Checking in on the Seattle Mariners top 15 prospects

The All-Star break is over, but here is a look at what we said about the Mariners top 15 prospects, along with some new prospects, and some prospects who were omitted from the list that were on the prior list.

Here’s the post from March.

1. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Age 21

March rank: 1

What we said in March:

Walker’s ascent through the Mariners farm system was both steady and persistent. His results have been good at every level, and he’s made stops in Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Walker made his big league debut in 2013, showing the plus fastball that made him a prospect to begin with, and showed that he’d developed secondary pitches that, while not complete, have a good chance to be effective big league pitches. Walker experienced some shoulder tightness at the beginning of Spring Training, but recently made his first Spring Training start, and figures to log most of his innings in the Mariners rotation in 2014.

Now:

Walker has spent most of the 2014 season injured. He’s still got ace potential, but with a team option on Hisashi Iwakuma for 2015, Walker likely won’t be asked to be anything more than a No. 3 until 2016.

2. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Age 23

March rank: 3

What we said in March:

Peterson was the Mariners top pick in 2013. Drafting him marked the fourth of five years that the Mariners drafted an accomplished college player with their first pick. Much like when they drafted Dustin Ackley in 2009, Peterson is considered an advanced hitter and doesn’t necessarily have a clear-cut position in the big leagues. Peterson’s natural position, third base, is blocked by Kyle Seager, and any chances of Seager moving off the position are probably completely extinguished by the presence of Robinson Cano and Brad Miller. Peterson may not be athletic enough to stick in the outfield, but has potential for his bat to play as an average-ish first baseman with decent defense at the position – a position where the Mariners don’t have a clear future.

Now:

Peterson has absolutely dominated at both High Desert and West Tennessee so far this year, and may make a brief cameo in September with the big club if he’s able to continue his rapid ascent through the Mariners system. We’d like to see Peterson walk more (7.4 percent), but his strikeout rate is a bit concerning (22.4 percent), though his power should help atone for his whiffs.

3. James Paxton, LHP, Age 25

March Rank: 2

What we said in March:

After being a first round pick of the Toronto Blue 2009 and not signing with the team, Paxton was a bargain selection by the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Paxton has had issues with walks through his career, but his 2013 season was somewhat promising, as he averaged only 3.6 BB/9, certainly not stingy with walks, but a substantial step forward for Paxton. Paxton’s fastball had more velocity than one would have expected early in his minor league career, averaging 94.9 miles-per-hour in 2014.

Now:

The primary reason for Paxton’s single slot drop is his injury-plagued 2014 season. I’ve essentially assumed that Paxton would have to convert to a relief role to make the majors due to his walk issues. Now he’s seemingly gotten the walk issue under control, if only his health could keep up.

4. Alex Jackson, OF, Age 19

March rank: Not available

Now:

Jackson was drafted by the Mariners out of high school, and is considered a guy with a high-ceiling bat. He’s played catcher, but will probably move to a corner outfield spot, not unlike Bryce Harper. There is no indication that Jackson will approach Harper’s level of talent or production, though. Nonetheless, Jackson is one of the top prospects in the Mariners organization and probably has the highest ceiling of anyone who hasn’t gotten a taste of the big leagues, and may even surpass Taijuan Walker’s highest perceived-peak with some seasoning in the minors.

5. Chris Taylor, SS, Age 23

March rank: 6

What we said in March:

As many insults as we’ve hurled at the Mariners for their lack of importance placed on defense, they’ve been pretty steadfast in their desire to have quality defenders at shortstop. Two years of Brendan Ryan and the draft picks of Nick Franklin in the first round and Brad Miller in the second have shown that the Mariners care about the position defensively. Franklin has since moved to second base and onto the trading block, and while Miller has potential to become an above-average defender at the position, such development is far from a certainty. When the Mariners drafted Chris Taylor there was no doubt he could field, but his hitting (.865 OPS between High-A and Double-A last year) have catapulted him into position as one of the Mariners top prospects. Certainly, his 2013 numbers are suspicious considering how much of his season was spent in Adelanto, California, but nonetheless, Taylor’s stock is high, albeit volatile.

Now:

It’s possible that Taylor’s rank is informed by Nick Franklin’s struggles. Franklin’s time in Seattle hasn’t unearthed his deficiencies defensively to the extent that a larger sample size likely would, but the team has made it quite clear that they have no expectations of Franklin being their shortstop long-term. Taylor can handle the position defensively – perhaps substantially better than even Brad Miller – and there has yet to be a minor league that slowed Taylor down.

6. Luiz Gohara, LHP, Age 17

March Rank: 4

What we said in March:

Gohara was the youngest Mariner in Pulaski last year, and in fact, he was the only minor of the bunch. In fact, Gohara was the only player in a season earlier than his Age 18 season to pitch in the Appalachian League, and one of only four minors. This indicates that the Mariners are pretty high on him, and while his style and while his size and handedness may eventually draw CC Sabathia comparisons, his production may one day match, considering the type of stuff Gohara has at such a young age. Gohara is a long ways away, but this Mariners organization hasn’t been afraid to debut top prospect pitchers before they’re privy to their first legal alcoholic beverage.

Now:

At the time of this writing Gohara has a 12.00 ERA in two appearances and 6.0 innings in Everett. Clearly this is too small a sample to start doubting his run prevention ability, and his 21 strikeouts compared to only seven walks over 18.2 innings in Rookie and Low-A ball this year make for promising peripherals. Projections on Gohara’s potential remain the same.

7. Patrick Kivlehan, 3B, Age 24

March Rank: 7

What we said in March:

Entering his Age 24 season, and only having graced Adelanto for about half a season, Kivlehan’s spot in my top 10 may seem curious. Granted, Kivlehan is older than most of Single-A’s top prospects, but he’s also spent considerably less time playing baseball than most of those guys. A former Rutgers football standout, Kivlehan has hit, and hit, and hit since re-kindling his love affair with baseball. Kivlehan may never completely curb a strikeout issue that has plagued him through the minors, but he cut his strikeouts from nearly one strikeout every three plate appearances to less than one every five. It stands to reason that Kivlehan may have another big jump in his development waiting around the corner. If he does, he could be a very good big leaguer, even if he doesn’t stick at third base.

Now:

The disclaimer of Kivlehan’s age still exists. He took a break from baseball to play football at Rutgers. That said, Kivlehan has apparently gotten his strikeout issues under control, whiffing at a rate under 22 percent at the time of this writing. His future may be in the outfield, and that’s good news, because the Mariners need athletic outfielders that can hit. There’s no guarantee that Kivlehan becomes that at the highest level, but he’s got more tools than most in the Mariners system.

8. Tyler Pike, LHP, Age 20

March rank: 5

What we said in March:

Some of the prospect reports I have read have ranked Edwin Diaz, a pitcher the Mariners selected 28 picks ahead of Pike, well ahead of Pike in their prospect rankings. Diaz is fine, but he pitched 2013 in rookie ball, while Pike was in Single-A. Pike doesn’t have the kind of top-end upside that Diaz has, but his floor is ostensibly much lower, and if he’s able to continue being productive, he could make it to the big leagues relatively soon. Pike’s 4.6 BB/9 in 2013 is concerning, especially paired with a reduced strikeout rate, but frequently pitchers at this level are pitching less for ultimate effectiveness, and more for development.

Now:

When Pike was drafted out of high school he was billed as a guy that who had advanced “pitchability” at a young age. We’ve yet to see Pike truly dominate the strikezone, and in 2014 he’s averaging more than seven walks per nine innings, with a similar strikeout rate.

9. Austin Wilson, OF, Age 22

March Rank: 9

What we said in March:

Wilson has physical talent to become very good hitter and a very good fielder. Something in the realm of Alex Rios isn’t crazy, though Wilson may not be able to maintain the same athleticism as his body matures. Wilson will have to overcome the Stanford hitter stigma that has been created by several failed top picks from Stanford. After a solid showing in Everett last year, Wilson could rocket through the Mariners system if he remains productive at higher levels of the minors. He could also become the latest Mariners outfield prospect to fall victim to strikeouts and a power outage after leaving the low minors.

Now:

Wilson has been tremendously successful, but we’d certainly like to see him succeed against better competition before moving him up the list. He’s got a ton of tools, and has shown promising walk and strikeout numbers compared to what we would have expected.

10. Tyler Marlette, C, Age 21

March Rank: 11

What we said in March:

Occasionally there are players in a farm system that you fall in love with. I’m pretty high on Tyler Pike and Luiz Gohara. I like their stuff and their pitchability combo. When I hear people saying that Pike’s ceiling is something like a back-of-the-rotation starter, I feel like someone is hedging their bets. It’s easier to not look stupid if you don’t say anything. Marlette has been one of these players for me. The Mariners drafted him in 2011 and paid him well over his slot price. Marlette has potential and athletic ability to be able to hit well and catch at a level above average. If he does that he could end up being something an echelon below star, but very good. His bat plays a lot worse at other positions, but everyone’s plays worse at positions other than catcher, save for shortstops. After a mostly nondescript 2012, Marlette hit well in Single-A as a 20-year-old in 2013.

Now:

I’ve always liked Marlette’s game. His .290/.351/.478 slash line at the time of this writing is impressive, though it’s being done in Adelanto, where overrated hitting prospects are made several times every year.

11. Nick Franklin, IF, Age 23

March ranking: Unranked, was expected to be in majors

Now:

Franklin has loads of offensive potential, and has the ability to handle second base well, and could probably handle third base if given the opportunity. His work ethic could even allow him to become a quality outfielder with enough time out there. That said, reports and perceptions kept trickling in while Franklin was with the big club that his work ethic and intensity had worked to his detriment with the Mariners coaching staff. Even then, he’s blocked at all infield positions besides first base, and isn’t yet a quality outfielder. He’s struggled in the few opportunities he’s had with the big club this year, and is quickly leaving an age in which a team will be extremely patient with his development. Franklin presents a likely trade chip for the Mariners, though his value isn’t clear at this point considering all the strikes against him this season.

12. Ketel Marte, SS, Age 20

March ranking: Unranked

Now:

Up until this season Marte’s prospect value was based mostly on projection and less on production. I’m not very good at analyzing tape of a player and projecting his future, but I do know some traits I like to see from minor leaguers. Marte’s defense is reputedly good enough to remain at shortstop, while he’s limited strikeouts and started hitting for some power (26 extra base hits so far this year). Marte could rocket up this list the same way Chris Taylor has.

13. Ty Kelly, UT, Age 25

March ranking: Unranked

Now:

Kelly is much older than we’d expect out of a tradition prospect. Had he shown signs that he’d be the kind of guy who had 27 extra base hits in not quite 300 plate appearances or a guy who would have more walks than strikeouts, he’d have been on the Mariners prospect list in the offseason. He probably wouldn’t have been traded by the Orioles. In fact, he probably would have reached the big leagues by now. Nonetheless, Kelly is posting impressive peripherals and good power in a hitter-friendly league. His star potential doesn’t exist, but the chances he’s semi-useful soon are alright.

14. Jabari Blash, OF, Age 24

March ranking: Unranked

Now:

It may be a bit of a double standard that Blash move up on this list while Ji-Man Choi (spoiler alert) has been removed from the list. Both have served drug suspensions in 2014, though Choi’s was for a performance enhancing drug and Blash’s suspension was for recreational drugs. Maybe I’m some sort of bleeding heart liberal, or maybe just pragmatic, but I’m less worried about a player’s performance coming off a weed suspension than a steroid suspension. Blash has destroyed the PCL this year, posting a .264 isolated power. His strikeouts are still concerning, though his walks partially atone for a prohibitive strikeout rate.

15. Gareth Morgan, OF, Age 18

March ranking: Unranked

Now:

Morgan was the Mariners second pick in the June draft. He’s got a tremendously raw bat but with huge power upside. Early returns have shown some of the ugliness in Morgan’s game, as he’s struck out 29 times in 73 plate appearances, though his 11 walks are promising. Morgan’s already 210 lbs at 18 years old, and he could continue to grow. Considering Morgan’s lack of elite athleticism, extra size could mean a position change, which would hurt his prospect status.

 

Notable omissions:

Ji-Man Choi – Steroid suspension after suspicious offensive surge.

Victor Sanchez – Questionable physical traits, lack of domination in low minors.

Danny Hultzen – Will he ever be a big league regular with his shoulder issues?

Stefen Romero – Looks like a fourth outfielder at best.