Flip a coin. That’s what it’s come to.
Depending on who you ask, one of Julio Rodriguez or Jarred Kelenic is the top prospect in the organization. Better still, it seems no matter where you look, everyone is high on the Mariners’ surging farm system.
On Saturday, MLB Pipeline announced their preseason Top 100 list for 2020 and once again, the Mariners are represented well. Differing from Baseball America, MLB Pipeline ranks Kelenic the premier talent in the organization, but still the 11th best prospect in all of baseball.
Not far behind is fellow outfielder sensation Julio Rodriguez at no. 18.
But the fun certainly didn’t stop there for the Seattle as the team was able to snag three more spots on the list. Starting pitcher Logan Gilbert slots in at no. 38 (21 spots higher than Baseball America), sure-handed first baseman Evan White checks in at no. 56 (two spots lower than Baseball America), while 2019 first round pick George Kirby lands at no. 100. He was unranked by Baseball America.
This is the first time since 2012 the Mariners have had five prospects named to an MLB Pipeline Top 100 list. Eight years ago, Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, and James Paxton were ranked no. 4, no. 8, no. 29, no. 44, and no. 74 respectively.
Kelenic and Rodriguez are certainly going to catch the headlines here, and MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo were effusive of their futures.
“I fell in love with (Kelenic) when people started calling him Mark Kotsay,” Callis said. “He’s tooled up, but he has so much confidence, he wants to be in the big leagues right now. He can really, really hit.”
“It’s going to be a lot of fun in Seattle,” Mayo said. “He and Julio really, really play well off each other and help each other compete.”
Never to be outdone, Rodriguez got plenty of love himself.
“More than holds his own,” Mayo said. “In addition to the ridiculous tools, he’s got a plus-plus personality -- 90-grade personality. He’s going to be a superstar.”
The compliments didn’t stop there. Mayo loves Gilbert.
“He is just a lot of fun to watch,” Mayo said. “He’s up to 97 with two distinct breaking balls, a four-pitch mix, and he knows how to use it. He’s a frontline starter and when we look back, we may be saying he was a little under-ranked.”
While Gilbert isn’t yet considered one of the Top 10 pitching prospects in the game, Callis agrees he’s one to watch.
Gilbert’s velocity fluctuated while he battled mono during his junior season at Stetson in 2018, but that didn’t preclude the Mariners from drafting him 14th overall. He didn’t make his pro debut until 2019, when his heater bounced back and he also showed a solid slider, changeup and control while racing to Double-A.
Centerfield may be the most talented group of players in the entire minor leagues in 2020. You’d be hard-pressed to find any talent evaluator that doesn’t have some combination of the Angels’ Jo Adell and Chicago’s (White Sox) Luis Robert no. 1 and no. 2. But that’s really where the debate begins.
Kelenic, as well as Atlanta’s Cristian Pache and the Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson are all elite talents. Baseball America gave Carlson the no. 3 centerfield ranking, but MLB Pipeline went with Kelenic. Mayo also labeled Kelenic as having the highest floor of any outfielder in the minor leagues heading into 2020.
Kelenic does everything well, showing an advanced approach at the plate that belies his age (He’s still only 20.). With his excellent tools to go along with his innate feel to hit and outstanding defense, he’s a big league regular at the very least, one who won’t take too much longer to be ready.
On the dirt, White received some fulsome praise of his own, being named the most likely Rookie of the Year candidate at the first base position.
At the end of the day, prospect rankings are great, and fun, and exciting, and hopefully a precursor to major league success. But the Mariners have been here before. Just look at 2012; only one of those top prospects went on to have (so far) a truly valuable career (Paxton).
I say that with a caveat.
It doesn’t mean fans shouldn’t believe these players can’t or won’t be successful. After all, when national talent analysts are saying guys like Kelenic and Rodriguez have perennial all-star level talent, there’s no biases present.
This is an entirely different front office with an entirely different player development program — one that hasn’t been tested yet. Time will tell whether they can successfully develop players better than the previous regime.
The Arizona Diamondbacks had a similarly talented farm system in 2012, one with five Top 100 guys. They’d end up graduating Trevor Bauer, Adam Eaton, Tyler Skaggs, and Archie Bradley from the Top 100 that year, four guys that have added significant value to their organization by trade or individual contribution.
There’s some luck that goes into it, and Seattle didn’t have much in 2012.
The farm system is in a better place than it has been in a long time, and while the big league club may not produce the results fans are looking for in 2020, there’s serious reason to believe the future is bright.
With the 6th pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, Seattle is slated to add another Top 100, if not Top 50 guy this June. Add to that the promise of players like Noelvi Marte, Justin Dunn, Cal Raleigh, Brandon Williamson, as well as several others, and with a little luck, the Mariners should be able to sustain a strong farm system for the foreseeable future — a big key to sustaining a competitive organization long-term.