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Mariners Mid-Season MiLB Awards

It’s been a fun year so far down on the farm. Who has stood out the most to the LL staff?

After a long period of dormancy while the Mariners attempted to compete at the MLB level, the farm is stocked and thriving. While it’s great to see the farm garner some national attention from prospect outlets as well as mainstream media attention here in Seattle—who would have thought, a few years ago, there would be a day when tweets from the MiLB Mariners account were a regular fixture on the ROOT broadcast?—we’re proud of the prospect coverage we have provided for the past three-ish years, through both the lean years and now in the better times, and are excited to continue to ramp up our coverage. With that being said, for the first time (in recent memory, at least), we’re going to present a mid-season updated ranking of the farm system this week, along with our mid-season awards. Will one of your favorites take home a prized Mid-Season Lookout Landy?

Best Hitter: Jake Fraley, Triple-A Tacoma

AAA (44 PAs): .317./364/.610
AA (259 PAs): .313/.386./539

The prospect-laden Rays had Fraley repeat High-A after an injury shortened his 2017 and never moved him up despite him destroying the Florida State League to the tune of a 172 wRC+. The Mariners promptly sent Fraley to Double-A, where he repeated his performance against the Texas League, slugging .539 with double-digit home runs while also hitting for average. As a lefty, Fraley isn’t punished quite as badly as the righties in cavernous Dickey-Stephens Park, but so far he’s off to a rip-roaring start in Tacoma. Fraley’s age (24) has kept him off Top-100 lists, but he’s now MLB-adjacent and sniffing a September call-up, which is better than being on any top prospect list.

Runner-up: Jarred Kelenic, A+ Modesto

Kelenic isn’t quite the advanced hitter Fraley is, and he’s currently mired in a prolonged slump while struggling to adjust to the more advanced pitching of the California League, but he’s just 19 years old and is fresh off a dominating run through the South Atlantic League.

Best Pitcher: Logan Gilbert, High-A Modesto

A (22.2 IP): 1.59 ERA/2.43 FIP/.66 WHIP/36 K/6 BB
A+ (50.1 IP): 2.15 ERA/2.65 FIP/1.07 WHIP/58 K/9 BB

In his first pro season, Logan Gilbert has been all that he was advertised as and then some. Even working at not-peak velocity (he’s been 92-94 in Modesto, but has touched 97 in West Virginia), the fastball is a weapon Gilbert can spot anywhere on the plate, and he pairs it with a devastating hook and tricky slider that have racked up the K totals for Gilbert. He still needs a true out pitch, as he can get into protracted battles with hitters at times; that might be the changeup he’s working on further refining, giving Gilbert four above-average offerings with which to attack batters.

Runner-up: Justin Dunn, AA-Arkansas

Dunn has taken a step forward from when he was at Double-A with the Mets, shaving almost 3% off his walk rate (a still high, but manageable, 7%) while boosting his K-rate—which was already quite high—to an incredible 30%. There are some who still see reliever in his profile, something Dunn could quash by working more deeply into games as his second tour through Double-A goes on, as he’s currently averaging just five innings per game.

Also receiving votes: strikeout kings Sam Delaplane and Ljay Newsome. Speaking of them...

Sleeper Prospect, Pitchers: Sam Delaplane, Double-A Arkansas

A+ (31.2 IP): 4.26 ERA/1.91 FIP/ 1.14 WHIP/62 K/14 BB
AA (9.2 IP): 0 ERA/-.09 FIP/0.41 WHIP/22 K/3 BB

Before he was promoted to Double-A, there was a point at which Delaplane ranked in the top 5 in strikeouts in the Cal League as a reliever. Since being promoted to Arkansas, Delaplane has cranked up his K rate, somehow, and posted a negative FIP. Affectionately nicknamed as our “short king” as he stands 5’11”, and without the overwhelming power of many of today’s fireballing relievers, Delaplane attacks batters with deception, movement, and pinpoint location. So far that skillset has translated just as well to the advanced minors as it did in High-A, and like Edwin Diaz and Dan Altavilla before him, Delaplane could eschew Triple-A and be in line for a September look with the big club.

Also receiving votes: hard-throwing reliever Joey Gerber, recently promoted to Double-A; Arkansas rotation stalwarts Ricardo Sanchez and Darren McCaughan (who is currently walking less than one batter per nine innings), and Gas Camp graduate Reggie McClain, who busted himself out of Modesto with a fastball that now sits 94-96 mph.

Sleeper prospect, hitters: Donnie Walton, Double-A Arkansas

At AA-Arkansas: .308/.402/.432

On his second tour through AA, Walton is hitting .308, almost exactly the same mark he was hitting in High-A Modesto last year before being bumped up to the Texas League, where his bat fell flat. Walton has contended with some injuries in his career, so he’s a little old for the level—25—but he shows a great feel for hitting coupled with strong infield defense at a position (read: anywhere in the middle infield) where the Mariners system is weak.

Runner-up: C Jake Anchía, West Virginia (A)

Anchía gets the nod here because he plays the most difficult position on the diamond (and does so very well), but is also mashing while he holds things down behind the dish. Anchía’s strikeout numbers in his first full season (he was limited by injury last year after being drafted out of Nova Southeastern) are concerning, but the power is very real, as he’s already mashed double-digit home runs, including this walkoff winner that earned him some national attention due to his 80-grade bat flip.

Also receiving votes: OF Dom Thompson-Williams (AA), OF Keegan McGovern (A+)

Most improved hitter: Evan White, Double-A Arkansas

At AA-Arkansas: .304/.364/.495

It’s hard to improve on a season where a player posted a 127 wRC+, but Evan White has done just that this season, his first in the upper minors, posting a wRC+ of 133 in Arkansas. Fresh off a 23-game hitting streak and an invite to the Futures Game, White has showed that despite a slow start (a slash line of .214/.292/.286 in April), his power breakout last year was very real; he’s slugging .691(!) in June. Coupled with his Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base, it’s not hard to see White pushing for a promotion to the big club sometime next year.

Also receiving votes: Jake Fraley (AAA), Jarred Kelenic (A), Joe Rizzo (A+)

Most improved pitcher: Ljay Newsome, High-A Modesto

At A+ Modesto: (22.2 IP): 3.78 ERA/2.57FIP/1.19 WHIP/105 K/8 BB

There might not be a better developmental story in the minors than that of Ljay Newsome, who went from throwing high-80s with excellent command to low-90s with excellent command after a stint at the renown Gas Camp. In his second tour of the Cal League, Ljay—nicknamed “The Silent Assassin” by coach Denny Hocking for his quiet but deadly demeanor—has been dominant, earning him a role as the Cal League North’s starting All-Star pitcher. Best of all, he’s still just 22 years old.

Runner-up: Penn Murfee, High-A Modesto

A 33rd-round senior selection in 2018, Murfee (whose full name is William Penn Murfee, shoutout to the founder of Pennsylvania, one of my alma maters UPenn, and the Society of Friends!) was exclusively a reliever for the Everett AquaSox, and he continued that role in Modesto before being transitioned to a starter recently. It hasn’t always been smooth going for the side-slinging Murfee, who was a position player for Vanderbilt for the first three seasons of his college career, but the Mariners feel they’re on to something with Murfee, who has posted a 6.5 K/BB ratio at Modesto this year.

Most underrated prospect in the system: TIE

We could not come to any kind of consensus on this point. Sam Delaplane led the way with three votes, but other than that, a lot of personal preference came into play. John voted for Ricardo Sanchez, as he also voted for him as a sleeper pitching prospect; Eric, who loves our large Alabaman lad more than life itself, voted J.T. Salter; Ben made the case for West Virginia’s hard-throwing closer and Edwin Díaz-lite Dayeison Arías; Kate cannot stop thumping the drum for Cal Raleigh; and Joe argued for perpetually-forgotten-man Ian Miller. CALL HIM UP, ALREADY. We got a question on the podcast that asked why Ian Miller isn’t up instead of [Mac Williamson’s slash line], and 1) we love that framing; and 2) we don’t know.

Best 2018 draftee: Logan Gilbert, High-A Modesto

Runner-up: Cal Raleigh

Gilbert just edged his batterymate in this one, winning out by one vote. The challenge in voting was balancing Gilbert’s ace-like upside vs. Raleigh as a potential everyday player at a premium position. Luckily, as Mariners fans, we don’t have to choose, and can enjoy watching these two working together—and they love working together, often huddling together on bus rides home to go over the day’s report—for the foreseeable future.

Highest-upside 2019 draftee: RHP Isaiah Campbell

Getting invested in this year’s draft choices is buying a pig in a poke, but the LL staff is almost-universally most excited about Arkansas product Isaiah Campbell, and for good reason:

NB: we haven’t gotten to see 1st-rounder George Kirby pitch yet, while Campbell was lucky enough to make it deep into a CWS run, but both possess some tantalizing upside.

Best defense: TIE between Cal Raleigh (A+) and Evan White (AA)

White’s defensive prowess is renown, and he engenders adjectives foreign to the cold corner with his elegant, fast-twitch, loping athleticism. But it’s hard to overlook Cal Raleigh and his best-in-the-Cal-League Caught Stealing percentage, as well as the other skills he brings to bear on a premium position, even if it’s taking national prospect writers a while to catch up.

Runner-up: Bobby Honeyman, 3B, A

The hot corner is a position of weakness throughout the system but Honeyman is as steady an anchor as you’ll find, routinely making difficult plays look easy. Offensively, he’s been off to a slow start in West Virginia this year, but his strong plate discipline should make him a safe high-floor player as he advances through the system.

Highest Upside: Julio Rodriguez, A West Virginia Power

Best All-Around: Jarred Kelenic, A+ Modesto

Julio and Jarred. Jarred and Julio. The two Js will most likely be the shape of the next great Mariners team to come. They are different players: Julio is larger, younger, and projects to have greater power, accompanied by an electric personality that screams stardom; Jarred, while still muscly and young, projects to make his living like Andrew Benintendi, living on-base and gapping doubles while playing a plus outfield corner defense. But both have a similar goal: to bring meaningful baseball back to Seattle. They know they are the face of the future in Seattle, and each of them embraces that, while living seemingly pressure-free from the ghosts of the past that haunt so many Mariners fans. We could all learn something from these teenagers, to be honest.