Prospects were made to break your heart. For every story of big league success, there are hundreds of tales of failed voyages and unfilled potentials. It's the unfortunate reality of major league baseball, where teams draft upwards of 40 players a year in the hopes that three or four of them turn into something useful down the road. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose all farm systems are bad.
Regardless, the general consensus is that the Mariners own one of the worst farms of the bunch, with only the Angels and Marlins squished beneath them. This is perfectly justifiable. A blend of misery and injury has left the farm system in a state of gloom. Hitters aren't hitting, pitchers aren't dazzling, and scientists haven't found a way to transfer my shoulder over to Danny Hultzen. Most things have gone wrong, and it all resulted in new GM Jerry Dipoto being left with a disassembled farm system and an imageless owner's manual written in Klallam on how to put it back together.
And yet, because there's some good in this world, and because sometimes 38th-round picks turn into Mark Buehrle, we hope and dream. Maybe Austin Wilson's 155 wRC+ in the second half of 2015 was real and he is on the cusp of exploding. D.J. Peterson was once a feared and promising hitter and maybe he could be again. Maybe Alex Jackson rockets back up the Top-100 prospects list this year. Maybe everyone was wrong about Andrew Moore being drafted too high. Maybe Tyler O'Neill will put another crater in the moon.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative results produced by the old regime in the development department, they did manage to leave behind a promising and intriguing 2015 draft class. The class–which makes up for 8 of the Mariners' Top-30 prospects on MLB.com–boasts several players worth keeping an eye on in 2016.
Nick Neidert, the team's first pick in the draft (60th overall), flashed first round potential prior to the draft before an arm injury dropped him into the second round. The Peachtree Ridge (GA) product went on to post a 1.53 ERA in 35.1 IP in the Arizona League before finding himself at No. 7 in the M's Top-30 list. Dylan Thompson–a 4th round pick out of Socastee (SC)–looked just as good as Neidert, posting a 2.36 ERA and .186 BAA in 26.2 IP. Other prep arms that turned in strong debuts include Jio Orozco (19th in Top-30), Cody Mobley (23rd), and Ryne Inman.
The wave of high school arms didn't leave the Mariners without a few impressive college arms, either. Kyle Wilcox flashed potential as a late-inning arm in Everett. Joe Pistorese, a Wazzu product, posted a 1.28 ERA and .181 BAA before a suspension ended his season prematurely. Matt Clancy, one of several impressive lefties, looked unhittable at times for the AquaSox.
There's plenty of reason to be excited (or at least intrigued) if you're willing to look for it, but it's all rendered meaningless without a legitimate development plan going on behind the scenes. This, of course, was the shortcoming of the previous regime and perhaps the biggest reason as to why the Mariners have been churning out busted prospects at an alarming rate.
Enter your new Director of Player Development, Andy McKay.
McKay brings to the Mariners a strong background in the development of the mental side of the game. Prior to his arrival in Seattle, he spent three seasons as the Peak Performance Coordinator of the Colorado Rockies. Along with McKay's arrival comes the front office's desire to implement a 'communication flow' amongst the organization. In a video released by the Mariners on December 28th, manager Scott Servais offered the following:
It's really important that people are using the same language. A young player that comes in to an organization that is playing in A-Ball...it's the same terminology that Edgar Martinez is using. As the players move up, even though the coaches change and the personalities may change, the program remains the same. The only way that happens: from the front office to the major league coaching staff to the minor league staff, everybody works together.
Only time will tell whether or not the front office's master plan will work, but even the face value sounds a hell of a lot better than the old plan, which included telling a struggling D.J. Peterson to 'figure it out' after he sought help. There is so much talent to fix in this system and I look forward to them giving it their best shot.
Two years ago, I was told that Alex Jackson is an elite hitting prospect and that Gareth Morgan is the Canadian Giancarlo Stanton and I will settle for nothing less. Have at it, Mr. McKay.
To ceilings. Go M's.