The Seattle Mariners farm system is a bit more barren than it was a few years ago. General manager Jerry Dipoto has traded a lot of bigger name prospects for more major-league ready talent in a win-now mentality.
Dipoto has done a decent job restocking the top of the system. Kyle Lewis still has loads of potential despite an injury-riddled start to his career. Evan White and Sam Carlson were exciting picks in the 2017 MLB Draft.
But where the Mariners come up short is true depth. So who can you watch for this season?
Art Warren, RHP
Warren is the 24-year-old reliever who earned himself an invite to spring training after a big 2017. He is a DII baseball product, hailing from Ashland after spending a couple years in Cincinnati with the Bearcats.
Not knowing much about Warren until his big 2017 campaign, I spoke to someone who watched him from Ashland to see how far he’s come. He told me that Warren always had the fastball, but his command seems to be vastly improved from his college days. He has also added quite a bit of velocity to his now mid-90s fastball, something he wasn’t doing in Ohio. A propensity to not allow home runs surely helped him excel this season in the slugger-friendly California League.
Warren was good for Modesto last season in his conversation from swingman to closer. He saved eight of his 10 opportunities, while posting a 3.06 ERA. He struck out 67 over 64.2 innings, walking 25, and continued to be a primarily ground ball pitcher, with 42 percent batted ball rate. But the Arizona Fall League is where he made a name for himself.
The righty pitched 11.1 innings over nine appearances, not allowing a run while posting three wins and three saves. He had a microscopic 0.79 WHIP, striking out 12 and walking four. The command needs to continue to improve, but in just one year, Warren made a strong transition from starter to closer. He looks ready for a fast track to the back of the bullpen.
Nick Rumbelow, RHP
Speaking of bullpen help, how about Rumbelow? Rumbelow was acquired this offseason in a trade that highlighted strikeout artist JP Sears. Rumbelow seemed ready for a full-time big league role in 2016 for the New York Yankees.
And then Tommy John happened.
Rumbelow has been a reliever since the Yankees took him in the seventh round of their big 2013 MLB Draft out of LSU. He’s closed out games and appeared in short relief and everything in between over the years. In 2015, he made his big league debut, posting a 4.02 ERA (3.84 FIP) and 1.34 FIP over 15.2 innings, striking out a batter per inning.
2016 was a wash as he threw one inning, but he came back strong in 2017. He was actually out of his mind in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, tossing 29 innings and going 5-1 with five saves and a 0.62 ERA (2.10 FIP) and 0.79 WHIP. He struck out 30 and walked eight while posting an insane (an uncharacteristic) 60 percent ground ball rate.
He’s a fastball-curveball pitcher that has a couple other pitches, neither as strong as his strikeout combo. At 26, some may say he’s no longer a prospect, but let’s not forget he’s got a fresh arm and lost an entire year to rehab. He should be in the Opening Day bullpen for the Mariners.
Rule 5 watch: Mike Ford, 1B
Another Yankees prospect I followed for several years, Ford has long been under the radar. Dipoto obviously had him on his radar, however, and Ford was his first-ever Rule 5 pick.
That means he has to stick on the 25-man roster or else he’s sent back. Ford has every chance to do so.
Ford is an athlete, he won Pitcher and Player of the Year for Princeton in 2013, the first Ivy Leaguer to do so. He has had an advanced approach at the plate since Day 1, as evidence by a career .404 on base percentage, walking 22 more times than he has struck out over a five-year MiLB career. He can hit for decent average, although he seemed to sacrifice that a bit last year as he watched his power develop in his first career 20 home run season. His swing is nice, as described in an report earlier this season:
He has a pretty smooth swing that slices with control through the strike zone... it appears he’s made a few adjustments. Originally, he barely took a step, knees a little bowed, sliding his foot into the swing. Now his stance looks a bit more open as he takes a bit of a more defined approach at the pitch. Perhaps this is to help spread the ball around, as Ford has become somewhat of a pull hitter. Most of his home runs go over the right-field wall.
So, why was he left unprotected? An undrafted free agent in the big 2013 season, there has been a changing of the guard in the Yankees farm system. Despite being a solid defending first baseman, he’s pretty much stuck there, giving a guy like Tyler Austin and his position versatility a better chance to stick on the Yanks roster. Ford was great organization depth for the Yankees, but he can likely serve an immediate purpose elsewhere on a big league roster.
The Mariners brought in Ryon Healy this offseason, and with Kyle Seager planted at third, he should be the opening day first baseman. But Ford is much more suited to be the back-up first baseman than a Dan Vogelbach, so it’s very likely he sticks and does so. It will be interesting to see how he caps his rise in his long awaited big league debut.