The Seattle Mariners are rebuilding, albeit a little different than most teams choose to do so. But despite the quick start by the big league team, it is still crucial to check the progress of a few key prospects.
All 4 of the Mariners full-season farm teams, the Tacoma Rainiers (AAA), the Arkansas Travelers(AA), the Modesto Nuts (A+), and the West Virginia Power (A), are all well underway. Each of these levels has major MLB pieces to track.
While nobody on West Virginia Power is going to play for the Mariners this season (barring a minor miracle or collapse), even they have a few premier prospects that will play a vital role in Seattle’s efforts for a quick tool rebuild. But before we get there, let’s start at the top of the minor league mountain, the Tacoma Rainiers.
The Rainiers have a bevy of players who are expected to get significant playing time with the Mariners this season, including 2 infielders, J.P. Crawford, and Shed Long. Crawford, the prize of the Jean Segura trade, is off to a hot start at the plate. In 13 games, he is slashing .321/.410/.434 with 3 doubles, 1 home run, 2 steals, and a solid 11:7 K/BB ratio.
Crawford continues to work on his defense, which is still a work in progress. Crawford is off to a good start but is not all that close to making his Mariners debut. The original timeline was always June and Crawford is coming along as expected.
Shed Long is also off to a nice start, slashing .293/.359/.397 as he continues to get work at 2B, 3B, and LF. We haven’t seen the power play for Long in AAA yet, but he is handling the pitching well for his first crack at the level and is on track to make his Mariners debut in 2019.
Braden Bishop has already made his MLB debut but is getting his first taste of AAA pitching as well. Likely the first call up if any outfielder requires an IL stint, Bishop is looking to take his spring training into the regular season. So far, he has done just that, slashing .306/.404/.429 with 6 doubles and an impressive 12:8 K/BB ratio.
Justus Sheffield, the prize of the James Paxton trade has struggled early in Tacoma, particularly with his fastball command. He is coming off his best start thus far, but he has walked more men than he has struck out. No reason to panic, but the Mariners will wait for Sheffield to force his way to the big league roster in the coming months.
Perhaps the most “star-studded” of the minor league rosters, Arkansas has quite a few prospects the Mariners are betting big on. Evan White, Kyle Lewis, Justin Dunn, Jake Fraley, and Dom Thompson-Williams all call Arkansas a temporary home.
Unfortunately, Evan White is on the 7-Day Injured List but got off to a nice enough start. Kyle Lewis has been unable to carry his awesome Spring Training to the start of the regular season but has been swinging better as of late. This is a bit of a make or break year for Lewis, but it is still far too early to panic.
Unlike Lewis, Jake Fraley has carried his impressive Spring Training into the regular season. In his first 12 games, Fraley is slashing .277/.382/.447 with 5 steals and a solid 11:7 K/BB ratio. Fraley is playing his way into the Mariners 2019 plans and could be the first AA batter to make an appearance in Seattle this year.
Dom Thompson-Williams, the third piece in the James Paxton trade, is off to an uneven start in AA but does have 3 home runs and 2 steals in 13 games. However, Justin Dunn is off to a brilliant start. Dunn’s first 3 starts have been sensational, striking out 21 batters in 14.1 innings while walking just 5 and allowing .196 opponents batting average.
Dunn is repeating AA and has an outside chance of making a start for the Mariners later this season but he should at least make the jump to AAA Tacoma in the next month or two.
Modesto doesn’t have the star players to track like the other levels, but there are still some prospects and performers worth tracking. Cal Raleigh, last years 3rd round pick, got a semi-aggressive placement in Modesto instead of West Virginia and has found struggles early in the season. We have seen parts of his power play, but we will need to see more going forward.
One prospect who has gotten off to a better start is Luis Liberato. At one time one of the most interesting prospects in the system, Liberato is repeating the level for the third straight season. Except for this time, he appears to have figured out how to use his impressive raw skills.
Liberato is slashing .280/.339/.500 with 3 home runs and 3 steals. This is, in all reality, Liberato’s last chance to maintain his prospect status and he is off to a good start thus far.
Names like Ljay Newsome have been incredible, posting 30 strikeouts in 16 innings with a sub 2.00 ERA. Newsome has seen his velocity jump 2-3 mph in the past year and may have changed his profile because of it.
A Ball West Virginia Power
Perhaps the most fun team to track, West Virginia Power holds the 2 most exciting and promising bats in the Mariners system, as well as the arm with the highest upside as well. Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic, and Logan Gilbert are all major parts to the Mariners future and as such, requires a lot of monitoring.
Julio Rodriguez got off to an excellent start, slashing .355/.444/.452, but has missed some time after getting hit by a pitch on his wrist. Rodriguez was expected to be back in the lineup this weekend but it was recently revealed that he has a hairline fracture in his wrist, so the Mariners will proceed with caution.
After a slow start, Jarred Kelenic has torn the cover off the ball. Mariners Minors has the details of the hot streak of Kelenic:
Overall, Kelenic is slashing .304/.418/.464 with 6 doubles and 10 walks. Kelenic is the crown jewel of the Mariners farm system and his performance in A-Ball as a 19-year-old is impressive.
Logan Gilbert, the team’s first-round pick in 2018 and is dominating in his first taste of pro ball. In his 14 innings thus far, Gilbert has punched out 22 batters while walking only 3. His 0.57 WHIP is impressive at any level, as too is his 0.64 ERA.
Gilbert has looked as good as the numbers have indicated. He very well could be in West Virginia for a short time. The Mariners won’t rush Gilbert, but his current level of dominance shouldn’t be overlooked. It is possible Gilbert makes the jump to AA later this year, but count on Seattle limiting his workload and keeping him in West Virginia for most of the season.
Of course, these are just a handful of the prospects in the Mariners system. As the season moves along, we will do our best to keep you updated on all the happenings. But so far, the overall report is a good one that could get even better.
For the first time in a while, the Mariners farm system is one worth monitoring for the average fan. And that is an excellent sign for the franchise going forward.