As Brendan stated last Friday, it is unfortunately getting to the point with the Mariners that we completely understand if fans are looking around for other reasons – minor league reasons, to be exact – to be optimistic about the organization. The only problem with that is that there hasn’t been a lot going on in the minor leagues this season for M’s fans to rejoice over. Gabby Guerrero got dealt, Ketel Marte got injured, Danny Hultzen got shut down and virtually every other prospect who you know and want to love and pin unreasonable levels of hope on has oddly struggled or just not been themselves.
D.J. Peterson has no power. Jordy Lara has no power. Alex Jackson has now idea how to make contact. Austin Wilson apparently doesn’t know what the game of baseball is. Tyler Pike forgot how to throw strikes (still). Jesus Montero lost a bunch of weight, for crying out loud!
Those are all massive exaggerations, of course (except for the Montero bit - he is looking downright svelte!), as each of those players are extremely talented. But the struggles of the top names, and even the not-top names, in the Mariners’ organization have given many fans another reason to be upset over what has become a disappointing season for our beloved Seattle ballclub.
But even though no one is going all Kyle Schwarber on the minor leagues for the M's, they do still have some promising talent down in their minor league affiliates. And while the system isn't rated nearly as highly as it once was, that isn't a sign that Seattle's Player Development system is broken.
Since Jack Zduriencik and his staff have taken over the helm of the Seattle Mariners, the club has had 17 of their draftees play on their big league roster. eight of those (Ackley, Seager, Jones, Walker, Paxton, Miller, Smith, Zunino) are still on the 25-man right now. And while some of those players were likely rushed before they were ready, it speaks not just to the opportunity that the club has had to draft high thanks to losing records, but to the success of the organization that they've turned out so many big leaguers in such a short time frame. It is worth noting that only two of those eight - Ackley and Zunino - were regular first round picks. Walker went 43rd overall as a supplemental selection, Miller was a 2nd round pick, Seager a 3rd, Jones and Paxton both 4ths and Carson Smith came via the 243rd overall selection (8th round) in 2011. Later round selections such as Stefen Romero, Chris Taylor, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, Dominic Leone and Tyler Olson have also seen significant time on the big league roster. There aren't many other organizations that have seen as many players and as much value come out of their drafts since 2009.
It can definitely be argued that Seattle has missed it's best opportunities for a big impact guy in these drafts, as Ackley and Zunino have both really struggled while Hultzen's injury history is among the worst of any prospect from any draft in this time. Had the M's gone in different directions in those three drafts, who knows how much different the franchise would look right now. But while Peterson, Jackson, DeCarlo, Wilson, Morgan and Pike struggle, keep in mind that these players shouldn't be written off. And keep in mind that there have been successes from the draft. And, perhaps most importantly to the conversation, the Mariners and Tom McNamara have drafted from the strength of the drafts while addressing the organizational weaknesses at the same time.
And because of that approach, right now the club has a couple of guys with the potential to be the best pair of impact bats turned out by the organization since some guys name Griffey and Rodriguez in Peterson and Jackson. Yes, they've both struggled in 2015, but I haven't spoken with anyone in the game that is overly concerned with their long-term prognosis. Peterson had been noticeably pull happy early in the season, and only recently started making a visible effort to alter that approach and drive the ball the other way. He's picked up seven extra base hits in his last 12 games and much of that has come on balls hit the other way. Jackson was over-matched in Clinton, but he is 19 and had less than a month's worth of experience as a pro before that aggressive assignment. I watched him in person on Sunday in Everett and he absolutely drilled three balls, two line shots the other way, showing phenomenal bat speed and strength, showing the type of ability that back up his consensus ranking as a Top-30 prospect in all of baseball heading into the year.
Right-hander Edwin Diaz, Seattle's 3rd round pick in 2012, has already moved up from Bakersfield - where he dominated in seven starts - to Jackson, and he's pitched much better in his last four starts there, showing a lot of promise for a 21 year old. Huge lefty Luiz Gohara, who is still one of the youngest players in the Northwest League, was dominant in his first outing of the season for Everett this year after being ripped apart there a year ago, and that outing followed up a solid 2015 debut start for him in Clinton (5 IP, 4 H, 0R, 1 BB, 1 SO). And on Monday night, supplemental 2nd rounder and Oregon State Beaver Andrew Moore made his pro debut for Everett, retiring all nine batters he faced, five via strikeout.
For the hitters, Marte was among the leading hitters in the PCL before his injury, and he, too, is very young for the level. Tyler O'Neill, another young (20) slugger and high pick (3rd round in 2013) is tied for sixth in the Cal League in homers with an organization-high, and career high, 14 already. And outfielders Dario Pizzano and Jabari Blash - more fringe prospects - were both selected as Southern League All-Stars.
The near-MLB-ready prospects aren't there waiting in Triple-A for Seattle right now, but that's because they already are on the major league roster. And the overall health of the organization and depth of talent with Zduriencik, McNamara and Chris Gwynn and Co. pulling the strings is much greater than it was under previous leadership; and truthfully not much worse than it was when the club was getting high marks around the industry.
Rick Randall has been a regular contributor covering Mariners prospects here at Lookout Landing. You can catch his more frequent and more detailed takes on those prospects, and the entire Mariners system, at his website SeattleClubhouse. He can also be found on Twitter, where he loves to answer questions about the M's prospects or the team in general, at @randallball.