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 Nos. 16-30, in reverse order.
|No. 30 — Corey Simpson, OF|
Simpson has struggled to hit for average in pro ball, entering 2015 with a .214/.274/.349 triple-slash in 122 minor league games played. His raw power remains undeniable, however, and he possesses a plus arm that fits well in a corner outfield spot.
In order to get to the power Simpson must shorten the swing some and make a few crucial mechanical adjustments, including the path itself; he tends to collapse on the backside and get under the ball with a loopy, uppercut angle, which contributes significantly to his extreme strikeout rate. Even the slightest of adjustments can alter such results dramatically. If Simpson can hit .260 his slugging percentage alone will carry him to the big leagues, and he has shown a willingness to be selective, suggesting he has a chance to put up acceptable on-base marks.
The 21-year-old is likely to begin 2015 at Class-A Clinton, or perhaps even Advanced-A High Desert with a strong spring showing.
|No. 29 — Matt Anderson, RHP|
Anderson, still relatively new to pitching after starting his career at Long Beach State as an infielder, likely is destined for the bullpen where his stuff may play up enough to suggest a big-league future. The 23-year-old will touch 96 mph in shorter stints and there’s a chance if he focuses on one of his secondary offerings — preferably the slider — the combo may progress enough in quick fashion to move him beyond Triple-A Tacoma inside a year or so. Anderson is built for starting at 210 pounds, and there is a shot enough upside remains in terms of command and the development of a major-league second and third pitch to warrant another go in the rotation in 2015.
Anderson likely will begin the season in Double-A Jackson after finishing last season with Advanced-A High Desert in a relief role, despite spending a good part of the year in the Southern League as a starter.
|No. 28 — Marcus Littlewood, C|
I’ve liked Littlewood since before the 2010 draft, but now he’s a different player. First of all, the switch hitter now is donning the tools of ignorance after beginning his pro career at shortstop.
Littlewood, 23 now, continues to hit well from the right side, struggle something fierce from the left side while continuing to learn the nuances of the catcher position. The physical tools are there, including a plus arm that has gained accuracy as he polishes his technique and footwork. His left-handed swing still needs more simplifying, but he sees the ball well from both sides, despite the rather large discrepancy in production.
The former second-round pick posted a .320/.485/.660 line versus lefty pitching at Class-A Clinton last season after a near-.800 OPS in the same league from the same side in 2013. Littlewood may be one of few legitimate candidates to give up switch hitting at some point, but even his .236/.305/.339 performance from the left side isn’t likely to force such a move just yet.
Littlewood likely opens 2015 with Advanced-A Bakersfield after ending last season in the California League and showing well in nine games. I’d like to see him get to Double-A Jackson by the end of the year, but he’ll have to show more consistency at the plate and take another full step forward behind it in order to earn a promotion.
|No. 27 — Mayckol Guaipe, RHP|
The 24-year-old Guaipe was protected this past winter when the Mariners placed him on the 40-man Reserve List and the reason why is a a 92-96 mph fastball, a slider with a present grade of at least fringe-average and solid-average command coupled with plus control.
Guaipe pounds the strike zone with the fastball and slider, creating plane on the four-seamer and getting some armside run to go with it. He’s not afraid to pitch inside to left-handed batters but he doesn’t command the pitch well to that side of plate just yet.
When he stays down with the slider the short-breaking pitch is effective and he’s shown the ability to get called strikes with it, backdooring it to lefties and keeping it away from right-handers.
The right-hander is likely to start 2015 at Triple-A Tacoma where his biggest challenge is tightening up the slider and improving the fastball command one more grade to keep experience batters from taking advantage of what some might call “being around the plate too much.”
|No. 26 — Jabari Henry, OF|
The Mariners have cornered the market on ‘Jabari’s’ in baseball, and Henry has proven to be a sleeper worth watching. He’s already 24 but has hit some at each stop, and took full advantage of the Cal League a year ago, blasting 30 home runs and slugging .584.
Henry possesses above-average raw power, creating good loft and turning well on fastballs middle-in. He also displayed the capability to stay back on breaking balls and reach the gaps, a sign of progress and maturity.
Henry is an average runner with an average throwing arm and range that fits in left field.
The Florida International product will start the season at Double-A Jackson where the ballpark will test him, and so will the pitching. Henry must show he can use more of the field and avoid getting pull happy — which is where all of his power happens to be.
At his best, Henry likely is more of a hitter than a power hitter, so don’t expect too much in the home run department in 2015.
|No. 25 — Stephen Landazuri, RHP|
Landazuri, a 22nd-round pick in 2010, has exceeded all expectations, not just as a result of his draft slot but because he wasn’t even turned in by most area scouts that year and many preferred Cesar Aguilar, a friend of Landazuri’s that also played in the area.
Landazuri is at a disadvantage in terms of size, but at 6-feet and 195 pounds, he’s used his athleticism well to create a delivery that allows him to sit 89-92 mph with his fastball deep into games. Despite his height, Landazuri keeps the ball down well and the four-seamer shows some natural sink. His curveball is below average but flashes as a useful offering. He throws strikes and employs a changeup with promise.
If the right-hander can take the curveball up a notch and command the fastball a little better, it will be difficult to keep him from the majors, at least in a middle relief role.
|No. 24 — Austin Cousino, CF|
Cousino reminds me of former Mariners outfielder Darren Bragg; both left-handed, both run well, throw well and when they get the chance they both hit for more power than their frames suggest.
Cousino gets terrific jumps and takes good, consistent routes in center field — he’s by far the club’s best center-field prospect — and he throws well for the position.
At the plate, Cousino gets to his power by selling out a bit; last summer that meant an increased strikeout rate and more fly balls, which isn’t his game. In lead-off mode, Cousino can work counts, hit line drives and is a factor on the bases. He handles the bat well, picks up the breaking ball and brings well above-average makeup to the ballpark every day.
Starting 2015 in the Cal League is ideal. Cousino’s future may be as an extra outfielder led by his glove, but there’s enough strength and bat speed to develop something to offer in the batter’s box, too.
|No. 23 — Tyler Pike, LHP|
Pike appeared to be on the fast track after a strong start in pro ball, but scouts tell me he developed some mechanical concerns that likely explain his problems throwing strikes consistently and maintaining his velocity deeper into games.
Pike gets into hitter’s counts too often because on top of some delivery issues he tends to avoid the middle of the plate by trying the corners a lot. He’ll have to trust that his 88-91 mph fastball is enough, or perhaps look to create more plane and/or movement on the pitch; Pike is just 6-feet tall, but he does possess well above-average athleticism and pitchability.
His changeup is above-average and he can spot it on the corners for strikes or bury it and get the occasional swing and miss. Pike’s curveball has to get better, but it’s a decent pitch now changing eye level and offering a big velocity differential in the 68-71 mph range.
With more strikes, Pike still remains a potential No. 4 starter, and he’s just 21 years of age with experience in Double-A, which is where he’ll start 2015.
|No. 22 — Tyler Smith, SS|
Smith, an 8th-round pick in 2013, has hit his way into big-league camp this spring and his plate skills and potential versatility make him a viable candidate for a job in the majors in a year or two.
Smith controls the strike zone well, hits the ball to right field and his swing generates line drives that occasionally turn into home runs. He can hit the gaps for doubles often, however, and will make pitchers throw strikes.
The right-handed batter plays a capable shortstop, but figures to end up at second if he plays regularly, or as a utility option. Smith likely returns to Jackson to start 2015, but he’s a polished, mature player that almost certainly sees Triple-A Tacoma at some point.
|No. 21 — Tyler Olson, LHP|
If you haven’t figured it out yet, yes, the Mariners also have cornered the market on prospects named ‘Tyler.’ First it was Pike, then Smith and now Olson, and there are two more in the Top 15.
Olson, who dazzled this spring in a relief role, sits 87-89 mph with his fastball and offers a slider, curveball and changeup, all that play up due to a deceptive, medium-effort delivery that he repeats very well.
In relief, Olson touches 91 on the radar gun, hides the ball well and will change arm angles to further deceive hitters. His slider is his best secondary pitch out of the bullpen, while his curveball rivals the slider when he’s starting and facing more right-handed batters.
He backdoors both pitches well and gets good fade on his changeup. Best of all, he commands all of his pitches and is aggressive, despite lacking big velocity.
Olson’s rotation future likely is as a back-end option and in that role he’s a year or so away. But he could be a multi-inning option out of the pen immediately with the ability to dominate left-handed batters.
|No. 20 — Greifer Andrade, SS|
Andrade, 18, played outfield and third base back home in Venezuela, but the Mariners switched him to shortstop immediately, simply to see if it sticks. He’s not a plus runner and possesses average arm strength, but some scouts believe he’s a good enough athlete to make the transition a possibility. If short doesn’t work, second base may be next, but he may end up in left field, ultimately.
Andrade’s bat may dictate, however, and there are differing opinions on what he brings in the box down the line. Most see him as a .270 hitter with 12-16 home run power, which only plays up the middle, barring superstar on-base skills, the most difficult skill to project in teenage prospects.
A few others suggest there may be more power there as he matures; he’s 6-feet and 190 pounds now, and even one tick up on the power slide makes him an intriguing third base or left field prospect, and perhaps this is what the Mariners see, too. Overall, his chances to stick at shortstop probably sit somewhere between zero and slim.
Andrade spent last season split between the VSL and DSL and displayed a strong, line-drive swing and advanced approach. His swing looked a bit long to me this spring but he appears capable from a tools standpoint to handle the Arizona Rookie League this summer, of not beyond.
|No. 19 — John Hicks, C|
Hicks has progressed defensively and at the plate each year as a pro and his next stop is the big leagues as Mike Zunino’s backup, a tandem that could last several years.
Danny Hultzen’s college catcher at Virginia, Hicks has an average arm in terms of strength but his near-flawless technique and footwork produces crisp, accurate throws. He’s also shown improved ability to bock balls in the dirt and call a game.
At the plate Hicks does a solid job of putting bat to ball; he doesn’t walk or strike out much and there’s not much power at present, but Hicks shows flashes of creating more loft when he gets a pitch to drive.
He’ll start 2015 in Triple-A Tacoma with a chance to see the bigs in September, or if the club finds itself in need before then.
|No. 18 — Carlos Misell, RHP|
Misell, a 22-year-old right-hander, sits in the 89-93 mph range with a sinking fastball and complements it with a slider that flashes plus. His changeup is often too firm and it floats some, but there’s a two-pitch combo here that projects well.
Misell’s delivery has some effort to it but he does get into rhythm at repeat it well. While his arm path is a bit lengthy he’s relatively quick to the plate with a three-quarter arm slot. When he stays on top, he gets some ground ball outs and can get the strikeout.
Misell, out of the bullpen in short stints, could be a high-leverage arm, particularly if the fastball plays up into the mid-90s. There’s still a chance his changeup improves, however, and coupled with average command could allow for a starting role long term.
Misell should see the Cal League this season with a chance to jump to Jackson later in the year. If the club puts him in the bullpen now, he could start the year with the Generals.
|No. 17 — Jochi Ogando, RHP|
Ogando, a 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander from the Dominican Republic, has the long levers very much similar to that of James Paxton, and gets similar velocity with a similar arsenal, too.
The 21-year-old sits 91-96 mph with his fastball, can climb the ladder intelligently, offering a 12-6 curveball in the low-70s and an improving hard change or splitter as a third option.
Ogando’s problems throwing strikes, however, may overwhelm his stuff and relegate him to the bullpen, where that splitter may become even more important and his velocity may jump a few mphs.
He stays down in the zone for the most part and gets good plane on his pitches; one has to wonder if a slider isn’t a better pitch for him in any role.
Ogando will likely begin 2015 back in Jackson. Like Misell, a move to the bullpen now may mean a quicker path of promotion and a better shot to contribute in the big leagues, and with Ogando the time may be sooner than later to make such a decision.
|No. 16 — Brayan Hernandez, OF|
Hernandez was among the top handful of international prospects last summer and he may be one of the top few athletes in the system. The switch hitter shows advanced feel from each side of the plate with a line drive swing that shows doubles power now and the potential for 15-20 homer pop down the road.
The Venezuelan, who was trained by the well-known Henderson Martinez, employs a quiet swing with consistent plane and above-average bat speed, giving him a chance to hit for average to go with good middle-of-the-field power.
Hernandez projects to stick in center long term thanks to effortless but quick reactions and at least an average throwing arm, despite merely above-average speed, although he looked more like a 60-grade runner on the back fields this spring.