|Original Published Date: January 13, 2017|
I wasn’t sure what I was going to find when I started researching and writing about the Mariners farm system. But, I like it…in fact, I like it a lot.
First, there no superstars in the system but instead a lot of very good players that should have an impact as soon as next season. Tyler O’Neill is my top ranked player in the system, nudging out Kyle Lewis, the Mariners 2016 first round pick. I was sold after seeing him in the Arizona Fall League that he could be an impact player as soon as next season. Dan Vogelbach and Mitch Haniger are two more players who should get significant playing time in the big leagues next season. Both have never been top prospects but should be solid big leaguers.
Luiz Gohara is the top pitching prospect in the system and could be the guy on the list who becomes a star. He has a plus arsenal and is now throwing strikes. After a long apprenticeship in the lower minors, the training paints should finally come off next season and the results could be very interesting.
The Mariners already have a strong major league squad and now have young help on the way. The combination should allow them to compete over the next few seasons. Will it be enough to overtake some of the best teams in the American League? I don’t think so, but with a couple of trade deadline addition next season, particularly to their pitching staff, they could be.
Tyler O’Neill (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
I was a little light on Tyler O’Neill last year, primarily because I was concerned about his ability to make enough contact to get to his double-plus power. However, 2016 was a different story as he his strikeout rate, while still high, was 26%, down from 30.5% in 2015. During his short time in the Arizona Fall League, he continued to show improved contact with a 24% strikeout rate. Assuming this new found contactability is real, the double-plus power combined with his proven ability in understanding the strike zone, gives O’Neill a ceiling of an all-star.
The Mariners will likely start O’Neill in Tacoma with an excellent chance to see Seattle sometime over the summer. With Nelson Cruz moving to DH full-time, there should be opportunities with Seth Smith and Mitch Haniger likely providing the only resistance to playing time.
Scouting Report: I had a chance to see O’Neill this fall in the AFL and I was left with a very positive impression. First, the guy is jacked. In fact, he reminds me of Gabe Kapler, who when he played had arguably the best body in baseball. However, he never lived up to his ceiling and many people believed it was because of his excessively developed upper body and arms. That argument was supported by an interesting conversation I had with a scout at the AFL and the need to have flexibility in the upper body to be a successful hitter.
Secondly, not only is the power real but it’s more than just pull power. What I saw was a guy who had power to all fields and it was easy power. Batting practice was impressive with fence clearing blasts all over the place. Finally, he has enough foot speed to steal a handful of bases annually.
If you add it all up, the profile suggests an all-star performer. The only concern is keeping his body under control.
Fantasy Impact: I think a good fantasy comp for O’Neill is Jay Bruce. Bruce had a very high and quick peak before tapering off. I think the same could happen with O’Neill. But while he’s in his peak, it could be 30 home runs with a .260 batting average and 5 to 10 stolen bases. If it all comes together, that’s an impact fantasy player.
Kyle Lewis (OF)
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF
The Mariners were thrilled when Kyle Lewis fell to them with pick number eleven in the 2016 MLB Draft. While there was a lot of speculation as to why he fell, the one I heard the most involved skepticism about whether his production at Mercer, a school from the small Southern Conference, would translate to professional ball. The allure though was an impressive three year college career where he posted a 1.113 OPS including a 1.266 OPS in his draft year with 20 home runs.
After being drafted, Lewis hit the ground running in the Northwest League. In 30 games, he hit .299 with three home runs and three stolen bases. He also posted a reasonable 16% strikeout rate and a very good 12% walk rate. The Mariners were thrilled with his introduction and were considering a promotion to Low-A when on July 19th, he tore his ACL in his right knee and was lost for the remainder of the season.
The knee injury was clearly a setback but Lewis just turned 21 in July and as the old saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day”. The talent is there for him to become an impact outfielder at the highest level. It might just take a little longer than the Mariners thought when they drafted him.
Scouting Report: Lewis brings a ton of interesting tools to the table. He’s got plus raw power, enough speed to play all three outfield positions, and a great arm to play the corners. While the swing works, it can get long, so swing and miss will likely always be part of the equation. He’s an average runner but his ACL tear could put an end to any stolen bases he would see.
Fantasy Impact: The ceiling for Lewis is a 25 home runs bat with a .260 batting average and a .340 on-base percentage. I have put his ETA at 2019-20, mostly because of the uncertainty surrounding his recovery from his ACL Surgery. He’s a top 100 prospect in the game and should be an impact fantasy performer in the mold of Joc Pederson.
Luiz Gohara (LHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 SP
I’ve had a chance to visit Brazil a number of times and in a speech I gave two years ago, 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 Marlins 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.
He finally took a major step forward in 2016, improving his ERA by a substantial amount and also improving his walk rate by over two batters per nine. That was real progress but in full transparency, he only pitched in less than 70 innings and 54 of those innings were in Low-A. Said another way, while we are encouraged, there are still many hurdles left to clear.
Scouting Report: Gohara is starting to transform from a thrower to a pitcher. This can be seen most in his walk rate. The stuff continues to be as good as ever. He throws a low to mid-90’s fastball with a slider and change-up that both show promise. All of the pitches are playing up because he can now control his arsenal better. A big part of the reason he is now throwing strikes is that he lost weight. Last year, he pitched at 240 pounds and we expressed deep concern. However, he lost 25 pounds and it showed both physically and in his results.
Fantasy Impact: All of the arrows are pointing up for Gohara. While the Mariners are still likely to take it very slow with him, the ceiling is substantial with a chance to pitch at the top-of-the-rotation with over a strikeout an inning.
Dan Vogelbach (1B/DH)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B or must start UT
Dan Vogelbach got a new lease on life when the Cubs traded him to the Mariners for lefty reliever Mike Montgomery last July. While Montgomery helped the Cubs secure their first World Series in 108 years, Vogelbach should ultimately help the Mariners more. He was blocked in Chicago behind Anthony Rizzo but more importantly, he’s a hitter, a guy who was made for the designated hitter. While I’m sure the Mariners will put him at first, he will move at some point to the DH spot and do what he does best – hit.
Scouting Report: I’ve seen Vogelbach play many times over the years and the dude can flat out hit. He has a great approach, makes excellent contact and is big and strong enough to hit for plus power. In 544 games in the minor leagues (yeah, he’s been there for a while), he posted a .286 batting average while walking nearly as much as he’s struck out. He’s also posted an excellent 17% strikeout rate and when that comes with a .449 slugging, the offensive upside could be impressive.
On the negative side, he has 30 grade speed and is a below average defender at first. He struggles with his footwork but if he can post a slash line of .290/.400/.450, the Mariners might just look the other way.
Fantasy Impact: I’ve always been a big fan of Vogelbach and think he could make an immediate impact in Seattle in 2017. As I write this in early December, he is at the top of the depth chart at first, so fantasy owners need to load him up in their queue on draft day. The upside is a .290 batting average with 20 to 25 home runs. For owners playing in OBP Leagues, the upside goes up as a .400 on base percentage could be in the cards.
Mitch Haniger (OF)
Highest Level: Majors, ETA: 2016, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
In the blockbuster trade that sent Tiajuan Walker to Arizona for Jean Segura, there was another player dealt – Mitch Haniger. In my opinion, it was more than a throw-in as Haniger hit in college and has hit at every level in professional ball. He got his chance to play in the majors last season for Arizona and played ok. In 34 games, he hit .229 with a .304 OBP and five home runs. He wasn’t going to give Corey Seager a run for his money in ROY voting, but he nonetheless held his own and showed the league that he could be successful at the highest level.
His minor league career has been very impressive. He slashed .290/.370/.490 over 455 games while hitting 61 home runs as well as stealing a few bases (38) along the way. He’s a nice player, not a star, but should have a solid big league career.
Scouting Report: Haniger took a major step forward in 2016 and it was the result of hard work and modifying his violent swing. He’s much quieter in his setup and his exaggerated leg kick has been tone down. This is allowing him to get his foot down sooner and have better plate coverage to drive the ball to all fields. This is one of the biggest reasons for his increase in power last season.
He also has average speed which should allow him to steal a handful of stolen bases annually. The speed is adequate in the outfield but when it’s combined with a plus arm, it gives him an above-average ceiling as an outfielder.
Fantasy Impact: Haniger is going to have sneaky value in fantasy. He has the ceiling of 25 home runs with a .270 batting average and the ability to steal a handful of bases. Since he’s never been a well discussed prospect, he’s a great late flyer in a fantasy league for 2017.
Nick Neidert (RHP)
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Selected in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Nick Neidert had a very nice season in his first assignment to a full season affiliate. In 91 innings in Low-A, he posted a 2.57 ERA while striking out nearly seven per nine while showing excellent control in walking 13. Neidert showed the Mariners enough to start 2017 in Bakersville and despite only being 20 years-old, could see Double-A by seasons end.
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, Neidert does not have the prototypical body you like to see in modern pitchers. However, he has good stuff with a fastball that sits 91 to 93 MPH and a plus change-up that is his primary out pitch. He’s still working on his breaking pitch with his slider currently better than his curve ball.
His plus control allows his stuff to play up a grade as he pounds the strike zone with all of his pitches. He’s still working on his command and he’ll need to see improvement in order to have success as he moves to the upper minors. However, the polish that he shows is near elite for a teenager, giving him an excellent chance of him meeting his ceiling of a number three starter.
The only fly-in-the-ointment is that he does pitch up in the zone and without elite stuff, he could be homer prone. However, since he doesn’t walk many, the damage should be limited.
Fantasy Impact: While he’s not a hard thrower, there’s still a lot to like with Niedert. While he doesn’t have the ceiling of a top fantasy starter, he should be able to slot in nicely as a number three or four starter on a fantasy team.
Drew Jackson (SS)
Highest Level: High-A, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Middle Infielder
From a fantasy standpoint, I got all excited when Drew Jackson stole 47 bases in 59 games in the Northwest League in 2015. I didn’t add him to any of my teams as I wanted to see what he would do in 2016 as I was worried about how much he would hit. He hit ok, a .258 batting average with a 17% strikeout rate while walking 8.5% of the time. That’s a far cry from what he did in 2015, but still, it’s the profile of an average hitter.
Unfortunately, the stolen bases regressed from 47 to 16 in 24 attempts. I did clock him down to first in the Arizona Fall League at 4.11, which is 70-grade speed, but he just didn’t steal many bases. Without the speed and the ability to hit at least .260, he’s a utility player and not ownable on a fantasy team.
Scouting Report: Jackson is a classic slappy hitter. He’s up there to make contact and use his wheels to get on base. There are plenty of examples of that approach working but in general, you like to see all players use their lower half to drive the ball. The good news is that he understands the strike zone and could be a high on-base percentage guy.
Jackson is a plus defender and at worse has the ceiling to be a utility player at the highest player. That combined with his interesting offensive game should allow him to have a floor of a utility player with a chance to be regular contributor if he can learn to hit with more authority.
Fantasy Impact: Dynasty League owners need to stay skeptical with Jackson. His inability to hit with authority is a concern and might limit his role to that of a utility player. However, there is speed and despite the lack of stolen bases last season, I think if he hits and gets on base, the stolen bases will come. Will he hit enough to make him relevant? At this point, I’m skeptical.
Max Povse (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Number 6 or 7 SP
Max Povse was acquired from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for 2014 first round pick (6th overall) Alex Jackson. While so much was expected from Jackson, it just never happened and the Braves thought a change of scenery would help. Povse in addition to Rob Whalen was a modest return with the 6-foot-8 Povse providing a back-of-the-rotation ceiling.
Scouting Report: Povse pitched well across High and Double-A last season, posting a 3.36 ERA in 26 starts. He struck out nearly eight per nine while walking only 29. As with Andrew Moore, elite control is what has provided Povse his success. By throwing strikes, it allows his low 90’s fastball to play up.
Given his height, Povse does get good plane on his pitches and that led to a 1.8 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio. The ability to pitch-to-contact as well as produce six to seven strikeouts per nine gives Povse a ceiling of a number five, perhaps a number four starter at the highest level.
Fantasy Impact: While we like the size and his ability to throw strikes, the stuff gives us pause for being an impact pitcher on your fantasy team. He should only be rostered in leagues that have 400 or more minor leaguers.
Andrew Moore (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Number 6 or 7 SP
The Mariners selected Andrew Moore in the second round (supplemental) of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Oregon State. He’s making quick work of the minor leagues, blowing through High and Double-A last season. In 28 starts, he posted a 2.65 ERA, striking out 7.3 per nine while walking only 31. He did give up 11 home runs.
Moore should start 2017 in Triple-A with a chance to Seattle at some point in 2017. While the stat line looks great, the stuff points to a back-of-the-rotation command and control pitcher. SafeCo Field will help but he is a flyball pitcher so he could be homer prone.
Scouting Report: Moore has plus control to go with his 90 MPH fastball and decent secondary pitches. At 6-feet tall, he gets little plane on his pitches and the 11 home runs he gave up in 2016 will likely increase as he moves to the upper minors and eventually the major leagues. That said, with 70-grade control and improving fastball command, he should limit the damage.
Fantasy Impact: Moore should only be rostered in leagues that have 400 or more minor leaguers. He does get a boost in value because he is so close to making his major league debut, but his ceiling is limited and fantasy owners need to check their expectations.
Byson Brigman (SS)
Highest Level: Short Season, ETA: 2019-20, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire Middle Infielder
The Padres drafted Byson Brigman in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft and sent him to the college-heavy Northwest League. He played well, hitting .260 but with more walks than strikeouts. He also stole 17 bases but got caught 12 times. While he played shortstop, he might be better suited for second base as his range is limited and his arm is fringy.
Scouting Report: Brigman tools are not very loud but what he can do is hit. Despite only batting .260 last season, he did walk more than he struck out, posting an impressive 13.7% strikeout rate. He does have above-average speed but clearly needs to work on his base stealing ability as his 58% success rate would suggest. He has well below average power and only hit two home runs in his college career and did not clear the fences is his introduction to professional baseball.
Fantasy Impact: While Brigman doesn’t have any standout tool, he can hit and that might be his ticket to the big leagues. However, from a fantasy standpoint, he should be ignored in all but the very deepest Dynasty Leagues.
2017 Emerging Prospect
Luis Veloz (OF)
The Mariners signed the 16-year-old Luis Veloz out of the Dominican Republic last season with hopes that he will develop into a prototypical power hitting right fielder. He’ll likely spend next summer in the Dominican Summer League before making his way over to the United States. He’s a long way off but the skills are enticing, particularly his bat speed and ability to hit for plus future power.
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