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 2018” 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.)
On Tuesday Kate kicked us off with the grisly business of investigating corner infield and catcher depth in the system. Yesterday Mario gave us the low-down on the plethora of future utility-men in the middle infield depth. Today John sizes up the pitching depth – broken up by what roles players are in right now. There ain’t much pretty here either, folks, especially if you’re seeking starters.
It feels as though tradition would dictate starting with starters and descending into bullpen pieces, but the Mariners haven’t done that so why should this review? Instead, I’ll try to group players based on an archetype. Since this front office likes to have guys work on similar things, that’s relatively easy to do.
The Fast-Moving Relievers:
RHP Darin Gillies, 25, AAA-Tacoma
As the first of this group to reach AAA, Gillies receives top-billing. Unlike the next few guys on this list, the 6’4, 220 Gillies hasn’t been pegged as a top prospect, but there’s likely an MLB future ahead of him. The former 10th-round pick works a fastball/slider combo with a 92-95 range on his heater. The downside is his peripherals don’t suggest a late-inning profile (7.09 K/9 to 3.77 BB/9 last year in AA-Arkansas) but he’s shown a bit more deception this year. Most importantly, Gillies’ innings total has been nearly double his appearances at every stage in the minors. He should be a middle/long relief option as soon as mid-2018.
RHP Art Warren, 25, AA-Arkansas
Fine Art had a breakout performance in the Arizona Fall League against some of the best prospects in Majors, rocketing him into the consciousness of M’s fans. A converted starter, Warren maintains a three-pitch arsenal of a power curve, a decent, more horizontal slider, and a fastball that ranges from 94-99. That velocity has been a recent development, and the result of improved training. Lots of K’s and BB’s have been the story for Warren, but his ability to harness his raw stuff is no longer the difference between cracking the majors or not, it’s whether he’ll be pitching middle relief or high-leverage situations. Like Gillies, we could see Warren as soon as mid-2018 if Seattle is in contention.
RHP Matt Festa, 25, AA-Arkansas
The third head of Seattle’s up-and-coming bullpen trio, Festa is both the most polished of the three and the one currently lighting it up the most. Festa turned 25 just two months ago and, after spending time at extended Spring Training following a sciatic/hip issue, has come out blazing through the Texas League. His 12.34 K/9 and 3.09 BB/9 have been muted slightly by a case of dingeritis in his first 11.2 Double-A innings, but the stuff is real. More mid-90s than upper with his fastball, Festa relies more on the movement of his pitches, working multiple breaking balls like Warren. Just like the others listed above, a 2018 debut is plausible, with 2019 more likely.
RHP Wyatt Mills, 23, High-A Modesto
secret fourth headwings(?) of this reliever chimera is the side-armer from Gonzaga who was the Mariners’ 3rdround pick in 2017’s draft. Mills might be the odds-on favorite to be the first player to reach the majors from 2017’s crop, not just from Seattle, but anywhere. As Ben outlined earlier this year, Mills delivers low-to-mid-90s sinkers beginning in the right-handed batter’s box and pairs them with a sweeping slider. Notably, while the other arms listed above are all fly ball pitchers, Mills has run a >55% groundball rate so far. He shredded through Everett and Clinton last year, earning placement in Modesto out of the gate this year. Mills has continued to excel but has looked slightly mortal this season, but should be a 2019 call-up consideration.
RHP Seth Elledge, 21, High-A Modesto
Less local but no less dominant than Mills, Elledge brings mid-90s heat from Dallas Baptist University and a power slider. Taken just one round behind Mills, the two will likely race one another to the back of Seattle’s bullpen. Elledge brings strikeout stuff and, while not yet matching the velocity, he boasts both the funk and build of a 6’3 Dan Altavilla.
Some other relievers to keep on the radar: RHP Nick Rumbelow, 26, somewhere in Arizona where they fix neck nerves, RHP Michael Koval, 23, A+ Modesto. RHP Bryan Bonnell, 24, AA-Arkansas. LHP Spencer Herrmann, 24, AA-Arkansas. RHP Kyle Wilcox, 23, High-A Modesto. RHP Sam Delaplane, 23, A-Clinton, essentially every reliever in Clinton.
The Command-Based Starters
RHP Rob Whalen, 24, AAA-Tacoma. RHP Max Povse, 24, AAA-Tacoma, RHP Andrew Moore, 24, AA-Arkansas, RHP Chase De Jong, 24, AA-Arkansas. LHP Anthony Misiewicz, 23, AA-Arkansas.
Even if you aren’t a prospect head the first four names on this list likely stand out to you. Ariel Miranda could also be included here, although my very official line of demarcation of rookie-eligibility excludes the 29-year-old LHP. Instead we’re left with four guys whose fastballs typically range from 88-94, live on precision, and have struggled to nail down an out pitch in their secondary stuff that elicits big league whiffs. Povse had an unsuccessful transition to the bullpen in 2017 that, in my opinion, still seems worth trying, but as of now none of the four have separated themselves dramatically from the pack.
Misiewicz (Mih-SHEV-its) is the only one without a big-league cup of coffee so far, but he fits in this group. In August of 2017 Seattle traded Misiewicz to the Rays as part of the deal to acquire C Mike Marjama and reliever Ryan Garton, then re-acquired in the aftermath of the Ohtani sweepstakes for leftover international cash. His handedness is a great boon, and his consistency and durability make him a likely candidate to spot start in 2019.
RHP Ljay Newsome, 21, High-A Modesto
Ljay could just as easily have found himself in the “miscellaneous” grouping below, but his peripherals have been impressive for a 21-year-old in the California League. A 9.07 K/9 and 0.60 BB/9 through 44.2 IP is nothing to shake a stick at, but even with solid command of four pitches (fastball, cutter, changeup, curveball) it’s tough to crack the bigs sitting 87-90 with a fastball. The 5’11 Newsome is a great guy to root for, but precedent suggests he’ll need more velocity and explosiveness to establish a big-league trajectory.
RHP Darren McCaughan, 22, High-A Modesto
McCaughan (pronounced Mc-CACK-en, impossibly), turned 22 in mid-March, and like Newsome has been lighting up the hitter-friendly California League (43.0 IP, 2.51/2.57 ERA/FIP, 8.16 K/9, 1.47 BB/9). He has good command of his low-90s fastball that has heavy run and sink and pairs it with a sweeping slider that has given hitters fits. Scouts we’ve spoken to who have seen him live have told us there is something there in McCaughan, so we’ll keep a closer eye as well.
RHP Tommy Romero, 20, A-Clinton
Tommy Romero is through 6 IP. Has only allowed two hits, ground ball singles to a lineup boasting two first-rounders. One walk, 8 Ks. pic.twitter.com/8DR2ske9O5— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 14, 2018
Romero is something of a pet prospect here at LL, but as long as he continues to have success that drum will continue being beaten. The young righty throws predominantly a fastball in the low-90s that, according to him, has a high spin rate that combines with his motion to make it difficult for hitters to handle. His changeup and slider are developing secondary offerings, and they’ll need to improve for his success to stick. Right now, however, no M’s SP prospect is having more success than Romero (32.0 IP, 11.25 K/9, 3.66 BB/9, 2.81/3.00 ERA/FIP, .392 BABIP).
Some other command-based starters to keep an eye on: RHP Nathan Bannister, 24, AA-Arkansas. RHP Randy Bell, 23, High-A Modesto. LHP Oliver Jaskie, 22, A-Clinton, RHP Reggie McClain, 25, High-A Modesto.
Teenagers from Central and South America
Last year RHP Juan Then was the clear standout pitcher for the Dominican Summer League Mariners. Then was traded to the Yankees as part of the deal for reliever Nick Rumbelow, leaving a whole lot of uncertainty in this group. Purely based on the reports of others, here are some names to stow away:
RHP Christian Pedrol, 17, AZL Mariners. RHP Yeury Tatiz, 17, DSL Mariners. LHP Brayan Perez, 17, DSL Mariners. RHP Joseph Hernandez, 17, DSL Mariners.
The Golden Gopher
RHP Sam Carlson, 19, AZL Mariners
Carlson is the only Mariners pitching prospect pegged with a 50 or better scouting evaluation by MLB Pipeline, meaning he is the only pitcher considered to project as a league-average starter in the entire organization. That’s obviously subject to change, but for now it gives a sense of where the organization’s pitching depth is at. Carlson was a top-20 consideration in last year’s draft for his stuff (92-95 fastball, plus-changeup, good breaking ball), his command, and his projectable 6’4 frame. The Mariners managed to snag him in the 2ndround and lure him away from the University of Florida, but so far Sam has spent the spring in Arizona “strengthening his arm to avoid injury.” TINSTAAP and everything, but Carlson is the closest thing Seattle has to a future ace right now, and they seem inclined to be hyper-cautious with him. Hopefully he’ll be on the mound soon, likely in the AZL, but possibly in Short Season Low-A Everett.
A final note – Seattle has dealt so heavily from their low minors that they were not, at times, able to provide enough pitching to fill minors Spring Training games at times. Expect Seattle to adhere to a strategy similar to 2017 in the draft this June – A few lottery tickets near the top, then a fleet of players with enough polish to slot in throughout the system and restock depth.