On Monday I ran down the infield prospects who turned in particularly strong or interesting performances this year; today we’ll cover the outfield. The outfield isn’t quite as rich as it was last year at this time with the departure of Boooooog and Brayan Hernandez via trades, but there are still plenty of intriguing prospects at that position, including almost half of the players the Mariners will be sending to the AFL.
Ian Miller, CF/LF, Triple-A Tacoma
We’ve been talking about Ian Miller forever, and for good reason: after helping Jackson win the Southern League Championship, Miller returned to the Texas League for another shot at Double-A. Despite facing “the nastiest pitchers [he’d] ever faced”, Miller ran a 130 wRC+ before being promoted in late July to Triple-A Tacoma. While his numbers fell off some in Tacoma, he still managed to use his elite speed to be a disruptive force on the basepaths. There isn’t anyone faster than Miller in the system, and it was a little bizarre that the Mariners didn’t call him up after the Dyson injury. [Update: I wrote this sentence before the Yonder Alonso TOOTBLAN last night, and I’m still mad about it.]
Braden Bishop, CF, Double-A Arkansas
There’s a good argument that no position player in the system boosted his stock more this year than the speedy former Husky. Last year, after being promoted to A+ Bakersfield, Bishop saw his BB% fall off as his K% rose into the 20s, leading to a wRC+ of just 70. Bishop isn’t a power hitter; his offensive value comes from his hit tool and his excellent plate discipline. In his return to the Cal League, however, Bishop posted a career-high 10.9% walk rate and cut his strikeouts all the way down to 15.8%. An off-season swing change helped him get more loft into his swing and he hit a career-high 25 doubles before being promoted to Double-A Arkansas (after attending the Cal League All-Star Game and winning MVP honors, of course). In 145 PAs at Double-A, Bishop maintained his double-digit walk rate and cut his strikeouts down to almost single digits, slashing a career-high .336/.417/.448. His offensive improvements, combined with his elite-level defense, make him a must-watch prospect in the organization. He’ll be headed to the prestigious Arizona Fall League in late October.
Eric Filia, RF, A+ Modesto
There have been a few organizational decisions this year that have baffled me, but maybe none more so than leaving the 25-year-old Filia at Modesto all year. He certainly earned a promotion, slashing .326/.407/.434, but probably my favorite Filia Fact is that his walk rate is almost four full points higher than his strikeout rate. He just doesn’t give away at-bats, and if he’s not getting on base, he’s making a productive out and moving over the runner. Okay, I lied, this is my favorite Filia Fact:
The good thing about leaving Filia in Modesto all year is he helped guide a young team facing a lot of turnover to a championship; he’s not just a crowd favorite, but is beloved by his teammates as well. Also, this year Filia became a father to twins, who needed some supportive care after birth, and was absent from the team for about a week while he spent time with his family (in an interview, he was incredibly grateful to the Mariners for being so supportive of him), so whether by design or by fortunate accident, it was probably for the best for Filia to remain in California for the year. He’ll get a chance at the AFL—as a first baseman, apparently, which is now how Fangraphs lists him—to announce himself to a larger audience.
Kyle Lewis, CF, A+ Modesto
Numbers aren’t everything, as top prospect Kyle Lewis’s don’t look impressive as he worked back from a serious knee injury and a few setbacks (he banged into the wall with his surgically repaired knee in one of his first appearances in Modesto and had to go back on the DL for a while). In the Cal League playoffs, fans got a glimpse of what a fully healthy Kyle Lewis could do: over six games, he went 393/.414/.607 with 11 hits, including a double, a triple, and a home run, while playing a strong center field, as well. He’ll join Braden Bishop in the Peoria Javelinas’ outfield this fall.
Anthony Jimenez, A Clinton - Slashed .298/.362/.482 and named a Midwest League All-Star before going on the DL for the rest of the season.
Chuck Taylor, Double-A Arkansas - Fell off a little after his hot start, but still ended the season with a 117 wRC+.
Luis Liberato, A+ Modesto - Promoted from Clinton midyear to fill the outfield hole left by Braden Bishop, Liberato was productive as the nine-hole hitter down the stretch and in the playoffs, coming up with several clutch hits while playing plus defense. He’s just 21 years old.
Most improved: Gareth Morgan, A Clinton - Morgan’s .230/.320/.422 slash line may look very “2014 Mike Zunino”, and his K rate of 40% is cringeworthy, but this year Morgan posted a BB% of 11%—or equal to his 2015 and 2016 rate added together. He also swiped 14 bags, which is as many as he stole in his previous pro career combined. Combine that with his 17 home runs, including a handful of thrilling walk-offs, and there are enough intriguing pieces here to merit attention to the 21-year-old going forward. Also encouraging is that Morgan made these strides forward despite some coaching upheaval at Clinton this year. I hope he finds himself in Modesto next year; I’d be curious to see what the staff there, including the incredible Mitch Canham, could do with him.