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.
Each player covered in these posts is 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. Discussion/updates, etc., to these lists and prospects will be posted in the subscriber section of the Forums. Please respect the confidential nature of the subscriber posts.
This is the eighth of our ten installments which each cover five of the best prospects in the organization for the Seattle Mariners as 2014 nears. The first seven sets, covering 35 of the top prospects in the minors for the Mariners, can be found at the following links:
- 50 through 46 (FREE)
- 45 through 41
- 40 through 36
- 35 through 31
- 30 through 26
- 25 through 21
- 20 through 16
Even if you are just a casual follower of the minor leagues, this is where the names will start to become more familiar to you. The 15 best prospects for Seattle will be covered here in the next three weeks with more complete scouting notes and more quotes on each player. My hope is that you will get to know these players a bit more through this series. Get excited!
Leone was a pretty nondescript add by the Mariners as a sub-six foot 16th round pick out of Clemson in 2012. He had a mildly impressive debut with the AquaSox that year, striking out more than a batter an inning and putting up an ERA of 1.36 in 19 games out of the bullpen as a hard throwing righty, but he also walked a bunch of guys and wasn't exactly young for the league. But in fall instructs that year, something happened. He went from touching 95 with his fastball to bumping into triple digits with it. That, as you can imagine, can quickly increase the profile of a reliever, and Leone entered 2013 as one of the most intriguing pitchers in the system. He started the year in Low-A Clinton and quickly mowed through the Midwest League, with 10 strikeouts in three games out of the LumberKings' pen. Then it was on to High Desert in the California League, where many a pitcher has seen their climb stall out. But not Leone. He put up a 2.50 ERA (2.75 FIP) in 39 2/3 innings while showing improved fastball command. From there he went to Jackson -- making what many consider the second most difficult leap in pro ball -- and didn't miss a beat. He posted a 23.9% strikeout rate for the Generals, identical to what he had for the Mavericks, and ended the 2013 season with a strikeout an inning and a better than 3-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio while reaching Double-A in just his second year of pro ball.
Jackson's Chris Harris hadn't heard much about Leone before he debuted with the Generals, but Dominic certainly made an impression on him. "I'll never forget the first time he came out of the bullpen. He had just been added to the roster minutes before the game and he of course appeared in that game having not had time for me to do much research on him. His first pitch was a 98 mph fastball followed by two 92 mph cutters. It was honestly jaw dropping," said Harris. The fastball is eye opening, but the cutter is, as Harris puts it, "unbelievable". The interesting back story on the cutter is that Leone didn't have a pitching coach teach it to him; he learned it on YouTube. Chris Gwynn likes what Leone has in the tank, but there are still challenges ahead for him. "He can be overpowering at times," said the M's Director of Minor League Operations, "He has to remember he has to locate the higher up he goes." The command improved in leaps and bounds this past year, and that paired with the uptick in velocity shot Leone up prospect lists, but he isn't a finished product just yet.
Leone features the big plus-plus fastball, working comfortably at 95-97 and touching 100 with late life, a hard cutter that is 89-92 and showed good action at times, and a slider that is 82-84 with some late bite and tilt. The fastball is the calling card for Leone, but all three pitches are at least average and can flash plus. He threw a curve and a changeup as a starter in college, too, but he's basically scrapped those offerings at this point in his development as a late-inning reliever. Despite being undersized, he has a good pitcher's build, with a solid midsection and long arms. His delivery has some effort to it, and it includes a high front elbow that looks a little odd, but he repeats well and stays tall, getting out over his front leg to maximize his length.
Leone is among the Non-Roster Invitees heading to big league camp this spring, and he's jumped up near the top of in-house options for a bullpen spot with his development. If he can continue to refine his command of all three of his pitches, the big leagues are definitely in the cards for him in 2014.
Kivlehan is now somewhat famous in prospect circles for the unusual route that he took to being drafted into professional baseball. That route included four years on the football team for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights before returning to the diamond, winning Big East Triple Crown and MVP honors ahead of being the Mariners' fourth round pick in 2012. He continued the improbable ride that year by winning Northwest League MVP for the AquaSox and headed into 2013 at Low-A Clinton for the Mariners as a prospect on the rise. Patrick himself told me that he believes that the time away from baseball actually helped, and the competitive environment of college football certainly taught him some life lessons, but that was a storybook year. Even though his 2012 set a pretty high bar, it's safe to say that Kivlehan exceeded expectations again in 2013, proving that he is a quick study while climbing through two levels of Seattle's system. He ranked second in the organization in RBI (90), third in hits (148) t-3rd in total bases (227) and improved his walk and strikeout rates while also authoring a 25-game hitting streak. The defensive back turned third baseman also played very strong defense in the tough California League while again proving he isn't a plodder on the bases.
21st on our countdown a season ago, Kivlehan again shook off a slow start in 2013 -- twice, actually -- and showed that when he got his bat going, he could do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. He's crushed against left-handed pitching so far, putting up a .329/.382/.549 split and a 4.5% home run rate in 179 plate appearances in his first two seasons. But the right-handed hitting Kivlehan has also hit .295/.365/.463 against same handed pitching. His ISO improved as the season improved, and he ended the year 16 extra base hits in his final 29 games. Physically strong and athletically mature, Kivlehan's baseball skills have returned to him quickly, and he puts in the work to make sure that nothing is left to chance. "He's a serious guy on that field," said one scout who got multiple looks at Kivlehan in the Midwest League this year, "He realizes this is his job and he's working hard at it. He plays the game like a leader."
Again, the distance he's come in such a short time since stepping back on the baseball field is remarkable, but Kivlehan's job isn't something that he can afford to rest at, for sure. An older prospect because of those four years of football, his progression needs to come quicker than the typical guy two years out of college if he has designs on a big league career. Defensively he doesn't have the smoothest of actions and the throwing motion isn't always pretty, but he still has shown a solid average arm and has improved his hands. Obviously a super athlete, Pat does have good body control and gathers well before making throws. At the plate, he's a little stiff in his upper half but has good rotation, incorporating his strong core well. He's strong and has shown good barrel awareness and above average power that is starting to play to the opposite field already. Even when he isn't lifting the ball, Patrick hits line drives with authority. The progress with plate discipline and pitch recognition must continue, and he struggled with that a bit in the AFL.
2014 should see him reach Double-A at some point, and many of the weaknesses that were exposed in his AFL stint will surely be attacked. As such, he needs to make even more improvements at the plate this coming year. His defense needs some refining, too, but some have opined all along that he'll be best suited for a corner outfield spot eventually. Kivlehan will have to continue to work hard and improve his ability to hit breaking balls in order to continue his progression towards Seattle.
Almonte, a 2005 international free agent signing by the Yankees who came to Seattle in exchange for reliever Shawn Kelley last February, surprised everyone and made it all the way to the majors in 2013 for the Mariners. The switch-hitting Almonte was among the best performers for the M's at any level while he played at three separate stops. He ended his combined season in the minors at .300/.394/.482, setting career bests in a number of offensive categories and then put up a .715 OPS in 25 games with Seattle, playing all three outfield spots, hitting a pair of homers and making his case to be a part of the regular outfield rotation for the M's in 2014 with his outfield play and strong arm. The 24-year-old has had his injury issues in the past, but he played in a career high 148 games in all on the year. It was the type of season that front offices dream about toolsy players picked up on the cheap turning in.
Almonte has always shown those tools -- with 70 speed, good range, a powerful and accurate arm, gap power and a quick bat -- but he's had a hard time staying on the field and putting in a full season where those tools produce results. Those struggles with health and consistency led him to not make it to High-A until his fifth season of pro ball and 2012 was his first shot at Double-A. The Yankees didn't add him to their 40-man roster prior to 2013 and felt he was expendable, leading to the deal with Seattle. The Mariners obviously liked the package that Almonte presented, but his production in 2013 marked the best numbers he had posted stateside in nearly every meaningful offensive category. His plate discipline -- he ranked third in the organization with 67 walks -- was a huge weapon all season, as only nine players in either Triple-A league had better walk (12.4%) and strikeout (16.7%) rates than Almonte on the season. Harris was very impressed with him, saying, "the power that he displayed was impressive. He plays tremendous defense and handles the bat extremely well."
Almonte on defense doesn't appear to be all that special at first blush. In fact, I had heard great things about it from a Yankees contact shortly after the trade, but following multiple MiLB.TV looks at him I was asking a scout openly what the fuss was about, and he echoed that. Then I saw him make a few throws. Almonte is very stoutly built, and he throws like he's got a lot of muscle packed into that body. It is at least a plus arm, maybe even 65-70 grade, although I haven't really seen enough to judge carry. His speed is also plus to plus-plus, and he gets to top speed very quickly. He has more power from the left side but seems to have a more patient approach from his natural right side. The swing, though, is pretty identical from both sides. As he showed in the big leagues, he sometimes gets in trouble by swinging over breaking balls, and he'll absolutely have to adjust in that regard to stick in the big leagues.
Because of the way the Mariners' roster is currently configured and the way that the offseason has gone thus far, Almonte looks to have a real shot at significant time in the major league outfield for Seattle in 2014. His ceiling is probably just second division starter or fourth outfielder, but he has some spark plug capabilities and the versatility and value on defense in the outfield that could end up leading to a long career in the bigs. Even if he doesn't crack Seattle's roster on Opening Day, look for Almonte to rack up some more MLB plate appearances in 2014.
Diaz, one of the M's teenage arms I featured about a month ago, had a huge 2013 season. The 2012 3rd round pick posted the best ERA of any stateside starter in the organization, walking just one more batter than he did in 2012 while pitching 50 more innings. He walked away from the season with the Appalachian League Pitcher of the Year award after leading the circuit in ERA and strikeouts while putting up the second best WHIP in the league. I had him at 45th on our Top-50 a year ago, but that was based entirely on potential, with his likelihood of reaching that ceiling being microscopic in my eyes. That potential became a lot more realistic as 2013 unfolded, and many now see Diaz as one of the best young arms in the minor leagues.
After 2012 fall instructs Rich Dorman told me that Diaz, "reminds of a young Pedro Martinez." That is lofty praise, but seeing what Diaz looks like when he pitches makes the comparison seem a little less crazy. He consistently worked in the mid-90s with his fastball for Pulaski this past year, and unlike the previous season in Arizona, he showed good command of the pitch, especially in keeping the ball down. He sometimes elevates in looking for the strikeout and that bit him a few times this year as he allowed five home runs on the season, but three of them were to left-handed hitters. That should be expected, but the .173/.242/.321 line that left-handers managed off of the right-handed throwing Diaz was not expected. His secondary offerings -- a big curve and a changeup -- took little steps forward with his command this year, but what really helps Diaz in working to lefties is the movement on his fastball. The long, loose arm action that Diaz employs is where he generates his big velocity, but that also gives him a lot of boring action on the fastball.
Diaz was at a strikeout an inning or better in nine of his 13 starts for Pulaski this past year and he only had worse than a 2:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in two of 13. He walked two or less in 10 of his 13 starts and allowed more than one earned run just three times as well. Those numbers all point to the improvements in the consistency of his delivery that were made, allowing Diaz to work hitters his way and go deep into games. That single improvement is what is responsible for Edwin climbing so high on the prospect list this year, and the promise that was shown in that regard is what makes some people see a potential No. 2 pitcher in him. His curveball, a 12-6er which works in the mid-70s, is a huge change of pace pitch that can get swings-and-misses from hitters on both sides of the plate. The changeup is a relatively new pitch for Diaz and he still doesn't have great feel for the offering. One person familiar with him suggested that Edwin could likely end up adding another offering before 2014.
Diaz will be challenged with an assignment to full season ball, most likely Clinton, in 2014. As someone who has been pitching for not quite five years, there are still many ways for him to polish his game and still some distance for him to travel before he becomes a true MLB prospect, but the overall potential that he has in his electric arm is above most other prospects in Seattle's system.
Smith was an eighth round choice out of Texas State in 2011 that has been overpowering and dominant in his two years of pro ball for Seattle so far. A tall right-hander who's height does absolutely nothing for him, Carson seems like a shoe-in to be one of the toughest decisions in Mariners' big league camp this year despite not having any Triple-A experience as he was announced as one of the club's Non-Roster Invitees. Employing herky-jerky mechanics and a sidearm slinging arm slot, he's put up a 2.41 ERA (2.24 FIP) and struck out 148 in his 112 pro innings so far. He ranked 17th on my Top-50 a year ago and now -- with a full season of Double-A and two stints in the AFL under his belt, and after allowing only one earned run in his final 22 appearances of 2013 -- Smith's profile as a tough to hit, ground ball machine look like a great fit in a big league bullpen.
"His unorthodox delivery makes the slider extremely difficult to pick up, especially to right-handed hitters," said Harris, and he's dead on with that comment. His low three-quarters/high sidearm arm slot makes both his fastball and his slider have a lot of movement (a la former Mariners reliever Jeff Nelson) and makes for a very uncomfortable at bat. That has led to only three home runs allowed and right-handers hitting just .186/.261/.237 off of Smith. And despite him not having a real usable third pitch, lefties haven't hit Carson hard, either. Probably as important as Smith's growth as a player, Chris also mentioned the growth that he saw from the tall right-hander from a mental standpoint this year, saying, "with maturity came more confidence and he learned as the season went on that you didn't have to overpower every hitter." Smith ran a crazy high 4.13 groundout-to-airout ratio in 2013 and allowed just two extra base hits in 130 plate appearances against right-handed hitters. He also struck out 50 of those right-handed hitters and walked only seven; truly dominant.
With his delivery and arm angle, Smith's hard sinking fastball at 92-95 and big breaking slider that can get up to 87-88 make for a difficult enough repertoire to track most times. And while his command isn't great still and may never be because of the violence in his delivery, Smith's could be a case of being effectively wild as he has often induced awkward looking late swings from seemingly defenseless hitters. Whether or not that deception can continue to play at the upper levels and into the big leagues remains to be seen, but Smith figures to have at least a middle innings future in Seattle's bullpen.
Seattle has been accused of rushing some prospects recently and even had Brandon Maurer break north with the big league club a year ago before he'd tasted Triple-A. Smith could be a case of a player that could handle that type of jump, but it also stands to reason that the M's would like to avoid having to do that if possible. He does still need some refining of his command and his consistency and some more growth on the maturity side of things could be beneficial, too. But Carson Smith should definitely see some innings for Seattle in 2014.
That wraps up this Monday's report on Seattle Mariners' prospects numbered 15 through 11 in the Top-50. Check back next Monday as we break into the top-10 and cover numbers 10 through 6 (including words from Chris Gwynn on each player), and stay in touch with SeattleClubhouse for more details about the Top-50 and all things Mariners-related leading up to the 2014 season.
Looking for more Mariners news, articles and player interviews? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse site Editor Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.