It’s my opinion the Seattle Mariner just experienced the most successful player development season in team history. Prospects prospered, the list of “top” prospects doubled, at least, players changed their profiles and projections to the positive, meaningful development took place for literally dozens of minor leaguers. We saw a handful of graduations — Logan Gilbert, Cal Raleigh, Jarred Kelenic among them — and the club’s current No. 1 prospect has a whirlwind of a season highlighted by massive numbers and answered questions. A banner year, as one might say. Every year when you and I have this conversation I am tempted to remind readers this is not about stats. This is not ‘Player of the Year/Pitcher of the Year’ it’s ‘Prospects of the Year,’ which means the criterion is different. Performance — stats — are helpful, but development and its effect on projected impact are what this is about. For example, outfielder Cade Marlowe had a great year, batting .272/.365/.563 at two stops this season, including 60 extra-base hits and 23 stolen bases. He was named Mariners Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year by the club just this week. Marlowe experienced his own crucial development this season, but he’s not the hitting prospect of the year because someone else had a more important season, bigger developments, answered more questions about their future. Make sense? Here we go. Hitting Prospect of the Year: Noelvi Marte, SS Marte, who will not turn 20 until October, was essentially a man-child in Low-A West this season for the Modesto Nuts. He was consistent, showed plus power, the ability to make adjustments offensively and defensively, and put up numbers worth writing home about, if that’s your thing. Marte batted .273/.366/.459 with 17 home runs and 24 stolen bases. Moe importantly than those numbers are how he got them. Marte has plus bat speed that produces easy plus power to his pull side, but his work trying to use the middle of the field more showed power all the way around to the right-center field gap. Opposite-field power that was mostly of the doubles variety right now but very well could turn into legitimate home-run pop as he continues to mature physically and as a hitter. The right-handed hitting Dominican Republic native was among the elite players at the Low-A level for the first two months of 2021, then had a rough July — .219/.270/.316 with a 27% strikeout rate and just six extra-base hits. Not only did Marte bounce back in August, he did so in a big way — .287/.412/.553 — and rode it into a short-stint promotion to end the season. Entering the season the basic questions were whether or not Marte could sustain hit and power production versus pitchers two-plus years his senior, and how much he could improve defensively despite seemingly being on his way to outgrowing shortstop. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds, but by multiple accounts is more like 6-2 or 6-3 and around 200 pounds. He’s still athletic and has above-average speed — he entered pro ball with a 70-grade run tool — but has impressively taken a shaky defensive start to 2021 and turned it mostly positive. Plays he didn’t make early, he made at a high rate the rest of the season. Mistakes he made early, he made at a high rate the rest of the season. Tough plays, routine plays, difficult throws, plays which would be called ‘plus’ plays. Marte doesn’t have great range, neither laterally nor in terms of coming in on slow ground balls, but he’s cut way down on the routine errors. Many will look at the 29 error he made at Modesto and think, ‘welp, he can’t field’ and they’d be wrong. He’s not likely to profile well at shortstop, but the plays he’s shown he can make regularly, and the rate at which he’s shown he can make them over an extended stretch, suggest he may end up a solid defender at third base. Whether Seattle has come to the conclusion he’s not a shortstop remains to be seen. Generally, clubs don’t like moving players off a spot until it’s clear one of two things are true: He can’t play there long term, or his bat suggests, one way or the other, playing elsewhere is necessary (moving Marcus Littlewood from shortstop to catcher rather than third base or the outfield was because the Mariners thought if he could make the transition defensively hit bat might play in the majors. There was a lack of confidence it’d ever play at third or in a corner outfield spot. Moving Marte to third, for example, would be a sign the Mariners believe the bat plays at the hot corner, and there’s tons of evidence it could.) To some extent, Marte answered every question that could fairly be thrust upon him for the 2021 season, his first full season in pro ball and one that came after an entire year doing nothing but working out at the alternate site in 2020. He’ll enter 2022 with a chance to mirror the 2021 path of Julio Rodriguez, just like this season his development path mirrored Rodriguez’s 2019 campaign. At this point, Marte’s MLB ETA or probably somewhere between May 2023 and September of that season, but if he keeps answering questions as loudly as he did this season, maybe that’s selling him short. Runner-Up: Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez, 20, played half the minor-league schedule and spent time with the Dominican National Team qualifying and then competing in the Olympics. And Rodriguez was good in the Games against far more experienced players. While stateside, Rodriguez absolutely mashed, finishing at .347/.441/.560 with 13 homers and 21 stolen bases. At Double-A Arkansas, he hit .362/.461/.546 with a strikeout rate of just 18%. While I don’t project Rodriguez to be an elite hitter in terms of batting average, he’s clearly adept and recognizing when and how to just hit the ball hard and live with the result and when to power up and drive it. Over a full season, by the way, Franchise’s numbers project to 25 home runs, 36 doubles, four triples. The stolen bases aren’t likely to remain a weapon for him in the big leagues to the extent the totals from this season might suggest, but he’s yet to start losing quickness and speed, despite being all of 6-foot-3 or 6-fooot-4 and 215-225 pounds, maybe more. Defensively he projects as average from a range perspective, but in a corner could be a high-efficiency glove, and owns a 70-grade arm with increasing accuracy. He plays the game with tremendous energy and already is a fan favorite, a fact that will only grow with reckless abandon once he reaches The Show. There are some that still don’t love the entirety of Rodriguez’s swing mechanics, and I see the merits of those concerns, but with plus bat speed and tremendous strength in his hands, wrists and arms, he may not need to make significant fixes, and whether he will have to or not may not be truly learned until he faces big-league pitching regularly. See: Kelenic, Jarred. Despite 70 raw power, the swing path is clean with limited load. He covers the plate well, and has made an adjustment with his lower half, using his front leg less aggressively without sacrificing timing or power. It’s just a matter of time before we see it all in the majors. Over the winter, I’ll document the differences between Rodriguez and Kelenic as hitters and why offensively Rodriguez has always had a slight advantage, and why those exact reasons are why he’s less likely to struggle early. If Rodriguez had played all year, he’s probably the pick here, and he nearly won out, anyway he was so good, and tackled and conquered so many minors gripes about his game. Honorable Mentions Zach DeLoach, OF: .276/.373/.468, 33-2B, 4-3B, 14 HR DeLoach will have to work on making more contact (24.2% K rate in High-A+Double-A is a tad high for a bat that isn’t likely to hit more than 15-20 homers a year), but he hits line drives, controls the zone, and is above-average defensively in a corner. He doesn’t offer any standout tools, but everything lands in the solid range. DeLoach is a Top 15ish prospect in an elite farm system because he’s efficient and a high-probability player, even if he lacks the upside of others. Alberto Rodriguez, OF: .289/.379/.470 Rodriguez, the return from Toronto in exchange for two months of right-hander Taijuan Walker last August, had a really good year and it’s gone largely unnoticed because, well, there are rather large shadows cast by the top five prospects in the organization, including one that shared a clubhouse with Rodriguez all year. After a bad May, Rodriguez played 100 games the rest of the season — 93 in Modesto, seven for Everett — and batted .317/.403/.511 with 25 doubles, five triples and nine home runs. During that span, he fanned just 19.7% of the time, walked at an 11% clip, and played an average outfield. He’s dropped 12-15 pounds, allowing him to compete better allover the field, and there’s probably a little more power to unlock thanks to plus bat speed and a direct swing. But he’s as ‘control-the-zone’ as anyone else in the organization and belongs in the same conversation as DeLoach, Milkar Perez, George Feliz, Gabriel Gonzalez, and has an edge on Corey Rosier, Jonatan Clase, and Starlin Aguilar entering the offseason. Pitching Prospect of the Year: Matt Brash, RHP This, despite the presence of the best Mariners pitching prospect since Felix Hernandez in George Kirby, was not even close. Brash smoothed out his delivery without sacrificing arm speed, displayed a fastball 94-98 mph consistently and deep into starts that included pitch counts into 90s, setting up the best pitch in the system: a power slider with sharp, late, two-plane break. He hit 100 mph a few times with his four-seamer, there’s run and ride on the pitch, and while his command of it needs to get better, hitters in Double-A just didn’t have a chance. It’s a 70-grade slider he can vary a bit in shape and velocity. He’ll use the back door with it versus lefties, or go the route of the backfoot tie-up job with the threat of 98 looming. The data on both pitches are outstanding and project big-league success, including a lot of swing-and-miss. Brash’s changeup is an underrated pitch to date because he hasn’t thrown it a lot, but there’s fade and sink to it, and he maintains arm speed. The potential red flags here include 40-grade control — 11.9% walk rate — and some legitimate stink-eye about his arm action. Both suggest a bullpen role is realistic, but he’s athletic, puts in a ton of work and with his raw stuff taking the enormous step forward and in a starting role, perhaps more time can be spent making some small adjustments to combat the issues that were on display in 2021. But this season was a gigantic win for Brash and the Mariners. He allowed just 63 hits in 97.1 innings split between High-A and Double-A (.180 BAA), and he served up just six long balls. After posting a 2.55 ERA in 42.1 innings in 10 games for the AquaSox, Brash made 10 starts for Arkansas, and he allowed more than two earned runs just once, and went fewer than five innings just once. Not one implosion. Furthermore, over his final seven starts, the Niagara product allowed eight earned runs (1.79 ERA) on 19 hits over 40.1 innings. He walked 17 and struck 59. He did not allow a long ball during that stretch, and opponents batted .137/.231/.165 off him. Yes, that’s a .137 average and .165 slugging. Four doubles in 156 batters faced was all they could muster. He struck out over 38% of the batters faced for the year, and had scouts and opposing players talking before every start beginning in June. Brash is the easy choice for Pitching Prospect of the Year. Runner-Up: Brandon Williamson, LHP Williamson had a better year in traditional terms than did Kirby, and isn’t all that far behind in other aspects. The lefty was the first to be moved up after dominating in Everett (6 GS, 31 IP, 21 H, 10 BB, 59 SO), and essentially doing the same to a better league with much better hitters after the promotion. Williamson had four games with 10 or more strikeouts, including 25 over a two-game span with the Sox, then posting two more over his final six outings with the Travelers to end the season. But further than that, Williamson struck out fewer than eight batters in just six of 19 starts. The 2019 second-round pick is a legitimate four-pitch starter, beginning with a fastball up to 96, but mostly 92-94, and occasionally was more 90-93. Most believe, however, Williamson will live 92-95 with a reach-back for 97. His curveball is his best secondary, but the slider was good in 2021 and helped him dominate lefties (.200 BAA, .336 SLG). His changeup flashed, too, but the curveball was very effective versus right-handed batters, who hit just .239 off him with a .392 SLG. Williamson is more athletic than some give him credit, and he creates deception with his lower half and front side, helping the fastball play up and hiding the ball from the hitter for a bit longer than is typical. He may not have frontline upside, but I wouldn’t rule it out, and it appears I’m a little more bullish on Williamson than most of the national folks, but those in-tune with the organization seem to see what I’m seeing: a potential No. 2 that has a good chance to see the majors in 2022. Williamson had a great 2021. Honorable Mention George Kirby, RHP Kirby also split time between Everett and Arkansas, and while the stuff isn’t as gawdy as Brash’s, it’s very good, improved a ton from even June when I saw him at Tri-City, and it comes with plus control and above-average command. Kirby sat 93-98 mph and as the season wore on, it was more 94-99. He touched 100 or higher on a handful of occasions and topped out at 101. Despite the spike in velocity, the most important aspects about Kirby’s season and overall profile are why he lands here, and near the top of the prospect rankings, both in the Seattle system, and in Major League Baseball. Kirby still throws a ton of strikes, and his secondaries all took a meaningful step forward. The slider is his best offspeed pitch right now and should miss some bats at the next level, but his curveball isn’t far behind, and his changeup may have more ceiling than either breaking ball. There’s work to be done in terms of finishing out front on his secondaries, especially with the slider and curveball, and with getting him work. He missed some time as the club went safe with their arms after the year off in 2020, limiting Kirby to 67.2 innings. But he posted an 80-15 K/BB ratio, allowed just one homer all season, and flashed frontline stuff and command.
I’ve noticed something in particular this season down on the farm for the Seattle Mariners. Before players are promoted, they’ve performed at a high level for an extended period of time. While that may not sound especially notable, it is in this context: Previous regimes promoted players despite showing at the lower level they had a ways to go. Matt Tuiasosopo and Mike Zunino are two that stand out among a long list. And I don’t just mean statistically. There are times the numbers may not look great but the player has shown he’s ready for more. Conversely, there are times the numbers, at least some of them, look good, yet others don’t and the aggressive developmental approach backfires. The current player development formula in Seattle seems to cover all the bases, and errs on the cautious side, if anything, despite the fact we’ve seen young-for-the-level players promoted. Among the many oddities in the minors that may confuse fans when looking at numbers comes with the difference in hitting approaches down in rookie ball or even some in Low-A, versus the higher levels. Kids in the lowest levels tend to struggle versus offspeed stuff so they don’t swing at it much, hoping it’s out of the zone. Pitchers, also of the lesser-experienced variety, often don’t command their offspeed stuff as well, so the result often is a pitcher with lackluster overall statistics, despite acceptable or even very strong execution. And for pitcher who do locate well, they throw a lot of breaking balls out of the zone on purpose, because that’s what you do to get swings and misses, but instead end up falling behind in counts or allowing hitters back into them, despite executing perfectly. In High-A or Double-A, hitters can handle more of the offspeed stuff, and know if they just take those pitches pitchers will dominate them. Why does this matter? Statistics don’t tell the development story many think they do. Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez’s season has included two breaks to play for his home country in the Olympics, but there is nothing about his performance to suggest he’s been distracted. He’s not hitting for a ton of power, but that appears to be more of a sign of maturity than anything else; he’s not being given a lot to hit, and it taking the singles and walks and not trying to pull or lift everything. Rodriguez has clearly been focused on swinging at strikes and hitting the ball hard without too much specific intent. The result has been a lot of hard-hit balls from line to line, and a hit-over-power game plan that’s working. The long balls will come more naturally, and that’s an offensive advantage Rodriguez has always had over everyone else in the system. He has his own mechanical tweaks to make, however, which is why it’s not surprising at all the Mariners didn’t ship their top prospect to Triple-A or even the big leagues. He’s still an above-average runner who gets out of the box quickly, especially for a bigger player with 70 raw power. He’s also still just 20 years of age, suggesting as he continues to fill out physically, he’ll lose a half step or so and land in the average range in terms of foot speed, and outfield range. He’s shown very good baserunning instincts, including an ability to take advantage of minor league batteries. The arm is plus to plus-plus, and Rodriguez has cleaned up a lot of loose ends — hitting the cutoff man, throwing to the right base, not taking chances in key situations, et al — since his days in the DSL. In August, Rodriguez played just 15 games for Double-A Arkansas, but batted .407/.529/.519. He walked 13 times and struck out on just six occasions in nearly 70 plate appearances. He’s among the best prospects in baseball and on a journey that certainly lands him in the majors sometime in 2022. The Franchise is coming, folks. George Kirby, RHP Kirby has been outstanding in 2021, and while his August in Arkansas consisted of three shorter starts (by design), one of them turning up lame (4 ER, 3 BB, 1 IP), I’ll reiterate my comments on Twitter from last month: Kirby is a better pitching prospect right now than Logan Gilbert ever was, and Gilbert was pretty good and has bright future ahead of him. Why? Kirby is 94-98 every time out and always touches the upper range, and has two legit breaking balls led by a plus slider. His changeup is already useful and flashes average, and his general control is plus. Despite not being quite the phenom prospect King Felix was, Kirby is in Felix territory in one aspect: From here on out it’s really as simple as watering him and watching him grow. He’s on the path. For the season, Kirby has made 13 starts and covered 57 innings. He’s allowed 46 hits, walked 12 batters and struck out 70. He’s RP1 in the system right now, carrying No. 2 upside and a high mid-rotation floor, likely seeing the majors sometime next season and sticking in 2023. Noelvi Marte, SS I’m still firmly on the ‘3B’ side of Marte’s ultimate defensive landing spot, but one significant piece of info I’m taking from his defensive development is the simple fact he worked very hard at it and got a lot better. Playing on the dirt, whether it be at third or short, requires a lot of the same skills; lateral movement, arm strength and accuracy, quick release, clean transfers, throwing off balance. Showing he can do a lot of that and eliminate mistakes is enormous. Marte had a tough July at the plate — .219/.270/.316 — but rebounded in August, batting .287/.412/.553 with 18 walks and 19 strikeouts in 115 PAs. For the season he’s at .271/.368/.462, and will not turn 20 years of age until October 16. He’ll get a few weeks in Everett to complete his season and likely start there next April. His timeline hasn’t necessarily changed as a result of his performance this season, mostly because it was difficult to place one on him after no 2020 and only seeing the stat line from the DSL in 2019. He’s acclimated very well and is now getting some Manny Machado comps as he’s grown and filled out, and it’s not as crazy as some might think. The power is legitimate 65 raw, and he’s showing developing tools that allow him to hit with increasing consistency. The adjustments he made this summer bode well for his future. If you’re an opposing pitcher that’s in or will eventually land in the High-A West league, here’s some advice: Tread carefully. Matt Brash, RHPWe’ve talked a lot about Brash on Baseball Things, and he’s a constant topic on Twitter, and that’s because despite his lack of prototypical size (6-1, 180), and despite the concerns about the delivery, he’s done nothing but dominate all season. In fact, Brash, 23, has been better in eight starts at Double-A Arkansas than in 10 outings for High-A Everett. Since the promotion, he’s logged 44 innings and allowed just eight earned runs on 22 hits. He’s walked 16 — which is a little high — but he’s punched out 69 batters. For the year, Brash has 131 strikeouts in 86.1 innings — 37% of batters faced. He will lose his release point occasionally, explaining the walks and the good-not-great 62% strike rate, but he’s been nearly unhittable at times and has the best present stuff of any arm in the organization, including the big leagues. The fastball is firmly 94-98 mph with run and ride and some deception thanks to his bend and three-quarter arm slot. His slider is just pure filth with late two-plane break, and it appears he either varies the velo on it or throws an actual curveball that he can throw for strikes, too. His changeup is inconsistent, but far from a project pitch; in his August 19 outing when he no-hit Frisco for 6.1 innings and fanned 11 in seven frames, he threw a handful of projectable changeups with some arm side run and sink, and let me explain something here: In any role, if Brash is 94-98 with a 65 slider and either an average curveball or changeup, he’s going to beat good lineups. If he has both of the latter pair, he’s going to destroy them. Brash made four starts in August, allowing three earned runs in 23.1 innings. He walked nine and struck out 37. He’ll need to clean up the spotty control, but the stuff is flat out wicked and rivals that of anyone else in all of the minors. If he can find a way to stay in the rotation, I don’t know what the right ceiling projection is, but I lean No. 1. There’s just more risk here than with some of the other arms in the system, so until he answers those questions he’ll be ranked a little lower than Kirby, Emerson Hancock for me. Brandon Williamson, LHP Williamson has had a very good year and was the first of the arms to move from High-A to Double-A. He’s thrown strikes fairly consistently all season (64% strikes thrown, 32 walks in 87 innings), and his stuff has improved across the board. His difference maker is the fastball, with deception and high spin, he generates swings and misses 91-94 mph. But at times in his amateur and pro career, the left-hander has flashed 95-97 mph heat, and anywhere 94-plus the pitch has been devastating to minor league bats. His slider has proven a real weapon versus lefties this season and he’s shown enough with the changeup to maintain legitimate four-pitch status. His curveball is plus at times, landing firmly in the above-average range, and can be used effectively versus both lefties and righties, and in any count thanks to good command. I don’t see a frontline ceiling unless the velocity ticks up and is consistently 94-plus, but there’s a quality mid-rotation arm here that is still developing from stuff to command, and it’s impossible not to like the foundation he’s built on deception, fastball value, and pitch mix. Williamson was dirty in August, logging 20.2 innings and yielding just three earned runs on eight hits. He posted a 34-9 K/BB ratio in four starts. There certainly is a chance he hits the majors next season, but I don’t think he’s on the fast track, and I don’t think he’s an ideal candidate to transition into the majors through a relief-first path, which theoretically gets arms to the majors quicker, at least in many cases. Connor Phillips, RHP Phillips is a legitimate prospect on the mound being underrated by many in the industry. Kudos to Seattle for seeing the upside on him in last year’s draft and taking the chance he can start or develop into a high-leverage reliever. The raw stuff is undeniable, starting with a fastball into the 95-99 mph range, showing life up in the zone and some run in on right-handed batters. He has two breaking balls, the best of which is a slider that has flashed plus and more typically dwells in the average to above-average range. But it’s projectable and potentially a true strikeout pitch for the right-hander, who pairs the pitch with his four-seamer very well. He added a curveball, a relatively new pitch for him, and it flashes some promise but needs to be sharper, and his changeup remains below average but occasionally looks more than useful for him. There’s a legit chance at a three-pitch mix here, and four isn’t out of the realm of legitimate possibility. What is in question is his control and command. Phillips has issued 44 walks in 72 inning, and the contact data on his stuff strongly suggests throwing more strikes will benefit him greatly, even more than most arms. He’s allowed the least barrels among any pitcher in the Low-A circuit, minimum 50 innings pitched, and just one home run in 322 batters faced. Opponents have slugged just .288 off him this season. He’s a physical arm, listed at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds but looks more like 215, and there’s above-average athleticism, lending confidence he can fine-tune his mechanics and throw more strikes. Starters that can pitch effectively in the zone have an advantage over those that cannot, and Phillips may be one of those thanks to his fastball, both in terms of velocity and movement, and he’s had 14 or more whiffs in a game five times, including 17 in his last outing and 22 back in May. Best part about Phillips’ development is this is just Year 1, and he won’t turn 21 years of age until May. Milkar Perez, 3BPerez, who was just promoted to Low-A Modesto, is a bat-first, fringe-defender listed as a third baseman, but his profile is led by above-average raw power that projects to grow as he does. Thus far he has shown a solid line-drive swing, but he has expanded the zone a little often and his contact rates suffered a bit as a result, but has a track record of avoiding the chase. He’s just 19 — he’s exactly the same age as Marte, down to the day — and hit for average in the rookie league, but 10 doubles and a sub-.400 slugging percentage is all he has to show in the power department. If Perez can’t stick at third base, power is going to have to be a big part of his game or at this stage of his experience I wouldn’t think much of his zero home runs in 145 at-bats. I do wonder if moving to right field is a possibility; He’s not a great athlete but has a terrific arm and if he has issues managing at the hot corner, right would seem like a spot to at least consider, even with a lack of foot speed. Either way he’s a bat that needs to rake pretty big to play regularly, but I’ve seen 10-15 home run projections on him that I think should be ignored. There’s bat speed to back up more than that, he just needs to develop the kind of swing that to get to it and that takes time. Perez’s .313/.430/.391 slash in August was noteworthy, and now we’ll get to see him give the former Cal League a go. Alberto Rodriguez, OFRodriguez, the return for Taijuan Walker last summer from the Toronto Blue Jays, struggled for the first 5-6 weeks of the season, but since June 17 went .343/.400/.547 with 24 doubles, three triples, and eight homers. Lots of barrel and a strikeout rate under 18% over that span, too. No wonder the club thought Everett was where he should end the season. He’s a sturdily-built left-handed stick with above-average raw power and hit tools. He throws pretty well and has average range, but is limited to a corner spot. The Mariners like the bat speed and bat-to-ball skills and so far Rodriguez is rewarding them. He’s 21 in October and has a shot to reach Double-A next summer. He worked to get into better shape after last season and more of that is probably needed if he wants a chance to play everyday. Starlin Aguilar, 3BAguilar has played 35 games down in the Dominican Summer League, looking a lot like Perez, with whom he shared a lot of similarities, both physically and in terms of tools. Aguilar, however, has a raw power advantage, and therefore an upside advantage, too. But there’s as much or risk in his profile because of the lack of full confidence he sticks at third base long-term, hence the chance he’s a bat without a position. But the scouting report also suggests a better-than-Perez chance he hits enough for first base, so while he comes with a little more risk right now, the upside evens out the comparison between the two, which is how I’ve been ranking them. Edryn Rodriguez, 2BRodriguez is not a name that gets much play because he wasn’t one of the bigger signings. But he has been one of the better performance this summer in the DSL. He hit .296/.415/.537 in August and has fared well enough at second base defensively to leave him there and see what happens. He’s not a great athlete but a solid one, and if he has to move to left field it puts more pressure on his bat, but despite his lack of stature — listed at 5-9, 150 pounds, though these sizes are often off 5-15% in weight — he’s finding the barrel a lot and has a chance for average power. Rodriguez is just 18 with hopes to crack the ACL or better next season, thanks to a very strong performance with the bat in 2021. Tyler Driver, RHPDriver, 20, has pitched at three stops this season, mostly in rookie ball after being the club’s 18th-round pick in 2019. He’s a right-hander out of Cary, North Carolina who has worked a ton on adding strength to his 6-foot-2 frame. He’s still listed at 185, but appears to have creeped closer to 200, and after some uneven outings in the rookie league has shown out a few times of late. Perhaps one of the victims of what I discussed in the lede regarding breaking balls and inexperience hitters, Driver’s numbers were uninspiring in Arizona, despite four scoreless multi-inning efforts with clean lines, and more strikeouts than innings pitched. But in a spot start in place of Levi Stoudt in Double-A Arkansas on a day he arrived just hours before game time, Driver put together his best professional start. He went six innings, allowing six hits and an earned run, walking one and striking out seven. His fastball is low 90s, but he mixes in a lot of two-seamers with above-average run and some sink, and a changeup that pairs with it very well. His slider is above-average and works off either of the first two pitches. I’m not sure what Driver is moving forward, but he’s taken the developmental approach to his career, which bodes well for the end-result, and his pitchability and improved stuff suggest a big-league profile of some sort. And Driver, in many circles, is just an org arm, and I get that assessment of him. He’s just betting on himself with work, and the physical tools and pitches are there to outperform that eval. Arms grow on trees in this organization, it seems. NEW: Top 5 It’s the final monthly prospect report of the season, but I thought it’d be a good time to unveil a new part of this piece, which will continue next season. A top 5. It can be anything from Top 5 at a position group, top 5 of a specific tool, top 5 performance, whatever jumps out at me for the month. This month: Top 5 pure relievers in the farm system. By pure reliever I mean an arm either currently pitching in the role that isn’t being developed as a starter, or a recent draftee with heavy expectations a relief role is his future. 5. Luis Curvelo, RHP Curvelo, 20, is into the upper 90s with an average to above-average slider, and has posted 74 strikeouts and 17 walks in 51.1 innings this season, his first in full-season ball.4. Ray Kerr, LHP Kerr is 95-100 mph, and occasionally has hit 102, setting up an above-average slider. He’s athletic, repeats his delivery, and is throwing more strikes than ever since his promotion to Triple-A Tacoma last month. Expect Kerr to be at least a fringe piece of the bullpen conversation in spring training, and one of the first call-ups during the season.3. Yohan Ramirez, RHP Ramirez is still more than 10 innings from prospect graduation, but he may be turning a corner when it comes to harnessing his plus stuff. More strikes, fewer walks, similar strikeout rates, and it’s all adding up to more success in the majors.2. Bryan Woo, RHP Woo, who had UCL surgery and won’t pitch until mid-to-late 2022, has been up to 98 mp with a plus breaker, and projects as a potential back-end bullpen arm. He threw strikes at Cal Poly — 15 walks in his final 45 innings, and just eight in his 28 frames in 2021 — to suggest effective control in short stints.1. Andres Munoz, RHP Velocity is a big part of Munoz’s game. He’s been up to 104 mph and regularly sat 99-101 in his big-league stint before falling to elbow surgery.
Logan Gilbert, Taylor Trammell, and Jarred Kelenic have graduated from the top 10 this year but loads of talent remains in one of the deeper systems in baseball. Clicking on the team (level) will take you to the full, official, current roster. DSL Mariners (R) George Feliz, CF Feliz has lived up to his ends of the bargain early in his debut in the Mariners organization. He batted .381/.469/.738 with eight extra-base hits and five stolen bases in 11 games. He’s been compared to Nationals outfielder Victor Robles, but I’ve also heard Andres Torres and Shane Victorino. Gabriel Gonzalez, OF He may up in a corner, putting pressure on the bat and especially the power, but hit .347/.433/.571 in 14 games in July, including three doubles and three home runs. He’s just 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, but the bat speed and bat-to-ball skills are showing out in the DSL. Edryn Rodriguez, 2BHe’s not talked about much but has good bat speed and a mature swing path. He’s probably limited to the middle of the field offensively, but has the athleticism to stay at second base or slide into center. Starlin Aguilar, 3BAguilar may not stick at the hot corner but has the arm for it and ranks ahead of Milkar Perez on the ‘chances to stick’ depth chart. Aguilar projects to hit for some power, but how far and how fast he moves up the ladder will depend on how quickly he turns his raw tools into skills. He’s making consistent contact, a great sign the power come in time. Adrian Quintana, RHPQuintana is among the more projectable arms on the roster at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds at age 18. His arm is quick, and he’s touched 90 mph with projectable slider and changeup. He’s punched out nine in 11 innings for work for the DSL Mariners, two of those scoreless outing. He went five shutout innings last time out, including five strikeouts and no walks. Arizona Mariners (R) Milkar Perez, 3BPerez, 19 until October, hit .284/.478/.343 in July, an odd slash, but one that’s common in rookie ball as inexperienced hitters with advanced plate skills show mixed results. Luis Chevalier, 2BHe’s likely limited to second base, but Chevalier has flashed some hitting ability early in the ACL, despite his .219 batting average. He’s drawn 15 walks and collected five extra-base hits in July. He won’t turn 20 until January. Jonatan Clase, CFIn 14 games he posted mixed results with a .245/.333/.388 slash, but went 16-for-16 in the stolen base department. He hasn’t played since July 19 due to an undisclosed injury, but won’t be 20 until next May and his 70 speed and raw athleticism are an exciting package of clay for the Mariners dev staff. Michael Limoncelli, RHP The 6th-round pick from the 2019 draft class is back on the mound after sitting out most of ’19 and all of 2020 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. While he’s struggled to throw consistent strikes, the stuff is most or all of the way back, as evidenced by his 20 strikeouts in 16 innings in July. At his best he’s 90-92 mph with a solid-average curveball. The club hopes they can safely max out his velocity, develop the changeup and take advantage of his athleticism. Yeury Tatiz, RHPThe 20-year-oldtTatiz brings projection with his 6-foot-3, 185-pound frame and a fastball into the low 90s. He’s missing bats in the ACL (19 in 14.2 IP), but catching a lot of the plate and struggling with control. Luis Baez, RHPThere was a time just three years ago Baez was my No. 25 prospect. The fact he’s now unranked has more to do with the club’s farm vastly improving than his struggles, but the right-hander has had problems throwing strikes with consistency. But he’s a good arm with velocity projection, missing bats at every step so far. Modesto Nuts (Low-A) Noelvi Marte, SSMarte struggled over an extended period for the first time in his professional career, batting .219/.270/.316 in July. He continues to show maturity, however, both on and off the field, and defensively the belief he stays on the dirt grows as the season progresses. The Manny Machado comps makes some sense, though the Padres third baseman broke into the big leagues with the Orioles three and a half weeks after he turned 20. The power does stand out for Marte, but the most impressive part of his 2021 season to date may be his increasing consistency with everything from his glove work to throwing to the bounce back he’s now experiencing after a tough month. Adam Macko, LHPMacko sat out for nearly six weeks with soreness and has battled bouts of control problems in his eight starts but the stuff and athleticism cannot be denied. He’s punched out 36% of the batters he’s faced, flashing 92-95 mph velocity, an above-average slider and average changeup. Macko needs work-up time to build arm endurance and improve his control, but once the switch flips he may move quickly. Connor Phillips, RHPPhillips is built like a big-league arm and flashes three major-league pitches, including velocity into the mid-90s. He, too, has struggled with control but walked just two batters in his final two starts in July. Overall, the stuff still can be a bit hittable at times, but he’s just 20 years old and 49 innings into his pro career, and there have been signs of dominance. Phillips has a shot to develop into a mid-rotation starter, but it’s likely to take some time to work on the mechanics and develop the secondaries. Sam Carlson, RHPCarlson started the year with fire, then struggled with command in June and July,and saw his velocity dip down after his first few outings into the 88-91 mph range. It’s ticked up a bit of late and he finished July strong, posting a 15-5 K/BB ratio over his final three outings of the month. His slider is his best pitch and the fastball does get ride up and to his arm side. While he’s 22 and older than a lot of the hitters he’s facing, this season has always been about rebuilding his arm strength after missing nearly four years with arm problems. He’s a great athlete — maybe the best in the entire organization — and despite the fluctuation in velocity he’s piled up 78 strikeouts in 67.2 innings of work. I still see a No. 3 starter here, but he’s not likely to move swiftly through the lower minors and as a result will be a tad older than the media age until he hits Triple-A. Alberto Rodriguez, OFAfter a bad May — .173/.281/.293 — the 20-year-old Rodriguez hit .298/.395/.497 over the next two months. He was the return in the trade with the Toronto Blue Jays for Taijuan Walker and has a chance to develop into something at the plate. Everett AquaSox (High-A) George Kirby, RHPKirby started the season looking rather ordinary for a prospect of his status, but since mid-June or so has turned it up a notch. In July he made just two starts after sitting out to curb fatigue and soreness but picked up right where June left off. He’s been up to 98 mph with above-average command, and a slider that’s quickly developing into his best secondary offering. Kirby, slated to go Saturday in Spokane, could see Double-A Arkansas once he’s ramped back up after nearly a month off. His last start — July 10 in Eugene — was his best as a pro: 7 IP, 4 H, ER, BB, 11 SO. Once the Mariners take the kid gloves off, the right-hander is likely to scream through the minors. Emerson Hancock, RHPHancock just returned from time on the shelf with soreness, too, but it’s important to note the Mariners have asked their arms to be aggressively upfront about fatigue and any soreness beyond the expected. Last year’s No. 6 overall pick has flashed a plus slider and a fastball 93-96 and touching 98. He’s also shown a solid-average changeup and the arm speed and finish the Mariners loved about him last spring. Hancock may not move as quickly as Kirby as he works through potential fastball concerns — it’s not a swing-and-miss pitch and its movement is mostly down in slightly sinking fashion. Hancock is learning to use it up in the zone. He made just one start in July, but barring additional setbacks is expected to be in the rotation in Everett most of, if not the entire rest of the season. Taylor Dollard, RHPDollard doesn’t have the advanced stuff of Kirby and Hancock, and in starts where he’s struggled to avoid the middle of the zone he’s been hit pretty hard. He’s still missing bats and throwing strike — 33 strikeouts, 7 walks in 35.1 innings — but the seven homers he’s allowed isa bit of a concern, and perhaps further evidence his future lies in a relief role. Juan Then, RHPThen has had an uneven 2021, which was not unexpected, at least for me. He’s a little shy on stuff for a starter as he develops his changeup, and he’s battled some control issues at times, forcing him to pitch a lot with runners on base. Then made just one appearance in July. When healthy he’s 92-96 mph with a 55 slider that flashes plus, and in a bullpen role Then might turn into Edwin Diaz 2.0. But he’s still just 21 and likely stays in the rotation plans for at least another year. Which is exactly what Diaz did at the same stage. Victor Labrada, CFLabrada’s upside is limited but he can run and defend, and if he can find a way to cut down on the strikes has a chance to be a good fourth outfielder. He batted .333.412/.467 in July, earning a promotion to Everett in the process. Arkansas Travelers (Double-A) Matt Brash, RHPBrash has relentlessly pounded the strike zone with plus velocity into the upper-90s, sitting 94-98, and complementing with two breaking balls, including a plus power slider with late break and tilt. He’s the furthest along of the starting pitching prospects not named George Kirby and may beat the former first-round pick to the major leagues. There’s a changeup at the bottom of his arsenal but it’s firmly below average at present. He’s simply extended his 2021 success from High-A Everett to Double-A Arkansas, and from June into July. Brandon Williamson, LHPWilliamson’s July was uneven. He allowed 16 earned runs on five longballs in five starts. He struck out 28 in 24.2 innings, but yielded 33 hits. The lefty isn’t overpowering but has touched 97 mph in shorter stints with his fastball. This season he’s been mostly 91-94 mph, touching 95, creating deception with his front side, and coming back with an above-average curveball. His slider and changeup are works in progress, but the slider has sweeping action and has helped him versus left-handed batters. Levi Stoudt, RHPStoudt spent all of July in High-A and had three solid starts and one bad one that ballooned the numbers for the month. Mostly 92-96 mph for Stoudt on his fastball, but he’s been up to 98. The right-hander’s control hasn’t been consistent, and his slider is fringy. His plus changeup hasn’t been consistent, either, and all three of his pitches have come and gone. Having said that, there are times when his command is average or slightly better, and his slider and changeup fall in line. They just don’t happen enough all at once, or even two of the three. There was word he’d scrapped his curveball but he’s brought it out at times, perhaps to give him another option when the feel isn’t there on his other pitches. Ray Kerr, LHPKerr has a big fastball into the upper-90s and has touched triple digits, setting up an average to above-average slider that has gained consistency over the course of the season. When he locates, he’s devastating. Kerr has started in the past, and his athleticism offers a chance at repeatable mechanics that lead to more consistent command, which is the biggest obstacle in front of him and the majors. Kerr posted a 15-1 K/BB ratio over nine innings in July. Patrick Frick, SSFrick is a fringe prospect but has the physical tools of a Whit Merrifield and is having a strong season at the plate. In July, Frick batted .318/.431/.476, including two multi-games in four contests to start out his Double-A career. He’s 24, but so was Merrifield when he hit AA for the first time, and he’d squeak into the big leagues at 27 and have a nice career –one that’s still going. No reason Frick can’t do the same. And yes, you can call this a comp. Zach DeLoach, OFDeLoach torched the High-A West after a slow month of May, batting .363/.442/.549 in June and .349/.438/.635 in July and earning a trip to Double-A as a result. He’s one of those “nothing jumps off the page” prospects, unless you watch him regularly and see how consistent he is with everything from swing quality to pitch selection. The game power is more doubles than home runs right now, but I believe that changes similarly to the way Austin Shenton‘s began to in 2021, and July may have been the first sign of that for DeLoach. He hit for average and hit four homers in 14 games, by far the best of his young pro career in that department. Kaden Polcovich, 2BThe club’s third-round pick in 2020 isn’t a traditional scouting job. He’s merely 5-10 and 185 pounds listed, but the swing packs a punch and he’s been willing to give a bit on contact in order to get to the power. Typically that might suggest a problem with the game plan, and while the club may prefer he makes more contact down the line, he’s throwing .400+ OBPs all year and if he can sustain higher on-base marks, I don’t care one bit if he strikes out more than his physical profile suggests he should. Polcovich hit .306/.471/.612 in July, however, doing it all in 15 games before getting own promotion papers to Arkansas. He runs well, though isn’t a burner. I’ve seen him play an average shortstop and center field, and above-average defense at second, and with more consistency at second and out in center, could play either spot regularly. Julio Rodriguez, OFRodriguez has been off helping the Dominican Republic compete in the Olympics and played just 12 games in the minors in July, but performed well in those 12 — .293/.431/.537 to be exact. He also played just seven games in June, so the fact he’s managed just 40 games and fewer than 200 plate appearances this season isn’t good for his development, but the Mariners couldn’t tell him he couldn’t compete in the Olympics. Sure, he received a bit of experience in the trials and Tokyo Games, but the sample is microscopic versus what he would have received. When he’s played, Julio has been Julio, showing an improving hit tool and easy 65-grade power. There are some mechanical questions about his swing, but some have bene addressed prior to the start of the ’21 season, and we’ll see if the others need to be fixed as he sees better pitching moving forward. Tacoma Rainiers (Triple-A) Taylor Trammell, OFTechnically, Trammell is not a prospect, but to be honest I don’t believe MLB should be allowed to dictate what a prospect is by their arbitrary inning and at-bat totals, so starting this coming winter I will be changing my guidelines for prospects to less than a year of big-league service and fewer than 500 plate appearances for hitters, no more than 50 innings pitched for relievers, and no more than 150 innings pitched for starting pitchers. For pitchers who appear widely as both starters and relievers, the 150-inning limit will apply. Trammell has quick-twitch actions with his hands that stand out when watching him hit, and his power has jolted from 45 to 60 raw inside of two years as he’s made swing adjustments. I do wonder, however, if he creates some bat drag during his load. Drag happens when the barrel strays away from the body. It can happen at the start of a swing when the batter extends their elbow, or when the hands sink aggressively down and/or away from the body or barrel. Younger hitters, youth, high school, even college-level, experience the most common version of drag by creating a very long path for the barrel to get to the zone. This happens when the back elbow thrusts ahead toward the pitcher, leaving the hands — and most importantly, the barrel of the bat — a greater-than-ideal distance from the zone. Not only is the barrel too far away, this is a position that limits raw bat speed, too. Trammell may be guilty of one of the former two versions sometimes (I don’t have adequate video), though if that is the case, the staff in Tacoma knows, and if they see it as a problem they’ll help him fix it. Drag is never good, though there are varying degrees of it and it occasionally can be overcome. In 14 games in July, Trammell went 8-for-39 in Tacoma, but the strikeout rates were not high, and he finished the month 7 for 19 with two doubles and a homer. He plays a strong center field despite 45-grade arm strength and is one of the better baserunners in the organization. I think it’s simply a matter of time before Trammell hits. Penn Murfee, RHPMurfee spent half of July in Double-A Arkansas and half in Tacoma. He hiccupped July 22, but has otherwise been solid for the Rainiers. It’s ordinary stuff, really, including a low-90s fastball and 50-55 grade slider, but he creates deception and funky angles by dropping down around sidearm. I see him as a middle reliever with some Chris Devenski upside; in shorter stints perhaps 89-92 turns into 93-96. There’s some Paul Sewald in him stylistically. Ian McKinney, LHPMcKinney is fun to watch. He’s athletic, works fast, and generally commands an 89-92 mph fastball up to 94, and a plus curveball. He’s improved his sweeping slider and a changeup to help him versus righties and it’s paying off big time. He, too, creates some deception with shoulder angles and by staying closed a long time, and McKinney locates, he’s very tough to hit. He gets into trouble when he nibbles — 13 walks in 22.1 innings in July — and he’s a fly ball arm pitching in mostly hitter-friendly ballparks in the PCL right now. He’s probably a reliever at the next level but could be useful as early as September, especially considering Justin Dunn isn’t close to throwing yet with six and a half weeks left in the season.
Here’s the new Top 25. Notes Taylor Trammell, Jake Fraley, Robert Dugger, and Anthony Misiewicz have graduated and no longer qualify. As always, this is not a ranking of the most likely players to make the majors, to stay in the majors, or the highest ceiling, and the rankings are not based heavily on ETA. The difference between No. 8 and No. 14, for example, isn’t large. Neither is the difference between No. 15 and No. 29. Players with current injuries or injury histories likely rank lower than they otherwise would, so if you’re wondering, that’s often a factor. Players in the majors still qualify if they have yet to surpass the 130 ABs or 50 innings pitched limits, as ridiculous and arbitrary as those thresholds are, so Logan Gilbert remains ranked. Jarred Kelenic, OF Kelenic’s struggles in the big leagues didn’t expose long-term concerns, it merely showed he hadn’t received the kind of experience and development to help him get through such a stretch. High-end bat speed, hand-eye, bat-to-ball, swing consistency and above-average athleticism still point to a potential star. He’ll be back in the majors later this summer. Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez is the best power bat in the system and isn’t all that far behind Kelenic overall, though he does come with more concerns about the hit tool. He’s just been promoted to Double-A Arkansas and while Jerry Dipoto won’t rule out a September call-up, I think it’d be foolish to take such a risk for a mere 120 PAs and limited upside. Rodriguez’s ETA remains more 2022, even if he does get a cup of coffee in a few months. Logan Gilbert, RHS Gilbert’s showing exactly why the club was as confident in him as any young player they have had in Dipoto’s time with the Mariners. He’s up to 97mph with front-side deception, an above-average slider, 45-50 curveball he hasn’t thrown much of late, and a changeup he’s gaining confidence in that’s flashed plus. He’s an easy No. 3 with a chance for more — just as we thought on Draft day three years ago. Noelvi Marte, SS Marte has moved up a spot since February based on his display of 60-grade power and improved plate discipline. He’ll still chase some, and isn’t going to stick at shortstop, but he flashes enough leather and arm to suggest he can stay on the dirt and offer well above-average offensive production. Whether or not he sees High-A West remains to be seen, but that league is blessed with a lot more stuffy arms than Low-A West, so the club should be cautious with the decision, since there’s nothing wrong with a 19-year-old spending all year in Low-A in his first stateside season. Emerson Hancock, RHS I’m not down on Hancock in the least, but Marte simply overtook him for the No. 4 spot, and Gilbert’s success in the majors made the 3-spot a no-brainer for him. The club’s 2020 first rounder has worked his way to starter workload and looked good last week in Tri-City where I laid eyes on him live for the first time. The mid-90s velo is easy, the arm speed is elite for a starter and he showed all four pitches, including a plus changeup and two average or better breaking balls. Because he made just four starts in college last spring and went 14 months without pitching in a competitive environment, Hancock may spend all summer in Everett, but his combo of stuff and command strongly suggest he can get consistent outs in Double-A right now, so don’t let a lack of a promotion tell you anything meaningful if he indeed remains in High-A all season. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Cal Raleigh, C Like Marte, Raleigh moved up based on high-level, consistent performance at the plate, and even his “down” stretches look like serviceable production for an MLB-ready bat. Defensively he’s sound with no glaring weaknesses, an average to above-average arm with solid accuracy and an understanding of the position that far exceeds most other catcher prospects in the game right now. Every single day that passes and Raleigh is not in the majors is a surprise to me. The Mariners want Raleigh’s game planning to match his offense, so it’s understandable, but I’m a firm believer some development can and should happen at the big-league level. While I’m already surprised he hasn’t received the call, I’ll be floored if we hit mid-August and Raleigh remains in the 253. George Kirby, RHS Kirby has as much upside as any arm in the organization, but he also has as far to get there as any of them. In addition, he brings high probability and a high floor thanks to his plus control and above-average to plus command. He touched 97 for me last week and used all three secondaries, flashing a solid-average slider and changeup. The right-hander may simply need more time to get his off-speed stuff up to par, but he’s painting fastballs with plane to both sides of the plate and is at least on par with a former teammate of his (stay tuned) who recently received a promotion to Double-A Arkansas. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Brandon Williamson, LHS Williamson dominated with deception and fastballs in High-A, but had the plus curveball, too, and in two starts in Double-A since his promotion has looked more than ready for the challenge, despite struggling in the middle three innings of his first outing. He’s throwing a mid-80s changeup with command and consistent arm speed and showing average fastball command to make it all work. There’s a slider in his arsenal, too, and right now it’s more of a short-sweeping version than one likely to generate swinging strikes. His curveball is average to plus in pretty much every start, showing two-plane break which allows him to throw it inside to right-handed batters without as much concern he’ll hang it in the middle of the zone. Williamson is a better athlete than some realize, and his control and command have taken a step forward since we last saw him in 2019. Don’t expect him to see the majors in 2021, but once the middle of next season arrives, all bets are off. It’s likely a future No. 4 profile, but there’s a caveat; he’s pitching comfortably in the low-90s right now, but has often sat 94-97 in the past, and that will always give him a shot a bigger projection. Connor Phillips, RHS Phillips, the club’s comp-round pick (64) last June out of McLennan CC in Texas has the best combination of present stuff, command, and projection among the Modesto starters. He’s had a few too many bouts of poor control, but generally stays out of the middle of the plate, and throws a lot of competitive off-speed pitches, headlined by a 55-grade slider and 45 curveball with promise. He’s athletic and touches the mid-90s, but comes with some role risk, thanks to below-average mechanics, led by a relatively long arm path that creates inconsistent release points. Phillips is just 20, however, so there’s time to remedy some of these issues and develop a mid-rotation starter. Levi Stoudt, RHS Stoudt comes in behind Phillips despite having better stuff for three main reasons; he’s had his own control problems very similar to that of Phillips, but he’s also two years off Tommy John (never a positive) and is already 23 years of age. Still, there’s a lot to like about Stoudt, including above-average velocity and a potentially plus-plus changeup. He’s athletic and brings a bit more projection than a 6-1, 195-pound frame might suggest on paper. While his floor lies in the bullpen, we’re talking about a high-leverage role where he may sit 95-100 mph with a 70-grade changeup and average slider. Baseball Things subscribers can hear my full audio scouting report on Stoudt right here! Not a subscriber yet? Change that here for $5/month. Adam Macko, LHS Macko is currently the best starter on the Nuts roster, showing heat into the mid-90s with ride up in the zone, and two competitive breaking balls. He creates deception with his front shoulder and arm path, and pitches effective in on right-handed bats with the fastball and above-average slider. He also has a curveball that projects to be at least average. Some scouts love Macko right behind the Mariners’ big three and ahead of Williamson, Phillips, and Stoudt, while others see traditional concerns with size and fastball value from a shorter pitcher. Lean the former until there’s reason to worry about his size being factor, because so far it hasn’t been. At all. Matt Brash, RHS Aside from spotty control and command, Brash’s development in 2021 is one of the stories of the farm system thus far. He was marked a reliever-only a year ago by several scouts, and perhaps the Padres saw it that way, too, pushing them to hand him to Seattle in the deal for Taylor Williams. Brash misses bats with a fastball up to 97 (he’s been up to 99 in side sessions), and an above-average slider he throws to both lefties and righties alike. He’s athletic and could stand to add more weight, but the delivery offers deception, and he’s reeled in some of the extras to allow him to repeat more consistently, giving him a real shot to start. Double-A might be a stretch for Brash in a starting role, but he’s 23 so it might make sense to get him a handful of outings in Double-A to end 2021. Zach DeLoach, OF DeLoach doesn’t come with big upside and lacks loud tools, but he’s sound in all aspects, from contact, to strike zone discipline, swing consistency, running, throwing, and fielding. He turned that into a huge month of June, and there’s reason to believe there’s more power to come, suggesting a shot at an everyday role in the majors. I could see the club pushing him to Double-A for the final month or so, where he could show signs of a fast-track bat, but we should remind ourselves he faced no live competition after the second week of March last year until the 2021 season opened, so getting him extended plate appearances is the main goal for 2021. Sam Carlson, RHS Carlson’s return has been fun to watch, despite mixed results. He’s missing bats with velocity into the mid-90s and a slider that projects as plus and has a chance to be one of the best in the system by year’s end. He’s shown feel for the changeup at times, and his new curveball is projectable, albeit inconsistent. His control has been below average, and his command leaves a lot to be desired at times, too, but he’s allowed just two long balls in 40 innings thanks to fastball movement and plane, and has tallied 51 strikeouts against 22 walks. On top of all that, he’s a tremendous athlete, perhaps the best in the system, and despite being 23 and having missed four years, there’s a big-league future here after Tommy John surgery and it may very well include a rotation spot. On ceiling alone, Carlson still would rank in the top 5-10. Juan Then, RHS Then may among the most likely of the arms in the Top 15 to land in the bullpen, but it’s far from a sure thing, giving the re-acquired right-hander… wait for it… a non-zero chance to start over the long haul. He’s 93-95 with his fastball and has touched 97 — like every other arm before him — and his slider flashes plus in most starts. He’s built a bit like Brash, but added 15 pounds or so between the shutdown and the 2021 season. Then throws a lot of strikes and his ability to locate his fastball and slider has not stalled despite his velocity ticking up since he returned from the Yankees for two months of Edwin Encarnacion. Then’s third pitch, a hard changeup at 86-90 mph, has been inconsistent to say the least, and despite above-average control, he hasn’t commanded his fastball as well in spots and it’s burned him a bit. One aspect of Then’s game I think gives him a true chance to start is his ability to generate ground balls. He’s producing high GB rates, and it should be sustainable based on the sink on his fastball and the fact he’s flashed the ability to run his changeup down and away to hitters from each side of the plate. Jonatan Clase, CF I’m high man on Clase, but not because I don’t see the risk. He turned 19 in May and is just starting his season in the ACL after hitting .300/.434/.444 in the DSL two summers back. The risk is in both the ceiling, and more specifically the swing-and-miss in his game. But he’s a 70-grade runner and projects well in center long-term, despite considerable work needed to get there. His game plan doesn’t match his swing, hence the strikeouts, but he’s added 25-30 pounds and drew 51 walks in 63 games in 2019. There’s a lot to do here, but Clase offers the foundation of a fireplug-type body that produces fringe-average or better power from the left side to go with the speed and defense, even if the glove has to move to left field. If he stays in center, there’s a chance he plays regularly. Starlin Aguilar, 3B Aguilar and Milkar Perez are similar in some ways; both are sub-6-foot, stocky-bodied infielders, but Aguilar has more athleticism and a better chance to stick at third base, and he happens to have better raw power, too. His defensive position is far from set in stone however, so there’s a ton of pressure on his ability to hit and hit for power, since LF, RF, and first base are next in line. On the upside, there’s a .260 or better hitter with 25 homers here. Austin Shenton, 3B Shenton’s raking in High-A and I expect him to see Arkansas at some point this summer. He’s a doubles hitter right now but there’s enough bat speed to support more home-run power. If we assume the current environment in MLB stays the same (it will not, it’s literally changing as we speak, but for context…), I’d project Shenton as a .250/.320/.450 hitter. Defensively, however, I’m not sure he sticks at third. If the power develops, corner outfield and first base in combo may be just fine as a Chase Headley, Mitch Moreland type. Andres Munoz, RHR The first pure reliever in the rankings has yet to pitch n the Mariners organization due to Tommy John surgery last spring. If things go right he gets things going in August and sees the bigs in September. At his best he’s 98-102 mph (yes, you read that right), and a slider in the 87-91 range that flashes plus and lives average to above average. Throwing strikes has been a problem for Munoz, however — 11.3% walks for the Padres in 22 games in 2019 and a career walk rate in the minors over 15% — but he did show well prior to his call-up two years ago, walking but 8.8% of the batters he faced in 19 innings at Triple-A. The ceiling here is a No. 1 reliever with high strikeout rates, but he’ll need to find his release point and avoid the base on balls to get there. Taylor Dollard, RHS Dollard dominated in Modesto and has now made a couple starts in Everett with good results. He’s mostly low-90s with the fastball, touching 94. His breaking ball and changeup project to average, perhaps a tick above, and his ceiling lives somewhere between No. 4 starter and high-leverage reliever. In the pen, Dollard’s fastball likely ticks up into the mid-90s regularly, but there’s physical projection left in his 6-foot-3, 200-pound frame and it’s a loose arm to dream on a bit. Kaden Polcovich, UT Polcovich was the club’s 3rd rounder last June, and while there were better players on the board, the former Oklahoma State standout has made the pick look just fine. He’s sacrificing some contact, and therefore batting average, for power, but he isn’t sacrificing OBP, so swing away, my friend. For me, what’s most exciting about Polcovich is how well he’s managed at both middle infield spots and center field, suggesting we may be watching a true utility player develop, and that’s pretty fun. He can handle third, too, runs well, and showed in college he can handle the bat. Milkar Perez, 3B Perez brings contact and a line-drive swing the club believes can eventually develop into a 20-homer bat. The concerns are his future position; He’s 5-foot-11 and nearing 195 pounds at 19 years of age, and has never been more than a fringe-average runner. He has a terrific arm, however, so there are options, including staying at third as what I like to call a Luis Sojo-like fit, where the defender doesn’t have ideal range but makes all the routine plays at a high rate thanks to good hands and arm talent. He’s a natural switch hitter that’s batting exclusively from the right side now. I expect him to put up good average and OBP numbers in rookie ball and start 2022 in Modesto, carrying a 50-grade ceiling OFP. Isaiah Campbell, RHS Campbell is a four-pitch arm that flashed dominance in the college postseason back in 2019, including 93-97 mph heat and an above-average. If there weren’t concerns about elbow soreness, he might have been a top 40 pick, but Seattle got him at No. 76 overall in the comp round. Campbell’s best secondary pitch is a slider at 82-85 and an 84-87 mph splitter isn’t far behind. He also has a power curveball with some promise, but it’s clearly his fourth-best offering. Campbell had a minor procedure to clean up that right elbow, so when he returns to the mound is not known, but it may not be this season, and as a result he’s been slid down here to No. 23 despite his chances to start or land in a multi-inning high-leverage role out of the bullpen. Carter Bins, C Bins has plate skills and offers solid-average defense, including a plus arm, and came to pro ball needing an improved swing to maximize his power potential. He’s abbreviated everything below his hands and is generating more pop from gap to gap, and more consistent hard contact. He’s still working pitchers into deep counts at times but is hunting and connecting on fastballs to get the extra-base pop. There has to be some attention paid to his strikeouts — 30% — but at least they’re coming with legitimate power. Bins, 22, should probably see Arkansas later this summer to see how the bat plays at the next level. Bins projects as a No. 2 catcher, but the more he hits the more likely he takes a sizeable portion of a catching time share, rather than a traditional backup role. Victor Labrada, CF The 21-year-old got started a little late but has hit since Day 1. He’s a 65 runner and 60 defender in center, but has 11 multi-hit games in 37 starts, and has drawn walks 16% of the time. He does strike out a bit too much for the profile, and since he’s not going to hit for power the club likely is working with him to close any holes in the game plan and swing. The ceiling here isn’t high, and the chances he plays regularly rely heavily on his on-base ability, but he’s performing at a high level already and is a threat on the bases from the top of the order. Just Missed(The following players appear in no particular order) Damon Casetta-Stubbs, RHSAsdrubal Bueno, SSWyatt Mills, RHRWill Vest, RHRJoey Gerber, RHRAlberto Rodriguez, OF George Feliz, OFRay Kerr, LHR Gabriel Gonzalez, OFPenn Murfee, RHR Kristian Cardozo, RHSYohan Ramirez, RHR Ty Adcock, RHRYeury Tatiz, RHS Wilton Perez, RHS Dutch Landis, RHS
Monthly, I will recap the month that was in the Mariners farm system, including scouting notes, statistical review, and promotion analysis. Buckle up, it was a fine month of May. MODESTO NUTS (LOW-A) Noelvi Marte, SS | 6-1/190 | 19 A lot more ups than downs for Marte in his first month in professional baseball in the states, and he’s already flashing 60-grade game power from 70 raw power he shows off in batting practice. As expected, he’s already looking more like a power player than a speed demon, despite 70 speed when a Tim Kissner-led international scouting department signed him three summers ago. He’s managing at shortstop, and range isn’t of great concern at present, but there are reasons to buy him more as a third baseman; he’s 6-1 and just under 200 pounds at 19 years of age and has the frame to tack on another 10-20 pounds, which puts him more in the Matt Chapman, Anthony Rendon, Aramis Ramirez mold in terms of physical stature. Marte still boasts above-average athleticism, so it’s not necessarily a closed door for him at shortstop, but he’d have to follow the Xander Bogaerts path; Bogaerts, amid concerns about his future position when he was in the minors, made vast improvements with his hands and footwork and became playable through efficiency, despite lacking great range, though without his offensive prowess, he, too, would not likely have remained at the position. Scout: He has the look of a run producer that will provide defensive value, It’s still early in his time (in pro ball), so there is more than one potential end-result with him, but one of them is pretty big. He doesn’t cover the plate as well as Julio (Rodriguez) did there (West Virginia in 2019), but his swing is shorter. He’s not a shortstop for me, but he’s shown enough ability on the dirt to think he could land at third with a shot to be very good there. Quick Word: It’s early, but it’s not crazy to think Marte has a real shot to be the best player among those currently in the organization. He’s likely to bring more defensive and positional value than Julio Rodriguez, and (again, small sample) is developing as fast as Jarred Kelenic did at a similar age. Defensively, third base is the most likely spot for him long-term, but he has good enough foot speed and arm strength to play a corner outfield spot, too. I expect Marte to spend considerable time in Modesto before a promotion is in order. Connor Phillips, RHP | 6-2/195 | 20 Phillips has shown above-average yet raw stuff, including mid-90’s heat and a projectable slider that flashes average. He has trouble finding a consistent release point thanks to a long arm path, but he’s aggressive with the fastball, which offers life and arm side run. He also has a curveball is inconsistent but will flash as average, and is projectable to big-league levels. Scout: It’s a No. 4 high profile for me, but given he’s younger than the standard college draftee he has a little more time to iron things out and push his physical abilities. I do like the fastball projection. Quick Word: Right now, the safest projection for Phillips is reliever, but that’s also lazy and can be said about every single pitching prospect ever at some point in their careers. But it’s Year 1 in pro ball for Phillips, and there’s a solid foundation present which may allow him to evolve into a mid-rotation starter. Phillips is likely to stay in Modesto for most or all of 2021. Adam Macko, LHP | 6-0/180 | 20Macko uses athleticism and deception to more than cover for a long arm path and lack of ideal size, and he’s increased his fastball velocity from 89-93 to more consistently in the low-90s and touching 95 mph. His curveball has shown least average with enormous two-plane break and above-average command, and he’s done a good job staying on top of it to avoid it flattening out on its way to the plate. He’s pitched inside to right-handed batters effectively, but as his slider gets better, he may be able to get them to chase out of the zone more often. Scout: Let me just say this: If he were 6-4, 200, he’s their best pitching prospect and it’s not close. That’s where he is right now. (Fastball has) above-average life and movement, the breaking ball has two-plane break, and it’s sharp, and he clearly has good athleticism. He’ll be able to pitch up effectively and tear down good hitters with that bender. Maybe he’s Randy Wolf. Quick Word: The fastball-curveball combo is loud, and everything plays up considering how well he hides the ball through his three-quarter arm slot. It’s the best left-handed curveball in the system, including Brandon Williamson — at least through May. Macko likely remains in Modesto through the season, but is the most likely of the younger Nuts arms to see Everett, outside Taylor Dollard. Victor Labrada, CF | 5-9/175 | 21 Labrada got a late start but hit the ground running, both literally and figuratively. The left-handed hitting centerfielder has hit for average and some gap power, thanks to a quick swing and solid-average plate discipline. He uses the entire field, gets out of the box quickly and knows how to us his 65-grade speed. Quick Word: The hope is Labrada moves quickly, starting with a mid-season promotion later this summer, resulting in a late-MLB debut. He’s most likely a part-time player, but there are some physical traits and early tools that have flashed level of big-league competence, suggesting at least a chance of an everyday option. Despite a late start, Labrada could get a cup of coffee in Everett later this season. Taylor Dollard, RHP | 6-3/200 | 22 The club’s 5th-round pick last June has outclassed the bats in Low-A West, missing bats at will and only showing vulnerability when he occasionally loses his delivery and falls behind in counts. He’s pounded the strike zone as one of the league’s best arms. Quick Word: The stuff is average at present, but there’s some projection left Dollard’s frame and secondaries, and while his control is above average his command is fringe-average and inconsistent, something he won’t get away with as he moves through the minors. There’s a major-league arm here, but whether he serves in a relief role or as a good back-end starter is why we’re all here watching. Dollard should be exposed to High-A sometime this summer and if he keeps throwign strikes it could come sooner than later. Alberto Rodriguez, OF | 5-11/190 | 20 Rodriguez, a left-handed batter with above-average bat speed, has yet to string together consistent results in 2021, and a lot of his chances to do so hinders on his ability to make more contact — he’s whiffed in 33% of his PAs. But the swing path also needs work; he’s been pull happy and gets out front a lot, leading to weak contact — especially ground balls — pitcher-friendly counts and strikeouts. Quick Word: Rodriguez has flashed what the club saw in him when they chose the outfielder as the return in the Taijuan Walker deal last summer. But the hit tool still has a long way to so and he doesn’t bring big-league speed (45) or defense (45) to the field. Rodriguez’s hit tool needs a lot of work, suggesting a challenge beyond Low-A may not be wise in 2021. Juan Querecuto, SS | 6-2/180 | 20 After three tough summers since signing, Querecuto is healthy and taking advantage of his opportunity. A natural shortstop, he’s moved around the infield and handled it well, and his bat has shown some ability, despite some pitch ID issues that have led to too many chases. Quick Word: He’s a 50 runner with good hands and feet on defense but lacks the range to be a plus glove. He has the arm to play anywhere, at least in stretches, including third base, and the outfield if the Mariners want to make him a true utility option. He’ll have to make more contact — 25% K rate is too high, even considering the current environment — especially with 40-grade power. Querecuto is very likely to remain in Modesto all season. Luis Curvelo, RHP | 6-1/170 | 20 Curvelo is at least 15 pounds heavier than his listed 170, but regardless of his size there’s good, raw stuff here, and he’s absolutely slamming the strike zone with a fastball into the upper-90s and an average power slider with late break and tilt. Quick Word: He’s always had good control, running walk rates of 3.3, 3.3, 7.7, and now 2.5, but he’s added two ticks of velocity since signing, and the slider has come a long way. He’s a reliever only and is a few years away, but his dominance for Modesto stands out enough to suggest a future big-league reliever, potentially one who can battle into high-leverage spots. Curvelo could see Everett later this season if he maintains the control he’s displayed thus far. Sam Carlson, RHP| 6-4/195 | 22 Carlson’s journey to his first full month of professional baseball took nearly four years, but he’s looked solid, showing more than just glimpses of an exceptionally clean, fluid delivery, an above-average slider, promising curveball, and velocity into the mid-90s. He’s had bouts with poor control which has kept him from dominating, and he’s still feeling out how his stuff will play. It takes time for TJ recipients to pitch their back to good control and command, but it’s a great sign Carlson has the snap on his slider and looks the part of not only a $2 million draft pick, but a future big-league arm. Scout: So, this is why the hype. I get it. I didn’t see him his draft year, I was out west, but we had guys who thought he was a top-15 pick and wrote him up that way. He was a bit out of sync, late with his arm, in the second start I saw, but it’s (present) average big-league stuff, and I think that curveball has a chance. Four pitch guy in the middle (of the rotation)? Quick Word: Coming out, Carlson’s fastball had plane and natural sink, and his changeup feel was advanced for a prep arm. On his way back, he’s generated above-average four-seam ride which pairs well with the slider, and occasional upper-zone life that theoretically sets up the curveball and changeup. He is just getting started and has a lot to do, but he’s a prototype from a physical standpoint with athleticism to spare, suggesting a real path to remaining a starter. Carlson just needs to pitch and getting aggressive too soon could be greatly detrimental to the right-hander getting the work he needs in his first year back after a long layoff. Elvis Alvarado, RHR | 6-4/190 | 22 The converted outfielder has good stuff, led by a fastball sitting 93-97, and in the past has touched triple digits. His slider teases average but to miss bats will need more vertical break, depth, and command. Quick Word: Alvarado is a bit like Yohan Ramirez; has the raw stuff, needs to throw more strikes with everything. He’s a reliever only, but the fastball is big enough to see time in bigs, provided he ends up finding the zone enough as he moves through the system. Alvarado is still raw and the softer landing in Low-A West fits his needs better, suggesting he’ll remain in Modesto most or all of 2021. EVERETT AQUASOX (HIGH-A) Emerson Hancock, RHP | 6-4/215 | 22 Hancock made three abbreviated starts in May with satisfactory yet unspectacular results. But he has been efficient. He hasn’t walked any of the 36 batters he’s faced and has yielded just four hits. Hancock hasn’t unleashed his entire arsenal yet, but his slider has been his out pitch so far, and likely the best chance he has for a plus offering that misses bats in the big leagues. Quick Word: Seattle clearly is taking it slow with Hancock, who has gone 2.0, 2.2, and 4.2 innings with 6 days rest in between, then was skipped when his turn came up for start No. 4. At the end of the day, Hancock is a four-pitch starter with an efficient delivery that should lead to above-average command and control, but while he refines his secondaries the Mariners want to get more fastball value out of him. He’s up to 97 mph, but at Georgia the pitch had natural sink and lacked the kind of high-spin life that generated swings and misses. Stay tuned. At this point I’d be surprised if the club gets aggressive with Hancock in terms of promotion. He didn’t pitch the summer between his sophomore and junior years at Georgia, and didn’t get a lot of work in last summer with no MiLB season. I expect a lot of time in Everett, perhaps the entire schedule. George Kirby, RHP | 6-4/220 | 23 Like Hancock, Kirby has been brought along slowly — even slower, considering he made two starts a week apart, covering 3.2 and 5.0 innings, then didn’t start the rest of the month — but his 12-1 K/BB ratio in 8/2 innings is about right for the 2019 first-round pick. Kirby’s second start was nearly perfect as he did not allow a hit but issued his first walk as a professional. Quick Word: The right-hander offers probability and a high floor, but there’s enough to dream on here to see amid-rotation starter within three years, and perhaps more. He’s pitching at 93-95 mph with 60 control and above-average command but has touched triple digits in short stints. His slider and curveball are fringe-average at present, however, and his changeup remains inconsistent. If he’s to move as quickly as his command suggests he could, he’ll need to delivery better crooked offerings. Kirby may be a little more likely to see Double-A Arkansas than Hancock, and perhaps a little sooner, but a lot would have to happen in the next month or two for it to make sense. Brandon Williamson, LHP | 6-6/210 | 23 Williamson was the best performer among the top arms in the system for the opening month, earning him Pitcher Prospect of the Month. The highlight for the club’s 2019 second-round pick came in his final start of the month when he lasted 7.1 innings and allowed an earned run on a walk and two hits and struck out 13 of the 25 batters he faced. He threw 70 of his 95 pitches for strikes and tossed an immaculate inning in the bottom of the third. Scout: This is what you draw up on the board from a physical standpoint. I’d like to see more athleticism in the delivery. He hides his release a bit, and the ball explodes out his hand. I had him 93-96 and he got swings and misses from 22-year-old top-5 round college bats at 93. You can see the curveball projection. Not sure if it’s a slider or cutter he’s throwing, but I like that idea, too. He’s going to move (quickly.) Quick Word: Williamson is up to 97 mph and pitches with average command at 93-95 with life and tail, setting up an above-average curveball with a chance to be plus. He has a slider and changeup, too, but hasn’t used either all that much early on, which is par for the course for young arms this season, considering the off year and intermittent scheduling for spring training and the start of the MiLB season. There’s a mid-rotation profile here, but some upside, too, provided he develops through some long-term mechanical hurdles that often come with tall arms. For me, Williamson is the most likely of the Everett starters to be promoted, and has the best shot at spending more than a few starts there. Levi Stoudt, RHP | 6-1/200 | 23 Stoudt has been up and down out of the gate, struggling with command in issuing four walks in start No. 2 and six in start No. 4, but we shouldn’t forget these are the right-hander’s first four professional outings after having Tommy Johns surgery two years ago. Stoudt has been mostly low-90s, touching 94-95, but has flashed a hard changeup and improving slider that has a chance to miss bats. He just hasn’t thrown enough strikes yet. Quick Word: His athleticism and chance at three big-league pitches suggests a No. 4 profile, but his split-change might end up a 70-grade offering, and despite a lack of physical projection at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and already 23 years of age, there aren’t stiff limits on his ultimate fastball velocity and value. Stoudt, in his first pro season, has a lot of work to do before a promotion will jive, but he, too, simply needs innings more than a greater challenge. Juan Then, RHP | 6-1/190 | 21 Then finished May with his best start of the year after feeling his way through his first three in abbreviated fashion. It’s a 91-95 mph fastball and promising slider, but he’s missing a quality third pitch and there are some delivery concerns when it comes to a rotation role, despite simple mechanics. He was lights out in his most recent start, going six frames and allowing just two hits. He avoided walks and struck out six. Quick Word: Then, typically pronounced ‘Ten’ despite vowels in Spanish carrying an ‘ay’ sound, is the highest-ranked reliever in the system, but is just 21 and has a chance to start if the changeup develops rather quickly. In a relief role he could see the majors next season. As a starter, Then likely stays in Everett most or all of 2021, but in a relief role could move faster. Isaiah Campbell, RHP | 6-4/230 | 23 Campbell has been piggybacking for 2-4 innings per outings to keep him stretched in ‘starter’ mode, and ultimately has four pitches, including a 55-grade slider and a split-change. He’s been up to 96 mph and in the past has reached 98. He creates plane with the fastball and at times can go fastball-split and induce worm burners for days. But his velocity suggests going upper zone for whiffs, and he’s done some of that, too. He went 16.1 innings in his four outings in May, including 5.2 innings May 23 when he allowed just three baserunners. There’s some concern lingering over some elbow soreness he experienced in 2018, but no sign of it this season, Campbell’s pro debut. Quick Word: There’s a good chance Campbell ends up a multi-inning, three-pitch power reliever where he may add a tick or two of velo and sit upper-90s. He can throw his slider and curveball for strikes, though the curveball is a backburner offering for him right now. His chances to start are better than Then’s however, which is why I have him ranked higher. Like the others who haven’t pitched much in pro ball, Campbell isn’t likely to move quickly as he garners experience and builds up arm strength in his first game action since the college season ended two years ago. Matt Brash, RHP | 6-1/180 | 23 Brash has done some work on his delivery, giving him a chance to start, but we’re seeing some control and command issues early in his four May starts where he issued 11 walks, all in his three final outings of the month. He’s missing bats — 16% swinging strike rate, 37% K rate — and isn’t allowing a lot of hard contact, so the stuff is working, but more strikes — and likely more adjustments to his mechanics — are necessary to project as a big-league starter. Quick Word: Even as a multi-inning reliever, Brash projects as a valuable arm who has been up to 99 mph in side sessions, suggesting he can do that in a bullpen role. He offers deception and at least three pitches, so there’s no reason he can’t be a high-leverage option. Brash’s delivery and ability to throw strikes likely keeps him from Double-A in 2021. Carter Bins, C | 6-0/200 | 22 Bins’ strikeout rates are alarming, but he’s not swinging and missing much and he’s only a moderate chase swinger. He does take pitches and work counts, and his swing remains somewhat rotational, making him late and more likely to foul off balls he should put in play, perhaps creating too many two-strike counts. He has flashed the power in games, but nothing is consistent yet, despite good strike zone awareness. Quick Word: Bins is the No. 2 backstop in the system to start the year but concerns about his ability to hit for average — thanks to a bad swing — casts doubt on his ultimate future. He has made some adjustments and is using more of the field now than in prior years, and he’s shown occasional game power to reflect above-average bat speed. He’s solid athletically and early on has done a better job blocking balls in the dirt, though his framing remains below average. He has a very good arm that should play with better mechanics, something he’s been improving since Day 1. Considering the work Bins has and continues to put in with his swing, I’ll be surprised if he sees Arkansas in 2021. Kaden Polcovich, 2B | 5-10/185 | 22 Polcovich ended May at .236/.352/.382, showing gap power, above-average speed, and instincts that have allowed him show well at three positions — 2B, 3B, CF. The one issue so far is his 26% strikeout rate, a mark for power bats not the next Daniel Descalso. Quick Word: His left-handed swing is sound and more consistent than his righty version, and flashes some torque, suggesting average power is not entirely out of the question. But he may need to shorten up a bit to get to good velocity, and he’ll certainly to cut down on the swing and miss (16%). It’s his first pro season, but it’s not entirely crazy to think he could spend the final month of 2021 in Double-A if he keeps progressing, but the contact rates are important. Austin Shenton, 3B | 6-0/205 | 23 Shenton started the season OK, gathering five hits in four games, then went 2-for-22 with 10 strikeouts, fanning in 15 of 33 at-bats during one stretch the first half of the month. Born of those struggles came the right kind of consistency, and he began to find the barrel more often. He finished the month with two three-hit games over the final eight days, and the power began to show. Quick Word: Shenton came to pro ball as a hitter with a chance to bat .270/.340 with 12-15 homers, but is infusing more leverage into his swing now and could surpass the projection in time. Whether he’s a third baseman or not remains to be seen, but his arm allows for left field or first base, and his plate skills and pitch ID skills should allow him to make swing adjustments without damaging his ability to make contact. Shenton has a shot to see Arkansas by year’s end and might be more likely to do so than all but one name in this report. Zach DeLoach, OF | 6-1/205 | 22 In his first professional action since being the club’s second-round pick a year ago, DeLoach has been a bit up-and-down, but has had several strong games, flashing good athleticism, some power, and patience. He ended the month batting .242/.333/.442 with five doubles, four homers, 11 walks and 21 strikeouts in 108 plate appearances, and has displayed plus defense in both corner spots. Quick Word: He doesn’t have a true lead tool, but has no great weaknesses, either, and reminds me a bit of A’s outfielder Mark Canha, despite the handedness contrast. There’s above-average raw power in his swing and a chance at an especially useful role player in big leagues in a couple of years. DeLoach is unlikely to see Arkansas this season, as he gets his first live action since his college season ended in 2019. Julio Rodriguez, OF | 6-3/215 | 20 Rodriguez, who left the AquaSox to play for the Dominican Republic in the Olympic qualifying rounds in Florida late in the month, was awesome in May, lending more confidence he’ll hit for immense power without deterring the long-term evaluation of his ability to make consistent contact. Seattle’s No. 2 prospect posted a trio of three-hit games, six total multi-hit efforts, and failed to reach base by hit or walk just twice in 21 games, despite the fact he’s three years younger than the average player in the league. Scout: There’s a lot of upside at the plate, but I wonder how quickly he progresses versus more complete pitcher with his current swing mechanics and some of his tendencies. Quick Word: He’s merely 20, and will be until the Alamo Bowl kicks off this winter, and there are superstar traits at which to marvel and dream, including 65-or 70-grade arm strength, baserunning instincts to spare, and well above-average bat speed that produces 70 raw power. While he projects as an average glove and below-average runner, he’ll be fine in right field for a while and brings 40-homer pop and a chance to hit .270 in the current environment. But he does show a front side leak and gets pull happy at times, so he has work to do before we delete the risk from his profile. I think he sees Arkansas this season, and is the most likely of the Sox’s bats to do so — and most likely the first — but ‘when’ isn’t as clear as fans would like to think. Risking rushing a 20-year-old is a very dangerous approach to player development, considering the lack of payoff; his MLB ETA doesn’t change much, if at all, by getting to Double-A in June rather than July or August. He still starts 2022 in Triple-A Tacoma. ARKANSAS TRAVELERS (DOUBLE-A) Ian McKinney, LHP | 5-11/190 | 26 McKinney was outstanding for Arkansas in May, going at least five innings and punching out eight or more in each of his four starts. He’s running a 41% strikeout rate into his first June outing, looking for his third straight start of at least six innings. McKinney has always had a good a good curveball, but he’s added a cutter-slider to the mix and his command of a fringe-average fastball allows him to get to his secondaries consistently. Quick Word: He’s 26 and not a big-league starter, or at least not for the long haul, but 90-93, touching 94, plus curveball with terrific arm speed, and a useful slider and changeup give him a chance to compete against major-league hitters in a condensed role. I think he can handle Triple-A now and believe Seattle hnds him that challenge fairly soon. Penn Murfee, RHP | 6-2/195 | 27 Murfee has been utilized as both a starter and reliever since the club selected him in Round 33 back in 2018, including 20 starts and 12 relief appearances in 2019. He’s in the Travs’ rotation now with mixed results. In 17.1 innings, the right-hander has allowed 33 baserunners, including 19 in his most recent two starts. He’s comfortably in the 89-91 mph range, reaching back for 93, which could tick up in a relief role. Murfee has shown he understands how to attack hitters, and while he may be a great right-on-right matchup, he’s improved his ability to pitch to lefties, burying the slider at the back foot and getting inside and at the top of the zone with the fastball for swings and misses, and going backside for early-count strikes. Quick Word: At the end of the day, his sidearm delivery and fastball-slider combo project well in a multi-inning middle-relief role in the majors, reminiscent of Ramiro Mendoza or T.J. McFarland. As a starter, Murfee has work to do and in the role likely stays in Arkansas all year. As a reliever, he could see the majors in September. So, depends on the club’s plan. Ryne Inman, RHP | 6-5/215 | 25 For two years I spoke aloud about how Inman was a good candidate to transition to the bullpen and progress faster up the ladder, and the club made that move prior to the 2020 season, and we’re finally seeing it in games. Inman, however, has landed on the IL after just three outings with the Travelers. In his three frames, he allowed two hits, a run, two walks, and struck out six of the 10 batters he faced. Quick Word: When he’s right, Inman is 92-96 with a chance for more velocity, and a plus power curveball. The raw stuff suggests at least a middle reliver profile, with a chance to be a little more. Inman has to get healthy before promotional conversations make sense. TACOMA RAINIERS (TRIPLE-A) Cal Raleigh, C | 6-3/215 | 24 Raleigh still has his naysayers, but it’s turned from “likely a first baseman” to “he’s probably just average” when it comes to his defense. He excels in some areas, however, despite limitations in others. At the plate, Raleigh has shown more polish in the early going, increasing his contact rates and finding barrels from both sides of the plate with regularity. One scout, remembering the prevailing opinion on Raleigh from Draft day, said “it looks a little different, he’s done a good job developing his swing from each side.” Raleigh’s two swings are vastly differently, too. It’s a power-based swing from the left-side and he’s more susceptible to upper-zone velocity and chasing down from that side, which shouldn’t surprise anyone since he’s a natural right-handed hitter. As a righty, the swing is more consistent; he did lose some momentum in his development from the right side in high school, college and early in the minors due to a lack of consistent opportunity — he’d go several games without facing a lefty starter and only see limited lefty relievers. “Maybe he gets to 15-18 homers, depending on how he manages the workload, but it sure looks like there will be good offensive production.” Raleigh was my Hitter Prospect of the Month for May, thanks to a gargantuan effort. Quick Word: Raleigh still gets a bad rap defensively, with scouts citing poor athleticism and technique that can be “choppy”, but when watching Raleigh catch, throw, jump out from behind the dish to make a play, or run the bases, I have zero problem imagining it all working in the majors. Many catchers lack the kind of athleticism players elsewhere on the field display on a daily basis. I do think the bat will produce some swing and miss — and there likely will be stretches where the rates are high — but we may be watching a 40-45 grade hit tool inching toward average, which could lead to even more power. I’m a bit bullish on Raleigh’s upside and always have been, but it’s tough to imagine even his median projection not warranting an all-star nod or two in his prime. His full upside comes with tons of doubt, but it’ll hover there until the smoke clears after a few big-league seasons. The club has its reasons, of course, but I can’t think of one single legitimate baseball reason to keep Raleigh in Tacoma any longer. I would be more than moderately surprised if he sees July in a Rainiers uniform, as amazing as the club’s alternate road jerseys are.
It was a stellar opening month for the Seattle Mariners farm system. Four of the club’s top five prospects have made quite the statement. Two are now in the big leagues, two others have had big-time starts to the 2021 season, perhaps more than anyone could have expected. At the end of each month, we’ll scout out a pitcher prospect and hitter prospect as prospects of the month. Let’s start in the batter’s box, where a handful of bats scorched the baseball. But three stood out the most, and none will come as a surprise. HITTER PROSPECT OF THE MONTH Cal Raleigh, C — Tacoma (AAA) | 24 Raleigh was unbelievable in May, batting .361/.417/.687 with 10 doubles, five homers, a triple and just 13 strikeouts in 20 games. Of his 30 hits, 16 are for extra bases. He also has gunned down six of 17 would-be base stealers. But it doesn’t end there. Raleigh begins June with a 13-game hitting streak where he’s 24-for-55 (.436/.459/.819) with four home runs and nine multi-hit games and finished 10 for his final 19 (.526) with three homers. His 13.5% strikeout rate is down from 25% his first two pro seasons, and he’s yet to strike out as a right-handed batter. Raleigh is hitting .440/.553/1.120 with two outs, .423/.400/.808 with runners in scoring position, .440/.545/.840 when ahead in the count, and .400/.435/.750 when behind in the count. This wasn’t an easy choice, but Raleigh sure made it fun. HONORABLE MENTIONS Noelvi Marte, SS — Modesto (A) | 19 Marte will not be 20 until after the season but doesn’t seem fazed one iota by the pitching in the Low-A West league. In 22 games, Marte boasts a .315/.411/.533 slash, including five doubles and five home runs. His 24.3% strikeout rate isn’t concerning, thanks to the power showing and his 13.1% walk rate, plus the league is striking out at a 30% clip. He’s among the elite players and performers in the circuit and has a chance to earn his way to High-A Everett, though expecting that to occur early is more reactionary on a kid with 22 games experience in affiliated stateside ball. The club’s No. 5 prospect posted a .400/.526/.467 line with runners in scoring position and a .455/.667/.545 mark when ahead in the count. Julio Rodriguez, RF — Everett (A+) | 20 Rodriguez, the club’s No. 2 prospect and among the top 5 prospects in baseball, started the season with a bang, similar to that of Marte. In 21 games, Rodriguez batted .322/.404/.575 with five homers, five doubles, and a triple. He even swiped five bags in six tries. He batted .381/.458/.524 with runners in scoring position, .300/.391/.600 with two outs and showed High-A West pitchers what they very much do not want to do, and that’s fall behind in the count. Rodriguez went 13-for-26 (.500/.639/.923) when ahead in the count. On the mound, where the club is building legitimate depth in the lower minors including several with potentially fast tracks to the majors, wasn’t quite as close a race, thanks to the club’s top left-hander. But there were numerous contenders. PITCHER PROSPECT OF THE MONTH Brandon Williamson, LHP — Everett (A+) | 23 Williamson struck out 26 of the first 52 batters he faced over three short-scripted outings to start the season. Then he whiffed 13 of 25 batters in the best start of the season down on the farm, allowing two hits, a run and a walk on 9o pitches, 75 strikes. In the third inning of this start, Williamson completed an immaculate inning — nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts — which wasn’t all that much more dominating than most of his other 7-plus innings. Williamson wins a lot with his fastball right now, thanks to good velocity into the mid-90s and up to 97, and some deception in his delivery. His curveball, his best secondary pitch, is one he can throw for strikes or bury it for whiffs, and he did both in May. In 20 innings over four starts, Williamson struck out 50.6% of the batters he faced (39 of 77), and allowed just 18 baserunners — nine hits, seven walks, two hit batters. He had just on hiccup, so to speak, a four-inning outing that yielded four walks, but just one hit and eight strikeouts of 16 batters faced. Furthermore, Williamson allowed just four left-handed batters to reach base in 22 chances, just two hits (.091 AVG). He’s also buckled down hard with runners on base, yielding but three hits in 36 chances. Opponents, when leading off an inning, managed to reach base only twice all month off the TCU product. HONORABLE MENTIONS Adam Macko, LHP — Modesto (A) | 20Macko has been very good in four starts, and consistent, too, fanning 10 in each of his last three outings. He’s also yet to serve up a long ball, despite giving up nine earned runs. He’s struck out 44% of the batters he’s faced, and while he’s had a short out of control problems in each appearance, he’s rarely been squared up and often induced weak contact. Macko is up to 95 mph, but pitches in the low-90s with average-but-improving fastball command, and the four-seamer has some run to his arm side. He’s done a good job getting inside on right-handed batters with the heater, setting up favorable curveball might be the best in the system, missing bats in Low-A West and also serving as an early-count weapon of the backdoor variety. He has a slider he uses versus left-handers, but can bite the back foot of righties with it, too, and the occasional changeup is projectable. Macko is adept at locating his secondaries as well as any arm in Low-A. Macko is adept at locating his secondaries as well as any arm in Low-A. Taylor Dollard, RHP — Modesto (A) | 22 Dollard has missed bats (21.6% swinging strikes) in four starts and 19.1 innings, allowing 19 hits and four bases on balls. He’s struck out 48% of the total batters he’s faced and walked under 5%. He’s probably ready for High-A — he probably should have started there, but there’s no room for starter innings in Everett. He’s probably a long-term reliever but offers average stuff with a chance at an above-average breaking ball, an average changeup, and some life on a 91-93 mph fastball, suggesting back-end rotation upside. Dollar doesn’t carry as much ceiling as most of the other top arms in the system, but he does have a relatively high floor, and has touched 95 mph in side sessions and shorter outings.
If you were especially excited for the 2021 pitching debuts of No. 3 prospect Emerson Hancock, No. 4 prospect Logan Gilbert, and No. 6 prospect George Kirby, I have four words for you: Those three have company. Gilbert looked very good Thursday in Tacoma, touching 97 MPH, flashing two big-league caliber breaking balls, and commanding it all very well. Hancock and Kirby has more abbreviated outings as they get ramped up as the season moves along, but both flashed in their outings; Hancock with velocity, Kirby with command. But Sam Carlson and Brandon Williamson have stolen the show in the first week of the 2021 MiLB campaign, at least in regard to Mariners pitching prospects. The right-handed Carlson, my No. 17 prospect to start the year, made his first appearance in 1,390 days. After being selected No. 55 overall in the 2017 MLB Draft, he took the mound a few times in the Arizona League for the club’s rookie club. When elbow pain sprouted early, he was shut down. Though the club and player hoped to avoid surgery with rest and rehab, he’d go under the knife in July, 2018 wiping out his entire 2018 and 2019 seasons. He was ready to go in 2020 before that season was killed by the pandemic. He was back on the mound in Modesto Saturday, and from my eyes, it went a little something like this. Fastball sat 92-94 mph, touched 95 at least once. The pitch showed life up and to arm side, and Stockton hitters weren’t picking it up in time to read it and make contact. Swings and misses and called strikes throughout the start with the fastball. He showed at least 50 command and 55 control of the pitch. Carlson threw two different breaking balls in this outing. The best one is an 81-83 mph slider with terrific depth and late two-plane break. He threw it at the back leg of left-handed batters and away from righties. It projects as a legit plus pitch with swing-and-miss ability. At times the fastball-slider combo was electric. He also threw a true curveball with mostly vertical break at 75-78 mph. It’s a new pitch for him, but he snapped off a few good ones in this start. It’s a big breaker with long-term potential. I’m not sure Carlson used the changeup in this one. I thought maybe I saw 1-2 but they very well could have been running fastballs. Carlson came to pro ball with a good feel for a firm changeup, so it’s been in his repertoire from Day 1. Carlson’s delivery was incredibly athletic in this outing, which wasn’t a surprise in the slightest because he’s a great athlete. He worked from the severe first-base side of the rubber and utilizes a portional windup, which is to say it’s a simple wind that looks more like he’s going from the stretch, a relatively popular choice these days. He stayed closed well and balanced his shoulder tilt with consistent rhythm. His leg kick was quick and aggressive, but not especially high. He gets the foot down in time in order to pronate his trunk to pull his upper body through with good back bend and leg drive without sacrificing vertical leverage. He finished pretty well out front, and at no point did his delivery unravel in his four innings of work. He pounded the strike zone consistently, rarely giving the hitter the count, and overmatched the Ports’ lineup. I was more impressed by Carlson in this start than any other pitching prospect that has made a start thus far, including Gilbert, and not just because it was Carlson’s first appearance in a game in nearly 1,400 days. It’s clear Carlson is healthy, well conditioned, and has been working on developing his pitches and mechanics while out rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He’s always looked the part of a big-leaguer, but Saturday the 6-foot-4, 215 pounder looked like you could suit him up to play for the Lakers, the Raiders, or the Dodgers. I’m not saying he’s looked like Jacob deGrom, and it’s just one start that lasted but four frames, but I couldn’t be more encouraged by what Carlson displayed in his return. IP H ER BB SO P S 4.0 2 0 1 7 65 44 The last time I saw Williamson, my No. 9 Mariners prospect, he was fresh out of TCU as the clubs 2nd-round pick back in 2019. He’s always had a four-pitch mix, but he’s developed his curveball quite a bit since then, and he showed off the good velocity in Saturday’s outing in Hillsboro. The 6-foot-6 lefty may remind some of former Mariners left-hander Matt Thornton in some ways. Both throw hard, both tall and lanky, both with good curveballs. Williamson gave up two hits in this game, both singles in the first inning, didn’t walk any of the 15 batters he faced and constantly overpowered the Hops lineup. I’m told he sat in the 92-95 mph range with his fastball, but hit 96, and he flashed an average or better curveball throughout — some with more shape than others — but he maintained arm speed and finished well on almost all of them. Williamson also showed a few changeups with good arm speed and some sink, and either a varied version of the curveball or a small handful of sliders. Right now his slider is behind the curveball, but has a chance to be a legit offering for him. This was the pitcher I was hoping to see two summers ago, but after getting through an entire college season, he wasn’t showing everything he had in his 15 2/3 innings for the Sox. Williamson hit a lot of spots with the fastball in this one, particularly away to both right-handed and left-handed batters. He begins by toeing the third-base side of the rubber, and creates deception with his front shoulder. He stayed on top well in this game, too, creating plane, and tagging the top of the zone and both sides of the plate consistently. The biggest knocks on Williamson entering the 2019 Draft included a lack of an out pitch and some bouts with control issues. But he repeated a clean delivery Saturday and it’s clear the curveball has grown a couple of ticks; at draft time I couldn’t find anyone who’d seen his curveball enough to have a strong opinion it. That’s changed already in just one start. Williamson just turned 23 and thanks to the lost 2020 season is just now getting his feet wet as a pro starter, but with stuff and command like he showed in this start he will see Double-A Arkansas this season and could be on track for a late-2022 or early 2023 MLB debut. IP H ER BB SO P S 4.0 2 0 0 9 67 45 Both Carlson and Williamson have a ways to go, but Saturday was as good a start as anyone could have asked for from both pitchers, and Mariners fans should be excited. Rivals, not so much. Gilbert looked very good in Triple-A … Hancock and Kirby will be unleashed more and more as the season progresses but looked fine … Adam Macko was terrific in his 2021 debut, as was Connor Phillips … the Mariners have Matt Brash looking more like a starter than appeared possible thanks to a calmer delivery with more balance … Taylor Dollard, the club’s 5th-round pick last June, was dominant in his debut … unheralded righty Josias De Los Santos was terrific in his first outing … and the Mariners have yet to unveil right-handers Juan Then and Isaiah Campbell, my No. 10 and 11 prospects.
It’s not uncommon for Major League Baseball trades to remain unsettled for a long, long time. The exchange of talent often includes young players not destined for the majors for several years. It’s actually quite fascinating to follow as one trade becomes another, and another, and sometimes another. There are a number of moves Seattle Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has made the past three years that fall into the same category. Some seem to favor Seattle, a few definitely don’t. One of the many with a chance to have a very long story is the deal Dipoto struck with the Tampa Bay Rays on May 25, 2018, and a few stanzas already have been written. The Mariners, who finished 89-73 that season, were 30-20 when the trade was consummated. They were three games back of the Houston Astros in the American League West and had a two-game lead in the race for the No. 2 Wild Card, so Dipoto got creative. Seattle sent right-hander Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero to Tampa Bay in exchange for veteran outfielder Denard Span and right-handed reliever Alex Colome. Span went on to provide 0.9 rWAR for the Mariners in 94 games, thanks to a .272/.329/.435 triple-slash. Colome pitched in 47 games and went 5-0 with a 2.53 ERA and 49-13 K/BB ratio in 46.1 innings good for 1.4 rWAR. Span retired after the season, but Dipoto flipped Colome to the Chicago White Sox for catcher Omar Narvaez. Colome pitched for two seasons with the White Sox, but neither were of the quality of his time with Seattle, but that’s neither here nor there, and winning the trades is far from the point. Narvaez batted .278/.353/.460 in 132 games for the Mariners in 2019, a season valued at 2.2 rWAR. If you’re counting, that’s now 4.5 rWAR combined between the acquisitions. Following the 2019 season, Dipoto then sent Narvaez to the Milwaukee Brewers and Seattle received right-handed pitcher Adam Hill and the No. 64 overall selection in the 2020 MLB Draft, a competitive balance selection awarded to the Brewers. McLennan CC (TX) right-hander Connor Phillips ended up being the pick. Hill, 23, last pitched at Class-A Wisconsin in the Midwest League, primarily as a starter, but may be suited for Double-A Arkansas this season with a chance to move quickly as a reliever. Still, he’s probably a year from the majors. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Phillips regularly touched the mid-90s in short stints, has hit 98 mph as an amateur and a professional, and also offers a curveball and chanegup. He’ll turn 20 years of age May 4, likely just days before making his professional debut. He’s currently Prospect Insider’s No. 18 Mariners prospect. On the fastest of tracks to The Show, Phillips’ ETA is likely at least 2023. While the trade Dipoto made with the Rays sure looks like a winner now — Moore is not under contract with a big-league club, even on a minor league deal, and it’s highly unlikely Romero hits the majors before 2022, nor does it seem there’s much chance he proves the gem of the trade — the truth is we won’t know the final numbers of this trade, like so many others, for several years. And knowing how Dipoto operates, he’ll wait until just before the buzzer, then move Hill or Phillips for even more longer-term talent so we have to restart the clock. And maybe he’ll have a sense of humor about it all and keep doing so just to continue adding chapters to the story. After all, if that were to occur, it would mean Dipoto’s rosters are winning enough to earn a long stay at the top of the Mariners’ baseball operations department, which is something the Mariners and the club’s fans need far more than any number of Wins Above Replacement.
We’re about a week and a half from Opening Day 2021 at T-Mobile Park when the Seattle Mariners host the San Francisco Giants. There remain just a few spots on the Mariners roster unsettled, at least from our perspective (the club may already know all 26). Here was my first projection. Let’s go through this for the second time this spring. ROTATIONMarco GonzalesJames PaxtonYusei KikuchiChris FlexenJustus SheffieldJustin Dunn I went with Dunn in the rotation over Margevicius because I think Seattle is seeing enough in the right-hander this spring to go back to the well and try to build on the improved stuff. What that specific decision also does is balance the rotation against the four lefties, and sends Margevicius to the bullpen to serve as its lone southpaw. BULLPENRafael MonteroKendall GravemanAnthony MisiewiczKeynan MiddletonCasey SadlerNick MargeviciusWill VestErik Swanson I think Vest, the Rule 5 pick, has done enough to make the club and essentially earn a longer look. How long that lasts should be performance-driven. At this point Yohan Ramirez has made one appearance in an “A” game in Arizona, hitting two batters and walking another. He needs to start the year in Triple-A Tacoma and work on the delivery. His raw stuff is legit, but he doesn’t fill the zone much. Middleton has struggled a bit, serving up five homers, but he does have a 6-1 K/BB ratio in five frames, and the stuff belongs. He also has a bit of a track record a few others in contention don’t. Aaron Fletcher has flashed big-league stuff but more consistent command of the fastball is necessary before he can be viewed as a reliable arm. Sadler has looked very good and is a strike-thrower to boot, something the club needs in the middle innings. Matt Magill has just three appearances, making it more difficult to project him to the ODR. Joey Gerber has looked better this month than most of his appearances last summer, including more velocity, recouped deception, and a better, sharper-breaking slider. Roenis Elias may have been on his way to making the team until his injury. JT Chargois still has a shot, but he hasn’t been used much yet, suggesting the Mariners already know he’s not part of the ODR, but Swanson’s spot is far from sewn up and could go in a lot of directions, including Chargois or Matt Magill. One potential hint on who the club may be viewing as a legitimate option is who is getting the innings this late in Cactus League play. Not just because they want those arms worked into form, but because those not part of the 26-man roster to start the season have another 33 days until their first game, and overworking them in big-league camp is a real problem. CATCHERSTom MurphyLuis Torrens INFIELDERSEvan WhiteDylan MooreJ.P. CrawfordKyle SeagerTy France Honestly, with Shed Long Jr. being held out of “A” games thus far, it’s a bit more difficult to find the right mix with the infield-outfield groups. I’d choose Jack Reinheimer or Braden Bishop for the final roster spot because the former can play shortstop some, offers a bit more offense right now than does Donovan Walton, and the latter is a 70 glove. Both bat right-handed, balancing the bench. But Reinheimer is not on the 40-man, the Mariners seem to think Jose Marmolejos is something he’s not — an outfielder and a major-league hitter — and Fraley has been given a longer look (so, that’s where I actually lean in projecting the ODR). Once Long is ready, it’s an easier projection, but as of March 21 we don’t have good info on when that might be. OUTFIELDERSMitch HanigerKyle LewisTaylor TrammellSam HaggertyJake Fraley There’s no reasonable explanation for a Mariners outfield without Trammell and/or Jarred Kelenic, and at this point, I lean Trammell between the two because of the time Kelenic missed with the knee injury and the lack of overall experience he has versus professional pitching. The truth is, both players are worthy, and if the Mariners were taking the best roster possible north with them to face the San Francisco Giants April 1, Kelenic would be on it. Haggerty’s ability to switch hit and handle second base gives him a great chance to make the club, and he’s actually found the barrel some this spring, worked counts and found the gap a few times. If the club needs a 40-man spot to make room for Kelenic, they’ve yet to officially place Ken Giles on the 60-day IL, per the team site. If they also need one for Reinheimer, Chargois, or Magill, I think the weakest holds on 40-man roster spots are right-hander Domingo Tapia, Walton, an additional 60-day IL case (Long?), or perhaps a minor trade involving a player that didn’t make the ODR, including Bishop and Fraley.
We’re about three weeks from an announcement of the Seattle Mariners Opening Day roster and we’re a step or two closer than we were a week ago, not that there are a lot of questions remaining. But there are a few, so let’s talk this out. Starting Pitchers (6)Marco Gonzales (L)James Paxton (L)Yusei Kikuchi (L)Justus Sheffield (L)Chris Flexen (R)Justin Dunn (R) There appear to be five locks, provided they all remain healthy. I’m still projecting Dunn to the starting six because his greatest competition — Logan Gilbert and Nick Margevicius — have hurdles Dunn does not. Gilbert’s is a service time hurdle — no, it shouldn’t exist, but it does — and a potential concern about workload, though I don’t buy it as a standalone reason to leave Gilbert off the roster to start the season, especially considering he won’t have a place to pitch while he serves out his time. The Mariners should carry Gilbert, but if they want to carry Dunn, too, the club can simply begin the season with seven starters and adjust as arms get stretched out in late April and May. In this scenario, the Mariners wouldn’t have to use seven starters over seven days, they could piggyback Gilbert. If the club wants to ship Gilbert out once Triple-A begins in early May, hell have four or outings under his belt and can stretch out in Tacoma before getting recalled in May. Still, the Mariners have a decision to make on the of the other six starters before Gilbert can be added to the rotation. Dunn is the wild card. I’m on record saying Dunn was not of MLB quality last season and not only needs to be better in 2021, but if he doesn’t show vast improvement all spring warrants being optioned to the minors to start the season. At this point, I’m assuming the early returns on Dunn’s fastball this spring — up to 96 mph, more 92-95 than he showed in 2020 — holds up enough to lend the club the kind of upside confidence to give Dunn the nod over Margevicius. The leash may not be extremely long, but it’s up to Dunn. Who knows what the eventual move is when Gilbert becomes part of the rotation, but the possibilities are endless, including injury removing the decision from GM Jerry Dipoto‘s desk. Margevicius’ greatest obstacle is the club’s investment in Dunn and what may be at least a perceived advantage the right-hander has on his southpaw teammate in terms up ceiling. Relief Pitchers (8)Rafael Montero (R)Kendall Graveman (R)Anthony Misiewicz (L)Will Vest (R)Keynan Middleton (R)Casey Sadler (R)Brandon Brennan (R) Nick Margevicius (L) It’s clear that healthy arms attached to Montero, Graveman, Misiewicz, Vest and Middleton are surefire choices. Sadler is a strike-throwing right-hander with improved velocity the last two years and is out of options. Still making some assumptions here on health, which needs to be noted for all players, especially pitchers, and especially those with an injury history like Brennan, who has yet to make his spring debut. But as long as he’s good to go the sinkerballer is probably one of the eight relievers headed north to start the season — not that his spot is solid in the least. If he’s not healthy or struggles mightily with his control, the next in line likely are Matt Magill, Yohan Ramirez, and perhaps veteran Roenis Elias. I have Margevicius in the bullpen here to start the season, mostly because he’s one of the club’s best 14 arms, can cover a lot of innings in the middle of got-away games, and optioning him is the opposite of giving Scott Servais and Pete Woodworth the best possible staff to succeed. Ramirez has great raw stuff, and he survived on it last season, but unless the club sees reasons to believe he’ll throw strikes with some consistency the right-hander needs extended time in Triple-A to work on his delivery, particularly how his lower half leads him through release point. A healthy Magill was reliable in 2019 and one can argue he has just as much of a shot at Brennan. If we assume health for Magill, who had arthroscopic debridement surgery on his shoulder last September, he’s probably a favorite. He’s walked three batters in his one inning of work so far. We’ll see how this plays out for him. Vest, the Rule 5 pick, has struggled in two innings, allowing four hits and three earnies, but the club believes in his stuff enough to keep handing him the ball in a position earn his spot on the roster. If he’s a disaster this spring, however, the Mariners should find another option, of which there is no shortage, including Wyatt Mills, Joey Gerber, Ramirez, Elias, Magill, and Sam Delaplane. Taylor Guerrieri‘s battle is uphill, but there’s enough stuff to warrant middle innings work and he’s made it through two innings without a walk thus far. Paul Sewald is an underdog, but don’t count him out just yet. He’s missing bats and throwing strikes. JT Chargois has yet to make an appearance, but if he gets going soon enough has a chance to unseat one of the above eight arms. He didn’t pitch a year ago, but in 2019 with the Dodgers used a 95-97 mph fastball and 85-88 mph slider to post a 31.8% strikeout rate. He also found a way for the first time since 2016 in Triple-A to issue a walk less than 11.1% of the time (5.7%). Catchers (2)Tom Murphy (R)Luis Torrens (R) Barring an injury to either Murphy or Torrens, they’ll open the season as the catching tandem. The club has hinted the time share is likely to be a 55-60% to 40-45% in favor of the more experience Murphy. The question here is: What happens if there’s an early-season injury? Next on Baseball Things. Infielders (6)Evan White (R)Dylan Moore (R)J.P. Crawford (L)Kyle Seager (L)Ty France (R)Sam Haggerty (B) This situation is a bit tricky. Shed Long has yet to make his spring debut and the longer he’s out the lower his chances are he starts the season on the Opening Day roster. If it’s injury related — and remember, he had surgery on his lower leg last fall — the club has an easy out on the roster move. He does have an option remaining, though. But Long appears close to getting into an official game based on his activity in simulated action (he homered on a Montero fastball Saturday). Still, it’s difficult to assume he’ll be ready since the club will ask him to play not only second base but probably third base and left field, too. If Long is not ready, the last infielder spot may go to Sam Haggerty, who also can play the outfield. Remember, the Mariners do not need to carry a second shortstop — a position Haggerty can fake for the short term … he’s a better fit at second, but at which Long has zero experience — since projected second baseman Moore can handle the position in case of injury or late-inning weirdness with Crawford. In this projection, I have Long behind schedule, but that can change quickly. Moore and France both can back up White at first. France is Seager’s backup at third. Long and Haggerty both are capable at second, as is France, so the club is covered there no matter which way this group is completed. Outfielders (4)Mitch Haniger (R)Kyle Lewis (R)Jake Fraley (L)Braden Bishop (R) This could be a three-player position group if Long is healthy and makes the club, so keep an eye on that. Both Long and Moore have experience in the outfield, and if Haggerty makes the club he’s essentially as capable as is Moore. With Jarred Kelenic expected to miss at least some time this month with a minor knee tweak, it appears his chances to break camp with the big club are all but gone, leaving open the door for Fraley, and perhaps Bishop, who has made a few minor adjustments with his setup and swing in order to get started sooner and give himself a better chance to handle velocity. One of the buzz names in camp right now is Taylor Trammell, but it seems his chances to break camp as part of the 26-man roster are close to zero. My fear is the Mariners will strongly consider Jose Marmoleos ahead of Fraley, even though he’s below-average defensively and can’t play center (Fraley can) or offer value on the bases (Fraley does). Once Kelenic is up, the misfit is Fraley/Marmolejos, however, not Bishop, based on a combination of handedness and defensive prowess. This is going to be interesting.
When a club has a strong far system getting deeper as you read this, it’s always fun to crosscheck it with other current collections of talent. One way to do that is by objectively identifying how far down one club’s rankings lies a prospect that would rank No. 1 in at least one other club’s system. That list extends beyond the club’s consensus Top 20 prospects, Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez, so let’s start digging. Two Reminders: Prospect rankings are subjective, but in identifying orgs where Mariners prospects would rank No. 1 for me I’ll be as objective as possible. And rankings don’t dictate how a player will turn out as a major leaguer. It’s only a potential manifestation of talent and developing skills. Rankings, no matter who is putting them together, no matter how many sources are utilized, no matter the evaluation skills of the ranker, should be taken as general indicators. Many times the ‘who’s going to be better?’ is correct, but it’s not an exact science. 1. Jarred Kelenic, OFNo. 1: All but Tampa Bay (Wander Franco), Baltimore (Adley Rutschman). Maybe: Detroit (Spencer Torkelson), San Diego (MacKenzie Gore) Kelenic would be No. 2 in at least 25 organizations and as many as 27, allowing for some difference in opinion. I’d rank him No. 1 for both the Tigers and Padres. 2. Julio Rodriguez, OFNo 1: All but Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Detroit, San Diego, Pittsburgh (Ke’Bryan Hayes). Maybe: Kansas City (Bobby Witt), Toronto (Nate Pearson). I would rank Rodriguez No. 1 for Kansas City, but not Toronto. 3. Emerson Hancock, RHPNo. 1: Houston Astros (Forrest Whitley), Philadelphia Phillies (Spencer Howard), Boston Red Sox (Jeter Downs, Tristan Casas), Arizona Diamondbacks (Corbin Carroll, Kristian Robinson), New York Mets (Francisco Alvarez), Los Angeles Angels (Brandon Marsh), Colorado Rockies (Zac Veen), Los Angeles Dodgers (Keibert Ruiz, Josiah Gray), Cincinnati Reds (Nick Lodolo), Chicago Cubs (Brailyn Marquez), Texas Rangers (Josh Jung), Milwaukee Brewers (Garrett Mitchell), Washington Nationals (Cade Cavalli). Maybe: Cleveland Indians (Nolan Jones), New York Yankees (Jasson Dominguez). I would rank Hancock ahead of both Jones and Dominguez, but it’s close to a toss-up with Jones. 4. Logan Gilbert, RHPNo. 1: Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, Boston Red Sox, Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals. Maybe: Cleveland Indians, New York Yankees. I would rank Gilbert ahead of Dominguez but not Jones. It’s admittedly a toss-up at the end of the day. 5. Noelvi Marte, SS/3BNo. 1: Nationals Marte would also rank No. 2 for about a dozen clubs, including the Brewers. He may also get the nod at No. 2 for the Rangers. 6. George Kirby, RHPNo. 1: Nationals Like Marte, Kirby likely would rank No. 2 for about a dozen clubs, Brewers included. The Rangers wouldn’t be far off, but I think he’d slide in behind Jung and Sam Huff for now. 7. Taylor Trammell, OFMaybe: Nationals Trammell would rank No. 2 for the Nationals, if not No. 1, and would get No. consideration for the Brewers. 8. Cal Raleigh, C Raleigh wouldn’t rank No. 1 or 2 for any clubs for me, but would slide in at No. 3 for 8-12 clubs and would be Top 5 for roughly half the league. The Mariners’ No. 9 prospect, left-hander Brandon Williamson, might get into a few Top 5s, and the lowest-ranked Mariners prospect I think would have a shot to get into a Top 5 is probably Isaiah Campbell (No. 10) or Juan Then (No. 11). I see a handful of Mariners prospects ranked between 16-23 that would at least threaten some clubs Top 10. Zach DeLoach, Jonatan Clase, Austin Shenton, Sam Carlson and Andres Munoz would get into a few Top 10s and both Connor Phillips and Levi Stoudt, who have fires lit under them and should move up the ladder fast after some performance, aren’t far behind. There’s been some folks wondering why Baseball America has Seattle as the No. 2 far, system — reminder, farm rankings don’t matter — and The Athletic’s Keith Law has them at No. 13. But when taking into consideration the probability there’s little relative difference between No. 13 and No. 5, if not No. 2, it’s no longer a ‘what-in-the-world’ level inquiry. But the Mariners’ system is not perfect. They lack starting pitching depth after the top three arms, though it’s far from a bare cupboard and the likes of Williamson, Campbell, Then, Carlson, Stoudt, and Phillips can fill those gaps with some game production this summer, and there’s almost nothing up the middle. Cal Raleigh is the lone projectable big-league regular at catcher or second base, and even shortstop is empty if Marte has to slide to third, which is the prevailing belief even if not a foregone conclusions (I repeat, NOT a foregone conclusion). I also happen to disagree with Law on the Cardinals and Twins having better systems than Seattle and I’d debate Seattle has at least temporarily surpassed the Dodgers and Padres. I think the Diamondbacks, ranked No. 5 by Law, is the most overrated system on Law’s list, but that’s just my opinion.
We’re eight months from the end of the 2021 Major League Baseball season, and a lot will happen between now and then. One of those things is movement in the prospect ranks. Players develop at different paces, others will graduate, and new ones will be added to each club’s farm system. Aside from the ultimate additions in July — International free agents, the draft, deadline trades — let’s take a look at how the Seattle Mariners’ Top 10 Prospects might look. I expect two players currently in the Top 10 to graduate, and it’s possible a third, Taylor Trammell, and a fourth, Cal Raleigh, also exceed the 130 at-bat limits to maintain rookie and prospect status, and I’m going to assume both do. The other six — Julio Rodriguez, Emerson Hancock, Noelvi Marte, George Kirby, Brandon Williamson and Isaiah Campbell will remain prospects through 2021. There’s a chance the club’s first-round pick (No. 12) and top international signing could factor in, but for this exercise I will make no assumptions. This is just hypothetical in every way, so, try not to take this too seriously, eh? No. 1 Julio Rodriguez, RF Rodriguez should be challenged in the upper minors this season, starting in Double-A Arkansas, but it’s difficult to see him show anything but progress, even if the numbers may not always scream it. No. 2 Emerson Hancock, RHP Hancock’s full arsenal and command should allow him to cruise into Double-A, perhaps by season’s end if there are enough innings in the plan. No. 3 George Kirby, RHP Kirby doesn’t have the raw stuff of Hancock or Logan Gilbert at this stage, but he might be able to command-and-feel his way through High-A West, and I expect more mid-90s heat. No. 4 Noelvi Marte, SS/3B Marte has as much room to show out as anyone on this list, but there’s also a strong possibility he runs into a few hurdles at the plate and doesn’t move quite as quick through Low-A West as Rodriguez did the Sally League back in 2019. No. 5 Brandon Williamson, LHP A consistently-plus curveball with more velocity than he showed over 15.1 innings in Everett two summers ago would offer a more bullish projection for the left-hander. No. 6 Juan Then, RHP There are questions about Then’s future role, but the last time he was on a mound he was 91-95 mph with an average slider. There are signs he’s sharpened the breaking ball to significant levels and gas camp has offered at least another tick. If he holds most of the velocity deep into starts and his changeup flashes viable or better, he’ll shoot up the ranks. No. 7 Zach DeLoach, OF DeLoach lacks a standout tool, but his best attributes are strike zone judgment, swing consistency, and athleticism, all of which should play well in either Low-A West or High-A West. No. 8 Levi Stoudt, RHP Nearly two years off Tommy John and having yet to throw a pitch in a professional game, there’s reason to curb expectations. But the fastball-changeup combo is good enough to dominate Low-A West. An average breaker and he could see Everett for a bit. No. 9 Isaiah Campbell, RHP Campbell’s fastball-changeup is competitive and his slider should be a weapon for him against Class-A bats, but the development of his slider and/or curveball is key to his future. No. 10 Jonatan Clase, CF I guess Clase is my guy. He’s raw at the plate and unrefined in the field, but he’s a 70 runner with bat speed and some present ability to work the zone. He’ll turn 19 in May, but if he sees full-season ball it’s a great sign.
As the Seattle Mariners prepare for the 2021 season — Year 3 of the rebuild — let’s look three years ahead to what things might look like as a result of improved scouting and development under GM Jerry Dipoto. A couple of notes first: Contract length and team control years are taken into consideration. For example, Kendall Graveman‘s contract expires at season’s end and he will then qualify for free agency. Therefore, he will not be included in the following projections. Contract Options will be exercised in reasonable situations, such as Marco Gonzales‘ $15 million option for 2024. No additions will be made by any route except organic growth through the existing farm system. No trades, no free agents, no future draft picks or international signings. Age listed below is on Opening Day 2024 ‘Contract’ reflects current contract length, full years of service, or arbitration status entering the season. * denotes contract has further options I chose 2024, three years out, rather than two, to demonstrate how strong the club’s organic growth could be, even that far down the road. Vast improvement without using up a lot of assets is often a precursor to deep playoff runs. Ask the Astros, Braves, Cubs, Cleveland, Twins and many others. ROTATION POS PLAYER AGE CONTRACT SP1 Emerson Hancock 24 1.0 SP2 Logan Gilbert 26 2.0 SP3 Marco Gonzales 32 THRU ’24 SP4 George Kirby 26 1.0 SP5 Justus Sheffield 27 ARB2 Gilbert is going to be the first of the future crop of arms to get to the big leagues, but Hancock carries the biggest upside. Brandon Williamson, Levi Stoudt, Sam Carlson, Isaiah Campbell, Adam Macko, and Juan Then will be in consideration by 2024 and could unseat one of the above 5, or replace them if the club trades one or, in Marco Gonzales’ case, declines the option. Sheffield could fit in a relief role if he’s unseated in the rotation. POS PLAYER AGE CONTRACT CL Andres Munoz 25 ARB2 SU Juan Then 24 2.0 SU Levi Stoudt 26 2.0 SU Isaiah Campbell 26 2.0 For this exercise today I am projecting Then, Stoudt, and Campbell to the bullpen. Connor Phillips could end up there and be a factor by ’24, too, and both Wyatt Mills and Sam Delaplane could remain factors. POS PLAYER AGE CONTRACT 1B Evan White 27 *THRU ’25 2B Dylan Moore 31 ARB3 3B Noelvi Marte 22 R SS J.P. Crawford 29 ARB4 C Cal Raleigh 27 2.0 LF Jarred Kelenic 24 2.0 CF Kyle Lewis 28 ARB2 RF Julio Rodriguez 23 1.0 DH Ty France 29 ARB2 Neither Moore nor Crawford are the best bets to still be around. There remains an outside chance Marte sticks at shortstop, which could open third base for Austin Shenton or Ty France, the two best in-house bets to man the position in 2022 and 2023. Milkar Perez may be in the third-base picture by 2024. Shed Long could be a factor at second base, followed by Kaden Polcovich. Taylor Trammell and Zach DeLoach will be in play in the outfield before 2024.
Before we discuss the best tools in the Seattle Mariners organization, let me declare something here: I left a lot of 60-grade tools and pitches on the cutting room floor, and a few 70 fastballs. There are more 70-grade and 60-grade tools in the Top 40 this year than I’ve ever seen in my now-18 years scouting and ranking Mariners prospects. At the height of the Jack Zduriencik era in terms of farm systems — 2013 when they ranked top 10 by most outlets, No. 8 by Keith Law — when the likes of Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino, Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin, and James Paxton were all Top 100 prospects by most accounts. Looking back at my 2013 spreadsheets for Mariners rankings, Walker had the best OFP at 55, followed by Hulzen at 54, Zunino and Paxton at 52, and Franklin at 50.5. Brad Miller came in at 50, Brandon Maurer at 47.5, Luiz Gohara at 45, Gabriel Guerrero at 45 and Julio Morban at 44. In order, that entire group of 10 would rank like this. 5. Walker6. Hultzen8. Zunino, Paxton11. Franklin14. Miller17. Maurer (tied)22. Gohara, Guerrero (tied)26. Morban (tied) And that was the best year under the previous regime. Want to compare to the year Dipoto took over in Seattle? Here it is against this year’s group: 4. Kyle Lewis9. Tyler O’Neill14. Nick Neidert16. Drew Jackson22. D.J. Peterson24. Chris Torres26. Max Povse27. Braden Bishop28. Daniel Vogelbach32. Brayan Hernandez This was the club’s Top 10 entering the 2016 season. More context: In 2013 — again, Zduriencik’s best farm system by most accounts (maybe all) — My No. 23 prospect was LHP Jordan Shipers, with a 39.5 grade. Right now I have to go 42 prospects deep to get below 40.0. There are lots of 40.0s in the 30s and 40s, but it doesn’t dip below until No. 49, catcher Matt Scheffler. This system has changed. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Hit Jarred Kelenic 70 Zach DeLoach and Austin Shenton share runners-up honors, but Kelenic is the best hitter in the system. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Power Julio Rodriguez 70 Kelenic, Noelvi Marte, and Starling Aguilar each have 60-grade power at varying stages of development, but Tyler Keenan grades out somewhere between the aforementioned trip and Rodriguez’s 70. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Athlete Jonatan Clase N/A Kelenic is in this conversation, as is Marte, but Trammell is the runner-up behind Clase, whose 70 speed and electric, quick-twitch actions give him a chance to stick in center for the long haul. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Outfield Arm Julio Rodriguez 70 Kelenic and Braden Bishop, among others, come in around grade-60, but no one seriously threatens Rodriguez’s crown here. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Defensive Catcher Cal Raleigh 55 Carter Bins isn’t far behind in tools but Raleigh is more advanced at this stage. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Infield Arm Milkar Perez 70 Marte has a 60-grade arm, Aguilar too, but Juan Querecuto rivals Perez’s 70-grade. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Defensive Infielder Juan Querecuto 60 Querecuto is still raw at the plate but is instinctual in the field, has very good hands and feet, and that big arm to finish off plays. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Defense Outfielder Braden Bishop 70 Bishop’s heart rate is undetectable as he plays center field, showing elite routes and tracking skills and very good jumps. He also has a good arm. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Fastest Baserunner Jonatan Clase 70 Despite going from 155 pounds to the 185 range since he last took the field in the DSL in 2019, Clase still is explosive with his first step and accelerates to game-changing speed within a few steps. He might not hold this crown a year from now with the club’s international efforts recently, but no one else is all that close at the moment. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Fastball Andres Munoz 80 Prior to his elbow surgery, Munoz sat 96-100 mph and touched 103 mph in his short time in the big leagues. Of the 185 fastballs he’s thrown in MLB, 128 have registered at 100 mph or higher. Oh, and the pitch has life and run, too. **shrugs** If we split it up between pitching roles, Logan Gilbert would get the honor for starters thanks to life and run on what projects to average around 94 mph. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Curveball Sam Delaplane 65 Gilbert and Brandon Williamson would win the award for starters, and Williamson’s breaker has room to surpass both. Delaplane’s is a tight-spinning power curveball with late downward break, capable of generating whiffs in the big leagues. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Slider Emerson Hancock 60 Yohan Ramirez has the best slider among relievers, but Hancock’s 60-grade can be dominant when he’s tunnelling with his fastball and changeup. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Changeup Levi Stoudt 60 Hancock’s changeup belongs in the conversation for runner-up, but Stoudt has a chance at an eventual 70-grade dead fish. TOOL PLAYER GRADE Control George Kirby 70 Kirby has plus-plus control and plus command of his fastball and uses the skills to attack the entire zone and beyond with purpose.
POSTED: No. 2 — Julio Rodriguez, RF POSTED: No. 3 — Emerson Hancock, RHP POSTED: No. 4 — Logan Gilbert, RHP POSTED: No. 5 — Noelvi Marte, SS/3B POSTED: 6-10 — Three arms, a speedy outfielder, and the catcherPOSTED: 11-20 — Upside and heatPOSTED: 21-30 — Highlighted by young CF, relief helpPOSTED: 31-40 — Five Arms and power upside 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 1. Jarred Kelenic, OF Kelenic brings strength, speed, instincts, power and hitting to the field daily, and has performed well since Day 1 after the New York Mets tabbed him at No. 6 overall in 2018. Fun Note: Former one-time Prospect Insider writer Chris Hervey is credited as Kelenic’s signing scout. The left-handed batter has flashed plus hitting skills, including good plate coverage and an advanced ability to dissect situational counts. The swing is short, the bat speed is plus and it results in a powerful, compact swing he trusts versus good velocity. Combined with his ability to make consistent hard contact and find the barrel, Kelenic may be able to get to and beyond 30 home runs. He’s always done a good job avoiding the chase, but in Modesto in 2019 showed a tendency to lean out and over the plate for something to drive, which in turn made it more difficult to get to hard stuff up and/or in — pitches that ended up on his hands, yet in the zone. Kelenic’s instincts in the batter’s box are very good, and he’s already adept at using the middle of the field. He’s yet to see a steady diet of big velo and ungodly breaking balls — the best pitching he’s seen came against his own teammates last summer — but he’s been astute at avoiding getting longer with his swing, allowing him to battle effectively. He’s a plus runner with enough range to handle center, at least for the first several years of his career, but the Mariners pushed him primarily to left field at the Alternate Training Site where he was asked to clean up some basics. Despite the present speed, Kelenic has added size and strength and likely will continue down that path, so he may end up above-average, instead, suggesting he’s not likely to swipe a lot of bags, though he reads pitchers well and offers well above-average value on the bases. Kelenic’s offensive future is bright, but whether he’s a star or merely a solid player may depend on if he can remain disciplined with his game plan and let the power happen as a result of a premium swing. A power-driven approach means decreased contacts rates, therefore a strain on his batting average and on-base percentage. If he can stay within his strengths, we may be staring down a .320 hitter capable of 40 doubles and 30 homers. Despite recent even in the Mariners organization regarding service time manipulation, Kelenic is likely to start 2021 in Tripe-A Tacoma where he would receive valuable time versus a varied lot of experienced pitching. It’s easy to forget he’s played just 17 games above the California League and won’t be 22 years of age until July. If he indeed misses out on an Opening-Day assignment with the parent club, his time in Tacoma could be anywhere from 2-8 weeks, which heavier emphasis on the short side. Kelenic currently represents the Mariners’ best chance at a superstar. ETA: 2021 MLB COMPS CEILING: Matt Holliday MEDIAN: Trot Nixon FLOOR: Troy O’Leary Sure, Holliday is a right-handed batter and was bigger than Kelenic, but he was an underrated athlete who played a strong left field in his prime, and the dude raked. Granted, he represents the ceiling projection for Kelenic, but he did post three 6-win season, one of them a 7-win effort, plus three other 4-win years and two seasons of 3-plus wins. I’ve seen some Grady Sizemore comps for Kelenic, and those fit in a lot of ways, too, but such a comp doesn’t represent Kelenic’s hit tool nearly well enough, which is the same reason I don’t like the Bryce Harper comp some have broached, nor Lance Berkman comp due to defense and baserunning. Kelenic is better defensively than Holliday, and may get a chance to play some center field, where he projects at least as good as Mike Trout, potentially increasing his chances to compete for an MVP in his prime. Nixon posted four seasons of 3-plus wins, two others at more than 2.5 and peaked in 2003 at 5.0 fWAR. He had problems staying on the field, but posted a career .274/.364/.464 triple-slash, serving as a promising median comp for Kelenic. TOOLS HIT POWER FIELD RUN THROW OFP 65 60+ 55 55 60 60.5 NO PLAYER POS ETA BEST TOOL 2021 2 Julio Rodriguez RF 2022 POWER AA 3 Emerson Hancock RHP 2023 SLIDER A+/AA 4 Logan Gilbert RHP 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 5 Noelvi Marte SS 2023 POWER A/A+ 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+ 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: No. 3 — Emerson Hancock, RHP POSTED: No. 4 — Logan Gilbert, RHP POSTED: No. 5 — Noelvi Marte, SS/3B POSTED: 6-11 — Three arms, a speedy outfielder, and the catcherPOSTED: 11-20 — Upside and heatPOSTED: 21-30 — Highlighted by young CF, relief helpPOSTED: 31-40 — Five Arms and power upside 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 2. Julio Rodriguez, OF Rodriguez has done nothing but hit since a Tim Kissner-led Mariners Lat Am scouting department signed him nearly five years ago out of the Dominican Republic. The only problem is he’s amassed just 547 at-bats between the DSL, Sally League and his 17-game stint in Advanced-A Modesto to end 2019. The tools are loud, starting with 70 raw power and evidence he’ll make consistent enough contact to tale advantage. He’s a bit pull happy entering 2021, but has hit searing line drives to the middle of the field in BP and occasionally in games. His hand-eye is high-end and there’s bat speed to spare. In favorable counts versus lower-level arms he’s destroyed velocity and shown an improved ability to stay back on soft stuff. But there’s still work to do in this department, and better pitching may give him fits early. Despite the propensity to get himself out, he was a teenager playing at both full-season Class-A leagues the last time there were minor league games, and he still found a way to rake, including more than one dominating tear. The right-handed hitter does have a ways to go to be considered a surefire impact bat in the big leagues, which is why it’s more difficult to project him as such as easy as it is for the club’s No. 1 prospect. Rodriguez’s tendency to leak out as he stalks pitches results in some front-foot swings, opening him up for offspeed stuff and a relentless attack of the outer edge. His swing has at least one or two unnecessary parts to it, but he’s already made similar fixes the past few years, so I’m not overly concerned by its existence after 143 professional games. Athletically, the now-20-year-old has lost a step or so as he’s filled out — he was 180 pounds when he signed and was up over 220 last spring — reducing his foot speed to about average, which pushes him to right field regularly where he’s shown instincts and a 70-grade arm with accuracy. He’ll likely end up a fringe-average runner, but he does a lot of things well defensively that should help him stick for years. His makeup is off the charts and the kid oozes personality, including a persistent smile, giving him a great chance to be the darling, fan-favorite of the club’s top young players. If you’d never seen Rodriguez before in your life — live, video or a simple photo, you could pick him out in a ballpark full of baseball players, because he’d be the one having the most fun and making sure everyone within miles know about it. If he can improve his ability to cover the whole strike zone and use more of the field, the ceiling here is very high, up to and including a non-zero chance at MVP-caliber seasons in his prime, led by tons of extra-base power. He’s still a few years away, most likely, but Rodriguez has the physical tools and fortitude to compete and develop in a league where he’s among the youngest players, which will be the case from the get-go this spring. Rodriguez is likely slated for Double-A Arkansas where he’ll see pitchers 2-6 years his senior, offering the kind of examination he needs to take the next steps. I’m not sure how likely it is he sees Tacoma before year’s end, but Rodriguez isn’t your typical 20-year-old. ETA: 2022 MLB COMPS CEILING: Jim Rice MEDIAN: Danny Tartabull FLOOR: Jonny Gomes Rice won an MVP in 1978 and finished Top 5 on five other occasions, posting five 5-win seasons, two of them 6-win efforts and a 7.7 fWAR campaign when he won the American League MVP. Rice also had a cannon in right field and used instincts and routes to provide value in the field. Rodriguez has tools and a skills trend that suggest something similar is at least plausible. His profile-changer is the hit tool. I project average to above-average ability to hit for average and get on base — .265-.270, .330-.340 OBP — to support the power, but there’s a path for .280-.290 and .370-plus on-base marks, which could get him into some MVP conversations down the line. TOOLS HIT POWER FIELD RUN THROW OFP 55+ 65+ 50 45 70 58.5 NO PLAYER POS ETA BEST TOOL 2021 3 Emerson Hancock RHP 2023 SLIDER A+/AA 4 Logan Gilbert RHP 2021 FASTBALL AAA/MLB 5 Noelvi Marte SS 2023 POWER A/A+ 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+ 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