As the dust has settled on Top-100 and Top-30 prospect lists, it’s time to cast an eye to organizational talent rankings: now that judgment has been passed on who the top prospects are, who has the highest concentration of them? Baseball America released their rankings today and the Mariners have placed second, which ties the highest the club has ever been ranked.
Look, prospect rankings aren’t everything, and there’s no pennant awarded for best farm system, but having written—or avoided writing—these lists up for the last five-ish years, it’s much more fun to be on this side of things, especially compared to say, 2018, when the Mariners ranked dead last. To go from that to second in three years is an extraordinary accomplishment, both for the players and for the Mariners’ player development system.
Good farm systems aren’t just a product of losing a lot, although the Mariners of late have certainly done that; they also require smart international free agency signings, savvy trades, good professional development, and sometimes a little bit of luck. The Mariners have hit on all four of those tines, led primarily by an overhauled player development system that has attracted attention within the industry, especially in pitching. They’ve invested well in the international free agency market, signing Julio Rodríguez and Noelvi Marte in back-to-back years, plus recent acquisition Starlin Aguilar and rumors of another big signing on the horizon. They’ve added big-league talent in trades, none more notable than getting Jarred Kelenic from the Mets—which might also be considered part of the “luck” category, as that trade re-set the market for what a Bad Trade looks like (and was almost, as Mikey recently pointed out, an even greater fleecing). As for luck—seeing Julio Rodríguez blossom not only as a player but also as a future Face of the Franchise, and indeed, MLB itself, is a boon the Mariners could only have dreamed about when they inked the sixteen-year-old who would soon become one of the most talked-about prospects in baseball. And there’s potential draft luck that might still bear out, like Logan Gilbert falling to the Mariners outside the top 10, or Emerson Hancock out of the top five.
To put a little damper on things, it feels like this might be the high-water mark for this iteration of the farm, as it’s likely this is Kelenic’s last time on prospect lists. The allure of the one-two punch of Jarred and Julio can’t be overstated in the amount of regard they bring to the Mariners system. Taylor Trammell and Logan Gilbert will also likely graduate this year, with Cal Raleigh and others hot on their heels. And this is how it should be! Farm systems should be cyclical, moving waves of talent through the organization as the big-league club contends for the playoffs and trades out of the system for accent pieces to get over the hump. We’ve seen the Mariners do the latter without doing the former, along with simply spinning their wheels in mediocrity on both sides. Now hopefully they will tread a path closer to what the Dodgers have done over recent years: excellent acquisition and development despite lower draft choices due to constant winning, smart international amateur signings, a steady stream of homegrown talent, and accent pieces—or Mookie-sized splash pieces—to propel the team forward.
It should be noted that Baseball America is high on the Mariners system—obviously, considering Julio graces their Prospect Handbook cover this year—but not all outlets are. The ever-idiosyncratic Keith Law at the Athletic ranks the Mariners’ system 13th; Cleveland (!) takes the second spot in his rankings, which feels like an overreaction to the talent they just acquired in their teardown deals. Toronto, Miami, Arizona (?!), Atlanta, San Diego, Minnesota, San Francisco, LA, St. Louis, and Detroit all have better systems than Seattle, per Law. If the BA ranking feels high, Law’s feels...excessively low, and seems to be based more on where the Mariners have picked in the draft, noting they’ve only picked once in the top-10 since 2014, rather than an in-depth look at the prospects in the system.
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