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MLB Draft 2019: Seattle Mariners Middle Infield Depth Overview

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Only a year from our last check-in, things already look very different

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers
this was a fun moment, remember this?
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Less than a week remains before we find out who will be running down to the local Lids for a Mariners hat for that fresh #drafted selfie #blessed #thankful #letsgetit #readytowork. This year the MLB draft is June 3-5. 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. Leading up to draft day, we’ll be doing a positional overview of the depth at each level of the system, surveying the shelves of the pantry as it stands now before the draft. We’re starting off with the middle infield, which is maybe one of the position sets that’s changed the most over the past year.

Can contribute soon (or now? How’s now for you?):

Usually this section is reserved for majors-adjacent prospects, but because of the “step back” year, injuries, and just general tomfoolery, we’re seeing SS J.P. Crawford and 2B Shed Long growing up before our very eyes. Crawford, who has had more seasoning at the major league level, has held up fairly well over his 50+ plate appearances despite a 30% K rate; his defense can be an adventure, at times, but he’s shown an ability to work a count and hit for some power (.150 ISO). Shed Long had his Triple-A experience rudely interrupted by an injury to Dee Gordon, and thus is doing some learning on the job, and also delaying plans to turn him into a superutility player, which is what he was doing at Tacoma. Even while scuffling at the plate some, Shed has shown an encouraging ability to take a walk, and has been hitting the ball hard in a limited sample.

On the horizon:

There’s a trio of players at Double-A Arkansas who are finally all healthy at the same time: Donnie Walton (25, drafted 2016, SS/2B), Logan Taylor (25, drafted 2015, 2B/3B/OF), and Jordan Cowan (24, drafted 2013, 2B/3B/SS) have all been swapping out playing time around Arkansas’ infield. Walton, an Okie alum, is probably the most advanced bat of the three and possesses the most defensive versatility, but Cowan is progressing well in his first prolonged taste of Double-A. There’s an opportunity here for one to distinguish himself, but so far they’ve all remained sort of clumped together.

Just below that tier developmentally, Connor Kopach was a 2018 senior sign whom the Mariners promoted to Modesto this year, where he’s acquitting himself well while also learning to play outfield. 22-year-old Joseph Rosa was curiously returned to A-ball this year despite having been in the system since 2015 and putting in 483 PAs at the level last season. He’s hitting much better in his second full go-round.

On the very distant horizon, so distant as to be nearly indistinguishable, but shining brightly nonetheless:

This is where things get interesting, with a pair of international signings whom we haven’t seen play stateside yet but who already have a fair amount of buzz. 18-year-old Juan Querecuto, signed in 2017, is now recovered from the torn meniscus that cost him spring training this year and resuming baseball activities. He’ll most likely spend the season in Peoria, gaining strength and working on his fundamentals, although an assignment to Everett isn’t out of the question if the shortstop, whose father played professionally and whose brother Juniel is a Diamondbacks prospect, moves quickly. Noelvi Marte, signed in 2018, will be entering his first full year in the DSL, and—like Julio Rodriguez before him—has already shown an understanding of the power of social media to build (deserved) hype. [Credit goes to the instructors at the Mariners’ DR Academy—from what I’m told, the class of the Academies on the island—for teaching computer literacy and video editing skills.] Marte gets attention for his power but scouts doubt his ability to stick at short, although this video he posted of himself making a spinning play (I’m told he did get the runner at first) shows he’s not as defensively limited as some might make him out to be.

Sleepers:

There are always a few guys who come out of nowhere, and for the past three years I’ve said Chris Mariscal is one of those guys. I don’t care about anything else: this guy just hits, and has done so mostly well at every level. In his first year in Clinton, his first full year of professional baseball, he posted an 85 wRC+ and was sent to repeat the level (condemning someone to two years of playing baseball in Clinton seems like punishment for a way worse offense than an 85 wRC+, but I digress). He destroyed the level in 2016 but wasn’t moved up to High-A until the following year, which he also destroyed, and was sent to Arkansas at the tail end of that year. In his first full season in the Texas League in 2018 he was fine, not great, but was sent off to the Arizona Fall League after, where he performed well as part of the championship Peoria Javelinas (go skunk pigs). Mariscal returned to the Texas League and again dominated and finally earned a promotion to Tacoma. I’m crossing my fingers that when they need another middle infielder in like August when the team is mathematically eliminated, Mariscal gets his taste of the big leagues. He just might surprise some people.

Role Players:

In Triple-A, this is your Kristopher Negron/Tim Lopes tier. Maybe they get a shot at the bigs if things continue to go sideways. I’m all for everyone getting a bite at the big league apple and a chance for healthcare for life, and the games don’t matter anyway, so why not? Further down the organizational ladder, you have guys like Johnny Adams, Kevin Santa, and Cesar Izturis Jr., all of whom possess a skill—in this case, the ability to play a decent shortstop—that will continue to push them along the ladder, with the hope that they’ll develop enough other tools along the way to carry them into the upper minors.

Overall health of the position:

I give this a solid C+, whereas just a year ago this position group was D territory. There’s still a troubling, XXL-sized donut hole in the middle between the extremely young, exciting Noelvi Marte and the heirs apparent J.P. Crawford/Shed Long, but last year the middle infield outlook was “hope Robi and Jean dip themselves in a magical youth spring every night and sleep in Raul Ibanez’s hyperbaric chamber until 2022,” so it seems like we’re in a better place with that already. I wouldn’t be mad to see the Mariners take a middle infielder with a first or second-round choice, though, whether it’s one of this year’s crop of college shortstops or a high-upside prep prospect.