Posted: Nos. 11-20 Posted: Nos. 21-30 Posted: Nos. 31-40 Wednesday: No. 5 Thursday: No. 4 Friday: No. 3 Saturday, Feb. 27: No. 2 Sunday, Feb. 28: No. 1 Monday, March 1: Best Tools Tuesday, March 2: How many Mariners prospects would be No. 1 elsewhere? Wednesday March 3: Projected 2024 Lineup, Rotation, Bullpen Thursday, March 4: Projecting the Top 10 Prospects after the season The Seattle Mariners farm system is as deep as it’s ever been. There’s big-league talent beyond the club’s Top 20. Below is prospects Nos. 11-20. Important note: There’s a delicate balance between upside, risk, and ETA, but the difference between No. 10 and No. 5 or No. 6 isn’t as significant as it may seem in some cases. NO PLAYER POS ETA BEST TOOL 2021 6 George Kirby RHP 2023 COMMAND A+/AA 7 Taylor Trammell LF 2021 HIT AAA/MLB 8 Cal Raleigh C 2021 POWER AAA/MLB 9 Brandon Williamson LHP 2023 FASTBALL A+/AA 10 Isaiah Campbell RHP 2023 FASTBALL A/A+ 10. Isaiah Campbell, RHP Campbell has yet to throw a competitive pitch in pro ball but has size (6-4/230) and projectable command that should allow his four-pitch mix to work as a starter with a chance to move quickly. It might make sense for the right-hander to focus on one of his breaking balls in 2021, and the slider is further along than his slow, somewhat loopy curveball which might be better used as an early-count eye-level changer than an out pitch. He creates plane by staying on top of a high three-quarters slot and despite some barking about his long arm path throws strikes. There’s some tail to his fastball and he does a good job maintaining arm speed throughout his arsenal. Campbell is adept at attacking the entire zone. The cub’s comp-round pick from two years back could start 2021 at either Class-A affiliate but has a chance to move up once or twice this season. As a starter he carries mid-rotation upside. TOOLS FB SL CB CH CO 60+ (92-96) 50+ (80-83) 45 (71-75) 50+ (81-84) 50 9. Brandon Williamson, LHP Williamson has been up to 97 mph with his fastball and carries a better set of secondary pitches than does Campbell. If he had more experience and was a step or two closer to the majors I likely would have him ranked 2-3 spots higher. He’s athletic and uses his 6-foot-6 frame to pitch downhill with his fastball, curveball and slider, all of which project as big-league pitches. The curveball is above-average and has a chance to be the best in the organization. His changeup needs a lot of work but has flashed near average and should at least be useful in time. Williamson’s arm slot is around three-quarters, perhaps a bit lower, helping him create angles that prove difficult for both lefties and righties when he stays closed and explodes through release point. His fastball has life up in the zone and he uses it well on both edges to right-handed batters. Williamson has a chance to be a very good No. 3, with good fastball command and changeup quality his biggest hurdles. He should start 2021 in Class-A Everett with a shot to move up as the year progresses, and could easily speed up his ETA. TOOLS FB SL CB CH CO 65 (93-97) 50 (84-87) 55+ (78-82) 55 (83-86) 45+ 8. Cal Raleigh, C Raleigh is never going to be mistaken for Yadier Molina or Pudge Rodriguez defensively, but he’s answered a lot of questions with playable answers, and offers the kinds of intangibles clubs want from catchers. Raleigh is a tough leader, has improved his receiving and framing, and his above-average arm strength plays up with good accuracy and consistent mechanics. He’s worked hard to maintain his conditioning in order stay behind the dish. His calling card, however, is power, showing legitimate 60-grade pop from the left side and fringe-average, doubles power from the right. He has average bat speed, but the swing is a bit long, so he’s likely to swing and miss quite a bit, with home runs as the payoff. His left-handed swing is also his better side in terms of contact and hitting for average, though there hasn’t been any buzz about giving up switch-hitting, and it might be less than ideal to do it now when he’s so close to the majors. Raleigh projects as an average catcher led by power hitting, but if the hit tool catches up a bit with experience he could see some DH time when he’s not catching, perhaps extending his career that otherwise could be shortened by a lack of athleticism. TOOLS HIT PWR FIELD THROW RUN 40+ 60 45 55 30 7. Taylor Trammell, OF His plus to plus-plus speed jumps out and he’s always shown an above-average ability to get the barrel to the ball. The bat speed suggests raw power into the mid-teens or better, but the attempts to unlock it appear to have hurt his ability to hit for average in 2019. There’s still too much swing-and-miss in his game considering the more likely power production, which is the largest hurdle to his chances to hit big-league pitching. But he’s always drawn walks and provided value in the field and on the bases. Trammell’s swing is still a work-in-progress and as a result I don’t have as much confidence as some regarding his ETA. I do, however, buy his defensive value more than most, even if his below-average arm keeps him in left field. There’s some Starling Marte in Trammell’s upside, and some Jacque Jones in the median projection. It’s difficult to imagine he’s not a major-league player, considering the speed and defense. The exact role is yet to be determined. He’ll start 2021 in Triple-A Tacoma, probably playing both center and left, and likely gets at least a cup of java with the big club later in the season. TOOLS HIT PWR FIELD THROW RUN 55 50 50+ 40+ 60+ 6. George Kirby, RHP Kirby’s best attributes lend tons of confidence in his ETA and floor, led by plus-plus control, plus command and athleticism that helps him repeat his delivery very well. The right-hander will cruise 91-94 mph but there’s more velocity to come based on the occasional 95 in college and his work at the alternate training site that produced a lot of 95-99 in the fall. The four-seamer has life and run, and his slider, an above-average, 84-87 mph breaker, is his best chance to be a true swing-and-miss offering. His changeup has flashed plus and I project it to land there in time, and he uses a 79-82 curveball effectively versus left-handed hitters, burying it below the zone or getting called strikes. It’s not as consistent or sharp as the slider, but should remain an early-count weapon. Kirby projects as a No. 3 starter for me, and the floor isn’t much of a drop. I think there’s a decent chance he’s better than Logan Gilbert or Emerson Hancock, perhaps thrusting Kirby into No. 2 status, though I fall quite shy of seeing a No. 1 starter or true ace. I think he’s ultimately more than a command-and-feel right-hander who wins with efficiency. TOOLS FB SL CB CH CO 60+ 60 50 60 65 NO PLAYER POS ETA BEST TOOL 2021 11 Juan Then RHP 2022 FASTBALL A+/AA 12 Zach DeLoach CF 2023 HIT A+ 13 Jonatan Clase CF 2025 RUN A/A+ 14 Austin Shenton 3B 2022 HIT AA 15 Sam Carlson RHP 2024 FASTBALL R/A 16 Andres Munoz RHP 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 17 Connor Phillips RHP 2023 FASTBALL R/A 18 Levi Stoudt RHP 2023 FASTBALL A/A+ 19 Jake Fraley OF 2021 HIT AAA/MLB 20 Milkar Perez 3B 2024 HIT R/A 21 Ljay Newsome RHP 2021 COMMAND AAA/MLB 22 Anthony Misiewicz LHR 2021 CURVEBALL MLB 23 Will Vest RHR 2021 FASTBALL MLB 24 George Feliz CF 2025 HIT R 25 Braden Bishop CF 2021 FIELD AAA/MLB 26 Yohan Ramirez RHR 2021 SLIDER AAA/MLB 27 Joey Gerber RHR 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 28 Adam Macko LHP 2024 CURVEBALL A/A+ 29 Wyatt Mills RHR 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 30 Sam Delaplane RHR 2021 CURVEBALL AAA/MLB 31 Carter Bins C 2023 FIELD A+/AA 32 Alberto Rodriguez OF 2024 HIT A 33 Aaron Fletcher LHR 2021 SLIDER AAA/MLB 34 Kaden Polcovich 2B 2023 HIT A/A+ 35 Damon Casetta-Stubbs RHP 2024 FASTBALL A/A+ 36 Michael Limoncelli RHP 2025 CURVEBALL R 37 Kristian Cardozo RHP 2026 CURVEBALL R 38 Starlin Aguilar OF 2026 POWER R 39 Tyler Keenan 1B 2023 POWER A/A+ 40 Taylor Dollard RHP 2023 CHANGEUP A
POSTED: Nos. 31-40 POSTED: Nos. 21-30 Monday: Nos. 6-10 Wednesday: No. 5 Thursday: No. 4 Friday: No. 3 Saturday, Feb. 27: No. 2 Sunday, Feb. 28: No. 1 Monday, March 1: Best Tools Tuesday, March 2: How many Mariners prospects would be No. 1 elsewhere? Wednesday March 3: Projected 2024 Lineup, Rotation, Bullpen Thursday, March 4: Projecting the Top 10 Prospects after the season The Seattle Mariners farm system is as deep as it’s ever been. There’s big-league talent beyond the club’s Top 20. Below is prospects Nos. 11-20. Important note: There’s not a significant difference between 20 and 13, at least not as much as seven entire spots in a good farm system would suggest, but here’s a delicate balance between upside, risk, and ETA. NO PLAYER POS ETA BEST TOOL 2021 11 Juan Then RHP 2022 FASTBALL A+/AA 12 Zach DeLoach CF 2023 HIT A/A+ 13 Jonatan Clase CF 2025 RUN A/A+ 14 Austin Shenton 3B 2022 HIT AA 15 Sam Carslon RHP 2024 FASTBALL R/A 16 Andres Munoz RHR 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 17 Connor Phillips RHP 2023 FASTBALL R/A 18 Levi Stoudt RHP 2023 FASTBALL A/A+ 19 Jake Fraley OF 2021 HIT AAA/MLB 20 Milkar Perez 3B 2024 HIT R/A 20. Milkar Perez, 3B Perez is still raw and because he lacks athleticism is limited defensively. The Mariners believe his arm strength and hands allow him to work at third base, but there are questions as to whether or not his power will. He’s a switch hitter but is better from the left side and the difference may be stark enough to eventually abandon the efforts from the right side. For now, he shows above-average raw power as a lefty. Perez’s calling card is bat-to-ball skills that generate hard line drives thanks to good bat speed. But the power is critical here, as he’s not athletic enough to project to the outfield, though his arm would play, and a move across the diamond to first does nothing but add pressure to the bat. He’ll have to hit regardless, and if the power doesn’t come he’ll have to hit an awful lot to profile as a regular. The Mariners like a loot of the intangible, however, and a .280/.350/.450, doubles-driven bat isn’t that far from what Kyle Seager brought to the table in his prime, so… no sneezing. TOOLS HIT PWR FIELD THROW RUN 55 50+ 45 60 45 19. Jake Fraley, OF Like Bishop, Fraley is starting to run out of time to show he’s an answer to a question Seattle is asking. What we know is Fraley can run some and cover ground in the outfield. He displayed improved power in 2018 and 2019 after adding some bulk to his frame, but his game plan in his short stints in the majors was exposed and he wasn’t given a lot of time to make adjustments. The swing is short enough and the bat speed is above-average, but he’s had problems staying back on soft stuff and since he may not profile in center he’s unlikely to serve as anything more than a part-time option if he doesn’t piece together a hit + doubles package at the plate. He’ll be 26 in May and has a shot to break camp with the big club. His shot to show he’s more than an extra may be limited to a few weeks of at-bats, or come with another team. TOOLS HIT PWR FIELD THROW RUN 50 45+ 50+ 45 55 18. Levi Stoudt, RHP After Tommy John surgery two summers ago, Stoudt’s arm strength is all the way back as he touched 97 this past fall. He came to pro ball with an above-average split-grip changeup projecting to be plus or better in time. He’s going with the slider as his breaking ball of choice, but has a curveball in his pocket if he ever wants to go back to it; it was below-average at Lehigh, but flashed depth. I’m not as high on Stoudt at this stage as most others because he’s yet to throw a professional pitch and lacks physical projection at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds — not to mention has the zipper on his resume now, and is already 23. I think there’s a very good chance he’s a reliever, but has a shot to be a good No. 4 or a light if things break right, and the fact he projects for average command lends confidence to the median projection. He’s at least two and a half years away in a rotation role, but if he’s transitioned could move rapidly to the majors as a legit three-pitch arm capable of pitching in high-leverage situations. TOOLS FB SL CB CH CO 55 (93-97) 50+ (82-86) 45+ (77-81) 60 (85-88) 50+ 17. Connor Phillips, RHP Phillips is certainly more of a project than is Stoudt, but there’s a lot more projection in the frame (6-2/190) and despite technically being a college draftee (McLennan JC, TX) he won’t turn 20 until May. He’s tagged 98 mph with his fastball and his cruising velocity is an easy 92-95 with some run. He added curveball last summer, but his hard slider has flashed plus and on occasion last spring showed an average change. He’s further away from his ceiling, but there’s probably another step for Phillips that isn’t there for Stoudt, and both come with there own risks. For Phillips, it’s inconsistent control and command, and a delivery that’s come apart with runners on base. TOOLS FB SL CH CB CO 65 (93-98) 55+ 45+ NEW 45+ 16. Andres Muñoz, RHR Muñoz is an easy scouting report. Prior to the injury he was 97-102 mph with an average slider that plays up because the velocity is essentially burning cheese. Muñoz is not afraid to throw in on right-handed batters, and his heat shows effective run to his arm side and tons of life at the top of the zone. The control problems stem mainly from his high-effort delivery yanking him hard to the first-base side of the mound at release point. If he can stay in-line more everything, including (as ridiculous as it sounds) the triple-digit heat. But there are also some arm path adjustments that could me made to help him with consistency. How much the Mariners want to mess with that with the righty coming off March, 2020 Tommy John surgery remains unclear, but a healthy Muñoz sees the majors this season and when he does it’s must-see TV, even though it would surprise no one if he wasn’t living in the upper-90s right out of the gate. One reason the Mariners might be aggressive in trying to clean up Muñoz’s mechanics is his history of arm issues, almost exclusively with the elbow. Seattle is hoping he can be their relief ace moving forward, and the stuff suggests that’s plausible. There’s just a ways to go for it to occur so I have a hard time ranking him higher than this. TOOLS FB SL CO N/A N/A 80 (97-102) 60 (84-87) 40 N/A N/A 15. Sam Carlson, RHP I’m high-man on the now 22-year-old Carlson despite the fact he’s coming off 2019 Tommy John and has faced just 13 batters in three and a half years since the Mariners selected him in Round 2 of the 2017 Draft and handed him $2 million. Why? He possesses a projectable starter’s repertoire, including an advanced changeup, sinking fastball up to 96 mph, and potential for an average or better slider thrown from a true three-quarters slot. He’s also an absolute beast, both physically and in terms of mental toughness. Carlson is one of the best athletes in the system and as built himself into a monster, adding good weight and maintaining an explosive lower half. This is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward for many, but I see No. 3 upside with a good middle reliever’s floor, and I think he’s going to move a little faster than one might otherwise think because he’ll get a lot of value out of his sinking fastball in the lower minors. I imagine Carlson has a chance to start in Modesto in May, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Seattle held him back a bit to easily manage his workload in what we all hope is his first full season in pro ball. TOOLS FB SL CB CH CO 60+ (90-96) 50+ (83-86) 40+ (76-80) 55+ (83-85) 45+ 14. Austin Shenton, 3B I may also he high-man on Shenton, but I believe in the hit tool and think his power will show up more after he gets to the big leagues, not unlike Kyle Seager, who managed just 22 homers in 1245 plate appearances spanning 269 minor leagues games. What Shenton doesn’t quite have — or at least hadn’t shown through 2019 — is Seager’s hands and feet at third base. I think he ends up fringe-average at best defensively at the hot corner, but there’s a chance the bat plays and then some, covering a move to a corner-outfield spot. He sees the ball well and might be the smartest hitter in the system. Shenton’s strengths also fit T-Mobile Park very well; he likes to use both gaps for doubles, can go line-to-line in contact situations and his pull power plays to Mobi’s right-field naturally. Shenton may be fit to start 2021 in Double-A Arkansas with a chance to see Tacoma by year’s end. TOOLS HIT PWR FIELD THROW RUN 55 50+ 45 50 45 13. Jonatan Clase, CF And I KNOW I’m high-man on Clase. The 18-year-old kid starred for the DSL club two summers ago, despite most of the attention going to his more famous teammate, Noelvi Marte. Clase swung and missed a bit too much during that stint, but has bat speed, instincts, can run for days, and has shown the organization a work ethic that makes player development staffers giddy. He’s actually grown a few inches and put on some good weight, but I’m told remains explosive out of the box and in the field. His speed and quickness give him a solid chance to stick in center field, though he needs a lot of experience and coaching, and a throwing program has helped him project to average arm strength. He’s years away, and is still raw at the plate, but won’t be 19 until late May, and when he’s anywhere near a field is as energetic as any player you’ve ever seen. He does nothing half-assed, and has a chance to impact the game in a lot of ways, though power isn’t likely to be one of them to a great degree. I’ll take a player like Clase over a high-probability back-end starter or a relief arm any day of the week and twice on game day. Clase is likely starting the season in extended awaiting the rookie season to start. TOOLS HIT PWR FIELD THROW RUN 50 40 60+ 50 70 12. Zach DeLoach, CF I warned on DeLoach three weeks after the draft when a team analyst told me DeLoach was the best ’20 Draftee he saw in 10 days watching fall ball. DeLoach has above-average raw power to his pull side, but otherwise is a better bet to use the middle of the field, make a lot of hard contact and get on base a ton. There may be 16-18 homers in the bat, but if there isn’t the bat may be light for a corner, putting pressure on his instincts to take over in center and make up for average speed and fringe-average arm strength. DeLoach, too, is a left-handed bat that profiles well at T-Mobile Park, and I’m a little more bullish on the power developing than some, explaining why I have him 4-10 spots higher. I’d like to see the Mariners ship DeLoach to Everett in May to get started. TOOLS HIT PWR FIELD THROW RUN 55 50+ 45 60 45 11. Juan Then, RHP Then, properly pronounced more like ‘Tayn’ (silent ‘h’) but likely to be Americanized to ‘Ten,’ is a bit undersized at 6-feet tall but put on some good weight over the past year-plus and his velocity exploded in instructs, reportedly touching 100 mph and living 95-plus in short outings. The lower slot he’s deployed might impact his ability to throw a legit, repeatable changeup in a starter’s role, but it’s added deception and movement to his fastball and slider. He has a chance to start, and the ceiling lies somewhere in the middle of the rotation, but the floor may be as a high as the next Edwin Diaz. He’s a good athlete and in years past has thrown enough strikes to believe he’ll continue to do so moving forward, despite the added effort and difference in release angle. Then should start 2021 in Everett, where play-by-play great Pat Dillon should have one of the best rosters in AquaSox history from which to create more audio memories for the rest of us. TOOLS FB SL CH CO N/A 70+ 50+ 45+ 45+ N/A
Saturday: Nos. 31-40 Sunday: Nos. 11-20. Monday: Nos. 6-10 Wednesday: No. 5 Thursday: No. 4 Friday: No. 3 Saturday, Feb. 27: No. 2 Sunday, Feb. 28: No. 1 Monday, March 1: Best Tools Tuesday, March 2: How many Mariners prospects would be No. 1 elsewhere? Wednesday March 3: Projected 2024 Lineup, Rotation, Bullpen Thursday, March 4: Projecting the Top 10 Prospects after the season The Seattle Mariners farm system is as deep as it’s ever been. There’s big-league talent beyond the club’s Top 20. Below is prospects Nos. 21-30. Important note: There’s not a significant difference between 40 and 18, at least not as much as 22 entire spots in a good farm system would suggest, but here’s a delicate balance between upside, risk, and ETA. NO PLAYER POS ETA BEST TOOL 2021 21 Ljay Newsome RHP 2021 COMMAND AAA/MLB 22 Anthony Misiewicz LHR 2021 CURVEBALL MLB 23 Will Vest RHR 2021 FASTBALL MLB 24 George Feliz CF 2025 HIT R 25 Braden Bishop CF 2021 FIELD AAA/MLB 26 Yohan Ramirez RHR 2021 SLIDER AAA/MLB 27 Joey Gerber RHR 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 28 Adam Macko LHP 2024 CURVEBALL A/A+ 29 Wyatt Mills RHR 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 30 Sam Delaplane RHR 2021 CURVEBALL AAA/MLB 30. Sam Delaplane, RHR Delaplane jumped onto the radar when he sat 95-98 mph for a bit in Modesto in 2019, but he was more 92-95 in Arkansas, with a reach-back for a bit more, rather than living in he high range. His plus breaking ball looks like a spiking slider, but it’s a curveball at 83-87 mph with legendary spin rates and late break that results in swings and misses. The right-hander is a strike thrower, but does struggle with location and when he doesn’t have his best fastball batters will lay off the breaking ball. I have some durability concerns along with questions about how deep into his appearances he can hold the mid-90s or better heat or I’d rank him 10-plus spots higher, but he can answer those question very quickly this spring where it’s not out of the question he makes the big club. 29. Wyatt Mills, RHR Mills is more projectable than Delaplane and while the last time we saw him pitch in games his raw stuff was merely average for a reliever, he’s shown improved velocity and breaking balls shape. Mills was essentially the consolation prize in Round 3 when the Mariners schemed Sam Carlson into their second-round and paid him $2 million. Mills has proven to be a fine choice for the under-slot play. He was essentially 91-95 mph in 2019 but in the fall was often 94-96 and touched 97. He throws from a true sidearm slot, adding deception and sink to the arm side life on the pitch, setting up a 55-grade slider that plays well off the fastball. Like Delaplane, Mills has an outside shot to break camp with the big club, and if not likely sees the big leagues at some point later in the season. 28. Adam Macko, LHP Macko is a fun left-hander to watch; he’s aggressive, very athletic, and works fast. He also has an above-average curveball that projects to plus, and if you know anything about me at all you probably know I love me some left-handed curveballs. Macko lacks the stature of the protypical, projectable arm at just 6-feet and 180 pounds, which is part of the reason he doesn’t rank 10 spots higher. He’s touched 93-94 mph, but in Everett two summers ago was mostly 89-90, and it remains to be seen how he handles the workload of a pro starter. On the flip side, he might be a four-pitch arm, and has separated himself as the best of the club’s prep arms for their 2019 draft class. 27. Joey Gerber, RHR Gerber offers size, some athleticism, deception from a three-quarters slot and a sinking fastball up to 98 mph. He was mostly 93-95 in the big leagues last summers, and at times struggled to stay above 92, and the slider was quite flat. He’ll have to finish better through his release point to get the bite on his slider and command both his pitches better. Doing so could lead him to a setup-style role with some chances in high-leverage situations, but there’s work to do here despite a lot of success in the minors, including a 112-30 K/BB ratio across four levels. Gerber enters camp with a chance to show he’s ready for a big-league role, but the better bet is he starts in Triple-A Tacoma and is one of the first handful of relievers to get the call as the season progresses. 26. Yohan Ramirez, RHR Ramirez’s raw stuff is pretty good, and it kept him from disastrous results in 2020 despite walking more than 21% of the batters he faced. He’s up to 98 mph with the fastball and he ditched the curveball for a plus slider in the low-80s. Ramirez has to throw more strikes to get back to the big leagues, and that means repeating his delivery and finishing through a consistent release point. I’m projecting he starts 2021 in Tacoma, considering the additions Seattle has made to the reliever corps over the winter. 25. Braden Bishop, CF The former UW standout still possesses the elite defensive chops and at least 65-grade speed, but he’s struggled in sporadic opportunities in the majors, showing shaky discipline and some timing issues. The swing isn’t clean, but he’s worked to kill a trigger tick that should allow his above-average bat speed to play better, which suggests a better shot to make consistent contact and take advantage of improved raw power. His raw speed has never resulted in a lot of stolen bases, but he’s a very good baserunner and can handle the bat in small ball opportunities. Bishop’s defensive instincts are terrific — the best I’ve ever seen from a prospect. He gets very good jumps, reads balls off the bat at an elite level and his routes are pristine. He also throws well, generally receiving above-average grades. If he hits even a little bit he’s a major leaguer, even as a fourth outfielder or platoon option, but he’s running out of time, both in terms of age (27) and chances in Seattle. He has an option left, but could earn a spot on the Opening Day roster as part of the at-least temporary solution in left field prior to the arrival of Jarred Kelenic. 24. George Feliz, CF The Mariners signed Feliz as part of their 2019 July 2 class for his athleticism, advanced hitting skills and legitimate chance to stick in center. He projects for a lot of above-average tools, with present plus speed, a plus arm and a hit tool reminiscent of a .300 or better hitter with good OBPs. He’ll get on the field for the first time this summer, so Feliz is a longer-term prospect. He has received comparisons to Nationals centerfielder Victor Robles from some, though I’d cut a bit shy of that, to be honest. At least for now. 23. Will Vest, RHR Vest was the club’s Rule 5 pick in December, plucked from the Tigers’ organization after his velocity ticked up beyond the mid-90s in the fall. A starter at Stephen F. Austin State, Vest has taken to the relief role and his arm speed has turned into 93-96 mph velocity and a slider that was sharper as he added velocity. He’s going to make the club out of camp barring injury, and has a chance to be a very good middle reliever, somewhat similar to Sam Dyson with better control, and therefore a better chance at consistency. 22. Anthony Misiewicz, LHR Misiewicz exhausted his rookie status in 2020 due to pro-rated service time rules, but his 20 innings pitched certainly doesn’t remove the prospect tag. The lefty was pretty good in those 20 frames, including a 30%-7% K/BB ratio and a 98th percentile barrel rate. But he still gave up a lot of hard contact and right-handed batters did almost all of that damage (.308/.386/.590), and all of it off his cutter and curveball. He can use the cutter more effectively in on righties, or use his 93-95 mph four-seamer more often. But command is a rather large part of the success in these situations, too. Misiewicz’s ceiling is multi-inning middle reliever — but he’s ready to take on a similar role immediately (since he did it fairly well last season), so his lack of reward is mitigated some by both ETA and probability. 21. Ljay Newsome, RHP Newsome is a fascinating prospect, partially because he wasn’t one at all until his arm took well to gas camp two years ago. Until then, the right-hander was cruising at 84-86 mph and touching 88, winning with volume strikes and fringey overall stuff. He also lacks physical projection at 5-foot-11 and a listed 210 pounds that might be a few kilos light. Newsome came out firing in 2019, however, sitting 91-93 mph and even touching 95. Later that summer the velo faded, but he was back at it last summer in the majors, averaging 91.7 mph on the four-seamer. He’s still a command-and-feel arm with fringe-average stuff, and lacks an out pitch, but I’m not convinced we’ve seen his best curveball or changeup, and he’s used a cutter in the past that might help him versus lefties (.379/.400/.724). The best news is the command is consistent, includes all of his pitches, and at least borders on plus. He has a shot to be a back-end starter and hang around the bigs awhile, but could also be effective in a long role. Newsome enters camps as the No. 7 or 8 starter, and falls behind Logan Gilbert on the ultimate depth chart for 2021, so there may not be a lot of chances for him to start for Seattle. Or is there? James Paxton isn’t necessarily finishing the season with Seattle, Justin Dunn may not be a starter OR a big leaguer, and injuries are always a consideration. Newsome likely starts in Tacoma, but he’ll be back at T-Mobile in 2021.
Sunday: Nos. 21-30, Nos. 11-20. Monday: Nos. 6-10 Wednesday: No. 5 Thursday: No. 4 Friday: No. 3 Saturday, Feb. 27: No. 2 Sunday, Feb. 28: No. 1 Monday, March 1: Best Tools Tuesday, March 2: How many Mariners prospects would be No. 1 elsewhere? Wednesday March 3: Projected 2024 Lineup, Rotation, Bullpen Thursday, March 4: Projecting the Top 10 Prospects after the season The Seattle Mariners farm system is as deep as it’s ever been. There’s big-league talent beyond the club’s Top 20, including right here with Nos. 31-40. Below is the start of the Top 40, broken into groups. NO PLAYER POS ETA BEST TOOL 2021 31 Carter Bins C 2023 FIELD A+/AA 32 Alberto Rodriguez OF 2024 HIT A 33 Aaron Fletcher LHP 2021 SLIDER AAA/MLB 34 Kaden Polcovich 2B 2023 HIT A/A+ 35 Damon Casetta-Stubbs RHP 2024 FASTBALL A/A+ 36 Michael Limoncelli RHP 2025 CURVEBALL R 37 Kristian Cardozo RHP 2026 CURVEBALL R 38 Starlin Aguilar OF 2026 POWER R 39 Tyler Keenan 1B 2023 POWER A/A+ 40 Taylor Dollard RHP 2023 CHANGEUP A 40. Taylor Dollard, RHP Dollard is an athletic sinker-slider starter who came to pro ball with underdeveloped changeup and some concern about fastball value. At Cal Poly in 2019, he sat 88-89 mph a lot, but touched 91-92, and has some 93s on the board for some scouts. There’s some physical projection left here, but he’ll need to answer some repertoire questions to stick as a starter. Seattle didn’t draft him in the 5th round last June because they thought he was the next great Mariners reliever, so he’s going to get a long look in the rotation, and the fact he throws a lot of strikes could go a long way. It doesn’t hurt that Poly is a pretty good school for arms. 39. Tyler Keenan, 1B/3B Keenan is a big, slugging left-handed bat with significant concerns about his ability to man third base, which puts pretty much every ounce of pressure available on his ability to hit and hit with power. He generates easy loft with a classic power swing but at Mississippi made consistent contact and proved adept at working counts and taking walks. He might be a three true outcome bat, but there are signs of more if given time to adjust to professional pitching. 38. Starlin Aguilar, OF Aguilar, just signed in January out of the Dominican Republic, is a sturdily-built left-handed hitter with a chance to hit for corner-type power thanks to a short swing and plus bat speed. Most project him to move from his listed position of second base over to third. I have him as an outfielder; there’s enough athleticism and arm to fit in left field and while he can field a ground ball, he lacks natural infield actions and likely outgrows both second and third, so I’m skipping that move, though Aguilar will be given every opportunity to prove he can handle it — and hit enough to profile there. 37. Kristian Cardozo, RHP Seattle swooped in late on the Venezuelan Cardozo after the Los Angeles Dodgers back out in July, 2019. The right-hander offers some projection from his 6-foot-2, 175-pound frame (at signing), and a fastball already into the low-90s without much effort. His 71-76 mph curveball has varied shapes, but projects as at least average, and he’s shown good feel for a tailing changeup. Cardozo has a legitimate chance to develop as a starter and sure looks the part physically. 36. Michael Limoncelli, RHP Limoncelli had Tommy John surgery before the Mariners made him their sixth-round pick back in 2019. He was up to 94 mph the previous summer with a projectable curveball. He’s a good athlete with foundational arm action, and should be jumping out of his sleeves to get pitching again this spring. He’s likely to start the year in extended spring training, and may not leave Peoria all season, but once he’s rolling he could move quickly through the lower minors with command of his top two offerings. 35. Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHP Casetta-Stubbs, 21, was the club’s 11th-round pick in 2018 out of Vancouver, Wash., and has flashed four pitches and maturity in his 26 professional appearances. He’s touched the mid-90s with his fastball, but as a pro he’s been more 88-92 mph. He has two breaking balls, both of which may be big-league pitches. The slider is the better of the two right now, and the changeup should develop over time thanks to consistent arm speed and deception. DC-S, all 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds of him, remains a project and is future role is up in the air, but the physicality and projectable velocity suggest a strong chance of a valuable arm. 34. Kaden Polcovich, 2B Polcovich was overdrafted in Round 3 last June, but he’ll do a lot of things that could push him through the minors fairly quickly. First off, his only flaring weakness is power at the plate; he’ll make contact, draw some walks, he runs well and can play at least two infield positions — second base, third base — and should be able to handle at least left field, if not center if given the chance. He will reach the gaps, so don’t let his 5-foot-10, 185-pound frame fool you … well, not too much, anyway, since most scouts tell me he’s more like 5-8. But he performed in his short time at Oklahoma State and the plate skills are legitimate. 33. Aaron Fletcher, LHP Fletcher came over with Taylor Guilbeau in the deal with the Washington Nationals in July of 2019. He’s up to 96 mph when he’s right and the funk in his delivery offers deception, thanks to an aggressive from leg, a tucked front shoulder and a long slingshot-style arm path behind it all. His slider is below average, though it plays up some as a sweeper versus lefties, but it lacks depth. He’s flashed a fringe-average changeup that may be key for his chances versus right-handed batters. Fletcher is purely a reliever and made his debut last season, walking seven and striking out seven in 4.1 innings of work, showing off his profile in one simple line. If he throws strikes, he has a chance to stick this season and be a difficult at-bat, ala Tony Sipp. 32. Alberto Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez is a difficult profile, since he comes to Seattle with corner-outfield defense and an up-the-middle bat. He’s just 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds, but has a compact swing and has made a lot of loud contact in the DSL and Gulf Coast League. He should continue to show consistent contact rates, but the Mariners could view Rodriguez as a real candidate for some swing adjustments and a little more power, as scouts do like his quick wrists and ability to cover the strike zone. He’s just an average runner with a 50-55 arm, so left field seems about right, but even without much power there’s a chance the bat value grows through on-base skills and a high average. 31. Carter Bins, C Bins’ swing was a mess most or all his college career with aggressive rotation and too many parts, but he knows the strike zone and uses a lot of the field. Seattle made progress in Year 1 with the swing and he smacked seven home runs in 49 games in Everett just weeks after signing. His bat speed is fringey, but he’s worked to shorten it with good results. Bins has some defensive chops, and looked better late in the year in terms of getting his glove down and using his feet for lateral range. He has terrific arm strength, but his accuracy was inconsistent at UNLV and his first stint in pro ball. Bins profiles as a backup led by above-average raw power and the ability to draw walks.
Since we’re just days from pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training, let’s continue the discussions, preview-style. First, we talked pitchers — starters and relievers alike — so now let’s go over every position player. All players on the 40-man roster and others invited to camp are discussed below. The Mariners, as a team, ranked No. 22 in runs scored a year ago. They finished No. 24 in batting average at .226, No. 26 in on-base percentage (.309) and No. 28 in slugging at .370. The club’s 91 wRC+ ranked No. 23. Seattle was 25th in the league with 60 home runs, 13th in walk rate (9.5%), and struck out 25% of the time, good for 8th-most in baseball. On the bases, the club finished No. 2 in the entire league behind the Colorado Rockies by one measure — rankings seen here. Defensively, the Mariners ranked No. 9 in MLB in Defensive Runs Saved, but several other metrics grade them below average. Of course, they did all that without their best player, and over a small sample, so caveats apply in either direction. Projections below are subject to change with roster additions. Projected Starting Infield The starting infield is going to look very similar to start 2021, with three returning starters and a part-timer from a year ago likely taking over regularly. Evan White, 1B 2020: .176/.252/.346, 8 HR, 8.9% BB, 41.6% K, 66 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR White was quite literally hit or miss in 54 games last season, struggling to make consistent contact and landing on the extreme edges in terms of batted balls — 84.7% registered as ground balls or fly balls, just 15.3% line drives. Hitting the ball hard is not an issue, as evidenced by his average exit velocity of 91.7 mph, hard-hit rate of 52.5%, and barrel percentage of 14.1, and neither is generating loft anymore, thanks to adjustments made in the minors. But he whiffed on more than 15% of his swings, the 16th-highest rate in all of baseball among batters with 200 or more plate appearances. There was a hole at the top of the zone and above his hands where opposing teams attacked with velocity, and he struggled mightily versus any kind of offspeed stuff. He’s the best defensive first baseman I’ve seen — ever — and can make plays with his feet, eyes, arm, and instincts, but to serve in a regular role in the majors he has a lot of areas to improve at the plate. The good news is, they’re the types of things that come with experience — plate coverage, overall discipline, swing consistency — and his chase rate last season of 28.4% is acceptable for a run producer. Dylan Moore, 2B 2020: .255/.358/.496, 8 HR, 8.8% BB, 27.0% K, 138 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR Moore was very good in 2020, but his sample is even smaller than most everyday players. He spent a stint on the IL and ended up with only 159 plate appearances in 38 games. Still, the results were promising, led by pop one normally doesn’t expect for a middle infielder, and speed one does. Moore played a lot of outfield last year but should be the regular second baseman to start 2021 — he’s earned that, regardless of the diplomatic position-battle chatter the club will toss out to the public all spring. Moore’s versatility is helpful, however, especially since the club is anything but deep up the middle. His ability to handle shortstop gives the Mariners roster flexibility — they don’t have to carry another player that can play shortstop, just one that can handle second base, and they have no shortage of that. The 28-year-old Moore made his living last season on fastballs — .333 AVG, 6 HR, .693 SLG — and was dominated by anything softer. He’ll have to make that rather large fix or his .255 batting average is likely to fall through the floor, and his power potential will follow. On a World Series contender, Moore is probably a solid utility player that received 300 PAs per season and can fill in admirably over the long haul if a starter suffers a significant injury. For now, he has a chance to be an average regular, and 2021 is going to tell us a lot about his chances to achieve that. J.P. Crawford, SS 2020: .255/.336/.338, 2 HR, 9.9% BB, 16.8% K, 94 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR Crawford has a solid 2020, despite continued streakiness and a lack of punch. He’s an above-average to plus glove, and that’s not going anywhere, and is very good on the bases despite average speed. At 26, there’s still time for the Gold Glover to break through at the plate, but it’s my opinion the swing he’s employing limits his ability to maximize his bat-to-ball skills. The plane, one of the line-drive variety, is ideal, since Crawford lacks the kind of raw power to take advantage of consistently hitting the ball in the air. But he gets his swing started a bit late, and I believe his hands are a tad high and a bit too far back toward the backstop as the pitch is released .In addition, there’s a bit of a bat wrap — the top of the bat is angled back toward the field, creating a longer path to get to the ball. Considering Crawford’s bat speed is merely average, these are real problems. As a result, Crawford gets jammed too easy and is too often late with the head of the bat. This makes him susceptible to, well, everything. If he cheats on hard stuff, soft stuff eats him alive. If he anticipates offspeed, he has no chance on fastballs. These issues also impact Crawford’s strike zone coverage. He makes consistent contact, it’s simply not consistently hard contact (31.1%), and he struggles to find the barrel (1.8%). I also don’t see proper balance, but that’s a longer conversation for another day. Even small improvements with the swing could show up in another 10-20 points in average and OBP, and may even unlock a little bit more power. He’s already a 2-win player, so more offense could shoot Crawford toward three. Kyle Seager, 3B 2020: .241/.355/.433, 9 HR, 12.9%, 13.3%, 118 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR If it doesn’t break, Seager hits it and hits it hard. That’s about where the veteran is as a hitter nowadays. He hit .260 with six homers and a .488 slugging percentage versus fastballs in 2020, and .321 with two home runs and a .536 slugging percentage versus splitters and changeups. Sliders and curveballs gave Seager fits, however, and carved his season down to decent. Seager’s contact skills remain high, but it may serve him well to be a bit more aggressive — he offered at just 40% of the pitches he saw last season — to decrease the number of breaking balls he sees. He’s using the whole field more effectively the past two seasons — particularly the middle of the field — and that game plan and mechanical adjustments have given Seager a better ability to cover the zone and find a few hits he wasn’t back in 2018. Seager did struggle late last season after a hit start, but the whole sample is small, so the struggles in September (.189) shouldn’t be overstated. But it’s also worth noting he posted a .371 OBP during that stretch, an extension of his improved ability to judge the strike zone and limit swings and misses. Seager enters his 11th and final season in Seattle with 207 career home runs and 280 doubles, both 4th in Mariners history. He’s also 4th in hits (1,267), 5th in runs scored, 4th in RBI, 5th in total bases, 5th in games (1,321) and 5th in rWAR (33.4) among position players. He can move into 4th all-time in games this season, and his defensive rWAR could surpass Dave Valle, Alex Rodriguez and Harold Reynolds to vault the third baseman into sixth place. Projected Starting Catcher Tom Murphy 2019: .273/.324/.535, 18 HR, 6.8% BB, 31.0% K, 126 wRC+, 3.2 fWAR Murphy, 29, got to his plus raw power in 2019, and missed 2020 recovering from knee surgery. He’s expected to be the No. 1 catcher this season, however, perhaps catching 55-60% of the games. While the power is real, there are reasons to wonder whether or not Murphy can replicate his 2019 offensive output. is strikeout rate is high, his BABIP of .340 is high, and there is more of a book on him now than prior to that season when he had just 210 big-league plate appearances spread out over the previous four seasons. Whether Murphy can do it again and over a full season remains to be seen, but I do believe he can hit .250/.300/.450 (considering the ball has been altered to somewhat limit the bounce). That, paired with solid-average defense, and Murphy could easily post a 2.5-win campaign, or better. Projected Starting Outfield Barring further additions to the roster, the Mariners will start the season with just two ‘starters’ in the outfield and what appears to be a timeshare of sorts in left field. Mitch Haniger, RF 2019: .220/.314/.463, 15 HR, 10.6% BB, 28.6% K, 106 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR Haniger’s 63-game sample in 2019 was weird. He hit for power — paced for 40 homers — although he wasn’t hitting the ball in the gaps much and his strikeout rate was up nearly 7% from the prior season. He did pull the ball significantly more in 2019 than any other year, which may have been by design, but it also may explain some of the inconsistencies in his ability to make contact. A healthy Haniger is a big boost to the Mariners lineup — again, I’d bat him leadoff and stop miscasting Crawford into a top-of-the-lineup role — and I’d be willing to bet on a return to form. In back-to-back seasons 2017-18, Haniger batted better than .280, posted an OBP over .350 (.352, .366) and slugged .490 or better with very consistent, sustainable batted ball data. Haniger swung through more fastballs in 2019 than ever before and there is evidence the cause was his attempts to elevate the ball more. If he’s healthy and gets back to his pre-2019 game plan, there’s no reason he can’t put up a 3.5-4 win season. Maybe better. There’s also a chance he does it with two teams. Kyle Lewis, CF 2020: .262/.364/.437, 11 HR, 14.0% BB, 29.3% K, 126 wRC+, 1.6 fWAR Lewis had a very good 58-game rookie season, spraying the ball around the yard and staying competitive versus fastballs, breaking balls and changeups alike. But Lewis should be more explosive, and in order to do that he has to get to his pull side more. Nearly 70% of his batted balls went up the middle or the other way, tied for 6th-most in baseball. Here are the top 6: Raimel Tapia DJ LeMahieu Whit Merrifield Jackie Bradley Jr. Kolten Wong Trea Turner See the common theme here? Yeah, those hitters have little in common with Lewis. They’re contact hitters, doubles hitters, and in the case of LeMahieu, a doubles hitter with some HR power that fits his home ballpark well. For context, among the top 25 home-run hitters in MLB in 2020, only three had pull rates under 35% (Nelson Cruz, Nicholas Castellanos, Juan Soto) and only seven pulled the balls under 40% of the time. Considering Lewis’ home park, a severe pull strategy doesn’t make much sense, but hitting a lot of balls to center field isn’t ideal, either, especially when most of them are of the fly ball variety. Lewis has 70 raw power. I’d rather he took more chances hitting fly balls to left and left-center than to center and to the opposite field. Slugging .437 is fine for a small sample for a young player, but the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year is more than capable of 30-40 homers while batting .260 or better with strong OBPs. Projected Starting DH Ty France 2020: ..305/.368/.468, 4 HR, 7.1% BB, 23.9% K, 132 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR France had a better season at the plate than Moore in a similar sample size, and he’s two years younger. So if you’re optimistic on Moore — and I am, at least for 2021 — you have to be encouraged by what France has shown so far. He’s a 40-grade second baseman and at-best a 45-grade third baseman — though the trend here is up — but he can fake at either spot and all signs point to France hitting. It’s 60 raw power and a chance to hit for average, suggesting his bat could carry him to an everyday role despite the defensive deficiencies. France’s average exit velocity wasn’t all that impressive last season — 85.7 mph — naturally leading to a pedestrain hard-hit rate of 29.8%, but just 16.3% of his batted balls registered as soft contact. That will lead to a lot of hits and suggests barrel awareness. His barrel rate of 8.7% backs up such a theory. France is likely to DH a lot in 2021, but he’s passable at first and third and considering how Seattle plays the shift versus left-handed batters he could be situationally playable as a second base option. Projected Reserves Luis Torrens, C 2020: .257/.325/.371, HR, 9.0% BB, 19.2% K, 96 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR. Torrens is a bat-first catcher at present, but has all the physical tools to be at least average defensively. He may be a bit too undersized to catch enough to ever be a true No. 1 option, but projects as a terrific pairing with Cal Raleigh. Torrens has always been selective and showed solid strike zone judgment in his cup of coffee last summer. He’s short to the ball with a line-drive stroke that serves all fields, and he stays back on breaking balls, suggesting consistent contact. The bat speed is above average and capable of producing the kinds of exit velos that generate a lot of doubles and at least a handful of long balls. Shed Long Jr., 2B/3B/LF 2020: .171/.242/.291, 3 HR, 8.6% BB, 28.9% K, 49 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR Long wasn’t healthy last season from the get-go and finally succumbed to surgery. In a 42-game sample two years ago, Long batted .263/.333/.454, which was more in line with his trends in the minors. He’s a good athlete with at least above-average speed, and is capable at second base. He has bits of experience at third base and left field, both of which may come into play in 2021. When healthy, Long stays home versus left-handed pitching and uses the whole field, and his average or better raw power shows up mainly versus righties. The swing is generally terrific, sans a bit of a hitch at its trigger point. But he’s quite adept at staying with himself and getting to his power organically. He has gap power to left-center and his two-strike swing is sound. I think Long is most likely a solid, multi-position reserve, but I do think the bat plays enough to warrant semi-regular time. Sam Haggerty, 2B/OF 2020: .260/.315/.400, HR, 7.4% BB, 29.6% K, 100 wRC+, 0.4 fWAR Haggerty is average at second base and may be able to fake it at shortstop in short stints, but his work in the outfield is promising enough to suggest he can serve as a true utility defender. There are things to like about the potential at the plate, but he gets out front a lot and swings and misses too much for a player without power. Still, the versatility and plus speed give him an inside track to making the club. Jose Marmolejos, 1B/OF 2020: .206/.261/.411, 6 HR, 6.1% BB, 27.8% K, 83 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR The 28-year-old isn’t a true outfielder, so despite above-average raw power he’s essentially a backup first baseman who struggled to hit for average in his first taste of the majors. I’m projecting Marmlejos to make the club, as of February 15, because as a bench option there is offensive potential, and because he’s out of options while some of the other competitors are not. If it were me, I’d DFA Marmolejos and start the season with two of the next four players below. Braden Bishop, OF 2020: .167/.242/.233, 5.9% BB, 29.4% K, 37 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR Bishop is a 65 runner with a 70 glove in center. While one look at his big-league numbers from the past two seasons may appear worrisome, he’s never been given an extended look. It’s always been here and there, optioned, called up, and injuries have played a role. While he doesn’t project to hit a bunch of home runs, there’s enough gap power available and he uses the opposite field adequately. With his defense and baserunning (though he’s not a great base stealer), all Bishop has to do is hit .250 with a league average on-base mark. This season may Bishop’s last chance to earn a role with the Mariners, and it’s plausible the club parts ways with Bishop — and a number of other fringe-roster types — prior to the start of the season. Ideally, at least in my opinion and considering the current roster, Bishop and Fraley start the season as the left-field timeshare until Jarred Kelenic is ready, whether that be April, May or June (bet on sooner than later). Depth Donovan Walton, 2B/SS 2020: .154/.214/.231, 7.1% BB, 35.7% K, 25 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR Walton can handle shortstop in a pinch and projects as average or better at second base. He’s an above-average runner with enough athleticism to suggest he could make a transition to the outfield in order to increase his value. Offensively he’s limited. There’s no discernable power, and his ability to hit line drives is below average. Walton has thrived off a high-contact, ground-ball attack. He has, however, always worked counts and reached base. Walton should start the season as Tacoma’s starting shortstop. Jake Fraley, OF 2020: .154/.241/.269, 6.9% BB, 37.9% K, 45 wRC+, -0.1 fWAR Fraley, like Bishop, has struggled in massively sporadic opportunities, despite production in Triple-A. Fraley isn’t the defender Bishop is, but he has more power to offer and a better overall outlook at the plate. He’ll need to make more contact, but it’s petty to harp on performance without a larger sample. While I think he and Bishop should team up as the left-field combo to start the season — barring a veteran addition to the roster — Fraley may end up starting in center for Tacoma whenever the MiLB season gets under way this spring. Taylor Trammell, OF Trammell did not play in the big leagues last season, but starts 2021 as a top-10 prospect in one of the top 10 farm systems in baseball. He’s a hit, run and defend player, but there’s untapped power potential, and he may be ready for the show sometime this season. I’ll have comps and tools grades for Trammell, and 39 other prospects later in February. Cal Raleigh, C Raleigh, a top-10 prospect, may debut in 2021, but he’s starting the season in the minors as Tacoma’s No. 1 catcher. There’s above-average power to offset a below-average but playable hit tool, and he makes up for a lack of prototypical athleticism with smarts, framing and throwing accuracy. The arm is at least average in strength. He’s a better left-handed hitter but he’s had enough success from the right side to maintain an advantage and continue switch hitting, though there’s also more power from the left side. Except to see Raleigh at some point in 2021, but likely later in the season, perhaps merely a September call-up. The new roster rules, however, increase the chances Raleigh is summoned prior to the mandatory 28-man rosters the final month of the regular season. Sam Travis, 1B/OF Travis offers a chance to hit for average with average power, but at 27 he’s depth at first base, and might be Tacoma’s starter if he remains with the org throughout spring training. Brian O’Keefe, C O’Keefe, 27, is back with Seattle for Year 2 after spending six years in the Cardinals system. O’Keefe leaves a lot to be desired defensively, though there’s been progress the past two years. He offers 60 raw power, but a 35-grade hit tool has held him back. O’Keefe may be the frontrunner to start 2021 as Raleigh’s catching mate in Tacoma, though he does have competition. Jarred Kelenic, OF Kelenic has played 21 games above Advanced-A ball yet we’re certain to see him at T-Mobile in 2021. He won’t turn 22 until July, so he likely debuts at 21, and brings a little bit of everything to the table as a player. He can defend — he’s more than playable in center, though as he’s filled out he’s lost some first-step explosion — he can throw, he carries above-average speed into the season, and the hit and power tools are well above average. There’s great potential for the weirdest scenario to develop for Kelenic and the Mariners. Let’s say Seattle leaves Peoria with a plan to call up Kelenic once the service time threshold passes just over two weeks into the season. That would make it roughly the middle of April. The MiLB season isn’t likely to start until May at the earliest with current plans to limit the number of players at the complexes to the ‘big league’ camps. Kelenic could, in theory, stay back in Peoria for a little over two weeks, then join the Mariners somewhat cold, not having real games to play in the meantime. He’d essentially have an extended spring training. Either way, the club’s top prospect will be seen at The Mobi pretty early in the season. Carter Bins, C Bins is a defensive-minded backstop, but has bat speed and good strike zone judgment, suggesting there’s power to be found. He carries a backup profile into the season, and likely starts 2021 in Everett, oddly, where he’s played every game of his career thus far. Julio Rodriguez, OF He comes with star-level upside led by 65 raw power, but he’s a decent athlete and should be able to hold down right field where he has a 65 or 70-grade arm and likes to prove it. In many defensive regards, he’s very Jay Buhner-like. He has a lot of work to do, however, and represents one of the more intriguing player development decisions of the spring for the Mariners: Where does Rodriguez begin his 2021 season? He just turned 20 in late December, has just 97 games of professional experience and has just 84 games above rookie ball — 17 of those finished out the 2019 season in Advanced-A. He was hurt for much of last summer and his only real development time has come this winter, and without good results. The smart route is Double-A Arkansas to start, with an open mind as to how quickly he can move to Triple-A. The goal here should be to expose to him to the best pitching possible while giving him a real chance to have some success in the meantime. Let him make an adjustment or two, put it into play with good results for at least a few months, then move up a level. Dillon Thomas, OF Thomas, 28, was a fourth-round pick in 2011 by the Rockies and reached as high as Triple-A. He spent all of 2019 in Double-A with the Brewers. He’s a big swinger with above-average raw power. There’s been far too much swing and miss in his game, but he runs well and is a solid defender in the outfield corners. Jantzen Witte, 1B/3B Witte, 31, spent seven seasons in the Boston Red Sox organization and comes to Seattle as corner-infield depth. He has a shot to stick as an option in Triple-A Tacoma. Witte has never hit for power, however, so this signing and invite remain as puzzling as it was when the ink was damp. Josh Morgan, C Morgan just turned 25 and is a converted infielder, having just started to catch in 2018 (319 innings that year, nine in 2019). As a bat he has patience and discipline, but no real power, but his athleticism suggests a chance to catch. He’s been adding strength and good weight to his frame. Jordan Cowan, 2B Cowan, a product of Kentlake High School, doesn’t wow you in any manner, but after seven years has a career .270 average in the minors and is capable at second, short and third. Jose Godoy, C Godoy has shown big-league defensive abilities, including an above-average throwing arm. The swing needs a lot of work abut he offers legit bat speed, and bats left-handed, sometime a slight advantage for catchers when all else is equal. Godoy has a good chance to beat out O’Keefe for a spot on Tacoma’s roster to work with Raleigh. Eric Filia, OF Filia has hit for average at every level, but has failed three drug tests and served two suspensions. He also was suspended at UCLA for plagiarism. So, despite the hit tool, there are some off-the-field concerns. But personally, my concerns in regards to the failed drug tests are about Filia the person, not Filia the baseball player. They were drugs of abuse, not PEDs. On the field, I also have issues with Filia’s prospects. Yes, he’s hit everywhere, carrying a career .320 average and .412 OBP in the minors into spring training. But he’s also always been old for the level at every stop but one, and offers little to zero defensive value. He was 23 when he batted .362/.450/.496 in short-season ball in 2016. He was more than a year older than the average player the following season in Modesto when he hit .326/.407/.434. That trend continue until 2019 when he was exactly the average age of his peers in the PCL. Without power or defensive value, it’s difficult to project Filia as more than an up-and-down, part-time player. He’s now 27 and running out of time. Luis Liberato, OF There was a time Liberato was merely a good athlete that lacked instincts in all facets. While he doesn’t project to hit enough for the majors, he does offer plus speed and above-average defense in center. He also throws well, and with accuracy. Liberato isn’t much of a prospect anymore at 25 and having not hit above Class-A Modesto.
Unless regular-scheduled programming is preempted by an agreement between the owners and the MLBPA, the Seattle Mariners, and 29 other clubs, are due to report for spring training in the next several days. This suggests at least a near-complete list of report-date rosters, so let’s go through this group by group. Projected Starting Rotation With the Mariners sticking with a six-man rotation, much to the apparent chagrin of one Marco Gonzales, bless his heart (I agree with him), it looks like their six are already in camp — barring a last-second free-agent addition or trade that ultimately upgrades the unit, which isn’t a far-fetched possibility. Marco Gonzales SNK: 87-90 (45.3%) CUT: 84-86 (24.3%) CB: 74-77 (16.1%) CH: 80-82 (14.4%) One of the more underappreciated players in baseball, Gonzales is coming off 3.5, 3.7 and 2.0 fWAR season, the latter in just 11 starts. It’s plus-plus control, plus command and two above-average pitches, including a cutter that allows him to pitch effectively on the edges versus right-handed batters. His changeup is typically at least average and has flashed plus, but he didn’t even have it for most of 2020. It’s a unique skill set in 2021, but Gonzales induces weak contact by punching the entire strike zone with his variety of stuff, despite the lack of velocity. His sinker doesn’t induce ground balls (8.5% of balls in play in 2020) and he doesn’t generate a lot of swings and misses (8.4%) with anything. Gonzales is the left-handed Kyle Hendricks, and it’s about time folks start realizing it. UPDATE: The Mariners’ signing of Paxton changes the rotation projection. James Paxton (2019) 4FB: 93-97 (53.7%) 2FB: 93-96 (6.2%) CUT: 84-87 (20.2%) CB: 80-83 (18.6%) CH: 84-87 (1.2%) Paxton made just five starts in 2020 but was up to 94 in a workout in late December in front of several clubs. When hes right, he’ll live at 95-plus and dominate with a plus knuckle curveball and keep-honest cutter-slider. At times the cutter is plus, too, and he’s flashed a useful changeup. Seattle gave him $8.5 million guaranteed, so we can assume they believe he’s healthy and will start the season as one of their six rotations arms. Yusei Kikuchi 4FB: 93-97 (37.5%) CUT: 91-94 (39.9%) SL: 82-85 (16.0%) CH: 85-88 (6.3%) Kikuchi took a step forward in 2020, posting a 3.30 FIP in nine starts. While his control took a few step backs (10.3% walks versus 6.9% in 2019), his strikeout rate went up 50% to 24.2% and he posted a 12.1% swinging strike rate, up nearly four percent from the previous season. He also induced more ground balls by nearly eight percent, perhaps as a result of the increased use of the cutter, which was classified as a slider in 2019. The slider he used in ’20 was a better version, nearly three miles-per-hour slower, and he ditched the mid-70s curveball, which looked pretty but was a hanger waiting to happen. In general, Kikuchi needs to throw more strikes, particularly early un counts to avoid 2-0 and 3-1 counts, and if he could get a bit more from his changeup and slider we could look up at the end of the season and see an average or better 26-28-start season. Justus Sheffield SNK: 91-95 (47.2%) SL: 81-84 (33.5%) CH: 85-88 (18.4%) Seattle has essentially turned Sheffield from a thrower to a pitcher. He’s using a sinker instead of a four-seam fastball and it’s helped the lefty stay off the barrel and continue to generate ground balls. The slider is plus and a legitimate mid-level swing-and-miss offering, and the changeup had its moments and was regularly a part of his attack. The next step for Sheffield is command. He improved his ability to throw strikes with a more consistent, athletic delivery in 2020 versus 2019, but locating his fastball better, particularly versus right-handed batters, sets up the southpaw for a strong mid-rotation role. Chris Flexen 4FB: 91-95 SL: 85-89 CB: 77-80 CH: 82-85 Flexen spent 2020 in the KBO and enters 2021 as a rather large unknown in terms of how his stuff will play versus big-league bats. Flexen is built like a starter and has the delivery for it, bit in his time with the New York Mets (2018-19) he was used in relief and had problems throwing strikes in short stays. His numbers in Korea line up with his minor league performances, though, so it’s not entirely out of line with his abilities, at least in terms of throwing strikes. He used his curveball a lot more last season, which appears to be a big reason why he had success in 21 starts (2.74 FIP, 116.2 IP). Whether it’s a swing-and-miss pitch in the states remains to be seen, but Seattle is committed to giving him a chance to start for the long haul. The good news is, the raw stuff suggests it should at least be fun. Justin Dunn 4FB: 90-93 (53.8%) SL: 82-85 (15.2%) CB: 78-81 (23.8%) CH: 86-88 (6.0%) Dunn battled in 2020, but barely survived innings and starts. He ended the year with a FIP and xFIP over six, a 45% hard-hit rate and 19.2%-15.7% strikeouts-to-walks comparison. Too many walks and hard-hit balls, and not enough strikeouts, especially considering the flyball stuff. The lazy projection here is to banish Dunn to the bullpen, but I’m not sure that’s the answer for the right-hander, who saw his fastball dip a full tick, sometimes two, from mid-season 2019 to late-season 2019 and all of 2020. Velocity isn’t the only issue, however. Neither breaking ball looked better than fringe-average and there’s no semblance of a useful changeup. Not pretending to know what Seattle plans to do with Dunn, but unless there’s significant improvement shown in March he’ll warrant a trip back to the minors. Dunn’s stuff must become more consistently competitive to last in the majors. Rotation Depth Nick Margevicius 4FB: 88-92 (64.1%) SL: 83-86 (15.8%) CB: 69-72 (11.4%) CH: 81-84 (8.7%) Margevicius, who won’t turn 25 until June, and added two mphs to his fastball in 2020, touching 93 and seeing 91-92 just about every time out, starter or reliever. It’s a legit four-pitch mix with average command and above-average strike-throwing, but there’s no sign of an out pitch and the stuff has flyball tendencies. Essentially, Margevicius is a poor-man’s Marco Gonzales, but with some upside considering age and physical projection I like Margevicius as a sleeper if he’s given the chance to start consistently. He may get that chance from the outset in 2021 if Dunn is moved to the bullpen or shipped to Tacoma early. Ljay Newsome 4FB: 90-93 (49.4%) CB: 76-79 (26.7%) CH: 83-86 (23.9%) Newsome held his velo this past summer, which is a good sign it’s here to stay after the right-hander built up his arm strength and arm speed in 2019. The stuff was rather ordinary in 2020, but he focused on a three-pitch attack and pounded the strike zone. He’s shown a cutter in the minors which may be unveiled in 2021 in attempt to compete better versus left-handed hitters, who crushed him in 2020 (.379/.400/.724) in 30 batters faced. We also didn’t see the good changeup much, which impacted his ability to pitch to lefties, too. I don’t see a good chance the stuff ticks up enough for a high-value relief role, but a valuable swing arm or back-end starter remains within his projection. Robert Dugger SNK: 91-93 (10.8%) 4FB: 91-94 (42.9%) SL: 80-84 (26.9%) CB: 75-78 (16.5%) CH: 83-85 (2.8%) Dugger could find himself in a relief role where he may have a better chance to see the majors in 2021 for Seattle, but he’s primarily been a starter with mixed results, both in the minors and in the show. He has 45 big-league innings the past two seasons but ha shad problems missing bats and keeping the ball in the yard, a combo with which pitchers never want to be associated. Dugger is athletic with good arm speed. The curveball is above-average with two plane break and the slider flashes as a weapon. It’s a power arsenal but without the big fastball, though there’s good run to his arm side and he gets some ride up in the zone, too. As a full-time reliever we could see a bigger uptick in velo, so keep an eye on that this spring. Logan Gilbert (NRI) 4FB: 92-96 CB: 75-78 SL: 81-85 CH: 84-87 Gilbert doesn’t have great stuff, but it’s good, and it’s consistent, as is his present 50-grade command. The changeup still lags behind both breaking balls, but there’s a foundation there and it will flash above-average. He’s built like a frontline arm and despite less-than-elite velocity, he will touch 96-97 at times and simply needs to show he can stay out of the middle of the zone, both vertically and horizontally. He’s unlikely to make the club out of spring training, but as long as he’s healthy he’ll see a lot of innings in the majors in 2021. Roenis Elias (NRI) 4FB: 93-96 (50.9%) SNK: 92-96 (4.8%) CB: 76-79 (13.3%) CH: 85-88 (29.1%) Elias opted out last season and split 2019 between the Mariners and the Nationals. He was traded to Washington with RHP Hunter Strickland in exchange for RHP Elvis Alvarado, and lefties Taylor Guilbeau and Aaron Fletcher. His arm should be fresh and his changeup has been more of a weapon for him the past two seasons. Elias is the most likely NRI to make the club. Darren McCaughan (NRI) 4FB: 90-94 CB: 77-81 CH: 84-88 McCaughan’s stuff suggests relief work, as does the delivery. He throws a lot of fastballs and the secondaries need a lot of work from an aesthetic standpoint, but he hides the ball well and the movement on the hard changeup is late and to his arm side. He also throws from a lower arm slot — I’d call it slightly below 3/4 — and might offer a chance at a good sinker-slider combo if the club points him in the direction of relief work. Ian McKinney (NRI) 4FB: 88-93 CB: 75-78 CH: 81-84 McKinney is undersized but repeats his delivery well and owns what might be the best curveball in the organization — including the top prospects and current big-league arms. His fastball sits 89-91 mph, but will touch 93 with life, and plays up thanks to a deceptive delivery. McKinney’s changeup is useful, too, and he’ll live on the outer edge versus right-handed batters with all three pitches. He throws strikes and can locate the breaking ball. His severe reverse splits create some fog in his projection. Either way, the size and stuff suggest swing arm or multi-inning reliever, but there’s pitchability and playable stuff here if deployed strategically, and 2021 could be the year he gets a shot. Keep an eye on McKinney as a bullpen option. Projected Bullpen I’ll go eight deep here, even with a six-man rotation, since the roster will be at 26. We may even see times there are nine relievers, which is too many, but until the league adds a pitcher limit this is the world in which we live. Rafael Montero 4FB: 94-98 (49.5%) SNK: 94-97 (24.2%) SL: 85-88 (7.3%) CH: 88-91 (20.8%) Montero is a fastball-changeup arm, using two heaters in 2020 to mix up the movement and allow him to pitch to more areas of the zone effectively. He was very good versus both lefties and righties in 2020, though RHBs got him for decent pop (.452 SLG). This is where the below-average slider impacts the results and puts more pressure on Montero’s fastball command. He’ll get the first shot to serve as closer, though I sense the Mariners may deploy their bullpen a little differently in 2021 than in years past. If so, Montero will see more time in the 8th inning instead of being saved for the save. Kendall Graveman 4FB: 93-97 (8.5%) 2FB: 93-97 (59.6%) CUT: 89-92 (9.7%) CB: 78-81 (5.5%) CH: 87-90 (16.7%) I still prefer Graveman as a starter, but his injury appears to be the driving force to relief work. In order to make it work, we may see the veteran pare down his arsenal a bit, and could see an increase in four-seamers — or fastballs in general — up in the zone. The curveball is his worst pitch — and his least used — so unless there’s a plan involving improvement with that offering, it may be the first to go. Graveman is difficult to project for lack of experience in a bullpen role, but as a starter he’s been hit pretty hard, hasn’t missed bats, and his ground ball rate was down to 48.1% last season. I think of Graveman as the Wild Card for the Mariners; if his stuff ticks up and he’s able to find more whiffs, he could be Montero’s main setup man. Otherwise, and most likely, he’ll fit a multi-inning middle role who shouldn’t be asked to dig the club out of tough situations. Keynan Middleton 4FB: 95-99 (59.0%) SL: 86-89 (22.4%) CH: 87-90 (18.6% Middleton’s intrigue starts with the fastball, which is occasionally into triple digits with elite spin rates, suggesting there may be room to miss more bats with it. He does a good job avoiding the barrel and both secondaries produce swings and misses. He hasn’t remained health since 2017 thanks to Tommy John surgery and at least one significant setback in his recovery, but the velo was back in 2020. Control has held back the right-hander, too, starting with a career 10% walk rate. Anthony Misiewicz 4FB: 92-96 (24.4%) CUT: 89-91 (52.4%) CB: 81-84 (23.2%) Misiewicz has good enough stuff to turn into a Swiss Army Knife option out of the bullpen, covering multiple innings and dominating left-handed batters (.216/.256/.243 in 2020). He struggled versus right-handed hitters, however, enough to suggest he’ll need to be better to warrant such a role, or even more than a bridge in the middle of the game. Only five relievers in MLB used their cutters more than Misiewicz, but that’s certainly not a bad thing, in and of itself. Perhaps more curveballs — his best swing-and-miss pitch — can help, but this may be about fastball command. For now, he remains one of the more reliable arms in the Mariners bullpen, and carries some upside into the season — his first full year in the big leagues. Casey Sadler 2FB: 92-95 (35.3%) CUT: 88-90 (23.0%) CB: 79-82 (37.1%) Sadler flashed a bit the past two seasons split between four clubs, but saw a spike in swinging strike percentage to 12.9 in 19.1 innings a year ago and that rate held steady in seven appearances with the Mariners in September. The curveball is the out pitch, posting 44.4% whiff rate and 28% put-away rate in 2020. He’s out of options, so if it’s a close race for one of the spots, Sadler may win out as a result, but he might just be a solid middle reliever if he can get enough from his fastball and cutter to get the the curveball with two strikes. Yohan Ramirez 4FB: 94-97 (59.8%) SL: 81-84 (40.2%) Unlike a year ago the Mariners can option Ramirez to Triple-A for more work and there’s certainly a chance they do that from the get-go in 2021. The next veteran reliever signing to guaranteed dollars may very well suggest that’s the plan, if the club isn’t there already. Ramirez is athletic with a loose arm and he’s up to 98 mph with the fastball. There’s life on the pitch and enough of it to avoid the barrel, setting up a slider that carries plus upside (43% whiff, 27% put-away). Even fringe-average strike throwing likely turns Ramirez into a setup type, but he walked 21.3% of the batters he faced in 2020. Will Vest 4FB: 93-98 SL: 85-88 CH: 83-86 As a starter in the Florida State League back in 2018, Vest was 92-94 mph with a two-seamer, backed by a power slider at 84-86 and developing changeup, Since then, in relief and employing a more aggressive approach and delivery, the velocity has ticked up (mostly 94-96, but some 97-98, reportedly), the slider has more shape, and the changeup is more consistent with better velocity differential off the fastball. He’s athletic, and the delivery has become repeatable, suggesting there’s stuff and command growth to follow, which, in turn, suggests Vest has a good chance to not only stay up all season as a Rule 5 pick but help the Mariners bullpen and project well for the future. One scout told me if the slider keeps going in the direction it is, it’s plus, and Vest is a legitimate three-pitch option. Erik Swanson 4FB: 94-97 (74.5%) SL: 87-89 (17.4%) CH: 81-84 (6.7%) Swanson is a bubble arm to start the spring and has options left, but he flashed at 99 mph last summer to prove the arm strength is there for a successful transition. But he’ll need more than velocity to get there; the slider is well below average, the control is fine but the command is not and we’ve yet to see him string together consistent outings. I’m curious about the development of the changeup, which, even if not a plus offering, could help relieve the stress on everything else, but first and foremost on the lost of things to do has to be getting that slider up to par. Bullpen Depth Brandon Brennan SNK: 92-95 (31.8%) CH: 82-85 (38.5%) SL: 85-88 (37.6%) A healthy Brennan is a favorite to make the club, so he’s only down in here because, well, he missed most of 2020 part of 2019 with injuries. But he also has has issues throwing strikes consistently, rolling out a 12.2% walk rate in 44 games back in 2019, the last available qualifying sample. When he’s right, Brennan is consistently 92-94 mph with armside run and sink and a plus changeup that flashes plus-plus. Both pitches induce ground balls at a high rate. Brady Lail (NRI) SNK: 89-92 (20.0%) CUT: 84-87 (15.3%) CB: 78-81 (19.3%) CH: 85-87 (15.0%) Lail reminds me some of Nick Vincent, sans the high-zone four-seam fastball value that essentially made Vincent what he was. Lail’s mix is fringey, but the curveball, changeup, and sinker are average pitches. Considering the ordinary stuff, Lail’s control and command need to be better. He’s walked 10% of the batters he’s faced as a major leaguer, and with no swing-and-miss pitch it’s all about weak contact. Joey Gerber 4FB: 92-95 (27.5%) SNK: 92-95 (37.8%) SL: 83-86 (34.8%) Gerber’s stuff didn’t show well in the big leagues last season; I’ve seen him 93-97 with more arm side run and a better slider. If he’s going to make the club and eventually stay in the majors he’ll need the slider to pitch away from right-handed batters and induce whiffs. Gerber’s 9.7% strikeout rate screams the need for adjustments, but he did keep the ball in the yard, as he has in the minors, and there’s likely more of which to take advantage with his deceptive delivery, so I still think he’s a quality arm, he just happens to be one without high probability to start 2021 hot — or in the bigs. Domingo Tapia 4FB: 96-101 (38.8%) SNK: 97-101 (37.5%) SL: 85-88 (18.8%) Tapia, who also has a nearly-never used low-90s changeup, is all arm strength at this point. He does get some swings and misses from the heater, though, so it’s a great place to start. Problem is, he’s 29 and the slider as been stagnant for years, so it appears it will take a brand new idea to get a second pitch into the holster. Aaron Fletcher SNK: 92-95 (65.3%) SL: 80-83 (21.5%) CH: 79-82 (13.2%) Fletcher’s stuff outweighs his present ability to execute it effectively. In the minors, the lefty pounded the strike zone with his fastball and swept the slider for some whiffs and called strikes. There’s deception in the delivery but he needs to repeat to become a factor and ultimately use the secondaries more often. The bullpen may be comprised of a starter such as Newsome or Dugger if they don’t make the club as a starter, and Andres Munoz is expected to be back over the summer; Munoz was acquired from the San Diego Padres in the trade that sent Austin Nola to the NL West. Sam Delaplane Delaplane is a reliever-only fastball-curveball arm likely built for short outings. The four-seamer is up to 95 mph and the curveball is a tight spinner with downward break, potentially a swing-and-miss pitch. Wyatt Mills Mills is a sidearmer with a sinker-slider combo. He’s up to 97 mph and comfortably 92-94 with natural sink and run. Juan Then Then is still on track to see the rotation in Modesto, but could move quickly in a relief role. He was up to 99 mph in the fall and his slider has sharpened since the trade from the Yankees. Gerson Bautista (NRI) Coming off injury, Bautista is looking to get his velocity back, but also show vast improvement to his control. The slider is average or better and he misses bats with a 94-99 mph fastballs. JT Chargois (NRI) The sinker-slider righty is up to 98 mph and whiffed 31.8% of the batters he faced in 21.1 innings with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019. If he’s healthy and throws strikes in March, he’s making the club. Nick Duron (NRI) The 25-year-old is a loose-armed right-hander up to 96 mph in relief. He has a low-to-mid-80s sider and a 40-grade changeup he doesn’t use much out of the bullpen. More likely to serve as depth in Triple-A. Moises Gomez (NRI) Gomez, 24, came over from the Twins organization. He’s 95-99 mph with an average slider, and has always missed bats. He’s a pure reliever likely set to start the season in the upper minors, but if he finds a way to throw more strikes he could find his way to the majors by year’s end. Taylor Guerrieri (NRI) Sinker up to 96 mph, curveball, and changeup, but the right-hander has battled injuries on his path to the big leagues. Spent 2020 with the Texas Rangers (5.38 FIP, 22% K, 18% BB), putting up good ground ball numbers. Matt Magill (NRI) At times, Magill was the Mariners best reliever in 2019, especially the second half of the season once GM Jerry Dipoto had traded away the seasoned veterans in July. Fastball up to 96, above-average curveball, average cutter. If healthy, good shot to make the club. Vinny Nittoli (NRI) Nittoli is now 30 and has yet to make his big-league debut, but he’s up to 95 mph and pitches well up in the zone thanks to some run and ride. The slider is at least average and breaks late, and the curveball flashes, too. Paul Sewald (NRI) The four-year veteran is 91-94 with a slider and changeup. He was serviceable 2017-2019, but struggled in five outings last season. Drew Steckenrider (NRI) The 30-year-old didn’t pitch in 2020, but lives in the mid-90s with a power curveball. He needs to find the zone more consistently, but the raw stuff is there. Jimmy Yacabonis (NRI) The right-hander is up to 95 with a two-seamer to set up a projectable slider and fringe-average changeup. Penn Murfee Murfee’s neither on the 40-man roster nor on the non-roster invitee list, but I think he should be. He doesn’t throw hard, but is another sidearmer with command and a good slider. In relief the fastball may tick up a bit.
I’m sensing four things buzzing around the ‘sphere that is Seattle Mariners fandom. One, that the Mariners’ rebuild is very close to complete. Two, that the club’s efforts will go off without a hitch. Three, that successful rebuilds means a World Series, and otherwise it’s a failure. And four, that if the rebuild isn’t successful that it was a mistake in the first place. None of the above are true. Let’s chat. What Makes for a Successful Rebuild? Most in the industry would agree a successful rebuild can mean different things. Of course, a World Series appearance, win or lose, will certainly bear the aesthetics of a successful rebuilding project. For Seattle, it’s about opening an extended window of opportunity, and that opportunity should result in several playoff-caliber teams and at least one legitimate chance at a World Series — hopefully two or more — over the course of 5-plus seasons. Anything short of that and it would be fair to suggest the rebuild didn’t work. One can argue, however, a rebuild is successful if it simply improves the long-term health of the organization and paves the way for better times, or as one front-office exec said this winter, “are they better off, ultimately and for the long haul, for having gone through that process? If so, that’s healthy progress, and good process. That’s the floor, and a lot better than spending a $160 million, $170 million, for what amounts to a mediocrity … on the upside.” But there’s some gray area between success and failure. It’s really not plausible to believe the Mariners’ “reimagining” can end in failure, considering the foundation has unequivocally been set up for long-term success. But a true success? While this neutral patch includes a lot of subjectivity, it’s difficult to see tossing the ‘success’ label on it if there aren’t playoff appearances … plural. So, What if There Aren’t Multiple Postseason Berths? Whether or not the club’s rebuild ends in the kind of success that includes several playoff appearances, it was the right move for the Mariners after the 2018 season. The roster and payroll situation was on the fast-track to nowhere, and GM Jerry Dipoto took full advantage of the assets he had before they lost value by way of service time and/or performance. And at the very least, Dipoto has put together strong scouting and player development department, and replenished the farm system into near-elite status. What that does is reduce the risk of the rebuild itself — the exact opposite of running out pricey, aging veterans year after year and hoping for the best, which is what the club did the five season prior to Dipoto’s arrival, and to a lesser extent the first three of his tenure. But the Mariners didn’t just start a rebuild after the 2018 season, they changed their DNA, which may be the most underappreciated aspect of the entire process, and one that pretty much is never discussed by, well, anyone. Even once the club is no longer in what is often referred to as ‘rebuild mode,’ among other terms, they’re not going to conduct business in the same manner as before. We saw some of this in action prior to the 2018-19 offseason, but it’s clear Dipoto is capable of — and prefers — eating clean, so to speak. A safer, more organic manner in which to acquire high-end talent, and now with some evidence rearing it’s gorgeous face in the majors that it’s working. The way Dipoto has gone about things the past two years isn’t going to change. Sure, at some point soon — starting now, really, at least on some level — the club will start acquiring more proven talents rather than focusing on long-term impact and control years, but operational strategies will remain. The ‘what’ will be different, the ‘how’ will not, and that’s perhaps the most meaningful difference between Dipoto’s Mariners and the regimes that came before over the last 15-plus seasons. The yet-to-be-asked-or-addressed question now is “how long without ‘success’ markers, i.e. a few postseason berths, before the rebuilding efforts can be deemed unsuccessful?” When asked, a handful of assistant GMs and other front office types varied in response. “I think it depends on the expectations,” a Mariners rival exec said. “If you’re the Cubs right now, you’re not going to accept three or four losing seasons in a row, not in that market. So once all the revenues return, the clock starts ticking. With those resources, Jed (Hoyer) won’t get five years without winning some. It’s a different kind of rebuild — it’s more of a retool, and success means fighting in the heavyweight class. If you’re the Pirates, Ben Cherington is going to get time, he deserves time, and his job will be safe, and should be, if he gets them back to October at all.” A former GM agrees about expectations, but more specific to Seattle’s situation said “we should stop talking about (mid-market teams and small-market teams) like they shouldn’t have the same expectations, at least internally, and they all should act like it, so it’s apparent to the rest of baseball and the fans. But if you told me in five years Seattle (has home-field advantage in) a few playoff series, or better? That’s a success. Look at where they were, and you can build on whatever the results of their current efforts are, too.” Fans are always going to have their own standards, and the club’s own hopes certainly play a role, but I’ll stick with my ‘it’s already a non-failure’ tag until testing is complete and calls for more final grades. Is the Rebuild Almost Complete? Will it go off Without a Hitch? No, it’s not almost complete, and no it will not go smoothly. When the club set out on their path to rebuild pretty much from scratch, it had the look of a 5-year process. They’ve moved along a little faster than did the Houston Astros, who lost 416 games the first four seasons of their tear-down last decade and didn’t win more than 86 games until Year 7 when they started a three-year run of 101 or more victories. They got back to respectability for two years prior to that run, winning 86 and 84 games respectively in Years 5 and 6., and the Mariners’ pace appears set to get to this point by Year 3 or 4. But the resulting high-point of the process may not hit a the same level, and it may take just as long as it took Houston to get there. On the fast track, the Mariners’ ‘rebuild’ won’t be complete for at least two years, and there’s a decent chance it takes even longer. The hope, and it’s a reasonable one at that, is the club can win some during the latter years of the rebuilding stages, which may consist of 2022 and 2023, if not 2021 as well. And here’s where the “will not go smoothly” comes into play. A hurtful chunk of the young talent the club has acquired over the last two-plus years will either take longer than is ideal to develop into the impact players the club needs them to be, or they’ll fail to reach such levels altogether, which in turn can, and likely will, prolong the club’s efforts to turn into a contending club. In a perfect world, Kyle Lewis takes a full step forward and looks like a star, Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert hit the majors in 2021 and prove their worth, show flashes of impact performances and by the end of the 2022 season look like all-stars in their own right, while the next wave, Cal Raleigh, George Kirby, Emerson Hancock, Julio Rodriguez, start their own process toward similar outcomes. But that’s not the way it works. Prospects fail, they struggle, sometimes even the best talents take years to develop, and sometimes they just don’t turn out to be the core pieces clubs hope they will be. This is yet another reason why a club in Seattle’s current position, has no business moving potential high-impact talent — the Mariners need to throw as many darts at the board as they possibly can to land on a core they can build upon through such impact trades and/or free agent signings in order to get to where they want to be. Thus far, Dipoto has gathered quite the assortment of arrows in his quiver, and if one breaks there’s another behind it ready to be fired at the target. But there will be misses. Take the Astros, who reached the ultimate pinnacle, winning a World Series and getting to two as a result of the rebuilding process they began after the 2010 season. In 2015 they were hoping Jonathan Singleton would break through. They even gave him the Evan White contract two years prior. Singleton struggled so mightily he was DFA’d in November, 2016. Houston was also high on catcher Hank Conger, who didn’t pan out, 1B A.J. Reed, and catcher Jason Castro, who was good enough to stick for awhile but never became what they hoped he would. The same can be said for OF Preston Tucker, and 1B Tyler White. Add right-handers Jordan Lyles and Jared Cosart, 3B Matt Dominguez, and CF Jake Marisnick to the mix. At some level, and at some point between 2012 and 2016 when the club broke through, all of those players failed to reach the kind of impact status the Astros hoped. So rather than busting through in 2013, 2014 or 2015, it took until 2016 — Year 7 of the rebuild — for the Astros to do some damage. We can go through every legitimate rebuild of the last 20 years and come to the same results, and find even more glaring examples, but the Astros’ rebuild was highly successful, and was more recent than others, so it serves as perhaps the best precedent available for this conversation. So, since there will be misses along the way as Seattle moves toward competitive rosters and mostly organically, the path from bad to mediocre, mediocre to to good, and good to great, will be anything but a smooth ride. Now, if you asked me, right now, if I think Seattle wins 90 or more games before what would be Year 7 since the rebuild began — 2025 — I’d say yes, and I’d put my money where my mouth is. But keep your seatbelts fastened, because it’s unlikely to be right around corner, and it’s absolutely not going to come without potholes.
Yes, the title reads like a bit of an oxymoron, but that’s done purposefully in order to make sure we’re talking about talents with a high-percentage chance to show up in future MLB stories. The pool of players I’m working off is MLB.com’s Top 100 as of December 15, 2020. Here are the eight most underrated top prospects, and why. Ryan Mountcastle, 1B/DH — Baltimore Orioles MLB RANK: 90 Mountcastle raked in 140 plate appearances in the majors in 2020 (.333/.386/.492) and has a long track record off hitting for average and power in the minors. He’s limited to first base or DH thanks to a poor throwing arm that gets a lot of 30s and 35s from scouts, but he’s a decent athlete who projects to hit .280 with 25-30 homer power, and he’s clearly ready to face big-league arms (again). Reid Detmers, LHP — Los Angeles Angels MLB RANK: 75 He’s yet to lace ’em up in pro ball, but Detmers should be a quick study thanks to plus command and control and a 65 curveball. He’s a good athlete, repeats a deceptive delivery, and the value in his ETA suggests 75 is a 10-20 spots low. Francisco Alvarez, C — New York Mets MLB RANK: 58 Alvarez has a traditional catcher’s build and is tooled up from a plus throwing arm to defensive instincts and an above-average hit tool that may end up plus. There’s some funk to his non-stride, but it’s conservative if anything. He’s 2-3 years away, but the profile itself is too unique and as risk averse as it gets for young backstops that 58 just too too low. Brennen Davis, OF — Chicago Cubs MLB RANK: 72 Davis is a five-tool prospect with at least above-average grades across the board, including plus speed and projectable power that could end up his best tool. He’s still maturing physically, but showed an advanced skillset considering he was 20 years old posting a .305/.381/.525 slash in the Midwest League. He has a real chance to stick in center and the trends are all pointing sky high. Davis has big-time bat speed, generates easy leverage and loft, and covers the zone well for his age and experience. No. 72 is minimum 15-20 spots low. Sam Huff, C — Texas Rangers MLB RANK: 69 Huff’s raw power and improved hit tool suggest a chance he’s an average first-base bat if he has to move off catcher, but despite his size — 6-foot-5, 239 pounds — he has good feet, soft, strong hands, has shown adept at framing and may be able to handle catching early in his career, a la Matt Wieters. Either way, there’s 30-homer power in there, and he’s short to the ball despite long levers. George Kirby, RHP — Seattle Mariners MLB RANK: 95 Kirby cruises at 91-94 mph, touching 97, with plus command and three projectable secondaries, two of which already flash big-league average or better. He used the downtime in 2020 to remake himself physically and now looks the part of 200-inning No. 3 starter. There’s so little risk here and the right-hander figures to move quickly due to his ability to throw strikes and locate the fastball that 95 is at least 20-25 spots too low. Luis Patino, RHP — San Diego Padres MLB RANK: 23 Ranking at No. 23 suggests it’s very difficult to be underrated, but at 20 years of age the right-hander competed in the majors and struck out nearly 25% of the batters he faced in 11 appearances. The stuff is undeniable, including a 94-98 mph fastball, a slider that misses bats and flashes plus-plus, and a changeup that’s already a useful weapon. He’s not as udnerrated as some others here, but right now Patino is ranked below CJ Abrams, Matt Manning, Drew Waters, and Forrest Whitley, and for me that’s a mistake. Edward Cabrera, RHP — Miami Marlins MLB RANK: 80 Despite developing late, Cabrera is 22 and big-league ready after fewer than four years in pro ball. The fastball has plane at 93-97 mph, runs some to his arm side, and the slider is above-average with a chance to be plus-plus in time. He’s shown feel for an average changeup, too, and has at least average control at present. He’s built like an ace and those two potentially-elite pitches offer a high floor and ceiling, screaming ’80’ is far, far too low for the Marlins’ right-hander.
Over the weekend, MLB.com’s Will Leitch penned a piece picking the most likely player in every MLB organization to make the Baseball Hall of Fame. Now, I hate almost every hall of fame conversation, for reasons I won’t get into here and now, but I disagreed with six of Leitch’s picks so I thought I’d do one of my own. Let’s go by league and division, starting in the American League and moving East to West. American League East Toronto Blue Jays Leitch: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Churchill: Bo Bichette I get the pick of Guerrero here but he’s likely to spend a lot of years as a DH and despite Edgar Martinez breaking down some walls in that regard a few years back such a tag puts a lot of pressure on the offensive numbers. Bichette also has an early advantage over his teammate. At 22, he has posted two stints — 46 games in 2019 and 29 games in 2020 — where he’s batted .300 or better, slugged .500 or better and has showed well enough at shortstop. Baltimore Orioles Leitch: Adley Rutschman Churchill: Rutschman The Orioles are simply devoid of such talents right now, so their top prospect will have to do. Rutschman is a future star, though, so it’s a good pick and the best bet by far. Tampa Bay Rays Leitch: Wander Franco Churchill: Franco Same as with Rutschman and the Orioles, Franco is the lone star-level talent in the organization with a chance to be a superstar. Boston Red Sox Leitch: Rafael Devers Churchill: Devers Chris Sale is 31, coming off Tommy John and is probably 91 wins from garnering serious HOF consideration. Xander Bogaerts, at this pace, would probably need to play 10 more years to reach such status — and be very very good for most of them. Devers is 24, has 74 career homers and 433 hits and the last full season produced 32 long balls and a 132 wRC+. If he sticks at third long-term, he has the best shot in the org. For now. New York Yankees Leitch: Giancarlo Stanton Churchill: Aaron Judge Stanton has 312 homers, 796 RBI, has four 30-homer seasons and a 59-homer campaign. But he’s 31 and already starting to run into the IL quite a bit the last two seasons, which threatens his career numbers and may push him to a lot of DH work the rest of the way. Judge, too, has run into some injury issues despite being three years younger than Stanton, but he has every bit the power and is a better overall hitter than Stanton, suggesting a better shot to produce well into his 30s. American League Central Cleveland Indians Leitch: Jose Ramirez Churchill: Ramirez He’s 28, has been a top-5 MVP candidate three times in four years and should be able to stay on the field for most of his career where he’s a very good third base glove. Kansas City Royals Leitch: Salvador Perez Churchill: Perez Perez is the defacto pick here since there’s no one else reasonably close to the conversation, but he’s been an above-average bat just twice since 2013, and one of those is a 37-game sample from 2020. Detroit Tigers Leitch: Miguel Cabrera Churchill: Cabrera A no-brainer. He’s 37 now and complete toast but he’s 13 homers shy of 500, has driven in 1729, owns a .391 career OBP and won back-to-back MVPs. He’s getting in. Minnesota Twins Leitch: Josh Donaldson Churchill: Donaldson Donaldson isn’t getting in, either, but unlike Perez is a consistent all-around performer with an MVP on his resume. Chicago White Sox Leitch: Jose Abreu Churchill: Tim Anderson Despite the MVP in 2020 (which he shouldn’t have won), Abreu is not quite a hall of famer. He’s 33, has hit 198 homers and owns a .294/.350/.520 slugging percentage. Anderson, a fine shortstop, is just 27, has a batting title, 74 homers, 73 stolen bases and the last two seasons has posted a .357 OBP. He has a significantly better chance to post the kinds of numbers a shortstop needs to garner serious consideration than does Abreu versus first base standards. American League West Los Angeles Angels Leitch: Mike Trout and Albert Pujols Churchill: Trout and Pujols Ummm… Oakland Athletics Leitch: Matt Chapman Churchill: Chapman Chapman is Oakland’s best player, will be 28 in April and is among the best third basemen in recent memory. I don’t think he has much of a shot, but he’s far more likely than anyone else on the roster. Houston Astros Leitch: Justin Verlander Churchill: Verlander Another no-brainer. Seattle Mariners Leitch: Kyle Lewis Churchill: Jarred Kelenic The case for Lewis has a leg up since he’s performed a bit in the majors, but he’s 25 and Kelenic is likely to make his MLB debut before he turns 22. He’ll also enter the bigs with a better hit tool, which lends tons more confidence he’ll hit for the long haul. Texas Rangers Leitch: Joey Gallo Churchill: Gallo Gallo may hit 500 homers and have a legit shot, but it’s probably going to take more than that if he continues to struggle to hit for average. In five of Gallo’s six seasons — three full, three part — he’s batted .209 or under. National League East Atlanta Braves Leitch: Freddie Freeman Churchill: Ronald Acuna Jr. Freeman just won an MVP and will enter 2021 with a career .295/.383/.509 triple-slash with 240 homers. But he’s 31 and not yet halfway to some of the counting stats it’s likely to take. The one caveat is his 2020 season. If he puts up .341/.462/.640 a few times in full seasons, everything changes. Acuna, though, is just 23 this week, has a 40-homer season under his belt and was on another 40-homer pace in 2020 despite missing 14 games. The power alone may get Acuna in, and it helps that he’s been a passable center fielder and should remain a solid corner-outfield defender for the next 10-plus seasons. Oh, and he’s swiped 61 bags in 313 career games. Miami Marlins Leitch: Sixto Sanchez Churchill: Sanchez The Fish are filled with young talents and Sanchez is the best of them all. New York Mets Leitch: Jacob deGrom Churchill: deGrom Cano might have been in the convo here had it not been for a second PED suspension, but deGrom is an easy choice. He’s 32 but already has two Cy Young awards, finished third in 2020 and is showing no signs of slowing down. deGrom, however, isn’t likely to have the traditional numbers voters have looked for historically, namely wins. He has 70 in seven seasons and has no shot to get to even 200. Let’s see how voters treat modern day starting pitchers, starting with CC Sabathia in 2025. Philadelphia Phillies Leitch: Bryce Harper Churchill: Harper I think he’s going to get in on counting stats, but he does have an MVP and owns a 138 career wRC+. His 232 career homers have come before his 28th birthday and his lifetime .387 OBP makes up for seasons without a high average. Washington Nationals Leitch: Max Scherzer Churchill: Scherzer Mad Max is 36 and has 175 wins, three Cy Youngs and is among the elite starting pitchers of his generation. He’ll get to 200 wins sometime in 2022 and has a shot to surpass 3,000 strikeout if the 2021 is a full slate of games — he’s 216 shy, and hasn’t struck out fewer than 231 in a full season since 2011. Teammate Juan Soto owns a career .295/.415/.557 slash with 69 homers. It won’t matter much that he’s not a very good defender. Best hitter in baseball and he just turned 22 in October. National League Central Milwaukee Brewers Leitch: Christian Yelich Churchill: Yelich The Brewers are without another star at the moment, so Yelich is a runaway winner here. His candidacy is rather weak, however. He’s now 29 and has 151 homers, a 296/.381/.488 lifetime slash and despite his MVP just hasn’t had enough great seasons. At least not yet. St. Louis Cardinals Leitch: Yadier Molina Churchill: Molina Molina has compiled 54.5 fWAR in 17 seasons and has six season of four wins or more, including two near-8 win campaigns in 2012-13. But he’s been a league-average hitter overall and there’s no inherent value to staying in one organization. He’s likely getting in, but I’m not convinced he should with a career .257/.305/.402 line and 160 homers. Chicago Cubs Leitch: Anthony Rizzo Churchill: Kris Bryant Rizzo is 31, has 229 career homers and a career 131 lifetime wRC+. But he’s finished in the top 5 in MVP voting just twice and has just three top-10 finishes. He’s been very good but has a lot of work to do. Bryant is three years younger, has 142 career homers, a 136 wRC+, and has spent his career playing third base and left field. He also has three 6-win seasons an an 8-win season. Rizzo hasn’t surpassed 5.3 wins. Pittsburgh Pirates Leitch: Ke’Bryan Hayes Churchill: Hayes He’s played fewer than 30 games in the majors, but he’s clearly the Bucs’ bets bet. Cincinnati Reds Leitch: Joey Votto Churchill: Votto Votto has a career .304/.419/.517 line with 295 homers and he’s 37 years old. I think he gets in with Edgar Martinez setting the precedent for bat value. National League West Arizona Diamondbacks Leitch: Madison Bumgarner Churchill: Bumgarner Bumgarner is an interesting case. He’s a postseason legend, but has just 119 wins, no Cy Young wins, just two top-5 finishes and is fading fast. But he’s only 31 and has time to find a way to get back. He’s not getting in, but I think he should get more consideration than his win totals suggest. Los Angeles Dodgers Leitch: Clayton Kershaw Churchill: Kershaw Kershaw is the no-brainer, but Mookie Betts has accumulated 40.2 fWAR in five full seasons and two partials, including a 10.4 fWAR MVP year in 2018. San Francisco Giants Leitch: Buster Posey Churchill: Posey He’s a better candidate than Molina, even though he doesn’t catch quite as much an the voter sentiment likely favors the Cardinals backstop. Posey’ 2012 MVP helps, as do the World Series titles, but he’s also just 33 and has a chance to add to his 140 homers, 1380 hits and career .302/.370/.456 triple-slash. Also, Posey had the easiest swing to project to the majors I’ve seen in 20 years. San Diego Padres Leitch: Manny Machado Churchill: Machado I think he’s overrated, but he dos have four 5-win seasons, three of them 6-win efforts and has 223 homers at age 28. This past season may be a sign he’s made an adjustment and his experience is finally starting to pay off at the plate by way of more contact, better batting averages and OBPs. Colorado Rockies Leitch: Nolan Arenado Churchill: Arenado I do think Arenado is the best bet right now, having posted 32.2 fWAR, but the edge on Trevor Story isn’t large, especially considering the threshold on shortstops versus third basemen.
Every season we see dozens of prospects break through to the big leagues, including many who got a taste the prior season. The following is an introductory look at what may be the best rookies in 2021. A handful of these names were prominent rookies in 2020. Some haven’t even sniffed the majors yet, but have a great chance to next season. This is not an attempt to predict the best ROY candidates. This is not a ranking of prospects or rookies. It’s just an early thought on the the 50 best rookies for 2021, in no particular order. This also is not a projection of wins above replacement, where relievers or back-end starters who spend most or all of the season in the bigs outvalue a high-impact player that comes up in late August or September. NOTE 1: You may notice not every top prospect is mentioned, because of their chances to see the majors or to see enough time to serve in a prominent role. You also may notice there aren’t a lot of pure relievers on the list, for what should be obvious-to-all-of-us reasons. NOTE 2: Players maintain “rookie” status until they have surpassed 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the major leagues, whether it’s over one individual season or combined over multiple years. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B — Pittsburgh Pirates Terrific in 24 games in 2020 (.376/.442/.682, 195 wRC+), the 23-year-old is primed to sustain that explosion next season. He’s a plus-plus glove, a good athlete, and carries the makeup of a true franchise player. Randy Arozarena, RF — Tampa Bay Rays Arozarena hit seven homers in 76 PAs in the regular season and then hit a thousand long balls in October. OK, it was ‘just’ 10, but he did so in just 77 PAs. He also batted .377 in 20 postseason games. He’s among the favorites for the American League ROY entering 2021, and potentially a major returning piece for the defending AL champions. Dylan Carlson, OF — St. Louis Cardinals Carlson spent all of 2020 as a 21-year-old and while the final numbers (.200/.252/.364) weren’t good, he flashed from both sides of the plate and showed solid defensive ability. The scouting report suggests a .280 hitter with above-average on-base skills and power, but he may just need a little more time to put together both swings. Joey Bart, C — San Francisco Giants Bart profiles as a plus defensive backstop with plus pop and a chance to hit .260. He’ll need to be more selective, but has all the tools to make a number of All-Star games and help propel the Giants back to where they want to be. Devin Williams, RHR — Milwaukee Brewers Williams won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2020 but has yet to surpass the innings threshold to DQ him for another run as a ‘rookie.’ His devastating changeup not only helped him strike out 53% of the batters he faced, but it also induced a 64% ground ball rate on the rare occasion batters made contact. That’s repeatable to a large enough extent to keep Williams high on your list. Ian Anderson, RHS — Atlanta Braves Anderson was very good in 38 frames in 2020, filling the void left by Mike Soroka who spent almost the entire season on the IL with an Achilles injury. If the right-hander wants repeat his success from 2020, however, he’ll need to throw more strikes, but he avoids the barrel consistently and misses bats. James Karinchak, RHR — Cleveland Indians Karinchak, like Williams, was great in 2020 and maintains rookie status into 2021. The right-hander used a mid-90s fastball with a lot of life up in the zone to set up an overhand curveball. The stuff produced a 49% strikeout rate to offset a severe fly ball batted ball profile and a 147% walk rate in 2020. Despite the high rate of fly balls, Karinchak kept the ball in the yard last season. Sixto Sanchez, RHS — Miami Marlins Sanchez was good in seven starts last summer, generating 58% ground balls and going at least six innings on four occasions. He’s consistently 95-98 mph with the fastball to go with a hard slider and firm changeup, all of which are quality big-league offerings. He’s still learning how to use his stuff, but when he does expect the whiff rate to spike from the 20.6% rate he posted in 2020. Triston McKenzie, RHS — Cleveland Indians McKenzie is a tall, lean, and athletic right-hander who’s been dripping with projection since he was a comp round pick in 2015. Since Day 1, however, he’s thrown strikes and missed bats, and he did that for 33 innings last season in Cleveland. The velocity is easy from 92-96 mph and his two breaking balls are average or better — the slider might be special. His changeup teases thanks to good arm speed and he repeats a deceptive delivery very well. Nate Pearson, RHS — Toronto Blue Jays Pearson debuted in 2020 but struggled to command his fastball (16% BB), something he rarely experienced in his two-plus minor league seasons. The right-hander can be absolutely filthy, however, with a 95-99 mph fastball that shows arm side run and life up in the zone, and three secondaries that project as average or better, led by a slider that’s already a swing-and-miss pitch. The difference-maker may end up being a plus changeup. Pearson has a shot to be a legit ace. Josh Jung, 3B — Texas Rangers Jung, 23 in February, may have a path to the majors early in 2021 with the Rangers moving Isiah Kiner-Falefa from third base to shortstop and transitioning Elvis Andrus into a utility player. Jung isn’t yet on the 40-man, but his best tool is his ability to swing at strikes and find the barrel. He’s not likely to hit for a lot of power just yet, but he’s always drawn his share of walks and made a lot of contact. He projects as average defensively. Wander Franco, SS — Tampa Bay Rays The top prospect in baseball possesses the best hit tool on a teenage prospect I’ve ever seen, showing plus ability now and a chance to be an elite 80. But the 5-foot-10, 190-pound switch hitter isn’t all contact, as he also brings above-average power potential to the batter’s box. He’s a 60 runner, too, and should be at least average in the field with a plus arm. He could end up a .330/.400/.500 bat with a chance to swipe 30-40 bags and be a value with the glove, and he might do it before it’s legal for him to have an alcoholic beverage. Shane McClanahan, LHS — Tampa Bay Rays The Rays know how to extract value from young arms and McLanahan may be next in line. He finished 2019 in Double-A and has pounded the strike zone all the way up through the minors. He’ll sit 93-96 mph and has one of the better left-handed curveballs in professional baseball, a true 60-grade pitch. His changeup still needs work, but flashes average. While he throws strikes, his fastball command could use a bump if he’s to reach his ceiling as a No. 2 starter. Jarred Kelenic, OF — Seattle Mariners Kelenic, 21, has ascended quickly since being the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 Draft. He ended 2019 in Double-A and likely figures into the Mariners plans early in 2021 — with left field being filled by placeholders until then. Ultimately, it’s at least a 55 hit tool with 60 power, but I’m bullish on the power and see a chance he’s a 35-40 homer stick in his prime. He throws well and is at least an average runner. Logan Gilbert, RHS — Seattle Mariners Gilbert is the closest among Seattle’s top arms in terms of reaching the majors and likely sees the show by the midway point next season. He’s up to 97 mph with his fastball and cruises 92-94 with a plus slider, above-average knuckle curveball and a changeup that at times has been his best secondary. He’s a beast at 6-foot-6 and 225 pounds and figures to be a No. 3 starter — with a chance at more. MacKenzie Gore, LHP — San Diego Padres Gore, 22 in February, is pure filth with a 92-96 mph fastball and three 60-grade offspeed pitches in a 73-77 mph curveball, a changeup at 82-85 and a slider that may end up his most effective of the trio. He has 60 control and 50 command, but he’s athletic from head to toe, his arm work well despite a long path — it actually creates deception — and there’s a solid chance he ends up with plus command, too. Keibert Ruiz, C — Los Angeles Dodgers Ruiz isn’t the athlete Will Smith is, nor as polished as Austin Barnes, but it’s an average present hit tool with a chance to be plus and then some, and he’s already a gap threat with strength and bat speed to project for more power. He’s not a great receiver but can handle the position and has a high-floor offensive game to offer while he’s working out the wrinkles in the rest of his game. How he gets time in 2021 remains to be seen, but he’s ready. “He was ready in back in 2019,” said one AL scout. “He makes good solid contact with a line-drive swing, uses most of the field — uses the middle well — has a very good idea of the zone and doesn’t chase.” Josiah Gray, RHS — Los Angeles Dodgers Gray was under-drafted in 2018 when he fell to the No. 72 pick overall pick, likely for two reasons. One, he’s 6-foot-1 and at the time 180 pounds. Two, the competition he faced at Le Moyne College (NY) was the NFL’s equivalent to the NFC East. But Gray is a great athlete, is up to 95 mph and possesses three potential major-league quality offspeed pitches, including a slider that may be his best. He’s yet to build up the arm strength in the minors, so he’s unlikely to make 25 starts in 2021, but could be a combo or multi-inning relief arm for the Dodgers early next season. Forrest Whitley, RHS — Houston Astros Whitley’s scouting report far exceeds his production the last two years, but he’s also battled through some injuries and has managed just 197 professional innings in four seasons — not counting whatever unofficial work he received in 2020. The stuff is great — a 65 fastball at 93-96 mph, four, yes four above-average to plus secondaries, led by a plus curveball and changeup. Aside from the injuries, Whitleys bugaboo is control, where he’s issues 95 bases on balls in under 200 innings. A fine-tuning that gets him to 45-grade control and command makes Whitley at least a No. 3 starter — if he can stay off the IL, that is. He’s ready for the majors. Bryan Abreu, RHP — Houston Astros Abreu is an underrated arm, but his chances to start lean heavily on his ability to improve his control — he’s walked 174 batters in 287 innings in the minors. The raw stuff, however, is undeniable, including a plus fastball up to 96 mph, a plus slider, and a curveball that gets a lot of 65 and 70 grades from scouts. His changeup also shows some promise. Abreu, like Whitley, has had a few injuries along the way, too. At worst, Abreu has a shot to be a high-leverage reliever, but he’s ready to face major league hitters consistently. Casey Mize, RHP — Detroit Tigers Mize was the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 and reached the majors last summer. He didn’t have his best stuff in seven starts for Detroit, but he’s up to 96 mph with devastating cutter-splitter-curveball combo backed by above-average command. He’s had some issues staying healthy, which may be the biggest hurdle on his way to being the staff ace in Motown. Tarik Skubal, LHP — Detroit Tigers Skubal has great life on his mid-90s four-seamer and an above-average slider. His 75-78 mph curveball and low-80s changeup remain below-average, and his control and command are blocking him from consistent outings. He needs more seasoning in the minors, but can miss bats now so a relief role could be in the offing once the Tigers are ready to start winning. Lefties went 3-for-24 (.136) off him in the big leagues last season — all singles. Nolan Jones, 3B — Cleveland Indians Jones, 23 in May, is blocked at third base by Jose Ramirez, but may be best suited at first base, anyway — I get a lot of 40-grade reports from scouts on Jones’ defense, at least as of September, 2019. The power is very real, however, and could reach the 35-homer level or better if he can improve his bat-to-ball skills. He may be ready for a long look in the majors in 2021, and first base is wide open in Cleveland. Nick Lodolo, LHS — Cincinnati Reds Lodolo was the No. 7 pick in the 2019 Draft and may see the majors in 2021. I thought he was over-drafted a bit, but he has a starter’s repertoire and eventually should throw a lot of strikes. He can miss bats with his changeup and steal strikes with an above-average curveball he commands consistently. Tyler Stephenson, C — Cincinnati Reds Stephenson debuted in 2020 and while it was just an eight-game, 20-PA sample, the bat looked very good (.294/.400/.647, 2 HR), despite a lot of strikeouts. The main question on Stephenson is the glove, where he may be able to get to fringe-average in time, but has a chance to hit .270 with high OBPs and the bat speed to hit 25-30 homers if he can work a power swing into his game plan. He has a great arm, but may not have the feet to play anywhere else on the diamond. Andrew Vaughn, 1B — Chicago White Sox Vaughn mashed in college and while he’s a bat-first, nearly bat-only prospect who batted .252 with a low-.400s slugging percentage in his two full-season stops in 2019 (a 52-game sample), he walks, he makes contact a high rate and carries 30-40 homer pop — the upper range of that in the band box that is Guaranteed Rate Field — which should be called Guaranteed Rake Field, if you know what I mean. Garrett Crochet, LHS — Chicago White Sox Crochet, who started at Tennessee, including one start before the shutdown last spring, then pitched out of the bullpen for the White Sox in September and October. It’s a 96-100 mph fastball in either role, and the slider flashes plus-plus. He has a hard changeup with a chance to get to average over time, but he may not throw it much if the White Sox keep him in the bullpen. If he dialed down the velo a bit in a starting role, he may throw more strikes, and I think early in 2021 Crochet will get that chance in the minors. Brailyn Marquez, LHS — Chicago Cubs Marquez is up to 99 mph and cruises at 93-97, but his third pitch and command need a lot of work. He has thrown strikes at times, but generally doesn’t locate consistently, and has bouts of control problems that knock him out of games early. He’s just 22 in January, and the Cubs are retooling, so there’s no need to rush him out of the rotation right now. Because the Cubs are likely taking a step or two back, Marquez may get most of is work in the majors in 2021. Jeter Downs, 2B — Boston Red Sox Downs is a below-average shortstop glove but should be average or better at second base. He doesn’t do anything really well — there’s no lead tool — but he should hit .280 with solid OBPs and average or slightly above-average power. He’ll also swipe a few bags, despite fringe-average speed. The Red Sox have other options at second base in 2021, but none have the staying power of Downs. He’s not yet on the 40-man, but is due to touch down next season. Adley Rutschman, C — Baltimore Orioles My favorite prospect in baseball right now, and I think he’s closer to No. 1 than No. 3 is to the former Oregon State star. Rutschman is a very good defensive catcher with a plus arm and a chance to be the best in the game in short order. Oh, and he can hit for average and power from both sides of the plate, and brings championship makeup to the ballpark every single day. On the upside, we could see a .300/.400/.550 MVP-type prime from Rutschman. It’s unlikely he’s up early in 2021, but sometime over the summer isn’t out of the question. That’s how gifted he is. Cristian Pache, CF — Atlanta Braves Pache’s bat is going to need some time, especially in the power department, but he’s an elite glove in center — perhaps the best in baseball already — and has right-field arm strength. He’s also a plus to plus-plus runner capable of legging out triples, infield hits and swiping 30-40 bags if given the chance to run freely. In the long run, he should produce enough offensively to stick in the lineup, and there’s All-Star upside here. All that could start from the get-go next April. William Contreras, C — Atlanta Braves Contreras will be 23 this month and got a cup of java last season with the Braves. He’s been inconsistent offensively, but has 15-20 homer raw power and makes enough hard contact to suggest a playable hit tool. He has a plus arm and is about average in the receiving and blocking departments. Contreras has a great chance to be the No. 2 catcher to start 2021, and it may be more a time share if the kid hits. Drew Waters, OF — Atlanta Braves Unlike Pache, Waters isn’t yet on the 40-man, but he’s a five-tool prospect with a chance at four plus tools, including hit, power, speed and throw. Waters finished 2019 by batting .271/.336/.374 in Triple-A, and his power has yet to develop n games, but he does everything on the field, and should fit nicely in either corner once his bat is ready. Waters could very well be Ender Inciarte‘s eventual replacement, and that could be sometime next season. Alex Kirilloff, OF/1B — Minnesota Twins Back in July 2018, an NL assistant GM texted to ask if anyone was talking about Kiriloff in the same conversations as Eloy Jimenez, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. “They should be,” he said. “He’s the best hitter I’ve seen all year down here.” Once he got to Double-A a year later, however, he began chasing a bit more — he hits a lot of pitches hard 4-6 inches off the plate, at least relative to the typical prospect — and big-league arms will take advantage with breaking stuff and significantly better command. The power is legit plus and some scaling back of his selectivity could unlock what may be a plus hit tool, too. He’s fringey in right field, but the bat may play at first base, and he’s ready to be tested by the Twins. Deivi Garcia, RHS — New York Yankees Garcia is five-foot nothin’, a hundred and nothin’, but touched 95 mph and misses bats with aa plus changeup. He’s pitched in relief just eight times in pro ball, but five of those came at Triple-A in 2019, which seemingly was a precursor to a middle-relief role in the big leagues in 2020. But the Yankees needed starter’s innings last season, and Garcia came through, averaging nearly six innings per start, pounding the strike zone and perhaps offering the Yankees more role flexibility than some believed he could entering last season. Spencer Howard, RHP — Philadelphia Phillies Howard, 24, is near-ready to grab a rotation spot with the Phillies and auditioned with mixed results in 2020. The fastball is up to 97 mph and dwells 92-95 with relative ease. He has three major-league quality secondary pitches, including a plus curveball and above-average changeup. He throws enough strikes at this point to warrant time in the bigs, but there’s room for more consistent fastball location, which pushes him from back-end arm to potential No. 3 starter. Luis Patino, RHS — San Diego Padres If he can keep his delivery together consistently, he may be a favorite for ROY in 2021. He flashed this past season in 17 innings, sitting 95-99 with an out-pitch slider and useful changeup. Luis Campusano, C — San Diego Padres Campusano may not get much of a chance in 2021 barring injury after the acquisition of Austin Nola last summer, unless he beats out Francisco Mejia in spring training, which is plausible, though not necessarily probable. Neither is more than a fringe defender, but Campusano brings more offensive upside and appears to be progressing with the glove while Mejia’s defensive development has been relatively stagnant. Seth Romero, LHS — Washington Nationals Romero is likely a big-league reliver but he might be a very good one in the mold of Sean Doolittle if he can settle into the role and avoid the off-field issues that have plagued him to date. He’s been up to 97 mph with the fastball but sat 92-94 last summer, albeit with an above-average slider that projects to plus. He also has a useful changeup and when he holds his mechanics together can throw a lot of strikes. Bobby Dalbec, 1B — Boston Red Sox Playable at third base, Dalbec fits best at first base, especially in Boston where Rafael Devers is settled at third for the time being. He has monster raw power thanks to bat speed and tremendous swing leverage. He’s adept at working counts and drawing walks, but hasn’t shown an ability to hit for average in the minors. He batted .263/.359 in 23 games for the Sox last summer, but his BABIP was .394. He ended the season with an xBA of .199. A minor adjustment or two could aid in his efforts to make more consistent contact, perhaps thrusting Dalbec into run-producing corner infielder for years. Adonis Medina, RHS — Philadelphia Phillies Medina’s name has been included in significant trade talks each of the last two winters, but he made his debut with the Phillies last summer, starting and lasting four innings. It’s an average fastball at 91-94 mph, plus a sinker in the same range. The three offspeed pitches all tease average to above-average, but the changeup is the best at present. Depending on what Philly does this winter with their roster, Medina could start spring training with a job to lose in the rotation. It’s a No. 4 profile, there may be a ground ball skill hidden in the profile, which could provide a bit more upside. Royce Lewis, SS — Minnesota Twins Lewis, 21, wouldn’t be buried in this section if it appeared he was the favorite to be the starting shortstop or second baseman for the Twins on Opening Day next season — but he’s not, at least not yet with Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez projected to start up the middle. Lewis is a 60 runner with plus raw power that’s starting to show up in games. The arm is average, but the shortstop defense is fringey, despite the athleticism. Scouts don’t love the swing, but they still like the player quite a bit. Lewis probably belongs in left field on the current Twins roster, but he hasn’t played but eight innings in the outfield in games, so we may not see him do it in the bigs early in 2021. Julio Rodriguez, OF — Seattle Mariners Rodriguez was dinged up in 2019, rebounded quickly to mash at both Class-A levels. In 2020 he missed almost all of full workouts at the Alternate Training Site with another wrist injury, but returned to mash in the Winter League. He’s just 19, but it’s an average hit tool with upside, 65 or better raw power, and a right field defensive profile that includes a 65-grade arm. I wouldn’t put it past Rodriguez to force his way into the majors in 2021, and if Seattle is hanging around in the race for the No. 8 spot in the American League, that roster is going to be fun. Michael Kopech, RHP — Chicago White Sox After TJ surgery in 2018 and opting out of the 2020 season, Kopech should be all healed up and ready to go. The disadvantage here is the overall workload for 2021; the Sox may take it easy on him. When 100% healthy, Kopech has an 80-grade fastball that consistently hits triple digits and has tagged 105. The slider is plus with tilt and the curveball isn’t that far behind. His change has a chance to be average in time, as does his command. Matt Manning, RHP — Detroit Tigers Manning has been Detroit’s most consistent pitching prospect, but he lacks the raw stuff of either Mize or Skubal. He sits 92-95 mph and complements with an above-average changeup and curveball. He throws strikes and in 2019 showed improved ability to locate to both sides of the plate versus both lefties and righties alike. He’s athletic and the trends are all pointing up, suggesting his mid-rotation projection isn’t necessarily his ceiling. Max Meyer, RHP — Miami Marlins Meyer was the No. 3 overall pick last June and could be on the fast track to the show. The arsenal is very good — up to 100 mph and regularly 93-97, with a 70-grade slider — and Meyer’s changeup has a real chance to be average or better. He’s just 6-feet and 195 pounds, but is a brilliant athlete and comes with a high ceiling as a dominant high-leverage reliever available to the Fish whenever they want it. Meyer added strength each year at Minnesota to give him a chance to start long term, so the only chance we see him in relief in 2021 is in a pennant race or playoff run after Meyers logged too many innings in the rotation. Taylor Trammell, LF — Seattle Mariners If Trammell had a better throwing arm he might be the club’s centerfielder of the future (sliding Kyle Lewis to a corner or out the door as trade bait), but it’s a 40 noodle that fits OK in left. Trammell is a great athlete with contact skills that have been disrupted by a lot of tinkering with his swing aimed at unlocking legitimate power potential. He’s a 65 runner and 65 defender — think: Jacque Jones — but if the bat speed meets a better swing, there’s above-average power in there, too. He projects to get on base a lot and swipe some bags. On the upside he’s hitting at the top of the order but otherwise could be a 7-or-9-hole hitter in a very good lineup with no automatic outs. DL Hall, LHP — Baltimore Orioles Hall’s three above-average offerings start with a fastball up to 97 mph in a starting role. The curveball and changeup tease plus, too, and with more work his control and command should get close to big-league average. It’s the makings of a No. 3 starter with a high-leverage floor. He’s ready to face major league bats, but hasn’t thrown more than 94 innings in a season as a pro. Oneil Cruz, SS — Pittsburgh, Pirates Cruz is the tallest shortstop I’ve ever seen at 6-foot-7, and considering he’s 210 pounds at age 22, there’s a great chance he slides to third base sooner than later. He’s a left-handed hitter with plus raw power who offers average hitting skills sans some swing and miss, but since he’s still maturing physically we can’t close the door on the raw power grade, suggesting a 45 hit tool may play just fine, anyway. Brandon Marsh, OF — Los Angeles Angels If there were a minor league season, Marsh may have broken through to the majors last season. At the end of the 2019 season the power was all projection, but he showed average or better hitting tools and the bat speed backs up the raw power grades. Marsh has a good arm and runs well, especially for a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, and hasn’t outgrown center field yet. Because he’s a better bet to hit he may end up a better player than org mate Adell, not unlike how Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar ended up solid major leaguers while Brandon Wood and Dallas McPherson did not.
As the Seattle Mariners build their 2021 roster it’s important to keep in mind not every piece is going to fit neatly like a jigsaw puzzle, and that everything is fluid. Along the way it can be helpful to take a snapshot of how things look, so let’s do that right here and now. Earlier this week, GM Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners signed right-hander Chris Flexen to a two-year. $4.75 million deal with an option for a third season. Thursday, the club selected two players in the Rule 5 Draft, including right-hander Will Vest in the big-league portion. As a result, the depth chart looks a little different than it did last weekend. Below is a depth chart of sorts, including all 40-man options in each position group, plus any relevant prospects that may see time next season. Starting Rotation Marco Gonzales Yusei Kikuchi Justus Sheffield Justin Dunn Chris Flexen Nick Margevicius Ljay Newsome Robert Dugger Logan Gilbert Ian McKinney Alejandro Requena Margevicius, Newsome, Dugger and McKinney could see time in a relief role, as could Dunn if the club deems it time to pull the plug on him as a starter sometime between now and the end of the 2021 season. Requena, 24, was just signed and finished 2019 in Double-A. If Seattle wants to win 80-85 games in 2021, they’ll need a proven veteran in the middle of the rotation or it’s going to get ugly no matter what they’re able to do in the bullpen. Jake Odorizzi, Jose Quintana, Rick Porcello, Matt Shoemaker, Michael Wacha, Taijuan Walker, and Anthony DeSclafani are among the free agent options. Bullpen Kendall Graveman Anthony Misiewicz Casey Sadler Brandon Brennan Erik Swanson Aaron Fletcher Joey Gerber Wyatt Mills Sam Delaplane Will Vest Yohan Ramirez Domingo Tapia Penn Murfee Andres Munoz Raymond Kerr Logan Rinehart Jack Anderson Darren McCaughan Gerson Bautista Drew Steckenrider Brady Lail Matt Magill Moises Gomez Cody Anderson Nick Duron Vinny Nittoli Matt Festa Murfee and McCaughan have been starters in the minors but project as relievers in the big leagues. Gomez was signed last month, is up to 98 mph and has a slider that flashes average but is very inconsistent. Steckenrider was league average with the Marlins in 2017 and 2018 before struggling in 2019. He lives in the mid-90s, touching 98 with a power curveball. He had a triceps injury in 2020 that kept him out all year, but if healthy he has a shot to win a role and help in 2021. Pedro Baez, Alex Colome, Steve Cishek, Archie Bradley, Shane Greene, Greg Holland, Keone Kela, Mark Melancon, David Phelps, Joakim Soria, Justin Wilson, Jake McGee, Brandon Workman, and Kirby Yates are legitimate possibilities to fill middle relief and high-leverage roles. Catchers Tom Murphy Luis Torrens Jose Godoy Brian O’Keefe Cal Raleigh Josh Morgan The Mariners inked Godoy in November to add to the depth at the position. The club also inked Morgan, an infielder with some catching experience, to a minor league deal. While all clubs are always looking for additional catching, the Mariners are in pretty good shape, both in terms of likely production, but in terms of club control and long-term outlook. Infielders Evan White Dylan Moore J.P. Crawford Ty France Shed Long Jr. Sam Haggerty Tim Lopes Jose Marmolejos Kyle Seager Donovan Walton Sam Travis Amador Arias Travis was signed in December, and Arias was a Rule 5 pick in the Triple-A phase. Lopes, Moore, Haggerty, and Marmolejos also played outfield in 2020. Long has limited outfield experience but projects passable there. Seattle could use a multi-position infield veteran that can handle the outfield a bit, too. While Jurickson Profar is probably too rich an idea, Brock Holt and Jonathan Villar may not be. Outfielders Kyle Lewis Mitch Haniger Jake Fraley Phillip Ervin Taylor Trammell Braden Bishop Jarred Kelenic Dom Thompson-Williams Luis Liberato It might be a stretch to think Liberato or even Thompson-Williams could see the majors in 2021, but worst-case scenario for injuries could push the envelope, and both can manage left field defensively and offer baserunning value. Seattle should look for a veteran lefty stick that can play the outfield to pair with Ervin in left field until Kelenic is ready to take over, and to serve as a safety net in case the club contends and Kelenic struggles once he does arrive. Free agent candidates include Robbie Grossman, Nick Markakis, Joc Pederson, Brian Goodwin, and Tyler Naquin.
With the full free agent class now known after non-tender day arrived and departed Wednesday, let’s put together a list of free agents that make sense for the Seattle Mariners. But first, here’s what you won’t see below. You won’t see the names of DJ LeMahieu or Trevor Bauer, for example. Nor will George Springer‘s name show up, or the likes of Marcus Semien or Liam Hendriks. It’s not that the Mariners shouldn’t have some level of interest in those players, but fit, cost, and other resources are critical this offseason to avoid roster conflicts, redundant skill sets, and misdirected roster spots and payroll allotment. Reminder: Not every acquisition GM Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners make this winter need to be via free agency. Trades can, and likely will, remain part of the process. This list is about free agents only, and are listed in no particular order. Starting Pitchers Jake Odorizzi, RHP He missed time with a blister issue this past season but was very good in 2019 and has posted five average or better seasons over the last six full years. He’s as good a fit for a club looking for a mid-rotation level arm as there is. Jose Quintana, LHP The lefty didn’t pitch much in 2020 — 11 innings, one start — but he was solid in 31 starts in 2019 and hasn’t lost much off the heater. Last season was the first year since his rookie campaign Quintana didn’t get to 170 innings. Rick Porcello, RHP After a bad start, Porcello was solid in 2020 making all 12 starts and getting through 59 innings. He’s reliable and while the upside isn’t exciting, stabilizing the rotation is Dipoto’s goal this winter. Jon Lester, LHP The Tacoma native will be 37 in January and is coming off a sub par, 12-start 2020 campaign, but a rested, re-charged version of Lester has a chance to bounce back to 2019 form when he made 31 starts and was a little better than league average. A six-man rotation may be ideal for Lester, who saw his velocity fall under 90 mph and his strikeout rate dip under 16%. Taijuan Walker, RHP Walker was solid for Seattle and Toronto last season, and most of the pre-surgery velocity was back (93.5 mph average fastball). His newish slider, overhand curveball, and splitter all were inconsistent, but flashed as legitimate weapons. It’s a decent bet for Walker to go 150-innngs or more over a full season. He fits a lot of club’s needs. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP The 30-year-old right-hander was above-average four straight seasons until a dip to average in 2019. He was downright bad in 33 2/3 innings this past season and he’s managed 125 innings or more just twice in five full years — he missed all of 2017 with a sprained UCL — but he did toss up 166 2/3 innings over 31 starts in 2019 and his stuff suggests mid-rotation production remains in the arm. Matt Shoemaker, RHP The 34-year-old returned from ACL surgery in 2019 to cover 28 2/3 innings over six starts in 2020. He’s never been a big stuff guy, but he gets the most out of a 91-93 mph fastball and three offspeed pitches, including an above-average splitter, all of which play up thanks to solid-average command. Shoemaker is more a No. 4 or 5 with some durability concerns over a full season, but he’s interesting on a one-year deal nonetheless. Carlos Rodon, LHP Rodon can’t be counted on to pour out 175 innings in 2021, but the former No. 3 overall pick (2014) showed signs in 2020 of regained arm strength, and the changeup flashed. He’ll be two years removed from UCL surgery in May and that’s often when the snap returns in TJ recipients. Michael Wacha, RHP Wacha’s upside at this point might be 140-inning No. 4 starter, but he’s just 29, still touched 96 mph with the four-seamer and is due for a bounce-back with his changeup. Relief Pitchers Archie Bradley, RHP Bradley’s arsenal fared well in 2020, including a plus changeup that produced a 39% whiff rate. He’s 93-96 with the heat, the curveball still is a weapon and it all adds up to middle-innings value. Mark Melancon, RHP Melancon has fought through a few injuries to remain productive and consistent in the late innings. He’ll be 36 in March, has closing experience, and there are few signs he’s fading fast. His cutter-curveball combo is fun, though the cutter was beaten to a pulp in 2019 and 2020, suggesting maybe he should go back to incorporating the four-seamer. Joakim Soria, RHP Soria had a terrific 22-game season in 2020, producing a 2.97 FIP and a WPA that projects out to be his best since 2015. He’s a legit four-pitch reliever with a fastball 91-94 mph, 77-80 mph slider, a slow curveball and occasional firm changeup. He’s 36, but should be good on a one-year deal. Pedro Baez, RHP Baez served in the middle innings for the World Champion Dodgers and had mediocre-at-best season, but he’s been better in years’ past. He’s a three-pitch arm — fastball up to 97 mph, above-average slider, fringe-average changeup. With a rebound in command, Baez is again a valuable middle innings option. Alex Colome, RHP Colome, 32 on New Year’s Eve, had an odd 2020, putting up his second-best WPA and FIP of his career while posting his worst strikeout rate (17.8%). Colome hovers around 95 mph and the cutter remains a plus pitch, suggesting a rebound in the bat-missing department may be in order. Brad Peacock, RHP Peacock is a versatile arm with the ability to spot start and cover multiple innings out of the bullpen. He had arthroscopic shoulder surgery in October, but expects to be ready for spring training. When he’s right, Peacock sits 91-94 mph with a two-seamer, complemented by an above-average slider, average curveball and useful changeup. Justin Wilson, LHP Wilson likely is out of the Mariners’ reach as one of the more consistent left-handed relievers in baseball. He’s 33 now, but coming off another strong year, and sat 94-97 with a solid-average cutter. But if he wants to close, Seattle may be able to offer that and gain a leg up on other suitors. Greg Holland, RHP The 35-year-old sat 92-95, threw 51% sliders and 11% curveballs in 2020 — and it worked. How long he can effectively throw 60% breaking balls and stay off the IL. But if he can, he’s a solid middle reliever with some high-leverage ability. Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Jeffress has had two puzzling seasons. Make that… eight… Jeffress has had eight puzzling seasons. He’s 94-98 with the fastball and at different times his splitter and curveball are plus to plus-plus. His control and command are below-average, however, and the offspeed stuff tends to bounce back and forth and rarely overlaps with the other on the positive end of the spectrum. Still, he’s an interesting piece for Seattle as one of several bounce-back candidates. Keone Kela, RHP Kela’s forearm injury ended his 2020 after just three appearances. Now, if it was really a forearm and not an injury that leads to Tommy John, Kela has value for 2021 and beyond. He’s 95-98 with the fastball and his curveball may be among the elites in the relief world.jeffre Jake McGee, LHP McGee struggled badly for three of his four years in Denver and rebounded with a 1.67 FIP and 41.8% strikeout rate with the Dodgers this past season. He had reverse splits in the shortened season that were even wider than his career, but he had command of a 97-3 fastball-slider ratio. He’s 34, but still throws 95 mph and has earned some guaranteed money. Steve Cishek, RHP Cishek is 34 and two years removed from a decent performance, but he’s still throwing 90-92 with an above-average slider. He uncharacteristically had problems versus right-handed batters in 2020 but was oddly tough on lefties — probably a small-sample anomaly. If used to knife through righty-heavy sections of the opponents lineup, Cishek has a role in the middle innings. Hector Rondon RHP The 32-year-old has struggled the past two seasons, missing fewer bats (18.7%, 23.7%, down from 29%, 29.1%, and 26.8% the previous three, and his control has gone backwards at the same time. The rigth-hander’s velocity remains big at 95 mph or better on the fastball, suggesting maybe his issues are delivery related. Nate Jones, RHP Jones still throws hard — 96.2 mph average two-seam fastball in 2020 and has a useful changeup. But his slider has fallen flat the last three years and if a team can help him get it back they’ll find a very good middle-innings reliever with some high-leverage ability. Kohl Stewart, RHP Stewart was the No. 4 overall pick in 2013 and made his MLB debut in 2018 , posting a 3.92 FIP in 36 2/3 innings. He was knocked around in nine appearances in 2019 and did not appear in a big-league game this past season. When healthy, the right-hander is 91-95 mph with a sinker and offers a slider and curveball. He owns a changeup, but doesn’t throw it enough — it’s well below average — but there could be some upside to Stewart in a full-time relief role. Bats Adam Eaton, OF Eaton is 32 this week and has had a full share of injuries over his nine-year career. He didn’t hit in 41 games last season — .226/.285/.384 — breaking a six-season streak of a .360 or better on-base percentage and .400 or better slugging percentage. He’s average in a corner outfield spot, struggles versus left-handed pitching but even in 2020 he hit righties well. Tyler Naquin, OF Naquin has two average or better seasons at the plate — his 2016 rookie year and 2019 — and is fine in a corner outfield spot. He struggles against left-handers but has a career .281/.329/.454 mark versus right-handed arms. Ben Gamel, OF Gamel has reverse splits over the course of his career — 107 wRC+ versus lefties, 92 versus righties — but has always appeared to be stuck between trying to hit 25 homers and hitting for average. He’s worked himself into at least a fringe-average left fielder. Nomar Mazara, OF Mazara, 26 in April, hasn’t broken through with the bat to the levels many expected — and he was awful in 2020 (.228/.295/.294) — but he’s too young to give up on, especially considering he was passable 2016-2019 batting .263/.320/.423 with three 20-homer campaigns. He’s at least average in right field and there still may be a breakout in the offing. Brian Goodwin, OF At 30, Goodwin can still run and despite struggling overall in 2020, can still be relied upon to post league-average offense if deployed properly. Oh, and he’s a good defender. David Dahl, OF Dahl was a budding star when injuries started to pile up on his resume. He has plus power and hit tools, runs well and profiles as a plus glove in a corner and average in center. Seattle doesn’t have a place for him, necessarily, imagine starting 2021 with a healthy Dahl in left field and hitting the deadline with a surplus that has a career .286/.334/.494 slash line entering the season. Albert Almora Jr. OF Almora is a capable centerfielder, but after putting up two-plus average offensive seasons to start his career, the former No. 6 overall pick (2012) has scuffled with the bat — .236/.271/.381 in 2019, .167/.265/.200 in 28 games in 2020. There’s little power in his game but he’s just 27 in April and still has solid bat-to-ball skills. Kyle Schwarber, DH/OF Schwarber, 27, isn’t a good defender but he has been surprisingly been playable as long as his bat is working. It didn’t work at all in 2020 (.188/.308/.393), but he did hit 11 homers and boasts a career .230/.336/.480 slash, including two 30-homer seasons. He’s really more of a DH, though Seattle’s best chance to get Ty France in the lineup is that same DH spot. Brock Holt, UT Holt struggled in 37 games in 2020, but has been a very capable bench option, posting a .337 career OBP in parts on 9 seasons. He also handled lefties as well as righties, and can play all five infield positions plus the outfield. Jonathan Villar, UT Villar had an awful 2020 in 52 games split between Miami and Toronto (.232/.301/.292), but owns a .259/.327/.400 career slash and posted a 107 wRC+ in 2019. His batted ball data tells us he struggled mightily putting the fat part of the bat on the ball — as much as any hitter in baseball. But it was just 207 plate appearances. He can handle shortstop, second base, third base, and has dabbled in the outfield. He’s a switch hitter with success from both sides and will be 30 in May. Hanser Alberto, UT Playable at second and third with a touch of outfield experience, clubs could do worse than Alberto as their 25th or 26th man. He doesn’t walk (career 2.6%), but he also doesn’t strike out, has a bit of pop and the last two seasons batted .305 and .283. He’s a right-handed hitter and may be redundant to Tim Lopes, but he’s also more accomplished at the plate. Robbie Grossman, OF Grossman, a switch hitter, boasts a left-handed bat which fits well into the picture for Seattle in 2020, as a strong-side platoon with Phillip Ervin as the Mariners look to cover time prior to the arrival of Jarred Kelenic in left field. The issue here is getting Grossman interested since the writing is wall he’ll lose PT once the club’s top prospect gets the nod — and that may be very, very early in the 2021 season.
There’s no real point to this — you’ve been warned — but here’s why this now exists: It’s December and most owners are liars. That’s it, that’s the reason. There’s so much time to dig, think, research, because there’s no news to lament, no rumors to kill. Just hours upon hours to scour the org rosters of 30 teams and their affiliates. And that’s what I did, looking for misfit talents, players running out of time in one organization, blocked or drowned prospects, and potentially expendable veterans. There’s one from each of the 29 other teams in Major League Baseball. Some aren’t very exciting. Some are simply sensible and nothing more. But there are a few of intrigue, I’d say. All of them make sense, however. But this isn’t fantasy baseball, we’re not drafting a team from the other 29. This also isn’t about finding a trade package to acquire said player, so don’t ask. Here we go. Arizona Diamondbacks: Stefan Crichton, RHP Crichton has been solid for Arizona the past two seasons with a 93-95 mph sinker and plus curveball. He’s rather ordinary as a middle reliever, but an accomplished one two years shy of arbitration status. Atlanta Braves: Patrick Weigel, RHP The Braves are looking to add incremental wins to their 26- and-40 man rosters, suggesting a minor league reliever is at least in play. He’s 93-97 with a slider that flashes above-average and a useful changeup. He’s on the Braves’ 40-man, but could be more valuable as a trade chip and roster spot. Baltimore Orioles: Anthony Santander, OF Baltimore remains in rebuild mode and might not be out of it for another year or two at least, so a player such as Santander is a possible trade chip. He’s not arbitration eligible until after next season, but could interest clubs this winter as a switch-hitting corner outfielder with average or better power. He’s significantly better as a lefty stick, and Seattle wants one of those — and need another outfield option, preferably one that hits left-handed, so … Boston Red Sox: Chih-Jung Liu, RHP Who knows what the Red Sox are going to do, but my guess is they’re going to spend enough to keep another awful season off the board, and that may also mean a few prospect-driven trade packages sent out to acquire more arms. Liu is 21 and a few years from the majors. He’s a bit undersized at 6-feet and 193 pounds, but he’s up to 96 mph and has a potentially-plus splitter and slider. Chicago Cubs: Duane Underwood Jr., RHP The Cubs may very well hit the rebuild button and if that’s the case anything is possible, including trading Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo. Underwood is a bit of an under-the-radar relief arm that may be ready to pop, despite ERAs and FIPs that tell a different story. He’s run xFIPS in the mid-3s two years running and is a legit three-pitch reliever who has thrown more strikes since he walked 18.8% of the batters he faced in 2018. Chicago White Sox: Matthew Thompson, RHP Thompson was a second-round pick in 2019 and has all the makings of an athletic mid-rotation arm with some upside. He’s just 20 and a few years away, and the White Sox opened a winning window in 2020 suggesting prospects such as Thompson are in play in exchange for big-league help. Cincinnati Reds: Tyler Mahle, RHP Stuff was finally met with quality performance in 2020 as Mahle posted a 3.88 FIP in 47 2/3 innings of work. He’s 93-96 with the fastball and the improvement of his upper-80s cutter-slider and curveball made a big difference. He’s just 26, is hitting arbitration for the first time this winter and could be a nice trade piece for the Reds as they try to add more focused impact to their postseason efforts. Cleveland Indians: Carlos Carrasco, RHP Carrasco could be part of a retool approach by the club this winter, one that likely includes trading shortstop Francisco Lindor. The right-hander is owed $47 million over the next four years, which is a bargain, despite Carrasco turning 34 early in 2021. Colorado Rockies: Jon Gray, RHP My favorite potential target for Seattle, the 29-year-old Gray has gone backwards since he posted a 3.18 FIP in 2017 over 20 starts. He’s still 93-97 with three useful secondaries led by a plus slider that prior to 2020 was one of the best in baseball. He has one year of control left at a third-year arbitration price, and the Rockies are looking to shave payroll. Detroit Tigers: Daniel Norris, LHP As the Tigers’ young arm push Norris to the bullpen, his value seems to be higher outside of Detroit. But even as a reliever, the lefty has a lot to offer, and he’s a free agent after 2021. Houston Astros: Lance McCullers Jr., RHP The Astros are a mess; Justin Verlander is out most or all of 2021, George Springer and Michael Brantley are free agents, Carlos Correa is a year from the open market, as is defacto ace Zack Greinke, so the future beyond 2021 is bleak on paper. McCullers is also a year from free agency, now deep into pricey arbitration status and might be worth more to the Astros in trade — to fill multiple holes and create a bit more payroll flexibility. Houston should be cutting bait on 2021, but even if they don’t, moving McCullers make sense. Kansas City Royals: Scott Barlow, RHP It looks like the Royals are trying to take a step forward in 2021, but the time to move Barlow is now — he’s been a consistent middle reliever and is now arbitration eligible — and could help KC land help elsewhere. Los Angeles Angels: Jose Soriano, RHP The Angels’ system is bottom third of the league but they’re more concerned about the big-league roster and an arm like Soriano could net the Halos a big-league reliever. Los Angeles Dodgers: Dylan Floro, RHP Floro is hitting arbitration this winter, and while the Dodgers aren’t afraid to spend seven figures on a reliever, Floro also could be a nice additional piece to a larger trade that lands the Dodgers an everyday outfielder or left-side infielder. He’s more of a middle reliever now, but the fastball-changeup combo is plus. Miami Marlins: James Hoyt, RHP Hoyt is 34 but will not be arbitration-eligible until after 2021, so the motivation for Miami to trade him isn’t high. But if the Marlins are looking to take a meaningful step forward with their 26-man roster, Hoyt could be available in a package. He’s always missed bats despite below-average velocity, and could be perceived an undervalued relief arm. Milwaukee Brewers: Corey Ray, OF Ray was the No. 5 pick in the same draft Kyle Lewis went No. 11 to the Mariners. He’s had multiple injuries along the way, and has yet to produce with any consistency. He’s 26 now and on the 40-man, but if the Brewers plan to win in 2021, Ray’s roster spot may not be stable. Minnesota Twins: Nick Gordon, 2B Yep, Dee’s brother. The arm and range fit shortstop fine and eventually he should hit for enough average to reach the majors, but like his older brother brings little power to the table. Nick is an average runner, so he has to get on base a lot to warrant everyday treatment, and he’s fallen out of favor in Minnesota simply due to other talents passing him by. New York Mets: Steven Matz, LHP The Mets are going to spend and trade big, and at least some of that is going to be about the rotation, which needs more probability and fewer hope-and-pray approaches. Matz’s stuff suggests he’s still capable of No. 3 starter production, but lack of availability and command problems have prevented that since 2016. He’s a pricey arbitration case that could be on the block. New York Yankees: Anthony Volpe, 2B/SS Volpe was on the Mariners radar in the 2019 draft, but he didn’t get to the club after Round 1. He’s a few years away from the majors so he’s not the next Yankees shortstop, but could easily be prime trade bait as the Bombers add to their roster moving forward. Oakland Athletics: Jeremy Eierman, SS With Marcus Semien a free agent, the A’s shortstop situation is unclear, but Eierman is down the depth chart a bit after Logan Davidson and Robert Puason. At this point, Eierman is more of a potential utility infielder, but needs work on the hit tool. Similar to Dylan Moore prior to the 2019 season. Philadelphia Phillies: Hector Neris, RHP Philly declined Neris’ option but now have a decision to make via the arbitration process. The right-hander was good in 2020 sans the 4% rise in walk rate but misses bats with 93-96 mph fastball and plus splitter. Pittsburgh Pirates: Chad Kuhl, RHP Kuhl, 28, has better raw stuff than his performance suggests — 92-96 mph sinker with three average or better offspeed pitches — but is well into arbitration now and the Pirates are years away. Just the kind of project the Mariners like. St. Louis Cardinals: Dexter Fowler, LF Fowler hasn’t hit much the last three years, but draws walks and as a left-handed bat is playable. His contract is a bit of an issue (owed $15.5 million for 2021), but such an issue could be mitigated via negotiations, and the deal expires after next season. San Diego Padres: Justin Lange, RHP The Padres are in win-now mode which makes just about any prospect potentially available. Lange has yet to make his pro debut, of course, but the arm strength suggests a high floor and ceiling. San Francisco Giants: Trevor Gott, RHP Gott struggled in 2020 after a strong 2019, and it appears the struggles were very much about his elbow problems. If healthy, he’s potentially an undervalued middle reliever, and one Jerry Dipoto has acquired before. Tampa Bay Rays: Greg Jones, SS With Willy Adames, Wander Franco, and Vidal Brujan ahead of him, Jones isn’t in the Rays’ picture just yet, but he’s the most likely misfit considering Tampa doesn’t typically trade top prospects, and more rarely move pitching prospects. Texas Rangers: Jose Leclerc, RHP Leclerc will miss bats. He’ll also miss the strike zone. He’s signed to a multi-year deal with two club options that could take him through the 2024 season. Toronto Blue Jays: Estiven Machado, SS Machado is down the org depth chart quite a ways in terms of middle infielders, but might be the most likely of the group to stick at shortstop. There’s more hit than power, but the range is above-average to plus, making arm strength the only real concern for a future on the left side. Washington Nationals: Sammy Infante, SS Infante, 19, has all the raw tools to not only stick at shortstop but develop average power and perhaps build a valuable enough package to play regularly. He’s currently third among middle-infield prospects in the Nationals’ system, lined up behind Trea Turner on the org depth chart at shortstop.
The latest episode of Baseball Things is all Blake Snell. Word hit the street this week via Mark Feinsand that Tampa Bay is open to dealing the former Cy Young winner, and once that tweet hit the wire the wacky trade proposals weren’t far behind. And when I say wacky, I mean wacky. Despite the assumption the Mariners, or any other club with interest, would have to part with an elite young talent to headline such a deal, I disagree. In this episode, I explain how a club, including the Mariners, might be able to get away with a good package, rather than a great one, to land the left-hander. Subscribers can listen to the episode right here or via their favorite podcast app by way of their own private RSS feed. Not a subscriber? Click here and choose the level you prefer, which includes annual options at a discount. Logan Gilbert, Jarred Kelenic, Cal Raleigh, Emerson Hancock, Kyle Lewis, Marco Gonzales, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, Noelvi Marte, Brandon Williamson, Nick Margevicus, Jonatan Clase, Sam Carlson, George Feliz, and Zach DeLoach all are mentioned in this episode.
This time of year in baseball it’s all about the Hot Stove, which may not be as hot this winter, but there will be movement. In reading reports’ tweets and stories as clubs maneuver for roster and payroll flexibility there are nuggets everywhere. Here’s what I’ve seen so far since the end of the World Series that rang up some intrigue, though most of it came with any level of surprise. The Pittsburgh Pirates declined their option on right-hander Chris Archer, which would have paid out $11 million. The 32-year-old had surgery in June to repair neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS). As a result, he missed all of 2020 but is expected to be ready for 2021. Archer made 23 starts for Pittsburgh in 2019, covering just under 120 innings and posting a FIP over five and a career high home run rate. He peaked in 2015 and 2017 posting fWARs of 5.1 and 4.5 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Archer represents a potential reclamation project for a club in search of relatively inexpensive help on the mound. The Seattle Mariners may be in a position to discuss such a player, but Archer may represent one of those starter converts we’ve discussed on Baseball Things recently. Archer is likely to get offers to start, but if he doesn’t get starter money — and guaranteed money at that — he may be willing to start thinking about a career coming out of the bullpen. His stuff plays anywhere, including a 93-96 mph fastball and a plus slider. His changeup, however, has been below-average most of his career, putting a lot of pressure on his ability to locate and vary the breaking ball. In relief, the questionable durability — he’s made 50 starts since the end of the 2017 season — goes away, his two-pitch arsenal plays up and the lack of a consistent, quality changeup becomes pretty much irrelevant. Archer the closer? Just a thought. The Minnesota Twins will not spend big dollars. They went to a prorated $158.2 million in 2020 and two seasons hovering around the $140 million range. The 2021 club needs a bat or two, plus some additional pitching to complement Jose Berrios and likely replace Jake Odorizzi in the rotation. They’d like to bring back 123-year-old wonder Nelson Cruz. But in order to do all that they may need to say goodbye to more than free agents. One of those possibilities? Eddie Rosario, per Lavelle E. Neal III. Rosario, 29, had a solid 2020, batting .257/.316/.476 with 13 home runs, resulting in a 110 wRC+. The left-handed batting outfielder is a former infielder due a raise via arbitration. He made a prorated $7.75 million this past season and would be due around $10 million for next season. So the Twins are almost certain to move on from Rosario. Rosario isn’t likely a fit for Seattle, but any club looking for an outfield bat that doesn’t want to splurge for George Springer might wait for the Twins to make this move. But the move could vary from non-tender to trade, and in the current climate it appears the non-tender route is the most likely path. The New York Mets have a new owner, Steve Cohen, and are expected to make a change at GM, a role in which former agent Brodie Van Wagenen has flailed the past two years. What’s apparent just about everywhere else is not in Queens; the Mets aren’t looking to go cheap. Right-hander Marcus Stroman, who opted out of the 2020 season, will receive a qualifying offer from the club, tweets Anthony DiComo. Of course, this report comes while Van Wagenen remains atop the baseball operations totem and Cohen has yet to officially take over, but Cohen has all but given indications he’s going to spend. After all, he is the game’s richest owner and didn’t take ay revenue hits from the pandemic-laden season that just ended. Stroman isn’t likely to accept the QO, but the fact the Mets are willing to dangle it in what is certain to be the dumbest winter ever in terms of free agency says a lot. Which prompts thoughts about how good the Mets could be in 2021, and how aggressive the new GM might be in reshaping that roster. It’s already a good roster led by Jacob deGrom, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso and Robinson Cano, but it’s imbalanced and has been running with a lot of what-ifs scenarios when it comes to injury-prone players. What might a re-shaping of that club look like? If you’re thinking your favorite team might be able to rob the new GM the way Jerry Dipoto did Van Wagenen 24 months ago, don’t count on it. But some good players might become available, and if I’m betting, the Mets turn their sights toward adding more reliable starting pitching depth — including another frontline arm and at least two more relievers. They could spend money and get a lot of that done with, say, Trevor Bauer, Liam Hendriks and Blake Treinen. But if Bauer signs elsewhere, there are some position players the Mets may want to use as trade bait in order to better align their roster. For example, Dominic Smith is playing out of position in the outfield and whoever takes over the personnel reins may prefer not to have a regular DH so the spot can be used more efficiently. Might this mean Alonso is dangled? Maybe Smith himself is trade bait. More likely, a J.D. Davis or Jeff McNeil is available for pitching, and/or the logjam at shortstop is used to acquired a controllable arm. Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez each can play the position, though Rosario has the better defensive projection. Neither may last long at short with the imminent arrival of prospect Ronny Mauricio, but one of the two incumbents could slide to second and take over for Cano in a year or two. Cano’s contract runs through 2023, but he could serve as DH if the middle infielders force the club’s hand. The most likely scenario for the Mets right now has expected-president Sandy Alderson hiring a baseball-first GM and fills the front office with varied skills and experiences on all sides of the evaluation equation. This strongly suggests an experienced GM or an executive with a unique blend of scouting, market evaluation, and how analytics fit best into the picture. Tampa Bay Rays special assistant Bobby Heck fits this description better than anyone mentioned in various reports. If you’re unfamiliar, Heck drafted Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr., George Springer, Dallas Keuchel, Kike Hernandez, J.D. Martinez, Jason Castro, Jordan Lyles, Delino DeShields, Jr., Adrian Houser, Mike Foltynewicz, and Brett Phillips over a five-year span, laying the foundation for the recent run by the Houston Astros which included a World Series title and two appearances. Heck has spent the last six seasons with the Rays, gaining first-hand knowledge how that fascinating front office wins games with the most efficient roster approach in the game. The Mets are one good offseason from being as dangerous as any club in baseball and I expect significant player movement, in name or quantity, once the new GM is named. Speaking of the Rays, they’ve been busy since falling in Game 6 of the World Series, declining the options on right-hander Charlie Morton and catcher Mike Zunino. The 37-year-old Morton is likely to retire or return to Tampa, and it’s plausible the Rays look to bring back Zunino at a lower price than his $4.5 million option, but for the first time in years the Seattle Mariners have no need for a veteran major-league catcher. With the trade acquisition of Luis Torrens and the expected return of Tom Murphy, Seattle has no need for a veteran due guaranteed dollars of any kind. They could, however, use another tweener to serve with Joseph Odom as a backup plan should injuries occur. Last year, Joe Hudson, who was recently outrighted and hit free agency, served in this role. Hudson could be brought back, but there are numerous veterans that could fit the mold, too. More Notes Catchers John Ryan Murphy and Luke Maile, recently outrighted by the Pirates, could be among the backstops Seattle looks into this winter to bolster their depth for spring training and perhaps Triple-A… Another low-risk option on the mound is Jimmy Nelson, who has yet to pitch well since having Tommy John surgery in 2018. Nelson struggled in 2019, walking 16.4% of the batters he faced in 22 innings, and didn’t see the big leagues this past season thanks to the depth on the Dodgers roster and a back issue… He’s 31 and last season showed a dip in velocity from 94 in 2017 to 92, but in March was touching 95 in bullpen sessions. Back in 2017 Nelson was the Brewers’ ace, posting a 3.05 FIP and 4.8 fWAR in 29 starts. The right-hander could be an interesting relief option or rotation project for a club that has the room, and Seattle has the room. The Los Angeles Angels don’t have a GM and free agency is wide open. The Philadelphia Phillies don’t have a GM, either, but I’m picking on the Angels because of who the favorites for that job are. From what I’ve been told, the favorites are Michael Hill and Dan Jennings in tandem, who represent an upgrade to Billy Eppler is allowed to run the baseball operations autonomously, but as I said to a friend in the industry over the weekend, I could serve as an upgrade to Eppler simply by emphasizing pitching this winter, rather than continuing to insist the lineup needs work… Foltynewicz should interest the Mariners in some capacity this winter. He’s 29, made just one appearance in 2020 due to what can only be categorized as ineffectiveness. No injury was reported, but the right-hander’s velocity was down three and half ticks — 95 to 91.5 — and he never saw the majors again. In his 3.1 innings, Folty walked four and served up three homers. Prior to 2020, Foltynewicz had a plus fastball and posted 3.8 fWAR in 2019 before fading in 2019. This might be another potential convert option… Free agent Hector Neris is another potential target for the Mariners in their attempt to stabilize the bullpen. The Phillies declined their $7 million option on Neris, who posted a 2.50 FIP and 26% strikeout rate in 24 games this past season. He also walked 12.6% of the batters he faced and has a career swinging strike rate of 16.6%, among the highest in baseball. Philadelphia holds the righty for another year via arbitration, but there’s a chance he’s traded or non-tendered, since his arb number is likely to get to $6 million or beyond after he made a prorated $4.6 million in 2020. If he’s non-tendered and hits the market, Seattle could have legitimate interest in making him their closer for 2021… No team should give J.T. Realmuto anywhere near $200 million. That’s it, that’s the note.
The Seattle Mariners, per GM Jerry Dipoto, will be in the market for a few arms this winter, and if his tone can be interpreted at all it seems to send the message that his ballclub is looking at a different kind of free agent than it was a year ago. That should make for a fun offseason. Last winter, the Mariners signs right-handers CJ Edwards, Kendall Graveman, Taijuan Walker and Yoshihisa Hirano, most notably, Now, don’t expect Seattle to throw out any mega deals, but this year’s list is very likely to be more interesting. It sounds like — and can be backed up by common sense — Dipoto would like to add two or three proven veteran relievers, including one that projects as an option in the ninth inning, and a starter with some probability. What this means is the club isn’t just after projects with some upside, since they’re goal for 2021 is to snag one of 189 playoff spots in the American League. Free agency isn’t the only way to add talent, of course, so included here are some buy-low trade candidates. Why ‘buy-low’? Because it’s not time for Dipoto to trade young talent for major leaguers, at least not in a significant manner. I also believe the club should look to improve the bench with a multi-position player with some proven value at the plate. On the Baseball Things podcast recently, we discussed players like Josh Harrison and Brad Miller, both free agents this offseason. But there are a few buy-low trade candidates that may be sensible bench targets, too. Here are some free agents I think Seattle should consider, at varying degrees. Starting Pitchers Anthony DeSclafani, RHP DeSclafani entered 2020 with a career FIP around four, but scuffled in seven starts and was pushed to the bullpen before eventually being left off the Reds’ postseason roster. He’s throwing as hard as ever (95.2 mph) and has a changeup, slider and curveball that have been average or better. The slider is consistently a plus pitch. DeSclafani failed to miss bats (15.8%, down from 24% a year ago) and his walk rate was up 3% over 2019. While not a frontline arm, the soon-to-be 31-year-old could be a value buy this winter. He’s had some injury issues in the past — he made just 41 starts between 2017 and 2018 — but also has two 31-start seasons and there were no signs of any significant injuries hampering his abilities this past season. On a one-year deal, the right-hander could make a lot of sense for Seattle, and anything around league average over 25-plus starts would be a quality addition. Perhaps the Mariners six-man rotation can help him stay healthy and sharp. Kevin Gausman, RHP Gausman is comong off three average or better seasons, with the most recent being his best yet as a big leaguer. He made 10 starts and posted a 3.09 FIP and 32.2% K rate, showing occasional dominance and the same quality control that has made him interesting his entire career. There’s No. 2 stuff here and the only question is whether or not Gausman can bring it for 25 starts or more. Seattle is a great fit for Gausman, but the Mariners will have competition for his services, and it ultimately may take a multi-year deal to acquire the former first-round pick. He’s 30 in January but has a pretty clean health record and the miles on the arm are more than reasonable. Michael Wacha, RHP Wacha hasn’t been good at all since 2018, posting FIPs over five over his last 37 appearances, all but six in a starting role. But the arm is sound and the combination of command and stuff suggest mid-rotation ability. Wacha’s fastball is firmly in the 93-95 mph range, but he hasn’t drawn much value from the fastball of late, which has him throwing his fringey cutter even more. His best pitch has typically been his changeup, but he didn’t have it in 2020. Wacha was dinged as an amateur for not having a quality breaking ball, and that’s been the case the past two seasons with his cutter and curveball both being firmly below average, and he all but ditched the curveball in 2020. He’s more of a project than Gausman, but there don’t see to be any health risks — beyond the inherent risk of throwing a baseball for a living. Like DeSclafani, a team with the chops Seattle has in terms of finding ways to improve pitch value should be all over Wacha this winter on a one-year deal. Jake Odorizzi, RHP Odorizzi has a finger injury in 2020, but made 28 starts or more from 2014-2019 with the Rays and Twins. The results were mixed, but he’s typically been a good No. 4 starter and was more than that in 2019 when his fastball dazzled thanks to quality command and three other average or better offerings, including a plus slider. The right-hander sits 91-96 mph and carries a career strikeout rate of 25%, despite that dropping to 20% in four outings this past season. He took a one-year qualifying offer for 2020 and after missing time and struggling in a small sample, he may be forced to take another short contract at a reduced price. I’d feel comfortable with Seattle tabbing him their guy as long as the finger injury doesn’t project to bite him next year, too. Despite no guarantees, betting on a healthy Odorizzi being league average or better is a smart one. Mike Minor, LHP Minor has two 200-inning seasons under his belt — 2013 with the Braves and 2019 with the Rangers. He wasn’t as consistent this past season but was solid with the A’s in September and his postseason start was also adequate. The positives of Minor’s 2020 include a 26% strikeout rate and an average exit velocity of 87.5 mph. But he also allowed too many hard-hit balls, which limits his potential value. I’d bet on Minor as a league-average starter in 2020 if the risk was a one-year deal. He’s been as healthy as one can ask a pitcher to be, and if all else fails he has had great success as a 75-inning reliever. I think Seattle is likely to add just one starter with significant guarantee money and I’d be shocked if they hand out a three-year contract or longer — and even mildly surprised if they go two years — but I could see them adding one of Minor, Odorizzi or Gausman, plus a Wacha, Walker or DeSclafani type if they feel like Justin Dunn will end up in the bullpen, anyway. Relief Pitchers Shane Greene, RHP Greene covered 27.2 innings in a 60-game season in 2020 and had his ups and downs, but in a good bullpen is a solid middle reliever. His strikeout rate was down this past season, but the velocity wasn’t and he’s a legitimate four-pitch arm — sinker, cutter, slider, changeup. Greene isn’t going to get closer opportunities this winter, of course, but did save 55 games 2018-19 and could win such a role in Seattle, potentially making the Mariners intriguing for the 32-year-old. Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Jeffress, 33, was terrific in 2018 but has been somewhat ordinary since. Still, it’s a middle-relief projection with some upside left if he can regain a little of the velocity he’s lost the past two seasons — he’s down two full ticks and averaged 93.8 mph in 2020. He’s a sinker-splitter-curveball reliever and all three were average or better this past season. His control, however, was not as he posted a 13.6% walk rate. A bounceback looks like a 7th or 8th inning arm, a role Seattle doesn’t have filled in the slightest at the moment, and Jeffress could get save chances from the outset. Blake Treinen, RHP Treinen is going to get looks from contenders who are willing to pay him, including the Dodgers, but in a good bullpen the 2020 version isn’t a closer and should be limited in high-leverage situations. Treinen was elite in 2018, struggled in 2019, and while he rebounded in 27 appearances this past season, his strikeout rate was down to 20.6%. He’s using the sinker more and the four-seamer and cutter less, while his slider usage is up to 26%, which is neither good nor bad, but at his best all four were values and his fastball combo was devastating. Treine is 32 and healthy, and a reasonable bet for better results in 2021 since the stuff — outside the fastball being hit harder, despite the same 97 mph heat — is similar. Trevor Rosenthal, RHP I think Rosenthal is a pipe dream for Seattle, since he’s now proven to some extent his bout with severe control problems are behind him. He posted a career-best 41.8% strikeout rate in 2020 and everything else is in line with his best years. Some poor GM is probably going to give him a multi-year deal, but if that doesn’t happen and he wants to be assured the closer role to start the season, Seattle is one of a large handful of possibilities… as are the Angels, for the record. Joakim Soria, RHP Soria, 37 next May, had another strong year, the third in the last four he’s posted a FIP under three. But his xFIP this past season over five, his strikeout rate is down a touch and he had some control issues beyond a high-leverage arm. He’s still very interesting for a club such as Seattle. He averaged 92.8 mph with the fastball in 2020 — 93.0, 92.9, 93.2 the last three years — and made 22 appearances, answering the bell every time upon which he was called. If Soria is one of the arms the Mariners add this winter it’s a good move. Justin Wilson, LHP Wilson had a good 2020 and has always walked more batters than is ideal, but he misses bats — 26.7% this past season, 26.2 for his career — and dominates lefties, including a .115/.207/.231 slash with the Mets. With his splits, Wilson can’t be any club’s relief ace, and the three batter minimum puts pressure on his ability versus RHBs, but if the Mariners can get more strikes out of him against righties he’ll be fine. Greg Holland, RHP Holland is more of an injury risk than most other free agent relievers, but he was very good in 2020, punching out nearly 28% of the batters he faced and posting a career-best 6.7% walk rate. I wouldn’t bet on that kind of control over the course of a full 2021, but the stuff is the best its been since 2014. He’ll be 35 in November and the aforementioned risk is real and relatively high, but the price might be right all things considered. Seattle could be attractive to Holland if the closer’s role is dangled. Dipoto is very creative and for at least one of the relievers he acquires this winter he’s likely to surprise some onlookers. But that surprise may come by way of trade, rather than free agency. A small-to-medium-sized trade that includes a proven, yet young-ish reliever would not shock me at all. Such deals have been Dipoto’s M.O. since he arrived in Seattle five years ago. Buy-Low Trade Targets Seattle’s needs are mostly on the mound, but Dipoto never stops looking ahead, either. Here are four buy-low trade candidates for Seattle to consider this winter. Ryan McMahon, 2B/1B/3B McMahon isn’t your traditional utility player since shortstop is out of the question and he’s merely adequate at second base, but he can help at three positions, including third base, and a lot of his peripherals suggest he’s a better hitter than he’s shown for most of his career. He hits the ball hard — 90.1 mph average exit velocity and 40.3% hard-hit rate in 2020 — and draws enough walks to support his batting averages, but he’s struggled to make enough contact to make it all count. He blasted 24 home runs in 2019, so Colorado is going to hang onto that if clubs approach them this winter, but they have so many needs up and down their organization and they’ve been waiting for McMahon to show consistency for three years. He’s also arbitration eligible this offseason, suggesting a seven-figure salary, and GM Jeff Bridich, assuming he’s back for 2021, will have to make changes. McMahon has a solid chance to upgrade Seattle’s bench in 2021, and despite the fact he can’t play the outfield, the fact Dylan Moore can, and fairly well, covers Seattle in case of mid-game emergency. Adam Frazier, 2B/SS Frazier batted .276, .277, .278 with .344, .342, .336 OBPs from 2017-2019, but in 58 games in 2020 it all fell apart to the tune of a .230/.297/.364 slash. He’s arbitration eligible for the second time and made a pro-rated $2.8 million this past season, suggesting the grossly-rebuilding Pirates could very well be open to a deal. Frazier is a solid-average second baseman, capable at shortstop and has 99 starts in the outfield where he’s posted +8 DRS in four years. Frazier has hitting chops and I’d bet pretty hard on him bouncing back. He’ll be 29 in December, bats left-handed — which adds some needed balance to a pretty right-handed lineup the Mariners will send out there in 2021 (J.P. Crawford and Kyle Seager are the lone lefties in the projected lineup). While Frazier won’t be free, the Pirates aren’t likely to love the idea of paying him $3.5-4 mill, either, suggesting he can be had without costing anything more than expendable talent in return. Maybe a multi-player deal including Bucs right-handed reliever Tyler Bashlor can be negotiated. Bashlor is out of options and has struggled throwing strikes, but that sounds an awful lot like Connor Sadzeck and Austin Adams. Bashlor sits 94-97 mph with an average slider and useful changeup. Jon Gray, RHP You knew I was going to bring up Gray, right? I’ve been talking about Gray for two years because he’s underperformed since 2017 and now is a year from free agency. The Rockies either need to fish or cut bait and they don’t know how to cast a line. Gray’s shoulder injury that ended his season is an obstacle and could derail the idea altogether, but there’s no indication — yet — that the injury is long-term. The former No. 3 overall pick has a big fastball at 93-97, though his average heater dropped from 96.1 to 94.1 in 2020. His slider is plus to plus-plus, but he didn’t have the best of it much this past season, and while his changeup hasn’t been useful since 2018, his curveball has been at least fringe-average, albeit more of an early-count option than an out pitch. His strikeout rate sank to 12.6% this year, but his 23.5%-24.6% the past three years still doesn’t match the raw stuff. Gray needs someone to help him unlock his potential. I’m not saying he’s Gerrit Cole — he doesn’t have that kind of upside… Cole always did (former No. 1 pick, always projected as a potential ace), Gray does have frontline stuff, and he’s always been able to throw strike, generally speaking — 7.6% walk rate over his career. I’d sure like to see what the Mariners could do with a healthy Gray in 2021. Wouldn’t you? And we’re past the point where the cost is too prohibitive. He’s only controlled by Colorado for one more season and via arbitration could net between $6-7 million. This suggests the Rockies could even non-tender the right-hander, and if I were Seattle I’d be at the front of the line looking for medicals and potentially handing Gray a guaranteed contract. Heck, I’d be willing to give him his projected arbitration salary. Miguel Andujar, 3B/1B The Yankees have Gio Urshela now entrenched at third base for the foreseeable future and Andujar struggled in his 65 PAs in 2020. We saw some potential at the plate in 2018 when the now-25-year-old (26 in March) batted .297/.328/.527 with 27 homers, and his ability to make contact could be a valuable foundation for a fix to his recent struggles. Andujar is not a good third baseman, and the Mariners have first base locked up for the time being, but there’s upside here and all it takes is one injury to Seager, Ty France, Dylan Moore, or Evan White to open up time for a player like Andujar. The squeeze here is the fact the Yankees have an option left on Andujar and he’s not arbitration eligible until after next season (at the soonest), so the Bombers aren’t particularly motivated to move him, generally a tell on cost. I just wonder if the Mariners don’t have an equally-valuable yet dispensable piece in their system the Yankees might believe is more likely to help them than Andujar.