Combined M’s Top 10 Prospects

marc w · March 2, 2016 at 12:30 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

It’s the eve of the Cactus League, and the M’s minor leaguers are already flooding back fields and batting cages in Peoria. It’s March, so they’re all in better shape than expected, fortified with new pitches and new approaches, and wiser by far thanks to the lessons learned over a long season in 2015. It’s a hopeful time, of course, but realistically, the M’s know their system is a bit light on talent. It’s not bereft of it, by any stretch, but part of the reason they’ve focused so much on development (like installing a PD guy who’s never managed as the M’s field manager) is that they know they simply have to get more out of this group than the scouts and prospect ranking folks expect. Baseball America has this system ranked at #28. MLB Pipeline would be close, with the position players ranking 22nd and the pitching coming in at 29th.

Teams like Texas have a wealth of talent in the high minors, ready to step in if their big league depth falters. Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara will probably make their Texas debuts this year, and Joey Gallo will see if he can cut his K% in a longer call-up. The Astros remain a deep system despite trading a number of players for big league help. Colin Moran figures to be ready to help the big club this year, and the minors’ top HR hitter last year, AJ Reed, can step in at 1B/DH if Jon Singleton struggles again. On the pitching side, Francis Martes and Joe Musgrove figure to begin the year in the high minors. On the other end of the spectrum are the Angels, who struggled with depth in the few years that Jerry Dipoto ran the show, and then saw Billy Eppler ship everything that was left to Atlanta in exchange for Andrelton Simmons. There’s no one to call for the Angels, meaning they’ll have to get creative or constantly scan the waiver wire if they need some help. Oakland’s done a decent job of rebuilding their system after cashing much of it in during their 2014 playoff push, and they’re particularly stocked at the shortstop position, thanks to top prospect Franklin Barreto (#8 in baseball) and three more shortstops who each rank in the BA’s top 50 by position: Richie Martin, Chad Pinder, and Yairo Munoz. Their pitching depth is a bit weaker, but Sean Manaea is a top prospect who could see the majors this year.

How about the M’s? Unfortunately, much of the strength of the system is further away, though a bounce-back year from DJ Peterson and a great spring from Boog Powell will ameliorate this. Powell in particular seems to have a legitimate shot at a big league job this year as Leonys Martin’s back-up, and his OBP-heavy, high-floor, low-ceiling projection isn’t the kind of thing that requires service-time manipulation. Peterson, though, is something of an enigma – a great hitter who simply couldn’t drive the ball at all in 2015, leading some scouts to conclude his hit tool/power grades had been inflated before. Peterson isn’t alone as an M’s prospect coming off a terrible statistical 2015. Brazilian lefty Luiz Gohara repeated short-season ball, and while he was better, he still got hit way harder than you’d like for a top-5 prospect in the system. #1 prospect Alex Jackson’s year was, if anything, even worse – an abysmal start after a challenge assignment in Clinton, and then a so-so year in Everett with solid production but sky-high strikeouts. The M’s coaches, many of whom are new to the system, have their work cut out for them.

With that said, here’s the M’s top ten prospects, averaged over five rankings. For this exercise, we’re using Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, Rick Randall’s SeattleClubhouse list, and Jason Churchill’s Prospect Insider top 25. Each prospect gets an unweighted average ranking. There are clear differences in approach between these five lists, with some focusing on ceiling and others on floors. BA’s list gives high rankings to Drew Jackson and Braden Bishop, whose defense may help them get a look in the majors, while Randall ranks Austin Wilson – incredibly gifted athlete who just hasn’t tapped into his potential yet – higher than the rest.

Average Rank Player
1.2 Alex Jackson
2.6 Edwin Diaz
4.6 Tyler O’Neill
5.4 DJ Peterson
5.4 Luiz Gohara
7.4 Boog Powell
7.8 Nick Neidert
8.4 Drew Jackson
10.8 Ryan Yarbrough
11.6 Andrew Moore
12.8 Braden Bishop
13 Luis Liberato

The top 5 or 6 are fairly consistent, but the back end of the list is variable. MLB has Luis Liberato, a toolsy OF who had a solid year for Everett, as the 7th best prospect, but he ranks just 27th in Churchill’s list. Andrew Moore lurked in the 12-15 region, but Baseball America like his command and change-up, and pushed him into the top 10. The other divisive player is former UW Husky Braden Bishop, who gets as high as 7th in BA’s list but doesn’t make the top 20 in Randall’s. Like Drew Jackson, Bishop’s defense in CF and great speed mean he’s got a bigger margin of error with his bat, though scouts seem divided on if he’ll ever be able to clear that (lower) bar – his bat to ball skills were surprisingly good in Everett, but a 2% walk rate and sub-.100 ISO show that he’s going to need to for average consistently. Philosophically, I think I’m closer to the BA list this year, in that I’m fairly sure Andrew Moore will move quickly up the ranks (though I’m not sure what kind of impact he’d make in the bigs), and I think Drew Jackson’s defense, helped by his howitzer arm and plus speed, will keep him moving even if his bat doesn’t come close to matching his 2015 slash line again. As mentioned, I think Powell may be a touch low, though I completely understand many/most view him as a fourth-outfielder, which takes some of the shine off of the fact that he’s all but assured to have *some* kind of big league career. The same thing’s at play with relievers. I thought Carson Smith was far too low on many lists last year, and I think the same might be said of guys like Paul Fry this year. But if there’s one player who’s almost assuredly too low, it’s Tony Zych, who will most likely break camp on the 25 man roster and is coming off a successful 2015 capped off by an eye-opening cup of coffee with the M’s. Yes, some high-bonus international free agent may have louder tools and, should he make it, be much more valuable, but Zych is already here, already contributing.

For the system to make a big jump forward this year, the M’s will need more than a nice draft. They’ll need continued development from the HS arms they took last year, especially Nick Niedert and Dylan Thompson, development from the college kids who overwhelmed short-season competition last year (Moore, Drew Jackson, Braden Bishop), and rebound years from Alex Jackson and DJ Peterson. More than that, though, they’ll need to finally tap into the potential of some players who’ve always tantalized scouts but whose skills haven’t translated into consistent production. Austin Wilson and Gohara head the list, but catcher Tyler Marlette (who’ve I’ve seen as a top 10 guy for years, but who simply hasn’t hit enough), OF Brayan Hernandez and Gareth Morgan, too. As Jay mentioned a while back, the M’s brought in a lot of boom or bust, high-power, low-contact hitters, and outside of Tyler O’Neill’s brilliant/surprising 2015, they don’t have a lot to show for it. They still have a bit of time with these guys, and a new staff and new approaches may unlock something that the last regime couldn’t.


6 Responses to “Combined M’s Top 10 Prospects”

  1. casey on March 3rd, 2016 7:34 am

    anyone with thoughts about where Heredia and Lee might fit on this list. Guess it is hard to see Dae-Ho as a prospect….

  2. Longgeorge1 on March 3rd, 2016 7:44 am

    I realize (I think)how important minor league talent and development is to an organization. Unfortunately it is a lot like rating women in a bar. A lot of what happens is out of your control.

  3. Westside guy on March 3rd, 2016 7:49 am

    … plus, as you drink more and more alcohol, you start to convince yourself they look significantly better than they appear to a sober observer.

  4. Jay Yencich on March 3rd, 2016 9:24 am

    Huh. Well I guess I’m not the only one using this method now am I?

    I’ve been trying to sort through it myself and I just don’t know. While he and I disagree on a lot of stuff generally, I can see Churchill’s rationale in ranking O’Neill ahead of everyone else because it seems like he has that mental edge that has allowed him to keep improving and the rampage he went on post-Team Canada was statistically fascinating. If you had told me a year ago that the former catcher, son of a body builder would be making such good use of his tools that they were spotting him in center field now and then, I wouldn’t believe you. But it’s happening.

    I’ll probably chime in over the course of the next few days with thoughts and responses, but I think that there’s quite a bit to be excited about at the low levels pitching-wise between Wells, Brentz, Orozco, Thompson, Neidert, and Mobley, which could’ve been bordering on ridiculous had we been able to retain some of the pitching we gave up over the offseason (de los Santos being the big one).

    For the most part, we’ve only added depth over the last calendar year, 2015 just happened to be a freak incident in which almost no one performed to their capacities. I’ve tried to steer away from pure speculation with my own rankings (hard to avoid), but it seems as if with the shift in philosophies, we could see a lot of rebound years. The rankings we have are low not for lack of talent, but lack of performance.

  5. Notfromboise on March 3rd, 2016 2:23 pm


    Well, Heredia hit .285 with less than 25 homers in 6 years in the Cuban leagues, so make of that what you will. I haven’t done any deep digging, so I have no clue what his speed or defensive metrics are at. Knee jerk reaction would be 5th outfielder if that, considering he defected in 2014 and dropped off the radar entirely in 2015.

    As for Lee, he’s a complete wild card, one I’m looking forward to watching. He hits mistakes 400 feet, a skill we can use. .303/.387/.901 slash line in Japan. The Lotte Giants don’t show up on any of the reference sites for defense, so all we really know is he booted 15 errors in his last 4 full seasons. Judging from his Ruthian size, I doubt his range is anything to write home about.

    Worst case scenario: he’s probably the best DH we’ve have in a decade. Even if Montero and Lind hit lights out, he’s a solid bat off the bench for late inning replacements and inter-league games.

    And Westside summed up prospect evaluation perfectly. lol.

  6. maqman on March 5th, 2016 8:52 am

    Jay I’m looking forward to your in-depth evaluations. Thanks Marc for your comprehensive overview of the various evaluators’ opinions on our farm hands. I share Churchill’s optimism in regard to O’Neill. I’ve liked him from the first interview he gave after being drafted by the M’s. He didn’t haggle about his signing bonus ($800K as I recall) and signed right away so he could get started as a pro. He’s a confident young man with some real talent but he has some rough bits to sand down in the minors yet. I loved him saying “got him” after hitting a dinger off of Felix the first time he faced him.

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