Several Seattle Mariners prospects began 2016 with questions to answer. Some have provided answers.

D.J. Peterson has revived his career with a strong 2016. (Photo: Seattle Mariners)
D.J. Peterson has revived his career with a strong 2016. (Photo: Seattle Mariners)

The Seattle Mariners system began the season as one of the more shallow collections of talent in Major League Baseball. That remains true, but we’re no longer staring at a nearly-dry well, and the club has probably climbed its way out of the bottom three or four in the league, and it’s not solely due to the selection of Kyle Lewis in June’s draft.

What’s been showing up on the field in 2016 suggests McKay’s approach is working. But let’s not kid ourselves. When a player gets better, the player is the biggest reason, and his manager and coaches are the ones with him daily to keep him on track and apply any necessary fixes.

Here are the five Mariners’ prospects who have altered their profiles and made the biggest jumps in status since spring training.

Tyler, O’Neill, RF

Tyler O’Neill has been the talk of the club’s system since last summer — at least here at Prospect Insider, where we wrote the memo on the former third-round pick — and O’Neill has turned the temperature up a few notches with a strong season in Double-A Jackson. After the weekend, O’Neill had nearly doubled his walk totals from his previous career-high of 29 while maintaining the power that makes him a potential everyday player in the big leagues. The hit tool remains the question, but now we’re talking about a 21-year-old with a chance to hit for some average and post solid on-base marks to go along with 25-plus home run pop. He donned the tools of ignorance in high school but has been playing the outfield as a pro and has developed into an above-average glove. In 2016, he’s chasing fewer balls out of the zone, using the back side more frequently and simply has cut down on the strikeouts — more than six percent fewer whiffs than 2015.

One obstacle was simple patience; O’Neill is a masher and naturally wants to swing hard and swing early, but he’s learned to create more hitter’s scenarios as well as do more with offspeed pitches when he finds himself behind in the count.

O’Neill hasn’t moved in the rankings, but that’s because he was ranked No. 1 at Prospect Insider from the get-go.

Zack Littell, RHP

Zack Littell, 20, jumped on my radar two years in spring training when I had him sitting 91-93 mph and touching 95. He offers size at 6-foot-3 and about 200 pounds and his delivery supports the firmer fastball and the curveball-changeup combo well and with some deception. Most importantly, Littell commands his four-seamer to all quadrants and throws his curveball for called strikes. His changeup is useful and has improved, but more action is necessary if he’s to hit Double-A in 2017 and succeed there where hitters are smarter and boast a more advanced set of plate skills.

Early on, Littell showed some concerning arm action, but scouts tell Prospect Insider it looks cleaned up and more consistent this season.

The right-hander now carries a mid-rotation upside with him for the rest of the ’16 season. A better changeup and perhaps a little tighter spin on the curveball and former 11th-round pick

Littell’s jump from unranked to No. 11 in the Mid-Season Report is the largest in the organization. He was promoted to Advanced-A Bakersfield in July and has dominated in seven appearances, including a 39-6 K/BB ratio.

Luiz Gohara, LHP

Luiz Gohara has shown a big fastball, up to 97 mph and consistently sitting 92-95, since Day 1, but simple control has been a problem, as has fastball command and the consistency of his 79-84 mph slider.

All have made progress in 2016, particularly with his general ability to throw strikes with his fastball. He’s more confident throwing his mid-80s changeup and for good reason; it’s not as firm as it was a year ago when it often touched 87-88 mph and lacked sink. Gohara hides the ball well with his front side and this year is exploding through release better.

For me, his slider is the key to his future. He must throw the pitch with more consistency versu right-handed batters, both on the back-foot bury and in catching the outside corner. He sweeps the pitch a little bit more versus lefties, but maintains enough to depth chuck it at the front elbow and catch the inner edge.

Maturity appeared to be an obstacle in the past, but Gohara is showing mound presence this season, bearing down in tough situations and recognizing opportunities to reach back for the high-end of his fastball. Conditioning still is a concern over the long haul, but the southpaw no longer is merely a stuff guy with zero polish.

Nick Neidert, RHP

Nick Neidert was the club’s top pick a year ago and while he doesn’t offer the projection of Littell or the present stuff of Gohara, he’s repeating his delivery well and has developed the slider up a half grade from last summer when he also was using a curveball.

The fastball now is showing more sink, too, and some armside run, neither of which were as apparent in his prep days. He entered pro ball touching 95 but toying with amateur hitters with a solid-average changeup. He’s throwing darts at 90-93 this season and showing an average changeup, flashing above-average.

If the slider becomes what the club envisioned when they selected Neidert in Round 2 two Junes ago, Neidert projects as a mid-rotation arm in the Mike Leake mold.

For context, Neidert has issued eight walks in 70 frames this season and has two double-digit strikeout performances among his 14 starts. It’s worth noting the 19-year-old has put on a little good weight and has developed a quiet bulldog mentality.

D.J. Peterson, 1B

D.J. Peterson already is 24 and appeared to be headed for another disappointing season in Jackson when the work he’d been doing with General hitting coach Roy Howell began to take. Peterson started to finish his swing better and covered the plate more effectively, giving him a chance to use right-center field like he did in college.

In April, Peterson struggled to the tune of a .213/.256/.350 slash, but started to show signs late in the month and into early May. The swing-and-miss remained but the damage skyrocketed and the frustrating foul pops dwindled away. He batted .326/.396/.609 in June before the Mariners sent him to Triple-A Tacoma, where he’d be tested by more arms with big-league stuff and command.

Peterson responded in July and has kept it going through the first week of August. There’s power, an acceptable walk rate and while 33 strikeouts in 147 plate appearances looks bad in sentence form, it’s 22.4 percent, also an acceptable number in Triple-A, particularly during a fix period; Peterson still is working on some adjustments, perhaps even on his backside collapse, which occasionally — too often for me — drags his hands underneath his swing and creates some of the swing-and-miss.

Chris Torres, SS

Chris Torres has been hot and cold in the Arizona League but has impressed with an advanced game plan, athleticism and good energy in the field and on the bases. He’s just 18 but has the feet and arm strength to make shortstop work easily and his hands have improved since his days in the Dominican, per a rival scout.

There’s presently a little too much swing-and-miss going on for Torres, who does not project to hit for much power, but he will work counts and draw walks and handles the bat well, suggesting perhaps a long-term role in the leadoff spot.

Torres remains years away and still a bit raw in some areas, he understands the game well. He works with enthusiasm, too, which bodes well for his chances to maximize his physical tools.

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