(Photo of Logan Gilbert by Mark Wagner/Travs)

There was no argument for the 2019 Position Prospect of the Year, and there’s no sign of one at all for this one, either.

Logan Gilbert was terrific every step of the way in 2019.

Pitching Prospect of the Year: Logan Gilbert, RHS

Believe it or not, Gilbert began the 2019 season in Class-A West Virginia and ended it about a step and a half from the majors. Believe it or not, 2019 was Gilbert’s first pro season.

After being the No. 14 pick in the first-round of the 2019 MLB Draft, Gilbert got sick and was unable to pitch last summer, which is lost development time. Any concern over that is gone.

Gilbert threw his fastball for strikes all year, improving his command of the pitch since the start of the year. He hit the bottom of the zone with plane and the top of it to both sides. Entering pro ball, Gilbert’s slider was his best breaking ball, and at times at Stetson University his changeup flashed plus. But his curveball was a real weapon in most of his starts.

TEAM GS ERA IP H ER HR/9 BB/9 SO/9
West Virginia (A) 5 1.59 22.2 9 4 11 7 25
Modesto (A+) 12 1.73 62.1 52 12 6 10 17
Arkansas (AA) 9 2.88 50 34 6 6 3 8
3 Teams 500 .291 .364 .540 31 23 20 50

The changeup still needs a lot of work, but he’s already using three pitches effectively versus lefies and righties alike, often using the slider to get in on lefties. He’ll also backdoor the curveball to left-handed batters for called strikes, though the pitch is a solid swing-and-miss offering when he buries it.

Gilbert sat 92-95  mph most of the season, but rarely dipped below that range and at times it appeared he was cruising 92-93 and would reach back for 95 and a few 96s here and there.

He’s 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, relatively athletic and repeats his delivery well, as evidenced by his 6.3% walk rate and overall strike percentage of 65.3%. He induced 14.6% swinging strikes, an important measure for Gilbert since his stuff and general game plan suggest more of a fly ball profile than anything else. In the big leagues, the top arms generally land in the 10-13 percent range, with the elite strikeout pitchers often sitting in the 14-17 percent area.

Gilbert is going to pitch his way to the majors in 2020 and is likely headed for a workload in the 170-185 inning range after throwing 135 at three stops this season.

I see No. 2 upside in the John LackeyChris Carpenter mold, with a good No. 4 floor and little chance he’s not at least a 180-inning rotation piece.

And if there’s another tick in velocity on the way, we’ll refresh this conversation.

Summary

What He Did Well

1. Pounded the entire strike zone with confidence
2. Showed a lot of maturity, often appearing completely unfazed when he did have a tough inning or outing
3. Generated swings and misses with entire arsenal
4. Repeated delivery with consistency — there weren’t a lot of starts when it seemed to unravel, even later in the outing

What Work Remains

1. Beef up the workload, both in individual starts and the season
2. The changeup will be necessary in the majors and we haven’t seen it used as a consistent weapon yet, though he can get by fastball-slider-curveball
3. Sharpen fastball command, which may be the biggest key to flipping the No. 2 starter card


First Runner-Up: Justin Dunn, RHS

Dunn finished the year with a 3.40 FIP, 28.6% strikeout rate and 7.0% walk rate. He was 92-94 most starts, with good life up in the zone and occasional armside run. He also did a very good job adjusting vertically with the pitch and pitching effectively away from right-handed batters.

The slider was solid all year but at times, especially late-July through most of August, it was plus and a projectable strikeout offering. What was usually missing was a useful third pitch that would have answered the biggest questions surrounding Dunn’s future role.

Dunn does everything else to big-league levels, but needs a way to combat left-handed power bats in order to keep hitters off the fastball-slider combo. There are starters that get away with 2 1/2 pitches, but in those cases Pitch 1 and Pitch 2 are plus to plus-plus and often the fastball comes with tons of value, and is usually a big swing-and-miss pitch. I don’t think that’s the case for Dunn, despite the present velocity.

Dunn still is just 23, however, suggesting no reason to abandon hope he can start. Insert 45-50 grade changeup and Dunn’s chances to be a solid No. 3 starter increase quite a bit.

But he does come wuith a high-leverage relief floor and he was up to 99 mph as Boston College’s closer. I imagine 2020 will provide answers to the role question, but Seattle has the leisure to wait and see for at least another season, especially since making the transition to the bullpen is an easy one, and even easier for the right-hander since it’s a role he’s handled in the past.

There’s a caveat to that thought, however. The Mariners transitioned Diaz in 2016 and he was at his best in 2018. If the club believes Dunn will need a year to settle in, they could make the move sooner than later, as early as this winter or the first half of 2020.

Where Dunn starts next season depends on this decision, and it may also depend on the expected environment in the Pacific Coast League after a disastrous 2019 for pitching development in Triple-A this season.

Summary

What He Did Well

1. Threw a lot of strikes (66.6%)
2. Held his velocity range to the latter innings of most starts
3. The slider took a step forward this season, and it appeared he was varying the speed and shapes of the pitch, essentially creatingseparate pitches
4. Used his above-average athleticism to repeat his delivery

What Work Remains

1. Find the changeup or move to a splitter, whatever gets lefties off the hard stuff
2. A little more effort in the delivery could bring more velocity, which would make for an interesting profile-changing asset
3. More consistent fastball command


Second Runner-Up: Ljay Newsome, RHS

Newsome began the year entirely off my radar. He was 84-87 mph with above-average to plus control and average command coming into the year. Early in 2019, Newsome touched 94 mph and had starts where he was consistently 89-92.

That went away in May or June and when I saw him in July he hit 90 mph just once in two starts, and that’s where he sat most the rest of the way.

But Newsome’s command showed better this season, too, and while I saw a very inconsistent, below-average curveball, the right-hander found ways to use it effectively by commanding that pitch well, too.

I still see Newsome as a No. 5 starter, but six months ago he was an organizational arm with virtually no chance to see the big leagues. He’s now a potential up-and-down type starter with polish and probability. And who knows, maybe another year in the velo program adds another tick to the fastball.

Summary

What He Did Well

1. Redefined the term ‘pounded the zone’ with a 72.7% strike rate
2. Used the cutter well to keep batters off the fastball
3. Never shied away from throwing the fastball, despite how generally hittable it is & limiting looks to the cutter, curveball and changeup
4. Repeated delivery as well as any arm in the system, using his lower half better than years past

What Work Remains

1. More changeup development
2. Continue to grow the fastball pitches, including the cutter — adding more ways to cut and sink the ball could allow enough fastball value to push Newsome up the ladder
3. The curveball needs more depth to become a swing-and-miss pitch — it sometimes looked like a short slider but at curveball velocities, which is not a good idea versus big-league bats


Honorable Mentions

Ricardo Sanchez, LHS: Sanchez has more upside than Newsome, offering more playable velocity and a changeup that already flashes above-average and is consistently a weapon in Double-A.

Sam Delaplane, RHR: Delaplane was flat ridiculous this season, striking out 45.8% of the batters he faced and posting a 1.99 FIP split between Advanced-A Modesto and Double-A Arkansas. It’s a fastball up to 95 and a tight curveball that is often referred to as a slider (call it whatever) that gets swings and misses with late break and at least average command. He throws from a higher arm slot, so staying on top and avoiding middle-middle fastballs is key for him, but he did it all year.

Joey Gerber, RHR: Gerber fanned nearly 34% of the batters he faced in 2019, and while there were a few bouts with control problems, he posted a 2.56 FIP and yielded just two long balls in 48.2 innings. It’s a 92-96 mph fastball with life and a slider that projects as a plus pitch.

Short-season prospects of the year will be noted later this week as part of the ‘All-Farm Team.’