With the regular season concluding, we’ve decided to take a look at each team’s future — not by using a crystal ball or other psychic abilities, but by evaluating their farm systems. Below you’ll find our ranking of the top five prospects in the organization — sorted by perceived future potential — as well as five other players who fit various categories. Those categories are:
2020 contributor: A player who is likely to play a role for the big-league team next season.
Analyst’s pick: A player who is a strong statistical performer and/or whose underlying measures are better than the scouting reports suggest.
Riser: A player on the way up.
Faller: A player on the way down.
One to watch: An interesting player to keep in mind (for whatever reason).
These rankings were compiled after talking with various industry sources about the systems (and players) in question. It should be acknowledged that this process is more art than science, and that there are limits to ordinal rankings. Still, it’s an intuitive system, and our hope is that the write-ups will answer any questions by providing additional context and analysis of each player — such as their pluses and minuses; the risk factors involved; and their estimated arrival date.
One last word on eligibility: we’re following MLB’s rookie guidelines by disqualifying any player with more than 130 big-league at-bats or 50 innings pitched.
The Seattle Mariners have the longest postseason drought in baseball, and have traded many of their most desirable big-league players over the last 12 months. They should have a good farm system — and they do, led by a pair of talented outfielders.
1. Jarred Kelenic, OF
The gem of the Robinson Cano trade, Jarred Kelenic asserted himself as the top prospect in Seattle’s system with an impressive age-19 season that saw him hit .291/.364/.540 with 23 homers and 20 steals across three levels — including 21 Double-A contests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kelenic is expected to be an above-average hitter at the big-league level.
Kelenic is more than just a stick though. He can run, and for the time being he’s likely to remain in center thanks to his footspeed and his big-time arm. There’s a chance he has to move to a corner (likely right) down the road, but there’s star potential if he can stick up the middle.
Kelenic won’t be able to legally drink until July. By then, he could be knocking on the big-league door. Whether Seattle chooses to answer it before the 2021 season rolls around is to be seen.
2. Julio Rodriguez, OF
Julio Rodriguez won’t turn 19 until the end of the year, but he’s already established himself as one of the better outfield prospects in the minors.
Rodriguez is listed at 6-foot-4, 225 pounds and looks the part. Although he was more than three years younger than the average bear in both leagues he played in during the 2019 season, he still hit .326/.390/.540 with 12 home runs. Should Rodriguez develop as expected, he’s likely to bat in the middle of an order someday while providing both average and big-time pop.
Defensively, Rodriguez isn’t quite as impressive. He has a strong arm and should end up in right field, but let’s be real: few are going to care about that so long as he hits like he can.
3. Logan Gilbert, RHP
Originally the 14th pick in the 2018 draft, Logan Gilbert had himself a busy first full professional season by throwing 135 innings across three levels, including Double-A. He accumulated a 2.13 ERA and five strikeouts per walk, all the while yielding just seven home runs. Impressive.
Gilbert is more than a stat-sheet stuffer, too. He’s tall and looks the part of a workhorse. His fastball is his best offering, but he has three other offerings that fluctuate around average. Factor in his control, and he profiles as a potential mid-rotation starter — if not more.
Should Gilbert live up to that promise, expect to hear a lot about how he hails from Stetson University — the same Florida college that produced Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom and Lenny DiNardo. (OK, OK — sorry Lenny, we tried.)
4. Evan White, 1B
As a general rule of thumb, right-handed-hitting first basemen tend to be fungible. As another general rule of thumb, first basemen who are praised more for their defense than their bats tend to be as successful as hockey players with more teeth than career goals. Both statements apply to Evan White, yet he has plenty of supporters around the industry.
White is widely held as the best defensive first baseman in the minors, and one of the best cold-corner gloves in the game. Some teams believe first-base defense is underrated on the public scene. It’s unclear if the Mariners are one of those teams, but they’ve held firm in keeping White at first base, despite him having the means to play an all right to good outfield.
At the dish, White produced more power this season than in his first full pro season. He homered 18 times in 400 plate appearances at Double-A, and seemed to do a better job of adding loft to his swing. His groundball rate, for instance, was down six percentage points as compared to last season’s mark. That would seem to bode well for his chances of being an average or better hitter at the big-league level.
White should begin 2020 in Triple-A. He could reach the majors before the year is out.
5. Justin Dunn, RHP
Another part of the Robinson Cano payout, Justin Dunn was mostly used as a closer at Boston College before the Mets selected him 19th in the 2016 draft. It took him a little over three years to reach the majors, where he had a rough start — walking eight of the first 16 batters he faced.
Nonetheless, Dunn remains an intriguing prospect due to his athleticism and arsenal breadth. He has more control than command, but there’s a chance he continues to find greater consistency in his delivery. At minimum, he has a 93 mph fastball with some jump to it, as well as a slider and a changeup — his two most frequently used secondary pitches in the Show.
Dunn may well end up back in the bullpen. He could also end up as a mid-rotation starter.
2020 contributor: Joey Gerber, RHP
The Mariners had 42 different players pitch for them in 2019, including 24 in a relief capacity. None of them were Joey Gerber, but he figures to make his big-league debut in 2020. Gerber has a high-grade fastball and an above-average slider and pitches from a low three-quarters slot, making baby food out of right-handed batters — he held them to a .548 OPS this season. Do note: he struck out more than a third of the hitters he saw between High- and Double-A.
Seattle’s third-round pick in 2018, Cal Raleigh reached Double-A less than a year after making his professional debut. He struggled relative to what he’d done at previous levels — his strikeout rate ballooned to 29.6 percent while his average, walk rate and slugging output all dipped — but that’s somewhat understandable. Raleigh at his best is a switch-hitting catcher with power and on-base skills who grades well according to various teams’ internal framing metrics. That’s potentially a solid player, and one who might just debut in the majors in his second pro season.
Félix Hernández made his MLB debut on August 4th, 2005. He gave up a single earned run, and the Mariners lost.
Félix Hernández made what was likely his last start as a Mariner on September 26th, 2019. Children that were born on his debut were just finished their third or fourth week of high school. Félix gave up three runs, and the Mariners lost.
Those fourteen years saw Mariner fans heighten their expectations, restrain their hope, bargain with nobody, and ultimately accept one inescapable reality: life isn’t a storybook. There isn’t always a happy ending. Life isn’t fair. Félix never made the playoffs, and he probably never will.
Yesterday’s goodbye felt simultaneously like a celebration of Félix and a final act of defiance: a middle finger at reality. Life isn’t fair, and we find joy anyway. These acts of defiance allow us to maintain sanity through negative times. The grim realities make the happy endings that much more significant.
Last night was written about eloquently and brilliantly already, so I’ll leave it there.
Suffice to say that this morning was something of an emotional hangover.
When tonight’s lineup was released, we saw that Dylan Moore was playing center. I suppose his miracle catch last night earned him the spot, but it wasn’t exactly a portent of good things to come tonight.
Any negative feelings or bad omens were seemingly validated when Justus Sheffield gave up a leadoff dinger to Marcus Semien. The clubbed liner to right began a 96-pitch, five-inning slog for Sheffield. As he labored through a lineup of vanilla Marks and Matts, he seemed to need at least five pitches to retire any one batter.
Despite that, Justus did manage to get through the rest of his five innings unscathed. It wasn’t pretty. He escaped multiple jams. He struck out just two while walking four. His success might have been more a failure on the part of the A’s: they went 0-8 with runners in scoring position. In fundamentally unsexy, un-Félix-like fashion, he posted the same overall line that Félix did in that debut: five innings, one earned run. He gave the Mariners a chance.
Of course, as in Félix’s debut, the Mariners offense spent a good eight innings being wholly ineffectual. They scored a single run in the first that, again, might have been more a failure on the part of the A’s: two wild pitches allowed a run to score on a ground-out. They pushed across a legitimate run in the third, but they left Justus’ 2-1 lead at the mercy of their historically bad bullpen.
Shortly thereafter, the A’s boiled that bullpen. Zac Grotz and Taylor Guilbeau each saw a misplaced sinker distilled into hard-hit balls, and those hard-hit balls were themselves distilled into a two-run dinger. The A’s took a 3-2 lead, and we were going to be left with another one of those games. A game with no run support, that took 3.5 hours, that was wet and cold. In short, a game that made a stadium full of baseball fans long for an offseason when baseball will be no more.
Two innings later, and it was almost finally over. I’m sure some of the fans still at the game were there for the love of the Mariners, and for the love of baseball. I’m equally sure that most of the fans still at the game were there for the post-game fireworks. A’s phenom closer Liam Hendriks jogged in. Hendriks had a sub-2.00 ERA. The Mariners were opening the ninth with hitters 7, 8, and 9. The literal bottom of the order.
Tom Murphy grounded out. Mallex Smith hit a first-pitch single. Dylan Moore struck out, but a wild pitch got Mallex to second base.
Up came Shed Long. He watched a looping curve go how. Hendriks dialed up a 98 MPH fastball. Shed hacked at it and missed. He stepped out, kicked his bat, and stepped back in. Hendriks hucked a 99 MPH fastball. Shed watched it for strike two. One strike away from loss 94 in a rainy, sparse T-Mobile Park.
Hendriks gave Shed another 99 MPH fastball. He barely caught up, fouling it off. Hendriks switched up the next pitch, offering a slider in the dirt. Shed held up, and Mallex took third base. Hendriks took a deep breath, and so did Shed. This game meant something to the A’s, and shouldn’t have meant anything for the Mariners. Hendriks fired another 99 MPH fastball into the zone.
Shed got around on it and hit it into center. Mallex scored. The game was tied.
J.P. somehow worked an even longer at bat than Shed. He eventually got a 99 MPH fastball of his own, and he sawed it off the other way into left field. Shed sprinted 270 feet in seconds, scored, and won the game. What fans were left rose in unison, screaming for Shed, for J.P., and for the Mariners.
Justus Sheffield is not Félix Hernández. Not even close. But the Mariners won his five-inning, one-earned-run start.
The last fourteen years demonstrated in brutal fashion that life is not a storybook. But the last fourteen years ended last night.
Tonight, the Mariners won a game they’ve lost so many times. They won it with Mallex Smith, Shed Long, J.P. Crawford, and Justus Sheffield.
No, it’s not a storybook. But you’d be forgiven for settling in for another story.
Riser: Jake Fraley, OF
Remember the Mike Zunino-for-Mallex Smith trade? (If not, don’t worry about it.) Jake Fraley was part of that deal, though, and might prove to be the most productive of the players swapped. Fraley balled out in Double-A and later appeared in 12 games in the majors, where he struck out twice as often (14 times) as he reached base (seven) before being shut down with thumb woes. Ah well. Fraley can do a little bit of everything, including grow a questionable beard, and may prove to be a viable starter against right-handed pitching.
Faller: Sam Carlson, RHP
It’s perhaps unfair to highlight Sam Carlson because it’s not his fault he’s been hurt — he underwent Tommy John surgery in summer 2018 — but he’s appeared in just two professional games since being drafted No. 55 by the Mariners nearly two and a half years ago. It’s hard to rank a pitcher when there’s no way of knowing what they bring to the table.
One to watch: George Kirby, RHP
The Mariners drafted George Kirby 20th, making him the highest player ever selected from Elon University. Kirby responded in kind by pitching so well as a professional as to run his year-long statistics to four home runs and six walks allowed in 111 innings between college and Low-A — that’s a per-nine rate of 0.49 free passes, for those who are mathematically challenged. Clearly his control is good, and so is his fastball and long and tall frame. Kirby needs to continue to work on his secondary offerings, but he could be a quick-moving, strike-throwing mid-rotation starter.