This week marks the start of a weekly, position-by-position breakdown of the system for State of the Farm. First up is catcher, a position that is filled to the brim with fringe prospects and not much else. Let's take a look:
If you skim through MLB.com's Top-30 Mariners prospect list, you'll find that catcher is the only position to be omitted. There are lefty relievers, lefty starters, center fielders, first basemen, shortstops, and so on, but a catcher will be nowhere to be found. Regardless of how you feel about MLB.com and the voices behind their lists, the omission is justifiable: the position lacks any prospect that has the outlook of a legitimate, everyday MLB catcher. Weirder things have happened and one of the current catchers in the system could take the league by storm in 2017, but for now, things look bleak. Here's a rundown of the depth.
I would argue that none of the current catchers are guys you'd want anywhere near a MLB roster in an ideal situation. Could you live with some of them filling in for a start or two while a backup catcher heals on the disabled list? Perhaps, but there's a reason catchers not named Mike Zunino, Jesus Sucre, or Rob Brantly received a grand total of 22 at-bats in Tacoma this season.
On the Horizon
Things get a little sunnier in this group. Marcus Littlewood, still just 24-years-old, put up a big year at the plate, posting a 143 wRC+ across 225 plate appearance in Jackson this season. He eventually received a late promotion to Tacoma, where he struggled in very limited playing time. Ultimately, Littlewood probably isn't worth getting too excited for. His .388 BABIP and fairly average slugging percentage suggest regression is due, and he won't be providing Sucre-esque defense to boost his stock. He could be a year or so away from being a serviceable backup, but that's probably about where you'd put his ceiling.
Tyler Marlette, meanwhile, rode a mechanical overhaul to High-A dominance, posting a clean .500 SLG% from May 1st to August 15th (the day of his promotion to Double-A) with the Bakersfield Blaze. The bad news here is that 2016 represented Marlette's third significant stint at the High-A level; he was actually a pinch above the league average for age. Domination was expected of him and now he'll look to carry that success into Arkansas and potentially Tacoma next season. Marlette's brief, 54-at-bat stint with the Jackson Generals at the end of this season was fairly successful, as he managed to post a 112 wRC+. He even managed to secure a spot in the Arizona Fall League, where he'll look to prove himself against some of the best prospects in baseball and also Tim Tebow. 2017 could be a massive year in the career trajectory for Marlette. In addition to getting better behind the plate, he'll need to prove he can perform in a league he hasn't spent an absurd amount of time in already.
Steve Baron is still on the 40-man so it'd be rude to not mention him here. He posted a 120 wRC+ in 269 plate appearances this season, so that's cool. He also posted a .358 slugging percentage. Go, Steve Baron.
Way Off in the Distance
Like I said, this is not a fun position to discuss. The Blaze had two other catchers besides Marlette: one that posted a 67 wRC+ and an undrafted free agent who managed to put together the most BABIP-fueled season I can ever remember. The Clinton LumberKings didn't have a single catcher achieve either a .300 OBP or 90 wRC+. The Everett AquaSox had no one that stood out aside from Nick Thurman, an undrafted guy out of Louisiana-Lafayette. Geoandry Montilla put together a strong campaign for the DSL Mariners, but any 20-year-old would be expected to wreck in the rookie league. After Marlette and Littlewood, their best prospect at the position is likely Jason Goldstein, a 9th-round selection out of Illinois who unfortunately didn't see the field enough this year to get a very good read on him. He's primarily known for his defense, but his stock jumped after a bit of an offensive outburst during his final year at Illinois (.312/.402/.412, 1.44 K/BB).
Think of this as starting from the bottom, because I swear the position breakdowns only get brighter from here. I am so sorry for ruining your Wednesday.
Here are some better notes:
Luiz Gohara threw really freaking hard in his Arizona Fall League debut
LHP Luiz Gohara–the Mariners' top pitching prospect–made his Arizona Fall League debut on Tuesday night and did his best to make it a memorable one. His stat line was average–1.2 IP, 3 H, 2 R, BB, 5 SO–but he made plenty of noise with his fastball, which he routinely ran into the upper-90s, getting as high as 98.6 mph. There were times where it sunk back down to his typical range of 92-95 mph, but the upper-90s was achieved early and often. If he starts consistently sitting somewhere in the 94-97 mph zone, he could become all the more interesting.
He. Hit. A. Home. Run. Off. Of. A. Freaking. Batting. Tee. Distance is never the goal when you're doing work–you're typically focusing on line drives or certain parts of your mechanics or spraying the ball to specific sections of the field–but the fact that he is capable of hitting a ball over the fence off of a batting tee is absurdly impressive. Does it mean much for his projections as a MLB outfielder? Of course not, but Tyler O'Neill has become the closest thing the minor leagues have to must-watch TV.
In related news, O'Neill went 1-6 with 4 strikeouts in his AFL debut. Everybody panic.