Five (5) Mariners prospects were selected for Baseball America’s 2020 preseason Top-100 list. While that’s only one more than 2019’s list, the construction of the list is far more encouraging than last year’s group. In 2019, Seattle had No. 27 Justus Sheffield, No. 45 Yusei Kikuchi, No. 68 Jarred Kelenic, and No. 100 Evan White. Sheffield’s struggles pushed him to honorable mention this year, while Kikuchi’s inclusion was dubious as he obviously graduated out of “prospect” eligibility almost immediately. Kelenic and White, however, took steps forward, and they weren’t alone. The rankings were as follows:
No. 8 - OF Julio Rodríguez
No. 11 - OF Jarred Kelenic
No. 54 - 1B Evan White
No. 59 - RHP Logan Gilbert
No. 92 - SS Noelvi Marte
There are a few reactions, with degrees of validity, that jump to mind around prospect rankings. The first is that they are at best a snapshot of a moment in time. More accurately, in BA’s case, it’s the amalgamation of dozens of scouts debating their impressions at this exact moment in time, before the winter ends and we see a bunch of players transform their reputations once more. Rankings are also a challenging format, as they are both natural and unwieldy. The Mariners were the 25th-best team in MLB last year, yet they were closer to 12th than 30th. Some rankings delineate this explicitly, while others break down those delineations in the details - BA is of the latter sort.
But one of the most common fears is that focusing on a particular team or system leads to tunnel vision. It’s natural to be wary of bias when reading analysis from a site focused specifically on one team. We take great care to be measured in our statements on players, particularly when attempting to put together a true scouting report (there is still regrettably no conclusive evidence Tim Beckham is a werewolf). Seeing national experts and national publications of repute put such lofty evaluations on players, then, is validating, and justifiably encouraging for the direction of the organization.
Rodríguez ranks ahead of Kelenic, the first Mariners prospect to eke into the preseason Top-10 since Jesús Montero ranked No. 6 in 2012. Only three other prospects - RHP Felix Hernandez in 2005 (No. 2), OF Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 (No.9), and LHP Ryan Anderson in 1999, 2000, and 2001 (Nos. 7, 9, & 8) - have cracked BA’s preseason Top-10 from the M’s system since Alex Rodriguez. It takes a great deal for a player to be regarded as highly as BA does Julio, who ranks behind five first round picks (RHP Nate Pearson, LHP MacKenzie Gore, C Adley Rutschman, SS/2B Gavin Lux, OF Jo Adell) and the two most well-regarded international signees of their respective years (OF Luis Robert and SS Wander Franco). It’s heady company for a 19 year old who was unranked this time last year.
Hot on his heels is Kelenic, who is nestled between a pick-me of three remarkable prospects - himself, Atlanta OF Cristian Pache, and St. Louis OF Dylan Carlson. At No. 11, Kelenic gives Seattle claim to hope for one of the best outfields in baseball in a few years. Players should naturally move up the rankings as they get closer to the bigs, but Kelenic is clearly viewed as a better impact bet than a year ago too. Similarly, Evan White leapt up 45 spots, with steady improvement at AA and some of the hardest exit velocity numbers on this list. His average exit velo of 92 mph puts him in the upper echelon of the entire league, which is true of Rodríguez as well, but has not necessarily earned him glowing power grades thus far. Still, it’s a solid leap in what should be his final prospect list, as he will likely spend most or all of the season at the big league level.
The only pitcher to crack the Top-100 is Logan Gilbert, whose steady dominance and return in velocity earned him the No. 59 spot. The next question is whether Gilbert can add a shade more bite to his off-speed, and/or continue dominating at the highest level. Last on the list is Noelvi Marte at No. 92, who is one of just two players (the other is Yankees OF Jasson Dominguez) to make the list despite having yet to play a single affiliated game in the United States. The 18 year old shortstop got the always-fun ascription of “a five-tool talent” from BA, which is high praise for a player who had question marks about his ability to stick in the infield as recently as midseason. Reportedly, Mariners coaches worked with Marte on a program specifically to improve his footwork and mechanics, resulting in clear improvements in his defense up the middle in the second half of the year. His bat speed, plate discipline, and foot speed all put him in line for a power/speed profile that impressed scouts significantly.
In the “Just Missed” category, Justin Dunn, George Kirby, Kyle Lewis, Justus Sheffield, and Brandon Williamson all received consideration for the Top-100, making it on the lists of at least one of BA’s evaluators during the process of whittling down their consensus. With several of the first 25-30 prospects on the list poised to break camp with their big league clubs, Seattle could see a few of those names pop onto the list, most notably Kirby - though Dunn, Lewis, and Sheffield should lose eligibility themselves sooner rather than later.