|Original Published Date: January 17, 2020|
The Mariners have done a great job of remaking their minor league system through the draft, the international free-agent market, and most importantly, through trades. Jarred Kelenic, Justus Sheffield, and Justin Dunn all arrived from New York (both the Yankees and Mets) and immediately improved their system. Kelenic who just turned 20 in July has already made it to Double-A and has star potential. He was one of the few players in the minor leagues to go 20-20. Right behind him is Julio Rodriguez. He played the entire year as an 18-year-old and is already in High-A. While we love Kelenic, JRod’s combination of future power potential and an advanced approach might ultimately make him the better major leaguer.
While Sheffield and Dunn are the famous pitchers in the system, Logan Gilbert is the one to watch. He has size, a terrific arsenal that seemed to get better in every outing last season. Both Dunn and Sheffield have mid-rotation upside, but Gilbert could develop into a frontline starter.
The Mariners are still a few years away from their window but they are developing a solid base in which to build a playoff team.
Prospect Quick Shot
- Top Prospect: Jarred Kelenic
- Biggest Mover: Logan Gilbert
- Emerging Prospect: Noelvi Marte
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1. Jarred Kelenic (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
- Tools Summary: 20-20 type of skills with make-up to spare.
I did not like the trade for the Mets that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz for a prospect packaged headlined by Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn. I saw two basic flaws. One was money. While Seattle still must pay $23 million of Cano’s remaining salary, the Mariners got out from under a huge $120 million commitment for an aging 36-year-old player with five years left on his contract. Secondly though, was the Mets gave up a quality arm with mid-rotation starter potential in Dunn and a potential superstar in Jarred Kelenic.
Kelenic was the key to the deal and in his first full-season is giving the Mariners a taste of what could come. He started the year in the Midwest League and had few problems. In 50 games, he posted a .966 OPS with 11 home runs and 7 stolen bases with a reasonable 20% strikeout rate and a solid 11% walk rate. The performance earned him a nice promotion to High-A and then onto Double-A to finish the season. Overall, he hit .291 with 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
The scouting report supports his production. He’s got premium bat speed and a beautiful lefty swing that already has loft. He’s only an average runner but should be able to steal double-digit stolen bases early in his career. Also, his ability to control the strike zone and make hard contact to all fields is what will allow him to move quickly through the system.
Finally, it’s his makeup. Everyone I spoke with about Kelenic mentions it. The desire to get better, the desire to win, very open to instruction. All the things you want to hear about a young player.
The major league target for him is 2021 but if he continues to perform, the drumbeat could start to get very loud by July of next season.
2. Julio Rodriguez (OF)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 OF
- Tools Summary: Plus power who can hit. Classic right-field profile.
Julio Rodriguez was one of the big bonus babies during the 2017 International Free Agent market and hit the ground running in the DSL in 2018. He showed a mature approach and an impressive ability to control the strike zone. Throw-in plus bat speed and average foot speed and it looked like he might be a fast mover. The Mariners aggressively assigned him to begin the 2019 season in West Virginia of the Sally League where he posted a .857 OPS as one of the youngest players in the league. He then was promoted to High-A where in 17 games he hit .462 with a .738 SLG. He turns 19 on Dec. 29th.
Rodriguez has star potential. The mature approach he showed in the DSL has remained as he moved state-side. While he struck out 22% of the time this year, you must put that in context based on his age. I had a chance to scout him earlier this year and he’s selective and doesn’t expand the strike zone. Also, the bat speed is significant, and he should develop power. In fact, I think it could be 30 plus home run power. While he’s currently an average runner, he’s a big kid and as he puts on weight, I don’t think he will be a big stolen base threat.
If you add it all up, the ceiling is an all-star with a .280/.360/.550 slash line possible with 30 plus home runs. Throw-in a plus defender with a cannon for an arm, the only thing he is missing is speed. I’m all in and clearly, so are the Mariners. I expect him to split time between High and Double-A next season with a chance to see the Majors as a 20-year-old in 2021.
3. Logan Gilbert (RHP)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
- Tools Summary: Big kid who improved in nearly every start last season.
One of the players that just missed our mid-season Top 100 list was Logan Gilbert. The 2018 first-round pick (pick 14) dominated last season. He tore through three levels starting in the Sally League and ending at Arkansas in the Texas League. In 26 starts, he pitched to a 2.13 ERA striking out 11 per nine and walking just over two per nine. The performance garnered some votes for our minor league pitching of the year.
Gilbert stands 6-foot-6 with his primary pitch being a two-seam fastball that has a lot of arm-side run and sink. It improved as the year progressed sitting 90 to 94 MPH. Because of the movement, in combination with his natural plane, the pitch has been tough for hitters to handle. He throws two breaking pitches that have a tendency to merge into more of a slurve offering. He needs to develop a better change-up and if not, could be exposed as he starts facing more advanced hitters. All-in-all, he has the makings of a solid mid-rotation starter, possibly more if he can develop his change-up.
Since he’s flying under the radar in most Dynasty Leagues, now is the time to grab him as he’ll definitely be in our 2020 Top 100 list
4. Evan White (1B)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 1B
- Tools Summary: Solid hit tool with growing power and sneaky power. If it all translates, he has a chance to be a Top 10 first baseman.
Evan White made headlines this offseason by signing a long-term contract with the Mariners that will likely ensure he starts the 2020 season in the Major Leagues. It was clearly a team-friendly deal but he gets $24 million dollars of guaranteed money that could bump up to $55 million dollars if the Mariners exercise the options. If he turns into a star, he left money on the table, but $24 million dollars is a lot of money and given his age and how the market is viewing older free agents, it was hard to turn down the deal.
While I don’t see White developing into an Anthony Rizzo type of star player, I do think his ceiling is a solid regular with perhaps an all-star game or two. He has always demonstrated a solid approach at the plate. In 2019, he hit .293 with a .350 OBP striking out 23% of the time while walking 7% of the time. The power has always been the question mark, but his hand and wrist strength are allowing him to generate a ton of bat speed which is resulting in a lot of hard-hit balls. He hasn’t entered the Launch Angle revolution yet, but still last season, he hit 18 home runs with a .488 SLG.
Once he adds loft, I think the home runs jump to the 20 to 25 range. If you add the ability to hit for average with a high on-base percentage with more speed than you think, he has a chance to be a Top 10 first baseman in the game. His foot speed is not just a casual mention, he’s an above-average runner, if not a tick more. He’s never run much, but the skill is there.
5. Justin Dunn (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: Very athletic with a quality arsenal and improving control and command. He lacks the big fastball that could put him at the top of rotation but he has solid mid-rotation upside if not a little more.
We were big fans of Justin Dunn when he was with the Mets and saw him as a potential mid-rotation starter. He has very good stuff but never put it all together to show the potential. That changed in 2019 as he pitched extremely well in 25 starts in Double-A. In 131.2 innings, he pitched to a 3.55 ERA striking out nearly 11 per nine while walking 2.7 per nine. The performance got him a late-season promotion to the Mariners where he served as the opener in four games. He walked nine in only 6.2 innings, but five of those games in his Major League debut.
Dunn is a premium athletic that over time has learned to repeat his delivery. This is leading to improved control and command. Now, he doesn’t have the big fastball with his velocity averaging 92 to 93 MPH but it does have good spin that sets up his secondaries very well. He’s never had trouble striking out batters at any level.
I still view Dunn as a mid-rotation starter with a chance to be a little more if his control continues to improve. He should see plenty of time in the Major Leagues in 2020.
6. Justus Sheffield (LHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
- Tools Summary: His velocity backed up in 2019 and his average control didn’t take a step forward. He’s athletic with solid stuff but it’s time for him to put it together.
It was a strange year for Justus Sheffield. After an impressive 2018 season with the Yankees that culminated with three brief appearances in the Major Leagues, Sheffield became the principal trade piece in the James Paxton deal. It appeared he would make quick work of Triple-A and spend the majority of the season in the Majors. However, he couldn’t find the plate and gave up 12 home runs in 11 starts and was demoted to Double-A.
Oddly, things went much better in Double-A as the control and strikeouts improved and the home runs decreased. Along the way, he managed to pitch in eight games, seven starts for Seattle and showed diminished stuff. His fastball that had sat 94 to 95 was averaging 93.1. The secondaries were working as he was missing plenty of bats, be the control once again fell off.
Sheffield’s ceiling has always been a puzzle. He’s very athletic but stands only six feet tall. He has good stuff from the left side but there is a lot of effort in his delivery that is leading to poor control and command. Then, the velocity regression and the poor performance and you worry that perhaps he won’t hit that ceiling of a front line starter. In fact, a number four starter might be a better ceiling. For now, we are going to split the difference and put his ceiling as a Top 50 starter. He’ll be 24 in May and it’s time to see what he can do after getting consistent starts in the Majors.
7. Noelvi Marte (SS)
- Highest Level: DSL ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 10 SS with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: Toolsy middle infielder who is showing the ability to hit.
There’s a lot to get excited about with Marte as he has plus speed with excellent bat speed and a chance to hit for above-average future power. At 17-years-old and still playing in the Dominican Summer League, it’s hard to get a great read on his hitting ability, but he’s kept his strikeouts under control (19% K/9) while also getting his walks (10% BB/9). He’s currently playing shortstop and should be able to stay at the position given his athleticism, but if not, a move to second should work as well.
8. George Kirby (RHP)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Solid stuff with some concern about his strike-throwing ability.
The Mariners dipped into the college ranks to draft right-hander George Kirby with the 20th pick in the first round. He got off to a strong start to his professional career pitching 23 innings in the Northwest League striking out 25 and not issuing a single walk. He has a solid three-pitch mix with a fastball that will touch the mid 90’s and a curveball and change-up that will both play.
The delivery looks simple although in watching a video of his delivery, it doesn’t look like he slots well. That usually leads to poor control, but then again, he didn’t walk anybody in 23 innings. While everything looks good on paper, in talking with evaluators, I got a lot of back-of-the-rotation ceilings.
9. Cal Raleigh (C)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 Catcher
- Tools Summary: Plus power with solid receiving skills.
Drafted in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft out of the Florida State University, Cal Raleigh had a nice 2019 season. He split his time between the California and Texas League slashing .251/.323/.497 with 29 home runs.
Raleigh’s carrying tool is his plus raw power and provided he can continue to control the strike zone, he has a chance to be a full-time regular. He’s a fine receiver with a solid arm and pitchers like throwing to him. He’ll likely start the 2021 season back in Double-A but assuming health, should see Triple-A by the end of the season putting him on track for a big-league promotion in 2021.
10. Jake Fraley (OF)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: Good speed with good bat-to-ball skills. He could be an interesting player over the next couple of years but long-term, he’s likely a fourth outfielder.
Jake Fraley had a terrific 2019 season that ended in 12 games in the Major Leagues. He started the season off very hot where he crushed the ball in Double-A for 61 games. He slashed .313/.386/.539 with 11 home runs and 16 stolen bases. In July, he was promoted to Triple-A where he slashed .276/.333/.553 in 38 games with eight home runs and six stolen bases.
Despite the positive results, I don’t see Fraley as an impact player. He’s an average hitter with a 21% strikeout rate and an 8% walk rate, with good speed and below-average power. Yes, he hit 20 home runs in 2019, but eight of those were in Triple-A where the juiced ball and PCL played a role and the 12 home runs he hit in Double-A were his highest total in his career at any level. Sure, he might be coming into his power, but the swing does support that. Instead, the bat speed and launch angle suggest a 12 to 15 home run type of player. While he could find full-time at-bats in a rebuilding Mariners lineup in 2020 and 2021, long-term, he’s likely a fourth outfielder.
11. Brandon Williamson (LHP)
- Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: A 6-foot-6 lefty with clean mechanics. Fastball velocity is 92 to 93 MPH but the secondary pitches need work.
The Mariners selected Brandon Williamson in the second round of the 2019 MLB Draft and immediately sent the 6-foot-6 left-hander to the college heavy Northwest League. After a long college season, they limited his workload to 10 starts of no more than two innings per start. He responded well by pitching to a 2.25 ERA striking out 25, walking five in 15.1 innings.
He doesn’t have an overpowering arsenal with his fastball touching the mid-90s when needed. His secondary pitches also need some work. But, he has size, simple clean delivery and he’s a lefty. If he can work on his arsenal, and that’s a big part of what the development process is all about, there could be something there.
12. Kyle Lewis (OF)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
- Tools Summary: The tools he showed in college just haven’t translated. Injuries and his swing and miss tendencies are currently limiting his ceiling.
Kyle Lewis was taken 11th overall by the Mariners in the 2016 MLB Draft as a classic right-handed power hitter. Shortly after being drafted, he tore his ACL and has just never lived up to the potential he showed in college.
He was finally healthy in 2019 and for the first time, he logged a season of full-time at-bats including a late-season call-up to the Majors. In 18 games for the Mariners, he hit .268 including blasting six home runs. However, he also struck out 39% of the time and if it weren’t for .351 BABIP, the stat line would not have looked very good. In Triple-A, it was more of the same. He struck out 29% of the time and a .367 BABIP drove his .263 batting average. Plus, he only slugged .398 including 11 home runs.
If I add it all up, I’m still unsure whether Lewis is a full-time regular at the highest level. His strikeouts and lack of consistently driving the ball has me concerned. Candidly, it’s more likely that his everyday role is a bench player.
13. Austin Shenton (2B)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
- Tools Summary: Got off to a hot start by showing the ability to control the strike zone with surprising pop.
The Mariners went heavy with college starting pitching in the 2019 MLB Draft selecting a hurler in each of the first four rounds (two in round two). Curiously, college pitching was the weakest cohort in the draft. In the fifth round, they selected Austin Shenton, a third baseman out of Florida International. He did nothing but hit in his professional debut slashing .298/.376/.510 across 53 games in the Northwest and Sally League.
What impressed me the most was how well he controlled the strike zone. He posted a 19% K/9 and an 8.5% BB/9 ratio. He also showed surprising pop. The Mariners were also impressed and believe his hit-tool is quite advanced. They’ve already moved him off third and have played him both in the outfield and at second. He might eventually settle into a super-utility role, but he’s an intriguing prospect that Dynasty League owners need to monitor.
14. Dom Thompson-Williams (OF)
- Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 75 OF
- Tools Summary: Toolsy outfielder that just hasn’t hit enough. A strikeout rate of 32% last season is disconcerting.
Dom Thompson-Williams was acquired from the Yankees in the James Paxton deal prior to the 2019 season. In 2018, things seemed to click for the young outfielder when he hit .290 with 17 home runs and 17 stolen bases in the Florida State League. However, the batting average was driven by a .354 BABIP and his 25% strikeout rate indicated that there was still work left. His BABIP normalized in 2020 and consequently, he only hit .234 with a .290 OBP while striking out 32% of the time. Plus, the power that he showed in High-A did not come over in Double-A as he only slugged .391.
The optimist will declare that he’s still quite raw at the plate but with his athleticism, there is an intriguing combination of power and speed. While he does show some plate patience, he needs to cut down on his strikeout rate. The pessimist will declare that his strikeouts are a result of a poor understanding of the strike zone and he’s what he is – an extra bat. I lean towards the pessimist side.
15. Sam Carlson (RHP)
- Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
- Tools Summary: Drafted in 2017 and missed the 2018 and 2019 season rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery. He has premium stuff and if he comes back healthy, he could be an intriguing pitcher.
Sure, there is a lot of number four or number five pitchers I could have included as the last guy in the system, but I wanted to write about Sam Carlson. He was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft to a lot of fanfare. Great pitching body, can touch 98 MPH, etc… Unfortunately, he hurt his elbow and tried to rest and rehab before finally having TJ Surgery in July of 2018. He missed the rest of the 2018 season and all of 2019 rehabbing.
Assuming he comes back healthy, there’s a lot in which to work. Now, he’s lost two years of development time but he only turned 21 in December, so there is plenty of time left for him to develop. He’s one to watch.