The MLB draft is less than a month away! Soon we will know which 25-ish new prospects will be running down to the local Lids for a Mariners hat for that all-important Instagram post. If you check out the “MLB draft” tag you’ll find the plethora of info we’ve been compiling over the past couple months for you. As we get closer to the actual date of the draft (June 4-6), we’ll be ramping up our coverage. This week, we take a look at what’s in the system already, position by position, to get a sense of what needs the Mariners might have three to five years down the line. (Hint: it’s all of them. It’s all the needs.)
We’re starting off with corner infielders and catching, because [nobly falls on sword, Game of Thrones-style.] [Does that happen in Game of Thrones? It seems like something that would.]
Can contribute soon (early 2019, possibly even 2018):
Joey Curletta, Double-A Arkansas
Curletta is a big bear of a man—when I saw him on the back fields at Spring Training, he looked like a dad who somehow wandered out into a sea of Little Leaguers. The Dodgers gave up on Curletta when he posted a wRC+ of 88 as a 22-year-old in Double-A because the Dodgers can do that. The Mariners sent him back to the Cal League, where he performed well as part of the championship Modesto squad, and he’s currently tearing up Double-A with a wRC+ of 151. Ignoring the Vogelbach-shaped elephant in the room, the 24-year-old Curletta looks like he’s due for a promotion to Triple-A. Pitchers in the Texas League aren’t even bothering to pitch to him anymore; his walk rate is an astounding 22%.
But what about Daniel Vogelbach?
Last year this section was “But what about DJ Peterson?” and that makes me sad. Sadder yet: what I wrote about Vogelbach last year still applies this year.
I have no idea what the club is doing with Vogelbach—who’s sharing 1B duties with DJ Peterson—and I’m not convinced they do either. He’s slashing .287/.400/.471 in Tacoma right now, which is almost exactly a mirror image of his career minors slash line, and his BB% of 15% against a 20% K rate is also in line with his performance in the upper minors. At some point you just have to give him an extended look, because I’m not sure what else he has to prove, especially if he’s not playing first regularly.
Vogey’s numbers aren’t yet up to where they were last year due to his brief stint with Seattle while Nelson Cruz was injured, but he’s starting to heat up again, taking home PCL player of the week honors for past week after hitting .429 with five home runs in eight games, including three in one doubleheader against Sacramento. Honestly, the best thing that could happen for Vogelbach’s career at this point is for him to be traded to a team that isn’t in it and won’t mind playing him every day, although that probably won’t happen because Seattle needs him around as Nelson Cruz/Ryon Healy injury insurance. Baseball, why are you such a jerk sometimes.
With all due respect to Danny Muno and Seth Mejias-Brean, there just isn’t a lot that is poised to help the Mariners at third anytime soon. [Pause to genuflect in Kyle Seager’s general direction.]
The emergence of OBP-machine David Freitas has allowed Mike Marjama to remain in Tacoma to get everyday reps, although his playing time is being cut into by 30-year-old MLB vet Chris Herrmann, who is running an unholy 24.2% walk rate.
On the horizon (2019/2020):
Evan White, A+ Modesto
This is the level where things get a little brighter, not just at the first base slot, but throughout the organization. After a hamstring injury limited him in his first year in the system, White is off to a bit of a slow start this season, although his bat has been heating up over recent weeks as he gets accustomed to his first full year of pro ball. He’s continuing to limit his strikeouts while taking walks and has showed good speed on the bases as well as eye-popping defense at first base:
ok Evan White is just showing off now pic.twitter.com/OdQ7uFzR92— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 1, 2018
Ryan Costello, A Clinton
Drafted in the 31st round out of Central Connecticut State, Costello posted a wRC+ of 175 in Rookie ball—good, but as a 21-year-old, he was pretty old for the level, and there were questions about how he would have hit in the more competitive environment of short-season ball. As a much more age-appropriate A ball player, he’s kept up his offensive production, showing excellent plate discipline (almost a 15% BB rate against a sub-20% K rate) and slashing .300/.400/.500 for a wRC+ that’s just a tick under what he put up in the Arizona League. If he can continue to post these numbers when he’s inevitably promoted to Modesto (provided Evan White can take a step forward), Costello is a good candidate to be fast-tracked through the system via the Arizona Fall League this off-season.
But what about Eric Filia?
We’ve heard rumblings the Mariners will try to shift Filia to first, but since he’s technically listed as an outfielder, he’ll be covered with the outfielders for the purposes of this series.
Logan Taylor, A+ Modesto/AA-Arkansas
Taylor struggled a little last year with selling out for power and at one point was walking 4% of the time while striking out in about a third of his at-bats. Yikes. An injury shortened his season and he was re-assigned to High-A, where he’s been raking for the Nuts, posting a career-high wRC+ of 132. Taylor is not long for Modesto and his bat will be a big boon to a Travelers lineup that’s been relying on Joey Curletta for all their homerun-hitting power. [Note: Taylor was promoted to Arkansas literally as I was typing this article.]
Joe DeCarlo, Double-A Arkansas
I don’t really have favorite prospects because I love all my sons equally, but if I did have a favorite, it might be Joe DeCarlo for sheer degree of difficulty. DeCarlo, a corner infielder, had never played catcher before Jerry Dipoto sat down with him last year and suggested it might be a good thing for his career to consider a switch. DeCarlo has always hit well, but what’s surprising is how well he’s taken to playing the most difficult position on the diamond: DeCarlo is able to use his big, Zunino-esque arms to frame even high-velocity pitches, and does so like he’s been doing it all along. His strong infielder’s arm has translated to him nailing nine of 11 attempted base-stealers so far this year. DeCarlo still needs to work on blocking pitches and some of the other subtleties of the position, but the fact that he’s come so far so quickly is truly remarkable. DeCarlo’s bat has always been his strength, and he managed to post a wRC+ of 108 last year even while learning a new position, but he’s yet to catch fire in Double-A. He’s splitting catching duties with Rule 5 pick Joe Odom, a fine player in his own right.
On the distant horizon:
Nick Zammarelli, A+ Modesto
Zammarelli played third base in the minors, but has ceded the position to teammate Joe Rizzo. Zamm has hit ever since he came to the system; he posted a wRC+ of 114 last year at Clinton and so far is off to a good start at Clinton, with a 133 wRC+. He needs to cut down his strikeouts, and in being limited to first base he’ll have to mash, but so far he’s posting a .169 ISO in the Cal League, bolstered by a few triples.
Joe Rizzo, A+ Modesto
Rizzo, at just 20 years old, is maybe a little further off than the college-experienced Zammarelli, as he’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start in his first full year at A+. He’s still walking quite a bit but also striking out more, and is yet to hit his first Cal League home run. One pleasant surprise has been his defense; he looks quite capable at the hot corner, and he’s also showed good baserunning instincts when he does get on, and has even notched a couple stolen bases.
Troy Dixon, A- Everett
Dixon isn’t just “on the horizon,” he’s “so far he can only be picked up by the most powerful telescope,” but I saw him on the back fields in Spring Training and was really impressed. Listed at 6’2”/205, Dixon looks bigger than that to me, with broad shoulders and a powerful frame. He was able to put a charge into some balls during BP, which lines up with the two homers he hit in 28 games for Everett last year, although he struggled at the plate otherwise (a .254 BABIP might be part of the culprit there). But what really stood out about Dixon was how engaged he was with the drills—it’s easy to lollygag a little in the Arizona heat on the back fields at Spring Training, but Dixon hustled his way through every drill. Every throw was crisp and right on-target, and he showed a good explosiveness in getting out of his catcher crouch and firing down to second. Dixon was one of fifteen semifinalists nationwide for the Johnny Bench Award, so defense is clearly his strong suit. It’s worth keeping an eye on him next year and seeing if the bat can catch up with his elite defensive profile. I can’t figure out where Dixon is right now because he appears to be the one baseball player in the world without an Instagram, but my guess is since he’s not assigned to a team he’s in extended spring training.
Last year I titled this piece “the nothing sandwich,” because the Mariners had usable pieces at the upper levels and intriguing pieces at the lower levels, but nothing in the middle. The addition of Evan White in last year’s draft does a lot to improve the long-term outlook at first base, which seems to be well-addressed already with Healy and Vogelbach, giving White plenty of time to develop. The successful conversion of Joe DeCarlo to an MLB-caliber defensive catcher is a huge coup for the organization’s development and makes catcher less of a black hole, but less of a black hole is still a black hole. A later-rounds college catcher who could move quickly through the system would help replace David Banuelos, lost in trade in the mad pursuit of [REDACTED], but I’d really like to see the Mariners get serious about drafting a legit catching prospect sometime soon. However, the gaping weakness here is third base. The Mariners are lucky to enjoy the services of Kyle Seager, but the depth behind him is paper-thin and hinges largely on Joe Rizzo’s ability to stick at the position and for his bat to pick up—not impossible for a prospect who can’t even legally drink yet, but far from a sure thing. A solid college bat that could move quickly through the system could do a lot to prop up the weakest position in the system.