While the big club looks to get healthy after a .500 month of May, the top talents in a very shallowly-stocked organization has changed quite a bit. Preseason Top 25: LINKPreseason Org Rank: 28Farm Report: April Here’s an updated Top 10 with scouting & player development notes. (A full re-ranking of the Top 25 will occur in four weeks in the Mid-season Report) Only players in the minors on Jun 1 are eligible. Kyle Lewis, OF Lewis is getting close to being sent out on assignment after spending the last 10 months rehabbing from knee surgery. Depending on the timing, he could start out with some ABs in the Arizona League but will see a full-season assignment early in the proccess. Lewis is capable of moving through Class-A and Advanced-A ball this season and setting himself up for a 2018 assignment at Double-Arkansas and ending the season in Seattle. Status: Neutral Tyler O’Neill, OF — Tacoma (AAA) O’Neill has had his moments this season but has had trouble making consistent contact. He hasn’t had a lot of problems with breaking balls but has found himself in a lot of pitcher’s counts, leading to higher strikeout totals. It was always clear O’Neill was going to need time to run into walls and make the proper adjustments to climb over them, just as he did every other step of the way. The power remains, the defense is being cleaned up and he’s a better runner than many think. O’Neill will turn 22 on June 22. Status: Neutral Nick Neidert, RHP — Modesto (A+) Neidert, unlike a year ago, has consistently sat on the firmer side with fastball velocity — 90-92, touching 93, rather than 88-90, touching 92) and has repeated his delivery and pounded the strikezone. Neidert creates deception with his delivery and creates a bit of a cross-body effect — nothing like that of Danny Hultzen — and throws from a true three-quarters arm slot, generating horizontal movement and late life. Your browser does not support iframes.He’s been fairly dominant in the Cal League and may end the season in Arkansas. Status: Up Andrew Moore, RHP — Tacoma (AAA) Moore has pitched better in Triple-A than he did at Double-A Arkansas and should be one of the Mariners five starters right now — he’s better than Sam Gaviglio and veteran Yovani Gallardo. He lacks upside — he’ll carry a No. 4 ceiling into the majors due to a lack of a strikeout pitch — but he’s safe and reliable. There’s no reason for Seattle to wait based on service time and arbitration clocks, which should be and are reserved for premium prospects that threaten to cost clubs millions of dollars in additional payroll resources for hitting such status a year earlier than necessary. Status: Up Joe Rizzo, 3B — Clinton (A) Rizzo, who just turned 19 at the end of March, has shown well in the Midwest League, batting .278/.399/.365 and displaying improved actions at third base. The initial scouting reports on Rizzo included both defensive questions and concerns he won’t hit for the kind of power that is typical of corner defenders. He has just one home run and eight doubles and has struck out more than is ideal, but he’s young for the league and has performed admirably in his first full season as a pro. Your browser does not support iframes.Rizzo will develop more game power — he has average to slightly above-average bat speed — as he learns to create more backspin. He’s currently rolling out a heavy dose of ground balls and low line drives, but he covers the plate, works counts and has drawn comparisons to Jose Vidro as a hitter. This is a good thing. Status: Up Anthony Jimenez, OF — Clinton (A) Jimenez has come out of nowhere this season after spending the last three years rotating through the Venezuelan, Dominican and Arizona summer leagues, albeit with terrific results. He’s more than held his own this season, posting a .306/.374/.529 triple-slash and the scouting report matches the performance.The swing possesses plane and bat speed, he covers the zone well and finds the barrel regularly. He’s a plus runner and defender in center field and will be 21 for the entire 2017 campaign. Jimenez is the first batter in the following video: Your browser does not support iframes.He does tend to get too aggressive which causes him to chase balls out of the zone, resulting in too many strikeouts. But his track record suggests more consistent contact is an adjustment or two away. Status: Up Braden Bishop, OF — Modesto (A+) Bishop has had a strong, consistent season and projects as a big leaguer but needs to develop profile-changing power, and it appears he’s taken a step in the right direction. He’s stronger this season and is swinging more aggressively when the count allows for it, using a very Jean Segura-like setup that’s different from last year. Most importantly, he’s working counts in his favor and squaring up pitches more often than last season. Your browser does not support iframes. Bishop is a 65 glove in center and a terrific baserunner. If he can make contact and get on base, he’s a major-league quality outfielder. If he can hit 6-10 home runs and 25-plus doubles on top of that, he’s a starting-caliber centerfielder in the mold of Denard Span. Status: Up Chuck Taylor, OF — Arkansas (AA) Taylor, 23, is a better prospect than fellow Travlers outfielder Ian Miller. Miller may be the fastest runner in the organization but Taylor is the better hitter and he’s a year and a half younger. Taylor, a former fourth-round pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks, has hit well from both sides of the plate this season, but has more natural power as a left-handed batter. He makes consistent contact from both sides and is more disciplined than Miller, both in terms of strike zone judgment and knowing his own swing. He’s just 5-foot-9 but is sturdily built and has strong, quick hands that generate some pop, though he’s not likely to reach beyond the 8-12 range. He’s an above-average left fielder and fringe-average center fielder but with more regular time in center — which he’s been receiving lately — he could reach average levels. Not bad for a Rule 5 pick. Status: Up Max Povse, RHP — Arkansas (AA) Povse pitched well in seven starts, reach the sixth inning in his first four outings and compiling a 21-8 K/BB ratio. At 6-foot-8 and about 210 pounds, there’s projection left, but the Mariners have decided to try and get that projection in a relief role. He’s currently on the DL with a hamstring tweak, but I’m interested to see whether or not shorter stints and a more aggressibe delivery create better arm speed and therefore more velocity. As a starter, Povse typically pitched in the 90-92 mph range with downward plane. He’d touch 95-96 on occasion, setting up a 12-6 curveball and changeup. The breaking ball lacks plane but the changeup is average to above average and he’s improved his arm speed with it. Your browser does not support iframes.In relief, Povse can max out his effort, ideally sitting mid-90s and developing the best version of his curveball, a sharper edition. If he continues to throw strikes in this role, he could see the majors by September — provided he’s healthy enough, soon enough. I don’t believe the Mariners made the decision based on lack of performance. But at times pitchers hit a wall and a 6-foot-8 project doesn’t help the club for at least two years. Besides, Povse can always transition back if the opportunity arises. Status: Down (role change) Luis Liberato, OF — Clinton (A) Liberato has been on my radar since his 2015 year in Short-season Everett. He lacks instincts but has five tools to fringe-average or better levels, including 55 speed and a 55 arm.He’s solid-average in a corner and at times looks the part in center. His swing allows his power to show up in games, as evidenced by his .455 slugging percent in 45 games this season. But Liberato’s plate skills lack, including strike zone judgement and pitch recognition, and he tends to drop his hands and try to hit the ball in the air. Liberato will not turn 22 until December and remains an intriguing talent, but he’s yet to put it together for longer stretches. Status: Down Photo: Tyler O’Neill, by Jim Oxley/HERO Sports
The Seattle Mariners struggled through the month of April and while it’s as clear as day the club’s greatest organizational weakness is the talent collection below the big leagues, there are some bright spots, and light at the end of the tunnel. Seattle Mariners Farm ReportPreseason Top 25: LINKPreseason Org Rank: 28 Here’s an updated Top 10 and some scouting and development notes. Note: This is not a pure Top 10, it’s a combo Top-10/Power Rankings. Only rostered MiLB players are considered, which leaves out the likes of Brayan Hernandez (5), Chris Torres (6) and Greifer Andrade (15). Mitch Haniger (3), Ben Gamel (13), Tony Zych (18), Emilio Pagan (25) , James Pazos (22), Boog Powell (20), Guillermo Heredia, Dillon Overton aren’t presently in the minors. Kyle Lewis, OF Lewis is getting closer to being ready to be sent out on assignment but the Mariners aren’t pushing it. He will play this summer, but at least check he was still ‘weeks’ away from playing in games. He may serve as DH some early on to make sure the surgically repaired knee isn;t asked to do too much from the get-go, but all signs point to a full recovery for last year’s 1st-round pick.The two biggest questions for Lewis once he does get back on the field are where he ends up defensively and how he counters the suggestive issues of his deep hands load that truggers his swing. Does the knee injury push him into a corner outfield spot where it’s possible he would have ended up anyway? Do the mechanics hold him back once he begins to face better pitching?Status: Neutral Tyler O’Neill, OF — Tacoma (AAA) O’Neill has had his moments with the Rainiers, including four doubles and three homers in 93 plate appearances, but he’s piling up the strikeouts (24 in April) and remains in the early stages of making the adjustments.O’Neill’s swing appears a bit long at times, but that’s relative to when he’s at his best. His timing’s been off occasionally but his game plan has stayed true; O’Neill knows his power is up the middle and to right-center field and his swing matches.He’s a ways away from being ready for The Show but despite a slow April in terms of hitting for average, nothing that occured last month is cuase for concern, including a bout with defensive blunders the first week or two. Scout’s Take: Right now it’s almost all physical. He’ll need to learn to be more technical. He’s a lot better than he was two years ago. Consistent progress… you’re seeing that. Status: Neutral Joe Rizzo, 3B — Clinton (A) Rizzo got a late start as he fought away a minor injury but in his short time with Clinton has found the barrel (9-for-24, 2-2B, BB, 5 SO in 7 games). He just turned 19 and his polish at the plate has burst through in the early goings.He’s not the ideal defender OR bat for third base, but if Rizzo sustains solid performances at the plate at this stage his ETA and profile may need to be adjusted.Scout’s Take: I do think he’s gonna hit but I don’t see even projectable power to acceptable big-league levels for a corner position. (Daniel) Murphy had the long-term physical capability to get there, and obviously he has. Rizzo comes up short there. Status: Slighty Up Max Povse, RHP — Arkansas (AA) Povse’s a project of a different kind; at 6-foot-8 and about 195 pounds, he’s a physical project first and foremost. Meanwhile, he’s working on generating more horizontal movement to better combat hitters attacking fastballs to stay away from a fringe-average 12-6 curveball, below-average slider with inconsistent tilt and a big-league caliber changeup.Despite a fastball sitting 89-93, Povse’s strikeout numbers aren’t as good as they need to be and most of that stems the lack of opportunity to use his best pitch — the above-average change.He ranked here for me in February because there’s always the chance something pops and he adds a few mphs to the fastball; if you told me Seattle had a 6-foot-8 righty in Double-A pounding the zone with downhill heat at 92-95 with a plus change and overhand curve with a chance to be above average, I’d have Povse ranked No. 2 with twice the confidence he’s in the rotation by this time next year. Scout’s Take: He might be Mike Pelfrey; he’s got that high slot and with that he’s going to have problems creating run, mostly away from right-handed batters and in on the lefty. I don’t like the chances his slider becomes average but the curveball’s got real potential. Status: Neutral Nick Neidert, RHP — Modesto (A+) Neidert picked up in April where he left off last summer, throwing strikes with three pitches, including a fastball 87-90, though he’s been a bit firmer of late, sitting 89-91 and touching 92. He has three solid-average secondary offerings, led by his changeup, which has a change to be a legitimate plus pitch he can throw for called strikes as well as induce swings and misses.The curveball is average most of the time but I still wonder if he’s not a candidate for the Mike Leake Pitch Arsenal School. His pitchability is high and if he’s not going to throw 93 (he’s not) adding a slider or cutter and perhaps a two-seamer to better attack right-handed batters is ideal.He’s three years away and lacks ceiling, but his delivery is sound and he’s probably the smartest ‘pitcher’ among all the club’s pitching prospects, and that’s saying something considering who ranks right behind him. Scout’s Take: Not only do I worry he’s going to struggle versus better bats because his fastball doesn’t test anyone, but I wonder how he’s going to hold up if asked to handle a major-league workload. Status: Neutral Andrew Moore, RHP — Arkansas (AA) Moore is the most polished arm in the system, thanks to an average fastball he’s commanding better this year than last, and three useful pitches, including a slider he doesn’t yet throw much.Like Neidert, there’s no physical projection which to lean but his changeup is above-average and his curveball has flashed average in 2017, up a tick from a year ago, due to tighter spin and better command.He’s tough as nails, too, and is likely the first starter promoted from Arkansas later this season. Scout’s Take: Yes, I know, he’s a reliever. But he’s going to get a chance to start somewhere because hes Marco Estrada-esque; smart, uses his fastball all over the zone and has a pitch he can use with two strikes. The problem will be getting there. Status: Neutral Braden Bishop, CF — Modesto (A+)It’s only been four weeks but Bishop is the prospect I called on the most leading up to this piece.He’s still striking out too often for being a no-power 23-year-old in the California League, but he’s doing everything else, and I’m being nit picky.Entering May Bishop was batting .330/.418/.436 with eight doubles and a home run. He drew 14 walks versus 16 strikeouts in 111 plate appearances (14 percent) and has swiped eight bags in nine tries. Bishop’s value is his 65 speed and 65-grade defense in center, so getting on base and making contact are two critical factors for his development. But all’s well in 2017, so much that a promotion to Arkansas in June or July is not out of the question, and may actually be likely. Scout’s Take: He may just be a fourth outfielder but we thought that about Brett Gardner, too, and he’s found a way to hit for enough power to play everyday. I’m not saying (Bishop) is Gardner and the (swing) plane won’t allow for that kind of home-run pop, but I was impressed this weekend how well he’s finishing his swing and not being satisfied with a slap. Status: Up Thyago Vieira, RHP — Arkansas (AA) Vieira touched 100-plus last season but had problems throwing his best velocity for strikes. So far in 2017, he’s struggled to find the zone, walking nine of 49 batters — eight of the last 29.He’s sat 96-99 with some late zip, but the right-hander still has been inconsistent with the curveball, a pitch he tends to telegraph some and will occasionally finish high, cutting off the finish and robbing the pitch of the bite it needs.Pitching coach Ethan Katz has been big for Vieira’s mechanics, but it appears more adjustments are necessary to find consistency. The fastball is closer-level, but the control, command and breaking ball are not. He may need to give up some of the rocking in his delivery; I think that’s getting in the way of pitching from a balanced position. Scout’s Take: I’d like to see the delivery continue to be simplified. Anything but ‘check, turn, drive and release’ is probably too much. And what about a slider from that arm slot? The curveball doesnt do much for me. It takes special wrist action with that arm speed and not many have it. Status: Slightly Down Dan Altavilla, RHP — Tacoma (AAA) After struggling in the big leagues in April, Altavilla has been fine in Tacoma. He was releasing high a lot and the slider was flat, explaining his command issues, despite good strikeout numbers.He’ll be back in Seattle in a month, but he has to command the fastball better to stay there; while he can often get away with missing up in the zone, since he’s sitting 94-97, missing over the middle of the plate is another story.Scout’s Take: I like him. Needs a fine-tune but he’s aggressive, seems to have a nasty streak and from what I have seen down here that slider is a little better than down in Double-A. Status: Slightly Down Brandon Miller, RHP — Clinton (A) Miller, not 21 until mid-June, just missed the cut in February but looked solid in April, throwing strikes (7 BB), missing bats (23 in 24.2 IP) and staying away from the extra-base hit.Miller throws a fastball, slider and changeup but lacks ideal velocity to profile any better than a No. 4 starter. He does, however, have the frame to build on 88-91 mph and commands the pitch well.The slider is a 40-grade pitch, but has flashes fringe-average in 2017. The third pitch will determine his future. If he has a big-league caliber changeup he has a chance. With 6-foot-4, 215-pound pitchers, I always wonder if he could speed up the delivery, max out the velocity and eliminate the damage the lack of a third pitch does to a starter. Miller’s a candidate, but the M’s will exhaust all chances to start first. Scout’s Take: He has a nice foundation. Size, strikes, the slider is short but he commands that well, too. He gives away the changeup with his arm path but these hitters (in the Midwest League) aren’t going to catch that much. Status: Up Other prospects that returned positive notes from scouts: Marcus Littlewood, C — “I think he has a chance to hit but he’s still a work-in-progress defensively and he’s already 26.”Chuck Taylor, OF — “Does anybody talk about this guy? Nice little player.”Joey Curletta, 1B — “Big dude. Big Power. Big Whiffs.”Gianfranco Wawoe, 2B — Resourceful bat, instinctual player on bases and in field.Gareth Morgan, OF — Morgan’s batted .246 with a .329 OBP in April. That’s progress, but without the power it’s ultimately useless.Ljay Newsome, RHP — Keeps throwing strikes. Has walked one of 101 batters faced this season.Joe DeCarlo, 3B/C — “I only saw him catch a few innings, but he’s going to need a few years.”
Despite a less-than-ideal final pitching line, right-hander Taijuan Walker took another step toward the big leagues Thursday, showing progress in a few key areas en route to three great innings, one awful one and one so-so one. At the end of the night, he fanned eight and allowed five runs. Walker dominated the first three innings and flashed a plus curveball, perhaps the best two I’ve ever seen him throw, to compliment his 88-91 mph cutter and four-seam fastball that teased 97 and sat 92-96. The bad inning came in the fourth when Walker was up in the zone and lost some balance in his delivery. He hung a curveball that was hit out by former Mariners farmhand Mike Wilson in the third and then gave up several singles in the fourth that led to four more runs. He never lost his cool, however, and fought through some command issues in the fifth to get through the inning unscathed. Long ball aside, the curveball was better for the most part; he’s had a tendency to telegraph the pitch some, something he didn’t do in this start, and he also flashed a couple of solid changeups to left-handed batters. In the fifth, after issuing two walks and getting two outs, Walker worked Brandon Allen to a 2-2 count and struck him out on a hard changeup. Note: I had originally labeled the 2-2 pitch to Allen a cutter, but Walker alerted me that it was a hard change. Walker showed maturity, a better curveball and the same fastball life and use of his cutter that suggests he’s going to be very good, very soon. He had the bad inning — it happens, and he hadn’t had a hiccup in any of his first four starts in Triple-A — but there were still reasons to love what taking place at Cheney Stadium. Walker is likely to make his big-league debut next month. Robbie ErlinTucson left-hander Robbie Erlin made the start for the Padres Thursday. He sat 88-90 with his fastball, throwing from a high three-quarters arm slot but creating some arm side run that was effective versus right-handed batters. His curveball, clocked in the 72-75 mph range, showed well above average break, but he didn’t have good command of it in this start. Erlin’s best pitch was his 80-84 mph changeup, which he threw for called strikes and induced a few swings and misses. His fastball command did him in versus Tacoma, who stacked nine right-handed batters against him, which can be counterproductive versus a changeup left-hander. Erlin looked like a back-end starter Thursday, but if there’s a firmer fastball in that arm, he possesses the delivery and secondary stuff to be a solid No. 4 as early as 2014. NotesStefen Romero is figuring out left field fairly well, showing better reads on fly balls and better routes to the ball. His arm is fringe-average, but he threw a perfect strike to the place twice Thursday on single to left … Abraham Almonte is a popular question for me on Twitter because he’s putting up solid numbers. He’s a below-average defender in center — perhaps passable, though — but runs well (low 4’s up the line including 3.55 on a drag bunt earlier this homestand), which qualifies as 65 or 70 grade speed. He’s a decent switch hitter, but has well below average power and profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder … Rehabbing big leaguer Franklin Gutierrez appears 100 percent healthy and is swinging a solid bat for Tacoma. He may not be activated anytime real soon, but he’s closer to being ready at the plate than Michael Morse … Morse’s timing is still way off, suggesting the long layoff has reverted him back to spring training. He needs a few more days, based on what I saw Thursday … Stephen Pryor threw Wednesday and topped out at 90 mph. I’m told that was by design, however, as he’s working through some mild soreness in his right triceps and was just working on his command. He did show off the curveball and slider. He’s still a little ways away … Carter Capps is commanding his fastball — he went Thursday and looked solid — but his breaking ball, as expected, will need more time. He’ll be back in September.
Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker began the 2013 season back in Double-A Jackson where he spent all of 2012 because he needed to improve in several areas and the club correctly deemed the Southern League as the best place for him to take on such tasks. Tuesday, the 20-year-old showed how far he’s come in only four months and why he’s among the very top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Walker, a sandwich-round selection in 2010 (No. 43 overall), used his stuff, poise beyond his years and a maturity level necessary for the circumstances to toss six shutout frames at the Fresno Grizzlies, allowing three singles and two walks, while striking out four. He threw 87 pitches, 56 for strikes, and for all 87 he appeared to be every bit the phenom he’s been cracked up to be since he burst onto the scene three summers ago as a raw 17-year-old. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Walker featured a four-seam fastball that sat 93-95 mph and touched 97, and came to the plate with ferocious downward plane, creating a very heavy ball, one extremely difficult to square up for hitters. He commanded the pitch down all night, missing only below the zone, not up, with some occasional arm side run and natural sink. He worked his 90-93 mph cutter in often, helping set up a much-improved 71-74 mph curveball that froze batters all night. He sawed off several bats with the four-seamer and cutter and used the curveball with two strikes or to keep the Fresno lineup off balance. He tossed a half-dozen or so below-average changeups in the mid-80s, but kept it down or away from left-handed batters and one in particular showed some fade, though each lacked sink. He maintained good arm speed on the pitch, but it’s still a ways from being more than a show-me offering. Walker’s velocity didn’t dip much from the stretch — he sat 93-94 with runners on — and did not let some bad luck get to him. There were 4-6 borderline pitches on which he did not get the call from the home plate umpire, but he went back to work, rather than allowing it to get to him and affect his approach. The four-seamer induced ground balls and the cutter forced poor contact that resulted in shallow fly ball outs and pop ups, and he did miss some bats with both pitches. His curveball is a full grade better today than in spring training or at any point a year ago, and he’s taken well to the cutter and seems to know how to use it. Walker’s delivery was very consistent with one exception: He drops his arm slot slightly and opens up early on the curveball, which could be an issue against better hitters and it’s something he’ll need to fix for general consistency purposes, if nothing else, but big leaguers will see it and exploit it. Walker’s velocity comes free and easy without much effort, which bodes well for his ability to hold that velocity deep — which he did through pitch 87 Tuesday and has done through the low-100s in the past — and if his high three-quarter arm slot can be maintained with the curveball, there’s no reason to believe he won’t max out and become a No. 1 starter. There may even be ace material here, though we’re likely a few years away from that kind of command from Walker. I came into this start with one objective, which was to remain as objective as possible. Even doing so, it’s difficult to suggest Walker is on a path that will lead to anything but future stardom. That isn’t likely to occur in 2013, and while he’s likely to see the big-league mound in 2014, he may not settle in and succeed at a high level right away. His stuff, athleticism and his apparent acumen for progress may prove me wrong there, however. He was very crude coming out of high school and in less than three years has gone from high-upside project to elite pitching prospect on the doorstep of the majors. He’s raised the ceiling on all of his grades since then — here’s my 2010 draft-day scouting report on Walker for subscribers — and now the sky is the limit. After four innings, M’s scouting director Tom McNamara tapped me on the shoulder. I looked back and he gave me a look as if to ask, “so, what do you think so far?” My response? “I’d be excited if I were you.” Taijuan Walker is a phenom, and it may not be long before he’s toeing the rubber at Safeco looking to back up a Felix Hernandez gem with one of his own.