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

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

33 Comments

  1. Paul,

    I think Cruz is a worse option now.

    He’s coming off a monster year, which will drive up his price. He’s still going to cost a draft pick, and still plays bad defense. Last season, he was a buy low candidate. Now, he’s pretty much the same guy, but his cost is going to be maxed out. His numbers are good but not excellent (.271/.333/.526), and aren’t that much of an improvement over the .266/.327/.506 in 2013. He did stay healthy the entire year, and hit 40 HRs. That last number is going to drive his salary way up.

    Unless the industry interest in him is very tepid, I think he’ll be a bad investment. He’s still a very limited player, and his one skill (hitting HRs) is overvalued.

    For me, the two guys who warrants going ‘all in’ on are Martinez and Tomas. I’d bet Martinez signs for 4 years and 65-70 million. I think the estimates of Tomas at 7 years and 100 million could be accurate. Adding both would be huge for the M’s. But that’s easier said than done.

    The one guy who could be a great fallback plan is Billy Butler. He’s coming off a really bad year, and will have a limited market as a DH-only guy. But he’s only 28 and has a strong track record. If the M’s could get him for 1 yr/8-10 mil, perhaps with a club or vesting option, it would be a good move. I wouldn’t want to have Butler be our big signing, but he could help the club. And at least bide time till Peterson or Montero are ready to help.

  2. Obviously Victor Martinez is the #1 target this offseason, but if the M’s can’t land him, has anyone’s opinion of Nelsen Cruz changed? There aren’t many options out there this offseason. He seemed like a bad fit for our ballpark, and it sounds like he really didn’t want to come to Seattle. Has anyone changed their opinion of him now?

  3. I wrote about Van Slyke as a potential trade candidate earlier in the summer, and essentially he’s the left field/right-handed version of Michael Saunders — which isn’t a bad thing, and he may very well be an upgrade on what the M’s could get in free agency.

    Hanley Ramirez is the longest shot in the long shot barrel. He’s not a shortstop anymore and Seattle already has a cornerstone third baseman. If Hanley was willing to DH a lot of the time, sure, his bat would be an upgrade. But at $20 million-plus per year for 5-6 years? Pass. Like you said, risky. Way too risky. Miller/Taylor cover the defensive side of the shortstop position, and when they’re playing well their bats are competent too. Crawford and Ethier should be off the table for Seattle, especially Crawford. The Kemp speculation could heat up again since he’s the most likely of those three to get moved, but it’s unclear what the price tag would be this winter.

  4. I like the Van Slyke idea, who is RH corner OF and can fill in at CF and 1B. I would think the Dodgers are stuck with Crawford/Either contracts and will keep healthy Kemp. With Joc Pederson slated for a roster spot I am spectulating that Van Slyke is available. If Vmart were somehow obtainable that would add some decent offense. Interesting (I hope) off-season coming up.

  5. The team could hypothetically go-for-broke with Hanley Ramirez (risky!). Trade Miller or Taylor with some sort of package (depending on the return) to the Dodgers for their outfield depth. Kemp (RH) would require adding Walker or Paxton with Miller or Taylor and taking on all his salary. Van Slyke (RH) would be an awesome addition, though the Dodgers would surely seek a high return. Joc Pederson, although a lefty, would certainly be worth exploring as well. Crawford and Ethier are more available, but less ideal (expensive, aging lefties).

  6. Last year I was pimping for them to sign Tanaka and Abreu and I was right, they were wrong. Probably a fluke. I have reservations about Yasmany Tomas because he is more of a gamble and an expensive one. He’s young, strong and fast but unproven. Major league pitchers could eat his lunch and the M’s would be paying for it for years. A proven player like V-Mart or Melky Cabrera offers more certainty, less risk and fewer dollars.

  7. I think it is going to be tough for the M’s to come away with all the offensive help needed via free agency. I’d like to see us go hard after Lester and then have either Paxton or Walker available to trade for a bat. We could package Walker, Taylor and a reliever to get us something pretty special. It will be an interesting offseason to be sure!

  8. Yeah, I think the perfect offseason would be Martinez and Tomas. Think about how awesome this lineup would be:

    Jackson CF
    Ackley/Saunders LF
    Cano 2B
    Martinez DH/1B
    Seager 3B
    Tomas RF
    Morrison 1B/DH
    Zunino C
    Miller/Taylor SS

    Those two additions make this a MUCH better and more balanced lineup. McClendon talked about how the teams needs to have better production from 3-6 in the lineup. Well, that’s what this does. The M’s could afford this, as Tomas and Martinez could probably be gotten for about $30 per year. If they are going to raise payroll, this is the way to do it.

    Tomas is a bit of a question mark, but he’s likely to be ML ready either right out of spring training or shortly thereafter. Having Ackley and Saunders on the team gives them depth. And Martinez would be awesome splitting time between 1B and DH. And he’s also a very good clubhouse guy and team leader. With Felix, Cano, and Martinez, the M’s would have a great core of vets who can still play at a very high level.

    The problem: there is very little offensive talent available in free agency, and there will be a ton of interest in both of these guys. This is definitely an ‘easier said than done’ scenario. But if the M’s throw down some cash, this team could be really good next year.

  9. I see Larry Stone is pushing for the M’s to sign V-Mart, which I concur would be the best addition to meet the team’s needs. Mike Ilitch the Tiger’s owner has a big desire to win a World Series before he dies (he’s 85) and the money to spend what it takes. If he wants to hang on to Martinez he can top any Mariner offer. If the Tigers win this year’s World Series he might not be willing to spend so much. Martinez is also Venezuelan, as is Felix and he likes The Pencil, who was his hitting coach for years and we are no longer no-hopers and we have payroll room. So we are not without some possible attractiveness to him. We’ll see.

  10. Jack just stated that the Mariners need upgrades to the offense and that he was going to be very aggressive and explore all avenues to obtain those upgrades. He said the that payroll will increase. I fully expect two big bats to be coming to Seattle in one form or another and with money in his pocket one of those forms will be offering a FA or two a big contract. There is no reason VMart doesn’t follow the money to Seattle and there is no reason he wouldn’t love batting between Cano and Seager, that’s protection. Personally I think Vmart fits the bill of the type of bat we need. He’s a switch hitter so he will help us when a lefty is on the hill, he’s a DH, so he can stay somewhat preserved and he can hit, all he’s ever done is hit. No reason to think that will end in the next two to three years. I see no problem with giving him a BIG three year contract.

    And I fully expect JZ to be in the market for an OF. Either Tomas or some other OF via a trade. Bottom line is the offense HAS to improve and it’s not going to do that in house. I’m just happy to hear JZ feels the same way. The pieces are here, no it’s time to add the final touches and that is 2 BIG bats IMO

  11. Marinermutt,

    A year ago, people were saying the same things about Robinson Cano.

  12. Maybe it is my belief that there is a perception that Safeco is still a difficult place to hit. Our numbers show that in 2014. Add to that the fact that the travel is tough compared to many other cities. And I think he’ll stay with the Tigers. Gets to bat behind the best hitter in baseball.

  13. Marinermutt,

    Why do you assume the M’s would have to overpay for Martinez?

    I have no idea what Martinez’s ideas are on geography/personal stuff, but the M’s are a good team, and he’d have an obvious fit into the lineup at 1B, DH, and perhaps even a bit at C if he wanted. I don’t see why the M’s would have to come up with a crazy sales pitch.

    A lot of M’s fans seem to think that players would rather avoid the team. I’ve never really understood that. Obviously, players will have their own specific tendencies based on family, hometowns, etc. But most of the time, it comes down to money, years, and how a player fits into the lineup and team. Victor Martinez is noted for being a leader and great clubhouse guy, so he’d fit well on any team. If he does leave Detroit, I don’t see why the M’s wouldn’t be a valid destination for him.

    Plus, Lloyd McClendon was the Tigers hitting coach for the entire time that Martinez played for them before this year. So they obviously would be familiar with each other. I have no idea if that is a positive or negative, but he’d clearly be familiar with our manager.

    I don’t know if signing Martinez would be a good idea, as he’s coming off a monster year, and will command a big salary. But I don’t see any reason to think that he wouldn’t view Seattle as a legit option.

  14. Well the facts clearly show the M’s are still an offensively inept team. We still need some serious help whether it’s from within or elsewhere. The M’s are not in a position when they can carry the C, and the SS and 1B and all 3 OF positions on the shoulders of the 2B and 3B. Offensively, everyone on the team was average or below except Cano and Seager. We need help.

  15. VMart will not be coming to Seattle in my view. Would have to really overpay for that to happen. Would be nice but unlikely. Always liked Brett Anderson but he is hurt all the time. He is supposed to be DFA by the Rockies. We’ll see….

    Would Rasmus be an option for the OF? Had kind of a down year but put up good numbers in 2013. He is young and probably want more than we can afford, but he might be a good fit for Safeco.

    In all the rumors regarding Tomas, I haven’t seen Seattle mentioned once.

  16. This off-season has to be the all in off-season. Jack should make a BIG run at Tomas and woo the shit out of him. He should also make a run at a DH bat like VMart. This offense is in desperate need of two big bats to sandwich around Cano and Seager and going after Hart/Morales types isn’t going to cut it. This needs to be a Beltre/Sexon type off-season.

  17. Yasmany Tomas would be an absolutely perfect addition: a young OFer with RH power.

    Victor Martinez would be a great fit too, but I wonder if he’ll want to leave Detroit and what the price would be. His age and injury history are red flags, but he’s been an insanely good hitter for a long time, and is coming off a career year. He could split time at 1B/DH with Morrison and maybe Montero. If you could get Martinez for something like 3 year, 50 million, it would be a pretty good risk.

    Beyond that, I’d look at guys who could help, but won’t break the bank. Billy Butler could probably be had via trade for nothing, and might have his option declined by KC. We would also be smart to add to our pitching depth, and there are a few guys who could be great values. Brett Anderson, Brandon Morrow, and Francisco Liriano would all be great additions, and if healthy would add to an already deep and talented rotation. With Kuma and Felix, and now Walker and Paxton, we have a good group. Adding another good pitcher coming off injury or ineffectiveness would be a great gamble. If we added Anderson, and he was his normal self for 15-20 starts, we’d be in great shape. With Elias, Ramirez, perhaps Young, and potentially Wilhelmsen or Maurer for depth, we are in a great position to add a high-upside guy with health questions and not be screwed if he doesn’t contribute.

    The big question in payroll. The M’s attendance is way up, and this is clearly a team that is ready to make a few ‘all-in’ moves. If they are willing to add significantly to the payroll, this team could take a major leap forward. Adding Tomas, Martinez, and Liriano to this club would make us one of the better teams on paper. But even a more conservative offseason could help bump us into 90+ win territory. Regardless, should be an interesting offseason.

  18. I think Miller still has more upside than Taylor, at least in my view. Miller came on the 2nd half. Taylor’s value might not get much higher than it is now. If we could get something for Taylor or put him in a package, it might be worth it.

    Our OF in my view is still in a state of flux. Ackely had a strong 2nd half but actually slumped in September a bit. Jackson didn’t impress me at all. OBP of .267 in his time in Seattle. Need much better than that for a leadoff hitter.

    Can Morrison be our 1B/DH for next year? Had a nice September and really kind of carried us the last month.

    So I think OF is a place to look for and possibly DH/1B depending on how they feel about Morrison. Have a lot of Relief Pitching that we could move pieces and then Taylor/Miller/Marte piece. Maybe Ackley if some clubs values him more as a 2B. Maybe even Jackson.

    Will be fun to watch however it goes.

  19. This team can’t just be fine with the status quo. Last year they made a huge acquisition in Cano and IMO they have to add another big bat this off season if not two. The current roster isn’t enough. Resigning Morales isn’t enough. They need a big bat at the DH spot and they need another OF. Personally I don’t think Jackson is a guy who’s skills are going to rebound. He’s been in decline for awhile. Jack should be exploring trades and the possible signings of Tomas, Martinez, Cabrera and others.

  20. I think the M’s are in a good spot in terms of the roster.

    The Miller/Taylor/Marte problem isn’t a problem at all. Neither Miller or Taylor has grabbed the job and run with it, but both could turn into very good players. And Marte should be joining that mix perhaps late next year. That’s great depth. As all M’s fans are well aware, oftentimes young players just don’t make that last adjustment and turn into good ML players. Having three guys with talent helps them hedge their bets. I don’t see much reason to trade any of them unless a really good deal emerges or they bring in another SS.

    The OF situation is starting to look better as well. Austin Jackson is a solid CFer, and he’s around for at least another year. Michael Saunders quietly put together a .273/.341/.450 line. He’s a good player, even if he continues to miss playing time. Ackley showed flashes, as usual. And James Jones could eventually take over in CF. We’ve got a ton of good OF prospects in the organization. If we add one more good player to that mix, we’ll have great depth at both the ML and MiL levels.

    Most importantly, we’ve got a strong core of good players in Felix, Kuma, Cano, and Seager, plus young guys with big upside in Walker, Paxton, Zunino, etc. Now, they can focus on adding the last few pieces to the puzzle.

    This was a great season. The M’s are relevant and fun to watch, which is a HUGE departure from previous years. We’ve finally got a good base to build on. I’m ready to start thinking about the offseason. The M’s are close to being really good. They just need one more smart offseason and a commitment by the team to invest into an already good product.

  21. Congrats to the POY’s as designated by PI, and may they continue to progress.

  22. It’s certainly not a ‘no way’ proposition on trading Taylor or Miller, not by any stretch, especially considering the fact that the M’s will have to do some of their offseason offensive shopping via the trade market.

  23. There’s no way the team trades Miller or Taylor this offseason. They need depth and Marte is nowhere near ready to fill in if either SS goes down. I do think the team should consider trading Ackley. There has to be a team out there looking for a good 2B, which Ackley fits the mold. I’m really concerned with the Front Office’s interest in keeping Morales.

  24. Jason, do you think either Miller or Tayler gets traded in the off-season and if so who do you think the M’s prefer to keep? Also have you heard of anything about the M’s being in on that Cuban slugger Thomas is his last name I think

  25. What kind of a player could Marte turn out to be? Are there any good comps? Is it too early to tell?

  26. rjfrik,

    I don’t see the comparison at all.

  27. Not unrealistic, Paul. I’d say it’s jumping the gun a bit, though.

  28. I agree. I think Peterson needs at least 4 months in AAA next season if not the whole year. Still needs to work on his approach a bit.

  29. Paul. In my opinion, DJ is going to have one more year in the minors, unless he just completely breaks out, which is possible. I think he becomes a regular in 2016

  30. What about Danny Santana from the Twins. I really like that guys game and I think he’s very underrated. In fact if you would have penciled him in for a full season it’s not unrealistic for him to have 40+ doubles, 13 HR’s and 30 SBs all while batting over .300 with an OPS over .800. As of now he’s going to get in 100 games this season and he has put up one hell of a line. Nobody talks about him.

    Is he a fair Martel comp?

  31. Am I being unrealistic in penciling DJ Peterson at first base for Seattle come next August/September?

  32. No on Jose Reyes. Reyes was a top 10 MVP candidate with 75 speed. Asking a lot. Marte is a little bigger guy, 60 run, 60 arm.

  33. Hopefully Martel turns into something very special. I know you said you weren’t calling him Jose
    Reyes back mid season in your previous writeup, but after a full season, what is his projection now? Could we potentially have a Jose Reyes on our hands? Would be a nice problem to have and maybe we could turn Taylor or Miller into something a little more shiny.

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