Seattle Mariners

Original Published Date: January 13, 2015

The Mariners have been promoting many of their top prospects over the past couple of years including Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin, Chris Taylor, and Brad Smith.  While none of these top prospects have become all-stars, they have helped improve the team and have become excellent complementary pieces to the free agents that the Mariners have signed.  Whether this was the master plan or not, it’s working, and that’s the most important thing.

While the system is understandably down, there is talent, particularly talent that is a few year away.  At the top of the list is 2014 first round draft pick Alex Jackson.  His offensive game is already advanced and while there are concerns about where he’ll play defensively, the bat should move him through the system quickly.  D.J. Peterson, the Mariners 2013 first round pick, made it to Double-A by slugging 31 home runs and looks like he could be a contributor at the big league level by 2016.  One of my favorite players in the system is Patrick Kivlehan, a converted football player who picked up baseball again as a 21-year-old college senior.  There’s something there and the Mariners know it too.

A little further away is right-hander Edwin Diaz and Gabby Guerrero.  Guerrero in particularly is intriguing, not only because he looks exactly like his famous uncle, but he can hit with developing power.  Finally, there’s Austin Wilson; another one of my favorite prospects.  A Stanford graduate from an intellectual family who has a plus work ethic.  Oh yeah, he’s 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds and has the chance to hit for plus power.

The Mariners are clearly on the rise and given the depth still in their system, the rest of the AL West better watch out.

1. Alex Jackson (OF)

2015 Age: 19 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 215 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2014 R 82 11 2 16 0 .280 .344 70.7 9.6 .362

The Seattle Mariners drafted 6-foot-2 Alex Jackson in the first round (sixth overall) of the 2014 first year player draft.  As an amateur, Jackson posted ridiculous numbers while playing high school in Southern California.   In four years, he posted a 1.357 OPS while slugging 47 home runs.  Scouts flocked to see him with many labeling him “the best hitting high school prospect” in years.

While it’s impossible to learn much from his stat line in his 82 professional at-bats, in looking at his swing, it’s easy to see what all the fuss is about.  The swing is incredibly balanced with a nice quiet setup and little movement in his load.  The bat speed is plus with strong hands and natural strength.  It’s a plus future power profile but also a swing that should generate plenty of hard contact.

In talking with people who had seen him as an amateur, they were impressed with his plate discipline and strike zone awareness.  While he has significant power, he didn’t sell out and try to hit every pitch 800 feet.  Time will tell whether the approach will translate into professional ball but all signals are pointing in the right direction.

There was a lot of discussion about where Jackson would play defensively when the Mariners drafted him.  Some suggested he should move behind the plate while others thought the Mariners should simply put him in the outfield and get him to Seattle as quickly as possible.  So far, the Mariners are playing him in the outfield, primarily in right field, where his plus arm could become a real weapon.  He also played some at third base but doesn’t have the lateral movement or foot speed to profile as a plus defender there.

Fantasy Impact:  On draft day I was hoping that Jackson would be drafted by…well, anybody but the Mariners.  Let’s face it, power plays down in SafeCo; to the tune of 12% less home runs than average.  That’s not the worse in the majors, but is in the lower third.  That said, Jackson’s plus raw power should still play with a ceiling of 20 to 25 home runs.  Plus, the hit tool should develop nicely with the ceiling of a .270 batter.  If you add it all up, it’s a solid $20 player profile.

2. D.J. Peterson (1B)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: 1st Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
2014 A+,AA 495 83 31 111 7 .297 .360 76.6 8.2 .331

I was a little down on D.J. Peterson entering the 2014 season as I didn’t believe that the swing would produce enough power to make him a first division starter at first.  After hitting 31 home runs in 2014 and slugging .551, it looks like I might have been a little light on Peterson’s ceiling.

I got a chance to lay eyes on Peterson in the Arizona Fall League and liked the swing better than I did last year.  He did incorporate his lower half more than he did last year, but it’s still not a great fluid stroke.   Part of the reason for his swing mechanics is that he’s trying to cut down on the length of his swing.  It did work as he was able to maintain a 77% contact rate across High and Double-A, but I worry that he the swing could be exposed as moves through the development process.

Defensively, Peterson split time between third and first base, but I think his athleticism will eventually move him to first.  That’s ok as third base is blocked after the Mariners made Kyle Seager the latest $100 million dollar man.

With 222 at-bats in Double-A and an Arizona Fall League under his belt, Peterson is likely to start 2015 in Triple-A.  Even playing half his games in Tacoma, Peterson shouldn’t have little trouble with the league with a chance for a callup to Seattle in the second half of the year.

Fantasy Impact:   I continue to only have one foot on the Peterson bang wagon.  He’s definitely a Top 100 prospect, but I don’t think his ceiling is a plus-plus power hitter.  Instead, I would put his power more along the 25 home run ceiling with a .260 to .270 batting average.  That’s a nice Adam LaRoche type of first baseman and somebody who will be a borderline first division fantasy starter in a 15-team league.  That’s a solid $20 player but could play down a notch playing half his games in SafeCo Field.

3. Gabby Guerrero (OF)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: 1st Div.
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2014 A+ 538 97 18 96 18 .307 .347 75.7 5.9 .373

We wrote in our review of the 2014 Futures Game how much Gabby Guerrero looked like his famous uncle, Vlad.  It’s not only facial, it’s his gate, his boney shoulders and high waist.  He’s a dead ringer.

Guerrero does share a lot of the same hitting qualities of Vlad.  There’s the obvious lack of batting gloves, although he does use them during batting practice.  It’s also the approach that says, “I can hit anything”.  Based on his contact rate of 76%, he can’t.  Plus, because his approach is very aggressive, pitchers are just staying away from him.  He can hit a fastball and can recognize a spinner, but making solid contact can be a problem.

The bat speed is excellent and combined with his size, he should have more power than the .467 slugging percentage he showed in High Desert.  In batting practice, the swing is easy and the ball jumps off his bat; easily able to clear the fence.  However, because of his in-game approach, I think it will be difficult for him to hit for plus power.  He’s just not going to get anything to hit; pitchers will stay away from him and he’ll likely chase.  Finally, the swing can also get long and while he clearly has tremendous hand-eye coordination, it’s hard to project more than just an average hit-tool.

Guerrero does have average speed and can steal bases but it’s far from graceful.  Part of that is attributable to his body type and makeup. Candidly, he looks a little uncoordinated, when I believe he’s far from it.  As he fills out the speed will ultimately evaporate.

Fantasy Impact:  While there are surely question marks with Gabby, there is definitely fantasy upside.  The bat speed is there as is tremendous hand-eye coordination, but his approach could limit his upside.  While it’s a risky play, he does have the upside to hit 20 to 25 home runs and given his unique hitting style, could benefit from a high BABIP.  He continues to be one of the more intriguing prospects and the definition of high risk/high reward.

4. Edwin Diaz (RHP)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 180 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2017
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 A- 116.1 96 43 5 3.25 8.59 3.33 1.19

Diaz was taken in the third round of the 2012 draft from Caguas Military Academy in Puerto Rico.  When he was drafted, the Mainers believed he would put on weight to his skinny 6-foot-2, 165 pound frame and in fact, he has.  He’s noticeably heavier with many observers believing he now weighs close to 200 pounds.

As Diaz has physically matured, his arsenal has also matured.  His fastball sits 92-93 MPH with a lot of late tailing action with more velocity possible.  He throws two breaking pitches – a tight mid 80’s slider that is becoming a real weapon and a show-me curve.  The changeup lags behind but he has the mechanics and arm action for the pitch to eventually grade out as an average pitch.

The pitching mechanics have also taken a step up and he’s now able to repeat his delivery much better than he was this time last year.  The improved control is starting to show up in his ability to throw strikes.  In 116.1 innings in Low-A, Diaz walked 42 while striking out 111.  His 2.64 strikeout-to-walk rate is indeed encouraging and should only improve with more repetition.   In addition to throwing strikes, Diaz uses his size well, pounding the bottom of the strike zone.  In 2014, he posted a 1.72 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio while giving up only five home runs.

The Mariners will start Diaz in the California League as a 21-year-old and given the improvements he has made over his first three year in professional ball, he could easily finish the year in Double-A.  Assuming he stays healthy, he could be helping Seattle sometime in 2016 with a ceiling of a solid number three starter.  However, if he gets a tick more on his fastball, that ceiling could move higher.

Fantasy Impact:  Diaz is not a household name in Dynasty Leagues but could push for inclusion on our Top 100 Prospect List.  His arsenal and ability to throw strikes is improving quickly and it’s time for Dynasty League owners to jump on-board.  The ceiling is a top 50 fantasy starter with seven to eight strikeouts per nine and SafeCo protected ratios.

5. Austin Wilson (OF)

2015 Age: 23 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 250 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2014 R,A- 269 41 13 55 2 .301 .384 75.1 8.8 .358

At 6-foot-4 and a chiseled 250 pounds, Austin Wilson passes the eye test of what you want your baseball players to look like.  Drafted in the second round of the 2012 first year player draft, Wilson was slowed by injuries in 2014 but still managed to play in 72 games, posting an .893 OPS with 12 home runs in 261 at-bats.

At 22-years-old, Wilson was old for Low-A, but reports on him were nonetheless encouraging.  He has plus bat speed with natural pull strength that should translate into future plus power.  The swing can get long, particularly when he gets into poor hitting counts.  However, in general, his swing is compact with very good plate coverage.  He has average speed that should produce double-digit stolen bases but that has yet to show up in his stat line.  He’s a plus defender, running great routes with a plus arm to easily profile in right field.

Finally, Wilson has many of the intangibles teams are also looking for in their young players.  He’s a graduate of Stanford, matriculating in the spring of 2014, comes from a highly educated family (both of his parents graduated from Harvard) with makeup off the charts.  While he enters the season at 23-years-old, the Mariners should start to push Wilson in 2015 with a chance to finish the season in Double-A.

Fantasy Impact:  Wilson has the classic five-tool profile.  He can run, hit, hit with power, with a plus arm.  While his speed has not translated yet, he has the ceiling of a .270 batter with 20 to 25 home run pop.  The defensive profile will only help him get playing time.  Plus, the intangibles are significant and should not be dismissed as “fluff”.  In fact, intelligence and makeup are not discussed enough and could really advance a player.

6. Patrick Kivlehan (3B)

2015 Age: 25 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
2014 A,AA 519 84 20 103 11 .295 .363 78.8 9.5 .335

Patrick Kivlehan is starting to sneak up on people as some of his impressive raw athleticism is starting to translate into baseball skills; and quickly.

Kivlehan didn’t play baseball in college until his senior year.  Instead, he focused on football, playing in 43 games as the backup safety at Rutgers University.  Once his senior football season was over, he decided to lace up his baseball cleats and well…did quite well.  He slashed .301/.373/.511 with 14 home runs and 24 stolen bases and was named the Big East player of the year.  Candidly, that’s crazy and shows the kind of skills that enticed the Mariners to spend a fourth round pick in the 2012 first year player draft.  It almost makes you wonder what type of player Kivlehan would be if he focused on baseball from the beginning.

I had a chance to see Kivlehan in the Arizona Fall League for the past two years.  In 2013, he looked overmatch and was fooled by spin and was late on fastballs.  In 2014, it was a different story and Kivlehan was one of the better players in the league.  He showed bat speed, very good raw power in batting practice and average times to first base.  In 93 at-bats, he had an impressive 17K/14BB strikeout-to-walk rate with four long balls.  In a larger sample size in Double-A, he showed similar plate discipline and pitch recognition where he struck out 18.1% of the time while walking 10.2% of the time.

The Mariners are clearly pushing Kivlehan hard and after some additional grooming in Triple-A to start the 2015 season, he could see Seattle in the second half.  He’s coming on quickly and the power could also start to emerge soon.  He has the ceiling of a solid regular with 20 home run upside, a .270 batting average, and a .340 on-base percentage.  Defensively, the Mariners also have him playing all over the place – third, first, and the outfield.

Dynasty League:  Kivlehan reminds me of another late blooming Scarlet Knight alumni – Todd Frazier.  While 29 home runs and 20 stolen bases might be out of reach for Kivlehan, 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases are not.  I think he’ll be a major leaguer with a floor of an extra bat and the ceiling of a solid-regular.  People are always asking me about sleepers; well, here you go.  Enjoy!

7. Ketel Marte (SS)

2015 Age: 21 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 180 Bats: Both Throws: Right ETA: 2015-16
2014 AA,AAA 523 79 4 55 29 .304 .335 85.1 4.8 .346

The Mariners have been promoting shortstops at a high rate, trying to find somebody who can consistently contribute at the premier defensive position.  Chris Taylor, Brad Miller, and Nick Franklin have all had their shot and while each has had some level of success, nobody has claimed the position as theirs for the next five years.  Potentially next in line is 21-year-old Ketel Marte.

Marte was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2010 and the Mariners have been aggressively moving him through the system.  Marte’s carrying tool is plus speed that translated into 29 of 39 stolen bases across Double and Triple-A.    Defensively, he uses his speed well and is starting to develop into an above-average shortstop with good lateral movement and enough arm strength to make throws deep in the hole.

Marte is your typical slappy hitter; he makes excellent contact but swings at everything.  In 562 plate appearance in 2014, Marte struck out only 78 times but also only walked 27 times.  If he could improve his plate patience, he could become an interesting top-of-the-order option.  To date, that just hasn’t been a part of his game.  Marte has virtually no power, slugging only seven home runs in almost 1,500 professional at-bats.

While the realistic ceiling is likely a utility player, with some improved plate discipline, he could leap frog both Miller and Taylor and get some run at shortstop in 2015.

Fantasy Impact:  Marte is a player to watch as his defensive ability could open up playing time as soon as 2015.  His speed will also play from a fantasy perspective with a chance to steal 30 plus stolen bases with full-time at-bats.  The upside is all going to hinge on his ability to improve his plate patience.  Can he?  Time will tell.

8. Luiz Gohara (LHP)

2015 Age: 18 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2018
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 R,SS 50.0 57 37 6 4.68 9.54 6.66 1.66

I’ve had a chance to visit Brazil a number of times and in a speech I gave last year, I asked the audience to name a baseball player.  After a few seconds of puzzlement from the group, somebody yelled out “Babe Ruth”.  WOW!!!  Then again, if a Brazilian were to give a speech in America and ask the group to name a Brazilian footballer, the answer would probably be – Pele.

Baseball is not yet a known sport in Brazil.  It’s somewhere after soccer, soccer, and soccer.  That’s why I get excited about any player from the beautiful South American country.  Sure, there’s Yan Gomes; but he was raised in Florida.  There’s also Andre Rienzo, the Chicago White Sox pitcher who has yet to establish himself in the majors.  However, the Brazilian player that most people have their eye on is lefty Luiz Gohara.

Gohara is only 18-years-old, but already possesses impressive arm strength.  His fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s but I believe as he matures, it could even tick up a grade.  He pounds the bottom of the zone and the results show.  In 71.2 innings in professional ball, he has a 5.05 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.  He’s still a little wild due to an inconsistent release point, but overtime his control should improve.  He’s still learning to throw his curveball and changeup, but both show promise.

The Mariners have been taking it slowly with Gohara but should start to take the training wheels off in 2015 with an assignment in Low-A.  He has a long way to go, but the upside is at least a number three starter.

Fantasy Impact:  Gohara is a lottery ticket for fantasy owners.  While the raw skills are impressive, he has a long way to go; so long, it only makes sense to roster him if you can wait at least four years for the payoff.  While the payoff could be special, it’s just as likely that he’ll disappoint.  Again, it’s a lottery ticket.

9. Jabari Henry (OF)

2015 Age: 24 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
2014 A+ 430 79 30 95 6 .291 .398 74.7 13.5 .324

Jabari Henry might have had the quietest 30 home run season this year.  Critics will dismiss the performance by saying he was old for the league and benefited from the great hitting environment of the California League.  While true, I had a chance to see him twice and left quite impressed.

The swing is good with a short and direct stroke that explodes through the zone.  Batting practice was impressive as he showed power to all fields.  However, his in-game power is still mostly pull.  While some of the power is surely California League exaggerated, I believe he has 20 home run future power potential.

Henry also has a very solid approach at the plate, posting a 74% contact rate and an impressive 13.5% walk rate.  The speed is below average but plays well enough to make him an adequate outfielder.  He doesn’t have a plus arm, so he’ll likely be relegated to left field, which will put a lot of pressure on his bat.

Fantasy Impact:  There’s a long list of players who never met their Cali-League output and Henry’s 11 home runs in 363 at-bats before his 2014 outburst does cast a doubt on his true power upside.  However, I liked what I saw and do believe the power will play to 20 home runs at the highest level.   2015 will be an important year for Henry and will tell fantasy owners a lot about his true potential.  Candidly, it will tell the Mariners a lot as well.

10. Danny Hultzen (LHP)

2015 Age: 25 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 210 Bats: Left Throws: Left ETA: 2015-16
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2014 DNP

In general I leave the number 10 spot on each Top 10 list for a fallen prospect.  Few recent players have fallen as hard as Danny Hultzen has since being selected as the number two overall player in the 2011 first year player draft.  Remember that draft class?  It included: Dylan Bundy, Anthony Rendon, Archie Bradley, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez, Jose Fernandez, George Springer, Sonny Gray, and Kolten Won – all taken after the lefty from Virginia.

I thought the Mariners reached at number two on Hultzen as I believe the arsenal had a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter and not a top-of-the-rotation starter.  However, given his pedigree in college, the Mariners went with safety over upside.  What they didn’t anticipate was Hultzen needing rotator cuff surgery that has clouded his future.

Returning from major shoulder surgery is far from certain, but assuming he’s healthy and by all accounts he is, Hultzen should be able to help the Mariners by 2016.  The stuff is good but plays up given his control and deception.  Ironically, the great deception he creates by throwing across his body, could have led to his rotator cuff tear.

Fantasy Impact:  Because of his health, many owners have understandably dropped Hultzen.  However, if you have room for him on your minor league roster, now is the time to pick him up.  It’s a lottery pick that might not pan out as the return from shoulder surgery is far from certain.  That said, if he does, he still has the ceiling of a top 40 fantasy pitcher.

2015 Emerging Prospect:

Gareth Morgan (OF)

In the search for elite raw power, the Mariners drafted high school outfielder Gareth Morgan in the supplemental second round of the 2014 first year player draft.  At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds and only 18-years-old, Morgan is a big kid and will likely to continue to fill out.  The raw power is plus to double-plus but given his long levers, the swing is long and swing and misses will likely follow.  In fact, in 155 at-bats in the AZL, he struck out 73 times.  While he has a long way to go, if he can shorten up his swing without losing power, the Mariners might have something.

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