“When the unexpected becomes the expected, strange becomes familiar.” — Jason A. Churchill | May 20, 2016 While the parent club stabilizes a bit after a tough three-plus weeks, perhaps the most important happenings in the entire Seattle Mariners organization is the revival occurring down on the farm. Or should I say, revivals. Down on the Farm Forget the fact that each of the affiliates have won more games than they have lost this season — with Triple-A Tacoma, Double-A Jackson and Class-A Clinton among the better teams in their respective leagues — and put the fact that top prospect Tyler O’Neill has exploded this season on the back burner for a moment. The most critical happenings include D.J. Peterson, Alex Jackson and Luiz Gohara. All three entered the season needing to rebound and rebound sharp. That appears to be the case for all three. Peterson made an upper-half adjustment that ended up earning him a promotion to Triple-A where he’s off to a fast start. And for Peterson, this happening quickly is most important since he’s 24 years of age already and running out of time as a prospect of any kind. Jackson started slow; he spent the first six weeks of the season in extended spring training, first to recover from a minor injury and then to refocus under the new player development plans. Shortly after arriving at Class-A Clinton, Jackson fell into the same funk we saw a year ago. The 20-year-old went 4-for-38 in his first 11 games and the first four days of June weren’t much better. From June 5 to July 4, however, Jackson has batted .294/.363./.451 and the alarming strikeout rate is slowing down just a bit. While there’s still a lot of work for Jackson to do, the trend is positive and he’s yet to give up on his swing to make more contact — which is counterproductive and changes his profile for the worse. Oh, and he’s lined out as much as any hitter in the system the past three weeks. Hard contact, Gohara, granted in a small sample size, was strong in three starts at Short-season Everett, walking just three batters in 15 1/3 innings while punching out 21. His first start for Clinton did result in three bases on balls and seven hits in four-plus frames, but the stuff remains promising — 93-97 mph, flashy curveball and occasional changeup with some sink and deception. Gohara is in a little better shape this year, too, which will remain his biggest challenge until it’s not a challenge for him anymore. He doesn’t repeat well yet, either, but it’s been better in 2016 than in previous years. Gohara appears at least somewhat more focused and in his lone start for the LumberKings thus far I’m told he showed a little bulldog mentality to get through the fourth inning without his best command. Beyond the aforementioned three, things are solid in the M’s farm system. Still, most of their best young talents remain below Double-A — Drew Jackson and Braden Bishop at Advanced-A Bakersfield after Bishop’s promotion, the entire Clinton starting rotation including Gohara, Zack Littell and Nick Neidert, first-round pick Kyle Lewis in Everett, as well as shortstop Chris Torres and right-hander Jio Orozco in the Arizona League. All are performing at satisfactory levels or better, many at a youngish age for the level. The system still is a few years away from being anything but a bottom-half group, but at the start of the year it was bottom five — bottom two or three for some — and the bounce-back and progress have pushed them into the 20-22 range. Most of the improvement is due to the reemergence of the three noted above, but also due to the O’Neill explosion and steady progress of the young arms. (Photo: Zack Littell by Paul Gierhart/MiLB.com)
The Seattle Mariners’ farm system is among the organization’s weak spots, thanks to a ton of graduations, a trade or two and mostly a failure that may lie at the feet of the player development plans of the previous regime. Things may be turning around, however, and there are a few new talents poking their heads through the sand. The club’s strength and depth down on the farm lies in the outfield and on the mound, with names such as Tyler O’Neill, Kyle Lewis, Alex Jackson and Nick Neidert leading the way. Pitching? Yes, pitching. While there’s pretty much nothing within a year of the majors that figures to help the big club, there are numerous young arms with upside developing well in the lower levels of the minors, so the cupboard isn’t entirely empty. Here are the position rankings in full: 1. Outfield Power Bats2. Pitchers3. Middle Infielders4. Corner Infielders5. Catchers No. 1 — Tyler, O’Neill, RF O’Neill, whom I covered here recently, has made notable progress in strikeout and walk rates without sacrificing 30-homer power. He’s still a ways off — more work is necessary in both aforementioned areas — but he’s taken a significant step in 2016 suggesting he’s not just a Dream Big prospect. He runs well and has terrific feet, allowing him to display above-average range in right field. The throwing arm is plus. O’Neill also possesses the work habits and focus that often can be the difference between a very good athlete trying to play baseball and a baseball player that also is a very good athlete. He’s confident, and for good reason. His hand, wrist and forearm strength helps him generate big-time bat speed rivaling the top 10 percent in baseball, and he’s fearless in every way one can be on the diamond. O’Neill remains No. 1 for me, even with the presence of the club’s 2016 first-round pick, because there’s more in the bank despite a little less overall upside. A little. No. 2 — Kyle Lewis, CF Lewis has quick hands that creates 30-home power from plus-plus bat speed, but also has at least a chance to stick in center field, which in the end would be an advantage he has over O’Neill. But there is work to do for the No. 11 overall pick, both offensively and defensively. He’s very instinctual on the field, suggesting there hasn’t been a lot asked of him in terms of significant adjustments, both at the plate and in the field. His swing is lengthy, which to an extent mitigates some bat speed and makes him susceptible to pitchers with good velocity and an effective offspeed pitch. He’s been a bit anxious early in his pro career, chasing a bit more than scouts saw him do in college. There are questions as to how long his hit tool will take to develop; Lewis regularly faced the pitching of the Southern Conference, but did perform well versus SEC-level schools in mid-week matchups and hasn’t swung through fastballs regularly. There’s little doubt about Lewis’ upside, it’s ironing out the foundation on order to get there. He’s not likely a fast-tracker, but his bat speed and athleticism alone should help him through the lower levels fairly quickly. No. 3 — Alex Jackson, RF Jackson still is in the early part of his bounce back from injury and poor performance for much of 2015, but the physical tools and power remain apparent. The setup and swing probably need some work, perhaps starting with how he loads his lower half. He uses a rather demonstrative leg kick that may interrupt proper timing; not getting the front foot down in time typically limits how quickly the bat gets through the zone, suggesting velocity problems. Jackson’s just 20 years of age, so there’s reason to give up on him, and he’s still No. 3 because the upside in the hit tool is just a small adjustment or two from being unlocked. If and when that occurs, we’re still talking about a 25-homer stick with a chance to hit .280 with solid on-base marks. Defensively Jackson took a step back last summer, but he manages in right field just fine and the arm is plus. Focus and work ethic were two dynamics mentioned to be by more than a dozen scouts last summer as possible explanations for lack of early-career progress, and until the production is consistent and stable it will always be an aspect of Jackson’s game I question. No. 4 — Chris Torres, SS Torres being this high is both a testament to the kid’s tools and advanced plate skills for his age and level, but also the lack of quality in the Mariners’ farm system. No. 6 on this list is more likely a big-league player than Torres, but Torres carries more upside as a potential everyday middle infielder. Torres being this high is both a testament to the kid’s tools and advanced plate skills for his age and level, but also the lack of quality in the Mariners’ farm system. No. 6 on this list is more likely a big-league player than Torres, but Torres carries more upside as a potential everyday middle infielder. His hands, feet and arm all work at shortstop and thus far he’s shown to be capable from both sides of the plate; perhaps more natural power and a better power swing as a right-handed batter, but a shorter, quicker swing as a lefty that suggests a better chance to hit for average. He’s 6-feet and 175 pounds and 18 years of age and already is adept at working counts, showing good takes and tracking a breaking ball well. He will get out on his front foot sometimes and lunge at pitches out of the zone, but his .270/.341/.378 triple-slash at post time is impressive enough for his first year playing in the states. Oh, and the Mariners signed Torres two summers ago for $375,000 after the Yankees backed out of their $2.1 million offer. The club’s approach in Latin America under Tim Kissner has been fun; let’s take a shot at a big-money player here and there, but not just for the sake of it. Torres was possible because the M’s had pool money left and not many other clubs did. No. 5 — Nick Neidert, RHP It was just 25 days ago the reports I was getting on Neidert were “OK, throwing strikes, fringe-average curveball… where’s the changeup?” Neidert was sitting 89-92 mph up to that point and the changeup he showed in high school wasn’t being used as much, perhaps by design. Since then, the club’s top pick from a year ago has whiffed 30 of the 100 batters he’s faced, walking just three and showing a firmer fastball mostly 90-92 but touching 94. The breaking ball remains slurvy, but it’s been effective in the Midwest League. The Mariners will continue to attempt to sharpen up the pitch into more a true slider. Neidert’s control has been terrific, but he’s hung a few breaking balls and been hurt when missing up in the zone with a fastball, serving up more long balls than is ideal. Neidert doesn’t offer big projection at 6-foot-1, but as he fills out the fastball could freeze in the low-90s and the slider-changeup combo project as big-league average, perhaps better with the changeup which already flashes above average, despite some inconsistencies. The right-hander’s elbow soreness from last spring have not popped up again, knock on wood, and his arm action has been cleaner. He’s attacked the bottom of the zone well with the fastball this season, suggesting he’s finishing well out front. He’s always used his lower half well and he’s athletic and loose mechanically. No. 6 — Luiz Gohara, LHP Gohara remains behind Neidert and No. 11 on this list in terms of present control and command, despite some early-season improvements for the left-hander. The raw stuff is still very good, starting with an explosive fastball up to 97 mph and a promising changeup. The concerns with Gohara still include conditioning, delivery and his lack of ability to put hitter’s away and keep his pitch count to reasonable levels. He’s throwing more strikes but the command remains below average. His breaking ball, a 79-84 mph slider with two-plane break and depth, still is inconsistent and Gohara hasn’t shown the ability to throw it for called strikes with regularity, which versus more experienced hitters will bite him. The upside is big — No. 2 or 3 starter — but the risk is quite large, too. The above issues are more than just yellow flags, especially considering the soon-to-be 20-year-old now is in his fourth year as a pro. Getting through five and six innings steadily is a good sign for which to watch if you’re doing so at home. No. 7 — D.J. Peterson, 1B Peterson started 2016 the way 2015 went for him in Double-A Jackson — not good. His .213/.256/.350 slash line with a strikeout rate in the 25-percent range was worrisome, as he’s now 24 and running out of time. Then Peterson’s mechanical adjustment started to take. In his last 40 games in Jackson, Peterson batted .309/.376/.566 with 21 extra-base hits. He was still striking out a bit too much — 24 percent — but the former first-round pick was using more of the field and finding the barrel regularly. He’s been in Triple-A all of a week, but the early returns there are good, too. More of the same probably gets Peterson to the majors in September when rosters expand. He’s average at first base, but has an above-average arm and in an emergency can handle third base in very short stints. What Peterson becomes between now and give-up time may depend on how effective his lower-half adjustments become. He will collapse his backside and open up early, though he’s been doing so at a much more acceptable rate then a year ago. His confidence is back, and so are the hard contact rates. No. 8 — Drew Jackson, SS Jackson was No. 4 for me pre-season but hasn’t done enough with the bat in the California League to stop Gohara, Neidert and Torres from passing him by. Jackson will be 23 later this month and has been toiling a triple-slash in the .270/.340/.360 range most of the season. His current swing will not produce much power so the pressure is on for a lot of hard contact, high contact rates and plus defense if Jackson is to play regularly in the show. He possesses 65 arm strength but contnues to have problems with accuracy, sometimes not getting his feet underneath him and using his natural arm slot. He has committed 15 errors this season in 71 games, 10 of them of the throwing variety. Jackson is a plus runner and has terrific instincts on the bases, but he’s not a great base stealer, as evidenced by his 10-for-17 ratio, which combined with ‘average’ hit tool projections limits how much the raw speed impacts the game Jackson is a better athlete and glove than Chris Taylor, but there swing situations are similar. Jackson, however, is stronger and generates better bat speed, suggesting an adjustment could create a Ben Zobrist type burst in the power department — on the highest side, of course. Jackson does not create natural loft and backspin regularly and while a drastic change in the swing may be detrimental, he may not be more than an occasional big-league contributor without some kind of fix. No. 9 — Joe Rizzo, 3B Rizzo has been a pro for less than a month, but he’s shown laser-show ability with line drives at a high rate and while he lacks range, he does have hands and arm strength that fit at third base. I’d stick him in left field and see what happens, but Rizzo’s a hitter and the Mariners are betting on the offensive part of Josh Harrison coming to fruition for Rizzo, who also is a bit short in stature, but possesses plus bat speed and knack for putting the barrel on the baseball. Rizzo has drawn comparisons to part-time players such as Luis Valbuena as well as a regular — Kole Calhoun, from one scout, who added “if the dream comes true, he’s Calhoun at the plate, but I don’t where that plays for him.” No. 10 — Braden Bishop, CF Bishop is a plus defensive centerfielder, the best in the system, and he will draw walks and get on base. He’s a 65 runner, an average base stealer but two things ate holding back the former Washington Huskies star from projecting as a regular in the big leagues. First, Bishop has a average bat speed and his swing plane produces ground balls and some line drives — like his new teammate Jackson. Bishop lacks the strength to support too much of a fix in swing path — he might just fly out to routine depths more if he’s hitting more balls in the air. This wouldn’t as much of a concern if Bishop was more disciplined and had better pitch recognition. He does use the backside well, but expands his zone too often for an everyday major leaguer. Bishop, 22, still has time to polish his plate skills. He’s on a trek to being an extra outfielder, but better strike zone judgment and more fastball punishment to his pull side can change that projection. Mid-Season Top 20 Prospects: 11-20 No. Player Pos. Note 11 Zack Littell RHP Leads the Midwest League in punchouts; 90-94 FB, CB, CH. 12 Andrew Moore RHP Command and feel arm, up to 93, sits 89-91, Avg CB, CH. 13 Ryan Yarbrough LHP Role change possible; FB up to 94, improved command, CB. 14 Brayan Hernandez CF Still raw, but good instincts, natural alley-to-alley swing. 15 Jio Orozco RHP Average control, 45 command, up to 96, CB flashes plus. 16 Guillermo Heredia CF Older (25), lacks upside; 55 or better CF glove, short to ball. 17 Emilio Pagan RHP Raw stuff suggests MLB career; 90-93 (95), 50-55 SL. 1 8 Jake Brentz LHP Delivery hasn’t progressed early; power arm up to 97. 19 Gareth Morgan RF Swing length, discipline still a problem; 70+ raw power. 20 Bryson Brigman LHP Spray hitter, consistent contact, 30 power. Likely moves to 2B. Others Deserving Consideration Dylan Thompson, RHP: Thompson is a Top 15 arm in the system but hasn’t pitched since going home August 17 following nine appearances in the rookie league. He’s listed on the Everett roster, but hasn’t appeared despite being listed as active. Thompson has been up to 94 as both an amateur and pro and creates good sink, setting up a 73-77 mph curveball with depth. Many project a relief role for Thompson due to concern about holding velocity late enough into games; before the draft, Thompson would sit 90-93 but around pitch 75 or 80 would see that velo dip tot he mid-80s. He sat 89-91 last summer, but did touch 93 and worked both sides of the plate well. Nick Wells, LHP: Wells remains a loose-armed, projectable left-hander but he struggled early this season with control and now is on the disabled list. Greifer Andrade, SS/2B: Andrade seems to be a player without a position and a team, going back and forth more than once this season, and he even threw an inning on the mound. He’s a good athlete, though — good enough to be moved to shortstop by the Mariners when many clubs saw him as an outfielder or third baseman. Carlos Vargas, SS: Vargas is just 17 years old and the early returns from the Dominican Summer League aren’t great, but the 6-foot-3, 180-pound free agent signing is an exciting prospect thanks to projected strength and leverage at the plate and terrific hands in the field. He’s playing shortstop now but profiles as a future defender at the hot corner where his athleticism and arm strength should play well. Luis Rengifo, 2B: I was hoping Rengifo would be active once the summer league opened — and he is on the roster but hasn’t played — so he and Torres could form a nice prospectesque middle infield for the Mariners’ rookie club. The 19-year-old is a switch hitter with a little future pop in the stick and above average speed. He works counts and has shown he can hit breaking balls hard. Luis Liberato, CF: I like Liberato enough to put him in the Top 20 but his lack of instincts at the plate and on the bases deter me. I’m told he’s the same player he was a year ago, but he’s filling out a bit and showing opposite field doubles power. The glove works in center despite fringy jumps and routes because Liberato is a 55 or 60 pure runner. The arm is average. Juan De Paula, RHP: I was hoping De Paula would be stateside this summer, but he’s just getting under way in the Dominican Summer League at 19 years of age. The body is projectable at 6-foot-3 and 172 pounds and he’s touched 92 mph, flashing a future-average breaking ball.
Changes are afoot in the Seattle Mariners farm system. The draft immediately impacts each club’s farm system and represents an opportunity for organizations to gain ground on their competitors across Major League Baseball. The Seattle Mariners began 2016 with one of the worst five farm systems in the game. They may fare a bit better today thanks to some performances of Top 25 talents, but the acquisitions in the draft may make the biggest difference. Here are my Top 10 Mariners Prospects including the draft picks. One note: Players currently in the major leagues do not qualify. This means Edwin Diaz, despite having not exhausted his prospect status, will not be included after chiming in at No. 3 to start the season. The Mid-Season Prospect Update will consist of a Top 30 and scouting notes. Coming next month. Click on player’s name for previous reports. Post-Draft Top 10 Prospects No. Player Pos. Note 1 Tyler O’Neill RF Best talent in system. Steady progress. Work ethic off charts. 2 Kyle Lewis OF If he stays in CF, may be all-star. If not, hit tool under fire. 3 Alex Jackson RF Too much swing & miss early. Starting to hit. Ceiling still high. 4 Drew Jackson SS Swing holds him back at plate, but sound SS with plus speed. 5 Boog Powell CF Too selective at times. Enough glove for CF. Lacks power. 6 Braden Bishop CF Best defensive OF in system. Progressed at plate. Gap power. 7 Andrew Moore RHP Plus command of average FB. Average CB flashes, 55 CH. 8 Joe Rizzo 3B Stick him in LF, let him hit his way to the MLB. Melky Cabrera? 9 D.J. Peterson 1B Mechanical fixes helping of late. Still collapses back side. 10 Chris Torres SS Switch hitter with tools, advanced skills. Star of summer? Just missed the cut: Ryan Yarbrough, LHP; Nick Neidert, RHP; Brayan Hernandez OF; Luiz Gohara, LHP; Dylan Thompson, RHP; Greifer Andrade, SS. Rising: Torres; Hernandez; Andrade; Emilio Pagan, RHP; Tim Lopes, 2B; Jio Orozco, RHP; Carlos Vargas, SS; Zack Littell, RHP; Moore; Joe DeCarlo, 3B; Tyler Herb, RHP; Guillermo Heredia, CF; Steve Baron, C; Marcus Littlewood, C. Falling: Austin Wilson, OF; Tyler Marlette, C; Nick Wells, RHP; Gohara; Ramon Morla, RHP.
The Seattle Mariners began the season the owners of one of the thinnest farm systems in baseball. The only depth in the organization resides on the mound and all but one of the upside plays there began the season above Advanced-A ball and three of them didn’t start the year assigned to a full-season affiliate. Player development, the biggest factor in the sinking of the farm system under Jack Zduriencik — a system once ranked among the Top 10, only to fade fast thanks to rush jobs and poor planning — is in the hands of Jerry Dipoto, Andy McKay and a supplemented staff, not a revamped one, in the minors. Numbers only go so far in determining how well players are progressing. After each month of play down on the farm, Prospect Insider will reassess the top talents. Here is the pre-season Top 25. Three Up While No. 1 prospect Tyler O’Neill can’t move up in Prospect Insider’s Mariners prospect rankings, he’s done nothing but help his case to remain there regardless of what Alex Jackson does once he’s sent out — which was expected to be early this month, but we’re still waiting. O’Neill, 20, is batting .327/.387/.557 in 27 games for Double-A Jackson, anchoring the Generals’ lineup and leading the Southern League in home runs (6). He’s also second in slugging percentage, fifth in average and 10th in on-base percentage. His 11 walks all have come in the past 21 games and while his 31 strikeouts in 119 plate appearances is a bit high at 26 percent, it’s improved by four percent from a year ago and seven percent from 2014, O’Neill’s first full season in pro ball. For the record, the walk rate is up more than three percent from last season and the power remains nearly identical. From a scouting perspective, O’Neill has shown improved plate coverage with noticeable progress in using center field and right-center field, and even the right-field line with extra-base power. He’s still most dangerous to his pull side by a wide margin, but he’s staying back better on offspeed stuff, which allows him a better shot to hit for some average. O’Neill is a solid-average outfielder, too, fitting well in either corner — he’s played all but one game in right so far — showing a plus arm and above-average jumps. His lateral routes are more natural than this time a year ago and he’s learning to come in on balls more aggressively. He’ll flash the leather on tough catches and is far from afraid to dive for balls, often making the catch. Andrew Moore came in at No. 13 prior to the season and in a re-rank after a month might slide up a few spots. The right-hander, who does lack upside but makes up for some of that with the highest probability of any starter in the system, has been terrific in the California League in seven starts, boasting a 36-10 K/BB ratio and allowing just 38 total baserunners in 42 2/3 innings. Moore has gone at least six innings in all but one start — 4 2/3 scoreless innings on April 12 — and he’s missing barrel and entire bats enough with his average fastball, fringy curveball, and average changeup. In 2016, Moore’s curveball has been tighter and the fastball has shown more life above the hitters’ hands. Boog Powell entered the season at No. 5 overall and hasn’t lost any ground in 29 games at Triple-A Tacoma. He’s all business, and despite lacking power that plays in the big leagues, the outfielder is average or better in all other facets, including defensive range, throwing accuracy, baserunning, raw speed and the overall hit tool. Powell is batting .283/.364/.354 with six extra-base hits, but I’d bet the farm on a .300/.370 finish to the season. At times, Powell is the toughest out in a very, very good Rainiers lineup and owns the organization’s best strike zone judgment. He’s drawn 15 walks (11.5%) and 19 strikeouts (14.6%), and his work versus left-handed pitching has improved (.273/.333/.303). Powell also is one of few Tacoma regulars not to have thrived on the road at this point. Cheney Stadium is a little more forgiving than the older version of the ballpark, but the winds and overall environments tends to favors pitching the first six weeks or so. Powell, who relies on line drives, is batting .365/.431/.462 at home and has yet to get rolling on the road, suggesting the full-season numbers are legit. Whether he’s ultimately a very solid and useful fourth outfielder or a regular in center field, Powell will see the majors and his work early in 2016 has only convinced me more. Honorable Mention: Tim Lopes, 2B Lopes fell off the Top 25 after a tough 2015 but he’s stronger this season and that strength is helping his plate skills and strike zone judgment produce more solid line drives. He’s always worked counts well, but now his hard-struck balls are getting through for hits. Lopes can handle second base and at some point may be considered for some left field duty to increase his chances to serve as a reserve in the big leagues. After 28 games in Jacksom, the 21-year-old is batting .303/.387/.358. Three DownD.J. Peterson, 24, was sent back to Double-A Jackson to start the tyear and has been anything but strong over the first month of play. The former first-round pick sits at .241/.297/.361 in 28 games. One scout opines that perhaps Peterson was so thoroughly disappointed in the assignment that no matter how hard he tried to focus there was an “inherited distraction.” If that’s true, perhaps we can give Peterson a break and look to his past eight games as a potential sign he’s breaking out of the slump. In those eight games, Peterson is 12-for-31 with just one strikeout and three bases on balls. In a four-game stretch last week, multiple scouts noted Peterson was lunging toward the ball at times, pulling off the ball on the inner half and susceptible to the left-handed changeup. Furthermore, lefties have worked him effectively away all season. Austin Wilson, No. 19 to start the season, has struggled something fierce in his repeat of Bakersfield and at this stage — Wilson is 24 years old — it appears the big right fielder simply is not going to hit. The pitch recognition and strike zone judgment hold him back, and his swing has been too erratic to consistently make contact. He’s whiffed nearly 40 percent of the time he’s strolled to the plate and he boasts just seven extra-base hits thus far. While there’s no reason to completely give up on Wilson, holding your breath no longer is a good idea, not that it ever was, Chris Crawford. Tyler Marlette batted .286, .304 and .297 in his first three full seasons in pro ball. He struggled in Bakersfield last season, batting .216 in 39 games, but jumped to .258 in 50 games in Double-A. Marlette returned to Bakersfield this season and is scuffling along at .153/.228/.236 with just four extra-base hits. Power is supposed to be Marlette’s calling card but his attempts to improve his ability to hit for average appear to have robbed him of his extra-base prowess. It doesn’t help that he’s focused very much on improving his chances to catch long term, but I have to wonder if these struggles, like with Peterson, are somewhat mental. Peterson and Marlette are great tests for the new approach at player development; both should be better, have been better and can be better, let’s see if this year the organization can figure it out with both. Role ChangeEdwin Diaz came into the season as the club’ top pitching prospect with a chance to be a No, 3 starter in time. Over the weekend, the organization decided to push Diaz to the Generals’ bullpen, almost certainly to give Diaz a chance to contribute in the big leagues this season. While it’s not necessarily a permanent move — it shouldn’t be — it’s one that actually increases Diaz’s chances to help, while speeding up his timetable to the majors. Diaz was firing on all cylinders, making six starts and compiling a 38-5 K/BB ratio in 29 innings. In a starting role, he pitches comfortably in the 91-94 mph range, setting up an above-average slider that flashes plus. His changeup still grades below average but he’s willing to throw it more now than ever before, and his arm speed is more consistent than a year ago. In relief, Diaz’s fastball-slider combo may play up enough where he’s sitting 94 mph or better, perhaps touching 97, and the slider could prove more consistently sharp. In the interim, whether that’s this season only or goes into next season the way the Chicago White Sox handled Chris Sale and the Toronto Blue Jays with Aaron Sanchez, Diaz may be asked to focus on attacking hitters with his best two pitches while continuing his attempts to get stronger, which is something he’ll need if he wants to start long term, and refining his command. Promotion Index1. Edwin Diaz, RHP (AA to AAA) As soon as Diaz thrives for a few weeks in his new role, it’s likely he gets moved to Tacoma to continue his trek.2. Andrew Moore, RHP (A+ to AA) Moore may replace Diaz on the Jackson roster, so keep an eye on his next 3-4 starts. They could be his last in Bakersfield.3. Stefen Romero, OF/1B (AAA to MLB) There’s no room right now, but Romero’s ready for a shot to contribute in a platoon-type role.4. Blake Parker, RHP (AAA to MLB) Parker may be the most likely to see the big leagues next with the attrition rate of the bullpen thus far. He’s throwing the ball well and now has his first back-to-back under his belt following a lost season in 2015 due to elbow surgery.5. James Paxton, LHP (AAA to MLB) In a starting role, there’s no room for Paxton. All five M’s starters are on solid ground, perhaps none more so than Taijuan Walker and Nate Karns, the club’s No. 4 and 5 starters. Paxton has been really good of late, though, tallying 25 punchies in his last 24 1/3 innings while issuing just one base on balls. He’s made some adjustments, and they’ve worked. Whether he, too, is a relief option at some point this season remains to be seen, but with no room in the rotation until the club looks for ways to curb the workload of both Walker and Karns or until attrition hits the first five, Paxton likely stays in the Tacoma rotation. Come August, though, he’s likely to get starts or be inserted into the big-league bullpen, simply to have the best arms in the majors.6. Emilio Pagan, RHP (AA to AAA) He’s 90-94 mph with a plus slider and deception. September call-up candidate.7. Guillermo Heredia, CF (AA to AAA) He’s coachable, energetic and has four tools that play.8. Chris Taylor, SS (AAA to MLB) Like Romero, Taylor is a victim of the numbers game and while I don’t buy the swing in the majors, Taylor can play shortstop and is improving his contact skills.9. Mike Zunino, C (AAA to MLB) Zunino is actually hitting his first slump of the season, so let’s see how he deals with that as it’s an important part of his development this year. Once he’s rebounded and shows he can deal with all the breaking stuff down and away and all the fastballs on the outer half (he’ll need some hits to his backside), there will be no reason to keep him in the minors. We’re a ways away, though, but so far, so good.10. Tyler Herb, RHP (A+ to AA) Herb is throwing his offspeed stuff for strikes and commanding his fastball well, which has led to a 41-8 K/BB ration in Bakersfield in 31 innings of work. He pounds the lower half of the zone well, inducing ground balls with his sinking fastball and changeup, which plays well in the Cal League. Herb has touched 94 mph in the past but pitches regularly in the low 90s, getting swings and misses up in the zone versus right-handed batters thanks to good armside run. A challenging promotion is likely ahead for Herb later this summer.
It’s the 10th annual Prospect Insider Seattle Mariners prospect rankings. A few things you should know before continuing: Ceiling/potential value is only part of the equation. Probability, among other things, also is a significant factor. The player’s likely future role can dictate his value as much as his chances to get to the majors or his upside. While I do not crawl into each organization’s farm systems with a microscope, I did have numerous conversations about where the weakest Mariners system in some time fits in baseball right now. Keith Law and Baseball America have Seattle at No. 28. While I don’t necessarily disagree, I do like the Mariners system better than five others; Angels, Marlins, Tigers, Orioles and White Sox. I value upside more than simple depth, and if the ‘depth’ in question carries more risk than anything else, it’s not really depth. I greatly value the reliable information I can gather on a player’s offseason training habits and how he handles himself between games during the season. Simply put, the same bat at a premium position is more valuable. The position tree: catcher, shortstop, second base, center field, third base, right field, left field, first base. Pitcher prospects carrying the high probability of late-inning relief work are not typically as valuable as potential starters, even if they’re chances of getting to the majors are greater, and/or they are closer to the big leagues. A potential setup man or closer with a 2016 ETA, however, may very well be more valuable than a high-risk, medium reward starter who is four-plus years away. The potential for superstardom, all-stardom and average everyday contributions far outweighs a high probability fringe regular. The whole point of a farm system is to avoid free agency as much as possible to maintain great financial flexibility to supplement a good club and make them World Series contenders. Fringe-regular talents are a dime a dozen. The lone possible exceptions are catchers, in which a case-by-case basis will be utilized. It’s important to keep in mind that organizational rankings or individual rankings are no guarantee of anything whatsoever. For example, go check out Baseball America’s org rankings. They also display that club’s ranking the past five years. Many of the top 10 ranked systems from 2011 and 2012 did absolutely nothing toward winning. The Braves ranked No. 2 in 2011, haven’t done squat with that group and now are rebuilding. Colorado ranked No. 10 — they haven’t been any good for years. Same with the Reds, who ranked No. 6 in 2011 and No. 7 in 2012. The Rays have actually gotten worse since ranking No. 3 in 2011 and No. 4 in 2013. This isn’t to say BA is bad at rankings — FTR, Keith Law is far and away the best in the business of talent evaluation in all facets, individual and team — it’s simply proof that good farm systems only mean something if the front office knows how to get the talents developed and knows how to use the good, solid farm system. Kansas City is a great example of that. The New York Yankees, No. 5 in 2011, No. 6 in 2012, are not. Below are the Top 25 prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization. Take note that there are two grades listed for each tool. The first is present showing, the second is ceiling. It is NOT the most likely outcome. Click on the player’s name for scouting report and tools grades. Seattle Mariners Top 25 Prospects No. Player Pos. 1 Tyler O’Neill RF 2 Alex Jackson RF 3 Edwin Diaz RHP 4 Drew Jackson SS 5 Boog Powell CF 6 Nick Neidert RHP 7 D.J. Peterson 1B 8 Jacob Brentz LHP 9 Braden Bishop CF 10 Dylan Thompson RHP 11 Luiz Gohara LHP 12 Andrew Moore RHP 13 Nick Wells LHP 14 Ryan Yarbrough LHP 15 Tyler Smith SS 16 Tony Zych RHP 17 Greifer Andrade SS 18 Brayan Hernandez CF 19 Austin Wilson RF 20 Gareth Morgan RF 21 Christopher Torres SS 22 Carlos Vargas SS 23 Dan Altavilla RHP 24 Tyler Marlette C 25 Jio Orozco RHP Just Missed The Cut Luis Rengifo, 2B Switch hitter, pounds fastballs, solid hands and arm. Luis Liberato, CF Possesses solid tools that show average in games. Lacks instincts at plate, in field. Adrian Sampson, RHP Low three-quarters slot, 89-93 mph fastball, average mid-80 slider, firm changeup. Fits well in relief role. Marcus Littlewood, C Converted shortstop; on track for a chance at big-league defense. Bat still inconsistent but shows patience. Juan De Paula, RHP Has performed in DSL with above-average velocity, fringe secondaries that need a lot of refinement, but gets good spin on breaking ball. Austin Cousino, CF Strong defender, runner; has line-drive swing, power hitter’s game plan. Tyler Pike, LHP The hope is Pike can fix his delivery and get back on track; solid-average arsenal including big-league curveball and changeup. Dario Pizzano, OF/1B Hit tool shows in games, average power, too, but has no position; 2016 a big year for him. Paul Fry, LHP Sits 90-93 mph with solid-average slider and 55-60 command. Chance to see majors in 2016. Tim Lopes, 2B Short on physical tools — fringe-average across the board with no power — but good feel, can handle second base, work counts. Ramon Morla, RHP Former third baseman; Up to 99 mph with short but effective slider. Had Tommy John surgery in 2014. Joe DeCarlo, 3B Three tools show — 55 run, 60 arm, 65 raw power — the latter not yet in games due to 30 hit tool. Rayder Ascanio, SS Not much to dream on at the plate, but above-average runner and plus glove at short. Ismerling Mota, C Good receiver, has the arm strength. Considered solid all-around offensive threat. Years away. Matt Anderson, RHP Purely in a relief role Anderson sits 90-93 mph, touching 95. Slider flashes plus, command still below-average. Mayckol Guaipe, RHP Poor man’s Yoervis Medina stuff wise; better control, same poor command that dooms him. Steve Baron, C Swing still needs work but Baron has come a long way. Defensively he can do the job; Works, smart, understands the game very well. Carlos Misell, RHP Bullpen piece masquerading in the rotation for now; 89-92 mph, changeup, slider; Velo may play up in shorter stints due to arm speed. Emilio Pagan, RHP Two average or better pitches, plus control, 40-45 command. Chance at middle-relief role by 2017. Zack Littell, RHP Raw stuff remains unpolished, but up to 95 mph with improved delivery and changeup. Kyle Wilcox, RHP Up to 97 mph with life and deceptive arm action. Could move quickly. Danny Hultzen, LHP Without knowing his health status and long-term role (for now he’ll pitch in relief in attempt to simply get him back on the mound and keep him there), his value is impossible to infer. David Rollins, LHP Rollins touched 94 mph and flashes a quality slider but the ceiling likely sits somewhere between the taxi-squad and middle reliever. Leurys Vargas, 1B Vargas, now 19, is a strong, left-handed hitter with plus raw power. He’s still learning to make contact and hit a snag in 2015 with breaking balls. The swing is long, but the Mariners’ staff already has helped Vargas make an adjustment, and that likely continues. Gone From System/Off Radar/Graduated Trey Cochran-Gill, RHP — Traded to Oakland for RHP Evan Scribner. Daniel Missaki, RHP — Traded to Milwaukee for 1B Adam Lind. Freddy Peralta, RHP — Traded to Milwaukee for 1B Adam Lind. Enyel De Los Santos, RHP — Traded with IF Nelson Ward to San Diego for RHP Joaquin Benoit. Carlos Herrera, RHP — Traded to Milwaukee for 1B Adam Lind. Tyler Olson, LHP — Traded to L.A. Dodgers for PTBNL/cash. Now with New York Yankees. Jabari Blash, RF — Rule 5 pick by Oakland. Now with San Diego Padres. Erick Mejia, 2B/SS — Traded to San Diego for RHP Joe Wieland. Ji-Man Choi, 1B — Signed with Baltimore Orioles as minor league free agent. Jack Reinheimer, SS — Traded to Arizona May, 2015 with OF Gabriel Guerrero, RHP Dom Leone for 1B Mark Trumbo. Gabriel Guerrero, RF — Traded to Arizona, May, 2015 with IF Jack Reinheimer, RHP Dom Leone for 1B Mark Trumbo. John Hicks, C — Designated for assignment, claimed by Minnesota Twins. Patrick Kivlehan, OF — Traded to Texas Rangers with RHP Tom Wilhelmsen, OF James Jones for RHP Anthony Bass, CF Leonys Martin. Jabari Henry, OF Leon Landry, CF Jose Leal, OF Stephen Landazuri, RHP Julio Morban, OF Corey Simpson, RF Jochi Ogando, RHP Ketel Marte, SS Mike Montgomery, LHP
One of the first things mentioned by new Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto upon his hiring was how the club lacked general depth, particularly in the upper minors. Many clubs welcomed impact and contributing rookies to their rosters this past season. But Seattle’s inability to develop talent at the higher minor league levels during Jack Zduriencik’s tenure nearly left the Mariners out of the aptly named ‘year of the rookie’ in 2015. Ketel Marte and Carson Smith were major league contributors as rookies though Seattle didn’t have a Kris Bryant or a Noah Syndergaard waiting in the wings. Or even a Roberto Osuna for that matter. We knew that pieces surrounding the core would need to be augmented and practically all executives talk about a need for depth. There’s no secret: the Mariners are a team with holes. We saw how the offense fizzled behind a slumping Robinson Cano in the first half and the pitching staff was exposed throughout the season. When Mike Zunino struggled, there was no Plan B. Dipoto’s first deal as general manager, a six-player trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, took a step towards rebuilding the starting pitching depth. Nate Karns is coming off a 26-start rookie campaign but will turn just 28 in a few weeks. As Prospect Insider’s Jason A. Churchill noted, Karns could start the season in the bullpen or in the back end of the rotation. In some ways he gives the M’s more flexibility with Vidal Nuno — both are rotation and bullpen candidates or one could be sent to Triple-A to get stretched out early in 2016. Nuno is likely a better fit in the bullpen, though. PI’s Luke Arkins recently covered the pitching needs in depth. Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are leading rotation candidates with Roenis Elias and Mike Montgomery next on the depth chart. Montgomery is out of options meaning he would be exposed to waivers if sent down but Elias can still be sent down. Beyond them the rotation depth In Tacoma is slim to none with Sam Gaviglio and Jordan Pries atop that list. Top pitching prospect Edwin Diaz is likely another year or more away from being major league ready. Smith has graduated to the big league squad and despite some struggles this past season, figures to start the year in a start-up role. C.J. Riefenhauser figures to take Danny Farquhar‘s spot in the bullpen, only from the left side, so no additional depth was added there. With Charlie Furbush recovering from a slight tear in his rotator cuff, the southpaw depth could be tested with David Rollins and Rob Rasmussen also in the picture. Tony Zych made his major league debut in September and in 13 appearances, including one start, he pitched a 2.04 FIP and 11.79 strikeouts per nine over 18 and 1/3 innings. He should have the inside track on one of the middle relief gigs. Mayckol Guaipe, J.C. Ramirez, and Jose Ramirez are other names to keep an eye on. None of the three have the upside of a Smith, for example, but do provide some bullpen depth. Cody Martin is also among the right-handed options after being picked up on a waiver claim. Over on the infield, Seattle is set at second and third base long-term. The trade of Brad Miller suggests the club is confident in Marte and his ability to be a starter. The 22-year-old had a strong debut producing a 112 wRC+ while offering solid and improving defense. Chris Taylor now finds himself No. 2 on the shortstop depth chart but struggled offensively in 2015. He’s hit well enough at Triple-A in recent memory, but at least offers a reliable glove in a key defensive position. Shawn O’Malley made a decent impression during his September cameo displaying on-base skills and picking up three stolen bases. Perhaps his best asset is his positional flexibility. Tyler Smith has also taken some steps forward and could become an option in the second half. D.J. Peterson appeared to be readying for show time one year ago, but it was a difficult year for the top prospect and he’ll likely begin 2016 at Triple-A. It’s a similar story for Patrick Kivlehan who had a slightly down year offensively in his first taste of Triple-A action. Both are nearing major league readiness and provide nice depth at the infield corners for the second half. And of course, there’s the perennial name squeezed between the major league and Triple-A depth charts, Jesus Montero. Behind the plate the story is the same as it was in 2015. Zunino may still need time in Triple-A to continue restructuring his swing and Jesus Sucre and John Hicks have proven that they aren’t offensively capable for the majors. It’s no secret that catching is a major concern for the Mariners. James Jones and Stefen Romero are joined by Boog Powell in the outfield depth chart. Powell has a shot at breaking camp as the club’s starting centerfielder given his contact and defensive skills but the other two should start the year in Tacoma at this point. Daniel Robertson was claimed off waivers from Dipoto’s previous employer, the Los Angeles Angels. The 30-year-old spent the majority of 2015 at Triple-A where he posted an underwhelming 83 wRC+ but has solid plate discipline skills. Ramon Flores, acquired from New York in the Dustin Ackley trade, had his 2015 season ended early with a compound fracture in his ankle and is worth keeping an eye on. The most glaring position of weakness for the Mariners is at catcher, but that’s nothing new. Around the infield Seattle appears to be in reasonable shape depth-wise. Dealing Miller hurts, but the addition of a veteran infielder would allow Taylor to potentially start the year at Triple-A, making the depth look better. The outfield is susceptible with Seth Smith being the only real major league caliber outfielder on the depth chart. Powell, Jones and Romero are considerations for the open spots as we speak, but if all three were to make the club, Flores and Robertson would make up the Triple-A depth. That could be scary. You always need more pitching depth so that much goes without saying. The bullpen was a major issue for Seattle in 2015 and with all the pieces dealt over the past year, is in need of a makeover. It’s hard to evaluate the starting pitching given how many question marks there are. A combination of Walker, Paxton, Karns, Nuno, Elias, and Montgomery figure to take two rotation spots and probably a couple bullpen spots as well. Not every position needs to have a bonafide starter or back-up caliber player at Triple-A, but the presence of legitimate options will be a welcomed change. Remember, it doesn’t take much for depth to appear. A couple solid minor league signings, a couple prospects taking a step forward, and a couple surprises can quickly change the tone in how we reference the players in Tacoma. It’d be unfair to expect Dipoto and his staff to fix every problem the M’s currently face in year one, but rebuilding the catching and outfield positions while stockpiling arms would be meaningful progress. The pitching staff already looks stronger than it did at season’s end. The first steps have already been taken with many more to come.
As it was at the start of the season, the Seattle Mariners’ farm system is thin. Yes, there is talent. Most of it lies in a crude state in the lower minors. Of those that have graduated to the upper levels, many have struggled, been traded since or hold a status somewhere south of elite. The Mariners have a group of young talent on the 25-man roster that otherwise might create a much deeper, stronger crop down on the farm, including the likes of Mike Zunino and Taijuan Walker, suggesting the club doesn’t lack young talent, per se, but simply that of the premium such at any level of the organization. We’ve had the player development discussion, and will continue to do so until something changes, but each player’s future status will be assessed based on their tools, progress, quantified and qualified performance and their overall potential value. Players currently in the big leagues do not qualify, even if they are yet to have exhausted rookie status (50 innings pitched or 130 plate appearances). Mike Montgomery has surpassed the 50-inning mark, but if he had been included in the rankings below he would have slid in at No. 4. Overall, the system is not strong, but has a nice crop of projectable arms and bats tucked deep into short-season ball. The club lacks high probability from Triple-A on down and from the top of the charts to the very bottom, both on the mound and in terms of position players. If a couple of their high-ceiling, high-risk kids from Latin American progress well and the 2016 Draft nets some quick-to-the-show talent, the script will change this time next year. 1. Alex Jackson, RF Despite a slow start at Class-A Clinton and an injury that kept him out five weeks, Jackson remains the top prospect in the Mariners organization. He’s flashed why in his stint at short-season Everett, using the whole field and turning around good velocity. Jackson’s power right now of the doubles variety, but he’s strong and when his swing mechanics are sound he’s short to the ball with plus-plus bat speed. Occasionally he’ll load deep and get a little long. He tracks a breaking ball well for a 19-year-old, showing he can keep his weight back and drive them to right-center field. Last summer after signing, he showed a slight tendency to lunge in anxiety, and it appeared early in 2015 he was overcompensating for that and was late on some fastballs as a result. Jackson’s strikeout totals are a high, but it’s easy to forget he was playing high school ball 14 months ago. 2. Ketel Marte, SS Marte jumps from No. 6 to the No. 2 spot despite missing time with a hand injury. The switch hitter showed more consistency from either side of the plate versus the more-experienced Triple-A pitching and perhaps most importantly answered some of the questions about his defense at shortstop. He’s looked like a glove that could very well stick with solid range to both sides, improved consistency across the board and a better understanding of what is required of him defensively. Marte, 21, will play in the Futures Game this weekend putting his plus speed on display. He makes a ton of contact, can handle the bat and could give the Mariners another solid option up the middle as early as 2016. He’s exactly what the big club lacks right now — high contact, low strikeout, plus speed — but anything more than a September call-up this season is expecting too much. Perhaps the most intriguing option for Marte’s future is a switch to center field, where his athleticism, pure speed and arm play and the club has absolutely no 2016 answers anywhere in sight. It’s a move the Mariners could make this summer in preparation, and one I’m not only an advocate for, but have been anticipating for over a year. 3. D.J. Peterson, 1B Peterson has struggled for three months straight, often chasing out of the zone up, down and away and not maintaining balance with his lower half. One scout described it as a hitter ‘trying to hit for power with a swing engineered for average’ then flipping that around. The raw power suggests 25 homers and 30-plus doubles to go with just enough contact to support a .260-.270 average. Peterson’s strike zone judgment has been significantly better of late, as he’s struck out just seven times in his last 42 plate appearances. Most believe he simply feel Peterson still will hit enough to play everyday in the majors and simply fell into some bad habits the past season and a half. He’s fringy at third base and average at first, with a chance to be above-average sooner than later. 4. Patrick Kivlehan, OF Kivlehan has taken to the outfield well, even serving in center field on a handful of occasions. Th swing still needs a little work and he has chased more pitches out of the zone this year than in 2014, but the power has shown up in the form of 15 long balls and 14 doubles. I’d like to see him shorten up more often, especially with two strikes, but also get to a point where he’s recognizing situations better so he can attack the fastball in hitter-friendly counts. He’s fallen behind in half his plate appearances — 40-45 percent is more ideal, especially without a strong two-strike swing. 5. Edwin Diaz, RHP Diaz torched the California League and despite a high ERA with Double-A Jackson in 10 starts has fanned 51 in 55 2/3 innings and has yielded but two home runs. Sitting 90-92 mph and visiting the mid-90s at times, Diaz’s best pitch is his above-average slider. His changeup has improved, too. Command of the fastball and changeup need to get better before he moves to the PCL where veteran hitters will exploit such deficiencies early and often. Diaz remains sleight, so many scouts point to the bullpen with concern he may not be able to hold up in a starting role. Command and present lack of a third quality pitch could alter his future role, too, but he’s just 21 with an easy, loose arm, offering deception and natural fastball movement. The Mariners can wait on him and he weights on himself. 6. Luiz Gohara, LHP Gohara, 19 in a few weeks, has the best raw stuff in the system, starting with a sinking fastball up to 97 mph and a low-80s slider with late downward break. He’ll throw his changeup, though it’s below average, but the big battle remains the inconsistent delivery. When he’s in sync he can be awfully tough on hitters 3-5 years his senior. His low-effort delivery plus a solid work ethic, including conditioning for the 225-plus pound Brazil native, are promising. He’s still unrefined but a put-together version may end up a No. 2 starter down the road. 7. Nick Neidert, RHP Neidert is athletic with average present fastball command and is up to 95 mph. Neidert employs a three-quarter arm slot and finishes out front well. His curveball is below average but he’s a good candidate to throw a slider as a pro, and already possesses a solid-average changeup on which he shows good arm speed. At 185 pounds and 6-foot-1, there’s not a lot of room to bulk up, but everything is loose, including his lower half. He did experience some elbow tendinitis this spring, but has has since returned to the mound and touched 93. One concern with the right-hander centers on his arm lagging behind at times. This is a must fix and one that has to occur very early in his pro career. It’s also an easy fix, generally speaking. 8. Brayan Hernandez, OF Hernandez, 18 in September, was the club’s top international signing a year ago. He’s performing in the DSL, showing all five tools and a mature skill set at the plate. He’s roaming center field quite well, too, and has a shot to stay there long term. His swing is better from the left side as his right-handed swing has some loop to it thanks to a backside collapse. Simplifying how he uses his legs could help Hernandez stay crisp through the ball. 9. Christopher Torres, SS Reports on Torres include mentions of intensity, quick-twitch actions plus speed and enough arm and range to play shortstop. With an advanced set of plate skills he forces pitchers to throw him strikes. At 17, however, the Dominican native still is learning his swing, which can get long despite a lack of strength and raw power. A switch hitter, Torres is stronger from the left side with a better swing overall. More contact ultimately is necessary, but in his first taste of pro ball in the DSL, Torres is holding his own, and then some. He’s made 15 errors through July 10, five of them throwing, so there’s a lot to clean up and with most teenage shortstops a move to second base could be in his future. 10. Tyler O’Neill, RF O’Neill has this power-hitting thing down. He runs well for a player that projects to hit for power, has shown in time he’ll be fine corner outfielder with a plus arm. Now he simply needs to learn to hit. More contact will come from being more selective and using the back side some. He’s being teased with soft stuff down, hard stuff up and usually it works because he’s aggressive. He destroys mistakes, however and just turned 20. If the Mariners give him a chance to clean up his plate discipline, O’Neill has a chance to be a big-league regular. He’s going to need time and the right instruction, though, and there’s reason to doubt he’ll get either as the organization currently is constructed. 11. Austin Wilson, RF Wilson looked terrific this past spring, offering a clean, quick swing path that produced line drives from the left-field line to right-center. He has holes, however, mostly down and/or away and has developed a deeper load than I saw in March or when Wilson was in Everett a year ago. As a result, the strikeouts are up — he’s in the vicious circle that comes when batters have problems versus good velocity but also chase up out of the zone and as they protect against that tale themselves out of the network that would ever allow them to stay back and serve the slider away to right-center or the changeup back up the middle. Wilson has big raw power and he showed some of it last season. He’s been exposed this summer and has yet to make the necessary adjustment. I was told in late June that a small mechanical change was made by Wilson, one that he apparently took to and was able to repeat, so perhaps he’ll rebound in the final two-plus months. 12. Greifer Andrade, SS The fact that Andrade ranks this high is both a testament to his natural abilities and to the lack of talent left in the Mariners’ system. The early returns on his move to shortstop are mixed at best — he’s committed 14 errors, 11 of them fielding. He played a lot of outfield as an amateur and isn’t as experienced fielding ground balls as the typical 18-year-old infielder. He does have the physical traits and tools to play short, including above-average arm strength with a quick release, good feet and hand strength. One report I received in early June was that Andrade still was working on his defensive mechanics, but showed fluid actions below the waist. At the plate he’s performed and if he has to be moved to second base or center field the bat has a chance to play. He will need to realize he’s more Edgar Renteria than Giancarlo Stanton, but there’s time for that, too. 13. Tyler Marlette, C I may be high man on Marlette, who still is below average defensively, despite enough arm strength and a lot of progress since Draft Day. His bat has scuffled in 2015 but the foundation remains; bat speed, average to above-average raw power, some track record of game power in pro ball and solid contact. Marlette simply is getting out front a lot now that he is seeing more breaking balls and has yet to make the consistent adjustment. His bat may play elsewhere if he maxes out but he has come so far it would be a shame to move him now. Marlette will always be a bat-first catcher, but he is just 22 years of age and in a year and a half or so could be closing in on a shot at the show. He will need to make the adjustment to the soft stuff by trusting his hands and staying off his front foot. Eliminating even an abbreviated leg kick could help. 14. Ryan Yarbrough, LHP Yarbrough has better pure stuff than No. 15, particularly the secondary offerings, and offers some physical projection that his right-handed teammate simply does not, but the development of the lefty’s fastball command stagnated early in 2015, though he has continued to throw strikes. He stays on top well despite a three-quarters slot and creates plane. The M’s got him for $40,000 as a senior sign out of Old Dominion and it appears a healthy Yarbrough will offer Seattle an option out of the bullpen at the very least. He’s missed the last month with a groin strain but is throwing in Arizona, likely to return soon. 15. Andrew Moore, RHP Moore doesn’t wow physically, as he’s about 6-feet tall (he’s not 5-foot-11, so if anyone claims that, you tell them Churchill is 6-feet tall on the dot and stood a foot away from Moore, who with cleats on was at least 1-2 inches taller), and he throws directly over the top which can show the ball to the batter early and limit fastball movement. But he’s very strong, understands what he can and cannot do and what he should and should not try to be. He flashed more velocity late than early in the spring and he throws his curveball and changeup for strikes. He’s intelligent on the mound, commands the fastball to both sides of the plate — and knows how and when to elevate it — and may simply be an improved breaking ball away from a No. 4 starter’s gig in the big leagues. And who knows? If he can maintain the upper ranges of his late-spring velocity, all bets are off. It‘s also worth noting that Moore is an advocate of weighted ball training, among other advanced training methods, and takes his training seriously. This is the source of failure for a very high percentage of young talents. It’s not a lack of work ethic or training in general, but a lack of proper training. 16. Gareth Morgan, RF Morgan remains as raw as any prospect in the system, albeit one with huge power potential. The Mariners wisely held him out of full-season ball in April — not a tough call — and are likely to take the conservative, patient approach with his development. He’s a solid athlete despite below-average speed and throws well enough to fit in right field. His swing has too much length and early in his pro career his hands loaded deep in addition, creating a lot of swings and misses on fastballs. Morgan still is learning the strike zone and looking to improve his pitch recognition. His swing path is acceptable, but everything else needed work when he signed last summer and will take time to show up in the results. Morgan could be the right-handed Ryan Howard in terms of his time table; a bat that takes a long time to develop, but arrives with boom. 17. Jio Orozco, RHP Orozco, 17 until next month, was the club’s 14th-round pick out of Salpointe Catholic in Tucson. He’s 6-foot-1, nearly 210 pounds and sits 89-94 mph with his fastball. He throws an overhand curveball that flashes above-average and potentially-plus changeup that is good enough to play in the middle levels of the minors right now. He was a legit prospect headed to the University of Arizona had he not signed, somehow slipping as far as he did. He’s athletic with good arm speed and clean arm action. Interestingly, Orozco can hit, too, thanks to tremendous bat speed and hip rotation. The M’s have him on the mound for the time being, and his physical maturity could help him along relatively quickly. 18. Austin Cousino, CF Cousino is back from injury, hitting, playing with energy, confidence and terrific instincts. He’s a plus defender with an average arm and above-average speed. His swing is designed for a hitter more natural leverage, but he’ll need to be a high contact, line-drive hitter if he wants a shot at the big leagues in more than a journeyman role. 19. Zack Littell, RHP The right-hander, sits low-90s touching 94-95 on occasion — with upper-zone life and some natural lower-zone sink — with a curveball and changeup that both started the year as 40-grade pitches. When he throws strikes on the fringes of the strike zone he’s difficult to square up. He doesn’t possess a future out pitch, but could develop a splitter or slider to take care of that problem. His ranking here is based on control, velocity and a sturdy yet projectable 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame. 20. Tyler Olson, LHP Olson’s likely limited to a reliever’s role but could be a very good one as we saw in spring training. He struggled in the big leagues, was optioned out and immediately placed in the disabled list, suggesting he wasn’t quite right when the club broke camp. He mixes deception with an above-average slider, 88-91 mph fastball with some gloveside ride, and he has a curveball and changeup if he needs it. The Mariners could have a pair of multi-inning left-handed relief options in Olson and Vidal Nuno, perhaps suggesting David Rollins, the Rule 5 pick, veteran free agent to-be Joe Beimel and the starting-to-get-a-bit-expensive Charlie Furbush may be considered in trades this summer or over the winter. 21. Braden Bishop, CF Bishop can run — 70 speed on the 20-80 scale — and he uses that speed well in center field and on the bases. He’s an above-average base stealer with instincts and he throws well, fitting him nicely into a potential fourth outfielder role if his bat doesn’t lead him further up the ranks. He doesn’t have power in the swing despite some ability for leverage, but he knows what he is, which is a slasher. In college he managed the strike zone well and if that translates in pro ball he’ll have a chance to hit just enough to warrant a roster spot. Any significant improvement in the swing that helps him make high levels of contact while learning to go deeper into counts and control the strike zone could change Bishop’s profile. 22. Luis Liberato, CF Liberato can run, throw, gets good jumps in the outfield and has solid command of the strike zone, giving him a chance at four major-league quality tools. When I saw him in spring training he appeared sluggish in comparison, but the lefty-swinging Dominican plays hard with a loose intensity. He won’t be 20 until December and will get stronger as he matures. The swing needs work but he gets to solid velocity due to good hand-eye coordination and a short bat path. 23. Jordy Lara, OF/1B Lara puzzles me. I don’t have any kind of grasp what he is as a hitter. I expected more power than we have seen, though it’s not a surprise he’s maintained a functional batting average and on-base mark even when it’s clear he’s struggling. He makes contact, is aggressive early in counts and does have 22 extra-base hits. Just four homers is the oddity here. Lara isn’t a 35-homer bat or anything, but considering the contact he makes and the loft he’s able to create, four just doesn’t make sense. One scout told me Lara reminds him of Eduardo Perez early in his career when he was “trying to hit .380” instead of .280 with power. Lara belongs at first base, even though he’s seen time in right field and even third base (he does have a strong throwing arm). 24. Juan De Paula, RHP DePaula has above-average command and feel, issuing just five walks in 150 batters faced. He’s projectable at 6-foot-3 and under 170 pounds and at just 17 years of age could be a sleeper who gets to the states next year after his stint in the DSL in 2015. De Paula uses a fastball and slider, but has thrown a lot of changeups this summer with good success. While he’s years away, some have likened him to Michael Pineda in terms of projection and present command and control. Pineda was 6-foot-3 when he signed, grew four inches, put on some weight and while his arm speed improved, his command continued to mature, too. De Paula could follow suit, although projecting Pineda’s level of growth is a bit far-fetched. 25. Corey Simpson, OF Simpson would rank higher here for his bat alone, but I have not been impressed with anything else he does. There’s a decent chance he’s a below-average glove thanks to a lack of lateral and vertical range. He does throw well, however, and his bat has shown well with short-season Everett this season. Others: Freddy Peralta, RHP; Luis Rengifo, 2B; Daniel Missaki, RHP; John Hicks, C; Luis Joseph, 2B; Joseph Rosa, 2B/SS; *Carlos Vargas, SS; Dylan Thompson, RHP; Jose Leal, OF; Johan Quevedo, C; Drew Jackson, SS; Kyle Wilcox, RHP; Tyler Pike, LHP; Trey Cochrane-Gill, RHP; Danny Hultzen, LHP; Mayckol Guaipe, RHP; Steve Baron, C. Pre-Season Top 101. Alex Jackson, RF — Analysis2. D.J. Peterson, 1B — Analysis3. Patrick Kivlehan, OF — Analysis4. Austin Wilson, RF — Analysis5. Gabriel Guerrero, RF (Traded) — Analysis6. Ketel Marte, SS — Analysis7. Edwin Diaz, RHP — Analysis8. Tyler O’Neill, RF — Analysis9. Luiz Gohara, LHP — Analysis10. Tyler Marlette, C — Analysis Pre-Season Prospect Rankings: 11-15Pre-Season Prospect Rankings: 16-30 Photo: Andy Morales/AllSportsTucson.com) *Vargas reportedly has agreed to terms with the Mariners, but nothing is official.
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’s an update on the Top 10 Countdown: 10. Tyler Marlette, C | Analysis 9. Luiz Gohara, LHP | Analysis 8. Tyler O’Neill, OF | Analysis 7. Edwin Diaz, RHP | Analysis 6. Ketel Marte, SS | Analysis 5. Gabriel Guerrero, OF | Analysis 4. Austin Wilson, OF | Analysis 3. Patrick Kivlehan, OF | Analysis No. 2 — D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B HIT POWER RANGE ARM RUN OFP 45/55 50/60 45/45 60/60 40/40 52.5 Despite future value in the field and on the bases that likely ends up average at best, Peterson remains a potential high-impact player because the raw power to hit 25-plus home runs has developed into game power that may prove to be big league ready as early as this season. Peterson’s power comes naturally, with a simple swing that generates loft on the ball and coupled with his ability to cover the plate he should hit for plenty of average to support the pop. There’s not much load involved, either, which may help Peterson stay away from dropping his hands and creating a loop in his swing. Peterson has played third base to passable levels at times, but he lacks the lateral range and reactions to play the position long term in the majors. He’s seen time at first base in his pro career already, and the ratio may swing heavily to the first base side in 2015 in preparation for the former first-round pick to take over regularly at some point in 2016. He does have a plus throwing arm. Peterson works hard at his craft despite having a lot of natural ability in terms of putting the barrel on the baseball. In a day and age when .270 is the new .300, Peterson may end up a fringe all-star bat at first base if he maxes out his tools, and he’s getting close. He’s starting the 2015 season in Double-A Jackson, but don’t be surprised if he sees the Pacific Coast League by July. A September call-up isn’t likely, but it’s not out of the question, either. Peterson’s Career Statistics MLB ETA: 2016 MLB Comps: Paul Konerko, Mike Sweeney, Todd Zeile
The Seattle Mariners opened their Cactus League schedule with a 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres in walk-off fashion down in Peoria. But in the process, first baseman Ji-Man Choi left the game in the bottom of the ninth after breaking his right fibula. Choi jumped to retrieve a throw from shortstop Tyler Smith on what appeared to be a routine play but landed awkwardly and was in obvious pain. There is no timetable for Choi’s recovery at this point, but based on the nature of the injury he will miss significant time. The 23-year old was expected to start the season at Triple-A where he saw 281 plate appearances in 2014. His absence will open the door wide for Jesus Montero and D.J. Peterson to see regular time at first base in Tacoma. Baring something unexpected, Montero is not expected to make the big league club out of Spring Training. There just isn’t room for a bat-only first base/DH type on the roster right now. The former top prospect looks in considerably better shape — he’s reportedly lost 40 pounds and it’s very evident — and management has been impressed with his change in attitude. Montero picked up a pair of singles in the opener as the starting first baseman, which could be his role in Tacoma when camp breaks. Peterson, the club’s consensus No. 2 prospect, has come up through the system as a third baseman. However with Kyle Seager signed long-term, the transition to first base, which some felt would be inevitable anyways, was coming up as his bat progresses closer to being major league ready. Seattle doesn’t want to pull Peterson away from third entirely for emergency purposes but the plan is to see him begin the transition this year. With more at bats available at first, except the right-hander to see his share of time there to start the year as well. Although Choi probably wasn’t going to be the first name called if first baseman Logan Morrison were to go down with injury, he likely would have been in the conversation. Currently on the active roster the Mariners don’t have a true first baseman outside of Morrison. Willie Bloomquist saw some time at first last year and one of Rickie Weeks and Dustin Ackley could be capable, but those are short-term fixes. It’s worth noting that Morrison altered his offseason training regime with the hiring of a new personal trainer. His goal? Improving durability. The 27-year old hasn’t appeared in more than 100 games since 2011 so his health is a major question mark for the M’s in 2015. Provided he’s playing reasonable well at Triple-A, it would appear that Montero would have his name called in the event Morrison has to hit the disabled list in the first half of the season. Montero has experience against major league pitching and so long as he’s hitting, the M’s can make up for below average first base defence. In the second half of the season, Peterson or perhaps Patrick Kivlehan would enter the conversation. Like Peterson, Kivlehan has come up through the system as a third baseman and the M’s experimented with using him in the outfield last year. He is also likely to see some time at first base this year as his long-term position with the club is less clear. If Seattle was planning for a mid-season call-up of Peterson, they could move him off third base completely and have him focus on first. But that doesn’t appear likely or make sense right now. If the right-hander has a red-hot April and May and forces and the situation forces the team’s hand, that’s one thing. Giving him adequate time to develop, which may mean all of 2015, is the focus. You hate to see any player get injured, especially in Spring Training. But if there is a silver lining in this for the Mariners, it’s that Montero and Peterson will be able to see plenty of time at first base and possibly give the club better depth in the second half.
Pitchers and catchers are now just days away from reporting to Spring Training complexes, signalling the nearing of Opening Day. As of Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners are just 55 days away from opening the season against the Los Angeles Angels on April 6 at Safeco Field. Now that James Shields has signed on with the much-improved San Diego Padres, the Hot Stove season is all but finished. Once we reach the mid-point of March and teams have began to make roster decisions things will heat up slightly with several out-of-options players — see Ramirez, Erasmo — potentially on the move. Expect to see a few more minor league deals handed out or minor trades in the meantime, but for the most part, teams are ready to get to camp and attempt to sort out what all they have. The notable recent minor league deals handed out by the Mariners for the 2015 season include: Familiar outfielders: Endy Chavez and Franklin Gutierrez Catching depth: John Baker There’s never enough pitching depth: The club has reportedly considered bringing back Joe Beimel for a second season. The southpaw is still without a contract but is said to have received some form of interest from several clubs. As noted, February is typically a slow month for meaningful transactions. However, last year on February 13, Seattle signed veteran closer Fernando Rodney to a two-year, $14 million contract. The enigmatic right-hander would go on to save a league-leading 48 games in 2014. Although the ‘save’ statistic has proven to be overrated — except by traditionalists — the arrow-slinging Rodney effectively stabilized the best bullpen in baseball. Incumbent closers Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen were pushed to set-up and middle relief roles respectively, improving the pen as a whole. February transactions certainly aren’t all meaningless. ESPN’s Dan Szymborski, via FanGraphs, released the ZIPs projection for the Mariners in 2015. Of note, Robinson Cano is projected for a 5.3 zWAR season while newcomer Nelson Cruz received a 2.3 zWAR projection. The recently extended Kyle Seager sits in between the pair with a 4.3 zWAR projection. On the pitching side of things, Felix Hernandez is projected for another excellent season at 5.6 fWAR. Hisashi Iwakuma follows with a 2.8 zWAR projection while Danny Farquhar projects to be the best bullpen arm at 0.8 zWAR. A pair of Mariners prospects cracked MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospects for 2015: 2014 first-rounder Alex Jackson came in at No. 28 while D.J. Peterson took the No. 50 spot. Both hitters also appeared on ESPN’s Keith Law’s Top 100 Prospects list: Jackson at No. 59 and Peterson at No. 61. Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs secured the No. 1 spot on both lists. Jackson is expected to begin the season in the low minors while Peterson will be at big league camp and could start the season at Triple-A. Back on the major league side of things, Prospect Insider’s Luke Arkins pondered Dustin Ackley’s future in Seattle. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft will turn 27 later this month and is coming off his best season since debuting in 2011. Arkins opines that Ackley could be best served as one half of a left field platoon, with the left-hander primarily starting against right-handed pitching. The Mariners selected left-handed pitcher David Rollins in this past year’s Rule 5 Draft. I caught up with him back in December and discussed his plans for 2015 and thoughts on being acquired by the organization for a third time. Back in January I compared the perceived offseason strategy of the Oakland Athletics — filling each position with league average or better players and plenty of depth — to the current state of the Mariners. Arkins offered a different Hot Stove strategy for the M’s with an eye on run prevention vs. run production. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times breaks down the Mariners roster by position heading into Spring Training. There is still a noticeable hole at first base behind Logan Morrison but Divish notes that the starting pitching depth is much improved. Sam Gaviglio, Justin Germano, and Mike Kickham have all been added to the mix this winter. Don’t forget you can catch PI’s Jason A. Churchill and Alex Carson every Saturday night on The Hot Stove Report. In the most recent edition, the guys discussed Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, and Danny Hultzen in 2015 with all three coming off injuries. Paxton figures to be a near-lock for a rotation spot while Walker and Roenis Elias are likely to compete for the No. 5 spot. Hultzen is healthy and will report with the other pitchers and catchers but starting the season at Triple-A is probable.
The Seattle Mariners Thursday held their annual luncheon for the local media at which several key members of the organization spoke briefly. Included among those were skipper Lloyd McClendon, general manager Jack Zduriencik, assistant GM Jeff Kingston, director of player development Chris Gwynn and team trainer Rick Griffin. Left-hander J.A. Happ also made an appearance, and we even got the skinny on the new lighting at Safeco from the ballpark operations group. By the way, there will be Wi-Fi at Safeco this season, starting this weekend at FanFest. Before I get to the notes on some of the top prospects, Griffin, McClendon, Zduriencik and Kingston added interesting thoughts on the big club, the offseason and Safeco Field. I’ll bullet-point said notes: — Griffin noted that left-hander Roenis Elias, who was shut down late last season, is “fine” after throwing bullpens this past fall and then heading home for the winter. His flexor bundle tendonitis isn’t expected to limit him when pitchers and catcher report next month. — Griffin disclosed that Dustin Ackley, who has had some ankle problems of late, was healthy when the season ended but did see the country’s best ankle specialist in Charlotte. That specialist’s name was not disclosed, but I suspect it’s Dr. Robert Anderson, who works out of Charlotte and has worked with athletes such as Derek Jeter, NFL quarterback Matt Schaub and running back Ahmad Bradshaw. The doctor had some recommendations as to how the club and player should go about managing the issue, which Griffin stated was in line with their previous approach. There are no immediate indications that this will be an issue for Ackley, but it’s worth keeping an eye on this coming season. — McClendon made a point to note the club isn’t building directly on top of their 87-win accomplishment in 2014, saying “we’re not starting from 87, we’re starting from zero.” McClendon also said they’d like to add another starting pitcher, but all indications are that anything added between now and the start of Cactus League play will be minor acquisitions. So, no James Shields or Cole Hamels. — McClendon, in response to a question about a player, perhaps a shortstop, playing somewhere else like the outfield, said he, and presumably the club as a whole, isn’t ready to go down that road. He also hinted that such a move isn’t necessary because they “have outfielders.” — On Austin Jackson, McClendon said the centerfielder “will probably lead off for the Seattle Mariners,” in 2015. The second-year manager also said Jackson is “dedicated to the game,” which bodes well because he needs to “clean up some things with his mechanics.” — On left-hander J.A. Happ: “We didn’t acquire Happ to pitch out of the bullpen,” McClendon said. He also said there is one spot in the rotation open for competition, but wouldn’t say which four were virtual automatics. Likely those four are Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Happ and James Paxton, who will join The Steve Sandmeyer Show Friday afternoon. That leaves Taijuan Walker, Elias and a few others battling for the No. 5 spot. — McClendon is concerned about who the second lefty in the bullpen will be. It sounds like he’s concerned, only because he’s unsure who it is, not that they absolutely have to go out and add an arm. — Happ himself was in attendance and spoke about his slight spike in velocity around mid-season, which doesn’t show up in the metrics. Happ did say it was more about being able to hold his velocity later in games than an actual spike in velocity. He attributed that to dropping his arm slot. — Zduriencik said his offseason checklist was to add a cleanup hitter, first and foremost, then add a starting pitcher. No. 3 on that list was adding an additional hitter. Knew the club’s glaring lineup weaknesses in the No. 1, 2 and 4 spots in the order. — Kingston said Carlos Rivero is more of a third baseman than a shortstop, saying “he can stand over there” on occasion but if Willie Bloomquist isn’t ready for the season they’ll look to new minor league signee Shawn O’Malley, or obviously Chris Taylor or Brad Miller as the “other” option at shortstop. Rivero not a candidate for a utility spot, it seems. — Zduriencik said he and McClendon exchanged texts during the Seahawks-Packers game talking about how games can be won and lost. McClendon was asked about the conversation and he said one play almost never decides a baseball game. — McClendon added that he wants his player to think about preparing for the season and for games, not expectations. On the prospects: — Patrick Kivlehan: “Good athlete. Very intense, hardworking player,” Zduriencik said. “We’re going to give him at-bats,” said Chris Gwynn, who noted the former Rutgers football player will see time at first base and in the outfield. Evaluators say he looks fine at first, despite limited time there, but his foot speed and tracking skills suggest he can play left field. He will get some time in outfield in 2015, which is where he could help the Mariners the most if his bat continues to develop. — Ji-Man Choi, 1B, is switch hitting in winter ball. “We’ll see how it goes,” Gwynn said. Choi, a former catcher, has solid plate skills and average power. If he stays healthy, he’s on a short list to fill in at first base should the club need him. Jesus Montero, however, is probably choice No. 1. Montero is down to 235 pounds, Griffin and Zduriencik said, which is where they have wanted him to be all along. Griffin even said Jesus could drop even more weight before the season starts. One area where weight can impact a hitter is hip rotation. He’ll play a lot of first base, according to Gwynn, who saw Montero recently in Arizona and said he was “ecstatic” at the shape the slugger is in right now. — Gwynn on outfield prospect Gabriel Guerrero: “Great kid, great makeup.” Gwynn also said Guerrero likely starts 2015 in Double-A Jackson. — Gwynn on catcher John Hicks: Has found a better mechanical balance at the plate, which explains some improvement in the production. Gwynn says Hicks has a shot to be a factor at some point in 2015 (for the Mariners). — Gwynn on recent international signing Brayan Hernandez, an outfielder: May stay in Venezuela for 2015. Hernandez is 17 years old. — Gwynn on Jordy Lara, 1B: May play some OF, mostly 1B in 2015. “Plus arm, swings at strikes, has some power.” Pretty basic, but the middle one is the key. If he can continue to build on his strike zone discipline, Lara might be the next regular first baseman of the Seattle Mariners. He’s at least a year away. — If Zduriencik was willing to move Walker, Paxton, the GM said he had chances to make other moves. Matt Kemp was one of them, we learned back in December. — Danny Hultzen, LHP, will “compete with everyone else” this spring, said Griffin. Club will monitor his work. Not on any specific limitations unique to him. Made some delivery tweaks last year. Will start the year in minors. Virtually no chance to make 25-man. Not the goal for team and player just yet. — Walker hit the weights differently in recent months, Griffin said, focusing on flexibility and shoulder strength, rather than bulking up head to toe. One of the main knocks on Walker over the past year or so is the loss of some of the fluid athleticism within his delivery. Regaining some of that can only help him.
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.
When the 2012 season ended the Seattle Mariners had one of the top 10 or 12 farm systems in baseball. I made the argument they could have been as high as No. 8. Their stock of talent was led by right-hander Taijuan Walker and left-handers Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. The club had just drafted catcher Mike Zunino, Hultzen and fellow 2011 draftee Brad Miller were on the fast track after strong showings in their first full seasons in pro ball and Nick Franklin, the No. 27 pick in the 2009 draft, had lit up Double-A Jackson and spent two productive months at Triple-A Tacoma at age 21. The system was set up to produce several average or better talents into the majors over the ensuing year or so, an occurrence that would have thrust the club closer to contention and handed GM Jack Zduriencik ammo for free agents — and to suggest to ownership to support such chases — and numerous assets for offseason trades. Since then, Hultzen has undergone serious shoulder surgery, Walker and Paxton have turned up lame in the shoulder department themselves and have combined for two starts in 2014 — both by Paxton — Zunino has graduated, as has Miller, and Franklin, after a strong showing last summer in the big leagues, has struggled at the plate this season and showed signs of a lack of focus. The system has taken a beating. But the club was very top heavy below the big leagues prior to the 2013 draft and international signing period, and lacked outfielders, corner bats and overall depth. Post mortem, the organization’s talent collection slipped into the mid-20s. Two drafts, two Latin signees and some key development from previous drafts later and not only is the depth greatly improved, but there’s more balance, more bats and a strong group of outfield prospects. We’re now halfway through the minor league season and more key developments have taken place, and the club has enjoyed another productive draft Ill have a final take on the draft class of 2014 later this month). The structure of the Top 25 has been greatly impacted by both elements. That impact is reflected in the Mid-season Top 25. 1. Alex Jackson, RF2. D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B3. Taijuan Walker, RHP4. James Paxton, LHP5. Gabriel Guerrero, RF6. Chris Taylor, SS7. Austin Wilson, RF8. Luiz Gohara, LHP9. Gareth Morgan, RF10. Edwin Diaz, RHP11. Tyler Marlette, C12. Victor Sanchez, RHP13. Ketel Marte, SS14. Tyler O’Neill, RF15. Patrick Kivelhan, 3B16. Tyler Pike, LHP17. Ji-Man Choi, 1B18. Greifer Andrade, SS19. Jabari Blash, RF20. Carson Smith, RHP21. John Hicks, C22. Corey Simpson, RF23. Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP24. Marcus Littlewood, C25. Abraham Almonte, OF Just Missed: Jack Marder, 2B/LF; Ulises Perez, RHP; Adalfi Almonte, OF; Lars Huijer, RHP; Carlos Misell, RHP; Christian Carmichael, C; Tyler Olson, LHP; Grady Wood, RHP, Austin Cousino, CF. Emilio Pagan, RHP, Jabari Henry, OF; Jamal Austin, CF; Jochi Ogando, RHP; Trevor Miller, RHP. Graduated: James Jones, OF; Dom Leone, RHP; Stefen Romero, OF; Roenis Elias, LHP. Injuries impacted development/placement: Julio Morban, OF; Anthony Fernandez, LHP; Stephen Landazuri, RHP; Danny Hultzen, LHP. Ready for Promotion1. Austin Wilson Wilson’s numbers are terrific — .300/.380/.527 with 10 home runs — and his contact rate is satisfactory. Through June 13, the right-handed batting Wilson is hitting .326/.399/.554 against right-handed pitching, and he’s up to .340/.436/.787 this month. Nine of his 10 long balls have come since April 30 in 166 plate appearances. Removing the two plate appearances in that span where he’s been hit or was credited with a sacrifice, Wilson’s homered(9), doubled (10), tripled (3) or walked (19) 25 percent of the time he’s stepped into the batter’s box. Wilson simply needs to see the better pitching in Advanced-A where the improved command and sharper breaking balls will challenge him. It’s time. 2. D.J. Peterson Peterson should see Double-A Jackson this summer and if he continues his torrid pace in High Desert that could occur before the end of the month. Since April turned to May, Peterson is batting .327/.383/.643 with 13 home runs and 15 doubles. Yes, much of the power can be attributed to the environment, but he is putting barrel to ball regularly. One concern is the strikeouts. If the Mariners aren’t convinced he can handle the right-handed breaking ball and cut down his chase percentage, he could stay in the Cal League beyond June. 3. Greifer Andrade Andrade, who just turned 17 years of age January 27, was the club’s biggest Latin American free agent signing from last season. The club has played him at shortstop primarily, but it’s hit bat they’re after. It’s worth noting he’s inexperienced at shortstop, so there may be some growing pains in that area. In the Venezuelan Summer League, Adrade has more than shown he’s ready for the rookie-level Arizona League, tallying eight multihit games of the 22 he’s played thus far. He’s doubled eight times, swiped eight bags and is batting .321/.363/.417. If you believe in clutch hitting, Andrade has done that, too, albeit in a small sample. With runners in scoring position, Andrade is 11-for-25 (.440) with three doubles and 13 RBI. With runners in scoring position and two out, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound infielder is 6-for-12 with two walks, two doubles and five RBI. If there are no visa issues with Andrade and the Mariners have the room — clubs are limited in how many visa’d players they can house in the U.S. — Andrade should see the states this summer. Others deserving: Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP; Jabari Henry, OF; Emilio Pagan, RHP. Expected to debut in short-season leagues: Luiz Gohara, LHP; Gareth Morgan, RF; Alex Jackson, RF; Gianfranco Wawoe, 2B/CF; Leurys Vargas, OF; Austin Cousino, CF; Brett Thomas, OF; Gabrial Franca, SS; Wilton Martinez, OF; Hersin Martinez, OF; Phillips Castillo, OF. Summation The injuries and graduations certainly have hurt but the Mariners have recouped some of the ground they lost thanks to the additions of Jackson and Morgan earlier this month and the promising progress of Wilson, Guerrero, Taylor, O’Neill and Marte. The trend is positive with most of the top talents and with Sanchez’s return to form after a stint on the disabled list, the club also boasts one more mid-rotation pitching prospect that could be ready as early as 2015. There’s catching with Marlette, Hicks, Littlewood and Carmichael — each of the four have at least a shot to be a backup, if not more — there are two legitimate shortstops in Marte and Taylor and there are now several corner outfielders with high-ceiling upside and growing probability to go with Peterson, who is most likely to end up at first base. Potential 2018 Lineup1B D.J. Peterson2B Robinson Cano3B Kyle SeagerSS Brad Miller/Chris Taylor C Mike ZuninoLF Austin WilsonCF James JonesRF Alex JacksonDH Gabriel Guerrero Potential 2018 Rotation1. Felix Hernandez, RHP2. James Paxton, LHP3. Taijuan Walker, RHP4. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP5. Roenis Elias, LHP
The Seattle Mariners’ farm system is not very good right now. Both Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, who each qualify, still, are on the disabled list, but a lot of the club’s better young talents are in the major leagues and no longer qualify, including Brad Miller and Mike Zunino. Those that are healthy and remain prospects, however, are faring quite well, including a trio of shortstops, a converted catcher who used to be a shortstop and a bat-first catcher showing improvement behind the dish. Of course, that means I’m going to lead off with a couple of corner-glove bats. Austin Wilson, RF — Clinton LumberKings Wilson sat out four days with a minor injury but returned Friday and hasn’t skipped a beat. The 2013 second-round pick is batting .400/.476/.771 in his last 10 games, drawing six walks against seven punchouts in the process. For the year, Wilson is up to .311/.393/.500 with three home runs, nine doubles and nine walks. When I made calls on Wilson this week the worst of the three initial comments on how he’s looked went like this: “Well, I’m not seeing any reason he slipped to them in the second; using the whole field, steady progress from last spring … he’s not the same hitter, and they (Mariners) have to be pretty happy about that.” One opposing pitcher told me through his agent that Wilson “sees my breaking ball really well,” which made him “kind of a nightmare to pitch to.” He doesn’t always do the damage, but he’s covering the plate, recognizing pitches and situations, doing his homework on the pitcher and the results are showing up — and have since late last summer in Short-season Everett. He hasn’t sped up his ETA to the big leagues significantly just yet, but he’s not likely to see the Midwest League too deep into the summer months. Wilson, 22, ranked No. 6 overall in my M’s Top Prospect rankings. Gabriel Guerrero, RF — High Desert Mavericks Through May 10 a year ago, Guerrero was batting .225/.261/.297, and that was after a 5-for-7 doubleheader that included two doubles. At that point he’d drawn six bases on balls and whiffed 27 times in 30 games started. He hadn;t hit a single long ball and those two doubles brought him to seven extra-base hits. This season, through 35 games, Guerrero has countered 39 strikeouts in 157 plate appearances with 13 extra-base hits, including five home runs, and nine walks. He’s batting .315/.357/.473 for the year. “What he’s doing,” explained one scout that sat on the Mavericks-Visalia series and part of the Mavericks-Rancho series earlier this month, “is putting together the better at-bats more often. He’s been a guy all along that will put barrel to baseball, but you could catch him chasing down and away, up and in — a lot of up-and-in stuff — and he’d get himself out. He’s learning about himself as a hitter. (There’s) nice upside there.” Guerrero still is raw in many areas. Despite significant progress he’s nowhere near ready for a new challenge and may remain in High Desert all season. And in case you’re wondering, Guerrero has hit exactly ero cheap home runs. I spoke to a team representative Wednesday and he’s hit each of the five very hard. He’s not simply getting “Cal League” numbers. He’s earning them. Most important is Guerrero’s approach and control of the strike zone. Like his uncle Vlad, he is a good bad ball hitter, but that only works to an extent, and he’s not quite as gifted as his superstar uncle in terms of making contact on all those out-of-zone offerings. Guerrero ranked No. 9 in my pre-season rankings. If I were to reset them today, he’d ran no higher than No. 8, but he’d get a half-grade spike in his present hit tool grade, perhaps more. D.J. Peterson, 3B/1B — High Desert Mavericks Peterson batted just .269/.313/.410 in April — in the California League — but he’s turned it up a few notches in nine May contests, batting .341/.372/.439. Word I am getting is that he may be looking to do too much when he earns a hitter’s count, and the numbers back that up as the 2013 first-round pick is at .277/.323/.399 when ahead in the count 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1. Regardless of the numbers, Peterson continues to show he can hit line drives from gap to gap, showing big pull power and big power to center field and even occasionally right-center field, and when he’s not over-anxious and pressing to go big, he displays strong discipline and avoids chasing balls out of the zone. I believe the M’s will ignore Peterson’s statistics in High Desert. If he’s healthy and gets the reps in Advanced-A ball, he’ll see Double-A Jackson by August. Peterson ranked No. 3 in the pre-season rankings and nothing would change there for me now after six weeks of action. Shortstops, shortstops and more shortstops It’s a hot topic right now among fans of the Seattle Mariners. How long should the M’s wait to send Brad Miller to Triple-A Tacoma and recall Nick Franklin? For me, not now. Six weeks ago Miller won the job in spring training because he was the better bet to hit and the better long-term option between the two with the glove. He hasn’t hit, has struggled defensively some, committing six errors of varying types. Franklin is batting .376 in the Pacific Coast League playing both middle-infield spots. He’s hitting for power — .677 slugging percentage thanks to seven doubles and seven home runs — and boasts a .459 on-base mark. So why not make the swap? Because it’s May 10, and making that change now means a lot more than making the change. When Miller earned the gig in March, that decision wasn’t about just 2014, or about the first few months. That choice, made by more than just skipper Lloyd McClendon, was about all season, and beyond. When that kind of decision is made, six weeks of baseball — 36 games worth — can’t take it back. So why not make it a temporary exchange? Because that isn’t necessarily going to help Miller, the team in the future, or even the team in the present. Franklin batted .324/.440/.472 in the PCL a year ago, was called up to the big leagues and initially hit fairly well. He then started to struggle to make contact against big-league arms, finishing 28 for his last 163 (.172) with 57 strikeouts. I’m not suggesting the exact same result is due in 2014, but minor league numbers guarantee absolutely nothing. Franklin could very well come to the bigs and produce more than is Miller. I’d bet on it, though there’s a good chance the improvement is negligible over any stretch of time. There will come a time — for me, maybe a month from now — when Miller’s struggles will warrant such a move, for his own good and the team’s. Franklin will be first in line to replace him, but he isn’t the only option. Chris Taylor, a glove-first shortstop, has been darned-near as good at the plate as has Franklin, sitting at .353/.395/.579 in 32 games. He doesn’t project to hit for the power of Franklin or Miller, but can handle the bat and is a full grade better in the field than either of his two shortstop cohorts. He’s not on the 40-man roster, though if hes deemed the best option the M’s should not let that get in their way. It’s too early for Taylor, in my opinion, but in July I may feel different, and it may not matter what Miller and Franklin are doing at the time. If you’re looking for other shortstops to follow in the Mariners’ system, I wrote about one of them right here. Catching onTyler Marlette, my No. 8 prospect before the season began, hasn’t put up pretty numbers at the plate in High Desert. He does have five long balls, however, boasts a solid 11-16 BB/K ratio and is well on his way to taking another step forward defensively this season. I’m told the improvements are noticeable when you watch Marlette for extended periods of time. He’s making plays and doing things catchers need to do that he wasn’t making early last season. He’s dropping fewer pitches — it’s rare now, as it should be — and he’s shoring up his throwing technique and footwork, which go hand-in-hand. He’s just 21 and has come a long way since Draft Day 2011 when 75 percent of the scouts I spoke to listed him as a future right fielder. Now, the majority like his chances to be adequate, maybe even solid-average in time. Marcus Littlewood, who was drafted as a shortstop and converted to catcher, isn’t having any issues with the bat this season, and continues to progress behind the plate. “He’s starting to really look like a catcher,” one scout said. “It’s smoothing out. It’s a process, but he’s taking top it, it appears.” The switch-hitting Littlewood is batting .341/.427/.537 and has produced from both sides of the plate. He’s 9-for-20 from the right side, including two home runs and a 9-2 BB/K ratio, though scouts tell me his left-handed swing still is superior. I would be surprised if Littlewood doesn’t join Marlette in High Desert in a month or two. He can still work on his defense while being challenged by more mature pitching. Notes Since April 20, Taylor is batting .367/.405/.620, but does not lead the organization in any of the three categories during that span. Zach Shank, a 23-year-old second baseman, is batting .400 in 16 games since April 20. Ty Kelly‘s .486 OBP tops the charts, and Jabari Henry‘s .673 slugging percentage ranks No. 1 … Kelly leads the organization in walks for the year with 28. Dario Pizzano (High Desert) is second with 23 … Taylor ranks No. 1 in extra-base hits for the season with 20. He and Tim Lopes share the lead with four triples … Edwin Diaz leads the system with 33 strikeouts, and has logged those in 29 2/3 innings. He’s also walked 18, as he looks to iron out some inconsistencies with his delivery. His slider has shown plus most times out, however … Right-hander Emilio Pagan, who was slated to give starting a shot this season, has been used as a multi-inning closer, instead. He’s logged five saves, tops in the system, but more impressive is his 20-2 K/BB ratio in 16 2/3 innings. Pagan still may start later this season, I’m told … One relief pitcher to keep an eye on is righty Aaron Brooks from Mountlake Terrace. He’s 6-foot-6 and throws from a low three-quarter slot. He was just sent out April 30, bit in his first four appearances has not walked even one of the 34 batters he’s faced. The club believes they can get him into the low-to-mid 90s consistently …