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 post-season Top-35. Things have changed since that report, even in the Top-5, so this report will be 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 while three of the ten pieces will be free for anyone who visits the site, the other seven will be subscriber only.
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 have finished 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.
The Post-season Abbreviated Top-35 can be found again here, and the previous reports from this year's Top-50 can be accessed via the following links:
Here we go with the Top-25, prospects 25 through 21:
Int FA, '14
Did Not Play
Hernandez, signed towards the end of July as one of the top-rated available players on the International market, hasn't taken the field for any regular season game action for Seattle yet, but that doesn't stop people throughout baseball from heaping high praise on him. Baseball America had him ranked as the No. 3 prospect this past summer, and other outlets named him among the top players available, too. I checked in with Kiley McDanial, now with FanGraphs, but who covered Hernandez and the entire international market in-depth last year for Scout, on Hernandez. Here is what he had to say: "Hernandez is a really solid, plus runner, a good center fielder with some size to his frame and power in his bat. Everything grades out as at least average, and he's deceptively strong. He has shown very good instincts, and I was told that he was very good at instructs in games, where he was playing against much older competition."
That last part is of particular importance at this point for Hernandez, because 2015 will be his first real crack at professional baseball. Certainly a number of high dollar prospects from the Latin countries and elsewhere have failed to live up to their lofty expectations that were placed on them as young teenagers when they finally got on the field and started playing games that count, but there is a lot of optimism that Hernandez has what it takes to succeed in pro ball; not just physically, but mentally, too. Mariners' coordinator of Venezuelan Operations Emilio Carrasquel -- who played a vital role in signing Hernandez -- said back in July of the young outfielder, "I believe he is a player, for his age, that combines all five tools that you need in baseball." And the Mariners' man in charge of International Player Development, Tim Kissner, says that Brayan is, "a plus athlete with plus instincts and tools."
If this young Venezuelan has the ability to convert his skills into performance on the field, he could be one who's name appears near the top of this list for the Mariners frequently in the next three or four years as he climbs through Seattle's system. Hernandez is likely to get his first crack to show off his assortment of tools -- which scouts say have plus potential as both a hitter and defender -- playing in the Arizona Rookie League in 2015.
5th rd, '13
High-A High Desert
A glove first shortstop who didn't do much offensively in college that ended up being Seattle's 5th round pick, Reinheimer is almost a carbon copy of Chris Taylor. And like the club's 2013 Minor League Player of the Year, Reinheimer has impressed the organization with the bat, working to erase the label as someone who only offers value with the glove. In just two seasons in the system, Jack has already shown enough with the bat while performing as expected defensively that the club didn't hesitate to move him up to High-A before 2014 ran out. He started the year in Clinton, and played 110 of his 130 games in the Midwest League this past year, often serving as the injury-depleted LumberKings' 3-hole hitter. And while you don't often see middle infielders who slug .335 while carrying an XBH% under 5.0% hitting third very often, what made him a candidate there was his remarkable consistency. He picked up 30 multi-hit games for Clinton, but perhaps more impressive is that he went three or more straight games without reaching base via hit or walk only once during the season there. He would go on to pick up nine more multi-hit games with High Desert and also stole 39 bases in 50 tries on the year combined between the two stops.
Those steals were good for second in Seattle's system, and while he isn't a burner in the Billy Hamilton mold by any stretch, Reinheimer is a fast runner when underway that makes good decisions and reads on the base paths on steals and in aggressively taking the extra base when he can. He uses his speed and quickness on defense, too, getting himself in good position to field the ball and get rid of it quickly, letting his average arm play up. The extra base power isn't there in his bat now, and he probably will never be a home run threat, but Reinheimer hits the ball where it is pitched and really uses the whole field, picking up a number of knocks on pitches away, as shown in the chart below.
After ranking 42nd on this countdown a season ago, Reinheimer's first full season -- while not spectacular, certainly -- was enough to shoot him up the list this year. Jack has a great approach to the game and shows a high level of baseball intelligence on both sides of his game, and his patience, plate discipline, speed and contact-oriented stroke with a level swing path help him avoid long slumps at the plate. On defense, he has a great first step, very good feet, quick, smooth hands and an accurate arm. As I said a year ago, the total package doesn't blow you away, but a plus defensive shortstop that has the ability to get on base and handle the bat is the type of profile that will be around as long as he wants to be. And it isn't out of the question that -- like Taylor in 2013 -- something could click at the plate, enabling Reinheimer to take that next step. He's likely to be back in the California League to open 2015.
Int FA, '09
After a breakout 2013 that saw Choi pick up 60 extra base hits, OPS over .900 and walk nearly as much as he struck out across three stops, 2014 started off like Triple-A Tacoma was just going to be another blip on the radar along Choi's journey to the big leagues, as he was hitting .394/.500/.545 through the first 10 games of the season. But that early high was abruptly followed by the ultimate disappointment for him, as on April 17th it was announced that he'd tested positive for a PED -- methandienone -- and would be suspended for 50 games. Choi, of course, said it was a mistake that he knew nothing about, but the damage was done. What did that mean? Did that explain his hot start in Tacoma? Was that what was powering his meteoric rise through Seattle's system the past two seasons, too? Whatever the questions were on that day that the news broke, Choi unfortunately didn't do much once he came back to erase the doubt that they brought.
Yes, Choi did close out the year with a nice stretch for Tacoma, homering in three of the Rainiers' final seven games and hitting .289/.383/.409 in the second half with his usual plate discipline. But the drop off in the overall numbers still is easy to see and easy to question 'who is the real Ji-Man Choi'? 12.0% extra base hit rate in 2013, 5.4% in 2014. 3.6% home run rate in 2013, 2.0% in 2014. Jack Howell told me a year ago that Choi was, "going to have a 10-plus year big league career," in his eyes. And when we spoke following 2014 it seems he hasn't soured on him due to the difficult season that Choi endured. "He has the bat, the instincts and the love for the game that make me think he'll be back," to his 2013 level in time.
The former catcher seemed to be pretty set at first base defensively, where I actually got some pretty strong reports on his abilities from various sources in 2013. But due to his struggles and a bit of a log jam at the position for Tacoma, Choi actually played 26 games in left field for the Rainiers last season. And, believe it or not, I got some (surprised) positive reports on him out there, too. Choi continued to play in left in winter ball, and while he best fits at first still, having some outfield experience under his belt certainly doesn't hurt his future. That future is still tied almost exclusively to his bat, however. If Choi can get back to producing at the plate like he did in 2013 and at the start and end of 2014, he could still make Howell's prediction of a long big league career come to fruition.
8th rd, '10
While Choi's suspension caused frustration and questions about his true abilities last year, Blash, too, served a 50-game suspension in 2014 that raised a different set of questions. This suspension wasn't for PED's, but for a second positive test for a recreational drug of abuse. Blash, who had been promoted to Triple-A Tacoma after just 25 games to open the year in Jackson, had started slowly following his promotion, but had homered eight times and driven in 21 runs in his last 20 games with the Rainiers before the suspension and was tied for second in the organization and seventh in the minors in homers with 17. When he returned to action in August, he did so back in Double-A, where he managed to hit just .186/.321/.326 over the season's final 12 games.
So how does Blash -- who was in his fifth year as a pro ball player, who turned 25 during his suspension and who was seemingly fairly close to getting himself a 40-man roster spot -- lack the discipline required to stay away from drugs after he'd already been issued a warning for a first failed test? That is a major question, and one that clearly frustrated many in the organization. This was someone who coaches had put themselves on the line for in the past, someone who had made great improvements on his game's weaknesses over the past 24 months, now just seemingly not caring enough about those people and baseball in general to not get caught again. Blash, who was No. 21 on the SeattleClubhouse Top-50 a year ago after being No. 35 following 2012, definitely broke out at the end of 2013 with Jackson, and those same trends were happening for him in Tacoma before the suspension.
Blash is by no means a can't-miss slugger, as he still lacks polish in a number of areas. But his combination of power and patience is something that isn't common -- in the Mariners' system, or in the minor leagues in general. Combine those two key tools with his athleticism, strong throwing arm and ability to handle a corner outfield spot, and Blash definitely looks like a player who will get a shot in the big leagues with some team at some time. He'll surely get some looks in big league camp again in 2015, but returning to Tacoma to try and rebuild some of that prospect luster that he lost last year while staying clean and committed will be Blash's first goal in the coming year.
18th rd, '12
High-A High Desert
Henry just barely cracked the Top-50 a year ago, coming in at No. 46 on the post-2013 countdown following a season that saw him explode out of the gates for Clinton and hit .366/.476/.598 in the year's first 25 games. But in 2014, we saw a bit of a different Jabari Henry. The right-handed hitting outfielder had posted a very strong 9.4% extra base hit rate over his first two seasons in the system. But while that number jumped to 11.9%, it was the home run totals that really blew up, as Henry -- who had hit 19 combined in 683 plate appearances in his first two pro seasons -- hit 30 for the Mavs in 2014. That total had Jabari in very select company, as he was one of only 12 minor leaguers to reach the 30-homer mark. And of those twelve players, he had the third lowest strikeout rate on the season at 21.2%.
He was remarkably consistent throughout the season for High Desert, homering five times in April, five times in May, four in June, then eight in both July and August, and he also drew double-digit walks in each month of the season. August was Henry's "worst month", as he hit .240/.360/.552 with those eight home runs, but he struck out 34 times over the 26 games that month. He hit for a 1.067 OPS with runners on base and a 1.151 with runners in scoring position, striking out in just 18.8% of those plate appearances, showing a remarkable ability to be a disciplined run producer. As Henry told me in our talk in late-August, the work put in to get him to that point started in the offseason following 2013. Henry said that he and his college coach, Turtle Thomas, were, "focusing on me driving the ball the other way. I really feel like that is the one thing I learned this year that has made the biggest difference." Indeed, in looking at his spray chart for 2014 (below), it is clear that Henry enjoyed quite a bit of success when hitting the ball the other way in 2014. Nine of his 30 homers were driven to straight away center or to the opposite field, but the right-handed hitting Henry also picked up a number of doubles and triples by using his power that plays to all fields.
Henry did collect 17 of those 30 homers at home in Adelanto, but he still put up a .924 OPS on the road for the Mavs, so it isn't like his 2014 was some great mirage. That said, 30 home runs almost definitely represents the absolute best possible outcome season for Henry. He has plus power thanks to the fact that he consistently generates good backspin and lift from his strong wrists and quick bat. And if he continues to use the whole field and drive the ball to all fields then he should continue to be an extra base hit threat as he moves up the ladder. Henry played just eight games in center field last season, and it is likely that his long-term home is in left as he doesn't have plus range or a plus throwing arm. He'll face a challenge in Double-A in 2015, but to me Henry is definitely a prospect on the rise.
That wraps up our sixth weekly look at five prospects making up this year's Top-50. Check back next Monday and every Monday up until spring training as we give you reports on more of the top Mariners' prospects to watch.
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