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The keys to know and follow in the Mariners farm system for the second half

2nd-round pick Josh Stowers’ torrid start is exactly the type of hope the Mariners’ farm so desperately needs. / Shari Sommerfield Images

The Mariners will spend the next couple weeks attempting to augment their roster and maintain their playoff position. They will have to do so with a farm system viewed universally as one of baseball’s thinnest. With just two weeks until the trade deadline, Seattle faces the difficult task of improving, by and large, with what they’ve got. With that in mind, I wanted to highlight a few players and storylines that will be most impactful for the Mariners’ organization in the second half of 2018. I settled on these 4 points.

  1. Can any position players earn a call-up this year?

The Mariners had plenty of call-ups in 2017, but nearly every one was by necessity, not through a prospect forcing the front office’s hand. This season, the big league club has been hampered by injury, but has managed stagger the DL stints so as to keep Gordon Beckham, John Andreoli, Daniel Vogelbach, and the late Taylor Motter the lone non-catcher position player call-ups - all due to injury or momentary quirk of the schedule. Pitchers have cycled more frequently, but the prospect status of those options has been clear. Just three pitchers under the age of 26 have thrown a pitch for the Mariners this year: Matt Festa, Rob Whalen, and Edwin Díaz.

The chances that a prospect pushes the issue and emerges a late spark to Seattle’s 2018 playoff push seem slim, unfortunately. When September rolls around we could see Ian Miller as a pure baserunning spark plug and defensive replacement, although his less powerful bat and lack of a 40-man spot might put him behind John Andreoli. There’s a low single-digit percent chance of seeing Braden Bishop in Seattle in that same role. While Bishop has posted a 121 wRC+ and a .300/.377/.425 line in 532 PAs in AA between the past two seasons, it’d be a shock to see Bishop leapfrog AAA so quickly, particularly when his offensive profile has been late-developing. Joey Curletta’s demolition of AA-Arkansas has been similarly impressive, but with a certain beefy 1B ahead of him at Tacoma, there’s little chance he supersedes Tacoma.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners
The caption of this photo is “Daniel Vogelbach (20) skips home ahead of the tag”
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the September 1st roster expansion it’s next to impossible to envision any “prospect” other than Dan Vogelbach getting a promotion. As we’ve seen, Vogey has the power to turn on big-league pitching, but his struggles with inside pitches seemed to discourage the team from pacing Ryon Healy in a platoon. There is nothing more for Vogelbach to prove in AAA, and his .301/.455/.565 line with 15 HRs in 279 PAs and a 167 wRC+ all emphasizes that. His discipline numbers may be inflated by a feeble Tacoma lineup giving pitchers little cause to challenge him, so take that with a grain of salt. Still, if you’re looking to put money on which position player prospect has an impact down the stretch for the M’s, one, you have a worryingly enabling bookie, and two, it’s Vogelbach vs. the field.

2. Which top prospects should we keep an eye on?

The neat thing about the draft is it introduces the general baseball public to at least one or two names that stick. Most Mariners fans didn’t know or care who RHP Matt Festa was prior to his debut last weekend in Colorado, but they know the name of the man taken six rounds ahead of him - OF Kyle Lewis. Lewis, like a number of Seattle’s most high-profile prospects, has had a tough go of it the past couple years, if they managed to remain in the system. Indeed, considering OF Tyler O’Neill and RHP Nick Neidert were each traded after taking significant developmental steps forward in 2017, it’s possible Lewis remains only by virtue of his injury-dampened trade value.

Still, whether it’s for their future as a Mariner or what another team is willing to fork over for them, seeing Seattle’s top potential performers deliver would be huge. Let’s break it down quickly by individual. Since the team’s top two pitching prospects, RHPs Logan Gilbert and Sam Carlson, will not be pitching the rest of this season due to a heavy college workload and Tommy John surgery, respectively, we’ll focus on the hitters.

OF Kyle Lewis: Lewis has delivered better numbers as the season has gone on, lending credence to his recent statement that “I feel I’m doing everything I was able to do before.” That theoretically looks true, as Lewis’ numbers since returning to full-time play are a bit more encouraging than his overall stats.

Kyle Lewis in High-A Modesto

Full Season 203 5.40% 25.60% 0.266 0.310 0.441 101
Since 5/26 161 6.20% 23.60% 0.277 0.323 0.480 114

Regardless, what’s most important is to continue seeing Lewis healthy. Seeing him running comfortably is as big a relief as any.

1B Evan White: White has been Lewis’ middle-of-the-order companion in Modesto and has maintained a contact-heavy approach that likely endeared himself to the Mariners’ Front Office. That’s well and good, but seeing him continue to add power would go a long way towards reassuring those who see a glove-first 1B and think “future outfielder”. Keep an eye on that ISO.

OF Josh Stowers: Seattle’s 2nd round pick in 2018 is in Low-A Everett, which means whatever he does is tough to get a read on. What I will say is that thus far, Stowers has done everything he can to earn the “4 12 tool player” label Jerry Dipoto placed upon him. Stowers’ 156 wRC+ so far in Everett is delightful, but what’s been most intriguing is viewing him in a framework of other players Dipoto has targeted. The comparison that has stuck in my mind is one drawn from a recent Larry Stone article. See if you can pick out the player described:

“When you go into every draft, there’s a number of players you start to gravitate toward because their tool box starts to fill up,” Dipoto said. “History has taught me there are not many five-tool guys, and that’s the way we saw him in the 2012 draft. That’s the way our scouts saw him, and when I got here I found out that’s also the way the Mariners’ scouts assessed him. He always remained on our radar.”

Dipoto and his team believed in Mitch Haniger more than the rest of the industry, and it changed the course of the franchise. If they’re right about Stowers and he resembles something close to what he’s shown a brief glimpse of in Everett, well, you’ll have been glad you kept tabs on him.

OF Julio Rodriguez: JULIOOOOOO will likely spend the rest of the season in the Dominican Summer Leagues (DSL) and therefore be as far from most fans as humanly possible. When José Altuve signed with the Astros, their most recent MLB rotation had featured Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte! In other words, we’ve got a while to go before JULIOOO hopefully pushes for an MLB roster spot. Until then, you’ll just have to watch for snippets like this Joel Embiid-esque tidbit:

Focus on the process✌

A post shared by Julio Rodriguez (@julio_rod18) on

3. Which reliever will be promoted next?

While he was certainly deserving, it was a bit of a surprise to see Matt Festa bumped up to the bigs this past weekend. Seattle’s farm system is paper-thin when it comes to starting pitching and infielders, but as far as righty relievers go, they’re rolling deep. Considering that’s one of the most common positions in all of baseball, it’s a bit like grabbing a pigeon feather and sticking it in your cap, but at least it was one of the clean feathers. Seattle likely wants to leverage whatever they can in their farm system to end the playoff drought. Short of a trade, the best asset they have going for immediate improvement is a batch of potential bullpen boosts.

Ranked by likelihood of future call-up, I’d wager it goes Festa, Nick Rumbelow, and Shawn Armstrong as near-certainties in September, with Darin Gillies, Art Warren, Wyatt Mills, Seth Elledge, and recent draftee David Joey Gerber as longshots. Still, if any of the latter group go on an absolute tear, it shouldn’t be a shock if one of the final three in particular get a surprise early debut.

4. Who is the likeliest trade bait?

It’s a question all contending teams ask, and for Dipoto’s Mariners doubly so. The answer, broadly, is simple - whoever it needs to be. But the Mariners have been selective about who they’ve given up. Many players from the previous administration have been shuffled out the door, while precious few of Dipoto’s own selections have been relocated. What the Mariners are able to afford will be whatever they’re not outbid on. Other contending teams like the Red Sox and Astros are also strapped for depth to deal from in the minors, but Oakland and the Yankees have an inexhaustible reserve of talent that could allow an upgrade at any time. Kyle Lewis has thus far been untouchable, but that is likely circumstantial, not definite. If Seattle is able to pull off a deal for a player of any notable impact, you can be certain Lewis will be the centerpiece, even in his reduced state.

It’s a tough time to be attached to prospects, but it’s an exciting time to be a Mariners fan. Whether for the organization itself or the talent they will be traded for, the second half of the season will be a show worth monitoring at every level.