[The MLB draft this year is June 12-14. Leading up to the draft, we at LL will be doing a series of articles highlighting different needs in the Mariners system, profiling players who might be good matches for the team, and giving a general draft overview to help enhance your understanding/enjoyment of the draft. This week we will be doing a positional overview of the depth at each level of the system. So far we’ve done the middle infielders, the corner infielders, and the pitching. Today we check out the outfielders.]
The Mariners entered the 2017 season in hopes that a career backup outfielder, a rookie with no major league track record, and a glove-first center fielder who’s never posted a league average offensive season could hit enough to keep arguably the best defensive outfield in baseball intact. Needless to say, things have not exactly shaken out as expected. On the heels of a 2.2 win season, Leonys Martin couldn’t ever get his bat going even after ditching his Segura-inspired experiment with lowering his hands when hitting and was placed on waivers after 15 games of -16 wRC+ baseball, while the pleasant surprise and offensive leader that was Mitch Haniger hit the DL near the end of April. The result of those moves was Guillermo Heredia and Ben Gamel, who were pitted against one another this spring for the fourth outfielder job (or so they thought), have been thrust into starting roles, and the results have been shockingly good, combining for 1.5 wins, and out-WARing Nelson Cruz (1.3) in an equal amount of games.
While the minor league system isn’t quite in the best of conditions, the future looks fairly bright for the outfield depth down on the farm. I consider it more promising than both our pitching and infield depth, and it’s leaps and bounds ahead of our catching “depth.” While by no means an extensive scouting report, the following list should give you a few names to stick in the back of our mind when browsing minor league box scores this summer.
Will be contributing soon (2018-ish, possibly even 2017):
Boog Powell, AAA-Tacoma (24)
Boog is actually having a nice little rebound season in Tacoma this year, currently running a wRC+ of 128, supported by a career high (by far) walk rate of 21.3% and a strikeout rate of just 7.4%, less than half of last years mark. Powell has found himself the odd man out with Ben Gamel and Guillermo Heredia taking on full time gigs with the big league club currently, but his defensive abilities and patience at the plate qualify him for next in line if god forbid we lose another outfielder. At the very least, he might make for an decent trade chip come July for a system that isn’t quite as flush with outfielders as the Mariners. Boog will spend some time riding the SeaTac Express this year (at the time of this writing, he’s actually up with the big club).
Tyler O’Neill, AAA-Tacoma (21)
If you are reading this blog, you know who Tyler O’Neill is. If you’ve noticed he currently has a wRC+ of 69 and are worried, here are three reasons not to be:
- His .272 BABIP is almost 100 points lower than last years total, 30 points lower than 2015, and 50 points below 2014’s.
- His rate stats are right on par with his career rates.
- He’s slashing .300/.371/.500 over his last 10 games. Well below his career norms, but a sign he’s righting the ship.
BONUS REASON: He’s three years younger than Ben Gamel.
Dario Pizzano, AAA-Tacoma (26)
Pizzano has quietly been kicking around the upper levels of the Mariners minor league system since 2014. Being left off the team’s 40-man roster as a 26-year-old in Triple-A kind of says everything you need to know about Dario’s prospect stock, although he did hit an inside the park homerun over the weekend. His .206 BABIP has shown signs of letting up as of late, as he’s batting .296 over his last 10 games.
On the horizon (2018/2019):
Ian Miller, AA-Arkansas (25)
I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Miller leapfrogged the three previous guys on this list and wound up with the big league club this season for one reason in particular: his base stealing ability. Miller swiped 49 bags last season and was only caught three times. In 2017 he’s already stolen 15 (out of an attempted 17) in 36 games, which is an asset that could be extremely valuable as a pinch runner late in the summer for a competing team. He’s pounding on the door to Tacoma with his slash line of .336/.379/.454, thanks to some swing mechanics changes that have given him more power in his stroke this year. He’s already hit more doubles (10) than he did all of last year, and he’s also notched two home runs; his only other career home run came in rookie ball in 2013.
NOTE: If you missed it back in the winter, Kate interviewed this speedster and chronicled the whole thing here.
Braden Bishop, A+ Modesto (23)
After a small speed bump in a brief stop at extended A ball last season, Bishop has seemingly ironed things out, and is enjoying his best offensive season to date. He’s slashing .336/.407/.424, and has managed to score 42 runs in just 37 games. He continues to bring excellent defense in center field and can bring that speed to bear on the bases, as well; he’s collected nine bags this season and hasn’t been caught yet. Bishop, too, is experimenting with lower hands:
Bishop is also the founder of the #4Mom foundation, created to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s—specifically early-onset Alzheimer’s, which afflicts Braden’s mom Suzy. The only knock on him to this point is his alma mater (Go Cougs).
Kyle Lewis, A-Clinton (21)
It felt wrong putting Lewis this far down on any type of list of Mariners prospects—and alas, he probably is a little more “distant” horizon but unfortunately, due to almost one full year lost on account of tearing his leg to shreds, Lewis belongs here. That’s not to say his future is less bright than those previously listed, but his rehab has delayed his big league debut. That said, once proven fully healthy, Lewis could move up the ranks in a hurry. He was well on his way at the time of his injury last summer. Barring any setbacks, he’s expected to be back to game action come July.
On the distant horizon:
Chuck Taylor, AA-Arkansas (23)
Taylor has been a pleasant surprise after being selected in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft this past offseason. The 2012 4th-round pick is posting a career-high walk rate (15.0%) and career-low strikeout rate (15.0%) and has a wRC+ of 173, easily tops on this list. He’s currently in the midst of a 20 game hitting streak over which he’s slashing .380/.456/.468 with 10 walks and 12 strikeouts that is no doubt sparking some interest. The 5’9” switch hitter has some long odds to pass the higher profile prospects on this list, but is doing everything he can to build a case for himself.
Eric Filia, A+ Modesto (24)
First off, Filia has an extremely interesting back story. If you don’t know it, check it out here and you’ll understand why he’s still playing A level ball as a 24 year old. He had an excellent breakout season in 2016 playing for Everett that was highlighted by a 6.5% strikeout rate. In 292 plate appearances, 39 trips to the plate ended in a walk, while just 19 ended in a strikeout. He was slashing .400/.455/.600 over his last 10 games going into yesterday and could very well see a bump to Double-A Arkansas in his near future.
Gareth Morgan, A-Clinton (21)
The M’s made Morgan the 74th overall pick in the 2014 draft, and they’re still waiting for the large Canadian’s bat to find him down here in the ol’ US of A. He is a very large man with lots of natural power, but he has one major flaw: he strikes out a lot. Like, a toooooon. Like, in his first 165 career games, he’s struck out as many times as Tony Gwynn struck out in 13 YEARS, from 1988-2001 (271). His season looked a whole lot different on Monday, before he rattled off three consecutive 3-hit games. If he can ever find a way to cut that strikeout rate and get the bat on the ball even somewhat consistently, his power could carry him through the system in a hurry. David Laurila did a really interesting in-depth piece on Morgan over at Fangraphs, highlighting what he’s learned from the mental skills coaching staff. If you’re looking for a redemption story/ dark horse favorite prospect to root for, Morgan might be your guy.
Luis Liberato, A-Clinton (21)
The M’s inked Liberato as a 17 year old out of the Dominican Republic back in 2013, and he’s since posted four league average-ish seasons in the system. He’s demonstrated an ability to draw a walk, but could stand to cut back on the whiffs a bit, although they’ll certainly be tolerable if some added power comes with him filling out his projectable frame a bit as he currently stands 6’1” and 175lb.
Brayan Hernandez, Rk AZL Mariners (19)
Hernandez, 19, checks in between Kyle Lewis/Tyler O’Neill and Braden Bishop among outfielders on the M’s top prospects list. Like Liberato, he stands 6’1” and 175lb. The switch-hitter was brought stateside in 2016, appearing in 33 game for the AZL Mariners, where he posted a wRC+ of 103. He’ll mostly begin 2017 with the AZL club again, where he’ll look to improve upon a 5.0% walk rate he posted at that level last season. It could legitimately be 4-5 years until we see Hernandez in an M’s uniform, but at such a young age, you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who puts a hard cap on his potential.
Anthony Jimenez, A-Clinton (21)
I will admit, I had never heard of Jimenez before starting out to do some research for this piece. He’s now my favorite prospect to follow. He’s taken a step forward each season since coming over from Venezuela, progressing from the VSL Mariners, to the DSL squad before spending 2016 with the AZL Mariners. He’s made the jump to Clinton in 2017 and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. He’s slashing .531/.579/.813 over his last 10 games and has added on 13 runs, 7 RBI, and 6 stolen bases over that same timeframe. His season slash line now sits at .330/.387/.491 with 12 stolen bases in 32 games as well as a wRC+ of 149. His .493 BABIP will definitely drop and likely sink his average a bit, but his speed has helped him consistently run BABIP’s north of .340. I’d be surprised if Jimenez didn’t sneak his way on to some organizational top prospect lists by the end of the 2017 season.
Prior to the 2017 season, I would have never thought I’d find myself saying this, but with Heredia, Gamel, and Haniger all locked up through at least 2022--not to mention Martin or Powell--while still inevitable, the picture of how exactly Tyler O’Neill and Kyle Lewis fit into this outfield in the semi-near future is not so crystal clear anymore. Especially after taking Kyle Lewis with their first round pick in 2016, I think it’s safe to say the Mariners won’t be targeting an outfielder with the 17th overall pick in this years draft.