One of the newer names at the top of the prospect ranks, and No. 1 on Prospect Insider’s 2016 rankings, is outfielder Tyler O’Neill. The 21-year-old spent the bulk of 2016 at Double-A where he crushed opposition pitching to the tune of a .293/.374/.508 slash line with a 152 wRC+. He added 24 home runs while stealing 12 bases, showcasing his power-speed combination. In 575 plate appearances with Jackson, O’Neill posted a 10.8 percent walk rate alongside a 26.1 strikeout rate.
Though the strikeouts are still concerning, the right-hander has improved his rate every year since 2014. As Jason noted in the O’Neill section of the prospect rankings, he still projects favorably in right field both with his arm and range and reports from last year were positive.
O’Neill stands to open the season in Triple-A and with a crowded major league outfield there will be no need to rush his progression. But it does stand to reason that he may be able to hit his way into a pre-September call-up, especially if some of the Mariners more defensive-minded outfielders aren’t cutting it with the bat.
One of the older names is former first-round pick, first baseman D.J. Peterson. At one point he was talked about as a future fixture in the middle of Seattle’s batting order, perhaps at third, but more likely at first base. The 25-year-old has moved permanently to first base already but has yet to crack the majors due to a combination of injuries and struggles that have littered his minor league career. The constant adjustments to his stance and approach probably haven’t helped his confidence much either.
He split 2016 between Double-A and Triple-A posting a solid 133 wRC+ with Jackson but an uninspiring 96 wRC+ with Tacoma. Interestingly the power didn’t disappear much between the two levels with comparable slugging percentages, but his average and on-base percentage took hits. Also concerning was the drop in walks and increase in strikeouts at the higher level.
The coming season should be interesting for Peterson as he looks ready to go with an approach that should offer more consistency. He was added to the 40-man roster back in the fall so it’s obvious Seattle still thinks he can provide value to the club, not that there was reason to give up on him quite yet. With two first baseman on the roster already there’s no room for Peterson. He should warrant a look in September at the very least though.
It’s tough to compare an infielder to an outfielder when attempting to determine who will crack the bigs first, but it stands to reason both players will make their primary cases with the bat. Both also would potentially offer help against left-handed pitching should the club struggle in that regard.
Of course injuries and effectiveness can be a factor in who gets a shot first. As I discussed a couple weeks back, the M’s don’t really have a back-up plan for Dan Vogelbach. Should he or Danny Valencia find themselves out of the lineup for an extended period of time, Peterson is the next name up on the list. But in the outfield, behind a combination of Leonys Martin, Jarrod Dyson, Mitch Haniger, Ben Gamel, and Guillermo Heredia, the depth chart doesn’t appear to work in O’Neill’s favor.
This conversation can change on a monthly if not weekly basis, but speaking now in March, who do you have cracking the Mariners roster first?