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LL’s Mid-Season 2019 Top Prospects Update: Tiers One and Two (blue)

The brightest stars who are the new faces of Seattle’s system

bright stars
Kate Preusser

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; catch up with Tiers Five, Four, and Three here. Today we’ll close out the top two tiers, colored blue and lighter blue on our spreadsheet. While all of these players are those we envision having substantial careers in MLB if they remain on their current trajectories, the Tier Ones are separated by a significant carrying tool—loud power, an overwhelming fastball—that we project will put them in the top 10% at their positions, earning them All-Star berths and even MVP/Cy Young consideration.

Tier Two:

Evan White - AA, 23y, 2m

After a slow start in April and May, White turned it on in June, slugging an incredible .691 despite playing his home games in the righty-killing mausoleum known as Dickey-Stephens Park. It’s similar to the trajectory he took last year at A+ Modesto; once White gets his feet under him at a level and can start making adjustments, the bat really takes off. White didn’t get a hit out of it, but he owns the hardest-hit ball at the Futures Game this year, redirecting a MacKenzie Gore fastball 112.2 mph, but unfortunately directly at the left fielder. (White will have some more chances to get the better of Gore in the Texas League, as he’s recently been promoted to the delightfully-named Amarillo Sod Poodles). Hitting a ball that hard isn’t a fluke, it’s a skill, and White has been smoking balls like that all over the Texas League. With the uptick in power (his 11 HR are equal to the number he hit in twice as many PAs in the Cal League, a famously homer-happy environment), plus his Gold Glove-level defense, White is starting to look like a bona fide major leaguer rather than merely an athletically-plus first baseman/lefty-fielding righty-batting curiosity.

Logan Gilbert - A+, 22y, 7m

Gilbert didn’t pitch last year and so didn’t really have a national prospect footprint; we liked him enough to put him at #6 on our list on scouting and the strength of his resume at Stetson alone. Gilbert is a good argument for why numbered lists don’t always do justice to players, especially in deep systems; one team’s #14 is another’s #4. After the batters of the South Atlantic League pleaded for mercy, Gilbert and his 43.4% K% were sent to the California League, where Gilbert has essentially repeated his performance against a higher class of batter. He’s still in his first year as a pro and will make mistakes; at times the command can be off, he can fall off the mound too early to the first base side, and he can get into protracted battles with hitters where he needs to have a convincing out pitch. He’s still working on developing a changeup that could be just that, but in the meantime, when the command is on, he’s got three potential strikeout pitches with a 92-94 mph fastball he’s able to spot right at the top of the zone, a nasty hooking curveball, and a wipeout slider.

Sorting through gifs of the curveball was a delight. This one shows Gilbert’s tendency to fall off the mound at times, something he’ll need to work on. 6’6” is a lot of length to coordinate!

And then there’s the simple beauty of high heat:

Gilbert is seen as a mid-rotation starter at most outlets; we see more of a #2 if he continues developing along this path. He’s certainly putting in the work to do so.

Tier One:

Julio Rodríguez - A, 18y, 6m

A hand injury after being hit by a pitch stole a fair amount of Julio’s developmental time this year, but he’s already ascended to first-name-only celebrity status (number of O’s is open to interpretation). Because the start to his season was a little delayed, and it was an aggressive assignment to begin with, Julio hasn’t quite uncorked the power residing in his bat, hitting a decent-but-not-eye-popping .149 ISO. He did, on the day of this writing, unleash a game-tying, 442-foot home run that I hope desperately someone somewhere has footage of. He does have 8 doubles in just 134 ABs to go with his 5 HR, so it’s not unreasonable to expect that those doubles will turn into dingers as he settles in stateside.

Julio is also more than a slugger; he takes his walks and keeps his strikeouts down, and he hits the ball so hard and hustles down the line so quickly that he’s able to sneak balls through holes and beat out infield hits. He’s about the fastest 6’3/220-sized person you’ll ever see. And his arm is already something that has opposing third base coaches throwing up stop signs.

And of course, there’s no scouting grade for makeup, but if it was, Julio would be an 80-grade. He loves his teammates, he loves his fans, he loves being a Mariner, and he loves baseball, and he will make you love baseball more.

Jarred Kelenic - A+, 19y, 11m

That Jarred Kelenic went through the worst slump of his pro career shortly after being promoted to High-A Modesto and still has a wRC+ of 118 tells you what you need to know about Jarred Kelenic. Kelenic is definitely struggling in Modesto; he’s seen plenty of elite velocity in his time but none of the quality breaking stuff which is what gets a pitching prospect moved from A to A+ (see: Gilbert, Logan). As a result, Kelenic’s strikeouts have risen while he’s done some uncharacteristic chasing, although he’s shown improvements in that area of late. When he’s hitting, he has hit to all fields, and he’s hit with the power that many scouts saw as the missing item in his many-drawered toolbox.

And even when he’s not hitting, he’s still taking his walks, stealing bases, hosing runners from the outfield, and making run-saving catches:

(Confidential to any Mets fans reading this article: stop doing this to yourselves. I mean it. It’s not good for you. Mute the word “Kelenic” on Twitter and focus on Matthew Allan.)

Fringy inclusions:

No one. These are the best-regarded prospects in the system, in whatever order you choose. Evan White is maybe the player we could hear arguments on; his power surge is recent enough that he doesn’t currently appear on top 50 lists, and while the defense is perennial Gold Glove-level, it’s still first base defense. But first basemen are people too, and this is now the second year in a row White has owned a level late in the season after a promotion.

Fringy exclusions:

We started this list about a month ago, right after the draft, and in that time Cal Raleigh has laid waste to the California League while playing the most demanding position on the diamond and playing it well. His underlying numbers suggest this isn’t a random hot streak, either, as Cal continues to take his walks and not strike out much despite taking a more aggressive approach at the plate recently. He’s potentially the biggest riser in the system.

There’s an argument Logan Gilbert is more of a frontline starter and deserves to be in that top tier. He seemingly hasn’t missed a beat since being assigned to High-A, but as a polished college arm, he should be more prepared for success at the level than say, literal teenager Jarred Kelenic. If the changeup comes along that raises his profile significantly, as would a modest bump in velocity (LoGil is currently 92-94, but has the potential for more.)