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
|Cal Raleigh||Florida St|
|Justin Dunn||Boston Coll|
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?
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
|Mark Langston||San Jose St|
|Mike Moore||Oral Roberts|
|Erik Hanson||Wake Forest|
|Bud Black||San Diego St|
|Doug Fister||Fresno St|
|Dave Burba||Ohio St|
|Matt Thornton||Grand Valley St|
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.
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
|Kyle Seager||North Carolina|
|Jason Varitek||Georgia Tech|
|Raúl Ibañez||Miami-Dade Coll|
|Alvin Davis||Arizona St|
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?
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.
The remaining names were excellent ballplayers. Alvin Davis is in the team’s Hall of Fame and simply known as “Mr. Mariner.”
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
|Florida Int'l||Rusty McNealy|
|Washington St||Dave Edler|
|Long Beach St||Terrmel Sledge|
|Cal St Fullerton||Mike Schooler|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…