In case you missed it: with new additions to the farm system and some improvements to familiar faces, we decided the All-Star Break was a good time to re-evaluate the farm system rankings we did back in the off-season. Read all about our methodology in the introduction to this series, and catch up with any other articles in the series you might have missed in the main article hub.
We skipped Tier Six (orange), also known as The Field, for now, as that’s the largest body and we want to take the most time on it, and have so far done Tiers Five and Four. Today we examine what we’ve labeled Tier Three (purple tier in the spreadsheet). For those of you more used to a traditional Top 30 list, these are players who we consider as everyday starters thanks to a wide base of MLB-ready skills, or those with one or two elite skills, like an overwhelming fastball or the ability to hit for power, coupled with passable skills in other categories. Demonstrating success at the high minors becomes more of a factor here for players who haven’t flashed elite skills in the lower minors.
Justin Dunn - AA, 23y, 9m
Perhaps in deference to beleaguered Mets fans, JD hasn’t had the blinding glow-up that Jarred Kelenic has had since joining the Mariners organization, but he’s continued improving steadily and looking like a starter. Dunn’s strikeout rate shines right off the page while his walk rate continues to shrink, and the changeup has been an improved pitch. Complemented by two good breaking balls, Dunn has had no trouble getting whiffs in the Texas League.
Justin Dunn is having a great night for the Travs. He's through six innings and has six Ks, but most impressively, hasn't walked anyone. Much better command than his last outing. Only Juremi Profar is finding success against him. Everyone else is...well. pic.twitter.com/GXja4Yt6xR— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 3, 2019
Still, the expectations should be appropriate; Dunn hasn’t yet shown himself to be an innings-eating rotation guy. Averaging almost exactly five innings per start is a result of taking a lot of pitches to yield his results, even if it’s often a good one. Five good innings is five good innings, and if Dunn is “only” their Jake Odorizzi, the Mariners should be thrilled. ~JT
Justus Sheffield - AA, 23y, 1m
Top Sheff has taken a tumble in most outlets’ Top 100 lists after a rough turn in MLB as a starter and an even rougher go at Triple-A Tacoma with the SuperBall, but has rebounded nicely for AA-Arkansas. Justin and Justus have been quick friends since coming over in their respective off-season trades and will, in all likelihood, continue to work together and challenge each other for the remainder of the season at Double-A. Sheffield is still just the second-youngest starter on the Travs’ pitching staff, behind Ricardo Sanchez, so there’s still time for him to refine his offerings.
George Kirby - A-, 21y, 5m
Apparently we will see Kirby this weekend in limited action with Everett, but he’s currently here on projection alone based on the numbers he posted in college, and our belief is that he has the physicality and fastball velocity, combined with the Mariners’ love of controlling the zone, to take off quickly. Per Baseball America ($), Director of Scouting Scott Hunter sees some similar aspects in Kirby to that of top prospect Logan Gilbert, who is off to a successful start in his first year of pro ball.
Jake Fraley - AAA, 24y, 1m
Jake Fraley is here to kick ass and smack doubles and he’s, well, actually he’s got a lot of doubles. Part of the Mike Zunino trade return, Fraley has picked up where he left off in High-A last year, obliterating the Texas League and starting hot in the PCL. He’s at risk of singeing his beard every time he brings his molten-hot bat through the zone, but it’s a glorious sight to behold.
Come for the Jake Fraley HR (his second on the day), stay for the kid in a Mariners shirt making a tumbling catch on the berm pic.twitter.com/BeZ3HTlbk9— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 9, 2019
The risk in acquiring a late-bloomer like Fraley was the rapid timeline by which he needed to be ready. In obliterating the competition at two new levels, albeit early in his AAA campaign, Mountain Gamel has made a fringy Top-100 prospect case and could earn a September call-up. He’s a reasonable defender with plus speed (19/25 on the bases this year) but his arm and routes make him better as a good corner OF over an overmatched CF. Still, those quick hands will play at the plate, and a David Dahl-type profile looks more plausible every day. ~JT
Kyle Lewis - AA, 23y, 11m
In a somewhat make-or-break season, Kyle Lewis has instead walked the middle path. The good news? He’s been healthy, playing baseball every day for the first time in three years. He’s walking a bunch (13%), scorching the ball, and holding his own despite barely a full season’s worth of plate appearances below AA in his career.
The bad? His mechanics, whether by rust or other issues, have been inconsistent. Some days, his hands will be quiet, driving through the ball in front of the plate as he did in Spring Training. Other times he’ll waggle his bat over his shoulder feverishly like a torch at a pit of snakes. It makes for tough sledding beginning his swing at a consistent point, and most troublingly it’s cutting Lewis off from his power.
Earlier this year I wrote about Lewis hitting the ball on the ground too often. He’s cut down his rate from above 50% to the low-40s, which is excellent, but he’s still pulling the ball on the ground all the time. We’ve emphasized how the AA-Arkansas stadium hurts RHHs, none more than Lewis, but despite clearly having the power to put the ball out the other way, he’s not doing that damage the easy way.
Lewis is about at put-up-or-shut-up time, but the reason he’s still in this tier is his size (6’4, 210) and talent keep him as projectable as anyone in the system. The reason 18-year-old Julio Rodriguez, who is slightly smaller but the only comparable profile in the system, has leapfrogged him is results, but the reason Lewis keeps getting the benefit of the doubt beyond his line in the ledger is that players with his physical tools don’t grow on trees, and might only be an adjustment away. ~JT
Shed Long - AAA, 23y, 10m
We around here love Shed Long more as a person than...well, we love many of our bright-smiling sons, but Shed is special. He radiates a love for baseball borne of a joyful heart in a way that delights us all. We are very sad he is currently on the IL, not only because it means we can’t make an argument to bump him into the next tier but mostly because any time he is not playing baseball means we are being denied watching Shed Long play baseball.
Shed Long INSIDE-THE-PARK GRAND SLAM. pic.twitter.com/JiMXwsnU5g— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) June 30, 2019
Come back soon, Shed.
Noelvi Marte - DSL, 17y 8m
It’s tough to figure out how to evaluate the guys from the DSL, where few scouts go and the Mariners like to keep their kids at home for an extra year, but Noelvi has a fairly high profile, so we’re comfortable with possibly underestimating him at this level.
Beef Boy Catcher
Cal Raleigh - A+, 22y, 7m
Cal Raleigh is on some kind of tear lately, and while Kate doesn’t want to say she told you so, she kind of told you so starting back in mid-June:
We will have much, much more on the Beef Boy founder himself over the coming weeks, because there is much to say, but at the time of this writing he’s fresh off a 3-for-3 night where he hit an RBI single and two HR and accounted for 4/5 of Modesto’s runs. GIMME THE BEEF BOYS AND FREE MY SOUL, I WANNA GET LOST IN YOUR CASSEROLE.
Cal Raleigh’s 2nd HR of the game. pic.twitter.com/4JL6WHhl6i— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) July 11, 2019
Kyle Lewis remains in this group because of his pedigree, and because his ceiling remains higher than most of the players in this system, locked one minor adjustment away. A strong second half can solidify Lewis as a piece for the future, while a scuffling finish would make it even harder to keep the faith. By the end of this year Long, Dunn, Sheffield, and Fraley could all be in the Mariners clubhouse, or only one of them could be. Depending on how high you are on Dunn or Fraley, you might see them in a higher tier, but this felt comfortable for them all.
If you are full steam ahead on the Ljay Newsome train, we can see how he might fit in this group. As it is, this group was pretty clearly outside our top-four but inside our top-12. Evan White needs his power to sustain (or at least come in significant streaks as it has in the minors) to avoid this group, but it wouldn’t be so bad to see him in this group either.