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’re going to set aside Tier Six (orange), also known as The Field, for now, and focus instead on what we’ve labeled Tier Five and colored red. For those of you more used to a traditional Top 30 list, these are players who would be at the very back end of that list.
LHP Ricardo Sanchez - AA (Arkansas), 22y 2m
Flying under the radar a bit but continues getting groundballs and strikeouts in AA as a 22-year-old. Marco Gonzales-lite vibes with a looping curve for grounders, slider that gets whiffs, and sinker that tunnels well. He’s already on the 40-man roster, so it behooves the M’s to move him quickly if possible, like maybe as a September call-up. ~JT
RHP Darren McCaughan - AA, 23y, 3m
It isn’t so much that McCaughan has broken out this year as that he’s sustained his success despite his limitations. His 2.5% BB% is 3rd-lowest in the minors for qualified starters and he’s managed to befuddle hitters all the same. May have added a tick to his unassuming velo as well, and his age+results warrant some monitoring. ~JT
RHP Reggie McClain - AAA, 26y 7m
After not landing anywhere in the Top 50 in our last update, a trip to Gas Camp over the off-season and a switch to the bullpen has spurred McClain into a potential September call-up—or sooner, considering the taxed state of the Mariners bullpen. Not bad for someone who joked at the outset of this season, when assigned to High-A for a third straight season, that his number would be retired in Modesto. It only took a handful of innings at Modesto and then a similarly successful, similarly short stop at Arkansas before McClain was promoted to tangle with Triple-A batters and the juiced ball in PCL parks. His numbers don’t look great so far (an 18% HR/FB rate will do that), but he’s MLB-adjacent as soon as he makes one last adjustment and the Mariners bullpen is rife with opportunity. -KP
Jose Altuve is making a rehab start for Round Rock tonight. Here's Reggie McClain K'ing him with 96 on the black. pic.twitter.com/CVIxgfCJmr— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 18, 2019
RHP Wyatt Mills - AA, 24y 5m
Mills fell down our list due to a dreadful first month in Arkansas during which opponents hit .347 off him, continuing a trend of shaky innings that began when he was first promoted to the Texas League after dominating the Cal League. His performance continued to waver over the next few months; in May he looked unhittable, but by early June he was struggling again. Happily, Mills closed out the first half with a strong finish, and since the Texas League came back from their All-Star Break has looked much more like the firebreathing sidewinder he was in Modesto. If he can carry that consistency into the second half of the season, he could be pushing for a September call-up, although now he’ll need to fend off fellow Trav Sam Delaplane. -KP
Arkansas wins and hands their in-state rivals their first loss of the season. Wyatt Mills (@gwyattmills) closes it out by striking out the side to preserve a one-run lead. pic.twitter.com/YGNBsfpmff— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) April 9, 2019
RHP Sam Delaplane - AA, 24y 3m
Delaplane checked in a few slots behind Mills when we did our last list but now sits right on his heels after a promotion to Arkansas. It’s a limited sample of 13 innings but Delaplane’s numbers look bonzer so far; he’s striking out 50% (!) of all batters who face him and walking 10% while giving the remainder no quarter on the bases, stranding 80% of batters. His last few outings have been a bit of a red flag, though, starting with an unraveling against the Tulsa Drillers on June 28 where he struck out four, but also hit two batters and threw three wild pitches in the inning. Bumpy outings will happen as Delaplane adjusts to the level, but are something to watch as he matches his stuff—which relies on deception and location more than overwhelming velocity—against more advanced batters. -KP
Juan Querecuto - AZL, 18y 9m
After a middling 2018 in the DSL, Querecuto tore his meniscus this spring. He’s recently returned, playing in three games thus far, giving us little new to work with. For now he’s here on reputation as a shortstop, but we probably won’t have a great sense of things for another year at least. ~JT
Donnie Walton - AA, 25y 1m
Walton is nearly a perfect inversion of Querecuto, with good numbers at every level he’s played but a trajectory slowed by injury leaving his age a major question mark. The defense is reasonable, though he’s likely a 2B in the bigs, but he’s walked about as often as he’s K’d this year and hit for average if not significant power from the left side.
Walton swings to spray, helping him squeeze extra hits through unshifted defenses. Unfortunately, Walton is an average runner and has been caught 10 times in 18 attempts on the basepaths, meaning an MLB future requires a lot from that BABIP or a power surge. ~JT
Keegan McGovern - A+, 23y 9m
One of our very own Original Beef Boys, McGovern missed the first half of the year with an oblique injury. Rust may be to blame for his uneven start, but McGovern has looked like Modesto’s Jay Bruce through 90 PAs. He’s clobbered the ball when he’s made contact, but that’s been less often than you’d like. The swing-and-miss is worrisome, particularly with an older prospect already limited to corner OF. The power and bat speed are impressive, however, and if the K% creeps down over the rest of the season things should stay on track for McGovern to be a fast riser. ~JT
It's only been a matter of time before 2018 draftee Keegan McGovern, who has tremendous power, would heat up in the Cal League. He crushes this ball to dead center (not an easy thing to do in Modesto) for a two-run shot. pic.twitter.com/a7oldDnLbb— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 30, 2019
Ian Miller - AAA, 27y 4m
While perhaps no one is enjoying the juiced ball in PCL parks more than Ian Miller, currently posting a career-best slugging percentage, it’s past time to give the speedster a shot in the depleted Mariners outfield. Fun is thin on the ground in Mariners games, and blazing speed on the bases is—as Mallex, J.P. , and Dee have capably demonstrated—fun. ~KP
Precious, precious catching prospect:
Jake Anchía, A, 22y 4m
At a higher level, Anchía has improved upon his NWL numbers, walking more, hitting for more power, and bashing double-digit home runs, including this golden moment that earned him some national shine:
Jake Anchía’s WALK-OFF BOMB with 80-grade batflip pic.twitter.com/XrvxUWBIXp— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) June 28, 2019
The over-30% K rate is troubling (even Mike Z only struck out 19.5% in A-) but catcher development is often a little slower than other positions and Anchía’s defense is the best in the system, which is always a good safe floor. And he sure can hose a runner trying to steal.
The Phillies affiliate Lakewood is aggressive at the plate and on the bases. They continue to try to run on Jake "Asesino" Anchía, and he continues to mow runners down. (40% CS rate. For context, that would have put him in top-5 in MLB last year.) pic.twitter.com/1fYny6Jefg— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) May 2, 2019
Three of the players here are older than 25, which is often a death knell for prospect status, and those players saw rankings that varied wildly in our submissions. Less separates this group from the orange group below than the pink group above, and this tier could easily be filled with a number of prospects from the 2019 draft class. McClain is the most limited profile, with a bullpen-only role and only recently expanding his profile. Walton is freshly 25, but his grounders-heavy approach makes a swing change unlikely to be at the root of his improvements. Miller sneaks in on MLB-proximity combined with a clear (limited) MLB skillset. Both Sanchez and Delaplane were nearly as close to the higher tier as they were this tier, and they are the class of this group instead of the fringes of the next.
Several of us had RHP Ljay Newsome (A+) in this category, but a few very high votes bounced him into the next tier up. As we’re typing this, Ljay is fresh off a dominant complete-game win against the San Jose Giants in which he struck out nine, walked no one, and made a diving play to catch a pop-up bunt, so let it be noted that investing in Ljay pays dividends almost as quickly as the hurler likes to get the ball to the plate. He currently leads all of MiLB in strikeouts, but hasn’t faced a true test yet in advanced batters at Double-A, although he is just a lad of 22.
On the other end, several people had fireballing reliever Joey Gerber slotted into this group, but concern about his high walk rate pushed him just into the next tier down (in the battle of “stuff” vs. “command,” command won the day narrowly). Gerber has recently been promoted to AA and if he and pitching coach Pete Woodworth can work out a solution to his command issues, Gerber could take off quickly. Several injured players, including 2019 draftees/Tommy John undergoers Levi Stoudt and Michael Limoncelli, narrowly missed the cut here. The same is true of Sam Carlson, who comes in on the higher end and will hopefully be pitching in games soon this summer.
Our full orange list, which we’ll release Saturday, will include several pitchers who came in just a hair below this for us but could easily move up with more playing time, better health, and/or a step forward in results.