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2019 Mariners Top Prospects: The ones who just missed

Lack of scouting, down years, injuries...whatever might have caused a player to land outside of our Top 50, this is the place for them

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MLB: Seattle Mariners-Workout Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest; a list is mostly just a way of training the eye on a bullet point and demanding it be thought about. Some lists ascend or descend in order of a perceived, largely subjective importance; others remind you to buy bananas. This list is more of the second, a last minute of The Breakfast Club exhortation: don’t you/forget about theeeeese (prospects). These are the deep sleepers out of small schools with no prospect hype; players who sat down at the table with the injury luck gods and lost; or those who are more Platonic ideal of baseball prospect rather than sweaty, bus-riding, peanut butter-eating actualized prospect. We’ve got who’s-it’s and what’s-it’s aplenty, we’ve got reclamation stories. You want command/control lefties? We’ve got twenty. No, literally, we might actually have twenty.

LHP Chang Ching-Yu - John

Since Chang Ching-Yu signed out of Taiwan, we’ve not seen any further pitching development, as he’s been off working with a team back in his home country before returning to Peoria for minicamps. The athletic lefty has, however, been spending plenty of time acclimating himself to the U.S., spending Spring Training rooming with fellow prospects Logan Gilbert and Cal Raleigh and enjoying shadow puppetry and the dulcet sounds of Baby Shark. Chang is 18 and should debut in the AZL this year, but could move to Everett or West Virginia if he’s showing well. Chang works 89-92 with his fastball, with an impressive curveball, a change up, and a splitter.

Considering Seattle invested ~$500-700k into Chang, outbidding the spend-happy Red Sox and Dodgers, he’s well worth monitoring. NB: spelling and name ordering differs; while we’ve seen the spelling “Ching” on reports, Chan seems to prefer to Anglicize his name as “Jing.” Chang’s twitter handle is @jingyu_chang and his Instagram account is @chang_0211 under the name Jing Yu Chang. He’s a frequent poster on Insta so if you would enjoy learning more about him and getting a peek inside life of a prospect, give him a follow.

RHP JT Salter - Eric

Hello, resident JT Salter fan checking in. Our 6’8” Large Adult ‘Bama Lad reliever spent the 2018 pitching for Modesto, Everett, and then in the Arizona Fall League. Through 20.2 innings, James Travis Salter struck out 28 batters (nice), walked 18 batters (ehh), and gave up zero home runs (aw yis!). A solid first season in the system. I expect he’ll probably spend most of 2019 at either West Virginia (A) or Modesto (A+), with perhaps a chance to crack AA in Arkansas, but there’s no reason to rush him at this point. Whenever you can bide your time developing a large human relief pitcher who throws hard but with so-so control, you stand a better chance of having a polished and perhaps crucial bullpen piece for the major league team in a couple more seasons. Salter was drafted in the 20th round, but he’s got the stuff and he’s got the physicality to make a career out of it.

RHP Michael Koval - Eric

You may recall Michael Koval from a few impressive appearances with the Mariners in Spring Training 2017 and 2018. No? Yeah, I probably wouldn’t remember him either if I hadn’t been recapping many a late ST game where the farm hands run wild and free in the later innings. But, Koval has also had his chance to show his stuff against big leaguers, too, like when he just utterly destroyed Eric Hosmer in 2018 ST.

His numbers as a reliever with Modesto in 2018 were solid, with 32 strikeouts in 38 innings of work, walking only 12. He’ll probably be around Modesto and Arkansas this season, and perhaps get a late bump up to Tacoma since this is his fourth season in the minors.

OF Gunn Omosako - Kate

The Most Interesting Mariners Prospect In the World, Omosako stands out before he even opens his mouth: just 17, Gunn stands 6’4” with a powerful lower half and a well-developed upper body, still a striking figure even though he cut off his trademark dreads upon arriving at the DR Academy. (Omosako has Japanese ancestry but considers himself “100% Brazilian.”) Like Tyler O’Neill and his dad Mr. Canada before him, the Mariners are benefiting from the yoked-up son of a ridiculous physical specimen, and it’s showed itself in some big power already. In his first taste of pro ball in the DSL, young Gunn ran a somewhat-concerning K-rate near 25%, but also showed an ability to take a walk (8.8%) and smack the ball around the field, posting an ISO of .152 with 2 HRs and 2 triples in just over 100 plate appearances. He’s currently at the Academy for more seasoning and not at Spring Training, but might make the jump stateside to the AZL this season, or even short-season Everett, where he’ll be able to continue to explore his love of classic rock. He lists among his favorite bands Fleetwood Mac, Jimi Hendrix, and Steely Dan, and celebrated high school graduation with his teammates at the Dominican Academy by playing Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” on the ukulele.

INF/SS Ryne Ogren - Amanda

Ryne Ogren was destined from birth to either become a baseball player, or to rebel and reject baseball in its entirety. The grandson and great-grandson of former major leaguers and the namesake of the legendary Ryne Sandberg, Ogren chose to go all in on baseball. He told his high school newspaper last year, “Some kids want to be astronauts and all that jazz, but I just wanted to be a baseball player.” He was raised outside of Philadelphia and grew up aware that not many baseball players come from cold states. So, he set his sights on playing college baseball in the south. He joined fellow future Mariner Nick Zammarelli III at Elon University in North Carolina, where he played for 3 seasons before he was drafted into the Mariners organization.

The shortstop became the first player from the Mariners 2018 draft to hit AAA. Following the trade deadline the Rainiers needed infielders and Ogren, then playing in Everett, was just a two-hour Uber ride away. His stint only lasted one game before he was sent back to the Aqua Sox. Defense is Ogren’s calling card and he should stay at the shortstop position (he did also log games at third, second, and first last season). The question is whether he can develop enough offensively. Last season in Everett he slashed .250/.344/.356 while putting up a 10.6% walk rate and a 19.7% strikeout percentage. In his collegiate career, he demonstrated the ability to hit for average and show some power. With his first full season coming up, we’ll get a better idea of whether he has the ability to transfer that to professional baseball.

RHP Reggie McClain - Kate

A senior sign out of Mizzou, McClain was worked heavily over his college career, a trend that continued when the Mariners drafted him in the 13th round in 2016. McClain pitched 153 innings for the Cal League champion Modesto Nuts, then was slowed some coming into 2018 with biceps tendinitis, spending all of the season toiling at the level without a promotion to Double-A. McClain took part in the Mariners’ high performance camp and is working towards breaking the two hundred pound mark while adding velocity at something he calls “gas camp.” McClain possesses polish and a solid curveball-changeup combo, but was working hard to scrape 92 on his fastball in previous years, so that will be something to watch for this spring.

LHP Orlando Razo - Kate

A short king lefty drafted out of UC Davis in the 16th round in 2017, Razo’s junior year numbers were potentially depressed by TJ surgery he’d had the year before, and he had a bumpy 27 innings in the AZL. After an off-season of rest and recovery and some big-league conditioning, the Mariners sent Razo to Everett, where he got stung a little by the longball, but also sampled tastes of Clinton and Modesto. The numbers don’t jump off the page, but Razo has some Kershaw-esque deception in his delivery:

And flashes this pretty nice changeup:

There’s not much scouting film of him, but you should definitely watch this minute-long video made by friends of his parents who came up to Everett to see him pitch, as it is the only good video on the internet.

C Jake Anchia - Kate

Anchia is a catcher, which should probably have catapulted him onto the list anyway, but there’s a good chance he would have made it on his own merits if he’d been able to play his pro debut. Anchia’s glove alone would merit consideration; Baseball America called him the best defensive catcher in D-II baseball, where he won the Gold Glove. He’s also got tons of power, and broke the home run record of none other than J.D. Martinez while at Nova Southeastern. In just 62 pro plate appearances, Anchia mashed two dingers and three doubles, giving him an ISO of .158. The K-BB ratio wasn’t so pretty to look at, so we’ll need to re-evaluate once he’s got a full season under his belt. Even in college, the power-hitting Anchia was somewhat prone to strikeouts and didn’t take as many walks as Jerry and Co. would probably like, although they certainly must have liked his .713 slugging percentage. A plus defensive catcher with huge power and issues with controlling the zone? Where have we seen that before? For everyone who wonders if the Dipoto regime could have successfully developed Mike Zunino, we might have a shot in seeing take two with Jake Anchia. Like his doppelganger Z, Anchia is Floridian by birth (although his father was born in Cuba and fled to the US on a shrimp boat at age 11) and garners high praise for his off-the-charts makeup. It’s a lot to hope for out of a seventh-round pick as opposed to a third overall pick, but if the floor is “solid defensive catcher who strikes out a lot but sometimes puts the lights out,” that has a familiar comfort in and of itself.

OF Luis Veloz - John

Oh how easily we forget the exciting names of yesteryear. Veloz signed with the Mariners for $525,000 in 2016, a smaller sum than the $1.2 million rumored at one point. Still, the 6’4, 180 lbs OF has a balanced skillset that is still projectable. His second season brought better results in the DSL, and at 19 years-old he may be set to come stateside. With his size, Veloz has a good shot at developing more power and being confined to a corner OF spot, but his plus arm should stick in RF at least.

OF Jack Larsen - Ben

If you’ve been following our prospect coverage for the last 1-2 years, you know this story by now, but Larsen arrived in the organization by way of free agency after going undrafted in 2017 out of University of California-San Diego. His collegiate accolades included:

  • .362/.497/.668 slash line with 15 HR, 56 BB, 50 SO during his senior season
  • .332/.440/.517 four-year slash line with 27 HR, 24 SB, 4 CS
  • Ended his career with UCSD record 45-game on-base streak

Despite his wild success on the college circuit, his failed to hear his name called in the June draft and the Mariners scooped him up just two days post-draft. The lefty/lefty outfielder joined the Arizona League Mariners, where he continued demonstrating a refined plate approach as he posted a wRC+ of 175 through 34 games and also swiped five bases. His follow-up campaign in 2018 was impressive, albeit in a different way as the 6’1” slugger saw his average dip and strikeout rate rise up near the dreaded 30% mark, but put up 12 homers, 17 double, and five triples en route to a 144 wRC+ through 88 games with the Clinton LumberKings. Upon a promotion to the High-A, his offensive output spiraled downward as his rate stats remained mostly the same, but he failed to find his footing and posted a wRC+ of just 60.

Entering 2019 having freshly turned 24, he’ll likely open the season back with the Nuts with the chance to slug his way back into what’s suddenly a crowded depth chart at the outfield position. He actually offers a pretty darn similar skillset to recently-acquired Dom Thompson-Williams but with more walks and strikeouts to his game. If the walks and power profile returns in 2019, he could continue to surprise some folks.

C Dean Nevarez - Tim

There’s pretty much no reason any but the most serious of prospect maven Mariners fans would have paid much attention to Nevarez before late January, when he was announced as a non-roster invitee to spring training less than a year after his selection from baseball hotbed San Diego State. Nevarez earned the invite by dint of his victory in the Mariners’ PTPA (Productive Team Plate Appearances) award for last season, when his 104 wRC+ in Everett was offset by a 12.6 BB%. He pairs this with average to solid defense across the board, and is bilingual, which combined with high character marks gives him some potential to guide latino prospects through the system if he doesn’t break out himself and sticks around as organizational depth. Nevarez, born in Tijuana and freshly turned 22, will look to leverage the lack of catchers in the Mariners’ organizational ranks into a long look from the club at what they have this spring.

LHP Max Roberts - Kate

Max breaks from the organizational love of short king lefties by being a...tall king lefty? I guess I’ll allow it. The 6’6” Roberts, taken out of DII Wabash Valley College in the 7th round in 2017, is listed at a Chris Sale-esque 185 pounds. Limited to just 42 innings in his first full pro season, Roberts joined short-season Everett when their season opened and posted respectable numbers, but the one that really jumps out is his K/9 of 9.99 as a starter. Roberts’s ¾ slot and overhand delivery creates deception from the left side, and his height allows him to get good downward tilt on the fastball. His wiry body still falls into the “projectable” range at age 21, and the hope is as he gets stronger on a pro development plan he’ll be able to add velo to the high-80s ball he threw in college (he’s already packed on some muscle after attending the high performance camp last season). He also throws a curveball that’s his primary strikeout-getting weapon, and a circle change. Roberts is exactly the kind of pitcher I enjoy watching: he throws tons of strikes and competes every pitch, and he’s got some pitching lineage, too: his dad is a former college player and current coach, and is also friends with legendary Astros pitching coach Brent Strom.

SS Kevin Santa - Tim

Selected out of the University of Tampa in 2017 in the 19th round, Santa garnered a bit more attention than you might think given his unusual name. Santa, a diminutive switch-hitting infielder from Puerto Rico, then grabbed a lot more attention with a scorching 179 wRC+ in the Arizona rookie league (though as a college graduate, he was quite old for the level). He spent the rest of 2017 and all of 2018 in Modesto, where last year he posted a 96 wRC+ with seemingly elite contact skills (9.9 K%) and a versatile infield profile but not much in the way of walks (6.6 BB%) or power (.078 ISO). Santa, on the cusp of turning 24, will need to at least maintain that hitting profile at the next level and beyond, but if he can take a step forward and do that, he could carve out a career as a defense-heavy reserve. He’s likely to open the year in Arkansas playing around the infield, but has also thrown 1.1 perfect innings in his career, so who knows!

LHP Brayan Perez - John
1B/OF (?) Robert Perez Jr. - Kate

The ace of the DSL Mariners at just 17 years of age, the Venezuelan lefty had a 26.5% K% and just a 5.0% BB% in his first 10 pro starts. If we were to do the list over, Perez would almost assuredly make our first list, but without direct scouting sourcing we were wary of putting too much into 53.0 IP by the youngster. Perez has added muscle and velocity since joining the Mariners’ organization, and he now works 88-91 with 92-93 when he wants it, with above-average spin. Adding a solid slider and curveball, as well as a changeup, Perez is a bright spot for the M’s who will need pitching to develop in unexpected places.

Kate says you can’t do one brother and not the other, so: Robert Perez Jr. is one year older than his brother and is listed at first base, although shots from his Instagram show him playing outfield. That is, the one shot of him playing the field, because most of the rest are of the notorious RPJ either on the base paths or doing crimes of baseballs. RPJ posted an .ISO of .200 and a wRC+ of 140 in 127 plate appearances in the DSL this summer, his second tour of the level after posting a wRC+ of just 77 as a 17-year-old. What makes him a question mark is a combination of three things: a 26.8% K-rate (albeit paired with a 14.2% BB-rate) suggests better pitching might eat him up, he may already be shifting down the defensive spectrum, and we’ve not heard anything from scouts about him.

Still, he’ll be ready to move stateside this season. Fun fact: “BJ” and Robert’s father, Robert Sr., who played in MLB, NPB, KBO, the Mexican League, and the Italian League, is somewhat of a legend in the Venezuelan League with the Cardenales de Lara, where he is nicknamed “El Hombre Historia” in recognition of the many all-time records he holds in that league.

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LHP Jorge Benitez - Kate

Never fear, your wiry Puerto Rican pitching prospect is here! Unfortunately Jorge doesn’t have quite Sugar’s electric arm--the difference between a 3rd round $300k bonus and a 9th round $150k bonus--but hey, Edwin didn’t just show up throwing triple digits (although he did show up throwing 92-95, a good tick faster than Benitez’s “look ma, I touched 90!”). At about the same height and weight as Edi, Jorge has similar long levers and could be a few mechanical adjustments away from harnessing more velocity on his fastball. Like Diaz, Benitez also suffers from some command issues, and if transitioned into a relief role, might look to scrap his curveball in order to focus instead on his fastball and hard slider. But he’s still just 19 years old, he’s had a brief taste of short-season ball, and should get a nice look in Everett this season while the organization figures out which direction to nudge him in.

LHP Blake Townsend - John

Down in Oz, Big Boy Szn happens during our winter, but this Australian lefty celebrates year round. A 6’4 16-year-old LHP who pitched at 87-89 with good sink last year, the big-boned southpaw has yet to pitch stateside. He showed well in top competitions in Australia and will benefit from more expert training. Both his breaking balls (mostly an 11-5 curve, occasionally a tighter power breaker) and mechanics (between sidearm and three-quarters, rigid and upright) could improve immensely.

LHP Matt Tenuta - Kate

On a cool day in 1998, little Matthew Nathan Tenuta of Cary, NC, approached his first day of kindergarten, apprehensive but confident he’d have one powerful advantage over his classmates: his height. Doctors had told his parents he’d grow to six feet four inches, and young Matthew was already creeping up the height chart. Unfortunately, he would find himself in the same classroom as another Cary resident born in 1993. Across the room, Max Walter Povse stood up from behind a desk, and then he just kept standing up. The 6’8” Povse would go on to be a third-round draft pick, taken out of UNC Greensboro in 2014 with a plush signing bonus; Tenuta would say yes to the Royals when they drafted him out of high school in 2012 in the 25th round for a 100k signing bonus. Years later, Tenuta would find himself discarded by those selfsame Royals, handed over to his old adversary’s new organization for the humble sum of a box of cup o’noodles. But this time, Matthew Nathan Tenuta was hyped up on the Hamilton soundtrack and not willing to throw away his shot.. He charged back into the Texas League wearing a new uniform in 2018 and halved his ERA, kicked up his strikeouts and maintained solid command, finding a bullpen role much more to his liking. Flash forward to spring of 2019: Matt Tenuta, wearing #69, has found his way into a Spring Training game, charged with locking down a save and preserving a two-run lead. He gives up a leadoff single; he strikes out the next batter with his slider. He gives up a bad-luck single, the ball glancing off his glove. Two on. One out. He’s in a jam. The deck is stacked against him. It’s not the first time. He strikes out the next batter. He gets a groundout to end the game. He has a save. Max Povse has four inches and a bigger signing bonus and a faster fastball, but he has the save.