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. Remember if you’ve missed any of the prior installations, you can catch up on numbers 50-11 and the introduction to the series in the main hub here.
4. 1B Evan White
For my money, I can’t remember a player the industry has slept harder on than Evan White. Not only has the industry yet to realize the power surge that White put on in 2019, they’ve also been incredulously cynical toward the 6-year big league contract White signed this offseason. It’s our belief both of these misnomers will be dispelled in 2020 as White surprises everyone — a super-sleeper in AL Rookie of the Year candidacy.
White entered 2019 with some very reasonable question marks surrounding his profile. After all, 14 home runs in ~600 plate appearance against A-Ball competition for a first baseman drafted in the first round doesn’t jump off the page. But after 2018, things changed.
The 2019 campaign brought forth a brand new player, armed with a big new lofty swing and some good new weight. White, noticeably stronger, came to camp last season with a swing geared to drive the ball, and that’s exactly what he did all year. His .293/.350/.488 slash across 365 plate appearances is impressive, but even more so when you figure half of his games had to be played at Dickey-Stephens park. For those unfamiliar, D-SP is quite handedly the most difficult ballpark for hitters in all of minor league baseball — and it’s especially brutal on right-handed hitters. White would go on to smash 18 home runs, many of the prodigious nature, last season. He too fell victim to the unrelenting conditions at D-SP, but his .321/..384/.556 slash on the road should speak volumes toward the type of player he could be when given a fair shake. If Kyle Lewis can come to Seattle and hit 6 home runs in 10 games when he only ran into 11 all year at Arkansas, what’s to say White can’t tap into the same type of pop for the Mariners? It’s not a perfect summation, but it exists nonetheless.
White’s bat, as most know, is far from his greatest asset. The leather on his right hand shimmers with shades of gold. A true 70-grade defender, White will be one of the premier defensive first basemen in baseball when he steps on the diamond this season. He has a plus arm too. He’ll be exemplary on the dirt. The biggest question in my eyes in his health. White is all too familiar with soft tissue injuries (pulled hamstrings, quad strains, balky ankle, sore back) throughout his baseball career. So long as he stays off the IL, the former Kentucky Wildcat could be a dark horse for some hardware in 2020. You never want to oversell a player before they’ve played a big league inning, but pundits are so skeptical on White, the bar needs a readjustment anyways. - JD
3. RHP Logan Gilbert
Logan Gilbert’s second Cactus League start, where he plowed through the Angels lineup in two hitless innings with three strikeouts, caught a fair number of headlines as national baseball writers begin to play catch-up with one of the most underrated talents in baseball. Gilbert lacked a noisy fastball coming out of college and saw his velocity dip some in his draft year, leading him to be available when the Mariners picked 14th, much to Seattle’s delight. A bout with mono plus Seattle’s preference to slow-play freshly drafted pitchers meant Gilbert didn’t pitch at all in his draft year: good for his arm health and overall conditioning but bad for his prospect buzz.
For most fans (and analysts), the first time they got to see Gilbert pitch professionally was last year’s Spring Training, when he found himself in a mid-March game as a warm body with a uniform as the rest of the team prepared to depart for Japan. (Get your feet wet, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.) Gilbert decidedly did not have fun facing Cleveland’s A squad, surrendering five runs on four hits including a home run, walking one and striking out one over two-thirds of an inning. But in talking to Gilbert about the experience, he’s grateful for his baptism by fire for showing him what the level was he needed to be at in order to be successful in this game.
Gilbert spent the rest of 2019 ascending quickly up the rungs of the minors, dominating at every stop before slowing down a little with fatigue towards the end of the season in Double-A Arkansas. On the way, he honed his four-pitch mix, including a fastball more dangerous for its late movement than its velocity, a late-breaking curve, a biting slider, and—the least developed of his pitches but potentially one of the deadliest—a late-fading changeup. It’s not the noisy pitch mix of a Matt Manning with his 96+ velocity and hard hammer curve, but Gilbert’s arsenal is much richer and he knows how to tunnel his pitches effectively. Gilbert’s understanding of how to incorporate analytics and his study of pitch design won’t show up in any Twitter gifs, but it’s one of the things that separates him from his peers and makes us confident in predicting he’ll be topping the “pitchers we missed on” articles in the near future. -KP