|Original Published Date: January 18, 2019|
Let’s face it, if it weren’t for Jerry Dipoto, the off-season would be boring. His constant wheeling and dealing is hard to evaluate in totality, but one thing is obvious, the farm system is much better. By adding Jared Kelenic, Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn and Yusei Kikuchi, the system is no longer a bottom five system. Out of all the acquisitions, Kelenic has the highest upside. He’s also the furthest away from contributing at the highest level but could be an impact outfielder one day. Sheffield and Kikuchi should see considerable time in the Major Leagues next season with both having mid-rotation upside.
After the big four, things get a little murkier. I do love Julio Rodriguez, and, in my opinion, he has star potential. He’s still a teenager, but the tools are very exciting. I also like Stetson alum, Logan Gilbert. If he can improve his fastball, there is impact potential. Then there is Kyle Lewis. He’s got the college pedigree and the high draft pick to his name, but just hasn’t been the same since tearing his ACL shortly after being drafted.
I’m sure this list will change, perhaps depending on when you are reading this, it already has. Dipoto is fun though and time will tell whether his play will work.
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1. Justus Sheffield (LHP)
Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2018 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
Justus Sheffield was the lead prospect in the blockbuster trade that sent James Paxton to the Yankees in November of 2018. While I like Sheffield, I don’t see him as a top-of-the-rotation starter like many commentators suggested shortly after the trade was made public. Instead, I see a number two or even a strong number three starter. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with that ceiling, for those who are suggesting he is more, I’m not there.
The stuff is very good with a fastball that sits 90 to 92 MPH and can touch higher with three excellent secondary pitches. The delivery is clean and simple with the ability to stay on top of his pitches. This should help compensate for his small stature. He also reversed a bad trend of giving up home runs that was worrisome in Double-A. But again, at his size, he’ll always be prone to giving up the long ball.
Given his mechanics and stuff, I would have expected him to throw more strikes. But, to-date, he has only average control, giving up 3.4 walks per nine over his five-year minor-league career. I think this improves over time.
Sheffield should get a shot to pitch in the Majors next season and I think he could be better than league-average. Over-time, I believe he grows into a solid pitcher in the mold of Sonny Gray.
2. Jarred Kelenic (SS)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF
Jarred Kelenic was the big asset acquired in the blockbuster trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets last fall. At the time of the trade, many fans shrugged their shoulders as not much is known about the young outfielder. In fact, he was one of the least discussed players in the 2018 MLB Draft. However, I loved the acquisition as I believe he has impact potential despite still being a teenager.
He a notorious baseball rat that brings a mature approach with plus raw power and big-time makeup. He showed that in 2018 by getting off to a fast start. Across the GCL and the Appy League, he slashed .286/.371/.470 in 55 games. He hit six home runs while stealing 15 of 16 bases. While the stolen bases were a little surprising, he does have good speed with an ability to read pitchers. As he matures and fills out, the speed will naturally regress, but 10 to 12 stolen bases early in his career are possible.
I have him as a Top 30 fantasy outfielder with good reason. The upside is a .280/.350 hitter with 20 plus home run and 10 to 12 stolen bases. That could be an impact fantasy contributor.
3. Justin Dunn (RHP)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP
I was a huge fan of the Mets drafting Justin Dunn in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft and understand why the Mariners wanted him in the package that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the New York. He’s an athletic kid with a starter’s arsenal who at the time he was drafted, lacked experience as a starter. You see, he was a reliever in college and while everyone thinks it’s an easy transition to switch roles, it’s not.
The Mets had him begin the 2017 season in High-A and it went poorly. While the stuff was there, he just could not throw consistent strikes and he struggled.
To begin 2018, the Mets had him return to St. Lucie and in nine starts, he pitched to a 2.39 ERA striking out over 10 per nine while walking less than three per nine. The effort resulted in a mid-season promotion to Double-A.
The ceiling is a solid number three fantasy starter with upside. He’ll likely split 2019 between Double and Triple-A with an ETA to the Majors in 2020.
4. Yusei Kikuchi (LHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
The Mariners won the Yusei Kikuchi sweepstakes over the winter and signed the 6-foot lefty to a four-year contract. As with many Japanese pitchers migrating to the US, he has a polished arsenal and a history of success in the NPB. What he doesn’t have is the wipeout splitter that Darvish and Ohtani possessed and is more of a fastball-slider pitcher. His fastball is an above-average offering sitting in the low-90s while his slider is his primary out-pitch. He rarely threw his change-up in Japan, so at this juncture it’s hard to throw a grade on it.
While he’s a lefty with a long history of success in Japan, the arsenal and his short-statue point to more of a mid-rotation ceiling or even a number four starter in the Big Leagues. That said, Japanese pitchers have a history of early success in the Major Leagues, so he could be a well-above league-average pitcher in 2019. Net-net, if I’m drafting in a fantasy re-draft league, he would be a target of mine in the middle rounds of drafts for next season. If I’m in the Dynasty League, I would check my expectations a little for the long haul.
5. Julio Rodriguez (OF)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 30 OF with extreme risk
Before the recent influx of prospects to the Mariners system via, Julio Rodriguez was my top prospect in the organization. While that ranking was partially due to the lack of overall talent in the organization, it was more based on the potential upside of the teenage outfielder.
Signed during the 2017 J2 signing period, Rodriguez has already started to demonstrate a solid approach at the plate with emerging power. In 59 games in the DSL, he posted a 15.7% strikeout rate and an 11.8% walk rate. He also slugged .525 with five home runs. Granted, he has yet to swing a bat in a professional game in the US, he has the talent, size and potential power to be a classic right fielder in the Major Leagues. He’s likely five or more years away, but if you have the patience to draft him in your Dynasty League, the reward could be enormous. I know I put my money where my mouth is and have him rostered on several of my teams.
6. Evan White (1B)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B
Through July, Evan White was doing what I thought he would do. He has an advanced approach who makes good contact and could one day hit .300. He had also hit six home runs which might be ok if he played second base. However, he’s a first baseman and that is just a problem.
August though rolled along and White hit six home runs in the month. An outlier? A result of playing in the California League? Likely, but it also demonstrates the potential. While the comp continues to be James Loney (I know, fantasy owners never like to hear that comparison), I’m still not willing to give up on the bat just yet. He’s a big, strong kid that if he can add some leverage to his swing, could change the calculus significantly. In fact, it happens all the time.
7. Logan Gilbert (RHP)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2021-22 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
Logan Gilbert attended Stetson University, the same college that two recent CY Young winners, Jacob deGrom and Corey Kluber also attended. Unfortunately, Gilbert doesn’t have the same kind of upside but has the size and stuff to have a long career as a back-of-the-rotation starter in the Major Leagues. However, as the 14th overall pick last June, the Mariners must have seen more.
The stuff is average to above-average with a fastball this sits in the low-90s. However, in the past he has thrown harder and has a good delivery with plenty of athleticism. The Mariners believe they can get him back to throwing harder. His secondary pitches are average with his changeup being the best.
What he can do is repeat his delivery and throw strikes and that combined with his current stuff give a ceiling of a number four starter. Now, if he can start sitting 94 to 95 and touching higher, that will change the calculus and quickly.
8. Kyle Lewis (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
It’s hard to get a read on Kyle Lewis. He was drafted as the 11th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft but in his 30th professional game that year, he tore his ACL in his knee, and it appears he just has yet to fully recover. I say “appear” as I hope that is the case. He’s showed very little power with a ton of swing and miss.
Granted, we always thought there would be strikeouts, but I expected more than a .430 SLG in the lower levels of the minor leagues. I’m sure Dynasty League owners did as well. In fact, he’s been dropped in many leagues begging the question as to what current owners do – Hold or Drop?
I’m inclined to give it one more year. He is only 23 and still has that double-plus raw power. While it’s getting harder to buy that he’s still recovering from his injury, I’m willing to give it one more year before moving on.
9. Noelvi Marte (SS)
Highest Level: DNP ETA: 2024+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B with extreme risk
Noelvi Marte was the top international prospect signed by the Mariners in 2018 J2 period agreeing to a $1.55 million dollar signing bonus. Marte’s carrying tool is his plus raw power. However, unlike many young players, he has a swing that works and an idea of an approach at the plate. Also, as with many young elite players, he is currently playing shortstop but will likely grow out of the position long-term with third base his likely landing place.
He just turned 17 in October, so he’s years away from even sniffing the Major Leagues. But with a chance for plus future power potential and the ability to hit enough to get to the power, he should be on the radar of all Dynasty League owners.
10. Braden Bishop (OF)
Highest Level: Double-A ETA: 2019-20 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Braden Bishop has been working his way through the minor league system and after a solid year in Double-A in 2018, could finally make his way to the Major Leagues sometime in 2019. While he’s never put up impressive stats at any level in which he plays, he’s a good hitter, a double-plus runner and last year, starting to show a little pop.
While he’s likely a fourth outfielder, I think the talent points to more than that. While he’s never stole more than 16 bases at any level, I’ve personally timed him at 4.07 out of the box, so the speed is real. Plus, he can hit and if he’s starting to add some leverage to his swing, there could be a little more. Again, his age and past production point to a fourth outfielder, I think there is more in the tank.
11. Erik Swanson (RHP)
Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2019 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
Erik Swanson was part of the return when the Yankees acquired James Paxton in November. I’ve seen Swanson several times over the years and while I see him as a Major League pitcher, the stuff points to that of a number four starter.
He has a nice three pitch mix with his fastball sitting in the low-90s and two quality secondary pitches in his slider and changeup. All his pitches play up because he’s able to throw each for strikes. Over his minor league career, he’s struck out a batter an inning while keeping his walk rate near two per nine.
12. Sam Carlson (RHP)
Highest Level: Rookie ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP
There was a lot of buzz about Sam Carlson when the Mariners paid him an over-slot $2 million dollar signing bonus after the 2017 MLB Draft. At 6-foot-4, 195 pounds and lots of athleticism, he has the prototypical profile of a potential front-of-the-rotation Major League pitcher. Unfortunately, he blew out his elbow shortly into his professional career and sat out the entire 2018 season.
Assuming he comes back healthy, Carlson’s ceiling is still very high. While I have the ceiling currently at a number three starter, there could be more as he fills out and adds velocity and refines his secondary pitches. But first, he needs to get healthy and pitch again. Unfortunately, that will not likely be until late in 2019 or even 2020 as he only had surgery in July.
13. Josh Stowers (OF)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF
Josh Stowers has a little bit of speed and a little pop that could produce double-digit home run and stolen bases at the highest level. He got off to a fast start in the Northwest league hitting .260/.380 with five home runs and 20 stolen bases. He controlled the strike zone well with a 15% walk rate but did strikeout too much (25% K/9 rate).
While there is clearly a talent with Stowers, he doesn’t have that one standout skill that fantasy owners desire. In other words, I don’t see 25 plus home runs or 25 plus stolen bases. Instead, if it all comes together, he could hit 18 home runs and steal 15 bases with a .260/.330 average. Is that enough for a fantasy owner? In deeper leagues, it just might be.
14. Cal Raleigh (C)
Highest Level: Short-Season ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 C
Cal Raleigh was signed in the third round last June after a solid three-year career at Florida State. In 194 games, he hit .282/.394 with 32 home runs. While the strikeout rate was a little high, his patient approach at the plate helped to offset. After signing, the Mariners assigned him to the Northwest League where he continued to show plus power (.534 SLG) while also controlling the strike zone.
As a switch hitter and good power from both sides of the plate, Raleigh has a chance to get full-time at-bats at the highest level. Defensively, he’s not a plus defender but has enough skills to keep behind the plate. But must hit, and so far, he’s doing it.
15. Jake Fraley (OF)
Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2020-21 Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire Pickup
Jake Fraley can really hit. He has a nice smooth lefty swing that is more geared to contact than power with a great approach at the plate. In 66 games in High-A playing for the Ray, he hit .347 striking out 17% of the time while walking 10%. The problem is his secondary skills are not very explosive. He’s an above-average runner who stole 33 bases during his draft year but hasn’t done much since. He also has no power and will likely be a sub-.400 SLG player.
For now, he’s not rosterable on a Dynasty League but given his ability to get on base, if he starts to show some renewed base stealing ability, he could become relevant in deeper leagues.