It’s the darkest doldrums of the off-season, and you know what that means: it’s prospect-ranking time. Here at LL, we take a lot of pride in doing this, even as the process of ranking players is flawed - often unpredictable, and necessarily reductive. However, as people who watch games from Everett, Modesto, Little Rock, Tacoma, and even on the backfields in Peoria, we feel like we’re tapped into this system in a way that’s unique in the prospect landscape. It’s a labor of love to produce this kind of in-depth minor-league coverage year-round, and we’re thankful for everyone who reads and follows along.
This year, as we have in the past, we’ll be attacking the system in tiers, working our way up from broad groups of players to in-depth profiles of specific top-tier players. We’ll be starting with the largest clump of players, those with a ~40 FV value if you follow FanGraphs rankings: these are players who could be everyday contributors, but haven’t quite popped in the pros yet, either because of injury limitations or small sample size, or some significant issue that’s holding them back from becoming the best version of themselves. As opposed to ranking these players numerically, we’re presenting them in two groups: alphabetically, split by position players and pitchers, beginning with the pitchers. (If you’re curious, we won’t be including any of the players the Mariners just signed in the opening of the International Free Agency period, but you can read about them here.)
Peyton Alford, LHP
Age: 27 / B/T: L/L / Drafted: UDFA, signed 2021 / Final level in 2023: A+ / MLB ETA: 2024
We love rooting for an UDFA. The Mariners took Alford back a level after he struggled after a late-season promotion to Double-A last year, and he crushed out of the Everett bullpen; this year he’ll take another swing at Double-A after gaining some experience against top-flight hitters in the Arizona Fall League. He’s a dark horse candidate to join the big-league bullpen if he can carry his 2023 gains forward in the upper minors.
Peyton Alford strikes out 2 in a perfect 6th inning. 9 pitches, 7 strikes. pic.twitter.com/C1XHoUCNq1— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) November 3, 2023
Jarod Bayless, RHP
Age: 27 /B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2019 (33rd) / Final level in 2023: A+ / MLB ETA: ASAP
Jarod Bayless earns the 2019 Penn Murfee award for “Why Is This Guy Still in the Low Minors?” He throws an MLB-quality pitch in his slider and doesn’t walk a single soul, while still limiting damage despite a subpar fastball, so the Mariners must have some specific things they want to see from him (perhaps more strikeouts?); otherwise, Arkansas’ very porous bullpen could have used Bayless after they lost their entire pitching staff to the bigs last year. Bayless is at least at the special pitching camp the team is running in the off-season and will finally make it to Double-A in his age-27 season, where he’ll hopefully only have to spend one more year on the Murfee Diet before getting his big-league shot. Like Murfee, Bayless is off to a good start with a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League - too bad there’s no Team USA for him to play for this year.
Juan Burgos, RHP
Age: 24 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2019 / Final level in 2023: A / MLB ETA: 2026
Burgos has had to fight through a few injury issues and the general hellscapery of being a young international prospect coming up during the pandemic years. He can get his fastball up to 96 with tail that causes hitters to poke after it and hit it on the ground, and pairs that with a breaking ball that utterly bamboozles A-level hitters thanks to some frisbee-like movement. He halved his walk rate in a repeat of Modesto and earned a spot towards the back end of the championship Nuts’ bullpen in 2023.
Modesto does it again! 15th straight win as Juan Burgos closes it out. 1 game lead with 4 games to play. pic.twitter.com/VgdfmzCUlz— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) September 7, 2023
Tyler Cleveland, RHP
Age: 24 / B/T: L/R / Drafted: 2022 / Final level in 2023: A / MLB ETA: 2026
Cleveland, a 14th round selection out of Central Arkansas, is a fascinating prospect. He’s a pure sidearm (borderline submariner) starting pitcher that relies solely on his pitch mix to induce weak contact. The fastball has heavy run to it but tops out right around 89 mph. His sweeping slider is absolutely lethal and gets a ton of whiffs. His third pitch, a changeup, is also a quality offering though he tends to use it less than his sweeper. His stellar command of his pitches allows all three to play up. He and Penn Murfee have a whole lot in common and could follow a very similar career trajectory. Ultimately, he’s likely to end up as a reliever that can lock down the 6th or 7th inning and provide some length should it be necessary. Not a sexy prospect, but a valuable one nonetheless. He also won an MiLB Gold Glove this season, showing off some quick instincts on the mound.
Tyler Cleveland is through 2IP, 1H, 0R, 0BB, K, 25-19. Modesto up 2-0. pic.twitter.com/CNCkYSUrNF— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) August 23, 2023
Logan Evans, RHP
Age: 22 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2023 / Final level in 2023: A / MLB ETA: 2026
A sturdy, 6’4 starter out of the University of Pittsburgh, Evans was drafted in the 12th round of last year’s draft and pitched well in limited action between the ACL and Modesto. He’s primarily a sinker-slider pitcher, but has excellent movement on both pitches and gets a ton of groundballs. While he’s started his career off as a starter in the minor leagues, it’s expected he’ll eventually transition to a bullpen role where his stuff should play up. With a fastball that has touched 96 in the past with wicked run and his downer slider, Evans could move quickly through the system and provide yet another arm for the Mariners Bullpen Lab to perfect.
Natanael Garabitos, RHP
Age: 23 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2019 / Final level in 2023: A / MLB ETA: 2027
Natanael Garabitos comes with an electrifying fastball, a tight slider that’s tough to square up, and absolutely no idea where any of it is going. His fastball is routinely in the upper 90’s and consistently hits triple digits, but with a staggering walk rate of 17.3%, it’s tough to see Garabitos making significant strides up the minor league ladder until more competency for commanding his pitches is shown. He did strike out over 30% of batters last year, a mark well above average, but with command as poor as he has, it doesn’t much matter. Garabitos shows a ton of emotion on the mound and is an entertaining player to watch pitch. Look for the flamethrowing righty to make his Everett debut next season.
Incredible ending in Modesto as the Nuts rally from an eight-run deficit to complete a six-game sweep of the first-place Giants. Natanael Garabitos with 100 mph heat to end it, Tai Peete with TWO grand slams. Nuts are hot!! pic.twitter.com/7hNeSJIhtX— Lookout Landing (@LookoutLanding) August 28, 2023
Brandyn Garcia, LHP
Age: 23 / B/T: L/L / Drafted: 2023 / Final level in 2023: A / MLB ETA: 2026
A large lad, the 6’4 lefty out of Texas A&M was selected as an 11th rounder in last year’s draft. Exclusively a bullpen arm, Garcia has touched the upper 90’s with his fastball and has good sink on the pitch, inducing a ton of ground balls. Perhaps his best pitch is his sweeping slider that he’s able to land consistently for strikes. He can back foot the pitch to righties and front door it to lefties, an excellent sign that indicates he could be a fast mover though the system. He’s had good strikeout numbers throughout his college career, though his brief stint in the pros thus far hasn’t seen this trend carry over just yet. All in all, Garcia is a high floor reliever that could be the nastiest lefty the farm has seen in quite some time. He’ll be an interesting relief option to watch in the coming years.
Brody Hopkins, RHP
Age: 22 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2023 / Final level in 2023: NA / MLB ETA: 2027
Ranking Hopkins, a sixth rounder in last year’s draft that is yet to pitch professionally, may seem a bit hasty, but there is too much upside to overlook. A supreme athlete, the 6’4 right hander has hit 98 on his hellish sinker and uses a good slider to put hitters away. His third pitch, a changeup, has flashed plus, though it’s incredibly raw and needs refining. Despite his large and highly physical frame, Hopkins actually releases the ball at a fairly low height and employs a three-quarterish release that can create a whole lot of deception on his pitches. It’s unclear whether he will have to make a move to the bullpen, but he should definitely have a shot at some point this season. A former two-way player at Winthrop and College of Charleston, the ex-center fielder is now fully committed to pitching and could make major strides in a Mariner uniform. He’s my (Max’s) favorite sleeper in the entire system and could make a ton of noise in 2024.
Ashton Izzi, RHP
Age: 20 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2022 / Final level in 2023: ACL / MLB ETA: 2028
A fourth rounder out of Oswego East of Illinois, Izzi came to the Mariners as a projectable 6’3 right hander that had some refining to do as a professional. He has a clean and easy delivery, but his current command of his arsenal has a ways to go. Izzi touched 97 as a prepster and usually sits low to mid 90’s with his heater, though added muscle may cause it to tick up a few notches. His professional debut thus far has been lackluster, but Izzi was always going to be on a long term development path. Plus, other than one truly horrid start against the ACL Rangers, he was pretty serviceable and flashed legitimate promise.
Outside of his fastball, Izzi throws a breaking ball that has some solid bite but needs some refinement to be used with great effect. His best off speed pitch, a tumbling changeup, is ahead of the breaker and is typically in the mid 80’s. It’s an incredibly raw skillset that will take time to mature, but the upside remains with Izzi. He’s down here with the “names to note” just because his developmental arc is so long (prep pitchers be prep pitchers), but look for Izzi to debut this season in Modesto where he will have an opportunity to stretch out his inning count and refine some of his secondaries to take the next step forward in his development.
Jimmy Joyce, RHP
Age: 25 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2021 / Final level in 2023: AA / MLB ETA: 2024
Jimmy Joyce is one of the few true “prospects” on the mound that has already had experience at the AA level, albeit in limited action. The righty out of Hofstra (shout out site superstar Anders Jorstad) had a nice showing last season for the Travs and could be an intriguing option in a bullpen role or perhaps a spot start at the big league level. Featuring a two seamer and both a sweeping slider and changeup, Joyce was a ground ball machine last year and induced tons of weak contact. The fastball is not a traditional sinker in that Joyce often throws it at the top of the zone, but instead is a true running fastball that has some solid carry and helps him get above average K numbers. His walk totals were down this season, the changeup and slider both flashed above average, and fastball is in the low-to-mid 90’s. It’s not likely to knock your socks off, but he’s an under-the-radar guy that could surprise a lot of people in 2024. An older prospect, he’ll probably start the season with Arkansas.
Travis Kuhn, RHP
Age: 26 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2019 / Final level in 2023: AA / MLB ETA: 2024
We are big Travis Kuhn fans here and have been hoping to see him take that next step forward and make his way to the bigs - maybe this year. In a repeat of Double-A, Kuhn dropped his walk rate from “alarming” to “acceptable,” but it came at the cost of some strikeouts, although overall his numbers improved. With a big fastball and a hellacious slider, Kuhn will ascend quickly to the bigs if he can get everything working at once.
Travis Kuhn strikeout to end the 5th. pic.twitter.com/U1D5UpvLbj— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) September 27, 2023
Marcelo Perez, RHP
Age: 24 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2022 / Final level in 2023: A+ / MLB ETA: 2026
Drafted out of TCU in the 11th round of the 2022 draft, Ozbeth Marcelo Perez has blossomed in the Mariner system and is one of the more intriguing prospects to miss the top 30. An undersized starter at 5’10, Perez uses a low to mid 90’s fastball that has good arm side run and couples it with a slurvey slider that he frequently uses as his out pitch. There may or may not be some intentional manipulation of the pitch to make it play as either a slider or curveball depending on the scenario, but the jury is still out on that. He does throw a changeup, but it’s a ways off and not quite up to snuff with the rest of the arsenal.
Perez was one of the best performing starters in the entire Mariner system last year and got a late season cup of coffee with Everett that went well for him and he’s expected to start as the de facto ace of the staff this spring. Perez will pitch the entire year at 24 and was a bit old for the Modesto level, but he’s pitched his way into prospect relevancy and has a real shot to establish himself as a definitive top 30 prospect in no time.
Dominant start by Marcelo Perez. 6IP, 1H, 1R, 0BB, 6K, 79 pitches, 60 strikes. pic.twitter.com/bIvRN377Ac— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) July 30, 2023
Jose Romero, RHP
Age: 19 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2023 / Final level in 2023: DSL / MLB ETA: 2029
Pitching well in his first season as a professional, Romero was awarded the DSL Pitcher of the Year award for a staff that had multiple All Star hurlers and one of the best ERA totals in the entire league. With a low 90’s fastball and a solid slider, Romero rarely walks batters and racks up K’s at an excellent rate. The 6’1 righty had one of the higher inning totals on the team and should have a chance to be a starter, though it’s far too early in his career to say for certain. While still a bit of a mystery, he’s worth watching out for in ACL box scores next season.
Dylan Wilson, RHP
Age: 18 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2023 / Final level in 2023: DSL / MLB ETA: 2029
Signed in last year’s international class alongside Jeter Martinez and Felnin Celesten, Dylan Wilson had a fabulous start to his career in the DSL this past season. Pitching to a 2.20 ERA over 16.1 innings of work, Wilson has been up to 94 with his fastball and has a wicked curveball that he’s shown good feel for. He’s got plenty of projection left in his frame and could add more velocity as he continues to physically mature. We likely won’t get much video of Wilson for a while, but he’s slated to make his stateside debut this season in the ACL and pitch all year at just 18. Still a long ways away, but certainly an intriguing piece to keep an eye on.
Jose Zerpa, RHP
Age: 19 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2023 / Final level in 2023: A / MLB ETA: 2027
If you want a real sleeper, we’ve got you covered with Jose Zerpa. Signing in late May of 2023, Zerpa wasn’t even an original part of the 2023 international class and joined the DSL squad less than two weeks after signing. The young Venezuelan found immediate success with the squad and has an intriguing arsenal with good command. The official arsenal is unknown, but he appears to throw a fastball with some arm side run, an excellent curveball that he uses as his primary out pitch, and a wicked changeup/split changeup that has a ridiculous amount of horizontal movement. He may throw a slider, but it could just be a curveball that backs up on him. Screen recordings from YouTube and Instagram are about as good as we can do for a lot of these younger guys, so exact readings are tough. Whatever the specifics are, the arsenal is pretty gross on the whole. The 6’2 right hander has plenty of projectability and could be a late steal for the M’s pitching development.
A few more names we didn’t have time to do full write-ups on, but who are notable for earning invites to the Mariners pitching development (FKA “gas camp”) this year:
- RHP Raul Alcantara (A+): big strikeout stuff but has issues commanding it;
- RHP Blas Castano (A+): 25-year-old indy ball signing last August who helped the Modesto Nuts out during their championship run;
- RHP Ty Cummings (NA): 2023 seventh-rounder out of Campbell University (go Camels!) who didn’t pitch in his draft year;
- RHP Elijah Dale (NA): 2023 11th-rounder out of Illinois State who didn’t pitch in his draft year;
- RHP Nick Davila (A+): signed as a free agent in March 2023, helped out the Everett AquaSox on their playoff run and provided spot coverage for the Rainiers;
- RHP Tyler Gough (A): 2022 prep ninth-rounder who dipped a toe in full-season ball last year;
- RHP Jordan Jackson (A+): Big (6’6”) 2021 draftee who repeated High-A in 2023 with nearly identical results;
- RHP Juan Mercedes (AA): 23-year-old who dominated the low minors but struggled on a promotion to Arkansas last season;
- LHP Juan Pinto (CPX): 19 year old lefty (signed in 2021 IFA period) learning to harness some big stuff.