The Seattle Mariners’ farm system has taken a hit the last couple of years with the graduations of the likes of Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Brad Miller and Chris Taylor, among others. Still, the organization boasts a solid collection of talent, despite the lack of pitching in the high minors.
The club has taken advantage of the strengths in the draft classes the past three years, adding right-handed hitting outfielders with power and more depth in the middle-infield. Seattle also has done fairly well internationally, even with the departure of Bob Engle and some of his scouts to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
A lot of the club’s top talents are more than a year or two from the big leagues, and many come with a high risk to go with the exciting upside.
Here are prospects 11-15, in reverse order.
|No. 15 — Gareth Morgan, OF|
Morgan is a physical beast with big raw power that could tick up if he cleans up his approach and refines his swing to become a better overall hitter. He’ll need to take such steps rather quickly, however, since there are many of them to take before he can be seen as a viable big-league option.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds The Canadian-born’s natural swing has a lot of length to it, and tends to get circular, which cuts down his ability to make contact consistently. He does show big-time bat speed, however, which is what makes his upside so intriguing.
Morgan is a below-average runner, but a solid athlete nonetheless, and possesses enough arm strength to profile in right field. It’s all about the hit tool for Morgan, and shortening his swing and using more of the field could go a long way to get him there.
The 19-year-old likely starts his 2015 season in extended spring training, which means a short-season assignment. A very strong showing this spring could change that, however, and he did look better in March than he did last August in all facets.
|No. 14 — Jordy Lara, OF/1B|
Lara, 24 in May, showed he could hit for average, limiting strikeouts and reaching the gaps and beyond at Advanced-A a year ago and was solid in a short stint in Double-A Jackson to end the season. Lara has a pretty swing that generates high line drives. He controls the zone fairly well and improved his performance versus offspeed stuff, after struggling to high levels early in his career.
Lara occasionally gets the leverage and loft necessary to hit the ball out of the ballpark but he’s better when he stays on top and hits the ball to left-center and right-center field. The doubles come naturally while he does have to dial up a bit for fly balls to reach home run depth.
Lara has a plus arm but is a below-average outfielder due to poor range. He fits well at first base, though I question his long-term power at the position. To alter some of his profile shortcomings, he’ll need to hit well for three months in Jackson and earn a promotion to Triple-A by the end of 2015 or start of 2016. A stagnant year pushes Lara off the radar, as he’ll be 25 next season and just about out of time.
|No. 13 — Danny Hultzen, LHP|
Hultzen’s status is buried by the uncertainty of his return from injury and subsequent surgery on his throwing shoulder, or his ranking and OFP would reflect that of a Top 10 prospect and surefire future major-league contributor. He’s adjusted his delivery and it appears to be one that can at least assist in the lefty’s effort to take pressure off his shoulder for the long term, which is truly the lone question attached to his resume.
The stuff remains above average; Hultzen’s fastball has sat 90-94 mph this spring with a couple of 95s and a 96 sprinkled within. The slider has been solid, yet flat at times, which is to be expected. The more he’s thrown it the more effective it’s been, however, and it’s an important pitch for him since it’s his only weapon inside on right-handed batters.
Hultzen’s best pitch remains a plus changeup that he feels through very quickly. He repeats his delivery well, even the new one, and his arm speed on the change is terrific, generating sink and fade, but with command and consistency.
The former No. 2 overall pick still has a long road ahead, but he should begin 2015 in Double-A Jackson (warmer weather as he builds arm strength) with a chance to get to Tacoma and set himself up well for next season. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, however, that the 25-year-old gets a cup of coffee in The Show this season, depending on how his season goes and how many bullets are left in his ’15 campaign once the club is ready for him.
|No. 12 — Ryan Yarbrough, LHP|
Yarbrough was very good in short outings at Short-season Everett in 2014 after being a cheap, 4th-round senior sign ($40,000) out of Old Dominion. Basically, Seattle drafted the inexpensive Yarbrough because doing so helped them give Morgan top-15 money to get him to pass up college. The move may pay off more than most thought.
The southpaw possesses some projection, still, despite being 23 years of age. He’s 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, stays on top from a three-quarter arm slot to get some plane and sink on his fastball that touched 95 mph. Yarbrough, as he stretches out into longer outings as a starter, likely will sit 90-92 mph and complement with an average changeup that has a shot to be plus. His curveball flashes average and he throws strikes with everything.
If I were the Mariners I’d get aggressive with Yarbrough and test him in Advanced-A Bakersfield to start the season and get him some time in Jackson before schedule is completed. Doing so puts him position to compete in spring training for a back-end gig next March; remember, J.A. Happ is a free agent at season’s end, as is right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, and Yarbrough, a four-year college player, may be the next option to fill the opening.
|No. 11 — Carson Smith, RHP|
Smith finished 2014 strong, including 8 1/3 lights-out frames in the big leagues that included 10 punchouts and just three walks. Smith’s delivery is deceptive, employing a low three-quarter arm slot, the former Texas State starter stays on top of his pitches, creating heavy sink on the fastball and late, sharp bite with the 84-86 mph slider.
Smith also has a chanegup that can be useful but in a one-inning relief role hasn’t used it much and isn’t likely to do so anytime soon.
The 24-year-old pounds the strike zone and while I don’t see a closer’s role in his future, necessarily, he gets groundballs and misses bats, strongly suggesting a high-leverage role, and for dirt cheap for now, for several years.
Jason A. Churchill
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