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Top 50 Mariners Prospects: No. 1-15

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...featuring the best prospect in all of baseball.

Despite recent graduations from Jarred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, Taylor Trammell, Evan White and Cal Raleigh, the top of the Seattle Mariners farm system is still as healthy as ever. In fact, if you’re going by Baseball America’s lists, the Mariners actually appear to be getting stronger. Going into the 2020 campaign, Seattle’s farm featured five of the Top 100 prospects in the game (Julio Rodriguez, Kelenic, White, Gilbert an Noelvi Marte). Entering 2021, it was much of the same. Rodriguez, Kelenic, Gilbert, Marte and the introduction of Emerson Hancock.

Fast-forward to the end of the year and this system appears to have gone into overdrive. Not only did George Kirby breakthrough onto the list, he’s now one of the top twelve prospects in the game. Marte surged up boards, jumping 82 points over the course of the season, now considered a top ten prospect in the game. Rodriguez continues to look like a super-prospect, standing pat at no. 2 overall. Righty Matt Brash has spun his way up into the Top 100. Hancock remains on the list as well.

Jerry Dipoto and Co.™ have done a tremendous job building and reinforcing this farm system year after year. Guys like Harry Ford and Brandon Williamson aren’t far off most boards (if they’re not on them already). The system remains flush and just as deep as it’s been in recent years.

There are players inside my top 15 who are certainly in play to become top 100 prospects in 2022. They have the tools and/or stuff to get there. It’ll just be a matter of staying healthy next season and showcasing their skills over an extended period.

You can find the first two parts of this series here:

31-50

16-30

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

15. Michael Morales, RHP, 19, Arizona Complex League

Morales oozed polish for a high school pitching prospect in the 2021 MLB Draft. Seattle jumped all over the chance to draft the cold weather arm, over-slotting the Vanderbilt commit in the third round. He only threw one inning in Arizona this summer as the focus will be to get him stronger heading into the 2022 season.

Morales has a fastball that generally sits in the low-90s, though he’s been up to 95 in the past. He’s got a slider and a changeup and has good feel for the strike zone. One of the biggest selling points in drafting Morales was his operation on the mound, considered one of the most fluid deliveries available in the 2021 class. He’ll likely start the 2022 season in extended spring training to be promoted later in the season to Modesto.

14. Zach Deloach, OF, 23, Double-A Arkansas

Everything Deloach did in 2021 was good. None of it was necessarily sexy, but across the board, he was a good player working his way up the ladder. His .276/.373/.468 slash is rock solid. His 24-percent K-rate is fine. His 12-percent walk rate is good too. Deloach uses the whole field and his swing isn’t designed to hit the ball in the air or drive the ball into the ground. He’s a very well-rounded player.

Deloach doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard, maxing out at 106.1 mph this season but more often than not sitting in that 86-mph range. Physically, he’s an average runner with an average arm that can man any of the three outfield spots.

Where scouts would like to see Deloach improve is his whiff-rate. If Deloach is to become that do-it-all type player who puts the ball and makes things happen, he’ll need to improve upon his 29-percent whiff rate. That should ostensibly improve his strikeout rate and raise his floor. There’s a Nick Markakis type of player in there, it just needs some further refinement. Deloach will likely start 2022 in Arkansas and has a shot at debuting with Seattle next season.

13. Levi Stoudt, RHP, 23, Double-A Arkansas

It was another solid year for Stoudt who’s really put himself on the map as a legitimate starting pitcher prospect for the organization. Stoudt posted a 3.31 ERA, though his 4.89 xFIP does raise some eyebrows. Like many of the prospects before him, Stoudt has the stuff, but needs to throw more strikes.

A third round pick in 2019, Stoudt touched 98.9 mph in 2021, a testament to the Mariners development program for its arms. Stoudt more comfortably rests 92-95 with a bread and butter changeup flashing plus at times. That said, he needs to get ahead of hitters for it to be the weapon it has the potential to be. He’s also got a curveball that most project a fairly average pitch.

At 23 years old, Stoudt will look to issue less free passes and miss more bats in 2022. Generating whiffs 29.1 percent on opposing swings is decent, but needs to tick up north of 30 percent should he hope to remain in a rotation from this chair. Stoudt is knocking on the doorstep of a potential debut next season.

12. Adam Macko, LHP, 20, A-Ball Modesto

A 2019 seventh round pick out of Canada, Macko’s pure stuff really took off this past season. Macko touched 98, sitting 92-95. Of any and all pitchers that actually started a game on the farm in 2021, Macko produced the highest whiff-rate of any of them, inducing empty swings over 41 percent of the time.

Just 20 years old, Macko features a nasty slider with fantastic depth and tunneling characteristics mirroring his fastball. Macko missed time in June and July this season, as well as eventually going back on the shelf in August and September. He threw 33.1 innings in 2021 and will look to improve upon those totals at Modesto and likely Everett next season. Macko’s future role will be largely dictated by how his command develops, though he does appear to have a reasonably good shot at becoming a leverageable reliever at worst. There are some similarities between Macko and Justus Sheffield, though Macko gets the edge in pure stuff while Sheffield always had a little better feel for the strike zone.

11. Milkar Perez, 3B, 19, A-Ball Modesto

Perez had a very nice 2021 stateside debut with the organization and finished the year with the Modesto Nuts. The important piece to know here is Perez can hit. He can really, really hit. His 22.2% Whiff% ranked eleventh in the organization. You couple this with a 19.1% K-rate and a 19.5% BB-rate and it really paints the picture of a mature hitter who’s quite selective at the plate. His .308/.455/.378 slash helps support that. Perez isn’t slugging the baseball yet, but given his strong, broad, corner infield body, it’s fairly easy to project at least 45-grade power coming to the 2019 international signing in the future. For now, he needs to focus on improving his groundball-to-flyball ratio. Generating lift will be important for Perez.

Perez played a lot of third base at the Arizona Complex League, as well as at Modesto. He’s got a plus arm and rather good feet. So long as he’s able to stick at the hot corner, Perez’s bat is a good bet to buoy his profile up to the big league level where his role will likely rely on just how much power he’s able to tap into.

10. Gabriel Gonzalez, OF, 17, Dominican Summer League

There are those in scouting circles who are convinced Gonzalez could be Julio Rodriguez-lite. His 2021 performance certainly won’t do much to dispel those notions.

Signed out of Venezuela for $1.1 million in 2020, Gonzalez immediately burst onto the scene this season slashing .301/.385/.546, posting a 150 wRC+. Gonzalez is closer to 5-foot-11, 170 pounds these days, and he really gets his physical frame into his swing. He’s a good athlete at the plate with impressive bat speed and strong extension to the ball. Gonzalez posted an astounding 15.6% K-rate over 192 plate appearances this season. He was one of just five DSL hitters to achieve such a feat whilst also posting a slugging percentage north of .545.

Gonzalez is expected to put on more strength as he continues to fill out and could eventually sit upwards of 190 pounds. He’s got a strong arm in the field, though his speed will likely limit him to a corner outfield role at the highest level.

9. Connor Phillips, RHP, 20, High-A Everett

When Seattle selected Phillips with their Comp B pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, fans scoffed at the JUCO selection as it wasn’t a “sexy” pick with others on still on the board. Fast-forward 14 months and it certainly seems as though Dipoto & Co.™ knew what they were doing. Not only did Phillips touch 98 mph this season, he ranked among the top five in the organization in creating swing-and-miss from the opposition.

Phillips sat 93-95 this season with a big, sweeping breaking ball and a budding changeup. He’s got a live, loose arm with an improving operation on the mound.

Walks were an issue for Phillips this season, but given he’s only 20 years old, that’s to be expected to a certain capacity. He’ll head to Everett in 2022 where he’ll be a popular sleeper pick and could be next years version of Matt Brash if he starts to pound the zone.

8. Alberto Rodriguez, OF, 20, High-A Everett

Acquired in the Taijuan Walker deal in 2020, Rodriguez is probably the most unheralded prospect in the Mariners organization, though it’s unlikely that lasts much longer. Everything about his 2021 campaign screams big things are on the horizon. Rodriguez was one of just three players in the organization to post an average exit velocity north of 89 mph, as well as a whiff rate south of 25.4 percent, joining super-prospects Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez. This kid is just 20 years old. That combination of impact and patience/discipline should not go undersold. It’s remarkable.

Rodriguez worked hard over the past year to put his body in a more athletic position to make his game more dynamic. He lost ten pounds, helping lead to 15 stolen bases this season. If the power jolt we saw from Rodriguez this season is the real deal, and his physical conditioning continues to track in the right direction, Rodriguez could find himself on Top 100 lists by the end of the 2022 season. He projects into left field at the highest level.

7. Harry Ford, C, 18, Arizona Complex League

Given the tools, it wouldn’t shock me if we’re talking about Harry Ford as one of the ten-best prospects in baseball heading into the 2024 season. He’s a bit of a unicorn in that sense. A catcher who happens to be a plus runner with plus raw power and electric hands? He’s a rare breed indeed.

Ford’s prospect stock will likely feature a different trajectory than most other position prospects. Being an 18-year-old catching prospect, Ford will take some time to bloom into the player Seattle hopes he’ll be someday. Learning the nuances of calling a game, as well as the technique required behind the plate will all take time. This, provided the game doesn’t veer toward robo-umps.

But the bat and the physical tools will be the calling card here. Ford projects an above average power bat with at least an average hit tool and speed that should help stretch his offensive game. He showed off the juice this summer, posting a wRC+ of 150 over 65 plate appearances, putting him inside the Top 10 for the organization this year. Ford kept the strikeouts down this summer too. All signs point to a Modesto debut in April for the 2021 first rounder.

6. Brandon Williamson, LHP, 23, Double-A Arkansas

Williamson had a much more impressive 2021 campaign than his baseball card suggests. By many standards, Williamson was the best starting pitcher on the farm this season. His 14.00 K/9 and 37.4% K-rate both sit atop the organization for starting pitchers. Williamson was tagged at times by homers, surrendering 11 dingers in 98.1 innings, but outside of that, it’s hard to find many warts to worry about.

Williamson got up to 96 this season, but more comfortably operated in the 93-95 mph range. His slider and curveball both took big steps forward this season, routinely showing above average characteristics and inducing plenty of swing and miss. The TCU product showed off his durability and strike-throwing ability this season, and all signs pointing to a 2022 debut in the rotation. Still just 23 years old, you could make the case Williamson is one of the more underrated pitching prospects in the game. He was one of just five prospects in minor league baseball to pitch 90 innings and post a K/9 north of 14.00, the others being Grayson Rodriguez, Kyle Harrison, Daniel Espino and Spencer Strider, the former three being featured on most Top 100 lists.

5. Emerson Hancock, RHP, 22, Double-A Arkansas

It was an on-again, off-again campaign for Hancock who saw his innings cut short due to shoulder fatigue once again. Hancock dealt with fatigue in 2020 as well. He’ll spend this offseason in a shoulder-strengthening program to improve his durability for the 2022 season.

There’s a lot to like about Hancock on the mound. He features two distinct fastballs, the four-seam variety touching 98 this season. The changeup can be plus when he’s feeling it. The slider is Hancock’s best secondary coming from a short-arm slot with gyro, diving action. He performed well in 2021 posting a 2.62 ERA, though his 4.19 xFIP speaks to a bit of circumstantial luck. Although the stuff can be loud, Hancock really struggled to miss bats. His 10.7% SwStr% ranked outside of the Top 50 in the organization, his ordinary 8.66 K/9 driving home the point. Hancock does a very nice job of limiting homers and baserunners, though from this chair, he’ll need to miss more bats in 2022 should he hope to reclaim some of that “top of the rotation” narrative he had coming out of Georgia in 2020, especially as he begins to run into more advanced hitters at the Double-A level and beyond.

4. Matt Brash, RHP, 23, Triple-A Tacoma

At the end of the day, the ceiling, alongside the extremely high floor, makes Brash the fourth-best prospect in the Mariners organization. His performances and pitch data from 2021 are simply jaw-dropping.

Brash touched 99.9 mph this season, routinely sitting 95-98 in virtually every outing. Even better, Brash would hold the velo deep into his outings. But most would agree the fastball is his second-best offering. It’s a diabolical slider, many grading out double-plus. His spin rates border on elite and his whiff rate (38.2%) ranks the best in the organization of any stateside starting pitcher. Brash turned his changeup into a weapon this season, flashing above average and giving lefty bats fits.

He still has a few boxes to check. The walk-rate needs to come down and his fastball command is largely to blame. He misses high, arm-side when he’s not totally in-sync. Tempo and timing can be an issue at times for Brash who moves down the mound with aggression and intent, sometimes to a fault. The delivery has some effort, and the arm action can get long and late when he’s not in rhythm, but if he can limit the free passes, he has a chance to be as dynamic as a guy like Dustin May or Dinelson Lamet. At worst, Brash figures to be high-leverage relief weapon. In that respect, he’s ready right now.

3. Noelvi Marte, SS, 19, High-A Everett

The training wheels came off Marte this season as he made his stateside debut, logging over 500 plate appearances across Modesto and a cup of coffee in Everett to conclude the year. Once considered an unrefined, tools-y prospect, Marte has packed on man-muscle and now looks every bit the part of a future big leaguer — his body closer to 6-foot-2, 205 pounds.

Marte has seen progressive returns in his play with the added strength, while his speed continues to play its part on the base paths. At the plate, Marte peaked at 112.5 mph off the bat this season, good enough to rank in the Top 5 for the organization – pretty impressive for a kid who hasn’t yet celebrated his 20th birthday. Marte boasts healthy plate discipline figures, strong contact rates and pummels mistakes. His defense continues to be a work in progress, but given the improvement as the year progressed, as well as the encouraging outlook of his physique, more and more scouts seem to like the chances of Marte sticking at shortstop long-term. The Hanley Ramirez comparisons are fair. A 2023 debut isn’t out of the question.

2. George Kirby, RHP, 23, Double-A Arkansas

Kirby is a tantalizing combination of ceiling and floor that should lend to a lengthy career at the big league level, health permitting. His fantastic combination of stuff and command are drool-worthy and he projects to debut in Seattle at some point in 2022.

Kirby touched 100.7 mph in 2021, a number most folks couldn’t fathom the Elon product touching after getting selected 20th overall in 2019. Maybe more impressively, Kirby sat 97 to 98 mph on a number of occasions this season. His big fastball isn’t a flash in the pan. In fact, in 2021, it was more often the norm.

Kirby now features a slider that flashes above average, as well as a deployable curveball with good shape and enough command for the pitch to get ahead early in counts. He’s got a solid changeup that has been effective against left-handed bats as well.

Seattle is being cautious with Kirby, bringing him along slowly and skipping starts at any sign of fatigue. 2022 will bring forth far more innings for Kirby and likely a potential debut at the highest level, so long as the organization believes he’s fit enough to handle the extended workload. He pitched just 67.1 innings in 2021. Breaking ball command and workload are the only boxes left to check here.

1. Julio Rodriguez, OF, 20, Double-A Arkansas

My unbiased top overall prospect in all of baseball, Rodriguez did nothing but surge his stock higher and higher in 2021, posting absurd numbers across the board by just about every measure imaginable. The warts that had purportedly thwarted Rodriguez’s ceiling have dissipated as his strikeout totals have plummeted and his speed and athleticism continue to tick in the right direction. While he’s still almost certainly destined to become a fringe-average runner in his prime, Rodriguez is every bit that of an above average runner right now who should offer some value on the bases in his first few years as a big leaguer.

But the bat is the carrying tool and it’s almost certainly the most impressive stick in minor league baseball. Rodriguez projects a plus hitter with double-plus power. He’s got the making of a perennial .285 hitter with 35+ homer power over what could potentially be a long peak offensive window. Rodriguez was one of a select few prospects in baseball to post an exit velocity over 117 mph in 2021, and his 91.1 mph average exit velocity ranked second in the organization behind only Dillon Thomas (92).

There are still some things to clean up for Rodriguez in 2022 before eventually getting the call. While he’s not striking out, Rodriguez’s 26.2% whiff rate is a little high, but not so much as to cause any alarm. It’s more likely indicative of Rodriguez putting his “A-Swing” on pitches when he’s ahead in the account or hunting on the first pitch of an at-bat. Elsewhere, some may argue his ground ball rates are troubling, but I don’t believe that to be true. He’s 20 years old mauling much more advanced competition. The game power will come organically. No need to tinker to get to it right now.