Here at SeattleClubhouse, our primary goal is to give our readers exclusive, in-depth information on Seattle Mariners players from the Foreign Rookie Leagues all the way to the Major Leagues. Looking beyond just the numbers and typical website resources and using input from our own respected baseball contacts to help develop our own unique ranking, we are aiming to give the readers rundowns on the names in the Seattle organization that are worth tracking for 2014, and maybe even pinning future MLB hopes on. Our personal taste plays into the determination of where the prospects land on the list; a combination of potential ceiling, likelihood of reaching that ceiling, the most probable outcome for the player and their proximity to cracking the 25-man roster all factor in heavily.
Before we kick off the 2014 countdown, here is a link to the Top-5 post from 2013 -- which includes links to all 10 posts in the Top-50 series -- so you can get a feel for how we ranked some of the names you are perhaps more familiar with here at the completion of 2013.
Each player we cover will be presented with a headshot (when available), their 2013 position, current actual age, handedness, listed height and weight as well as the last level which they played at in 2013. Eight of the 10 posts will be for subscribers only, and discussion/updates, etc., will be posted in the subscriber section of the Forums. Please respect the confidential nature of the subscriber posts.
And now, the countdown begins. Here is the first entry in the Annual SeattleClubhouse Top-50 Countdown.
Putting the numbers aside, the tools on DeCarlo make him still worth watching. "I was impressed with his baseball actions," is what Mike Moriarty, the M's scout that signed him, said to me, adding, "his swing is what a baseball swing should look like." DeCarlo has hit right-handed pitching better than left-handed pitching so far, not uncommon for high school hitters, but something that could lead you to believe there is more production hiding in there. And as he continues to mature physically and mentally his numbers should, of course, improve, too. He has quick hands and easy natural raw power, but his pitch recognition and overall approach at the plate is definitely cutting into his production at this point.
A prep shortstop, DeCarlo has soft hands, quick reactions and sound feet at third base, and he made big improvements in his throwing during his second season in the pros. Joe is an average runner when underway and doesn't figure to gain anything in that part of his game. The potential package of a solid defensive third baseman with plate discipline and power is what lands him a spot on our countdown here, and while he is still very young and very far away from the big leagues, it would be nice to see DeCarlo take a step forward in 2014. Coming off of the injury, it seems that he'll most likely make a step up to Short Season A ball in Everett to open the year.
The 2012 Venezuelan Summer League MVP, Ugueto finally got to the states in 2013 in his age 22 season, following four years in the VSL. That typically isn't a track that real "prospects" take in pro ball, and that fact was an admitted mistake to me when I spoke with one M's front office person this season. Despite his time overseas and his age, Ugueto does still show some promise as a prospect, though. After a slow start to 2013 for Pulaski, the right-handed hitting outfielder wound up fifth in the Appalachian League in SLG, sixth in home runs, tied for third in triples (which led to him tying for second in ISO, at .234) and tied for second in RBI. He did walk only nine times and strike out 47 in 200 plate appearances -- a major falloff from his 10.9% walk rate and 11.5% strikeout rate from 2012 -- but the offensive tools showed in spite of those plate discipline issues for Jesus.
The adjustment period to the pitching in the more advanced Appalachian League was tough for Ugueto, but the talent was easy to spot even during those struggles. "Ugueto early on in the season had an all-or-nothing approach. He has a violent swing with unbelievable quickness through the strike zone," said Pulaski announcer Cheyne Reiter. He continued, "When he got himself in favorable counts, he did major damage." A lot of that damage came in August, when Ugueto his six of his eight home runs and posted a .976 OPS in 21 games. Those numbers were great, but August also represented his best strikeout (19.1%) and walk (5.6%) rates of 2013 as well.
Ugueto is a bit behind the development curve because of the extra time he spent in the VSL, but the 25-game stretch he put together to end the regular season is a good sign for what he can become. I heard of some questions about his effort and focus early in the season, but that dissipated as the year went on. The bat speed and power are strong tools for Ugueto, but he also boasts a plus throwing arm. He played almost exclusively in center field in Venezuela but he's much more suited for a corner. The body has some filling out to do and that could take away from his current slightly above-average foot speed. Given the age, it's reasonable to expect to see Jesus pushed to full season ball in 2014.
Just 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Austin's game is completely based on speed, and he's got a lot of it. He stole 74 bases in three years at UAB and he's swiped 96 (while being caught 33) bases in his three seasons in the Mariners' organization, stealing a career-high 40 (out of 53) for High Desert in 2013. That speed allows him to go get it in the outfield, too, and he's a strong defender in center field, despite an arm that is average at best. He could take better routes at times, but his speed allows him to outrun almost any mistake. But for all the speed, Austin has only two home runs in over 1,300 minor league career plate appearances and he slugged just .325 on the road for the Mavs this past season. Baseball isn't all about power, of course, but Austin -- who ranked 50th on this list a season ago -- really needs to maximize the rest of his game because of his lack of impact with the bat.
Jamal is doing a good job with some of those aspects of his game that he can control as he was the sixth hardest player to strike out in the California League in 2013 (11.8% strikeout rate) while walking at a decent 7.5% clip. In all, that gave him the 12th best plate discipline ratio (0.64 BB/K) in the Cal League. The strikeout rate was the third lowest of all stateside minor leaguers for Seattle. Austin also hit fewer than 20% of his balls in play as fly balls to the outfield for the third straight season, really allowing his speed to work for him by hitting the ball on the ground. Austin collected 14 bunt base hits and reached on an error 17 times, really showing that he uses that speed to his advantage. And he scored the seventh most runs (107) in all of minor league baseball last year, truly doing what you want your leadoff man to do.
Austin swings from almost a flat-footed stance, obviously focusing much more on contact than on driving the ball, and while that suits his skill-set well for the most part, it also leads to a lot of weak outs. The former 13th round pick has plus plus speed and he's accumulated a lot of steals, but he has only stolen bases at about a league average success rate so far. Refining that skill has to be a huge development point for Austin as he continues to advance through the minor leagues. Jamal will likely start 2014 in Double-A Jackson, a much tougher place to hit than Adelanto, to give him a true test and see if his minimalistic approach can work.
In his second season since transitioning from infielder to catcher, Littlewood had a hard time getting any type of momentum going in 2013 as he had a lot of nagging injuries and he also had a hot player that he was splitting time with (Tyler Marlette). When the former infielder did get to play, he showed both good and bad. The good is led by his defense, where Littlewood is looking nothing like a converted catcher and everything like a natural at the position. He threw out 23 of 54 (42.6%) He had the fifth best walk rate (15.6%) in the Midwest League among hitters with 250 or more plate appearances, but he also had the fifth lowest slugging percentage (.366) among catchers in the league, behind more than 60% of the 153 qualified players there overall. And while he made strides in his strikeout rate, dropping from over 27% in his first two seasons to 22.7% in 2013, that rate was still well above the league number of 19.4%. And moreover, 2013 was really the first year that Littlewood played pro ball at a level that was age appropriate.
The switch-hitting former 2nd round pick was assigned to Clinton as his first pro stop back in April of 2011, and the fact that he ended September of 2013 still there has to be discouraging. The plate discipline is definitely an area that needed improvement, so it is encouraging to see Littlewood make a move there, but the power drop-off and overall meek nature of his bat three years after being drafted with an offensive profile leads to concerns. Indeed, Littlewood ranked 12th on our initial Top-50 list and came in at 30th a year ago, so the shine has wore off quite a bit already. But Marcus still has some tools with the bat that he's shown at times that lead me to believe that there still could be brighter days ahead.
The ability to show patience and switch-hit with power is rare. Add in that that ability is coming from the catcher position -- a spot that Littlewood has adapted to very quickly, and where he now appears to be above average defensively -- and the prospect status clearly should not yet be taken away from him. Littlewood would benefit greatly from getting away from Marlette -- who has clearly surpassed him on the depth chart -- allowing him to get the lion's share of the starts at catcher while allowing the bat to get in the lineup more regularly. Unfortunately, that could mean a third go at the Midwest League with Clinton to open 2014.
Henry got off to a hot start for Clinton this past year, boasting a .366/.476/.598 slash after 25 games on May 8th. That was the day he was shut down for a couple of weeks with an oblique injury and he hit just .223/.338/.360 in 46 games for the LumberKings after his return. Still, he was showing enough overall that the Mariners felt that he was playing beyond the Midwest League as a 22-year-old, and he was promoted to High-A High Desert to wrap up the 2013 season. Henry got off to a very slow start for the Mavs but came on late and hit .238/.336/.438 there in 29 games, ending his season at a combined .260/.370/.436 in 100 games. The overall numbers pale in comparison to the hot start, but the M's 18th round pick from the 2012 draft did post some promising secondary numbers.
First and foremost, Henry's 14.5% walk rate was the best for all farmhands who accumulated more than 256 plate appearances on the season (Henry had 433). And while the increase in walks was nice as he moved up, the decrease in strikeout rate -- from 18.8% to 16.9% -- while the power remained about even was an encouraging sign. Henry also had an abnormally low BAbip in High Desert at just .269 and he hit better on the road (.900 OPS) than in the friendliest of parks at home (.618 OPS) in the Cal League. All of which is to say that he was trending in a favorable direction even as the numbers declined a bit.
While the secondary numbers tell part of Henry's story, his tools are what land him on this list. The strong right-handed hitter hit a lot of leadoff for Clinton (50 games) this year thanks to his plate discipline and pitch recognition, but he's been a middle of the order guy in college and the pros most often. And he has at least average power, mostly to his pull side, generating good backspin and lift from his strong wrists and quick bat. He's played quite a bit of center field for the M's so far, but is likely best suited for left because of an average arm and average speed. Henry's willingness and ability to work the count and get a good pitch to drive is the strongest part of his game and that isn't common for young guys with his power potential. He's likely to start 2014 off in High Desert but could move up to Double-A in the season once again if he continues on his current progression path.
That does it for our first batch of five prospects in our Annual Top-50 Countdown. Check back in next Monday for five more, and stay with SeattleClubhouse to get all the latest info on the Seattle Mariners and their farm system.
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