SEATTLE — Triple-A Tacoma and other full-season affiliates open their seasons this week, which makes it a good time to examine and rank the top prospects throughout the Mariners’ system.
That it’s a notably thin system has been well-publicized. Baseball America, ESPN and others contend the Mariners have the game’s worst farm system, which seems to be the consensus view.
The Mariners, not surprisingly, bristle a bit at the criticism, although general manager Jerry Dipoto is somewhat philosophical in noting: “We have traded prospects for players who, in some cases, are on our big-league club.”
That’s a fair point. System rankings only examine the prospects currently on hand. There is no adjustment for talent acquired by trading prospects.
The Mariners would, no doubt, be viewed more positively in player-development circles if Jean Segura, Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger, Ryon Healy, Ben Gamel, Mike Leake and others had been homegrown rather than arriving through trades.
Even so, it’s telling that outfielder Kyle Lewis remains the system’s top-rated prospect despite continuing problems over the last two seasons in recovering from major surgery on his right knee.
Lewis, 22, underwent a second surgery earlier this year. Expectations are that he could be ready for game action by early May, but he’s played just 79 games since being selected in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
The organization’s second- and third-rated top three prospects, first baseman Evan White and right-hander Sam Carlson, also ended last season on the disabled list because of minor injuries.
The No. 4 prospect, outfielder Julio Rodriguez, has yet to play a game. He’s an 17-year-old Dominican who signed last July.
For the last four years, while at the Tacoma News Tribune, I put together a Top 10 ranking of the organization’s prospect prior the season along with a list of others to watch.
That list moves this year to KLAY1180.com.
Eligibility is limited to those players who still qualify as rookies, which means some players currently on the big-league roster, such as catcher Mike Marjama, are included.
The rankings resulted from discussions with scouts and other talent evaluators from within and beyond the Mariners’ organization. They reflect a mix of high-end potential and the likelihood to impact the big-league club in the near future.
The KLAY TOP 10
- Outfielder Kyle Lewis (age 22, bats right, throws right, 6-feet-4 and 205 pounds). All the tools are there for Lewis to be an impact big-league player — if he stays healthy. Good bat speed with a lofting line-drive swing. Could move quickly.
- First baseman Evan White (21, R-L, 6-3, 180). Last year’s first-round pick battled quadriceps problems. A strained groin will delay his season for about a week but, assuming he recovers quickly, he could also move quickly. A plus defensive player with speed. A line-drive hitter who could develop power.
- Right-handed pitcher Sam Carlson (19, R-R, 6-3, 200). Still growing into his body, so the Mariners will likely take a conservative approach this season with him. But he already shows a promising three-pitch mix that includes a heavy fastball with late sink that reaches the mid-90s.
- Outfielder Julio Rodriguez (17, R-R, 6-3, 180) Loads of potential but a few years away. Scouts says he has the best raw power in the system and a plus arm but caution his so-so speed could be an issue in spacious Safeco Field.
- Catcher Mike Marjama (28, R-R, 6-2, 205). A backup who will see extra big-league playing time while starting catcher Mike Zunino recovers from a strained oblique. Showed solid on-base numbers throughout minor-league career.
- First baseman Daniel Vogelbach (25, L-R, 6-0, 250). Strong spring reignited his prospect status and earned him a spot on the big-league club. Likely headed back to Triple-A Tacoma at some point, and his suspect defense still makes it hard to see him as a long-term fit at first base. But a DH in a post-Nelson Cruz world? Maybe.
- Right-hander pitcher Max Povse (24, R-R, 6-8, 220). Could be an under-the-radar talent ready to click. Has all the tools to be an effective middle-of-the-rotation starter. The question with anyone his size is whether he can keep all of the moving parts in sync and maintain command.
- Outfielder Braden Bishop (24, R-R, 6-1, 190). A breakout year last season has many scouts revising their projections. Always seen as a plus runner and defensive player, he surprised many last season by making major strides at the plate. Now viewed as a legit fourth-outfielder type. But another solid offensive season could force a further reevaluation.Will open the season at Double-A Arkansas.
- Right-handed pitcher Wyatt Mills (22, R-R, 6-4, 190). Draws comparisons to ex-Mariners reliever Steve Cishek because of his lanky build and sidearm motion. His fastball/slider mix is particularly tough on right-handed hitters. He will open at Hi-A Modesto, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him in the majors at some point this season.
- Shortstop Juan Querecuto (17, R-R, 6-2, 175). Like Rodriguez, he was signed last year as a 16-year-old and has yet to play professionally. And like Rodriguez, he’s a few years away. But he’s already regarded as the organization’s top middle-infield prospect.
Others to watch: Outfielder Ian Miller, who will open at Tacoma, has plus-plus speed and is regarded as an above-average defensive player. A year ago, he showed offensive skills not seen in his four previous pro seasons. Can he do it again?…third baseman Joe Rizzo, a second-round pick in 2016, generally draws high grades for his bat, although his numbers last year didn’t back that up. He’ll start the year at Modesto.
Right-hander Rob Whalen, who will open at Tacoma, is a potential feel-good story after openly acknowledging past problems with depression. He pitched well enough in spring training to put himself back on the club’s radar…outfielder Eric Filia was fast-tracking and projected to start at Tacoma before failing a drug test. He’ll miss 50 games but bears watching once he returns.
Several relievers are worth tracking — in large part because the Mariners figure to shuttle pieces in their bullpen to keep fresh arms available. Right-handers Art Warren and Matt Festa each performed well last season in helping Modesto win the California League crown. Right-hander Nick Rumblelow arrived in a trade from the Yankees after posting an 0.62 ERA last season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.