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Mariners Sleeper Prospects, 2018

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Digging past the Kyle Lewises and Evan Whites, there are other names to know in Seattle’s system

Kevin Karzin

Thanks to a system thinned by trades, the Mariners top prospect list features names you might not see in other systems. Even with that, though, there are guys who don’t make top-30 lists at sites like MLB Pipeline, Fangraphs, or Baseball America. To compile our list, we went with players not listed on MLB’s Top 30, choosing one position player and one pitcher for each level. Some of these guys are one adjustment away from landing themselves on prospect lists, some are trying to establish themselves after shaky early performances, and some just don’t get talked about for whatever reason. Here are some under-the-radar guys worth watching at each level:

Clinton LumberKings:

Tommy Romero:

Romero’s success since his being drafted last June has been well chronicled here on LL, but strangely, not much by anybody else. Since being made the 453rd pick of the 2017 draft, Romero has logged 64.1 innings spread across time with the AZL Mariners and the LumberKings, and he’s done nothing but impress all the while. He’s now got a professional line of 64.1 IP, 1.82 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 79 SO, and has posted xFIP’s of 3.64 (2017) and 2.60 (current). Romero comes at hitters with a four-pitch mix that consists of a 4-seam heater that sits 90-94 and has even touched 95 this season, a change-up that sits 83-85, a slider he throws 80-84, and also a curveball this lives in the 73-76 range.

When we had him on the Lookout Landing Podcast a couples months back, he revealed to us that he passed up a scholarship to University of South Florida in order to join the professional ranks, and thus far, it appears to have been the right choice. His continued absence from the Top-30 on MLB.com’s Prospect Pipeline is as puzzling to me as it is to anybody, but I’d expect him to make his debut on the list next time they’re updated.

Jack Larsen:

Larsen is a tad old for a prospect at the Full-Season-A level, but he shouldn’t be down there for long based off his performance. Following a four year career at UC San Diego, Larsen went undrafted and was signed by the Mariners, and wasted no time getting to work on offense, posting a wRC+ of 175 through 34 games for the AZL Mariners. Larsen played center field almost exclusively last season, but has been bumped to right field in his second pro season, but only because teammate Billy Cooke already plays elite defense in center field. The 23-year-old was something of a late bloomer for the Tritons—he slashed .362/.497/.668 with 15 home runs as a senior after never hitting more than six homers in a season—and fielded all 155 chances without error on defense in his final year. He also finished his college career on a 45-game on-base streak. The left-handed hitting and throwing outfielder should have a chance to move quickly based off his advanced age and refined plate approach, as he’s nearly out-walked his strikeout rate.

A+ Modesto Nuts:

Nick Zammarelli:

Zammarelli might garner a name-only mention at a list on Minor League Ball or something, but for the most part he doesn’t attract much attention despite posting a 114 wRC+ at Clinton last year. As a corner infielder who mostly plays first base, Zamm will need to rake in order to earn his spot on prospect lists; spending a year in the offense-happy Cal League should help. He’s off to a strong start with nine extra-base hits in his first 18 games for Modesto and has been near the top of the leaderboard for batting average since the season started. He’ll also need to find a balance between unlocking more power and controlling his strikeouts, which can hover around the mid-20s.

Darren McCaughan:

I was initially going to list Ljay Newsome here, but it felt like cheating: even though the 5’11” command/control righty doesn’t appear on any prospect lists, some Mariners fans are familiar with Newsome after he won the C the Z award and garnered an invite to big-league Spring Training this year (I know that’s not what that award is called but the real name is so ridiculous, let’s just agree to call it this). Newsome isn’t off to the best start in the Cal League, but his peripherals still look good—he’s striking out a career-high 10.17 K/9 while maintaining his miserly walk rate. But! You came here for sleepers, and a sleeper I will give you. We haven’t seen a lot of 2017 12th-rounder Darren McCaughan, who had a heavy workload at Long Beach State and spent the summer in Arizona, pitching just 12 innings and posting a 2.20 FIP. This year he’s currently running a 3.19 FIP and has been one of Modesto’s most consistent starters, and while his groundball rate is currently just slightly above average, his ability to induce weak contact should raise that as the season goes on. McCaughan doesn’t overwhelm with velocity, but can spot his pitches to all sides of the plate and uses some deception in his delivery to throw batters off. His fastball also features some significant late horizontal and vertical movement.

Double-A Arkansas Travelers:

First and foremost, I had to double-check this, but it’s bizarre that Joe DeCarlo doesn’t pop up on any prospect lists beyond a name-only mention on Minor League Ball’s list this year. DeCarlo has never posted a wRC+ lower than 105 at any stop in the minors where he’s spent significant time, and as an infielder who transitioned to catcher last year, he’s one of the more interesting prospects in the system. The Mariners sent him to the Arizona Fall League this season as a taxi squad player, suggesting that the organization values his development, even as he goes unremarked upon by most prospect evaluators. DeCarlo, who’s hit double-digit homers in each of his past three seasons, hit two homers in a single Travelers game this past week, and if he continues to find his power stroke at the Double-A level, he won’t go unremarked upon for long.

Chris Mariscal:

Drafted in 2014 in the 14th round, Mariscal doesn’t pop up on any lists, not even the deepest, listed-by-name-only digs. However, Mariscal’s wRC+ has improved as he’s moved up through the system. After a decent performance in short-season ball, Mariscal scuffled some in his first full year at offensive-dampening Clinton and was sent to repeat the level in 2016, where he posted a wRC+ of 131. After a promotion to Modesto in 2017, Mariscal posted almost identical offensive numbers but showed an improved approach at the plate, pushing his already-above-average walk rate into the double digits while shaving 5% off his strikeout rate. He struggled again after a midseason promotion to Double-A Arkansas, but so far is off to a strong start for the Travs in his second exposure to the level. His K% is an outrageous 32%, but his BB% is an equally outrageous 16%, and in 54 ABs he’s already hit as many doubles as he did in 155 ABs at the level last year en route to posting a 162 wRC+. If Mariscal can get his strikeouts down while keeping his offensive production high against Texas League pitching, he will find himself on some of those lists next year. In the meantime, if you want to read more about Mariscal, Baseball Census—which does great in-depth coverage of the Mariners in Modesto, especially—has a deep dive on him with video you can read here.

Jake Zokan:

It’s been nearly two full years since we’ve seen Zokan in game action following Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2016, but the last time we did, he was mid-breakout and establishing himself as the most exciting relief prospect in the organization at the time.

After being used as a starting pitcher his first three seasons in the organization, Zokan made the switch to the bullpen in 2016, and the move paid immediate dividends. In 37.1 innings for the Bakersfield Blaze (R.I.P. in Peace) that season, the left-hander posted a career high 10.4 K/9 and a career-best 2.50 xFIP. While it isn’t completely clear whether he’s close to returning to game action, Zokan was placed on the 7-day disabled list by the Double-A Arkansas Travelers on April 5.

Tacoma Rainiers:

Tacoma doesn’t really have prospects per se, but here are some guys who could potentially help out the big club at some point over the season who aren’t currently on the 40-man:

Erik Goeddel:

The Mariners have a thing for ex-Mets pitchers. Signed on a minor league deal, the 29-year-old is serving as Tacoma’s closer and is yet to give up a run while running a K/9 of 11.37 and limiting free passes. Goeddel’s splitter is his strikeout pitch, and he’s posted above-average swinging strike rates every year he’s been in the majors, but struggled in his most recent year with the Mets with an FIP of 5.61 despite an outrageous 15.2% swinging strike rate. Perhaps, like with Goeddel’s ex-teammate Chasen Bradford, the Mariners see something in Goeddel’s peripherals that lead them to believe he’s an adjustment or two away from weaponizing that swinging strike rate into consistent outs.

Roenis Elías:

He’s well-known to most Mariner fans, but it bears repeating here. If the M’s decide to cut their loses and finally pull the plug on Left-Handed Not-So-Specialist Marc Rzepczynski, Elias is a strong candidate to claim his spot on the 25-man roster. His ability to go multiple innings—or even start in a pinch—would exponentially increase the versatility the team is getting out of that bullpen spot, and Elias has even done an acceptable job of keeping the ball on the ground this season, and pretty much every season of his career save for an injury-shortened 2017. It’s worth noting that the M’s opted for James Pazos on back-to-back days over a well-rested Rzep in a high leverage situation against a LHH on Sunday, perhaps indicating Scrabble’s grasp on his role in the bullpen is slipping. Choosing to go with Elias over Rzep here raises an interesting question for the bullpen: would you rather have a guy with experience, but no recent success in high leverage spots, or a guy with recent success, but no experience in high leverage situations?