FanGraphs dropped their Top 100 prospects list today, leaving just MLB Pipeline standing as the last of the major outlets to publish their pre-season prospect rankings list (one assumes creating that list is complicated by the owners’ lockout and the prospects on the list who are also on the 40-man, such as Julio Rodríguez, Royce Lewis, and MacKenzie Gore).
For FanGraphs, the process of creating a “Top-100” list is a demonstration of their Future Value metric, which attempts to project productivity mostly akin to the traditional scouting scale, with a bit of an eye towards how teams might value types of players more than others. For instance, while all 50 FV players are represented on the list, a 50 FV pitcher is by nature a riskier player than a 50 FV position player. Additionally, the FV system means the list is more accurately a collection of tiers than an exact numbering. The FanGraphs team explains it thusly:
The FV grade is more important than the ordinal ranking. For example, the gap between Julio Rodríguez (No. 4) and Triston Casas (No. 16) is 12 spots, and there’s a substantial difference in talent between them. The gap between Mark Vientos (No. 64) and Patrick Bailey (No. 76), meanwhile, is also 12 numerical places, but the difference in talent is relatively small.
So where do the Mariners prospects rank?
No. 4 OF Julio Rodríguez - 65 FV
No. 13 SS Noelvi Marte - 60 FV
No. 28 RHP George Kirby - 55 FV
No. 61 LHP Brandon Williamson - 50 FV
It’s important to remember FanGraphs’ tiered ranking system when considering Julio in the fourth spot. While many outlets have debated the “top three” as Julio, Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman (#1 on FG’s list), and Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. (#2 here), FanGraphs sees things differently, with Rutschman (70 FV) in a tier of his own. FG slots Baltimore’s RHP Grayson Rodriguez just ahead of Julio, who closes out the tier of 65 FV prospects before things drop to 60 at #5 (Detroit’s Spencer Torkelson). Last year, FanGraphs’ preseason Top 100 was much more top-heavy; superprospect Wander Franco had an 80 and MacKenzie Gore a 70, with Rutschman the lone 65; the 2022 rankings show a much more even distribution of talent.
In the upper tiers, the gap between this talent is so narrow that it requires some nits to be picked. The blurb for Julio suggests a clue as to why he might have ranked behind Witt and Rodriguez, as it remarks again on a “swing-happy LIDOM stint,” something that seems to have damaged the perception of Julio as a pure hitter in these evaluators’ eyes, but admits his 2021 was “virtually unimpeachable” and notes approvingly of some approach changes, as well as his ability to be successful in a stressful environment shuttling back and forth between the minors and the Olympics. It also touches on his injury history as a potential red flag, and wraps up by giving him the “perennial All-Star and MVP contender” label—lofty praise, although not quite to the point of Rutschman and Witt’s “franchise-altering,” “cornerstone” designations. (The other Rodriguez is tabbed as a future No. 1 pitcher and Cy Young candidate, which is like the pitcher equivalent of “MVP contender”, so one wonders how tight the gap is between the two Rodri/íguezes vs. the others in that tier.)
Next on the list at 13 is SS Noelvi Marte, continuing his meteoric climb up top prospect lists and checking in around where we’ve seen him elsewhere as a fringe-top ten player. The FanGraphs evaluators, like others, were duly impressed with their first stateside look at Marte, specifically the booming power he was able to produce in the former California League, although it is noted that he finished his season on a homer slump after a homer drought at Low-A and a general hitting drought in his tiny taste of High-A. Something that should always be remembered whenever Noelvi’s High-A performance is brought up is the fact that the Mariners didn’t ever plan on sending him out of the great state of California in his first year stateside, but Noelvi made it impossible for the club not to reward him with a tiny taste of the freezing cold weather the Dominican shortstop has to look forward to in an Everett April. There is also a mention that Marte might need to come off shortstop, as is required in any blurb written about him, but power talks loudest of the tools for a young player like Noelvi, and this year he demonstrated he had both doubles and over-the-fence power to all fields, with a .462 slugging percentage.
Like many evaluators, FanGraphs appears torn on Kirby’s talent and production when contrasted with his workload. The hard-throwing righty was dominant while on the mound, but missed a month due to arm fatigue. As is noted, Seattle’s management of most of its pitchers was quite conservative in 2021, which could serve them well long-term, however in the short term it means it’s difficult to project Kirby as a workhorse when we have not seen him work as one in the pros. The commendations for Kirby’s development on all his secondaries, including an as-of-yet underutilized changeup, highlight a still-growing ceiling for the former first rounder.
This is the highest ranking for Williamson thus far, though again, slotting into the 50 FV tier is a difficult assessment as that pool ranges from No. 33 RHP Jackson Jobe to No. 114 3B Reginald Preciado. BMW is in the mix with a few other notable names, including Cardinals LHP Matthew Liberatore, Marlins fireballing RHP Max Meyer, and Nationals potential future innings-devourer RHP Cade Cavalli. Rightfully dinged for a “control-over-command” approach, it is notable that FanGraphs classifies the 6’6 southpaw as a tweener role. Listed as a Middle Innings Relief Pitcher (MIRP), Williamson is identified as a possibly high-caliber starter, yet lacking in the ability to work deep into games. Williamson too gets plaudits for his secondaries, so his role as a starter versus a long reliever will be incumbent on his ability to work into the zone long-term.
On the “Just Missed” group, it appears RHP Matt Brash fell just off the list, and a shade further off as well was RHP Emerson Hancock. Once FanGraphs releases their Seattle Mariners specific Top Prospects list, we’ll have the chance to see how they feel the entire organization stacks up against other clubs in terms of the farm system as a whole.