To be a top prospect is to be saddled with praise that also constantly reminds you of your shortcomings. “Prospect” still means that you haven’t done anything yet, at least not the types of things you’ve set out to do. The goal is to be a top MLB player, not a top prospect. Being an elite prospect is a prison of one’s own design, an acknowledgment of concrete accomplishments in the past that do nothing more than make the future more anticipated and pressurized. To be a top prospect is to be incomplete, with the weight of hope placing the burden of expectation on the eventual completed version.
Taylor Trammell has already experienced prospect hype in a big way. He’s not only been a regular on Top 100 lists for years, he also was the best player on the field at the 2018 Futures Game, winning MVP in a game that included Fernando Tatís Jr., Pete Alonso, Kyle Lewis, Bo Bichette, Yordan Álvarez, Keston Hiura, and several other current big-league stars.
He’s also had the unique distinction of being traded twice, a peculiar badge of honor for such a well-regarded player. After being taken in the first round by the Reds, turning in that star-making performance at the Futures Game, and earning the nod as Cincinnati’s top prospect, the Padres came calling. Trammell headed west in a three-team deal, headlined by Trevor Bauer going from Cleveland to Cincinnati, and ultimately played just 32 games for the Padres’ organization.
Trammell traversed four levels of minor league ball in his time as a Reds and Padres farmhand, animorphing from a mustang to a dragon to a tortuga to a lookout to a sod poodle. Somewhere along the way, the Seattle Mariners took interest. When one of their former minor league journeymen turned into a top tier catcher, the M’s flipped him for a package of Padres prospects that included Trammell. That’s how we got here. A little after two years removed from winning Futures Game MVP, the Mariners were able to get Trammell and a handful of other useful players for Austin Nola, Austin Adams, and Dan Altavilla.
If you’re wondering how Jerry Dipoto was able to swindle a prospect with so much helium away from the Padres – in exchange for three fairly unproven MLB players – the answer is that some of that helium leaked out of Trammell’s balloon once he reached Double-A. That magical summer of 2018, the one where Trammell dazzled in the Futures Game, included a .277/.375/.406 line in 110 games for the Reds’ High-A team. He also knocked eight homers, stole 25 bases, and walked 12.6% of the time. All of that combined for a 129 wRC+ and the type of trajectory a team envisions when they spend a first-round pick on a high schooler. The next year, though, was much more trying.
To his credit, Trammell maintained his selective batting eye in 2019 after being elevated to Double-A. His walk rate even jumped a little bit, going up to 14.2%, but his batting average and slugging percentage both took a punch to the chops. Facing the best competition of his life, paired with pitchers’ presumptive natural desire to get the hot prospect out, Trammell hit just .236 for the 2019 Chattanooga Lookouts, posting a slugging percentage (.336) thirteen points lower than his OBP (.349).
Unfortunately, his world did not become drastically sunnier after being dealt to San Diego. Finishing the 2019 season with 32 games for the Padres’ Double-A outfit, Trammell still struggled. The walk rate that surely kept so many evaluators on his side finally sunk into the single digits. He had career-worsts in batting average (.229), on-base percentage (.316), and wRC+ (98) while striking out 27 percent of the time. Now, 32 games is a much smaller sample than the full and three-quarter seasons he played on Cincinnati’s farm. How much of the ineffectiveness can be chalked up to changing orgs during a season? I don’t know. But the Double-A level – both in the South League and the Texas League – poked some holes in Trammell’s profile, reminding the baseball world that very few prospects are bulletproof.
This knocked him out of the upper echelons of the prospect ranking world. Entering the 2019 season, Trammell was MLB.com’s 28th-ranked prospect. Entering the 2020 season, he was down to 51st. FanGraphs tumbled him from 12th all the way down a not so nice 69th. This doesn’t totally matter in the grand scheme of things, but it’s a nice indication of how the general perception of Trammell began to shift, as well as a necessary reminder that development is not linear. Like every other minor leaguer in 2020, Trammell had a strange go of it at various alternate sites. Today, after gradually knocking him down a few pegs, some outlets have pulled the ladder on Trammell altogether. MLB.com gave him the very last spot on their 2021 Top 100 list, while FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus threw him out like Uncle Phil did Jazz.
I imagine the ramp-up process for quite literally every single minor leaguer will be tricky in 2021, and the inevitable hammer of injuries could come down quite hard, but let’s remember that an absence of production does not automatically mean an absence of talent. When we spoke to Trammell on a recent episode of the Lookout Landing podcast, he added to the chorus of applause that’s currently swarming the Mariners’ farm system. He also spoke about his familiarity with guys like Justin Dunn and Cal Raleigh, both from seeing them in the Texas League and, in Raleigh’s case, in Mariners camp.
Will being thrown into Seattle’s powder keg, which Baseball America recently dubbed the second-best in all of Major League Baseball, push him to re-gain his 2018 form? How does one find the things that worked three years ago, at a lower level of baseball, while seeing MLB-adjacent pitching? Of course, the biggest and most unavoidable question surrounding Trammell is how he fits into Seattle’s fantastical outfield. With Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez destined for two of the spots, and the reigning AL Rookie of the Year’s gorilla grip on the other one, do the Mariners view Trammell as a possible DH? What does that mean for fellow ex-Padre Ty France, whose bat will play but whose glove might be a tad porous?
We don’t have any of those answers yet. What we do have (fingers crossed so hard they’re bleeding), is the upcoming minor league season. Trammell will, again, hopefully, soon get the chance to apply his offseason work in real games against pitchers who don’t also work for the Seattle Mariners. His offense will understandably command most of the attention, but defense is going to be an important part of Trammell’s fit as well. Can he show that he’s a demonstrably better fielder than any members of the outfield super trio? Other things – mainly the walk rate that was once a tremendous strength, and the ability to punish the ball for extra base hits again – could be the make-or-break qualities.
The Mariners are in the advantageous position of having more talented outfielders than they have available outfield spots. Barring a full-on embrace of the four-outfielder lifestyle, something has to give. But, if we’ve learned anything from recent MLB practices, there’s never such thing as too much talent.
If you’re wondering when we might finally see Trammell at the highest level, you’re in luck! Disgraced team president Kevin Mather puked up that information at his recent rich guy summit with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary, saying very plainly that Trammell will be a late summer call-up.
He’s 6’4”, 220 lbs., chiseled, and he’s an outfielder that will be here in 2021, probably the back half of the season.
The bottom line is this. Seattle traded Austin Nola and two middle relievers for a former Futures Game MVP who’s only two years older than Kelenic, three months younger than Logan Gilbert, and the plan is for all of them to end the season on the MLB roster. No matter what it eventually looks like, the vision is starting to take shape. The Mariners’ fabled window of contention is getting a fresh coat of Windex, and it will only become cleaner if they fire Kevin Mather.