The Mariners use the Arizona Fall League to challenge prospects and help prepare them for quick rises through the system. This season's crop includes a good mix of high-leverage relievers (Peyton Alford, Jarod Bayless, Leon Hunter, Troy Taylor) and high-upside prospects (Harry Ford, Ryan Bliss, Tyler Locklear). This group of players is about a week into their stay in the desert, which could be considered small sample-size territory. However, let's highlight the Mariners' top performers in one of the premium off-season leagues.
Top Hitter: Ryan Bliss
Bliss has a metric ton of helium attached to his game, and rightfully so. The dynamic infielder is one of three minor leaguers to accumulate at least 20 homers and 50 steals in a season. After joining the Mariners' organization in the Paul Sewald trade, he had to make some minor adjustments, mainly a better eye at the plate. Bliss showcases those skills in the AFL, walking six times and striking out two times in four games. The walks are great, but it's a four-hit night that put him into the spotlight.
Locklear had his coming out party last Saturday night, driving in four runs, including a no-doubt homer (107 EV) for Peoria. The former second-round pick also made Major League Baseball Pipelines' top performer list. Ford made some noise launching a homer in his first game, but more importantly, he's showing mastery of the strike zone, challenging multiple calls correctly.
Top Pitcher: Troy Taylor
The Mariners took a different approach with pitchers and the AFL this season, sending all relievers to the fall circuit. Each relief arm brings a diverse skill set, but all offer some deception. Taylor has appeared in two games thus far, racking up two innings and three strikeouts.
The 22-year-old reliever has an exciting pitch mix (fastball, curve, changeup), which he leaned on heavily across two levels this season (Modesto, Everett). He played a considerable role in the Aquasox bullpen, helping lockdown late-inning leads during the stretch run, appearing in eight games, and holding opposing hitters to a .147 average. As for his AFL performance, look for Taylor to continue to flash in the late innings for a Peoria squad with championship aspirations.
We'll check in later this month for a deeper dive and a better sample size from this promising crop of youngsters. But for now, Bliss and Taylor take top honors from the desert.