Everyone has a favorite prospect.
Maybe it's that low-A pitcher you once hit a weak single off of in high school. Perhaps it's that guy who had that big hit in the College World Series for your alma mater two years ago. Is it that one player with the sweet name? Or hey, maybe you're old school and root for all of the big name prospects. That's completely fine and dandy.
For whatever reason, baseball fans find themselves rooting for a select few prospects harder than they root for others, and the writers here at Lookout Landing are no exception. I asked the staff to share who specifically they had their eye on this year, and this is what they came up with.
Grant Bronsdon - Gareth Morgan (OF)
The Mariners' 2014 draft was a crucial one for then-general manager Jack Zduriencik and scouting director Tom McNamara. With the No. 6 overall pick, they took prep outfielder Alex Jackson, widely regarded as the top available prospect, though he's disappointed thus far. Jackson signed for an above-slot bonus of $4.2 million.
But rather than go under-slot with their second pick, the Mariners instead went bold by spending nearly triple the 74th pick's slot on another high schooler: Gareth Morgan, a 6'4", 220 lb. outfielder from Toronto, Canada. I remember watching Morgan take batting practice at Safeco in the days leading up to the draft, and his power was apparent, especially for someone who had just turned 18. Some even said he reminded them of Giancarlo Stanton.
In his 1.5 pro seasons, however, Morgan has been very, very raw. He struck out in 41% of his plate appearances in his first half-season, hitting just .148/.244/.252. He raised his line up to .225/.270/.383 in his sophomore campaign, but those numbers are still not promising, to say the least. Opinions have quickly soured on him, as few prospects who strike out that much make it to the bigs - with players like Russell Branyan, who hit 38.7% in his second year in the minors, serving as the exception rather than the rule.
So, will Morgan be able to turn it around? Dreaming on a prospect is an easy thing to do, and raw, power prospects have populated many of McNamara's drafts with the Mariners, as shown by selections like Austin Wilson, Tyler O'Neill, and Jabari Blash. Morgan's still a teenager. Maybe he can cut down the strikeouts and add some contact (OK, a lot of contact). And maybe he can learn to patrol center field. Maybe. But stranger things have happened in the baseball world. So why not have faith?
Scott George - D.J. Peterson (1B/3B)
It's been a good past few months for DJs. DJ Khaled has nearly overnight transformed from being a McDonalds shill that yells "We the best!" to becoming a Snapchat superstar that gets lost on his jet ski and yells at you while he's on a treadmill. Candace Cameron has reprised her role as DJ Tanner in the Full House reboot, Fuller House. While Netflix doesn’t release statistics, I can definitely say the show has been a hit at least around the water cooler in my office.
What I'm getting at is that if your name is DJ, 2016 is the year where you turn things around. This applies to DJ Peterson. You might remember. University of New Mexico, #12 overall, basically a worse right handed Lyle Overbay. I'd be generous saying he had a bad 2015. But last year was so bad that he wasn't even issued a teal jersey in Peoria this year. It will be an uphill climb for DJ Peterson, but here’s to hoping that his career doesn’t drop like the beat
Anders Jorstad - Gareth Morgan (OF)
My favorite prospect has already been made obvious (or will be soon), so I'm going to write about my second favorite prospect: Gareth Morgan. The powerful Canadian was taken in the Competitive Balance round of the 2014 draft. He was a pretty typical Jack Z draft pick. The kid has a ton of power potential but is super raw.
Just one month shy of 20, Morgan already has two seasons under his belt. Like every Jack Z power hitter, the guy strikes out a ton. Last season he K'd in 37% of his plate appearances. I'm curious to see how the new player development regime handles guys like him. Will "C the Z" be an approach that works with him? He's clearly a project-type player. However, if the minor league coaches can get something in him to click, he could jump through the system quickly and become a potential star. That's always fun.
Kate Preusser - Braden Bishop (CF)
My dad and his brothers and sisters all went to UW; I did my grad program there. So, call it homerism if you will, but the prospect I’m most excited about is UW grad Braden Bishop. Bishop first piqued my interest on a personal level when he established his 4MOM foundation for early onset Alzheimer’s after his mother was diagnosed with it in 2014 and I was delighted when the Mariners drafted him in the third round in 2015.
At Everett this past year, Bishop slashed .320/.367/.393 in 219 ABs, with 13 SBs. His 33 strikeouts are a tad concerning, but his aggressive approach at the plate can probably be chalked up to two things: for one, Bishop got tagged as a defense-first, poorly hitting player despite his UW career line of .293/.377/.385 (he also led the team in hits, stolen bases, and walks), a stereotype he is desperate to shed; secondly, he was just following orders from Aquasox hitting coach Brian Hunter. It will be interesting to see if the new regime shifts focus in Everett towards a greater emphasis on OBP (not that it will matter for Bishop, who will probably start the season in Iowa, with the Clinton LumberKings—which is a good thing, as the LumberKings were a dismal 46 - 93 last year).
Center field has long been a sore spot for the Mariners, and Bishop brings plus defense there. I could describe it, but maybe just see for yourself:
Patrick Dubuque - Dalton Kelly (1B)
In fifty years, 58 first baseman have been drafted in the 38th round. None have ever made the majors.
Dalton Kelly is unlikely to nullify this truth. A starter for all of two months of his college career, our hero is more like a Lyle Underbay at the plate, wielding a strong ability not to swing and nothing else to speak of. His MILB.com page lacks a photograph, his strengths and weaknesses go unmentioned by pundits. By this time next year he'll own the only Dalton Kelly jersey left in existence, and will probably be applying for graduate school. But for now, if only just, Kelly plays baseball: he stole ten bases in a short rookie-ball stint, his glove is excellent, and he's also a 38th round draft choice. In a terrible system, being the last man drafted breaks all ties. It makes Dalton Kelly the most transient, and accessible, of heroes.
Note: Kelly also received one pinch-hit plate appearance in a spring game this season. He singled. It is the only spring training stat from 2016 that counts.
Olivia Hummer - Boog Powell (CF)
I'm sure I'm not the only one who will pick him so I'll keep it short, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't really excited about Boog Powell. It seemed nearly impossible to get away from the hype surrounding Boog this offseason. It wasn't so much about his stats or how he looked heading into Spring Training—he was just fun, and people caught on. Everything from his name to his love of "My Oh My" to his tendency to chase fly balls like a Labrador makes him incredibly likable. I can't help but root for him, and I can't wait to see him making crazy catches at the wall in Safeco.
Ethan Novak - Austin Wilson (OF)
The first thing you need to know about Austin Wilson is that he is 6'4, 250 pounds, and more athletic than all of us writers and readers here at Lookout Landing put together. When Wilson is locked in, it's a joy to watch the hulking mass mash a baseball to the gap and then glide around the bases like a freaking gazelle. It's fun and neat and all of the other synonyms I don't feel like listing.
Most importantly, Wilson seemed to start putting things together in the second half of 2015, slashing .309/.415/.503 with a 155 wRC+. He still strikes out too much and walks too little, but that won't really stop me from keeping an eye or three on him as he makes the significant jump to AA-ball. Here's hoping Mr. Wilson and fellow bash brother Tyler O'Neill keep the rock show going in Jackson.