Seattle Mariners Top 20 Prospects for 2014
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. The book has been delayed by my head injury, but we are close to the finish line. Thank you for your patience and we still need pre-orders!
All of these grades are preliminary and subject to change.
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a reasonable chance of becoming stars or superstars. In theory, most Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or unanticipated problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
1) Taijuan Walker, RHP, Grade A: Athletic, throws hard, throws strikes, good makeup, statistically successful, good major league debut last fall. Complete package for success here assuming he stays healthy.
2) James Paxton, LHP, Grade A-: Borderline B+: I had him as a B+ last year and he’s done enough to move up another half-grade. I believe that his early big league success is not a fluke, or least mostly not. He’s human and some backsliding is likely but even accounting for that he looks like a number two or very strong number three starter, good health providing.
3) D.J. Peterson, 3B, Grade B+: Big-time power, we’ll have to see how average/OBP pan out at higher levels but I’m optimistic. I’d go up to an A- if I were more confident in his defense.
4) Victor Sanchez, RHP, Grade B: A weird prospect, strong mature build but just 19, unusually good control for a young pitcher, velocity varies, quality of secondary pitches depends on what your source is, but ultimately he gets results. Future number three starter? Nobody mentions him as a future closer but that wouldn’t surprise me either.
5) Edwin Diaz, RHP, Grade B: More of a classic pitching prospect than Sanchez, actually a year older but two levels behind him. Low-to-mid-90s, usually throws strikes, slider looks good, changeup needs work, another potential number three starter but with a different style than Sanchez.
6) Austin Wilson, OF, Grade B-. Great athlete with a high ceiling as a complete player, but contact issues and erratic track record make ranking difficult. Hitting well in the early going in the Midwest League. Could be a star or a Triple-A flameout. What is the deal with Stanford anyway?
7) Chris Taylor, SS, Grade B-: Looks to have a broad base of skills, good defense, on base ability, speed, gap power, has outhit expectations so far. Great pick in the fifth round in 2012 from Virginia.
8) Jin-Man Choi, 1B, Grade B-: Controversy! I know he’s not the toolsiest guy in the world but he can simply hit, good combination of power and on-base ability, very low strikeout rate for a guy with those skills. He won’t run track for you but he’s hit at every level when healthy and no red flags stand out sabermetrically. I’ll put a marker down on this one.
9) Tyler Marlette, C, Grade C+: Borderline B-: I liked this guy since he was in high school, development has been slower than ideal but he’s still just 21, should be solid on both offense and defense eventually. Not a star but still has a chance to be a valuable regular.
10) Gabriel Guerrero, OF, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Excellent tools. Was sometimes overmatched in the Midwest League last year due to poor strike zone judgment. Off to a better start this year and ranking will rise if he maintains that, though of course High Desert factors have to be weighed in. As with Wilson, he could become a star or a fair regular or a Triple-A bust.
11) Luiz Gohara, LHP, Grade C+: Positives: live arm, good mechanics, potential for three plus pitches. Negatives: understandably erratic, had some shoulder trouble last year, being just 17 is both good and bad for prospect ranking purposes. Very high ceiling guy but want to see how he develops this year.
12) Patrick Kivlehan, 3B, Grade C+: Former Rutgers football player made good progress last year with dramatic reduction in strikeout rate compared to his ’12 debut. Has a chance to hit for power and average, defense is still rough, older than ideal at age 24 but that is understandable given his background.
13) Tyler Pike, LHP, Grade C+: Good arm? Beep. Consistent command? Beep beep. Potential number three or four starter? Beep. Needs to develop more consistency with secondary pitches? Beep. Faces a challenge to keep things together in tough environment at High Desert? Beep. Higher grades possible in time? Beep. Future ace? Beep beep. Standard young pitcher caveats apply? Beep.
14) Roenis Elias, LHP, Grade C+: I had this guy rated as a sleeper last year. He does not have the long-range ceiling of someone like Sanchez, Diaz, or even Pike. But he’s a finished product and I don’t see why he can’t be a successful fourth or fifth starter. Cuban defector did not receive the hype of others in that group. You can make a B- case but I already have enough ranking headaches on this list.
15) Abraham Almonte, OF, Grade C+: Hitting version of Elias, non-name prospect who took a step forward into major league value. Has some pop, some speed, nice steal from the Yankees system. Contact issues are apparent right now but I think he can be a valuable role player.
16) Jabari Blash, OF, Grade C+: Tools have always been here, particularly power, but it has taken longer to resolve contact issues and general consistency. Off to a fast start in Double-A. Perhaps just a .250 hitter but could have enough power and patience to be valuable anyway. On the right day he looks like a star. On the wrong day, well. . .
17) Tyler O’Neill, OF, Grade C+: Canadian who draws constant Brett Lawrie comparisons for being tightly-wound muscular but under 6-foot. Good power potential, other skills need polish. I rather like him and I think higher grades are likely in time.
18) Carson Smith, RHP, Grade C+: Relief prospects are tough to grade, I had him as high as a B- on earlier versions of this list. Love his strikeout/ground ball ability but I am not convinced his command will fully hold up for a closer role, at least in the short run. Gets some incredible movement on his pitches when he’s going well. Excellent value as eighth round pick in 2011 from Texas State.
19) Dominic Leone, RHP, Grade C+: Two years ago he was struggling at Clemson as a starting pitcher. Now he’s in the big league bullpen, throwing 98 instead of 91 and with better secondary pitches. Great development work with this one.
20) Ketel Marte, SS, Grade C+: Very good defensive shortstop with a chance to hit, hasn’t received much attention yet but off to a fast start in Double-A at age 20. Stock will rise dramatically if that continues.
OTHER GRADE C+: Danny Hultzen, LHP; Julio Morban, OF; Stefen Romero, UT
To be honest, this was a very difficult list to work up. The huge amount of C+/B- talent in this system is tough to rank. There were easily another 10 guys who could rank in the Grade C (or even C+) category.
I have seen a few references to the Mariners system being down but I don’t see that at all: this looks like a very deep system to me. Many of those C+ guys have high upside potential but need more development time or, from a sabermetric perspective, larger sample sizes to judge. While big bonus players and early draft picks get most of the press, the Mariners have shown they can identify undervalued talents like Elias and Almonte.
On the mound, Walker and Paxton are ready now, health allowing. There’s no shortage of potential mid-rotation or relief arms. The Mariners have also shown an admirable ability to select pitchers in later rounds and get something out of them. If Danny Hultzen comes back from shoulder surgery, so much the better.
On the hitting side you have potentially explosive power bats in Peterson and Wilson from last year’s draft. There are middle infielders and toolsy outfielders, polished bats and raw upside bets. I admit liking Choi more than most people but even if you don’t buy into him there is still a lot in this system. Developing hitters in Safeco isn’t easy but the scouting department is providing the material to work with.
Overall, while there are some question-marks I think the Mariners have an diverse and very promising collection of minor league talent.