, but his future largely depends on his ability behind the dish. He didn’t start much and is known as “Dr. Pinch Hitter”, but “the bat speed plays,” and there’s athleticism on which to build a defensive foundation. He struggled overall two years ago on the Cape after his freshman season, but flashed power and showed patience at the plate. Riley Davis, RHP — Alabama-Birmingham (18) Davis projects as a middle reliever with average stuff and command, up to 93 mph with a sweeping slider from a deceptive low arm slot. There are some delivery questions, which if answered, could suggest upside. Jimmy Kingsbury, RHP — Villanova (17) Good athlete with a fastball that’s creeped into the mid-90s at times and a slider that in short stints flashes above average. Jimmy Joyce, RHP — Hofstra (16) Up to 94 mph and comfortable sitting 89-91, Joyce employs a long arm path and some less-than-ideal overall mechanics, but the data on his fastball (vertical approach angle) suggest fastball potential. Joyce doesn’t bring any physical projection to pro ball, but everything else suggests a chance at a big-league package, likely out of the bullpen. Cole Barr, 3B — Indiana (15) Barr has a plus arm that fits anywhere on the diamond, but he’s limited to third base and potentially a corner outfield spot if the bat plays. He has some pop, but has work to do in order to generate better contact rates. Andrew Moore, RHP — Chipola (14) Moore looks the part of a big-league arm, and he’s flashed a plus to plus-plus fastball up to 99 mph with data to back it up, namely big-time vertical life. His slider has flashed as a swing-and-miss pitch and projects well in a relief role where it can play off the huge velocity and fastball value. Ben Ramirez, 3B — USC (13) Ramirez’s best tool is above average raw power generated with good leverage. It’s almost exclusively pull power, however, and there are legitimate and long-term concerns about his ability to make consistent contact and hit for average. “Maybe he’s kind of like Brad Miller after he fights through early-career struggles and finds a role,” said one area scout. Corey Rosier, OF — UNC Greensboro (12) Rosier is a good athlete with one of the better eyes at the plate among mid-major bats in the entire class. He projects to below-average power but has produced extra-base pop in games. His defensive skills and footspeed suggest a solid chance to stay in center. “Nothing blows you away but he does a lot of things well enough to notice. He has good instincts everywhere. I could see him as a fourth outfielder, like a Marvin Benard.” Jordan Jackson, RHP — Georgia Southern (10) He’s only 88-91 now, but at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds carries projection into a Mariners system that has found ways to add significant velocity to arms with far less projectable frames. There’s a 40-grade slider and 30-grade changeup in the repertoire, but this is a piece of clay, and the Mariners may start from scratch. Spencer Packard, OF — Campbell (9) Packard is a corner outfielder with a seasoned hit tool driven by a natural line-drive swing and good plate coverage. The bat speed here is fringe-average, however, and he’s an average runner, so a ton is riding on his ability to identify pitches, make great swing decisions and post high contact rates. James Parker, SS — Clemson (8) Parker is one of the interesting players from the club’s 10 Day-2 selections. He can handle shortstop right now and has the arm to stick, but the intrigue is in the quick, whippy swing that generated average power this past spring. “It’s a little tougher to see the bat playing regularly,” said an area scout, “but the spikes in performance make an impact so there’s a place to start. I like him at second, and his arm could play in a utility role, which may be a safer place to project him offensively, anyway.” Colin Davis, OF — Wofford (7) “He’s gamer with instincts and a high-energy approach,” said one crosschecker. “There’s strength there and some athleticism, but the swing needs a lot of work, which could take time… Defensively I don’t mind him in center, maybe I’m a little high on him in the field.” Bryan Woo, RHP — Cal Poly (6) Woo is a physical right-hander with easy velocity into the mid-90s, and scouts believe there may very well be more there. He’s learned to use his lower half better, but there’s room for a more athletic kick and drive. The breaking ball is a projectable tight slider that works well with his four-seamer that rides in on right-handed batters when he finishes well out front. He’s almost certainly a bullpen arm, and Woo won’t pitch until next summer after April Tommy John, but the velocity potential offers a chance to move quickly once the slider settles. Andy Thomas, C — Baylor (5) “I don’t love his chances back there,” a checker said of Thomas’ ability behind the plate. “But the bat? There might be something there.” Thomas’ power exploded in 2021 versus good competition, showing good bat speed. Mechanically, there are some issues with how he uses his hands and how that might impact his ability to make enough contact in pro ball. Bryce Miller, RHP — Texas A&M (4) Miller is my favorite Day-2 pick. He’s flashed velocity into the 95-97 mph range, and up to 98 as a reliever, but in a starting tole impressed this spring holding his 92-94 mph velocity deep into games, and still showing he can get to 97 on occasion. There are two breaking balls here, led by a projectable curveball, and his changeup has a chance thanks to good arm speed. “Quality arm with a solid floor as a bulk reliever, but he’s new to full-time rotation work. It’s too bad he didn’t have another year there (A&M), he might have ended up a lot higher (in next year’s draft).” I like Miller’s athleticism and loose arm, and even average control gives him a shot to be a No. 4 starter. Michael Morales, RHP — East Pennsboro HS (Pa.) “The kid can pitch,” said a former GM and special assistant. “He may just be scratching the surface. I had him up to 92 and mostly 88-89… easy… movement… and he gets more from it with arm action. I was comfortable writing him up as a future 3-4 based . I put a late-2nd (round grade) on him.” If you watch video on Morales you may get some Logan Gilbert vibes (not a comp) with his arm action and deception, and despite lacking prototypical size (he’s 6-foot-2, 200 pounds), the fastball projects well long-term. Add to that the Mariners’ penchant for adding velocity and it also feels like a prep edition of the George Kirby selection in 2019. He settled in at 88-90 most starts, but scouts have seen him 92-93 for stretches, and there’s a clear path to more, suggesting a mid-rotation ceiling. Edwin Arroyo, SS — Central Pointe Christian Academy (Fla.) Arroyo is a switch hitter with more upside as a lefty, including a chance for average power down the road, but he enters the system an athlete with a plus arm and defensive chops at shortstop who needs experience and work at the plate. The swing path needs some help staying true, and while he’s not a burner he’s an above-average runner with some bat control and great hands. You have to dream a bit, and Arroyo is a long-term prospect, but the reward could be an above-average shortstop with a 50-grade bat, not far off that of current Mariners shortstop J.P. Crawford, with Asdrubal Cabrera upside. Harry Ford, C — North Cobb HS (Ga.) Ford boasts above-average tools across the board, including 60-grade speed, throw and defense, power that stretches to at least plus, and a present hit tool with a clean route to hitting for plenty of average. Once you push aside the inherent risk that comes with prep catchers and evaluate Ford as a bat and athlete, the picture starts to look clearer. In other words, Ford is a unicorn. His physical tools suggest several potential defensive options, including center field and second base, but if I had to bet right now I’d wager third base or catcher. Ford ranks No. 5 in my prospect rankings and has as much chance to shoot to No. 1in the next year-plus as anyone in the system. Projecting 2023 I just thought this would be a fun exercise, but there must be rules, so here they are: 1. No free agents. We know there will be some, but predicting them is a loser’s game, so we’ll stay away for the purpose of painting a potential future picture or three. 2. No trades. Same reason. 3. My prospect rankings and all that goes into them — upside and floor, risk and probability — the current big-league roster, and each player’s contract situation produces the portraits below. I will take only reasonable liberties, such as tendering arbitration contracts and exercising team options. Emerson Hancock should be knocking on the door at this point, too, and if he breaks through it the Mariners have a nice problem of ‘too many starters.’ If Kikuchi doesn’t look the part over the final two months, his four-year option becomes highly questionable again, which puts his team control in some doubt. Brandon Williamson and Matt Brash are currently pacing ahead of Kirby and Hancock in terms of ETA , and may beat the higher-ranked pair to the majors, but one or both could land in the bullpen ultimately, or simply be displaced late in ’22 or early in ’23 by their more talented org mates. In two years, Andres Munoz, Brash, Williamson, Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield, Levi Stoudt, and Isaiah Campbell could litter the bullpen.Go!

Here’s the new Top 25. Notes Taylor Trammell, Jake Fraley, Robert Dugger, and Anthony Misiewicz have graduated and no longer qualify. As always, this is not a ranking of the most likely players to make the majors, to stay in the majors, or the highest ceiling, and the rankings are not based heavily on ETA. The difference between No. 8 and No. 14, for example, isn’t large. Neither is the difference between No. 15 and No. 29. Players with current injuries or injury histories likely rank lower than they otherwise would, so if you’re wondering, that’s often a factor. Players in the majors still qualify if they have yet to surpass the 130 ABs or 50 innings pitched limits, as ridiculous and arbitrary as those thresholds are, so Logan Gilbert remains ranked. Jarred Kelenic, OF Kelenic’s struggles in the big leagues didn’t expose long-term concerns, it merely showed he hadn’t received the kind of experience and development to help him get through such a stretch. High-end bat speed, hand-eye, bat-to-ball, swing consistency and above-average athleticism still point to a potential star. He’ll be back in the majors later this summer. Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez is the best power bat in the system and isn’t all that far behind Kelenic overall, though he does come with more concerns about the hit tool. He’s just been promoted to Double-A Arkansas and while Jerry Dipoto won’t rule out a September call-up, I think it’d be foolish to take such a risk for a mere 120 PAs and limited upside. Rodriguez’s ETA remains more 2022, even if he does get a cup of coffee in a few months. Logan Gilbert, RHS Gilbert’s showing exactly why the club was as confident in him as any young player they have had in Dipoto’s time with the Mariners. He’s up to 97mph  with front-side deception, an above-average slider, 45-50 curveball he hasn’t thrown much of late, and a changeup he’s gaining confidence in that’s flashed plus. He’s an easy No. 3 with a chance for more — just as we thought on Draft day three years ago. Noelvi Marte, SS Marte has moved up a spot since February based on his display of 60-grade power and improved plate discipline. He’ll still chase some, and isn’t going to stick at shortstop, but he flashes enough leather and arm to suggest he can stay on the dirt and offer well above-average offensive production. Whether or not he sees High-A West remains to be seen, but that league is blessed with a lot more stuffy arms than Low-A West, so the club should be cautious with the decision, since there’s nothing wrong with a 19-year-old spending all year in Low-A in his first stateside season. Emerson Hancock, RHS I’m not down on Hancock in the least, but Marte simply overtook him for the No. 4 spot, and Gilbert’s success in the majors made the 3-spot a no-brainer for him. The club’s 2020 first rounder has worked his way to starter workload and looked good last week in Tri-City where I laid eyes on him live for the first time. The mid-90s velo is easy, the arm speed is elite for a starter and he showed all four pitches, including a plus changeup and two average or better breaking balls. Because he made just four starts in college last spring and went 14 months without pitching in a competitive environment, Hancock may spend all summer in Everett, but his combo of stuff and command strongly suggest he can get consistent outs in Double-A right now, so don’t let a lack of a promotion tell you anything meaningful if he indeed remains in High-A all season. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Cal Raleigh, C Like Marte, Raleigh moved up based on high-level, consistent performance at the plate, and even his “down” stretches look like serviceable production for an MLB-ready bat. Defensively he’s sound with no glaring weaknesses, an average to above-average arm with solid accuracy and an understanding of the position that far exceeds most other catcher prospects in the game right now. Every single day that passes and Raleigh is not in the majors is a surprise to me. The Mariners want Raleigh’s game planning to match his offense, so it’s understandable, but I’m a firm believer some development can and should happen at the big-league level. While I’m already surprised he hasn’t received the call, I’ll be floored if we hit mid-August and Raleigh remains in the 253. George Kirby, RHS Kirby has as much upside as any arm in the organization, but he also has as far to get there as any of them. In addition, he brings high probability and a high floor thanks to his plus control and above-average to plus command. He touched 97 for me last week and used all three secondaries, flashing a solid-average slider and changeup. The right-hander may simply need more time to get his off-speed stuff up to par, but he’s painting fastballs with plane to both sides of the plate and is at least on par with a former teammate of his (stay tuned) who recently received a promotion to Double-A Arkansas. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Brandon Williamson, LHS Williamson dominated with deception and fastballs in High-A, but had the plus curveball, too, and in two starts in Double-A since his promotion has looked more than ready for the challenge, despite struggling in the middle three innings of his first outing. He’s throwing a mid-80s changeup with command and consistent arm speed and showing average fastball command to make it all work. There’s a slider in his arsenal, too, and right now it’s more of a short-sweeping version than one likely to generate swinging strikes. His curveball is average to plus in pretty much every start, showing two-plane break which allows him to throw it inside to right-handed batters without as much concern he’ll hang it in the middle of the zone. Williamson is a better athlete than some realize, and his control and command have taken a step forward since we last saw him in 2019. Don’t expect him to see the majors in 2021, but once the middle of next season arrives, all bets are off. It’s likely a future No. 4 profile, but there’s a caveat; he’s pitching comfortably in the low-90s right now, but has often sat 94-97 in the past, and that will always give him a shot a bigger projection. Connor Phillips, RHS Phillips, the club’s comp-round pick (64) last June out of McLennan CC in Texas has the best combination of present stuff, command, and projection among the Modesto starters. He’s had a few too many bouts of poor control, but generally stays out of the middle of the plate, and throws a lot of competitive off-speed pitches, headlined by a 55-grade slider and 45 curveball with promise. He’s athletic and touches the mid-90s, but comes with some role risk, thanks to below-average mechanics, led by a relatively long arm path that creates inconsistent release points. Phillips is just 20, however, so there’s time to remedy some of these issues and develop a mid-rotation starter. Levi Stoudt, RHS Stoudt comes in behind Phillips despite having better stuff for three main reasons; he’s had his own control problems very similar to that of Phillips, but he’s also two years off Tommy John (never a positive) and is already 23 years of age. Still, there’s a lot to like about Stoudt, including above-average velocity and a potentially plus-plus changeup. He’s athletic and brings a bit more projection than a 6-1, 195-pound frame might suggest on paper. While his floor lies in the bullpen, we’re talking about a high-leverage role where he may sit 95-100 mph with a 70-grade changeup and average slider. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Adam Macko, LHS Macko is currently the best starter on the Nuts roster, showing heat into the mid-90s with ride up in the zone, and two competitive breaking balls. He creates deception with his front shoulder and arm path, and pitches effective in on right-handed bats with the fastball and above-average slider. He also has a curveball that projects to be at least average. Some scouts love Macko right behind the Mariners’ big three and ahead of Williamson, Phillips, and Stoudt, while others see traditional concerns with size and fastball value from a shorter pitcher. Lean the former until there’s reason to worry about his size being factor, because so far it hasn’t been. At all. Matt Brash, RHS Aside from spotty control and command, Brash’s development in 2021 is one of the stories of the farm system thus far. He was marked a reliever-only a year ago by several scouts, and perhaps the Padres saw it that way, too, pushing them to hand him to Seattle in the deal for Taylor Williams. Brash misses bats with a fastball up to 97 (he’s been up to 99 in side sessions), and an above-average slider he throws to both lefties and righties alike. He’s athletic and could stand to add more weight, but the delivery offers deception, and he’s reeled in some of the extras to allow him to repeat more consistently, giving him a real shot to start. Double-A might be a stretch for Brash in a starting role, but he’s 23 so it might make sense to get him a handful of outings in Double-A to end 2021. Zach DeLoach, OF DeLoach doesn’t come with big upside and lacks loud tools, but he’s sound in all aspects, from contact, to strike zone discipline, swing consistency, running, throwing, and fielding. He turned that into a huge month of June, and there’s reason to believe there’s more power to come, suggesting a shot at an everyday role in the majors. I could see the club pushing him to Double-A for the final month or so, where he could show signs of a fast-track bat, but we should remind ourselves he faced no live competition after the second week of March last year until the 2021 season opened, so getting him extended plate appearances is the main goal for 2021. Sam Carlson, RHS Carlson’s return has been fun to watch, despite mixed results. He’s missing bats with velocity into the mid-90s and a slider that projects as plus and has a chance to be one of the best in the system by year’s end. He’s shown feel for the changeup at times, and his new curveball is projectable, albeit inconsistent. His control has been below average, and his command leaves a lot to be desired at times, too, but he’s allowed just two long balls in 40 innings thanks to fastball movement and plane, and has tallied 51 strikeouts against 22 walks. On top of all that, he’s a tremendous athlete, perhaps the best in the system, and despite being 23 and having missed four years, there’s a big-league future here after Tommy John surgery and it may very well include a rotation spot. On ceiling alone, Carlson still would rank in the top 5-10. Juan Then, RHS Then may among the most likely of the arms in the Top 15 to land in the bullpen, but it’s far from a sure thing, giving the re-acquired right-hander… wait for it… a non-zero chance to start over the long haul. He’s 93-95 with his fastball and has touched 97 — like every other arm before him — and his slider flashes plus in most starts. He’s built a bit like Brash, but added 15 pounds or so between the shutdown and the 2021 season. Then throws a lot of strikes and his ability to locate his fastball and slider has not stalled despite his velocity ticking up since he returned from the Yankees for two months of Edwin Encarnacion. Then’s third pitch, a hard changeup at 86-90 mph, has been inconsistent to say the least, and despite above-average control, he hasn’t commanded his fastball as well in spots and it’s burned him a bit. One aspect of Then’s game I think gives him a true chance to start is his ability to generate ground balls. He’s producing high GB rates, and it should be sustainable based on the sink on his fastball and the fact he’s flashed the ability to run his changeup down and away to hitters from each side of the plate. Jonatan Clase, CF I’m high man on Clase, but not because I don’t see the risk. He turned 19 in May and is just starting his season in the ACL after hitting .300/.434/.444 in the DSL two summers back. The risk is in both the ceiling, and more specifically the swing-and-miss in his game. But he’s a 70-grade runner and projects well in center long-term, despite considerable work needed to get there. His game plan doesn’t match his swing, hence the strikeouts, but he’s added 25-30 pounds and drew 51 walks in 63 games in 2019. There’s a lot to do here, but Clase offers the foundation of a fireplug-type body that produces fringe-average or better power from the left side to go with the speed and defense, even if the glove has to move to left field. If he stays in center, there’s a chance he plays regularly. Starlin Aguilar, 3B Aguilar and Milkar Perez are similar in some ways; both are sub-6-foot, stocky-bodied infielders, but Aguilar has more athleticism and a better chance to stick at third base, and he happens to have better raw power, too. His defensive position is far from set in stone however, so there’s a ton of pressure on his ability to hit and hit for power, since LF, RF, and first base are next in line. On the upside, there’s a .260 or better hitter with 25 homers here. Austin Shenton, 3B Shenton’s raking in High-A and I expect him to see Arkansas at some point this summer. He’s a doubles hitter right now but there’s enough bat speed to support more home-run power. If we assume the current environment in MLB stays the same (it will not, it’s literally changing as we speak, but for context…), I’d project Shenton as a .250/.320/.450 hitter. Defensively, however, I’m not sure he sticks at third. If the power develops, corner outfield and first base in combo may be just fine as a Chase Headley, Mitch Moreland type. Andres Munoz, RHR The first pure reliever in the rankings has yet to pitch n the Mariners organization due to Tommy John surgery last spring. If things go right he gets things going in August and sees the bigs in September. At his best he’s 98-102 mph (yes, you read that right), and a slider in the 87-91 range that flashes plus and lives average to above average. Throwing strikes has been a problem for Munoz, however — 11.3% walks for the Padres in 22 games in 2019 and a career walk rate in the minors over 15% — but he did show well prior to his call-up two years ago, walking but 8.8% of the batters he faced in 19 innings at Triple-A. The ceiling here is a No. 1 reliever with high strikeout rates, but he’ll need to find his release point and avoid the base on balls to get there. Taylor Dollard, RHS Dollard dominated in Modesto and has now made a couple starts in Everett with good results. He’s mostly low-90s with the fastball, touching 94. His breaking ball and changeup project to average, perhaps a tick above, and his ceiling lives somewhere between No. 4 starter and high-leverage reliever. In the pen, Dollard’s fastball likely ticks up into the mid-90s regularly, but there’s physical projection left in his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame and it’s a loose arm to dream on a bit. Kaden Polcovich, UT Polcovich was the club’s 3rd rounder last June, and while there were better players on the board, the former Oklahoma State standout has made the pick look just fine. He’s sacrificing some contact, and therefore batting average, for power, but he isn’t sacrificing OBP, so swing away, my friend. For me, what’s most exciting about Polcovich is how well he’s managed at both middle infield spots and center field, suggesting we may be watching a true utility player develop, and that’s pretty fun. He can handle third, too, runs well, and showed in college he can handle the bat. Milkar Perez, 3B Perez brings contact and a line-drive swing the club believes can eventually develop into a 20-homer bat. The concerns are his future position; He’s 5-foot-11 and nearing 195 pounds at 19 years of age, and has never been more than a fringe-average runner. He has a terrific arm, however, so there are options, including staying at third as what I like to call a Luis Sojo-like fit, where the defender doesn’t have ideal range but makes all the routine plays at a high rate thanks to good hands and arm talent. He’s a natural switch hitter that’s batting exclusively from the right side now. I expect him to put up good average and OBP numbers in rookie ball and start 2022 in Modesto, carrying a 50-grade ceiling OFP. Isaiah Campbell, RHS Campbell is a four-pitch arm that flashed dominance in the college postseason back in 2019, including 93-97 mph heat and an above-average. If there weren’t concerns about elbow soreness, he might have been a top 40 pick, but Seattle got him at No. 76 overall in the comp round. Campbell’s best secondary pitch is a slider at 82-85 and an 84-87 mph splitter isn’t far behind. He also has a power curveball with some promise, but it’s clearly his fourth-best offering. Campbell had a minor procedure to clean up that right elbow, so when he returns to the mound is not known, but it may not be this season, and as a result he’s been slid down here to No. 23 despite his chances to start or land in a multi-inning high-leverage role out of the bullpen. Carter Bins, C Bins has plate skills and offers solid-average defense, including a plus arm, and came to pro ball needing an improved swing to maximize his power potential. He’s abbreviated everything below his hands and is generating more pop from gap to gap, and more consistent hard contact. He’s still working pitchers into deep counts at times but is hunting and connecting on fastballs to get the extra-base pop. There has to be some attention paid to his strikeouts — 30% — but at least they’re coming with legitimate power. Bins, 22, should probably see Arkansas later this summer to see how the bat plays at the next level. Bins projects as a No. 2 catcher, but the more he hits the more likely he takes a sizeable portion of a catching time share, rather than a traditional backup role. Victor Labrada, CF The 21-year-old got started a little late but has hit since Day 1. He’s a 65 runner and 60 defender in center, but has 11 multi-hit games in 37 starts, and has drawn walks 16% of the time. He does strike out a bit too much for the profile, and since he’s not going to hit for power the club likely is working with him to close any holes in the game plan and swing. The ceiling here isn’t high, and the chances he plays regularly rely heavily on his on-base ability, but he’s performing at a high level already and is a threat on the bases from the top of the order. Just Missed(The following players appear in no particular order) Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHSAsdrubal Bueno, SSWyatt Mills, RHRWill Vest, RHRJoey Gerber, RHRAlberto Rodriguez, OF George Feliz, OFRay Kerr, LHR Gabriel Gonzalez, OFPenn Murfee, RHR Kristian Cardozo, RHSYohan Ramirez, RHR Ty Adcock, RHRYeury Tatiz, RHS Wilton Perez, RHS Dutch Landis, RHSGo!

Monthly, I will recap the month that was in the Mariners farm system, including scouting notes, statistical review, and promotion analysis. Buckle up, it was a fine month of May. MODESTO NUTS (LOW-A) Noelvi Marte, SS | 6-1/190 | 19 A lot more ups than downs for Marte in his first month in professional baseball in the states, and he’s already flashing 60-grade game power from 70 raw power he shows off in batting practice. As expected, he’s already looking more like a power player than a speed demon, despite 70 speed when a Tim Kissner-led international scouting department signed him three summers ago. He’s managing at shortstop, and range isn’t of great concern at present, but there are reasons to buy him more as a third baseman; he’s 6-1 and just under 200 pounds at 19 years of age and has the frame to tack on another 10-20 pounds, which puts him more in the Matt Chapman, Anthony Rendon, Aramis Ramirez mold in terms of physical stature. Marte still boasts above-average athleticism, so it’s not necessarily a closed door for him at shortstop, but he’d have to follow the Xander Bogaerts path; Bogaerts, amid concerns about his future position when he was in the minors, made vast improvements with his hands and footwork and became playable through efficiency, despite lacking great range, though without his offensive prowess, he, too, would not likely have remained at the position. Scout: He has the look of a run producer that will provide defensive value, It’s still early in his time (in pro ball), so there is more than one potential end-result with him, but one of them is pretty big. He doesn’t cover the plate as well as Julio (Rodriguez) did there (West Virginia in 2019), but his swing is shorter. He’s not a shortstop for me, but he’s shown enough ability on the dirt to think he could land at third with a shot to be very good there. Quick Word: It’s early, but it’s not crazy to think Marte has a real shot to be the best player among those currently in the organization. He’s likely to bring more defensive and positional value than Julio Rodriguez, and (again, small sample) is developing as fast as Jarred Kelenic did at a similar age. Defensively, third base is the most likely spot for him long-term, but he has good enough foot speed and arm strength to play a corner outfield spot, too. I expect Marte to spend considerable time in Modesto before a promotion is in order. Connor Phillips, RHP | 6-2/195 | 20 Phillips has shown above-average yet raw stuff, including mid-90’s heat and a projectable slider that flashes average. He has trouble finding a consistent release point thanks to a long arm path, but he’s aggressive with the fastball, which offers life and arm side run. He also has a curveball is inconsistent but will flash as average, and is projectable to big-league levels. Scout: It’s a No. 4 high profile for me, but given he’s younger than the standard college draftee he has a little more time to iron things out and push his physical abilities. I do like the fastball projection. Quick Word: Right now, the safest projection for Phillips is reliever, but that’s also lazy and can be said about every single pitching prospect ever at some point in their careers. But it’s Year 1 in pro ball for Phillips, and there’s a solid foundation present which may allow him to evolve into a mid-rotation starter. Phillips is likely to stay in Modesto for most or all of 2021. Adam Macko, LHP | 6-0/180 | 20Macko uses athleticism and deception to more than cover for a long arm path and lack of ideal size, and he’s increased his fastball velocity from 89-93 to more consistently in the low-90s and touching 95 mph. His curveball has shown least average with enormous two-plane break and above-average command, and he’s done a good job staying on top of it to avoid it flattening out on its way to the plate. He’s pitched inside to right-handed batters effectively, but as his slider gets better, he may be able to get them to chase out of the zone more often. Scout: Let me just say this: If he were 6-4, 200, he’s their best pitching prospect and it’s not close. That’s where he is right now. (Fastball has) above-average life and movement, the breaking ball has two-plane break, and it’s sharp, and he clearly has good athleticism. He’ll be able to pitch up effectively and tear down good hitters with that bender. Maybe he’s Randy Wolf. Quick Word: The fastball-curveball combo is loud, and everything plays up considering how well he hides the ball through his three-quarter arm slot. It’s the best left-handed curveball in the system, including Brandon Williamson — at least through May. Macko likely remains in Modesto through the season, but is the most likely of the younger Nuts arms to see Everett, outside Taylor Dollard. Victor Labrada, CF | 5-9/175 | 21 Labrada got a late start but hit the ground running, both literally and figuratively. The left-handed hitting centerfielder has hit for average and some gap power, thanks to a quick swing and solid-average plate discipline. He uses the entire field, gets out of the box quickly and knows how to us his 65-grade speed. Quick Word: The hope is Labrada moves quickly, starting with a mid-season promotion later this summer, resulting in a late-MLB debut. He’s most likely a part-time player, but there are some physical traits and early tools that have flashed level of big-league competence, suggesting at least a chance of an everyday option. Despite a late start, Labrada could get a cup of coffee in Everett later this season. Taylor Dollard, RHP | 6-3/200 | 22 The club’s 5th-round pick last June has outclassed the bats in Low-A West, missing bats at will and only showing vulnerability when he occasionally loses his delivery and falls behind in counts. He’s pounded the strike zone as one of the league’s best arms. Quick Word: The stuff is average at present, but there’s some projection left Dollard’s frame and secondaries, and while his control is above average his command is fringe-average and inconsistent, something he won’t get away with as he moves through the minors. There’s a major-league arm here, but whether he serves in a relief role or as a good back-end starter is why we’re all here watching. Dollard should be exposed to High-A sometime this summer and if he keeps throwign strikes it could come sooner than later. Alberto Rodriguez, OF | 5-11/190 | 20 Rodriguez, a left-handed batter with above-average bat speed, has yet to string together consistent results in 2021, and a lot of his chances to do so hinders on his ability to make more contact — he’s whiffed in 33% of his PAs. But the swing path also needs work; he’s been pull happy and gets out front a lot, leading to weak contact — especially ground balls — pitcher-friendly counts and strikeouts. Quick Word: Rodriguez has flashed what the club saw in him when they chose the outfielder as the return in the Taijuan Walker deal last summer. But the hit tool still has a long way to so and he doesn’t bring big-league speed (45) or defense (45) to the field. Rodriguez’s hit tool needs a lot of work, suggesting a challenge beyond Low-A may not be wise in 2021. Juan Querecuto, SS | 6-2/180 | 20 After three tough summers since signing, Querecuto is healthy and taking advantage of his opportunity. A natural shortstop, he’s moved around the infield and handled it well, and his bat has shown some ability, despite some pitch ID issues that have led to too many chases. Quick Word: He’s a 50 runner with good hands and feet on defense but lacks the range to be a plus glove. He has the arm to play anywhere, at least in stretches, including third base, and the outfield if the Mariners want to make him a true utility option. He’ll have to make more contact — 25% K rate is too high, even considering the current environment — especially with 40-grade power. Querecuto is very likely to remain in Modesto all season. Luis Curvelo, RHP | 6-1/170 | 20 Curvelo is at least 15 pounds heavier than his listed 170, but regardless of his size there’s good, raw stuff here, and he’s absolutely slamming the strike zone with a fastball into the upper-90s and an average power slider with late break and tilt. Quick Word: He’s always had good control, running walk rates of 3.3, 3.3, 7.7, and now 2.5, but he’s added two ticks of velocity since signing, and the slider has come a long way. He’s a reliever only and is a few years away, but his dominance for Modesto stands out enough to suggest a future big-league reliever, potentially one who can battle into high-leverage spots. Curvelo could see Everett later this season if he maintains the control he’s displayed thus far. Sam Carlson, RHP| 6-4/195 | 22 Carlson’s journey to his first full month of professional baseball took nearly four years, but he’s looked solid, showing more than just glimpses of an exceptionally clean, fluid delivery, an above-average slider, promising curveball, and velocity into the mid-90s. He’s had bouts with poor control which has kept him from dominating, and he’s still feeling out how his stuff will play. It takes time for TJ recipients to pitch their back to good control and command, but it’s a great sign Carlson has the snap on his slider and looks the part of not only a $2 million draft pick, but a future big-league arm. Scout: So, this is why the hype. I get it. I didn’t see him his draft year, I was out west, but we had guys who thought he was a top-15 pick and wrote him up that way. He was a bit out of sync, late with his arm, in the second start I saw, but it’s (present) average big-league stuff, and I think that curveball has a chance. Four pitch guy in the middle (of the rotation)? Quick Word: Coming out, Carlson’s fastball had plane and natural sink, and his changeup feel was advanced for a prep arm. On his way back, he’s generated above-average four-seam ride which pairs well with the slider, and occasional upper-zone life that theoretically sets up the curveball and changeup. He is just getting started and has a lot to do, but he’s a prototype from a physical standpoint with athleticism to spare, suggesting a real path to remaining a starter. Carlson just needs to pitch and getting aggressive too soon could be greatly detrimental to the right-hander getting the work he needs in his first year back after a long layoff. Elvis Alvarado, RHR | 6-4/190 | 22 The converted outfielder has good stuff, led by a fastball sitting 93-97, and in the past has touched triple digits. His slider teases average but to miss bats will need more vertical break, depth, and command. Quick Word: Alvarado is a bit like Yohan Ramirez; has the raw stuff, needs to throw more strikes with everything. He’s a reliever only, but the fastball is big enough to see time in bigs, provided he ends up finding the zone enough as he moves through the system. Alvarado is still raw and the softer landing in Low-A West fits his needs better, suggesting he’ll remain in Modesto most or all of 2021. EVERETT AQUASOX (HIGH-A) Emerson Hancock, RHP | 6-4/215 | 22 Hancock made three abbreviated starts in May with satisfactory yet unspectacular results. But he has been efficient. He hasn’t walked any of the 36 batters he’s faced and has yielded just four hits. Hancock hasn’t unleashed his entire arsenal yet, but his slider has been his out pitch so far, and likely the best chance he has for a plus offering that misses bats in the big leagues. Quick Word: Seattle clearly is taking it slow with Hancock, who has gone 2.0, 2.2, and 4.2 innings with 6 days rest in between, then was skipped when his turn came up for start No. 4. At the end of the day, Hancock is a four-pitch starter with an efficient delivery that should lead to above-average command and control, but while he refines his secondaries the Mariners want to get more fastball value out of him. He’s up to 97 mph, but at Georgia the pitch had natural sink and lacked the kind of high-spin life that generated swings and misses. Stay tuned. At this point I’d be surprised if the club gets aggressive with Hancock in terms of promotion. He didn’t pitch the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Georgia, and didn’t get a lot of work in last summer with no MiLB season. I expect a lot of time in Everett, perhaps the entire schedule. George Kirby, RHP | 6-4/220 | 23 Like Hancock, Kirby has been brought along slowly — even slower, considering he made two starts a week apart, covering 3.2 and 5.0 innings, then didn’t start the rest of the month — but his 12-1 K/BB ratio in 8/2 innings is about right for the 2019 first-round pick. Kirby’s second start was nearly perfect as he did not allow a hit but issued his first walk as a professional. Quick Word: The right-hander offers probability and a high floor, but there’s enough to dream on here to see amid-rotation starter within three years, and perhaps more. He’s pitching at 93-95 mph with 60 control and above-average command but has touched triple digits in short stints. His slider and curveball are fringe-average at present, however, and his changeup remains inconsistent. If he’s to move as quickly as his command suggests he could, he’ll need to delivery better crooked offerings. Kirby may be a little more likely to see Double-A Arkansas than Hancock, and perhaps a little sooner, but a lot would have to happen in the next month or two for it to make sense. Brandon Williamson, LHP | 6-6/210 | 23 Williamson was the best performer among the top arms in the system for the opening month, earning him Pitcher Prospect of the Month. The highlight for the club’s 2019 second-round pick came in his final start of the month when he lasted 7.1 innings and allowed an earned run on a walk and two hits and struck out 13 of the 25 batters he faced. He threw 70 of his 95 pitches for strikes and tossed an immaculate inning in the bottom of the third. Scout: This is what you draw up on the board from a physical standpoint. I’d like to see more athleticism in the delivery. He hides his release a bit, and the ball explodes out his hand. I had him 93-96 and he got swings and misses from 22-year-old top-5 round college bats at 93. You can see the curveball projection. Not sure if it’s a slider or cutter he’s throwing, but I like that idea, too. He’s going to move (quickly.) Quick Word: Williamson is up to 97 mph and pitches with average command at 93-95 with life and tail, setting up an above-average curveball with a chance to be plus. He has a slider and changeup, too, but hasn’t used either all that much early on, which is par for the course for young arms this season, considering the off year and intermittent scheduling for spring training and the start of the MiLB season. There’s a mid-rotation profile here, but some upside, too, provided he develops through some long-term mechanical hurdles that often come with tall arms. For me, Williamson is the most likely of the Everett starters to be promoted, and has the best shot at spending more than a few starts there. Levi Stoudt, RHP | 6-1/200 | 23 Stoudt has been up and down out of the gate, struggling with command in issuing four walks in start No. 2 and six in start No. 4, but we shouldn’t forget these are the right-hander’s first four professional outings after having Tommy Johns surgery two years ago. Stoudt has been mostly low-90s, touching 94-95, but has flashed a hard changeup and improving slider that has a chance to miss bats. He just hasn’t thrown enough strikes yet. Quick Word: His athleticism and chance at three big-league pitches suggests a No. 4 profile, but his split-change might end up a 70-grade offering, and despite a lack of physical projection at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and already 23 years of age, there aren’t stiff limits on his ultimate fastball velocity and value. Stoudt, in his first pro season, has a lot of work to do before a promotion will jive, but he, too, simply needs innings more than a greater challenge. Juan Then, RHP | 6-1/190 | 21 Then finished May with his best start of the year after feeling his way through his first three in abbreviated fashion. It’s a 91-95 mph fastball and promising slider, but he’s missing a quality third pitch and there are some delivery concerns when it comes to a rotation role, despite simple mechanics. He was lights out in his most recent start, going six frames and allowing just two hits. He avoided walks and struck out six. Quick Word: Then, typically pronounced ‘Ten’ despite vowels in Spanish carrying an ‘ay’ sound, is the highest-ranked reliever in the system, but is just 21 and has a chance to start if the changeup develops rather quickly. In a relief role he could see the majors next season. As a starter, Then likely stays in Everett most or all of 2021, but in a relief role could move faster. Isaiah Campbell, RHP | 6-4/230 | 23 Campbell has been piggybacking for 2-4 innings per outings to keep him stretched in ‘starter’ mode, and ultimately has four pitches, including a 55-grade slider and a split-change. He’s been up to 96 mph and in the past has reached 98. He creates plane with the fastball and at times can go fastball-split and induce worm burners for days. But his velocity suggests going upper zone for whiffs, and he’s done some of that, too. He went 16.1 innings in his four outings in May, including 5.2 innings May 23 when he allowed just three baserunners. There’s some concern lingering over some elbow soreness he experienced in 2018, but no sign of it this season, Campbell’s pro debut. Quick Word: There’s a good chance Campbell ends up a multi-inning, three-pitch power reliever where he may add a tick or two of velo and sit upper-90s. He can throw his slider and curveball for strikes, though the curveball is a backburner offering for him right now. His chances to start are better than Then’s however, which is why I have him ranked higher. Like the others who haven’t pitched much in pro ball, Campbell isn’t likely to move quickly as he garners experience and builds up arm strength in his first game action since the college season ended two years ago. Matt Brash, RHP | 6-1/180 | 23 Brash has done some work on his delivery, giving him a chance to start, but we’re seeing some control and command issues early in his four May starts where he issued 11 walks, all in his three final outings of the month. He’s missing bats — 16% swinging strike rate, 37% K rate — and isn’t allowing a lot of hard contact, so the stuff is working, but more strikes — and likely more adjustments to his mechanics — are necessary to project as a big-league starter. Quick Word: Even as a multi-inning reliever, Brash projects as a valuable arm who has been up to 99 mph in side sessions, suggesting he can do that in a bullpen role. He offers deception and at least three pitches, so there’s no reason he can’t be a high-leverage option. Brash’s delivery and ability to throw strikes likely keeps him from Double-A in 2021. Carter Bins, C | 6-0/200 | 22 Bins’ strikeout rates are alarming, but he’s not swinging and missing much and he’s only a moderate chase swinger. He does take pitches and work counts, and his swing remains somewhat rotational, making him late and more likely to foul off balls he should put in play, perhaps creating too many two-strike counts. He has flashed the power in games, but nothing is consistent yet, despite good strike zone awareness. Quick Word: Bins is the No. 2 backstop in the system to start the year but concerns about his ability to hit for average — thanks to a bad swing — casts doubt on his ultimate future. He has made some adjustments and is using more of the field now than in prior years, and he’s shown occasional game power to reflect above-average bat speed. He’s solid athletically and early on has done a better job blocking balls in the dirt, though his framing remains below average. He has a very good arm that should play with better mechanics, something he’s been improving since Day 1. Considering the work Bins has and continues to put in with his swing, I’ll be surprised if he sees Arkansas in 2021. Kaden Polcovich, 2B | 5-10/185 | 22 Polcovich ended May at .236/.352/.382, showing gap power, above-average speed, and instincts that have allowed him show well at three positions — 2B, 3B, CF. The one issue so far is his 26% strikeout rate, a mark for power bats not the next Daniel Descalso. Quick Word: His left-handed swing is sound and more consistent than his righty version, and flashes some torque, suggesting average power is not entirely out of the question. But he may need to shorten up a bit to get to good velocity, and he’ll certainly to cut down on the swing and miss (16%). It’s his first pro season, but it’s not entirely crazy to think he could spend the final month of 2021 in Double-A if he keeps progressing, but the contact rates are important. Austin Shenton, 3B | 6-0/205 | 23 Shenton started the season OK, gathering five hits in four games, then went 2-for-22 with 10 strikeouts, fanning in 15 of 33 at-bats during one stretch the first half of the month. Born of those struggles came the right kind of consistency, and he began to find the barrel more often. He finished the month with two three-hit games over the final eight days, and the power began to show. Quick Word: Shenton came to pro ball as a hitter with a chance to bat .270/.340 with 12-15 homers, but is infusing more leverage into his swing now and could surpass the projection in time. Whether he’s a third baseman or not remains to be seen, but his arm allows for left field or first base, and his plate skills and pitch ID skills should allow him to make swing adjustments without damaging his ability to make contact. Shenton has a shot to see Arkansas by year’s end and might be more likely to do so than all but one name in this report. Zach DeLoach, OF | 6-1/205 | 22 In his first professional action since being the club’s second-round pick a year ago, DeLoach has been a bit up-and-down, but has had several strong games, flashing good athleticism, some power, and patience. He ended the month batting .242/.333/.442 with five doubles, four homers, 11 walks and 21 strikeouts in 108 plate appearances, and has displayed plus defense in both corner spots. Quick Word: He doesn’t have a true lead tool, but has no great weaknesses, either, and reminds me a bit of A’s outfielder Mark Canha, despite the handedness contrast. There’s above-average raw power in his swing and a chance at an especially useful role player in big leagues in a couple of years. DeLoach is unlikely to see Arkansas this season, as he gets his first live action since his college season ended in 2019. Julio Rodriguez, OF | 6-3/215 | 20 Rodriguez, who left the AquaSox to play for the Dominican Republic in the Olympic qualifying rounds in Florida late in the month, was awesome in May, lending more confidence he’ll hit for immense power without deterring the long-term evaluation of his ability to make consistent contact. Seattle’s No. 2 prospect posted a trio of three-hit games, six total multi-hit efforts, and failed to reach base by hit or walk just twice in 21 games, despite the fact he’s three years younger than the average player in the league. Scout: There’s a lot of upside at the plate, but I wonder how quickly he progresses versus more complete pitcher with his current swing mechanics and some of his tendencies. Quick Word: He’s merely 20, and will be until the Alamo Bowl kicks off this winter, and there are superstar traits at which to marvel and dream, including 65-or 70-grade arm strength, baserunning instincts to spare, and well above-average bat speed that produces 70 raw power. While he projects as an average glove and below-average runner, he’ll be fine in right field for a while and brings 40-homer pop and a chance to hit .270 in the current environment. But he does show a front side leak and gets pull happy at times, so he has work to do before we delete the risk from his profile. I think he sees Arkansas this season, and is the most likely of the Sox’s bats to do so — and most likely the first — but ‘when’ isn’t as clear as fans would like to think. Risking rushing a 20-year-old is a very dangerous approach to player development, considering the lack of payoff; his MLB ETA doesn’t change much, if at all, by getting to Double-A in June rather than July or August. He still starts 2022 in Triple-A Tacoma. ARKANSAS TRAVELERS (DOUBLE-A) Ian McKinney, LHP | 5-11/190 | 26 McKinney was outstanding for Arkansas in May, going at least five innings and punching out eight or more in each of his four starts. He’s running a 41% strikeout rate into his first June outing, looking for his third straight start of at least six innings. McKinney has always had a good a good curveball, but he’s added a cutter-slider to the mix and his command of a fringe-average fastball allows him to get to his secondaries consistently. Quick Word: He’s 26 and not a big-league starter, or at least not for the long haul, but 90-93, touching 94, plus curveball with terrific arm speed, and a useful slider and changeup give him a chance to compete against major-league hitters in a condensed role. I think he can handle Triple-A now and believe Seattle hnds him that challenge fairly soon. Penn Murfee, RHP | 6-2/195 | 27 Murfee has been utilized as both a starter and reliever since the club selected him in Round 33 back in 2018, including 20 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2019. He’s in the Travs’ rotation now with mixed results. In 17.1 innings, the right-hander has allowed 33 baserunners, including 19 in his most recent two starts. He’s comfortably in the 89-91 mph range, reaching back for 93, which could tick up in a relief role. Murfee has shown he understands how to attack hitters, and while he may be a great right-on-right matchup, he’s improved his ability to pitch to lefties, burying the slider at the back foot and getting inside and at the top of the zone with the fastball for swings and misses, and going backside for early-count strikes. Quick Word: At the end of the day, his sidearm delivery and fastball-slider combo project well in a multi-inning middle-relief role in the majors, reminiscent of Ramiro Mendoza or T.J. McFarland. As a starter, Murfee has work to do and in the role likely stays in Arkansas all year. As a reliever, he could see the majors in September. So, depends on the club’s plan. Ryne Inman, RHP | 6-5/215 | 25 For two years I spoke aloud about how Inman was a good candidate to transition to the bullpen and progress faster up the ladder, and the club made that move prior to the 2020 season, and we’re finally seeing it in games. Inman, however, has landed on the IL after just three outings with the Travelers.  In his three frames, he allowed two hits, a run, two walks, and struck out six of the 10 batters he faced. Quick Word: When he’s right, Inman is 92-96 with a chance for more velocity, and a plus power curveball. The raw stuff suggests at least a middle reliver profile, with a chance to be a little more. Inman has to get healthy before promotional conversations make sense. TACOMA RAINIERS (TRIPLE-A) Cal Raleigh, C | 6-3/215 | 24 Raleigh still has his naysayers, but it’s turned from “likely a first baseman” to “he’s probably just average” when it comes to his defense. He excels in some areas, however, despite limitations in others. At the plate, Raleigh has shown more polish in the early going, increasing his contact rates and finding barrels from both sides of the plate with regularity. One scout, remembering the prevailing opinion on Raleigh from Draft day, said “it looks a little different, he’s done a good job developing his swing from each side.” Raleigh’s two swings are vastly differently, too. It’s a power-based swing from the left-side and he’s more susceptible to upper-zone velocity and chasing down from that side, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since he’s a natural right-handed hitter. As a righty, the swing is more consistent; he did lose some momentum in his development from the right side in high school, college and early in the minors due to a lack of consistent opportunity — he’d go several games without facing a lefty starter and only see limited lefty relievers. “Maybe he gets to 15-18 homers, depending on how he manages the workload, but it sure looks like there will be good offensive production.” Raleigh was my Hitter Prospect of the Month for May, thanks to a gargantuan effort. Quick Word: Raleigh still gets a bad rap defensively, with scouts citing poor athleticism and technique that can be “choppy”, but when watching Raleigh catch, throw, jump out from behind the dish to make a play, or run the bases, I have zero problem imagining it all working in the majors. Many catchers lack the kind of athleticism players elsewhere on the field display on a daily basis. I do think the bat will produce some swing and miss — and there likely will be stretches where the rates are high — but we may be watching a 40-45 grade hit tool inching toward average, which could lead to even more power. I’m a bit bullish on Raleigh’s upside and always have been, but it’s tough to imagine even his median projection not warranting an all-star nod or two in his prime. His full upside comes with tons of doubt, but it’ll hover there until the smoke clears after a few big-league seasons. The club has its reasons, of course, but I can’t think of one single legitimate baseball reason to keep Raleigh in Tacoma any longer. I would be more than moderately surprised if he sees July in a Rainiers uniform, as amazing as the club’s alternate road jerseys are.Go!

It was a stellar opening month for the Seattle Mariners farm system. Four of the club’s top five prospects have made quite the statement. Two are now in the big leagues, two others have had big-time starts to the 2021 season, perhaps more than anyone could have expected. At the end of each month, we’ll scout out a pitcher prospect and hitter prospect as prospects of the month. Let’s start in the batter’s box, where a handful of bats scorched the baseball. But three stood out the most, and none will come as a surprise. HITTER PROSPECT OF THE MONTH Cal Raleigh, C — Tacoma (AAA) | 24 Raleigh was unbelievable in May, batting .361/.417/.687 with 10 doubles, five homers, a triple and just 13 strikeouts in 20 games. Of his 30 hits, 16 are for extra bases. He also has gunned down six of 17 would-be base stealers. But it doesn’t end there. Raleigh begins June with a 13-game hitting streak where he’s 24-for-55 (.436/.459/.819) with four home runs and nine multi-hit games and finished 10 for his final 19 (.526) with three homers. His 13.5% strikeout rate is down from 25% his first two pro seasons, and he’s yet to strike out as a right-handed batter. Raleigh is hitting .440/.553/1.120 with two outs, .423/.400/.808 with runners in scoring position, .440/.545/.840 when ahead in the count, and .400/.435/.750 when behind in the count. This wasn’t an easy choice, but Raleigh sure made it fun. HONORABLE MENTIONS Noelvi Marte, SS — Modesto (A) | 19 Marte will not be 20 until after the season but doesn’t seem fazed one iota by the pitching in the Low-A West league. In 22 games, Marte boasts a .315/.411/.533 slash, including five doubles and five home runs. His 24.3% strikeout rate isn’t concerning, thanks to the power showing and his 13.1% walk rate, plus the league is striking out at a 30% clip. He’s among the elite players and performers in the circuit and has a chance to earn his way to High-A Everett, though expecting that to occur early is more reactionary on a kid with 22 games experience in affiliated stateside ball. The club’s No. 5 prospect posted a .400/.526/.467 line with runners in scoring position and a .455/.667/.545 mark when ahead in the count. Julio Rodriguez, RF — Everett (A+) | 20 Rodriguez, the club’s No. 2 prospect and among the top 5 prospects in baseball, started the season with a bang, similar to that of Marte. In 21 games, Rodriguez batted .322/.404/.575 with five homers, five doubles, and a triple. He even swiped five bags in six tries. He batted .381/.458/.524 with runners in scoring position, .300/.391/.600 with two outs and showed High-A West pitchers what they very much do not want to do, and that’s fall behind in the count. Rodriguez went 13-for-26 (.500/.639/.923) when ahead in the count. On the mound, where the club is building legitimate depth in the lower minors including several with potentially fast tracks to the majors, wasn’t quite as close a race, thanks to the club’s top left-hander. But there were numerous contenders. PITCHER PROSPECT OF THE MONTH Brandon Williamson, LHP — Everett (A+) | 23 Williamson struck out 26 of the first 52 batters he faced over three short-scripted outings to start the season. Then he whiffed 13 of 25 batters in the best start of the season down on the farm, allowing two hits, a run and a walk on 9o pitches, 75 strikes. In the third inning of this start, Williamson completed an immaculate inning — nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts — which wasn’t all that much more dominating than most of his other 7-plus innings. Williamson wins a lot with his fastball right now, thanks to good velocity into the mid-90s and up to 97, and some deception in his delivery. His curveball, his best secondary pitch, is one he can throw for strikes or bury it for whiffs, and he did both in May. In 20 innings over four starts, Williamson struck out 50.6% of the batters he faced (39 of 77), and allowed just 18 baserunners — nine hits, seven walks, two hit batters. He had just on hiccup, so to speak, a four-inning outing that yielded four walks, but just one hit and eight strikeouts of 16 batters faced. Furthermore, Williamson allowed just four left-handed batters to reach base in 22 chances, just two hits (.091 AVG). He’s also buckled down hard with runners on base, yielding but three hits in 36 chances. Opponents, when leading off an inning, managed to reach base only twice all month off the TCU product. HONORABLE MENTIONS Adam Macko, LHP — Modesto (A) | 20Macko has been very good in four starts, and consistent, too, fanning 10 in each of his last three outings. He’s also yet to serve up a long ball, despite giving up nine earned runs. He’s struck out 44% of the batters he’s faced, and while he’s had a short out of control problems in each appearance, he’s rarely been squared up and often induced weak contact. Macko is up to 95 mph, but pitches in the low-90s with average-but-improving fastball command, and the four-seamer has some run to his arm side. He’s done a good job getting inside on right-handed batters with the heater, setting up favorable curveball might be the best in the system, missing bats in Low-A West and also serving as an early-count weapon of the backdoor variety. He has a slider he uses versus left-handers, but can bite the back foot of righties with it, too, and the occasional changeup is projectable. Macko is adept at locating his secondaries as well as any arm in Low-A. Macko is adept at locating his secondaries as well as any arm in Low-A. Taylor Dollard, RHP — Modesto (A) | 22 Dollard has missed bats (21.6% swinging strikes) in four starts and 19.1 innings, allowing 19 hits and four bases on balls. He’s struck out 48% of the total batters he’s faced and walked under 5%. He’s probably ready for High-A — he probably should have started there, but there’s no room for starter innings in Everett. He’s probably a long-term reliever but offers average stuff with a chance at an above-average breaking ball, an average changeup, and some life on a 91-93 mph fastball, suggesting back-end rotation upside. Dollar doesn’t carry as much ceiling as most of the other top arms in the system, but he does have a relatively high floor, and has touched 95 mph in side sessions and shorter outings.Go!

This Mock Draft is different, in that there’s no attempting to predict each club’s pick. Instead, this is what I’d do if I were making the selections for each team in the first round. 1. Pittsburgh Pirates I’m shooting for the moon here, which leads me right to the current favorite to go 1-1. My club is at least three years from competing and the best college pitching available comes with risk I don’t want to manage. Pick: Marcelo Mayer, SS — Eastlake HS (Calif.) Mayer has as much upside as any player in the class and is a favorable bet to stick at shortstop long-term. As a bonus, he bats left-handed and is developing more power the more he plays. 2. Texas Rangers I’m thinking upside play here, too, but I get to kill two birds with one stone. Aside from taking the best player on the board, I get one of the best athletes in the class and add a local kid to the organization. Pick: Jordan Lawler, SS — Jesuit Prep (TX) Lawler also should stick at shortstop, hit for average and power, and brings plus speed to the field, too. 3. Detroit Tigers Considering my board this stage, my decision here is difficult. I’d like to take Brady House here, but he’s likely a 3B not a SS and comes with more hit questions than any bat in my Top 20. My organization is stronger and deeper on the mound than anywhere else, but the value at 3 might be one of the top college arms. Pick: Kumar Rocker, RHP — Vanderbilt Rocker isn’t the slam dunk he seemed to be four months ago, but he brings mid-90s heat and a true swing-and-miss slider.  I get to pair him with Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning for the next several years. 4. Boston Red Sox I’m down to the best college catcher in the class and the best collection of present stuff and athleticism from a college pitcher. I can’t go wrong. Pick: Jack Leiter, RHP — Vanderbilt Leiter has more explosive stuff, as a whole, than Rocker, led by a live fastball up to 98 mph and a chance at a double-plus power curveball. 5. Baltimore Orioles Considering the risk in House and prep right-handers, and the limited upside of the next-best college bat, this one’s easy, despite what I have in the farm system already. Pick: Henry Davis, C — Louisville I know Davis has some shortcomings defensively (mostly receiving, framing) but he blocks and throws well, and his bat is first-round worthy by itself. 6. Arizona Diamondbacks Considering my club simply is devoid of enough talent to compete, I’m comfortable taking the best player available. But that players also happens to fill one my org’s greatest needs. Pick: Jackson Jobe, RHP — Heritage Hall HS (Okla.) High school righties don’t have a good track record, but Jobe is a special athlete with big upside, and possesses big-league competitive stuff at present. 7. Kansas City Royals I’ve had success recently with college arms in Round 1 (Brady Singer, Kris Bubic, and Asa Lacy is on the way), but still lack pitching depth, power bats, and athleticism. Pick: Sal Frelick, CF — Boston College Frelick checks the athleticism box, but also projects to hit for average, and we think he’ll find enough power to play regularly as early as 2023. 8. Colorado Rockies I have an interim GM and likely a full-time replacement coming over the offseason, but my organization needs both stability in its pitching options and upside everywhere on the field. Pick: Brady House, 3B — Winder-Barrow HS (Ga.) House comes with big physical tools, but there are hit questions. He’s a good athlete and handles shortstop now, but we think he’s an athletic glove at the hot corner and we’re willing to wait for the upside. 9. Los Angeles Angels My big-league club needs pitching, but my job isn’t to tend to the 26-man roster, it’s to add the best talent possible with each pick. Pick: Matt McLain, SS — UCLA McLain may not stick at shortstop but has a great shot to stay up the middle, either at second or in center field. Prior to his thumb injury he showed scouts the power they wanted to see. 10. New York Mets I need to continue to draft and develop pitching, but we have some organizational gaps I can fill without abandoning my board. Pick: Colton Cowser, OF — Sam Houston Cowser’s left-handed swing is sound and compares well with last year’s No 2 pick Heston Kjerstad. 11. Washington Nationals It’s time to think about our future without Max Scherzer, but we’re still a contender with a young core, so I’m going pure BPA here with no big-league agenda. Pick: Kahlil Watson, SS — Wake Forest HS (NC) Watson may fit better at second base and will need some guidance with his approach, but there’s an athletic middle-infield bat here who brings a bit of power potential, and his arm gives him a chance at short. I also remember the last time an undersized power-hitting shortstop scared away some folks, and I bet Francisco Lindor does, too. 12. Seattle Mariners I could go college arm here for the third straight draft, but I’m not sold on the future roles of Ty Madden and Ryan Cusick, leading me to take a different kind of risk this time. I would have leaned McLain here if he were available. Pick: Harry Ford, C — North Cobb HS (Ga.) Ford has plus speed and at least average power potential to go with the tools to stick behind the plate for 10-plus seasons. But his agility and athleticism should allow for a move to second, third or the outfield if the bat figures to be special and the club doesn’t want the labor of developing his catching skills to hold him back. 13. Philadelphia Phillies My org needs pitching and there’s value here in the college ranks, but really like a couple of prep bats in this spot. Hmmm… Pick: Sam Bachman, RHP — Miami (OH) While not a prototype ay 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds, Bachman has three big-league pitches led a put-away slider and a fastball that has been into triple digits, suggesting a floor in a high-leverage relief role and No. 2 upside. 14. San Francisco Giants We’ve taken college bats each of the last three years in Round 1, but the best value here may not allow us to do it again. Pick: Bubba Chandler, RHP — North Oconee HS (Ga.) Chandler is a two-way player and a top 100 prospect as an infielder, but the upside on the mound is tough to ignore. He’s increased velocity with his fastball and lives 92-94 mph and has reached 98. He’s athletic — and is a Clemson recruit at QB — and scouts typically rave about the lack of roadblocks in his projection. 15. Milwaukee Brewers With our development staff, I know we can maximize the best arm available, so I’ve been leaning that way in this class from the start. Pick: Ryan Cusick, RHP — Wake Forest Cusick is mostly a two-pitch arm right now, but it’s a 70-grade fastball scraping triple digits and a curveball that flashes average or better. His changeup isn’t without legitimate projection, however, and there is a second breaking ball in his pocket. 16. Miami Marlins We’ve gone the way of college players in the first round three straight seasons and all things being equal we’re likely to do it again. Pick: Ty Madden, RHP — Texas Madden profiles as a high-leverage reliever due to a shallow arsenal and a deliver that’s both high-effort and not conducive to developing a changeup. But the velocity is elite, and the slider is an out pitch. 17. Cincinnati Reds We haven’t gone the prep route in the first round since Jeter Downs in 2017, and not with our top pick since Tyler Stephenson in 2015, but the value here is in the high school ranks. Pick: Anthony Solometo, LHP — Bishop Eustace HS (NJ) Solometo is a projectable southpaw with a borderline-low three-quarter slot and is up to 95 mph. His ability to attack the entire strike zone with his four-seamer helps it play up and sets up a slurve and promising changeup. There’s quirk in the mechanics, but he repeats well. 18. St. Louis Cardinals We think we have Yadier Molina‘s replacement in last year’s first-round pick Patrick Bailey, but there’s a pair of backstops we like here, plus some arm talent we need. Pick: Jordan Wicks, LHP — Kansas State Wicks’s changeup can be devastating, and it plays well off the fastball into the 92-95 mph range. He throws strikes and has an average cutter-slider and below-average curveball to complete the arsenal. 19. Toronto Blue Jays With the team starting a competitive window, I’m enticed by a lot of the college talent still on the board. I would have considered Wicks, Madden, and Cusick, but the BPA demographic is wide open. Pick: Gavin Williams, RHP — East Carolina Williams gets to the mid-90s with relative ease and has flashed average or better secondaries, including a slider-changeup combo that has chance to be plus. 20. New York Yankees The way this has worked out for us is exciting. Best player available matches our greatest weakness and need. Pick: Dylan Smith, RHP — Alabama Smith pitches in the low-90s, but with command, and sets up one of the better sliders int he class. He also has an average curveball that projects up to plus. He’s very athletic with a clean arm path. 21. Chicago Cubs We’re rebuilding now, but we want to do it quickly and were hoping a college arm we liked here would fall to us. And it did. Pick: Will Bednar, RHP — Mississippi State Bednar owns one of the more polished and complete arsenals in the draft, including two big-league breaking balls and a four-seamer up to 97 mph. He throws strikes and profiles as a strong mid-rotation arm that moves quickly through the minors. 22. Chicago White Sox Stability on the mound would be nice, but we’re in a good spot with this pick to simply take the best player available and completely disregard the present needs of the big club. Pick: Andrew Painter, RHP — Calvary Christian HS (Fla.) He’s up to 96 mph with the four-seam variety and gets some run on the two-seamer, setting up three projectable secondaries. His calling card is fastball command on top of a projectable 6-foot-6 frame. 23. Cleveland (Spiders, c’mon) We know we can max out the value of pitchers and our org is shy on bats, so we’re looking for position players. Pick: Joe Mack, C — Williamsville East HS (NY) Mack is strong, sturdy, and projects to stick behind the plate thanks to a strong arm and baseball IQ. He makes regular hard contact and projects to at least average power. 24. Atlanta Braves This is purely BPA, but if I had my druthers, I’d love to add an up-the-middle talent with all-star upside. Pick: Jud Fabian, CF — Florida Fabian has plus power and projects as an above average defender in center, but has struggled making consistent contact. If he can eliminate some swing and miss he could get to 30 homers. Comps include Adam Jones, Vernon Wells, and Preston Wilson. 25. Oakland Athletics We’ve always danced to our own beat in Oakland, but this pick shouldn’t look odd to anyone. Pick: Will Taylor, OF — Dutch Fork HS (SC) He’s a multi-sport star, including wrestling, and offers 70-grade raw speed and a chance to hit and get to average power production. 26. Minnesota Twins We’re jumping for joy right now because the player we wanted to get to us is there and we’re going to take him. Woo hoo!! Pick: Benny Montgomery, OF — Red Land HS (PA) Montgomery is a projectable athlete with big-time speed and projectable power. If he sticks in center, and he should, at least for a while, he has a great chance to be an everyday option with lineup versatility. 27. San Diego Padres I could throw a dart at our board and feel OK no matter where it lands. So let’s try it. Boom! Pick: Gunnar Hoglund, RHP — Ole Miss Hoglund had a shot to go in the top 10 before being sidelined and undergoing UCL surgery. He’s unlikely to pitch until late 2022 at the soonest but should move quickly through the minors thanks to command and a full assortment of secondaries led by an above-average slider. 28. Tampa Bay Rays Thinking about drafting only shortstops this year to anger the other 29 teams, but we already have 93 of them, so we’ll go in another direction. Pick: Josh Hartle, LHP — Regan HS (NC) Hartle is one of the more projectable arms in the class, bringing a 6-foot-5, 195-pound frame to pro ball. He’s up to 94 mph with the fastball and has a promising slider and changeup. There’s no deception in the delivery, but he commands the fastball well all over the zone. 29. Los Angeles Dodgers We’re always looking for impact pitching and have an excellent choice of upside plays here, both on the mound and in the box. Pick: Joshua Baez, OF — Dexter Southfield HS (Mass.) Baez has plus raw power, but comes with hit tool questions and a very shallow track record versus strong competition.Go!

John Stanton, Seattle Mariners

Mariners fans have long been tired of the press for patience. And who can blame them? It’s been 20 years since their home team made the postseason, and 18 since it won 90 or more games. But when a group led by John Stanton purchased the Mariners in 2016 the deal brought new hope. Five years later and the short leash fans gave the new group is gone. And it should be. When Jerry Dipoto took over as GM and VP of Baseball Operations prior to the 2016 season, it was clear what needed to happen. The organization needed a rebuild. A foundational top to bottom, left to right, tear-it-down, build-it-up. The problem at the time was the roster was aging, expensive and had two mega contracts, which complicated starting a rebuild, and Stanton may not have liked the idea of spending, in the form of covering portions of contracts, to start over in 2016. So Dipoto and company began their tenure running the club in ‘do-what-you-with-what-you-have’ mode. And they did. It was a mediocre team at best at the time and continued to be the first two years. Once 2018 hit, a few things began to pan out and the team win 89 games. I’ve read a lot of criticism about the club’s decision to rebuild after winning 89 games. Some of the reasons I’ve heard and read include “they were an 89-win team, build on THAT,” and “if you can’t take an 89-win team and get to 95 from that you’re a terrible GM.” But the fact is, it was the perfect time to turn it over: Robinson Cano was 35, had half his $240 million contract remaining, and had just come off a suspension for testing positive for banned substances. But he performed well after the suspension, so if a team was willing to take on a good portion of the $120 million left, do it and don’t look back. Edwin Diaz had an elite, and unrepeatable, season as the club’s closer. He’d yet to hit arbitration status and there were four years left of contract control. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about relievers over the years, it’s their insane level of volatility. Feliz Hernandez’s contract had two more guaranteed years, rather than five (at the start of Dipoto’s tenure) The club was out from under the contract of Nelson Cruz after the ’18 season, too, which isn’t a reason to start a rebuild, and it wasn’t a hindrance to house the deal it was a bargain, but having Cruz, Cano, Kyle Seager, and Hernandez was a great hamper to rebuilding, and was actually a bit of an opportunity to see what the roster could do, despite having very little opportunity to go add significant pieces (see: near-empty farm system, available financial assets stretched to a top-10, $175M payroll. Waiting and trying to make the most of the 2018 roster with an aging Hernandez, Cano, and Seager pulling away from his prime, no farm system, no significant financial flexibility — seriously, that roster wasn’t one $15 million player away, it was two stars and three average players (maybe $50-60 million proven players) from being a 95-plus win team — would have been a disaster. They would have lost out on the chance to take advantage of Diaz’s career year — it’s still by far his best year and may always be that way — shed a large chunk of Cano’s remaining contract, maximize the value of James Paxton and Mike Zunino, who each had two years of control remaining (had it been four, keeping both may very well have made sense), and most of all rebuilding the foundation itself — the farm system. Passing on the opportunity to do any or all of the above would have been a fireable offense for any GM and a senseless preference for an ownership. It takes commitment and financial guts to approve such a plan. At the time, the ownership was worthy of applause. Well, that’s faded, if not gone altogether, and not solely because the club still isn’t winning — this season was always marked as the corner, not the year the team had a great chance to win — but because the ownership has done nothing but shoot itself in the foot, even since the rebuild began two and a half years ago. First, by acting like a corporation that doesn’t care enough about its employees, when they cut their pay because the team’s profits were hit by the pandemic, and let it impact their plans to build a winning team — more on that in a minute. That was an opportunity to stand out in a positive way, both in the community and among ownerships in baseball. Failed. Then came the Kevin Mather fiasco. Not only did the president of the baseball team make racist comments, which is bad enough all by itself, he spit on a very good and loyal player, and admitted the club was manipulating the service time of prospect Jarred Kelenic, a practice long deployed in Major League Baseball, but never one that was carelessly and braggadociosly stated to those outside an organization. Mather, at the time, was a minority owner on top of his president role. But rather than the club acting swiftly, removing Mather from the role, and starting the process of booting him from ownership, he was allowed to resign, and Stanton, in a press conference the following Monday after Mather’s comments on a Zoom call to the Bellevue Rotary club were made public, would not even answer the question of whether he would have fired Mather had he not resigned. The owner of the team did nothing to stand up for Julio Rodriguez, Seager, Kelenic, and at the end of the day, for a franchise that cannot afford further embarrassment. Perhaps Stanton lacks the ability to serve as the mouthpiece. I’ll grant him the benefit of the doubt there. But he’s the owner of the team. He can say whatever he wants whenever he wants, and he hasn’t been heard from in any meaningful capacity since. Not on the future of the on-field product, not on the Mather situation, not on further steps the organization has taken to create the right culture for people, including players. What we have learned in recent months is Mather, long before his appalling comments, meddled in baseball operations when he nixed original payroll plans for the 2020-21 offseason, leaving Dipoto to stand pat over the winter rather than start adding significant pieces to help the club turn the corner. Dipoto has been calling ’21, in his own words, the corner year since the rebuild began in November 2018, and here it is time to start executing toward that and Mather, the money guy, chose money, derailing Dipoto’s plans and essentially pushing the timeline backward. But this is on Stanton. It’s on Stanton for not sticking with his commitment to winning baseball, something he has said publicly on numerous occasions, and it’s on Stanton because he asked fans to be patient, and then, asked them for more time, because, well, money. No. Just… no. These are not the actions of a committed ownership. And now, to fans, Dipoto’s words ring hollow if he doesn’t deliver. If you’re Dipoto here, you’re not happy at all. We can argue all day about whether Dipoto can execute as successful a second half of the rebuild process as he has the first half, but none of it matters if the ownership doesn’t stick to its own commitments. Or we need to define the word ‘commitment’ to Mr. Stanton, just so we’re all clear. noun1. the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. “the company’s commitment to quality” Ownership committing to winning, and staying committed, does not mean it has to spend until they win, or they’re not committed. It means being competitive with payroll. Taking risks when the club’s baseball people see an opportunity. It means thirsting for winning like the fans. And that was Stanton’s selling point as majority owner; he’s a fan. The man keeps score. The dude gets distracted at business meetings because he’s checking scores. True stories. However, the company, the Seattle Mariners, have broken their commitment at least once already under Stanton in terms of putting a winner on the field. Commitments don’t come with conditions. That’s why they’re commitments. After all that’s occurred the past three years — and really the past nine months — Stanton still has an opportunity to climb out of this as clean as Andy Dufresne. But rather than landing on a beach overlooking the blue of the Pacific, such commitment leads to what sports owners like more than anything — money. Literally, remaining committed to winning will make owners even more money. They just don’t want to take risks. That has to change. At the end of the day, the financial backing must be available to Dipoto to expect him to finish what he started. Immediately. Now. It’s difficult enough to build good baseball rosters. There are 29 other teams trying to beat you at the same game, after the same goals, after the same players. Some have committed owners. Those that don’t fail over and over. You know the teams on both ends of this equation: The Los Angeles Dodgers, Washington Nationals, New York Yankees, New York Mets, San Diego Padres, St. Louis Cardinals, Houston Astros, and a few others, have been committed to winning over the last several years. Others are joining or rejoining the party. Most of those teams are winning or have won a lot in recent years. And commitment isn’t about splurging for $230 million payrolls every year, or ever. The Cardinals are consistently ranked between eighth and 14th in payroll. The Astros rank No. 5 this season and last, but have ranked eighth, ninth, and 17th during their run to World Series prominence. YEAR PAYROLL RANK 2022 $33.700M — 2021 $92.325M 25 2020 $112.751M 23 2019 $152.527M 14 2018 $170.971M 10 2017 $174.721M 12 2016 $171.340M 10 2015 $144.985M 13 Heck, the Mariners themselves were 12th in 2017, 10th a year later, and 13th in 2019. And while there’s no “get back to this number and it’s real commitment” it is “get back to the plan” and especially “let Jerry cook.” Put the plan, financially speaking, back in motion. Today. Not tomorrow. Today. If Dipoto (and his lieutenants) has proven anything to team ownership, it’s his ability to be trusted with payroll. He’s cleaned house, has proven adept at working markets with the best in baseball, and has proven he can identify talent, from the amateur ranks through long-time big leaguers. His efforts have protected this ownership’s financial risk for five-plus years now. Time to flip the script. Owners can drive their way to more money. They’re billionaires. They’ve done it before — they do it in their sleep. But owners have never steered teams to winning. Baseball people do that, and it’s time Stanton hands the reins back to his baseball people, led by Dipoto, and sit back and enjoy the ride like the rest of us. But things need to move in this direction quickly or even more fans are going to permanently jump ship. They don’t have another 20 years. They may not have another 20 minutes. And if Stanton doesn’t think Mariners fans will jump ship and hop on the bandwagon of other sports teams in the city with their heads, their hearts, and their wallets, or even toward a potential MLB franchise in Portland, he’s sorely mistaken. The ownership of this baseball team must step up. With their words, with their actions, and with their wallets. The opportunity to be different remains. It’s not too late. It’s never too late be better. To be the outlier in Major League Baseball. To be a place people want to work. To be a place players want to play. To be the team fans want to support. This ownership still has a chance to do right by Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, and to honor the patience of the fan base, by sticking to their own commitment to winning. And there’s no time like the present.Go!