Here at SeattleClubhouse, our primary goal in covering the Seattle Mariners is to give our readers exclusive, in-depth information on players in the organization from the foreign Rookie League teams all the way to the Major Leagues. We do this by looking beyond just statistics and typical web resources and using direct input from the Mariners' Player Development Staff -- including Chris Gwynn, Tom McNamara and Tim Kissner, among others -- and other respected baseball contacts from outside of the organization to help develop our unique set of rankings. The aim is to give the readers rundowns on the names in the Seattle system that are worth tracking for the coming season and maybe even pinning future MLB hopes on. SeattleClubhouse's personal taste and scoring plays into the determination of where the prospects land on the list, too; that is 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, but also age, level, tools, etc. are weighted.
This pre-2015 countdown is 50 deep, building off of the truncated Top-35 that was posted near the end of September. Things have changed since that report, even in the Top-5, so this report will be a much different as it is a fresh look with completely up to date late- or post-season input. The reports will be thorough for all players covered, but they'll get more in-depth as we climb towards the top of the heap, and three of the ten pieces -- starting with this one -- will be free for anyone who visits the site, the other seven will be subscriber only.
For reference, links to the entire Top-50 from a year ago can be found here:
- 50 through 46 (FREE)
- 45 through 41
- 40 through 36
- 35 through 31
- 30 through 26
- 25 through 21
- 20 through 16
- 15 through 11
- 10 through 6 (FREE)
- 5 through 1 (FREE)
Each player we cover this year will be presented with a photo (when available) and bio info as well as the level at which they ended during the 2014 regular season. Players who are past their age-26 season and those who have exhausted their Rookie status per Major League guidelines are not eligible for consideration. Discussion in the forums is welcome, but until the entire Top-50 is released for all (after the individual pieces are finished), please keep discussion on the information from subscriber pieces in the subscriber forums.
Without further delay, let's kick off this 10-week crash course in Mariners prospect with numbers 50 through 46:
10th rd, '12
High-A High Desert
Wood isn't a reliever that blows you away when you watch him pitch, but the right-hander knows his strengths and works to them well, leading to him enjoying a ton of success to date. In three seasons in the system, Wood has pitched 200 1/3 innings out of the pen in his 108 relief appearances, striking out more hitters (186) than he's allowed hits (178) while doing a remarkable job of getting batters to put the ball in play on the ground, with a 1.50 GO:FO ratio in 2014 and a 51.3% groundball rate overall. His 82 relief innings this season were the fourth most in the Mariners' system and second most in the California League, where his 2.87 FIP was 12th best among league pitchers with 50 or more innings on the season.
Wood was Seattle's 10th round selection out of Western Oregon in 2012 as a senior sign. A starter in college, and a very successful one at that, he was moved to the pen immediately as a pro, and that is definitely where he fits best. The right-hander deals from an almost sidearm, low three-quarters, slinging delivery and works from the extreme first base side of the rubber, maximizing his ability to run and sink his fastball -- which usually sits in the high-80s but can touch 90-91 at times -- and sweep his slider, giving right-handed hitters fits. In 315 at bats against Grady this past season, opposing batters hit the ball on the ground 127 times. Right-handed hitters managed just two home runs and a .654 OPS against Wood. He added a changeup during his senior season in college and that pitch has helped him to minimize damage from left-handers as a pro, too. They did touch him up for a .726 OPS in 2014, but he maintained a solid 19.5% K-rate against them.
While his stuff still doesn't wow you and he doesn't look like a shutdown closer, the future for Grady could definitely still involve time as a solid major league reliever. Wood survived the pitching nightmare that is pitching in Adelanto quite well, actually posting a better home ERA (3.15) than road ERA (3.43), and should find things a little easier going as far as environment in Double-A Jackson this year. If he can carry forward with his groundball ways and limit hard contact as the competition improves, Wood could work himself into the conversation for a middle relief role at the big league level soon.
Int FA, '10
High-A High Desert
Unsworth burst onto the prospect scene with the M's back in 2010 when he walked just one hitter in 50 1/3 innings working mainly as a starter in the Arizona Rookie League. He only walked two in 72 innings in 2013 before being challenged with an assignment to the Cal League in 2014 that can test any control pitcher. But while the results for High Desert weren't exactly in line with his previous performances, some of that was actually a good thing for the South African born right-hander. Unsworth's season ERA was 5.88, but his FIP on the year worked out to 4.23 -- good enough for 18th in the league among qualified starters. And his 9.0 SO/9 and 22.4% K rate represented the best marks of his career. On top of that, Unsworth pitched very well on the road, posting a 3.82 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 13 road starts compared to 8.07 and 1.76 marks in 13 home starts at the launching pad in Adelanto.
I've talked with the M's Player Development staff before about how pitching in that tough environment can take a while for kids to figure out, and Unsworth seems to be one of those cases. He had a 7.18 ERA through the first half of the season before finishing with a much more respectable 4.45 mark over the second half. That second half included the best start of Dylan's career: 7 innings of shutout ball against Modesto in which he allowed only three hits while striking out a career-best 12 and, of course, not walking a batter. Unsworth used the strikeout to avoid damage more and more as the season went on as he worked five or more innings averaging at least a strikeout an inning in 12 of his 26 starts. And staying true to his strengths, he didn't walk more than two in any of those outings.
The slightly built Unsworth is a pitcher that relies a lot on command, but it isn't like his stuff is non-existent. He works with a four-pitch mix, throwing both two- and four-seam fastballs. His fastball mainly sits in the upper-80s, but he can touch 90-91 at times with the four-seamer. The two-seam offering has some good movement in on righties. His changeup is a little soft at times, but it has served him pretty well in stretches. Dylan also throws a traditional curve and a slider, but neither are plus offerings at this point. He'll get the push up to Double-A in 2015 and that environment change should be a good one for him.
10th rd, '11
The one tool of the five primary scouting tools that Paolini has that grades out above average is the ability to hit for power. Usually if there is a prospect who is power only -- and particularly one that is 25 and doesn't have a defined defensive home -- there wouldn't be much space for them on a top prospect list. But Paolini isn't a typical case. Because while power is his only really standout tool, he does a bunch of other things at the plate well enough that you can envision the bat "popping". And the primary reason that you can envision that is because Dan also has the non-graded traits -- makeup, work ethic, mentality, etc. -- that you typically find in players that take the next step. "He's a very hard worker, very dedicated. And he definitely has some of those intangibles that you look for," in players that tend to take that next step, Jack Howell told me.
That's not to say that Paolini hasn't performed on the field, as he has been a consistent performer season-to-season and had one of the best months in the entire minor leagues in 2012, homering 11 times and driving in 37 runs in 29 games in August that season for the LumberKings. He hasn't quite replicated that success over any other sustained period, but he does have four full months besides that one with an OPS north of .900 and he owns a career minor league slash of .276/.370/.465 which includes a 12.0% BB rate and a 9.6% extra base hit rate. Combine that with a low 15.6% career strikeout rate and you can see why Paolini's offensive profile is intriguing.
However, he's right-handed, an even 6-foot and doesn't possess good speed or athleticism, a great arm or the softest of hands, so the former college second baseman has seen the majority of his games as a pro at first base. As you can see in the spray chart above, the right-hander has almost all of his extra base power to the pull side and he does get very pull conscious at times, but he has a knack for barreling balls and has the strength to do damage when he does. That paired with his eye at the plate are his ticket. After struggling in 2013 at Double-A (.165/.289/.233 in 122 PAs) he returned to his regular levels at the plate this past year. Triple-A pitching will challenge him further and it is certainly possible that no improvement is left, leaving him as a classic "AAAA" player, but if anything takes a small tick forward with the bat, Paolini could find himself on a big league roster in the future.
1st rd, '09
Many people point to Baron as perhaps the organization's worst high pick under Tom McNamara and Jack Zduriencik. Maybe that's fair, but maybe people just aren't patient enough. 33 of the 49 players taken before the 2nd round in 2009 have already reached the majors, and a couple of them are legitimate All-Stars. High school catchers traditionally take a little more time to develop, but where Baron differs from that typical subset of prospects is that he is MLB-quality as a defender behind the plate now; it's his bat that hasn't taken that step forward in his six seasons in the system.
Baron has gunned out better than 46% (178 of 385) of would-be basestealers in his 380 games behind the plate, but he's hit just .221 with a .603 OPS and struck out more than four times as much as he's walked in his 1,589 plate appearances as a hitter, posting just a 7.1% extra base hit rate outside of the Cal League in the process. But he showed some late life in 2014, hitting .275/.342/.362 in 76 plate appearances for Double-A Jackson at the end of last year. Small sample size, sure, but it sounds like that also led into an impressive time at instructs. Baron was the co-winner of Seattle's "Control the Zone" award and as Howell put it, he "absolutely tore the cover off the ball," in the fall session. Granted success in instructs isn't the same as doing it in the regular season, but Howell thinks that Baron is in the process of becoming a much better hitter.
"We told him when he got down here, 'you're a hitter, first and foremost.' Yes, he knew and we knew that he was going to catch, but we wanted Steve to focus on himself as a hitter -- something he's never really done before." And Howell thinks that that shift in focus was exactly what Baron needed, "I think he's figured some things out," he told me. That certainly doesn't mean that anyone should expect Baron to suddenly become one of the best hitting prospects in Seattle's system, but passable offense paired with his advanced defensive profile behind the plate -- where he is plus in all facets -- would make him a very valuable piece and could make him a long-time big leaguer. That journey will start back in Double-A to open up 2015 for Baron, and his performance at the plate there is worth following closely to see if he can tap into the potential offensively that the M's saw in him leading up to the 2009 draft.
Int FA, '12
Mejia was signed in June of 2012 out of Santa Domingo by the Mariners but he made the jump stateside in 2013 as an 18-year-old after only 37 games played for the club's DSL team. The switch-hitter collected multi-hit games in three of his first seven games in the AZL before dislocating his shoulder and hitting the disabled list for the remainder of the 2013 season. Back in Peoria for the 2014 season, he picked up right where he left off, posting the highest AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS among M's regulars and tying for the third most triples in the AZL with six. He had nine multi-hit contests over the final 30 games of the season and hit .311/.383/.462 in 123 plate appearances in that span.
And those stats are backed up by tools that are evident to those who watch him. Hitting from a crouched stance, Mejia can get around on even the fastest arms making very good contact. His 17.0% strikeout rate was the ninth lowest among teenagers with 100 or more plate appearances in the AZL. He hit .341/.386/.585 in 46 plate appearances from the right side but showed patience and the ability to reach the gaps from both sides. "He has a quick swing, quick bat," said Howell. Continuing, "And he has really good hands; hitting and in the field." And while the bat is definitely an important part of any prospect's game, the thing that really sets Mejia apart is his maturity and sure-handedness on defense.
Mejia split his time at shortstop and second base this season, mainly because of the presence of another slick fielding prospect who will be on this Top-50 countdown, but he has all the tools to stick at short as he moves up the ladder, showing the arm, quickness and instincts that the position demands. "He impresses everyone who watches him on defense. Very mature defensively for his age," Howell said. The M's probably want to still take it relatively slow with Mejia as he's so young, and since the club is down an affiliate starting in 2015, the likelihood is that Erick will start the season in extended spring training, with a chance to see Everett if everything goes well.
That ends the breakdown of our first five prospects in this year's Top-50. Check back next Monday and every Monday as we give you reports on five more Mariners' prospects to watch each week.
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