PI’s 2014 M’s Prospects of the Year

 Prospect Insider does it a little differently. Multiple outlets as well as the organization itself will name minor league players of the year. Many already have done so. PI sticks to prospects, which means the 26-year-old repeating Double-A for the third straight year isn’t even a candidate, nor is the 29-year-old in Triple-A or the 23-year-old repeating the Midwest League.

Prospects are a risk, a gamble, and they always have been, just as are the upcoming MLB Postseason Props and all baseball betting at williamhill.com.

Who qualifies for Prospects of the Year? Prospects, of course. Legitimate, developing young players that have a chance to make an impact in the big leagues.

The Seattle Mariners’ farm system is decent. Depth is growing in the lower minors with bats blooming and while there is a lack of it in the upper minors — a subject we’ll attack over the offseason — it’s a solid-not-great collection of talent. Among those are some that had big years, some struggled to stay off the disabled list and a few struggled on the field. The Prospects of the Year — one position player and one pitcher — will have produced at a high level, taken a full step forward in his development and done so with consistency.

Note: In no manner does the following suggest or reflect a prospect’s potential impact at the big league level or his overall status as a prospect. The prospects of the year are not necessarily the top prospects, they simply are very good prospects who had the best years, per the above criterion.

Pitching Prospect of the Year: Edwin Diaz, RHP
With James Paxton and Taijuan Walker graduating to the big leagues late last season, returning to the majors this season and exhausting their rookie status, the pre-season favorites for pitching prospect of the year are not eligible. An arm not even in the top 25 prospects, Roenis Elias, never was eligible, either.

Right-hander Edwin Diaz spent the entire season at Class-A Clinton, making 24 starts that covered 116 1/3 innings. He posted a 3.33 ERA, allowed 96 hits — just five home runs — walked 42 and struck out 111 batters. He battled some inefficiencies early in the year but broke though over the summer, including a nine-inning, complete-game shutout August 3.

Diaz, 20 all season, was a third-round pick, No. 98 overall, in the 2012 Draft out of Puerto Rico. This past season was his first full season in pro ball after he stayed behind in extended spring training and pitched at Pulaski a year ago. He came to the Mariners a thrower with a sleight build, but he’s added some good weight to his 6-foot-2 frame (he’s up near 180 pounds) and he’s learning to pitch.

That showed in 2014 as he threw his changeup more, commanded his fastball a little more consistently and avoided overthrowing his slider, a low-80s snake with tilt. As with all prospects at Diaz’s age and level of experience, the bullpen remains a possibility, but there’s a lot to like about his work ethic, athleticism and pure stuff. Further development of his changeup and continued work in the weight room may closet some of the bullpen talk.

Diaz’s fastball touches the mid-90s but sits 90-94 with arm side run and life up in the zone, setting up the slider, his best swing-and-miss pitch. In mid-April, after Diaz’s third start, a scout opined that Diaz, as-is, was destined for the bullpen. In July, the same scout texted “he’s learning … fast.”

Diaz finished the season August 29 with five hitless innings and nine strikeouts. He improved his command, secondary stuff and simplified a very loose delivery without sacrificing deception, velocity or movement. That’s not only earned him the 2014 Prospect Insider Mariners Pitching Prospect of the Year, but it’s probably earned a shot to skip High Desert in 2015, depending on his health and performance in Arizona come March.

Runners-Up: Tyler Olson, LHP; Matt Anderson, RHP; Victor Sanchez, RHP; Zack Littell, RHP; Daniel Missaki, RHP; Carson Smith, RHP; Stephen Landazuri, RHP.

Position Prospect of the Year: Ketel Marte, SS
It would be easy to hand the award to D.J. Peterson, who slugged 31 doubles and 31 home runs in 123 games this season, but he spent 65 of those games at Advanced-A High Desert and batted just .261 with a .335 on-base percentage at Double-A Jackson, despite good power numbers — .473 slugging percentage, eight doubles, 13 home runs.

If it weren’t for time spent on the disabled list, Tyler O’Neill and Austin Wilson may have shared the honors. O’Neill batted .247/.322/.466 with 13 home runs and nine doubles in just 57 games while Wilson posted a .291/.376/.517 triple slash to go with 32 extra-base hits — 12 long balls — in 72 games.

Patrick Kivelhan and Gabriel Guerrero improved the most; Kivelhan burned through High Desert in a month and then hit .300/.374/.485 at Jackson with 11 home runs, 23 doubles and seven triples. He spent the majority of the second half playing the outfield, a sign of his potential future and a testament to his athleticism. Guerrero, 20, slugged .467 and produced 48 extra-base hits and 34 walks after posting 30 extra-base hits and 21 bases on balls in 2013. He did play in the hitter-friendly California League, but clearly he’s learned to create some loft and be a little more selective, though he has a long ways to go.

The best numbers belong to Jordy Lara, who also would own the most improved statistics if that was a thing — it’s not — after he dominated the Cal League — .353/.413/.609, 22 HR, 26-2B, 5-3B, 38 BB, 82 SO in 201 games — he succeeded in Jackson to the tune of a .286/.326/.492 line with 18 extra-base hits, including four home runs, eight walks and 19 strikeouts in 33 games.

The club’s first-round pick in June, right fielder Alex Jackson, played just 23 games, all but eliminating him from contention, despite a very strong showing for the club’s rookie affiliate in Arizona.

This came down to Marte, Peterson and Tyler Marlette. Marlette batted .301/.351/.519 with 23 doubles, 15 home runs, 24 walks and 61 strikeouts in 81 games at High Desert, then spent a few weeks in Double-A, hitting .250/.333/.500 with two doubles and a pair of home runs in nine games.

Marlette is just 21, dealt well with catching and maintaining his focus at the plate at the same time and showed improvement across the board offensively and defensively.

Marte, however, was the straw that stirred the drink in Jackson, impacting games at the plate — from both sides — with his glove and arm when in the field and on the bases. He made 29 errors in the Southern League but turned just as many gems that saved runs. He bunted, he produced key hits with runners on base — .327 with a .457 slugging — and batted .302/.333/.429 with runners in scoring position and two outs. He spent most of the season batting leadoff or in the No. 2 spot, was consistent in both roles, batted .302/.335/.388 the first half of the season and .303/.321/.426 in 46 games after the break.

When he moved on to Triple-A Tacoma, Marte continued to play with energy, aggressiveness and discipline, posting a .313/.367/.450 line with five doubles and two home runs, mostly batting second in the order.

Did I mention he’s just 20 years of age? He has all the tools to explode into a well above-average player in the big leagues, both in the field and at the plate — details to come in the handbook over the winter — and exceeded all expectations several times over during the 2014 season.

Marte had a terrific year, vaulting him into the conversation for a cup of java in the majors as early as late summer 2015., though he’s likely a few years from being ready for the show. No Mariners prospect did more this season to help his status than Marte, the 2014 Prospect Insider M’s Position Prospect of the Year.

Here is what I wrote on Marte earlier this season.

Runners-Up: Tyler Marlette, C; Austin Wilson, RF; Tyler O’Neill, LF; Gabriel Guerrero, RF; Patrick Kivlehan, 3B/OF; Jordy Lara, 1B; John Hicks, C; D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B.

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Jason A. Churchill

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