We’re picking up where we left off on State of the Farm, this time looking at the major shortstop prospects in the organization. Unlike most positions we’ve examined so far, shortstop is actually a fairly talent-rich section. While the numbers may not have been overly impressive this past year, there’s potential for multiple legitimate major league players to emerge from this group:
Let’s try to ignore the wRC+ for a brief moment and just talk, shall we?
The only player of this group you can make a case for here is Tyler Smith, an 8th-round selection out of Oregon State back in 2013. The .666 OPS is worrisome, but offense has never been the selling point with Smith. Instead, his value lies in his ability to play all around the diamond. This past season in Triple-A, Smith saw action at shortstop (55 games), second base (48 games), and third base (12 games). His best position at the MLB level would be second, but you can probably live with him at the other two for small stretches.
If the bat can improve a little next year, he’d be a prime candidate for an internal utility player should the Mariners ever tire of Shawn O’Malley and his gritty heart. That being said, the sudden decline of his walk-rate at Triple-A is a cause for concern and is holding him back from potentially taking that next step.
On the Horizon
After Smith, a fairly large gap exists. Benji Gonzalez, who put together a fine season for Double-A Jackson in 2016, is currently a minor league free agent. Even if he does come back to the Mariners, he’ll be 27 in Spring Training next year and hasn’t done a ton over his career to inspire the feel-good story crowd.
Way Off in the Distance
Like other positions, this is where things start to get interesting for the Mariners. Drew Jackson, the 5th-round selection out of Stanford in 2015, struggled in his first full-season as a pro. The Mariners had Jackson skip over Class-A Clinton and head straight to High-A Bakersfield, where he posted an 88 wRC+ in 596 plate appearances. The jump is difficult–especially for a prospect who is considered to be more glove-first despite his mesmerizing year with the Everett AquaSox in 2014–and things haven’t gotten any better in the Arizona Fall League, where he’s put up a 19 wRC+ in 52 plate appearances with the Peoria Javelinas. Considering how extensively he’s been challenged in 2016, I expect we’ll get a much clearer picture for Jackson in 2017 when he gets a second shot at the California League. The athleticism is still off the charts and the glove flashes very real potential, but the bat proved to be more of a work in progress than initially thought heading into the year.
In the younger crowd, Rayder Ascanio and Christopher Torres put up fine 2016 seasons. Ascanio’s 2015 mimicked Jackson in that he was pushed up to High-A too soon and struggled. In 2016, Ascanio was back in Clinton, where he managed to put together his best year of full-season ball. The bat is still featherweight (.316 SLG), but he nearly doubled his walk-rate from last year to now and continued to showcase potential at shortstop (just ignore his 23 errors). Torres, meanwhile, enjoyed a championship run during his stateside debut with the AZL Mariners. The 18-year-old shortstop is a work in progress in a lot of ways. He is clearly skilled, but struggled with errors and had fairly dramatic splits (v. LHP - .178/.245/.222, v. RHP - .287/.370/.410). I wouldn’t be shocked to see him permanently give up switch-hitting at some point in the future.
Low-A Everett, meanwhile, had their own pair of standout college shortstops in San Diego’s Bryson Brigman and Oklahoma State’s Donnie Walton. Brigman struggled initially in his pro debut, but an impressive plate approach helped him to a strong final month and a half of the season. Aside from power, he manages to do everything fairly well in both the field and at the plate. Scouts seem to be split on whether he’ll stick at short or will need to shift over to second, but there’s a lot to like with Brigman. He has impressive speed and athleticism and, as previously mentioned, doesn’t give you a whole lot of poor at-bats.
Walton, meanwhile, has given me serious Willie Bloomquist vibes. I’ve said this before and I try to avoid it, but it’s the comparison I keep coming back to. Walton is a switch hitter and doesn’t play the outfield (yet), but in terms of what kind of player he’ll be, that’s about where I’d put him: a nifty utility player who can hold his own at the plate. The ceiling at the moment is obviously higher than Bloomquist’s, but as far as expectations go, that is where I have him for now.