It’s prospect ranking season and so far we’ve covered the top 20 in a rejuvenated Mariners system. This is somewhat of a departure for us, as we’ve released the lists counting down from 30 (or 40, or 20, depending on the year), but with the top level talent in Seattle so clear-cut, it made more sense to us to do it this way around. Today’s installment features both some familiar names that have appeared on our list before, as well as some high-upside players yet to make their stateside debuts
#21: Levi Stoudt
Stoudt is a darling of prospect evaluators who is poised to shoot through the minors this season, and has shot up in our rankings accordingly.
There’s so much to like about Stoudt, first and foremost being his feel for pitching. It’s comfortably a plus changeup with huge depth and armside fading action. Stoudt’s fastball has been up to 97, though it more comfortably sits in the 93-94 range. Stoudt also has a sharp, tight curveball with two-plane break that he commands well, another above-average offering. This is the type of arm Seattle has continuously molded into gold. He’s 6-foot-1 with immense extension down the bump with a low release and a vertical fastball. The key for Stoudt in 2021 will be continuing to develop and command the curveball. The more depth he can get to tunnel off his burgeoning fastball, the batter. I have the former Lehigh Mountain Hawk as the 12th best prospect in the organization, and a top five pitching prospect on the farm. (JD)
MLB Pipeline named Levi Stoudt (@Lvstoudty) as the Mariners’ standout under-the-radar prospect for 2021. A potential back-of-the-bullpen power reliever, here he is hitting 102 with a 5 oz pulldown in his off-season work. pic.twitter.com/fg6jPEW4Xu— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) January 9, 2021
Sometimes it can be hard to separate what is spin from this front office from meaningful nuggets, but the frequent, glowing mentions of Stoudt’s progress at the fall development site should prick up all prospect-watcher’s ears. Stoudt is still being developed as a starter, as far as we know, but with big velo and an already polished two-pitch mix, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put on the fast track to the majors as a high-leverage reliever. (KP)
#22: Ljay Newsome
The Silent Assassin checks in on our list for what will likely be the last time before he sinks or swims as a major leaguer.
I think where Ljay provides value is in his floor. He’s a proven starting pitching who can grab innings for a club in need. I don’t necessarily think Newsome is a starting pitcher for a playoff team, but I do think he’ll be necessary in 2021 for the Seattle Mariners. As it stands, he’s got a pretty average fastball with two maybe-fringy secondaries in the changeup and slider. Those pitches play up a tick as he commands the baseball well and stays away from danger zones on most nights. I’ve got Ljay my no. 25 prospect in the Mariners org. There’s value in being available for your team. (JD)
I’ve loved Ljay for a long time but admittedly more as one of those outliers (how soft can you throw and still get guys out?) that break the game a little in the minors and never appear in the majors. I’m thrilled he’s added a velo bump to make himself a real-life big-leaguer. I had him slightly higher than this based on proximity, and I think Ljay will confound his way to a few years as a serviceable option in the middle of Seattle’s bullpen. (TC)
Real estate covets location, prospect listing heralds proximity. Ljay looked like… Ljay this year. Margin for error will be thin, but a deadened baseball and more humidors league-wide might be a huge boon for him and fellow command/contact monsters like Nick Margevicius. (JT)
#23: Wyatt Mills
After not getting called up to the Show last year despite the futility of the Mariners’ bullpen, the Gonzaga sidearmer is poised to make his MLB debut last year.
What a difference a year makes. In September 2019, Mills was 90-93 with a slider that wasn’t consistently in the zone. After his velo was down in spring training 2020, he wasn’t invited to Summer Camp. He’d eventually show back up in the fall touching 97. There’s deception in Mills’ delivery. If he comes to Arizona this spring sitting 94-96 touching 97 he’s got a shot at breaking camp with the team. At worst, he’ll almost certainly get a shot in 2021 with that type of gas. Mills is 26 this season, so it’s really now or never. (JD)
After a rock-solid performance throughout the minors including shining in his Arizona Fall League time and with Team USA, I was surprised to see Mills wobble here and there with Arkansas, and then disappointed he didn’t get a call-up last season, especially considering watching Mills would have been more fun than watching the majority of the Mariners’ bullpen arms. That worried me that there might be some underlying injury issue, so it was a relief to see him added to the 40-man this off-season. Here’s hoping Mills finally gets his shot at the bigs in 2021, and we can all revisit the stunned silence the talking heads had to sit in after his name was announced in the third round of the 2017 draft and have a good laugh. (KP)
Mills absolutely does it for me. When the fast-moving reliever archetype doesn’t end up moving at full speed thru the minors, it can be seen as a permanent failure. But Mills seems to have found his best self in 2020, and should almost certainly arrive in Seattle circa 2021. After a series of suspect starts from the intriguing relievers the M’s system has Jerry-rigged, his emergence would be a light. (JT)
24: Joe Rizzo
Free Joe Rizzo.
A very bright boy (probably), with a very bright future (hopefully), and a very fun dad (definitely). (IM)
Rizzo may be the most hard-luck player in the organization right now. In 2019, he finally seemed to find it at the plate. He hit .295 with a career high 10 homers. He rovered all over the infield and seemed to have a trajectory as a potential utility infielder for Seattle with a 2021 debut in the cards. Instead, he was passed over for Austin Shenton at Summer Camp and was left to his own devices all summer. 2021 will be a critical year for Rizzo in so many ways. He needs to hit and he needs to slug the baseball at AA Arkansas. If he does, his trade value could spike as Seattle looks to bolster its big league club. Conventional wisdom would say odds are against Rizzo being a future starting infielder for Seattle, though a change of scenery might do him wonders. Still only 23 years old, Rizzo has a ton of ball ahead of him. (JD)
I don’t always know what to make of Rizzo but there’s this: it’s easy to have prospect fatigue on anyone who’s been around as long as he has, and because of the Dipoto front office’s well-chronicled aversion to high schoolers Rizzo looks like he’s moving too slowly. And yet at just 22 years old, Rizzo will open 2021 in Arkansas, right about where you’d expect a second round college bat to end up after a year or two in the system. When you look at him that way, he looks much more on schedule. Pair that with rumored defensive improvements and the best Prospect Dad in the draft class and don’t forget about Joe Rizzo just yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him skyrocket up this list in 2021. (TC)
Hitting talks. At some point, the Mariners have to listen. (KP)
25: Tyler Keenan
John’s favorite from this past draft class, the Ole Miss product is a prodigious slugger who got a shoutout from Taylor Trammell on the most recent podcast for his easy power.
I was pretty publicly against the selection of Keenan in the 2020 draft, but after having it digest a bit, he’s an interesting bat to track. Emphasis on bat… it’ll be bat-or-bust for Keenan in Seattle. There were only 5 players that hit a ball harder in college baseball than Keenan did in 2020 and two of them were first rounders Spencer Torkelson and Aaron Sabato. There was some swing-and-miss in Keenan’s game at Ole Miss, so I’ll be watching that closely. If the plate approach matures and he gets into the power in-game at the next level, there’s reasons to like the bat. There’s some Pedro Alvarez here. (JD)
I asked John to write his blurb about Tyler Keenan no fewer than three times. He did not. So here is a holding space where you can imagine all the things John might say about a big-slugging big boy, and where I, who was annoyed by the Mariners’ all-college approach to the draft in 2020, will keep my mouth shut. (KP)
26: George Felíz
Felíz got the largest signing bonus in an otherwise quiet 2019 international free agency class for the Mariners, who challenged the young outfielder with an assignment to the fall instructional league.
Felíz is a long ways off, but there are tools to like here. The kid can run and he’s got a really good arm. The bat needs seasoning and development, and that’ll be the focus for the next couple years. It’s a really good body with lean muscle and long levers that are easy to project on. (JD)
The thing to note about Felíz is how much the organization likes him, sending him off to room with fellow centerfielder Jonatan Clase at the fall instructional league as one of the youngest players on the circuit. Felíz isn’t as fast as his roommate, but is still one of the faster players in the organization. He also trails Clase physically, having not had the opportunity to attend High Performance Camp, so his current output is more line drives and doubles than over-the-fence power yet, but he’s got a good frame to build on, and draws praise from his roommate as an equally good person as he is a player, considerate and hard-working. (KP)
27: Donovan Walton
Donnie Baseball makes one last appearance on our list before he likely graduates from prospect eligibility this year, although a madding crowd at the 2B/UTIL spot makes it a tougher road for him with this iteration of the Seattle team.
Donnie Baseball™ is my type of player. He’s gritty and polished on defense. The effort and will to win his individual battles will always be there despite lacking the physical tools to necessarily be an impact player at the big league level. The hit tool has yet to prove it can buoy at a level sufficient enough at the next level, and that’s currently holding him back. He’s a reliable defender with a decent arm and that has value, but the bat will need a spike if he’s to get more playing time. (JD)
Prospectwise, it’s possible Donovan Walton has also been short-shrifted a little because of his profile: even in the draft he was widely seen as a utility man (though one who could at least handle shortstop) and as a Shorter White Guy it’s hard not to feel like all baseball fans, and Mariners fans specifically, have seen a lot of this guy and he can never actually, you know, hit. Except Donovan Walton has hit! A fair amount! He’s had a little up and down in his minor league time—Modesto and Arkansas each required a second crack for him—but each time he looks like he’s plateaued he’s found a way to come back and beat it. With just 33 MLB PA and none whatsoever in Tacoma, we don’t know what he’ll be yet, and there’s pretty solid odds he indeed can’t hit enough to stick in the majors without any other elite carrying tools. But I wouldn’t count him out. (TC)
It is either a very good thing or a very bad thing if you’re on our prospects list and I have a greater than 62% chance of recognizing you if our paths crossed at Trader Joe’s. With our longtime friend Donovan, it leans toward the latter, BUT Willie Bloomquist had 14 seasons in the majors, so far stranger things have happened. (IM)
28: Tim Elliott
A former teammate of Emerson Hancock at Georgia, Elliott can get lost in the shuffle of Seattle’s college arms due to limited exposure, but his strikeout numbers pop.
Elliot hasn’t seen the velo spike that guys like Adam Macko and Levi Stoudt have, but he’s still just 23 years old and has a big year of development ahead of him. Elliot gave up a lot of walks and a lot of hits in Everett in 2019, and for a guy drafted out of the SEC, that’s concerning. Elliot fits the model for Seattle in that he’s shorter with good extension, but he’s fallen behind some of the other arms in the org for full-season reps. (JD)
Too mannyy connssonnannttss. Twwo sttarrss. (IM)
It’s hard to know yet if Elliott is profiting off beating up on lower-level competition or if his slightly below-average fastball will play as he climbs through the minors, but he’s doing all you could be asking right now, which is striking out every other batter put in front of him. He collected 35 punchouts in 30 innings of work at Everett, and then another 16 tickets in just under 11 innings in the fall development league. You could point out that was largely Elliott victimizing guys fresh out of the DSL/college, and you would be right, but also, that’s exactly what you want him to be doing in that situation. We’ll watch with interest this year to see if in a return trip to Everett, now High-A, Elliott can continue burninating the Oregon Trail. (KP)
29: Devin Sweet
A favorite of Connor’s, Sweet has a cool name, a cool backstory, and an even cooler changeup.
I’ve kept an eye planted on Sweet ever since his dominant run as a starter in West Virginia started to turn heads, and he was poised for a big 2020 before COVID hit. Signing as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina Central University in 2018, Sweet forgoed his plans to further study engineering in grad school at Virginia Tech, and has been a master at controlling the zone since entering pro ball, with a minor league K/BB ratio of over 5:1. His standout offering is easily his changeup, which brings fantastic late fade and sharp vertical break. He also has a ton of confidence in it; he’ll lead with it, throw it when he’s behind in the count, and isn’t afraid to deploy it against same-handed hitters. In my view, it’s already a big league pitch.
More Devin Sweet changeup goodness. pic.twitter.com/pLZPGQqMGW— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) August 29, 2019
He’s also seen a bump in velocity (thanks, Gas Camp!), sitting around 91-93 with his fastball, and is no stranger to going deep into games - in his fifteen starts with West Virginia and Modesto in 2019, he made it through five innings in each of them, and pitched six full innings in all but four. He spent the first half of 2019 in the bullpen before promotions opened up a spot in West Virginia’s rotation, and to stick as a starting pitcher, he’ll need to refine his slider to something resembling a viable third pitch, which I’m sure was a focal point for him in his time spent in the makeshift fall league the M’s participated in this offseason. If he’s unable to do so, I could easily see him contributing in a Major League bullpen in the near future if the club chooses to go that route with him. In any case, the gifted barber figures to start 2021 in High-A Everett, and could move to Double-A and beyond quickly if he keeps shoving like he did in 2019. (CD)
One of the biggest bummers of no MiLB season in 2020 was missing out on getting to see fringe prospects like Penn Murfee and Devin Sweet continue to show that where you’re drafted—or not drafted, in Sweet’s case—doesn’t necessarily determine your trajectory in baseball. I’m anxious to see how Sweet’s stuff—his fastball, primarily, I agree with Connor that that changeup is already an MLB-caliber pitch—plays against the advanced hitters of the Texas League. (KP)
30: Milkar Perez
In a system very thin on third base prospects, Perez has automatic intrigue for Mariners fans, but he made a lot of noise in his debut in the DSL and likely would have shot up even higher in these rankings if he’d been able to play stateside in 2020.
I’m interested to see what comes of Perez in 2021. In the brief glimpses we’ve seen of him on social media and instructs, he looks to have put on some bulk. Perez draws high marks for a big arm at third base and some projection in his bat. Seeing where he’s at physically and whether he can transition to stateside baseball in 2021 will be the narrative. He’s a ways away. (JD)
According to DSL buddy and social media master Jonatan Clase, Perez steadfastly refuses to post anything on his social media accounts (“he’s shy”), which is a shame, because that makes it hard to build hype around a very hype-able prospect. Perez only hit four HR in the DSL, but don’t let that deceive you; he has added strength and muscle thanks to a trip to the High Performance Camp and that is showing up in his bat, with Clase naming Perez’s power as the thing that stands out the most about him as a hitter currently. Perez has also drawn praise for his strong arm at third, and that, combined with the potential power in the bat, makes one excited about his potential to stick at the hot corner. (KP)
The only thing I’ll add on Perez is that the Mariners at least seemed to be treating him like a bigger prospect than public perception in their evaluation and preparation. Putting him in at 3B for most of the club’s fall instructional games was a tall order, and he got the benefit of the doubt to be challenged. That’s something to monitor, at least. (JT)