Seattle Mariners Prospect Watch: Joe Rizzo

SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 5: Commissioner Allan H. Bud Selig speaks at the podium during the MLB First-Year Player Draft at the MLB Network Studio on June 5, 2014 in Secacucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
SECAUCUS, NJ - JUNE 5: Commissioner Allan H. Bud Selig speaks at the podium during the MLB First-Year Player Draft at the MLB Network Studio on June 5, 2014 in Secacucus, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Oakton Highschool, Virginia. That is where Joe Rizzo made a name for himself. That is where an 18-year-old kid born in Hackensack, New Jersey garnered national attention. That is where the Mariners went in the Second Round of the 2016 MLB Draft.

We all remember the Mariners first pick. Still there at pick number 11, Kyle Lewis was on his way to Seattle. Lewis has taken his own path throughout his well documented first few years a pro baseball, much of which overshadowed second-round pick Joe Rizzo.

Rizzo was taken with the 50th pick of the 2016 MLB Draft and signed over slot at $1.75 Million. He was ranked as the 40th best prospect in the draft by and had committed to play college baseball in South Carolina before entering the draft.

At 5’9, 194 pounds, Rizzo’s frame doesn’t scream intimidating when he steps into the batter’s box. However, when you look at his numbers in High School, it’s easy to see why the Mariners were so high on the third baseman. Rizzo hit an incredible .606 during his junior year and then followed that up his senior year with a .392 campaign. He is a smart player with a short, quick load which helps him make contact out in front of the plate.

Signing a prep player is always a gamble. So much is left to be seen out of an 18-year-old kid, especially one with the stature of Rizzo. However, Rizzo seemed like a pretty safe bet based on his astounding numbers as a highschooler.

However, his first few years in pro baseball has left scouts a bit sour on his projections for the big leagues. Prior to 2018, we had Rizzo ranked as the Mariners number nine prospect during our preseason prospect rankings at SodoMojo. After an offseason that has seen a major jump in terms of prospects, has Rizzo ranked as the Mariners 17th best prospect.

So, what should we look for out of Joe Rizzo over the course of the 2019 season? Ideally, we will see some adjustments in his swing. He has more power in his frame than what shows up on the back of his baseball card right now. Since he is quick to the ball, he can spray the ball all over the field as well as send a few over the wall from time to time.

Over his first two seasons, Rizzo has reached High A Modesto and has hit .252/.330/.341 over 277 career games. Thus far, he has had his fair share of swings and misses, striking out twice as much as he’s walked.

What really jumps out is the .341 slugging percentage. While slugging percentage isn’t the best indicator of a players future, but it is alarming to see low power numbers out of a third baseman. Much of that could be contributed to a line drive percentage just over 20% leading to a career-low .303 BABIP. He also owned a career-high 37.6% pull rate which could contribute to his lack of numbers in 2018.

Rizzo has an opportunity to breakout in 2019. He will likely begin the season either back in Modesto or in AA Arkansas. To me, I see a lot of the same trajectory with Rizzo that was shown by 1B Evan White. Both guys didn’t hit for much power early on and ideally, Rizzo can take a page out of Whites book and hit for some more power in 2019. Rizzo is still younger than White was when he broke into Pro Baseball, as Rizzo will turn 21 on March 31st. There is no reason to rush Rizzo anytime soon.

It’s important that Rizzo makes some strides at the plate on 2019. At the moment, Rizzo is the Mariners best prospect at the hot corner. In fact, In their top 30, Rizzo is their ONLY 3B prospect at the moment. So for now, it would seem Rizzo is set to be the successor for when the Kyle Seager era comes to end in Seattle.

The Mariners are really relying on Rizzo to blossom into the player they believe he can be. They have loaded up on outfield talent with the like Jared Kelenic, Dom Thomson Williams, Mallex Smith, and Jake Fraley over the coarse of the offseason. After the trade of Josh Stowers to the Yankees yesterday, the M’s have a shiny new second base prospect in the form of Shed Long.

Evan White seems poised to be the first baseman of the future and JP Crawford was a consensus top prospect at shortstop just a year ago. Omar Navarez is just 26 and has been one of the better offensive catchers over the last few years. Justus Sheffield, Justin Dunn, and Erik Swanson were all added with the hopes of solidifying a future rotation.

It seems that all these prospects are coming together in an attempt to open the 2021-2022 window that Jerry Dipoto has spoken so fondly of, however, Dipoto has yet to add a third baseman to that mix. Of course, this is subject to change over the next year or so, but right now there is no reason not to believe that Rizzo can become the everyday player that Dipoto dreamed of when Rizzo was drafted.

If he can cut down on his strikeouts and unlock some of the power that is created from being quick to the ball, Rizzo would shoot up through the Mariners prospect rankings over the next few years. Defensively, Rizzo is no Kyle Seager. In fact, some scouts project him more as a left fielder than a third baseman.

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The most interesting baseball for the Mariners will be played at the minor league levels in 2019. The progress of guys like Kelenic, Crawford and the gang will be of great importance to the Mariners next season, but don’t overlook the contributions made by Joe Rizzo. He very well could be the third baseman of the future.