The Seattle Mariners two highest ranked prospects – Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez – didn’t attend college. Having said that, the Mariners’ success hinges on a large crop of college players racing towards the majors.

Several of these former collegians made brief appearances in the majors last season and will see action with the Mariners whenever play resumes. Others should arrive by 2021. All are familiar names to Prospect Insider readers.

PI’s Top M’s Prospects From Colleges
Rnk
Player
Year
Rd
Pos
College
3
Logan Gilbert
2018
1
RHP
Stetson
4
George Kirby
2019
1
RHP
Elon
5
Cal Raleigh
2018
3
C
Florida St
7
Kyle Lewis
2016
1
OF
Mercer
9
Evan White
2017
1
1B
Kentucky
10
Isaiah Campbell
2018
2
RHP
Arkansas
11
Justin Dunn
2016
1
RHP
Boston Coll
12
Brandon Williamson
2019
2
LHP
TCU
17
Jake Fraley
2016
2
OF
LSU
18
Braden Bishop
2015
2
CF
Washington

The injury woes of right fielder Mitch Haniger and the September power surge of Kyle Lewis opens the door for Lewis, Jake Fraley, and Braden Bishop to make the Opening Day roster. From there, the trio will have an opportunity to establish their value prior to the eagerly anticipated arrival of the Kelenic and Rodriguez.

Justin Dunn had a brief four-game MLB debut in 2019. He too will get his shot to prove he belongs. It’s worth noting Dunn wasn’t drafted by Seattle. The team acquired the right-hander with Kelenic from the Mets in December 2018 for Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz.

Barring unforeseen events, Evan White will be the team’s everyday first baseman. Management clearly believes in the former Wildcat after inking him to a six-year/$24 million contract extension despite the fact he hasn’t played regularly above AA-level. Last November, we discussed White’s pathway to success without home run power.

Logan Gilbert looked sharp during Cactus League action before baseball operations ceased. Depending on when play resumes, the first round pick could debut with the big-league team this year.

Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill recently suggested Gilbert’s minor-league battery-mate, Cal Raleigh, might be a September addition this year. Similarly, Raleigh’s arrival date is contingent on his development and the outcome of the real world events currently unfolding.

The remaining names are starting pitchers. These gents, along with Gilbert and Dunn, could form the foundation of a formidable rotation in the near future. As we’ve noted before, top-shelf starting pitching is baseball’s rarest commodity.

The future seems so bright, doesn’t it?

Yeah, But…

Everything just said sounds great. But longtime Mariners fans are leery about buying into unproven prospects. Rightfully so, the organization has a woeful record of producing homegrown talent during the last two decades.

This begins coming into focus after reviewing the best (based on the Baseball Reference version of WAR) college pitchers drafted by the Mariners. Check out the selection years of the following picks.

M’s Best College Pitchers
Year
Rd
School
WAR
Mark Langston
1981
2
San Jose St
50.3
Mike Moore
1981
1
Oral Roberts
28.2
Erik Hanson
1986
2
Wake Forest
22.2
Bud Black
1979
17
San Diego St
20.9
Bill Swift
1984
1
Maine
20.6
Doug Fister
2006
7
Fresno St
19.7
Dave Burba
1987
2
Ohio St
16.4
Matt Thornton
1998
1
Grand Valley St
13.4
James Paxton
2010
4
Kentucky
13.3
J.J. Putz
1999
6
Michigan
13.1

Six of the top seven pitchers arrived during the Carter and Reagan administrations. Topping our list is Mark Langston – the most valuable college player ever selected by Seattle. Langston spent six seasons with the Mariners before heading to Montreal in the deal bringing Hall of Famer Randy Johnson to the Emerald City.

Drafted a round earlier than Langston, Mike Moore was a mainstay in the rotation until departing via free agency in 1988. In Moore’s last season with the Mariners, the starting staff featured three of the top five college pitchers ever selected by Seattle – the Oklahoma native, Langston, and Bill Swift.

Sounds like a cool “fun fact” until we realize that was over three decades ago.

The only pitchers breaking into our top-10 in the Nineties were two relievers – Matt Thornton and J.J. Putz.

Thornton spent two unspectacular seasons with the Mariners before the club dealt him to the White Sox for outfielder Joe Borchard. Thornton became Chicago’s closer and an All-Star; Borchard appeared in six games with Seattle before being waived.

Conversely, Putz proved extremely valuable. For several seasons, he was the Mariner’s closer and a 2007 All-Star. A year later, new GM Jack Zduriencik dealt the right-hander in a blockbuster 3-team/12-player trade netting Zduriencik seven players including Jason Vargas, Franklin Gutierrez, and Endy Chávez.

Only two pitchers – Doug Fister and James Paxton – were drafted this century. Paxton remains active, but Fister last appeared in the majors with Texas in 2018. Since Big Maple is 31-years-old and remains productive, it’s reasonable to expect he’ll continue climbing on our list.

Around The Diamond

A review of Mariners position players drafted after college reveals the organization’s ineffectiveness once again.

M’s Best College Position Players
Year
Rd
School
WAR
Kyle Seager
2009
3
North Carolina
32.5
Tino Martinez
1988
1
Tampa
29
Jason Varitek
1994
1
Georgia Tech
24.2
Bret Boone
1990
5
USC
22.8
Raúl Ibañez
1992
36
Miami-Dade Coll
20.4
Alvin Davis
1982
6
Arizona St
20
José Cruz
1995
1
Rice
19.5
Phil Bradley
1981
3
Missouri
18.6
Spike Owen
1982
1
Texas
12.5
Chris Taylor
2012
5
Virginia
10.4

Sure, Kyle Seager headlines our list after passing Tino Martinez last year. But the only other position player in our top-10 from this century is Chris Taylor. Both Seager and Taylor remain active and will continue to show greater value.

Still, just two players in 20 years?

C’mon.

Other top position players are from long ago. Martinez went to the Yankees in a 1995 deal still panned by fans convinced the Yanks always fleece the Mariners in trades.

Two years later, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe headed to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb in another swap still causing angst for a tortured few in the Pacific Northwest.

The remaining names were excellent ballplayers. Alvin Davis is in the team’s Hall of Fame and simply known as “Mr. Mariner.”

Bret Boone was traded to the Reds in 1993, but rejoined Seattle as a free agent. Boone helped lead the team to 116 wins in 2001 and finished third in MVP voting behind teammate Ichiro Suzuki.

Meanwhile, outfielder Raúl Ibañez had three tours with the Mariners and remains a fan favorite.

Still, the dearth of homegrown talent from college or any source since the departure of GM Pat Gillick after the 2003 season is stunning. Other than Adam Jones, Seager is the only position player to deliver long-term value.

Consider The Source

Since we’re in a pandemic-drive shutdown, I took a brief detour to determine whether certain schools have been better sources than others for the Mariners. What I quickly learned is quantity doesn’t neccesarily lead to quality.

Schools With Most Drafted M’s
#
Best Mariner
WAR
ASU
23
Alvin Davis
20.0
Stanford
18
Drew Jackson
0.0
Florida Int'l
15
Rusty McNealy
0.0
USC
15
Bret Boone
22.9
Miami
14
No MLBers
N/A
Washington St
13
Dave Edler
-2.0
Long Beach St
11
Terrmel Sledge
0.5
Washington
11
Sean Spencer
-0.1
Cal St Fullerton
10
Mike Schooler
3.9
Clemson
10
Brad Miller
7.0

As you can see, 23 players from Arizona State University have been Seattle draft selections with the most valuable and notable being Mr. Mariner.

That said; the gap between Davis and the next best Sun Devil is wide. Ed Vande Berg, drafted in 1980, produced 6.5 WAR during his four seasons with Seattle. The only other noteworthy name is local product and fan-favorite Willie Bloomquist.

Boone is the lone USC alum to deliver positive value. The most recent Trojans drafted by the Mariners are number-three overall pick Jeff Clement (2005) and eighteenth-rounder Anthony Vasquez (2009).

After Boone and Davis, it’s slim pickings.

Drew Jackson was Seattle’s 2015 fifth round pick and later dealt to the Dodgers for Chase De Jong. The 26-year-old is back with Los Angeles after making his MLB debut with Baltimore last year. But he’s no longer on the 40-man roster.

Florida International product Rusty McNealy didn’t play for the Mariners, but the club recouped value for the outfielder. In December 1981, Seattle traded McNealy and Tim Hallgren to Oakland for reliever Roy Thomas. Hallgren never reached the majors; Thomas appeared in 112 games recording a 3.92 ERA and 2.8 WAR.

Fun Fact: The Mariners’ number-20 prospect hails from Florida International – Austin Shenton.

Former Washington State Cougar Dave Edler played four seasons with the Mariners in 1980-83. The corner infielder hit .216/.291/.308 with six home runs in 126 games. Edler’s career ended after the 1983 season.

By pure happenstance, Terrmel Sledge and Sean Spencer were players to be name later in the same deal re-acquiring catcher Chris Widger from the Expos in August 2000. The Mariners previously sent Widger to Montreal in exchange for Jeff Fassero and Alex Pacheco.

Mike Schooler would make 243 relief appearances for the Mariners during 1988-92. Schooler notched 98 saves – fourth best in franchise history behind Kazuhiro Sasaki (129), Díaz (109), and Putz (101).

Our other active player – Brad Miller – has bounced around after a November 2015 trade to Tampa Bay. Miller has played in the majors with the Rays, Brewers, Indians, and Phillies. The Florida native signed with St. Louis in the offseason and is on the team’s 40-man roster.

My takeaway from this little exercise is the source is irrelevant compared to the actual player acquired and hopefully developed.

Stanford has a long baseball tradition boasting players such as Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, Jack McDowell, and Brett’s father – Bob Boone. WAZZU produced one-time Mariners John Olerud and Aaron Sele, plus Ron Cey. Washington yielded multiple Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum.

No, the Mariners’ issues had nothing to do with the schools of the players they selected. It was a case of organizational dysfunction during previous regimes. That appears to have changed under the new ownership group and the front office led by GM Jerry Dipoto.

Looking Ahead

Since taking over in late 2015, Dipoto and his staff have transformed a bottom-feeder system into one of the best in MLB. All that remains is for the farm to deliver results. Otherwise, fans will remember the constant chatter about the current batch of youngsters as nothing but “same old Mariners” hype.

Will every prospect turn into something special? No, that’s not required to build a winner. But the organization must do better at producing big-league talent.

Personally, I believe the Mariners are taking the right approach. However, sustainable on-field success from the college prospects is crucial, especially the starting pitchers.

We’ll get to decide together whether I’m right when the kids eventually return to the diamond. Hopefully, that day isn’t too far away for so many reasons.

My Oh My…

 

(Photo: Ted S. Warren / AP)