Thursday marked the deadline to protect minor leaguers who had reached service time limits from the Rule 5 Draft which is scheduled to take place in about three weeks to wrap up the Winter Meetings in San Diego. This is a very strategic time for teams as they try to make a very difficult determination as to which players would truly be at risk of being lost to a 25-man roster spot for an MLB team in the 2015 season while also weighing the needs of the big league club and those coveted 40-man roster spots. After careful consideration, the Seattle Mariners made their moves, selecting the minor league contracts of Ketel Marte, John Hicks and Mayckol Guaipe to bring their 40-man roster to 39 players.
Marte has become one of the hottest prospects in Seattle's organization over the past two seasons, skyrocketing through their minor leagues and reaching Triple-A Tacoma last year where he hit .313/.367/.450 in 90 plate appearances before celebrating his 21st birthday shortly after the season ended. The switch-hitting shortstop was a Southern League All-Star and set a number of career high marks at the plate in 2014, hitting a combined .304/.335/.411 in 128 games with 42 extra base hits and 29 steals. Originally a full-time slap hitter, Marte has become more complete as an offensive player, especially from the left side, and he doubled his previous career Isolated Power number in 2014, posting a very respectable .137 mark on the year. Originally signed out of the Dominican in August of 2010 by the club, Marte's is an electric defender and a great bunter as well.
Hicks is a 2011 draftee out of Virginia, where he teamed with Chris Taylor and Danny Hultzen on a powerhouse team for the Cavaliers. The catcher had a down year in 2013 with the bat, but he bounced back nicely in 2014, repeating Double-A to start the year before getting into 28 games with the Rainiers and playing in the Arizona Fall League to round out his season. The 25-year-old right-handed hitter hit a combined .290/.351/.403 in 81 games during the regular season then hit an impressive .304/.396/.522 in 13 games in the AFL, posting the second highest OPS (.918) on the Surprise roster. An athletic defender with a strong arm behind the plate, Hicks has thrown out 47.0% (102 of 217) of base stealers in his 320 game minor league career to date.
Guaipe is most likely the least known prospect of this trio, even though he's been in the organization the longest. Signed in late 2006 out of Venezuela at age 16, Guaipe took the unusual route by spending four full years playing in the small Venezuelan Summer League for Seattle before being assigned to a stateside affiliate for the first time in 2010. After two years as a starter, the big right-hander has spent the past two seasons working out of the bullpen, striking out 103 batters in 102 1/3 innings of relief in that time. In 2014, his 0.96 WHIP was the best in the organization among full-season minor league pitchers and he held right-handed hitters to a sub-.200 average (.197). Guaipe has a low-90s fastball and good slider and Chris Gwynn compared him favorably to Yoervis Medina.
The biggest surprise to me with the roster moves is that Seattle didn't add right-handed hitters Jabari Blash or Jordy Lara. Last year while Kiley McDaniel was with Scout.com, he rated Blash as the top unprotected hitter in advance of the Rule 5 draft following his strong final month in Double-A. Blash reached Triple-A for the first time in 2014 and again showed a lot of power and patience, swatting 12 home runs and drawing walks at a 9.0% rate, but he struck out 57 times in 189 plate appearances and -- probably more telling on why he was left off the roster -- served a 50-game suspension after testing positive for THC. The 25-year-old had a strong spring for Seattle in 2014 and has the tools that could translate to a big league future, but Seattle clearly felt that he was still a ways away at this point.
Lara is a different story in that he had a tremendous 2014, earning recognition as the Co-Player of the Year in the Mariners' minor league system after hitting a combined .337/.392/.581 and leading all of MiLB in hits with 177. He hit 26 home runs and drove in 104 runs, the sixth most in MiLB. But 2014 was the sixth season of pro ball for Lara, and the first in which he spent any time above A ball. Still only 23, it's possible he's just a late bloomer, but the lack of higher level playing experience (just 33 games at Double-A) likely help the M's feel secure that another MLB club will not take the chance of risking a 25-man roster spot on him.
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