LiberatoWho are some fringe prospects in the M’s system to keep an eye on? Prior to the season, as always, I posted my Seattle Mariners Top 25 Prospects. Just outside that list are some fringe prospects that bring some potential value to the table. Many are medium-to-high upside talents with immense risk. Others are those of the low-to-medium ceiling and risk levels that land all over the map. These types of players can be very valuable. Look at the rosters around the league then trace back where those players were and how they were regarded the years leading up to their major league debut. A decent percentage of them always were highly considered. Some, however, were not.

Let’s check in on some of those in the M’s organization. Many of the “Just Missed The Cut” types have yet to start their seasons as they’re younger and poised for short-season ball starting in about four weeks.

Tim Lopes, 2B — Jackson (AA)
Lopes is a bit short on the flashy tools, but does a lot of things well thanks to good instincts, work ethic and baseball IQ. He can handle second base, works counts and is among the better situational players in the organization, often using the middle of the field with two strikes. There’s no home run power, but down the road there’s a chance Lopes offers enough to help in the big club in short stints. Lopes entered play Friday batting .288/.362/.387 with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts.

Luis Liberato, CF — Clinton (A)
Opposite of Lopes, Liberato doesn’t show the high baseball intelligence and instincts, but he does have more tools, including above-average speed, arm strength and bat control. There may be a little pop in the bat, too, thanks to above-average bat speed and leverage in his natural swing, but the overall mechanics at the plate probably need some reworking. In center, Liberato will show above average to plus at times.

Emilio Pagan, RHP — Jackson (AA)
Pagan sits 90-93 mph with a plus slider, and has touched 95 when he reaches back for more. Everything has movement and his delivery offers deception. After top pitching prospect Edwin Diaz, Pagan is next in line for a promotion and could end up a solid sixth inning option in a year or two.

Marcus Littlewood, C — Jackson (AA)
Littlewood continues to progress defensively — more so than Tyler Marlette, according to scouts, which is a testament to Littelwood’s athleticism and acumen for the game, since he is a converted shortstop — but the bat hasn’t produced much despite some positives to his right-handed swing. He’s 24 now but keep an eye on him, anyway. Sometimes catchers, even natural backstops, take extra time to develop at the plate due to their focus on defense.

Steve Baron, C — Jackson (AA)
Baron, 25, already is about average defensively; above-average to plus arm strength, average accuracy and improved receiving. The past few years he’s been very focused as much on his bat as anything else. After dwelling in the high-100s to low-200s for five seasons, Baron has batted .261 and .265 the past two years, and he’s always been selective enough to draw a few walks. He has strength, but his swing is engineered for batting average and not much else. He does have pull power, but it won’t show up unless/until he creates some loft.

Zack Littell, RHP — Clinton (A)
He’s been up to 95 mph with the fastball, commands it better at 89-92 and the changeup has promise. The breaking ball is inconsistent. The easy path here is to doom him to the bullpen — which is lazy analysis — but if nothing else, the right-hander’s raw stuff may play up in a relief role enough to create some value down the line. Command and control are Littell’s biggest hurdles at present. He’s just 20, so there’s time to work with him in a starting role. Nice upside for a 2013 11th-round pick. In 53 2/3 innings, Littell has punched out 47 and walked 13 in the Midwest League.

Kyle Wilcox, RHP — Clinton (A)
Wilcox, up to 97 mph in a relief role, has raw stuff and hides the ball from the batter well, despite a rather high arm slot (he rocks with a closes front shoulder and uses his glove hand like James Paxton does. This can be detrimental to control and command). Wilcox, 21 until next month, stands 6-foot-3 and creates downward plane consistently. He does have trouble finishing out front and using the plane to induce ground balls. The 2015 6th-round pick is struggling in a starting role, sitting 91-94 mph. He’s fanned 36 in 37 2/3 innings, but the 38 walks stand out a little too far. The arm is too good to ignore, however.

Tyler Pike, LHP — Bakersfield (A+)
Control has bitten Pike as a pro and his 25 bases on balls in 49 1/3 innings aren’t going to change that. There always will be hope due to his athleticism and he has a knack for avoiding the barrel; yielding four long balls nine starts in the Cal League is actually pretty good. The curveball and changeup are weapons, but he has problems getting ahead consistently, and he’s been unable to make the quality two-strike pitch at times, but he does have 43 punchies. Pike is 22 all year, but it’d be nice to see some progress and perhaps another shot at Double-A in 2016.

Jason A. Churchill

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