By Dave DeFreitas and Nick J. Faleris
With the “under new management” sign still hanging in the window, the Mariners have embarked on what could be an arduous journey. They are coming off of several consecutive seasons of trying to fix a broken leg with a Band-Aid, and as the roster continues to age, they currently find themselves with one of the thinner systems in the American League. Desperately in need of an influx of young talent, they will look to compete with their current veterans while still rebuilding below the surface.
CREAM OF THE CROP
The Tools: 50 hit; 60 power; 60 arm; 55 glove – O’Neill’s big-time raw power has been his calling card thus far in his pro career. He has a level plane and plus bat speed that allows him to generate very good carry to all fields. The hit tool will lag behind a bit, as the barrel can work in and out of the zone quickly at times, but he should make enough contact to get to average in the big leagues. He is a fringe-average runner and is not destined to pick up any speed as he matures, but the foot speed he does have plays well on the grass. He has some first-step quickness and is efficient enough with this routes that he should settle in as an above average right fielder. The arm strength is plus with accuracy and he does well getting into good throwing position and in getting rid of the ball.
The Profile: The 70-grade raw power O’Neill possesses has been on full display the past couple seasons, as he has posted ISO numbers well over .200 the past three seasons. The .297 mark he put up in 2015 was surely inflated by the band-box parks of the California League, but he followed that up with a .217 mark in Double-A last season, and then more than held his own with a .213 ISO as one of the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League. The biggest question for O’Neill is going to be his contact rate, and whether or not the big-time raw power is going to translate in game versus major league arms. To O’Neill’s credit, he has done well to start using the whole field each of the last two years, and the jump from a 6.5% walk rate in 2015 to 10.7% last year is a good indicator that he is consistently seeing more pitches and putting up an increasing number of quality at-bats.
The swing is compact and he doesn’t have a ton of moving parts but, like most power hitters, he works uphill and has the barrel jump in and out of the zone fairly quickly. He is comfortable hitting with two strikes, and the slightly calmed-down approach he has in those situations almost produces a better swipe at the ball, as he is looking to right-center field and isn’t muscling up as much as he does earlier in the count. That swing is a bit easier, still has the good bat-head speed, and it sees the barrel stay in the zone longer. Likely the product of his concerted effort to cut down on the punchouts, it will serve him well going forward and may make the difference between him being a well-rounded offensive contributor, or more one-dimensional.
He may not win any gold gloves in right field, but he will be a more than capable defender with average to above-average range. The fringe-average run plays well on the bases, as he is quick to full speed and will pick his spots to run. Expect O’Neill to get significant Triple-A time this year, but a big first half at the level could have him contributing in Seattle before the season is out.
ON THE HORIZON
Quick Hit: Vieira has been a little bit slow to develop since signing out of Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2010, but after transitioning to the bullpen full-time in 2014 he really put it together last season. Vieira is the ideal late-inning-reliever profile with an 80-grade heater and a 60-grade power curveball, both of which boast swing-and-miss qualities. The thick, broad frame makes Vieira a far more imposing figure on the mound than his 6’2” listing would first suggest, and he has some funk in the delivery before coming right over the top to create excellent angle down through the strike zone. There is some effort in the actions, and he does not have tremendous arm speed for how hard he throws. However, 2016 saw him find consistency with the release point that had eluded him in years’ prior, and that ultimately led to a spike in ground ball rates (0.97 GO:AO in 2015 to 1.67 in 2016) and strikeout rates (6.4 SO/9 in 2015 to 10.8 SO/9 in 2016).
With the late life and heavy sink Vieira gets with his fastball, and the snap he gets with the breaking ball, if he has indeed figured out his mechanics, we could be in for yet another meteoric rise to the back-end of the Seattle bullpen much like we saw from Edwin Diaz (RHP, Mariners) last season. Since Vieira is locked in to a bullpen role, there isn’t a lot to wait around for if he is dealing in Double-A – so if he starts of hot, look for the M’s to not waste any time testing his stuff in Seattle.
Max Povse, RHP, Double-A Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’8”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 23y 4m
Quick Hit: At 6-foot-8, Povse does well to leverage his height to create very good angle to the plate. The former fourth-rounder in the 2014 June draft was traded to the Mariners from the Braves last winter after a breakout-type 2016 campaign that saw him throw 158 innings between High A and Double-A. The swing and miss eluded him a bit after the promotion, and went from 9.4 SO/9 to 6.2 SO/9, however Povse’s game has always been ground balls and soft contact with average swing-and-miss rates anyway. He sports a three-pitch-mix that is average across the board – the heater sits in the low 90’s with the circle change and the 11to-5 curveball both checking in as 50-grade offerings.
There is obviously still some projection in the frame and Povse stands to add some strength and body control as he matures, however, there isn’t a ton a quickness to his actions, which suggests that he may not be in line for a huge bump in his pure stuff. He has a soft front side at times, which will lead to his secondary falling off to the arm side at times. The good changeup will show some depth, but like the breaking ball, the action can be inconsistent, and have a more gradual break to it. When he extends, Povse gets good life in the zone and will show some flat run. That said, though, he keeps the ball on the ground and doesn’t walk many, so while he may give up some contact, he sets himself up to stay away from the big innings (1.53 BB/9 at AA in 2016 with a 1.14 GO:AO ratio). He always will have to locate to be effective, but as he gets stronger and more coordinated with that huge frame, should see more consistency, giving him a chance to eat innings at the back-end of the rotation, likely topping out at as a solid number four starter.
Dan Altavilla, RHP, Mariners | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/200 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 3m
Quick Hit: A rock-solid physical specimen, Altavilla brings legit swing-and-miss potential via a double-plus heater and plus breaking ball. He has some smooth effort in the delivery, but the mechanics are compact and there’s little wasted movement, and the arm speed is excellent through the high-3/4’s slot. Hoping he could start when they took him in the fifth round of the 2017 June draft, Altavilla moved to the bullpen last season and shot all the way through to Seattle. He now sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s with the fastball and showed very good late life in the zone. The walks can bite him at times, but if he continues to rack up strikeouts like he did in 2016 (10.3 SO/9 at Double-A in 2016) he should be able to get by with fringe average control. The slider is his out pitch, with tight, 3/4’s break and comes out of the same slot as the fastball.
He isn’t going to be a ground ball guy and his loose command in the zone could mean he will be susceptible to the home run ball putting pressure on the swing and miss – but he has a good deal of margin for error in the zone and still has some projection as he settles into his full-time bullpen role. Altavilla has the upside of Trevor Rosenthal (RHP, Cardinals), but also with the same potential inconsistencies.
Quick Hit: With evaluators split on Vogelbach at draft time back in 2011, his raw power and his potential for extra-base-hit damage has always been real, it has just been a matter of him maintaining things physically and how projectable the strength would be at the upper levels. Since being taken in the second round by the Cubs in that 2011 June MLB Draft, he hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but what he has done is make gradual progress at each level while limiting the strikeouts and posting excellent walk rates (15.1% strikeout rate with the Cubs in 2016 and a 20.7% rate after the trade to the M’s in the second half). He has above-average bat speed and while the aesthetics of the swing appear geared towards more lift, he has a strong top hand and has consistently done well to stay on top of the ball. He has power to the middle of the field and gets excellent carry to the left-center field gap to go with big pull-side power.
If Vogelbach can continue to maintain the excellent plate discipline he’s shown throughout his minor league ascension, he will force big league pitchers into the zone, setting himself up to get to at least 55-grade in-game power. He still lacks a position on defense, a point that will limit his usability and put pressure on the bat to do damage right away, but it’s tough to sleep on the approach and his ability to take walks. He is a better athlete than the body lets on, and he has surprised with how well he moves for a big man – but even with that, it is tough to see him anywhere other than first base, with DH being an inevitability in the not-too-distant future. Vogelbach will get everyday at-bats at Triple-A to start the year, and he should get another shot at the major league level at some point in 2017. The most likely scenario is that he ends up settling into a platoon situation with value that’s comparable to Adam Lind (1B, Nationals) off the bench.
Andrew Moore, RHP, Double-A Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/185 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 6m
Quick Hit: A strike thrower of the highest caliber, Moore’s pitchability and feel with his three/four-pitch mix allow him to consistently find soft contact and give him potential to routinely turn over lineups as he continues to advance. The fastball is fringe average and sits mostly in the 89-to-90 mph range, however he has more life in the zone than you would expect, showing some flat run and occasional tail to both sides of the plate, along with some ride when he goes up the ladder. He comes right over the top and creates decent angle for his size and he generates very good arm speed, which helps sell the changeup, which is his best secondary offering. The changeup gets circle fade and will show some bottom at times, but the feel he has with it makes it a legitimate weapon versus both righties and lefties.
Moore also has feel to change the shape of his breaking ball from a looser, 11-to-5 breaker to a 12-to-6 version with some more snap when he’s working from ahead in the count. The slider will run together with more of a cutter look, however that, too, is by design, and it gives hitters multiple things to think about as he can use each variation in-zone. He will, however, have to learn to be more aggressive working the cutter in to lefties to help better set up the changeup. The fly ball rates are a concern (0.71 GO:AO for his career) and may present a problem for him once he faces more power laden, big league lineups – but he is an expert at changing speeds, limits traffic on the bases, and induces enough soft contact to make him a viable number five starter or swingman at the major league level.
This likely isn’t the first time this name has been compared to Moore, but the mechanics and the repertoire are much akin to that of Josh Collmenter (RHP, Braves). There isn’t a lot of physical projection in Moore’s frame, so he will have to continue his surgical ways on the hill to find sustained success going forward, but much like Collmenter has been, Moore stands to have very real value at the highest level in the not too distant future.
James Pazos, LHP, Mariners | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45/
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/235 B/T: R/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 25y 7m
Quick Hit: A big, thick-bodied lefty, Pazos brings significant arm strength as well as deception to the hill, making him a very uncomfortable at-bat for left-handed hitters. Once a big time prospect in the Yankees’ system, Pazos struggled with his funky mechanics, and ultimately control issues led to them dealing him to Seattle this past winter (giving up Zack Littel (RHP, Yankees) in the deal). Pazos sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s with the fastball and really hides the ball in back with his crossfire delivery. He used to wrap his arm around his back side, a point that would often lead to his arm being late coming through the 3/4’s slot and him missing up and to the arm side. Pazos has since shortened his arm swing a bit, and thus far in 2017 has been better about getting out front on time and being more efficient in the zone. The late life he gets on the heater and the kind of power sweep he gets with his slider give him margin for error – so if he can get to fringe-average command and even 40-grade control, he stands to be a significant weapon in what could be a very potent piece to come out of the Seattle bullpen.
In 2016, Pazos missed bats at a 13.6 SO/9 rate between Triple-A and Short-Season A ball – he also walked 5.8-per-9 innings and then promptly got smashed around in the big leagues, when the more advanced bats forced him into the strike zone. At age 25, there is not a ton of projection left for the big lefty, but if he can reign in the control issues, the swing-and-miss stuff is still there, and he’ll be able to contribute in high-leverage situations towards the back-end of the game. He likely will always have some issues with consistency, like many relievers, a point that will prevent him from establishing himself as a top-shelf eighth- or ninth-inning option.
Quick Hit: A high contact rate, athletic outfielder with some defensive value in center field, Gamel has all the makings of an OF-5-type floor with the ceiling of a big league regular center fielder if the hit tool really rounds into form. Gamel stays short and compact without a ton of pre-pitch movement and leans on his quick-twitch actions to slap line drives through the infield. He has bat control and will put the ball in play and gets the most out of his plus run tool. However, if he can’t sting the ball enough to consistently threaten the gaps, he’ll need to continue to get on base at the next level in order for his average to maintain the offensive profile.
As it stands now, Gamel has an aggressive approach and doesn’t wait around when he gets a fastball in the zone. If he can develop a bit more of a patient approach, he stands to get better pitches to drive and could take more advantage of his strength and bat speed. On the grass, he has the tools to handle center field, but isn’t the plus defender that would make you overlook the light offensive production and still make him a regular. At age 24, there isn’t much projection left to dream on, but such defensive versatility has significant value and likely keeps him in the conversation as an extra outfielder, buying time for him to further develop his offensive profile.
Zac Curtis, LHP, Double-A Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’9”/190 B/T: L/L Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 5m
Quick Hit: After debuting for Arizona in 2016, Curtis came over to the Mariners with shortstop Jean Segura as part of the trade that sent right-hander Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks. Curtis is a reliever profile who adds some deception to his above average-to-plus two-pitch arsenal. Curtis is not a big guy, but stays tall and has some crossfire in the delivery that works to really hide the ball well. He is a bit of a dart thrower, as his arm action is short and very quick through the 3/4’s slot with a tight slider coming out the same as his two-seam heater. The fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and will get some late tail when he is down in the zone with it, however, much of Curtis’ issues have stemmed from him not being able to do just that on a consistent basis. When he misses up, the ball really flattens out and he sees some very confident swipes from both righties and lefties. The 3/4’s, 55-grade slider is a swing-and-miss pitch when Curtis is on, but its usability suffers when he is working from behind in the count. Curtis is not scared of working inside to hitters, and his stuff matches up well versus opposite-side bats, but ultimately it will be the level of consistency he finds that will determine his success in the big leagues.
The swing and miss has always been apparent, as he whiffed an impressive 15.6-per-9 innings between High A and Double-A last year and 12.5-per-9 innings in 2015. The looseness in the zone got exposed a bit once he made it to the big leagues, where he walked more than he struck out (13:10) – but that said, this kid is a tough look for both righties and lefties when he is down in the zone and can throw enough strikes. If he can get to even 40-grade command, he should bring good value to a big league bullpen as a matchup lefty with a chance to really contribute in high-leverage spots.
Chase De Jong, RHP, Triple-A Oklahoma City (Dodgers) | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/205 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 22y 11m
Quick Hit: De Jong came across to Seattle from the Dodgers this winter in exchange for shortstop Drew Jackson and righty Aneurys Zabala after posting a solid season of work for Los Angeles split between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City (averaging 8.1 SO/9 while sporting a 1.034 WHIP over 147 innings and 26 starts). Possessing just average 88-to-91 mph velocity with the heater, De Jong leans on an above-average curveball as his primary out pitch while peppering the fastball to the quadrants with above-average command. There’s some deception in his whippy arm action that, along with his ability to place the pitch, helps the fastball to play up some, and he can also flash an average changeup with some arm-side dive. On occasion, he’ll break out a cutter for another look to keep bats from sitting on the heater.
De Jong’s biggest hurdle to major league success is his lack of impact stuff. While his feel and command should help him navigate big league hitters, it’s unclear whether there is enough in the arsenal to turn over a major league lineup multiple times. Additionally, he has struggled with his fly ball rates (0.68 GO:AO ration at Double-A Tulsa last year), which could catch up with him if he isn’t missing enough bats at the highest level. De Jong profiles as a potential number-five starter or swingman, and he should get an opportunity to test his stuff in Seattle at some point over the summer.
Quick Hit: Raw power and arm strength is a sought after combination behind the dish, and with Marlette having both, the 24-year-old backstop has worked his way into the conversation in Seattle. His pro career has been a bit of a slow burn for Marlette, who after being taken in the fifth round of the 2011 June draft has bounced back and forth between High A and Double-A each of the last three seasons. Marlette’s bat speed is a tick-above average and the stroke is fairly compact, however there is a good deal of pre-pitch noise in the hands with a big inverted hitch before he fires the barrel through the zone. He has juice to all fields and creates excellent carry to the right-center gap and to right field, but he can have issues with better velocity and life on the inner half as he often has trouble getting the barrel out front in time. That said, he has never shown eye popping swing and miss, usually sitting around a 20% strikeout rate, and while aggressive in the zone, he’s managed decent walk rates the past few seasons that have been in the 5-to-8% range. The problem has been his lack of ability to adjust to the better Double-A pitching – once he starts getting pounded inside, the outer third of the plate opens up and he becomes susceptible to breaking stuff away. He can hammer a mistake, but will ultimately need to show that he can cover one of those areas consistently in order to be a real factor at the big league level.
Defensively, the 60-grade arm strength is his best asset, but he also he moves well for a bigger guy, and has the potential to be a fringe-average receiver. His arm works well and he gets rid of the ball in good shape, so while not the ideal defense-first-type guy you look for behind the plate, he can still have an impact.
Overall, Marlette has an intriguing set of tools he’s working with and should remain a point of interest for the Mariners going forward. With the premium placed on any sort of offense from the two-spot, he will continue to get looks even if it continues to take more time. If the M’s eventually grow tired of waiting, he will have value to other clubs, as he could be an adjustment or two away from becoming a real contributor on a 25-man roster.
Quick Hit: The former first-rounder has struggled with injuries over the past couple of seasons, missing significant time due to an Achilles strain as well as a fractured finger. When healthy, Peterson shows some feel for contact and pull-side pop, though the barrel can move through the hit zone too quickly at times – particularly when gearing-up to drive the ball – leading to swing-and-miss struggles (24% strikeout rate between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016). When he stays on plane and compact, Peterson has an ability to spray line drives to all fields.
Now exclusively a first baseman, Peterson doesn’t project to hit for enough in-game power to carry any everyday profile, though there could be enough in the hit tool, when paired with average pop, to carve out a role as a big league backup. He’s in Tacoma to start 2017, and he should get an opportunity to take some big league cuts this season.
Ian Miller, OF, Double-A Arkansas | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 40/35
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/175 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 24y 10m
Quick Hit: With the run tool being the primary asset in Miller’s kit, he has maximized that ability to turn himself into a legitimate base-stealing threat. Miller is a wirey 6-footer and is a good athlete, however he lacks any real punch with the stick, an aspect of his offensive game that will ultimately limit his upside at the big league level.
The bat speed is average, and Miller has a level plane that keeps the barrel in the zone, but the approach is very much a slap-oriented one that does not produce much carry on his line drives which limits his ability to shoot either gap. In 423 at-bats in 2016 at Double-A Jackson, Miller had only 15 extra base hits good for a paltry .052 ISO, a step down from the .066 ISO the year prior at the same level. The swing is smooth and he has good actions, but approaching his age-25 season, it’s tough to see him adding too much more strength. That all said, the 70-grade run tool could be enough to give him a role at the big league level ala Quintin Berry (MLB 2012-2015, multiple teams).
Miller has proven that he can swipe a bag, having stolen 109 bases the past two seasons, including 49 bags in 52 attempts in 2016. Should the Mariners need impact speed on the bases later on this summer, Miller could be a nice piece to have on the bases to pressure the defense. He can also give you above-average range in center field, making him a nice glove to have late in games.
Quick Hit: Coming over to the M’s from Oakland for catcher Chase Goldstein in a January trade, Overton is yet to regain the velocity he showed before his Tommy John surgery shortly after the 2013 MLB Draft. The lanky lefty was up to 94-to-95 mph as an amateur, but now close to three years removed from surgery he sits 87-to-91 mph, and at 25 years old, he’s not as projectable as he once was. The fastball command is still above average and the secondary offerings have firmed up, giving him a curveball and changeup that are both above-average offerings.
He has some feel for pitching and has learned to add and subtract to keep hitters off balance. He still has some deception in the delivery and can generate some swing and miss at times, however the pitch-to-contact profile, the heavy fly ball rates and the lack of an average fastball are not conducive to him staying in the rotation long term at the big league level. He is not a synch to slot into the bullpen either due to the lack of matchup-type stuff and inability to get ground balls. That said, it is tough to give up on lefties that throw strikes, so expect him to continue to get opportunities and eventually settle into a swingman starter, second-situational-type arm out of the pen.
Kyle Lewis, OF, Short-Season A Everett | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 60/50
Ht/Wt: 6’4”/210 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 4m
Quick Hit: An ultra-athletic presence in center field, Lewis has plus bat speed and a path through the zone that creates very good carry to the big part of the field. Lewis has long levers to his 6-foot-4 frame and can have trouble getting extended on balls inside, however the bat speed is so good he is able to pull the hands in and muscle the barrel through the zone. That said, his real power stroke could end up being from center to right-center field, where he is able to get the most extension and stay through the ball better. Lewis is an above-average runner right now, but the frame suggests that he will get bigger and likely lose a step or two and settle in at average. He is a raw defender with a lot of athleticism that allows him to control the big body going back and making plays at the wall, however he is more of a power runner and because of that, he likely won’t have the type of range you look for in center field as he progresses. There is some arm strength there, 55-grade with perhaps a little more to come, so right field is likely going to be where he settles.
The knee injury that ended his 2016 campaign is not yet fully behind him, so Lewis will spend all of extended spring working out in Arizona until he gets strong enough to start his season. Lewis raked before the injury, but at Short-Season A ball, a competition level equal to that of what he saw at Mercer – so while it’s obviously good to see the transition to wood not bother him, it’s also not a surprise to see him handle that level of pitching. The real test is going to come once he checks in to High A ball where he will face more prospect level arms with command and feel for their secondary stuff.
Lewis has an idea of the strike zone, but is not an overly patient hitter and will expand the zone when down in the count. Not to down play the quality of the Mercer program, but the pro instruction that Lewis will receive going forward combined with the plus make-up should position him to take advantage of the natural ability and find the consistency he’ll need to make good on his 11th overall selection last June. Barring any further injury setbacks, Lewis could establish himself as a legit Cream-of-the-Crop talent next year with a strong 2017, capable of working his way up the ladder and maturing into an everyday power bat on the corner in Seattle by 2019.
Nick Neidert, RHP, High A Modesto | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/50
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 20y 1m
Quick Hit: Tagged in the second round of the 2105 MLB Draft, Neidert has done well to make good on the high selection and shown advanced feel for his three-pitch mix. Neidert has simple, compact mechanics and a quick arm through the high 3/4’s slot. He stays closed and online and hides the ball a bit in back, which adds some deception to the late life he gets at the bottom of the zone. He works the fringe-average fastball to both sides of the plate and the ingredients are there for him to eventually get to above-average command. There is some projection in the frame as well, so as he fills out he should start to see some uptick in the velocity department, which in turn should lead to more swing and miss. The breaking ball will show some snap at times and should settle in as an average offering, but the circle changeup already is showing bottom and has a chance to be a plus pitch. Neidert’s feel with his secondary stuff allowed him to overmatch hitters at the lower levels in his first full pro season, however he will have to start showing more consistency locating down in the zone with the fastball, as more advanced lineups will make it harder for him to avoid hard contact.
He only gave up 75 hits over 91 innings in the Class A Midwest League last season and he will need more of that barrel-missing magic this summer. The Mariners are in no hurry with this young arm, so expect him to battle the light air and small ballparks of the homer-happy Cal League for the duration of 2017. Barring any significant injuries, the more aggressive outlook has Neidert working his way in to the rotation in Double-A for 2018 and then in the conversation for the number four spot in the rotation for Seattle at some point in 2019.
Joe Rizzo, 3B/1B, Rookie AZL Mariners | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/45
Ht/Wt: 5’9”/194 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 9m
Quick Hit: Already a strong kid with above average-bat control, Rizzo doesn’t offer a lot in the way of physical projection – but what he does bring to the table are very smooth, easy actions and an advanced feel for hitting at a young age. Rizzo’s mechanics are simple and compact, and he maintains very good balance throughout the swing, allowing him to keep his hands and drive the ball to the opposite field. The bat speed is just average right now, but it should get to above average – he is a good athlete and will add strength as the body matures despite the lack of physical projection. Defensively, however, Rizzo leaves a bit to be desired. The athleticism we see in the swing does not translate to the footwork at third base, resulting in below-average range and hands. Reports on his make-up and work ethic have been good, so that’s not to say he can’t improve his glove work, but he likely settles in as a better first base option as opposed to third base or left field.
Look for Rizzo to get plenty of reps in extended this summer and if things go well there, the M’s could challenge him at Short-Season A ball to close out the summer. All in, the advanced hit tool is going to have to carry Rizzo – the power should get to average, but don’t expect Rizzo to be big time home run threat at maturity. Much like Yonder Alonzo (1B, Athletics), Rizzo settles in as that rare corner player with a plus hit tool, but pop that checks in just below the typical positional profile.
Brayan Hernandez, OF, Rookie AZL Mariners | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 55/40
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/175 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 2m
Quick Hit: Hernandez drew attention as one of the toolsier players in the 2014 J2 class, ultimately signing with Seattle for $1.85 million. The young center fielder boasts plus speed and above-average to plus arm strength that could tick up further at maturity given the fluidity of his actions and projection in his build. The run game and defense should both be assets for Hernandez, forming a solid foundation for the profile, and leaving the bat as the likely determinant between whether he ultimately rounds in to a solid fourth outfielder or everyday guy.
At the plate, Hernandez shows some bat speed and has already seen a boost in his pop over his two years of pro development. There’s still more projection in the body, but his narrow frame points to more wirey strength at maturity than a future thumper. His approach at the plate is still in its nascent stages and right now he needs, more than anything, regular exposure to quality arms to continue to log reps and build up his offensive foundation. The swing plays to line-drive contact from both sides, though he’s a little quicker and tighter from the right. He’ll start 2017 in extended spring training and could see some time in Short-Season A Everett by the end of the summer.
Jordan Cowan, 2B/OF, High A Modesto | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/160 B/T: L/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 8m
Quick Hit: After being taken in the 37th round of the 2013 June draft, Cowan has had an uphill battle for playing time, however after delivering in limited at-bats across two levels in 2016, may have his opportunity this season in a Mariners system that is starved for positional talent. Cowan’s undersized frame does not house a lot of physical projection, however he does have some present strength and is a good athlete. The swing is simple and compact, producing a level plane and above-average bat speed. He does well to stay balanced throughout the stroke and drives against a strong front side that should translate to more pop as he continues to get stronger. He doesn’t project to be a big-time power threat, but he should grow into enough juice to drive the gaps and keep pitchers honest, allowing his potential 50-grade hit tool to play out. Cowan also has some feel for the strike zone and will take a walk, but is not passive versus pitches in the zone.
The hit tool will definitely have to carry the profile here, because he is not a middle of the field player and the power doesn’t profile on the corners. He is athletic enough to give you average defense at 2B and should be able to make the routine plays in the outfield – which is exactly the super utility type role that he will have to master to bring value to a big league roster. Cowan is a fringe-average runner who can go from 1st-to-3rd base in good shape, but don’t expect big stolen-base numbers. If Cowan can continue to secure opportunities, expect to see the hit tool continue to develop and he could eventually play his way into a Ryan Schimpf (2B/3B, Padres) type of profile.
Chris Torres, SS, Rookie AZL Mariners | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 50/35
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/170 B/T: S/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 18y 10m
Quick Hit: Torres’s calling card is his up-the-middle leather, which comes with plus potential at the six-spot thanks to a plus arm, soft hands and impressive footwork. After signing with Seattle with a $375,000 signing bonus during the 2014 J2 signing period, and then spending a year in the Venezuelan Summer League, Torres debuted stateside last summer on the complex, slashing .257/.337/.696, showing decent feel for the barrel and a solid, if rudimentary, approach at the plate.
Torres will show some bat speed to go with his ability to barrel the ball, but lacks much in the way of present strength and doesn’t project too much power at maturity. The glove alone should be enough to keep him in the picture as a future major leaguer, but he will need to show an ability to do more damage with the stick if he’s to reach his upside as an everyday contributor.
Bryson Brigman, 2B/SS, Short Season-A Everett | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/40
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/180 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 21y 5m
Quick Hit: A third-round selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, Brigman has a balanced profile that lacks impact in any one area. His hit tool stands out as the attribute most likely to blaze a trail to a big league future, with the University of San Diego product showing good balance and a compact stroke at the plate. He has a very good understanding of the strike zone, and shows the willingness to work for walks, though his limited pop could eat into his on-base production at the upper levels as more advanced arms become less likely to nibble considering the limited potential for damage.
Defensively, he fits best at second due to average range and fringy arm strength, though the hands and feet should work well enough for him to log time periodically at shortstop throughout his climb to Seattle. He’s not a burner, but can get down the line with average to plus times, and is a heady runner on the bases, capable of taking the extra bag or swiping a base. Brigman is in Class A Clinton to start 2017, and he should see time in High A Modesto before the season is up. He projects as a backup contributor up the middle of the infield.
Greifer Andrade, 2B, Rookie AZL Mariners | Ceiling/Realistic Role: 45/35
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/170 B/T: R/R Age (as of December 1st 2016): 19y 10m
Quick Hit: The former seven-figure bonus baby enjoyed a solid state-side debut in 2016, slashing 341/.396/.549 on the Arizona complex, regularly flashing an ability to drive the gaps. He shows a loose, handsy swing with feel for the barrel, helping to square-up balls regularly in spite of an overly-aggressive approach. There’s still a lot of work to be done identifying spin and developing a more refined approach to apply against advanced arms, but the initial showing on the complex points to a potential average hit tool with fringy power at maturity.
Defensively Andrade’s solid arm and average foot speed fit well at second base, and there is enough athleticism in the profile to potentially project to a semi-utility option at second base, third base and left field, depending on Seattle’s needs. There isn’t enough impact in the glove or the run to put an everyday tag on Andrade just yet, but if he can boost the damage and the on-base production over the next season or two, he has a chance to bump up his stock as he works his way through full season ball. He’ll start out 2017 on the complex in extended spring training.
|1. Tyler O’Neill, OF, AAA||6. Dan Altavilla, RHP, MLB||11. Zac Curtis, LHP, AA|
|2. Kyle Lewis, OF, SS-A||7. Joe Rizzo, 3B/1B, Rk.||12. Andrew Moore, RHP, AA|
|3. Nick Neidert, RHP, High A||8. Daniel Vogelbach, 1B/DH, AAA||13. Ben Gamel, OF, AAA|
|4. Thyago Vieira, RHP, AA||9. Brayan Hernandez, OF, Rk.||14. Chase De Jong, RHP, AAA|
|5. Max Povse, RHP, AA||10. James Pazos, LHP, MLB||15. Tyler Marlette, C, AA|
With several hefty contracts still very much in play, the Mariners are at a tenuous point as they are on the cusp of sneaking into the postseason with their current 25-man roster, but know that they are very quickly running out of track. Much like the Yankees in 2013 and 2014, the Mariners have to get the most out the big names they have on bigger contracts, but unless they find a way to supplement the draft and their international work, they’ll find it difficult to turn things around in any kind of timely fashion. While second baseman Robinson Cano is likely untradeable due to the money he is owed, the M’s could turn to other names like left-hander James Paxton and righty Edwin Diaz. New management has already shown that they have no issues dealing young big league talent like they did with Taijuan Walker (RHP, Diamondbacks). Walker was a mess of injuries and inconsistencies as a member of the Mariners, but still has significant upside – Paxton is much the same and could likely net the M’s a solid return should they decide to dangle him.
Based on the haul teams have gotten for guys like Craig Kimbrel (RHP, Red Sox), Andrew Miller (LHP, Indians), Aroldis Chapman (LHP, Yankees), and Ken Giles (RHP, Astros), Diaz, as good as he was last season, could have too much value not to be dealt. With guys like Thyago Vieira an righty Dan Altavilla waiting in the wings, Diaz’s lighting stuff many not be as missed as one would first think. Now suddenly with two or three top 100 prospects in tow after deals like that, the M’s are in position to maximize their 2017 draft and potentially blow up their international spending by making a bid for Japanese superhero, Shohei Ohtani (RHP/OF, Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters). That is a lot of ‘ifs’, but based on what they did with Walker, it seems like more of those types of moves are coming, and general manager Jerry DiPoto and company are not scared to pull the trigger on a deal if they feel it is the right fit.
The new regime made it clear with the Walker trade that they plan to compete while restocking the minor league shelves. With big money on the books for several big name stars, they really have no choice – however with the rapidly increasing impact young players are having on the game today, a well-executed start of a five-year play can accelerate things and hold open windows that once seemed likely to be closing. With both Cano and righty Felix Hernandez showing their mileage a bit, it seems more and more likely that any scenario in which the club is winning will have to have other names leading the charge.
The Mariners have long been one of the more active organizations on the international market, a characteristic that has spanned several different front offices. Expect the international work to continue and for them to extend on high upside talent in Latin America – and even though they don’t have a top-of-the-first-round pick this coming June, the 2017 draft will have a ton of upside throughout the top rounds and will be one of the more important drafts for the M’s in recent memory.
While those two avenues are obviously very important, it will be the trade market that will determine success or failure. If they can bring themselves to move young, controllable big league talent, they stand to recoup that value in spades, and create energy in Seattle that goes beyond the outside hope of a second bid as a post-season wild-card entry.