Hoping to reshape the Seattle Mariners, GM Jerry Dipoto offloaded veterans this offseason with the express goal of turbocharging his farm system. Recent prospect rankings suggest Dipoto’s pivot is paying dividends.
Thanks to Dipoto’s maneuvering, MLB Prospect Watch now identifies six Mariners among baseball’s 100 best prospects.
Teams With Most Top-100 Prospects
Mariners cracking the Top-100 include Jarred Kelenic (23), Justin Dunn (66), Logan Gilbert (67), Justus Sheffield (77), Evan White (80), and Julio Rodriguez (86). It’s worth noting Seattle’s only 2018 entrant – Kyle Lewis – is no longer included.
The preceding table indicates the Mariners acquired three Top-100 prospects from other teams – the most in MLB. Eleven other clubs also found high-value minor leaguers elsewhere.
The outsiders Dipoto snagged continue developing in the minors, as do most of the names listed below. A few are major leaguers; injuries are slowing others.
Top-100 Prospects From External Sources
The White Sox sent Chris Sale to Boston for Michael Kopech and other prospects, including Yoán Moncada. Kopech appeared in four games last year before needing Tommy John surgery, which will sideline the 23-year-old until 2020.
Dylan Cease was a Cubs sixth round pick prior to a trade between crosstown rivals sending starter Jose Quintana to the North Side. Another 23-year-old; Cease is experiencing growing pains in the White Sox rotation as he adjusts to big league competition.
After missing 2014-15 due to injuries, Jonathan Loaisiga signed with the Yankees following his release by the Giants. Unfortunately, the injury bug continues plaguing Loaisiga. He’s currently on the IL with rotator cuff issues and out until at least August.
The A’s acquired Jesus Luzardo in the deal shipping Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson to the Nationals. Arriving with Luzardo were Oakland’s number-nine prospect Sheldon Neuse and reliever Blake Treinen. Currently, a lat strain is idling the 21-year-old in the minors.
The Padres netted Logan Allen along with Carlos Asuaje, Javy Guerra and Manuel Margot by trading closer Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox in November 2015. Allen made his MLB debut this year and is in San Diego’s starting rotation.
The prospect making the largest impact thus far is Yordan Álvarez, who’s already hitting tape-measure home runs. Houston acquired the 22-year-old from the Dodgers for former Mariners first rounder Josh Fields in a 2016 deadline deal.
Fun fact: During his lone 2017 World Series appearance with Los Angeles, Fields surrendered two home runs in six pitches to the Astros.
More Than Just Trades
Prospects the Mariners added via trades are generating considerable media attention both locally and on a national level. But there’s a homegrown element to Seattle’s rising farm system.
Notable Homegrown Mariner Prospects
Gilbert’s stock is rising fast after being his team’s first round pick in 2018. Meanwhile, the power surge of battery-mate Cal Raleigh is making his presence known.
A serious knee injury profoundly affected Lewis’ development, although the Mercer alum can still deliver MLB value.
Julio Rodriguez and Noelvi Marte are still teenagers, but demonstrate lots of upside. Time will tell whether either flourishes in the majors. For now though, their early performances are generating enthusiasm.
New And Improved?
Injecting new blood into the farm system can energize an organization and its fan base, but life teaches us new doesn’t necessarily mean better. Consider the sagas of two ballyhooed prospects acquired by former GM Jack Zduriencik – Justin Smoak and Jesús Montero.
Smoak arrived in the deal sending Cliff Lee to the Rangers in July 2010 and was a Mariner for five seasons. Although the former South Carolina Gamecock could be productive, he struggled to consistently deliver results. Smoak never met lofty expectations in Seattle. Fortunately, he enjoyed a renaissance with the Blue Jays.
In January 2012, Zduriencik sent Michael Pineda to the Yankees for Montero. Pineda was an All-Star and top-5 finisher 2011 Rookie of the Year voting, but the Mariners willingly assumed the risk of dealing a budding star for a power bat.
In the end, it didn’t work out. Montero delivered 24 home runs and .383 SLG in 208 games.
But There’s More
Mariner fans are also familiar with homegrown prospects falling short – assuming they actually reached the majors. Here are high draft picks that delivered little-to-no value. Included in parenthesis is career WAR.
Lackluster Mariner Prospects Since 2009
Dustin Ackley was the number-two overall pick in 2009 and made a strong 2011 major-league debut slashing .273/.348/.417 with 3.7 WAR. Ackley never matched these numbers during his final five MLB seasons.
MLB Prospect Watch ranked Danny Hultzen 13th in 2013. Unfortunately, shoulder problems have restricted the former Virginia Cavalier to just 23.1 innings since 2014. Despite multiple setbacks, Hultzen continues plugging away – he’s currently with the Cubs’ AAA affiliate. Wouldn’t it be great if the lefty’s long ordeal finally leads to the majors?
D.J. Peterson ranked 50th among MLB prospects in 2015 but has yet to reach the majors. After the Mariners waived him, Peterson spent time with the Reds and White Sox organizations. Unfortunately, Chicago released the 27-year-old in June after he slashed .185/.262/.362 with Class-AAA Charlotte.
Nick Franklin, Andrew Moore, Patrick Kivlehan, and Steven Baron have MLB time. However, all are minor leaguers with other clubs except for Moore. Seattle included the former Oregon State Beaver in a deal with the Rays to acquire Alex Colomé and Denard Span last season. Moore returned to the Mariners via waivers this year.
Although Seattle’s farm system has under-produced for decades, Dipoto did inherit some homegrown talent. Naturally, he’s dealt most of his inheritance receiving varying levels of value in return.
On Thanksgiving Eve 2016, Seattle parted ways with Ketel Marte and Taijuan Walker to land Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura. Marte is a 2019 All-Star this season with the Diamondbacks; Haniger and Segura were All-Stars last year. Additionally, Dipoto flipped Segura to snag J.P. Crawford – a potential long-term answer at shortstop.
When he Mariners sent Tyler O’Neill to the Cardinals for Marco Gonzales in July 2017, few fans were pleased. Since then, Gonzales has been winning over skeptics and was this year’s Opening Day starter.
The jury remains out on sending Nick Neidert to Miami for Dee Gordon. Knee tendonitis is slowing Neidert, but the former second rounder is rehabbing and likely rejoins Class-AAA New Orleans soon. Meanwhile, Gordon’s production with Seattle has been disappointing.
Former Top-100 prospect Alex Jackson regressed in Seattle’s system spurring the team to trade the sixth overall pick in 2014 to the Braves for Max Povse and Rob Whalen. Still just 23-years-old, Jackson is with Class-AAA Gwinnett.
It’s plausible Jackson’s ceiling is backup status. Then again, that would position him to contribute more than the players the Mariners received. The team out-righted Povse to Class-AAA Tacoma; he’s currently on the 7-Day IL. Sadly, Whalen retired in February.
Understandably, the aftertaste from the Smoak and Montero deals and other misguided transactions compels some fans to feel angst upon hearing the Mariners are rebuilding. Oh and there’s the matter of not reaching the postseason since 2001, which continues to fuel pessimism.
Despite the Mariners’ underwhelming history of acquiring, drafting, and developing prospect talent, Dipoto deserves the opportunity to produce better results without having to answer for the club’s past mistakes.
Every ill-fated personnel move prior to September 2015 were the decisions of a bygone front office – not Dipoto and his staff.
Seattle Sea Change
Now, I’m not suggesting fans should forget previous missteps – just don’t dwell on them. Instead, let’s look forward starting with the changing complexion of the Mariners system.
PI’s Mid-Season Prospect Rankings
Over half the 2019 names are new to the organization. We already noted the swap of Stowers and Long. The team also traded Bryson Brigman for rental Cameron Maybin last July. The remaining newbies arrived via previously mentioned deals and the 2019 draft.
Kirby’s teammate Brandon Williamson may evolve into a number two-three starter, but it’s too early to tell.
Isaiah Campbell arrived via a compensatory pick acquired from the Indians along with Edwin Encarnación in the deal sending Mariners icon Carlos Santana to Cleveland. A heavy workload with Arkansas this season likely idles Campbell until next season.
Next Gen Stars
Imagining a Mariners roster sourced by prospects we’ve discussed is an exciting proposition. Still, fans should temper expectations. Some youngsters are several years away from the majors even if they avoid injury or performance setbacks.
Remember, Rodriguez and Marte are teenagers, so is Kelenic. There are recent examples of notable stars debuting in MLB before their 20th birthday – Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Ronald Acuña Jr, and Juan Soto . But I haven’t seen any comparisons of the Mariners’ trio to these special players.
Still, help will arrive before the teen-aged wonders. We’ve already received a preview with the brief stints of Long and Bishop. By the end of next season, the results of Dipoto’s prospect should be on full display. Here’s a sample of players we may see by September 2020.
Potential Mariner Contributors By Late 2020
Please note; the preceding list isn’t all-inclusive – just examples. Others may join the club, while some of those listed may encounter obstacles along the way or *gasp* be traded. Another realistic scenario; Dipoto acquires additional youthful reinforcements.
You Can’t Argue With Results
Okay, I’ve talked a lot about rankings. However, as Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill astutely noted in December, prospects rankings won’t matter in the end.
Only results matter.
The improving stature of Dipoto’s system is encouraging, but the farm must eventually yield major-league talent. Otherwise, everything we’ve heard about prospects from the team and its broadcast wing amounts to bluster without substance – or results.
My assessment is the Mariners are on a path to building a sustainable winner. However, challenges await the front office and ownership that they must master to realize success.
First, the most obvious – the team must convert prospect capital into MLB talent. Whether minor leaguers produce join the Mariners or Dipoto flips prospects for established big leaguers, management must deliver value. At this early stage of the rebuild, the outlook remains positive.
Will the Mariners maintain organizational discipline and remain committed to Dipoto’s plan, even if the team isn’t competitive by the dates publicly suggested?
That answer should become evident by leadership’s actions between now and 2021.
Hopefully, for beleaguered Mariners fans, the response will be a resounding “yes.”…