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2024 Seattle Mariners Farm System Overview: Tier 4

The one with Zach DeLoach in it

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Welcome back Mariner prospect lovers! Today’s installment of our farm system overview begins to get into the upper echelon of the typical “Top 30” format and stops just short of the guys that are considered around the industry as potential “Top 10” guys. This mix of players covers a wide variety of player archetypes, with some high variance young guys joining some solidified MiLB veterans knocking on the major league door. If you happened to miss the previous tier, you can find it here.

20. Taylor Dollard, RHP

Age: 25 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2020 / Final level in 2023: AAA / MLB ETA: 2024

What, you may ask, is going on with one Taylor Dollard? No clue! The righty out of Cal Poly was slated to make his major league debut in 2023 but was sidelined the entire year with a shoulder injury. The assumption is that he’ll be back this spring, but nothing has been set in stone at the time of writing. He’s a quintessential backend arm that should be able to soak up innings at a solid clip and provide serviceable depth for a major league staff. The fastball sits in the low 90’s and he’s got a nice slider, but the four pitch mix isn’t going to overwhelm hitters. He’s probably somewhere in the realm of Emerson Hancock, shoulder injuries and arsenal included. Each performed well at Arkansas, neither has huge strikeout stuff, and both are likely to start the year in Tacoma. He’s a valuable depth piece to have and should be able to provide some quality innings should the necessity arise. He’s been somewhat forgotten after not pitching for a year, but the right hander made mincemeat of the Texas League and is a legitimate prospect that can impact the 2024 mariner squad.

19. Walter Ford, RHP

Age: 19 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2022 / Final level in 2023: ACL / MLB ETA: 2027

Easily the biggest social media star in the system, the Vanilla Missile had a tumultuous start to his professional career. After falling ill and losing substantial amounts of weight, Ford came into spring ball with his velocity understandably down. This caused a great deal of concern for many prospect evaluators and many began to write him off. After getting healthy and working his tail off, he got into game action and showed quite well in the ACL. Pitching to a 3.57 ERA, the young right hander features a power fastball and a wicked breaker that can get batters out. In a video he posted to his twitter account, his preseason “metric” bullpen had him sitting in the low 90’s and he now features a splitter that was at 87 mph. The splitter is an intriguing option for a third pitch and speaks to his ability to manipulate the baseball. There’s big things in store for the Missile this season as he looks to ascend into affiliated baseball and kick off his second professional season with a clean bill of health.

18. Alberto Rodriguez, OF

Age: 23 / B/T: L/L / Signed: 2017 / Final level in 2023: AA / MLB ETA: 2025

Alberto Rodriguez, the acquisition in the Taijuan Walker trade back in 2020, has had a bit of a tumultuous path through the minor leagues thus far. Performing well in his first year in the system, Rodriguez was added to the 40 man roster to protect him from being Rule 5 eligible. Unfortunately, after a down season in Everett in 2022, Rodriguez was DFA’d and removed from the 40 man roster and went unselected on waivers. Repeating with Everett to start this last year, Rodriguez was immediately one of the best in the Frogs’ lineup and was promoted to Arkansas midseason. There, he scuffled a bit out of the gate but had a torrid month of August that saw him slash .347/.396/.455, good for an OPS of .852. He finished his Arkansas stint a few ticks above average and played respectable defense.

Rodriguez will need to establish himself at AA Arkansas this season as a legitimate bat to have a shot at cracking the big league roster. Still just 23 years old, he should have plenty of chances to mature and develop into a complete player, potentially carving out a role for himself this season if a plague of major league injuries were to incur. There’s some obvious red flags in the numbers (a .392 BABIP suggests he’s due for major regression) and he’s not a premiere athlete, but he’s had legitimate prospect pedigree in the past and there’s no reason to give up on him just yet. The jump to AA is notoriously difficult and he handled himself just fine. Proving that the player he was last year is here to stay is the final piece necessary to establish himself as a legitimate big league option.

17. Zach DeLoach, OF

Age: 25 / B/T: L/R / Drafted: 2020 / Reached in 2023: AAA / MLB ETA: 2024

Contrary to common belief, not only is Zach DeLoach not 31 years old but he is also yet to appear in a single major league game despite him being in the system for what feels like a decade. Drafted out of Texas A&M in the second round of the funky COVID draft, DeLoach has largely been exactly what he was expected to be: a good, not great bat with some decent fielding and decent speed. There really isn’t a single part of his game that makes you want to go out to the ballpark and watch him play, but there’s also technically not any part of his game that makes you want to not watch him play, either. He’s the quintessential high floor college bat that you want in your system, but probably won’t catch many headlines.

As a player, DeLoach provides a power-over-hit profile that can struggle to make consistent contact and strikes out at a healthy clip. His excellent walk percentage really helps buoy his production and shows off his plate discipline, but the offensive profile is a bit tenuous without increased contact. He’s got unremarkable speed but should be able to play a corner at a passable rate.

At this point in time, I’d be surprised if DeLoach didn’t get some run with the big league squad this season, but he’s certainly not the first option. Guys like Canzone, Marlowe, Trammell, Moore, Haggerty, and perhaps even Samad Taylor are all likely ahead of DeLoach when it comes time for a spot in the outfield. Not even considering the starters, it’s a crowded rotation to crack. His time will come, but he’ll start the year in Tacoma and try to show enough to get his first big league call.

16. Cole Phillips, RHP

Age: 21 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2022 / Final level in 2023: NA / MLB ETA: 2027

Cole Phillips is the new kid on the block this year and looking to impress in a system known in years past for their pitching. With as much upside as any arm presently in the system, Phillips pairs an upper-90’s heater with a sharp slider that was last sitting in the low-to-mid 80’s. He’s flashed a changeup that shows glimpses of it being an average pitch at the next level but is lagging behind the slider at present. The 6’3 righty is incredibly athletic and utilizes a quick arm to pulverize hitters with a fastball that grades out as double-plus by some evaluators.

Phillips is one of my most anticipated arrivals in recent years solely due to the fact that not many people know where he’s at as a pitcher. Having not pitched in any sort of professional baseball setting after being drafted in 2022, it’s a bit of a mystery as to what went on behind the scenes in Atlanta. Reinjury? Abundance of caution? Who knows. My assumption as of now will be for Phillips to start the year at Modesto and get his first taste of pro ball at 20 years of age. Reportedly fully healthy and ready to go for instructional camps this spring, Phillips is one to keep a close eye on and could end up skyrocketing up prospect lists in no time.

15. Prelander Berroa, RHP

Age: 24 / B/T: R/R / Signed: 2016 / Final level in 2023: MLB / MLB ETA: 2024

The return in the Donovan Walton trade back in early 2022, Berroa has the best pure stuff of anyone in the system. Akin to Matt Brash, Berroa features a high-octane fastball with elite ride and a high 80’s slider that is so good, I genuinely question how anyone can hit it. Berroa started off the last year as a starter but was quickly transitioned into a reliever where he is likely to spend the rest of his career. The control is an issue, but the hope is that more time as a designated reliever can help him focus on this issue and make it more manageable than it is currently. He has the best shot at taking over a high leverage relief spot of any “newcomer” this year and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t given a shot to be a major player in the bullpen early in the season. The stuff is that good. Working as a reliever in Arkansas, Berroa pitched to a 1.69 ERA with 67 K’s over 42.2 innings pitched. The 20 walks hurt, but it’s tough to say he’s not making it work.

I’m not going to fully rule out an eventual return to the rotation if the control can improve, but at this point it’s a pipe dream. I expect Berroa to blossom this upcoming season into a real contributor for the big league bullpen and perhaps ascend into late inning duties. Regardless of how much success he finds at the big league level, he’s a ton of fun to watch and I can’t wait to see just how awful he can make hitters look in 2024.

14. Ryan Bliss, SS/2B

Age: 24 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2021 / Final level in 2023: AAA / MLB ETA: 2024

A part of the controversial Paul Sewald trade at the deadline of last year, Ryan Bliss had a fascinating first stint in Seattle. The former second rounder out of Auburn had a breakout year for Arizona and posted a ridiculous 1.008 OPS in AA after a swing change unlocked his power stroke. After being traded, however, Bliss struggled mightily after being shipped to Tacoma and posted a paltry .592 OPS in the offensive haven that is the PCL. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, something clicked. In the month of September, Bliss had an OPS of 1.115 and walked more than he struck out. This remarkable run brought his AAA season total to be about league average in perhaps the strangest way possible.

As a player, Bliss is a compact 5’6 and utilizes a large leg kick to get to some surprising power. He’s never been prone to strikeout all that much and will probably walk somewhere around a league average rate. The most exciting tool, however, is his blazing speed. A plus runner, Bliss nabbed 55 bases this year and made him one of the few members of the 20/50 club for minor league baseball. I’m not sure which month of Bliss in a Mariner uniform will most closely resemble his time in the organization to date, but I do know that he’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. He’ll have a chance to compete for a spot at second base out of camp and will likely get some looks should this season go well for him.

13. Teddy McGraw, RHP

Age: 22 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2023 / Final level in 2023: NA / MLB ETA: 2026

Unlike most starting pitchers that are drafted out of college in the first few rounds of the draft, McGraw carries some serious risk in his prospect profile. Already having had two major elbow surgeries in his career, much of McGraw’s career will come down to staying on the field. If the former Wake Forest Demon Deacon is able to stay healthy, he’s got a chance to be a really exciting arm that likely would have been a first round talent. Featuring a three pitch mix, McGraw couples a heavy sinking fastball that touches 98 with a plus slider that has touched 91 and a changeup that has flashed above average. The control can get somewhat sporadic at times and health is an obvious concern, but the Mariners have had a knack for developing pitchers coming off of TJ are recognized as the head of the pack at doing so. (Side note: McGraw actually took less money to wind up with the M’s due to their track record of keeping TJ guys healthy, signing an under-slot deal in the third round)

Ranking McGraw in the thick of a relatively deep farm system may seem a bit overzealous due to his injury history, but the mold really is that good. A big, physical starter with a mid-90’s sinker and hellish slider isn’t exactly easy to find and while the risk is certainly legitimate, the upside here is higher than any other arm in the system. Should everything click, the third rounder will be an absolute steal and could be the best starting pitcher in the entire system by the end of the year.

12. Emerson Hancock, RHP

Age: 25 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2020 / Reached in 2023: MLB / MLB ETA: 2024

Debuting for the Mariners in early August of last season, pitched just 12 innings in the bigs before going down with a shoulder injury that ended his season. This has largely been the story of Hancock’s career since being drafted out of Georgia in 2020 sixth overall. He’s shown well with relative consistency throughout the minors, but his injury history is beginning to pile up and become a bit of a concern. Typically having issues with his throwing shoulder, keeping Hancock healthy will be paramount to his future success in the majors.

His arsenal features both a four seamer and a sinker as well as a slider and a changeup. Both fastballs have tremendous arm side run and are hell on right-handed batters, boring in on their hands and inducing tons of soft contact. They’re a bit hard to differentiate just watching the game on TV, but there are some minor differences with the four-seamer getting about five more inches of ride and a little bit less run. His slider was used with more frequency than his changeup, though the changeup is considered to be a better pitch. With excellent fade and downward drop, the changeup could be a real difference maker for Hancock. The slider, still a fine pitch, isn’t quite to the caliber of the changeup and is almost cutterish for Hancock.

2024 will be a telling year in the career of Emerson Hancock. He’s had a fascinating journey so far and has fallen out of grace with prospect evaluators since his draft day, but there’s still plenty of talent on the mound. He won’t ever be the top of the rotation guy many thought he could be during his time at Georgia, but he could assuredly give the team some valuable innings in a pinch and should start the year refining his craft in Tacoma.

Bonus: Samad Taylor, UTIL

Age: 25 / B/T: R/R / Drafted: 2016 / Reached in 2023: MLB / MLB ETA: 2024

Look, would Samad Taylor be in this tier of players had he not been acquired in the last handful of days? No. But he was. And this is really the best time to get him in before we get into the tippy top of the farm system. Still maintaining his prospect eligibility, Taylor debuted for the Royals this past season and brings an intriguing mix of skills to the table. With a keen eye at the plate, Taylor draws a ton of walks and pairs it with game changing speed. He played all over the field in his brief major league stint, including second base, third base, left field, and exactly one inning of center. He’s not a game changer offensively and doesn’t have a ton of pop in his bat, but he can spray some line drives and utilize his speed for some extra bases. In all honesty, he doesn’t profile all that dissimilarly from Ryan Bliss, albeit Bliss has some more pop and overall offensive upside. He’s still just a flier at this point and he’ll turn 26 in July, but he’s performed well at AAA and should be an exciting depth piece if nothing else. He’ll certainly make Rainier games a whole lot of fun to watch.

Next time, we’ll dive into a portion of the top ten prospects that features some of the system’s highest upside. From here on out, the number of players in each tier will be greatly decreased due to the spike in player talent. With the recent departure of Gabriel Gonzalez, the top of the system isn’t quite as healthy as before, but still features an abundance of young players to get excited about. Until then, GOMS!