We have trekked from the Dominican Republic to Arizona to West Virginia to Modesto to Arkansas to Tacoma as we’ve looked at the talent populating the Mariners system. Some of the lights have been more distant or fainter than others, but as we round into the Top 10 we come to lights that are brighter, closer, or, excitingly, both. From here on out we’ll be profiling two players a day with slightly more in-depth write-ups than our previous forty. Yesterday we wrote up what will hopefully be two mainstays in Seattle’s rotation in 2020 in Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn. Remember if you’ve missed any of the other prior installations, you can catch up on numbers 50-11 and the introduction to the series in the main hub here.
8. LHP Brandon Williamson
When the Mariners selected Brandon Williamson with their second pick in the 2019 draft, it raised a lot of eyebrows. It was a weak draft, but Williamson was reasonably an unknown. It was the 59th pick in the draft, and most pundits didn’t have the big lefty any where in their Top 200 lists. Just nine months later, baby, this may be the steal of the draft.
Plucked out of TCU, Williamson supposedly brought a low-90s fastball to the mound with a couple breaking balls that showed promise, but were dreadfully inconsistent. As a result, he was hit around a little bit his senior year, surrendering a 4.19 ERA and 1.52 WHIP. Good numbers, but certainly not numbers you’d expect from an advanced college arm selected in the second round. The 6-foot-6 lefty was battling a nagging recovery from hip surgery for most of his collegiate career. When he arrived in Seattle, he went on record as being “fully healthy now.” His time with the AquaSox would reinforce that narrative.
In 15.1 innings up north, Williamson threw to a 2.35 ERA and struck out 25 batters. But to be fair, the numbers really don’t matter in such a short stint. What did matter, however, were the readings Williamson was getting on the Rhapsodo. His fastball averaged 94 mph, touching 98 once. The curveball and slider, deemed inconsistent, were comfortably landing for strikes. Better still, both pitches were spinning to the plate at 2700 rpms, a well above average figure for breaking balls at the big league level. Sure, all of these pitches were being delivered in short, two to three innings stints, but the point remains — Williamson had bonafide stuff. Jerry Dipoto and Bullpen Coach Brian DeLunas went to watch a few of his appearances last summer and came away floored, the latter drawing his comparisons to a younger James Paxton.
This isn’t to say Williamson is anything close to a sure thing. His body still needs to hold up over the rigors of a full season in professional ball. He’ll be tested in 2020, likely headed straight to High-A Modesto with fellow draftees George Kirby and Isaiah Campbell. Williamson is armed with the prototypical size and repertoire needed to succeed at the big league level. The fastball, the two breaking balls and an average changeup make him as good a bet as any to stay in the rotation. He’s a goofy guy with a quirky personality, not afraid to be the dugout clown; that’s valuable amongst a group of guys grinding night in and night out. With any luck, Williamson will be pitching in big spots in Arkansas late this August, knocking on the doors to Seattle in 2021. It remains to be seen just how high his star can go. Remember, at one time, most thought Paxton was nothing more than a #4 or #5 starter too. -JD
7. SS Noelvi Marte
It’s a big swing to put a player who hasn’t played in a game stateside in the top 10, but Marte is just that special. Signed the year after Julio Rodriguez, Marte is part of what’s considered one of the better one-two punches in international free agency signings in recent years. With a tall, strong frame that’s converted ten to twenty pounds of baby fat into lean muscle over the past two years, Marte has thumping power, slugging .511 with 9 homers and 18 doubles in his first pro season. But he’s also a plus-plus runner—maybe even higher than our conservative-ish 60 grade above, with some scouts putting him closer to a 70. Marte swiped 17 bags last year, more than Braves power-speed phenom Ronald Acuña did in his first pro season, but was also caught 7 times, suggesting there’s still learning to do on the basepaths.
The question for Marte will be where he ends up defensively. Even in accounting for creative scorekeeping in the DSL, Noelvi made a lot of errors at short last year. Some scouts have questioned if his size would have necessitated a move over to third base anyway, or even the outfield, where his bat and arm would still play. However, others have pointed out that Marte cut way down on his errors as the season wore on, and with a bat like his, you could take “passable” defense at short and still have an All-Star caliber player. (In August, when he was fully adjusted to the league, Marte’s slash line was .408/.465/.711, for an OPS of 1.176.) Marte’s defense might not allow him to reach his full five-tool potential, but with an ability to hit for both average and power, a throwing arm regarded as anything from plus to plus-plus, and plus speed, the range of outcomes here are in the upper band and potentially star-making. What further separates Marte is plus-plus makeup that will help him channel those raw tools into the best possible version of himself. -KP