It’s Top 10 time for our list of the Seattle Mariners top prospects at the outset of 2023. This five pack features two of the most electric arms in the system, as well as three international signees who have already put together tantalizing performances. To catch up on the first installment (Nos. 45-31) as well as our grading rubric, click here. To read about group 30-21, click here. Group 20-11 can be found by clicking here. The Top Five will publish on Wednesday.
...continuing from Tier 3
10. Bryan Woo, RHP
Age: 23 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2021 / Final level in 2022: A+ / MLB ETA: 2024
2022 stat of note: 13.3 K/9 across three different levels
Woo is primed for a breakout season akin to the 2022 campaign that saw Bryce Miller shoot up prospect rankings. Touted as a biomechanical darling by the Mariners scouting department, Woo was selected in the sixth round out of Cal Poly in 2021. After recovering from Tommy John surgery during his draft year in college, Woo’s stuff appears to have returned in full and improved with professional training. His clean mechanics down the mound and a low release point help the Oakland-born fireballer’s fastball boast tremendous ride through the top of the zone. The quality of the heater is a separator for Woo. Initially lagging behind as a draftee, Woo’s slider is now a sharp, biting offering that has shown promise as an out pitch. His changeup is a bit behind the gaudy fastball and solid slider, but has shown excellent fade when deployed. With as little as Woo has pitched in his career, I expect to see tremendous development throughout the 2023 season with much needed time on the mound and reps to truly optimize his entire arsenal.
Bryan Woo was awesome. Final line: 5IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, 8K, 72-49. The 1 hit was a bloop single. pic.twitter.com/jh30OLxMag— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) April 30, 2023
FV: 50 - Obviously some inherent variance in low minors pitching, but already having a fastball that would play at the major leagues is a boon for Woo. The athletic Woo should continue to develop his secondaries, with their progress determining if he settles as a quality bullpen arm or a rotation standout. -ME
9. Lázaro Montes, OF/1B
Age: 18 / B/T: L/R / Signed: 2019 / Highest level in 2022: DSL/MLB ETA: 2026
2022 stat of note: .465 wOBA in DSL
Okay, maybe it’s crazy to dream on an 18-year-old who hasn’t touched stateside ball yet. Maybe it’s even crazier to dream on a guy who struck out at a 33% rate in the DSL. But, consider this: .465 wOBA, .301 ISO, and a .585 SLG. Those are stupid numbers. We can throw in the fact that he’s now 6’7” and 245, and he’s looking less like Yordan and more like Judge these days. At 18, he boasts generational raw power - I would be open to the idea that he could best Julio, or anyone in the Mariners organization, in a home run derby. He moves well, even as he continues to grow, and should be able to play an acceptable corner outfield spot - I’m not sold that he’s moving to 1B at this point in his career. His high BB% indicates that he has a good understanding of the strike zone, and at 18 (!) he has plenty of time to shorten up the swing and close some of the holes that exist there right now.
Lazaro Montes is only 17 years old and has played in 25 professional games for the DSL Mariners. His stats?— Mariners Player Development (@MsPlayerDev) July 12, 2022
.347/.452/.720/1.172, 18 R, 26 H, 5 HR, 22 RBI pic.twitter.com/bCchAovrZZ
FV: 45 - He’s, again, 18, so he’s going to take a big hit here on FV until he demonstrates that he can cut down his K and whiff rate. There’s a real chance he never makes even Double-A. However, the ceiling is bonkers here. There’s so, so much to love about Lázaro - it’ll be extremely telling to see how his first couple years stateside in AZ, Modesto and Everett go for him. There’s a reason so many people compare him to Yordan. -NV
8. Axel Sánchez, SS
Age: 20 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2019 / Highest level in 2022: A+ /MLB ETA: 2026
2022 stat of note: SLG .618 at Modesto
I had Michael Arroyo ranked higher than anyone else, and I still had Axel Sánchez higher than Arroyo. A big part of that is the fact that I was actually able to “watch” Sánchez play on the Cal League MiLB TV feed (derogatory) and so saw a glimmer of what makes Sánchez special: some of the best defense in the system at any position, full stop, with light feet, quick and accurate hands, excellent range and superior instincts/reflexes. Sánchez has apprenticed himself to Perry Hill this spring training and set his future sights on being the next Hill-coached player to earn a Gold Glove. In the box, Sánchez is a contact hitter with a good sense of the zone, but can get aggressive, although he’s not as strikeout-happy as his line suggests; recall that the then 19-year-old was promoted to fill a hole created by the departing Edwin Arroyo at Modesto, where he seized the starting shortstop job with both hands and ran with it, amping up his power to finish the season with double-digit home runs after hitting just one in the DSL. Scouts question whether the power surge is here to stay, noting the generally Terrible quality of Cal League pitching, but Sánchez has been diligently adding muscle in the weight room since being signed and is aware that maintaining his power is the best way to follow his idol, Manny Machado, to the big leagues.
FV: 50 - Sánchez’s floor is still a light-hitting elite-fielding shortstop, but the ceiling is the Mariners coming up with their own, younger Jeremy Peña–a slow-burn power hitter who blossoms with a pro conditioning regimen (Peña, too, hit one homer in his first year of pro ball and seven the next). I’m taking the coward’s way out and splitting the difference, but know that I am all aboard the Axel Sánchez hype train, toot toot. -KP
7. Gabriel González, OF
Age: 19 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2020 / Highest level in 2022: Low-A /MLB ETA: 2026
2022 stat of note: .400 OBP in A ball as an 18 year old
The top ten of prospect lists is where the grinding of the teeth really begins. A guy at number seven might have been a top five guy to someone else. That is the case for me and Gabriel González. Personally, González is comfortably a top five prospect in the system, neck and neck with Cole Young. The hit tool is legit, y’all. Gabby has a knack for finding the barrel and making solid contact all over the place while avoiding strikeouts. He isn’t slap-happy however, as he takes his walks and can find some power. Ultimately, a corner outfielder has to have some power and how much González is able to muster will likely determine how premium of a prospect he is. González manages to make his swing decisions late to consistently create quality contact and avoid whiffs, with a career strikeout rate under 15% as a pro. Without premium defense at a non-premium position, González will need to slug his way to the majors to make it, but man oh man do I think he can do it.
Gabriel Gonzalez extends hitting streak to 11 games on an RBI double. pic.twitter.com/vSsjvHM82u— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) April 20, 2023
FV: 50 - There is far too much variance to smack down a 55 grade for González just yet, particularly until he consistently shows he can put a ball over the fence in the hitter-friendly California League, but if he is able to build off an already successful stint at Modesto, you could easily see him creep into that premium prospect range in no time. -ME
6. Prelander Berroa, RHP
Age: 23 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2016 / Highest level in 2022: Double-A /MLB ETA: 2023
2022 stat of note: 21.2 K-BB% (36.5 K%, 15.3 BB%)
I made a Bee Movie edit of the man, you know he’s going places.
After receiving Prelander in a trade for Donovan Walton from San Francisco, he turned heads in Everett with his flashy strikeout rates, and covering Everett last season, I had a front row seat to a looooot of Northwest League batters getting turned out of their spikes. He popped in Spring Training 2023 as well, with his pitch shapes seeming to impress everyone he faced. Berroa ultimately isn’t much of a mystery. The man has a once-in-a-decade fastball that he rarely throws - he has a nasty slider that he throws a lot, but he’s got no idea where it’s going. Thus, an eye-popping K-BB%, with even more eye-popping underlying rates. I’ve truly never seen rates that high for Ks or BBs over a full season. At the present, it does seem to be who Berroa is as a pitcher.
97 from Prelander Berroa. pic.twitter.com/beFnQeTD6H— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) April 30, 2023
FV: 50 - This is a 50 that could also be a 40 or a 60. Naturally, one might look at all of this and think, “Well, this looks like a lights-out reliever, not a starter.” To that, I would say, “Probably!” I think that his current trajectory ends up with him as a back-of-the-pen reliever with the ability to go 3-6 outs - I’m thinking of guys like Hector Neris, true workhorse shutdown guys. While his path to remaining a starter isn’t impossible to see, it’s a bit squinty at the point. Let’s expect to see him in the big-league pen in the stretch run this year if things go well for him. -NV