MARINERS’ MUCH-CRITICIZED FARM SYSTEM GETS REASON TO SMILE

 Bob Dutton

Bob Dutton

   SEATTLE — Baseball’s worst farm system got a shot in the arm Tuesday in Lancaster, Calif., when first baseman Evan White led a strong performance by a contingent of Mariners prospects at the Hi-A California League All-Star Game.

   White went 2-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in helping the North Division, which started four players from Mariners’ affiliate in Modesto, to an 8-1 victory. White was a first-round pick in 2017 and ranks as the club’s No. 2 prospect. 

   The organization’s top prospect, center fielder Kyle Lewis, also started for the North. He went 1-for-3 but, more tellingly, made a diving, run-saving catch that seemed to underscore that he’s fully recovered from a series of knee surgeries.

   General manager Jerry Dipoto likens White, 22, to long-time Colorado star Todd Helton “as a first-year player, where it was a lot more contact, spray it around.”

   Helton developed power in time and, Dipoto believes, so will White “because he’s strong, and when hits the ball, he hits it hard.”

   Lewis, also 22, is still on a go-easy plan because of his knee problems but, if healthy, he’s a potential five-tool talent.

   The good news Tuesday didn’t stop there.

   Starting shortstop Bryson Brigman, recently cited as the system’s top first-half performer, made a sparkling catch and throw for an out. Brigman and starting left fielder Nick Zammarelli each contributed a single to a balanced attack.

   Third baseman Joe Rizzo had doubles in both of his at-bats after entering the game as a replacement. Relievers Seth Elledge and Wyatt Mills each contributed a scoreless inning.

   In the current climate of clubs placing an increasing value on bullpen depth, Elledge and Mills are each viewed as fast-track promotion candidates.

   “All of the guys just seemed to go out there and really perform well,” Modesto/North manager Mitch Canham told Baseball America. “For them to know they can do that against…the best guys in the league…should be a big confidence-builder.”

   Not just for those players, though.

   This was a nice night for the entire organization that, with no small justification, often takes a beating for having the worst farm system — i.e., the fewest number of high-quality prospects — in Major League Baseball.

   Even Dipoto concedes that, when viewed through a narrow prism, the criticism has merit. (That prism specifically being the narrow focus of merely counting prospects.)

   Baseball America acknowledged in its 2018 Prospect Handbook, which ranked the Mariners at 30 out of 30, that its assessment stems, at least in part, from the organization’s willingness “to trade prospects for big-league assets.”

   Prospect rankings rarely reflect any such return in “big-league assets.” They are, instead, merely a snapshot evaluation of current minor-league inventory. Even when accurate, they can be misleading.

   A recent example: The Mariners acquired outfielder Denard Span and reliever Alex Colome from Tampa Bay in a May 25 trade for minor-league pitchers Andrew Moore and Tommy Romero.

   Net effect: The big-league club got better, but the farm system got thinner.

   Even so, the tag of being the worst rankles.

   “Everyone sees the papers that we’re 30th out of 30 in minor-league prospects,” scouting director Scott Hunter said. “I don’t necessarily agree with all of those things, but we’re aware of them, and it’s a challenge to build up our organization.”

   What happened Tuesday in Lancaster was a small step in the right direction and worth noting for that reason.