Even the more bullish Mariners fans seem to agree that this team’s window of opportunity for success with this core is closing, and closing soon. Some might argue that this is the last year that we can reasonably hope for plus seasons from more seasoned veterans like Nelson Cruz and Felix Hernandez. If you’re a little more optimistic, you could squint and make yourself believe that this team could be a contender next year as well.
Fortunately, this team’s two best players are middle infielders virtually guaranteed to post valuable seasons this year and next. Jean Segura, beacon of hope, is going into his final season of arbitration next year. We’d all love to have him signed for longer, but it’s possible that there wouldn’t even be a team of any reasonable quality around him past next year. Robinson Cano is signed through 2023. While it’s likely that his final years will see him shift to DH, he’s still an above average second baseman, and will probably man the position for the foreseeable future.
With that said, it’s possible that when 2019 rolls around, Segura will be playing elsewhere and Cano will be the DH. Given that both Cano and Segura have seen time on the disabled list this year, it’s also possible the team will require help up the middle a little earlier. So is there any real depth in the system to give fans hope going forward? Sort of.
Could Contribute Soon (this year or next):
Tyler Smith, AAA-Tacoma:
Smith is a 25-year-old second baseman who is capable of handling any infield position in a pinch. He’s a good defender, but struggled offensively last year upon reaching Tacoma. He’s never really hit for any power until this year (his .127 ISO is his highest since High-A), but is also posting a career-high strikeout rate and has been about average at the plate. At this point, it seems like his ceiling is a utility man off the bench. If something happens to Taylor Motter, Ben Gamel, and/or Mike Freeman, Smith could see the MLB level this year. [Ed. note: although not before Zach Shank or Pat Listach would literally murder someone.]
On the Horizon (2018/2019):
Gianfranco Wawoe, AA-Arkansas:
The 22-year-old Wawoe has been shunted around the infield for most of his career before seemingly moving to second base permanently last year. After posting a wRC+ of only 100 in the California League last year, he was slated to repeat the level this year. He got off to a torrid start (though is still wanting for power) and was recently moved up to AA. He really doesn’t seem likely to amount to much, but he could be an average second baseman someday if he finds his bat in Arkansas.
Jordan Cowan, A+ Modesto:
Cowan, a 22-year-old second baseman, performed excellently last year in both Everett and Bakersfield. He’s definitely more of a contact hitter, and doesn’t really have much power. He’s on his second tour of the California League and is again hitting extremely well. Assuming he gets a call to Arkansas at some point, how he performs there will be more indicative of his future prospects.
Chris Mariscal, A+ Modesto:
Mariscal, also a second baseman, is rather old for the California League at 24 years of age. He was drafted out of college, so he’s a bit more polished than some of these other guys. He had a great season last year for Clinton and has continued to look fantastic for Modesto, so expect him to see AA action at some point this year if this continues.
Distant Horizon (2019 and Beyond):
Bryson Brigman, A-Clinton:
The 21-year-old Brigman was the team’s 3rd round pick last year. He was just OK with Everett last year, but has been above-average with Clinton so far this year. With no power to speak of, he relies on speed and contact. He projects to be a much better second baseman than shortstop defensively, though could probably play the outfield as he moves up the ladder. He’s still far away, but is considered one of the team’s better prospects.
Donnie Walton, A+ Modesto:
Walton turns 23 in exactly one week. Like Brigman, he can play both middle infield spots, but projects to be more of a utility player in the future. He was extremely good in Everett last year, but has struggled so far in the California League this year. He doesn’t have too many weaknesses or strengths, and could be a decent utility man at some point.
Greifer Andrade, AZL Mariners:
Andrade, just 20 years old, has absolutely torn up the rookie leagues the last three years. Since he wasn’t assigned to Clinton, he’ll probably end up in Everett this year. He just moved from shortstop to second base, and has as high a ceiling as anybody. He probably would have been assigned to Clinton, but seems to be blocked by Brigman.
Rayder Ascanio, AAA-Tacoma:
The 21-year-old Ascanio has always looked to be an amazing defender at shorstop. Unfortunately, he hasn’t submitted a decent offensive season since rookie ball in 2014. He was slated to repeat at Clinton this year, but has been temporarily called up to Tacoma for injury reasons. If he can ever figure out the bat, he could be good. That does seem to be a long shot, however.
Distant, Distant, So Distant The World May No Longer Exist:
Chris Torres, SS
Chris Torres is one of the most exciting prospects in the Mariners system. He’s 19 and has never sniffed pro ball, but he destroyed the DSL in 2015 and the AZL in 2016. Hopefully he will earn an opportunity to play in Everett this year so Mariners fans can become more familiar with the strong-armed, speedy switch-hitter.
Considering the Mariners have so many guys that could end up being decent in the middle infield, it makes sense that they traded Drew Jackson this year. They probably won’t spring for a shortstop in the draft, as someone like Andrade can’t even find a place in Single-A. That being said, they have nobody resembling a sure thing, and also nobody anywhere near the Major League level. I guess the plan is “re-sign Jean Segura after 2018, or be very sad.” Either that, or have a bunch of utility guys. Mike Freeman was only the beginning.