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:
- 50 through 46 (FREE)
- 45 through 41
- 40 through 36
- 35 through 31
- 30 through 26
- 25 through 21 (FREE)
- 20 through 16 (FREE)
Here are prospects 15 through 11:
1st rd, '11
With the severe injury that he suffered causing him to not only miss the entire 2014 season but also put into question whether or not he can ever recover back close to what he was before, Hultzen is among the hardest prospects in all of baseball to rank. The compound shoulder surgery he underwent -- similar to what stopped Johan Santana's brilliant career and put him on the perpetual comeback trail -- was not your household injury. But as I covered back at the beginning of October, Danny is putting in his work, absolutely has the right mind set, and has a number of people in his corner who not only want him to achieve that comeback, but think that he will achieve that comeback. But since it is definitely not a sure thing that he'll ever even succeed at Triple-A again, after being No. 4 last year and No. 3 on the list the year before, Hultzen checks in on this year's countdown at No. 15.
The injury has been a major setback for one of the game's top prospects, but as Gary Wheelock told me, Hultzen hasn't gotten down on himself. "There aren't many players with Danny's ability to stay positive and continue to work hard with a great attitude," he said. One thing that may have been a contributing factor to Hultzen's injury was his delivery, and that has been altered (again) a bit, decreasing the amount that the left-hander throws across his body. A side effect, communicated to me by both Danny himself and rehab pitching coordinator Gary Wheelock in the piece linked above, is that the lefty's slider may be an even better, sharper pitch now. How that translates to in-game action is yet to be seen, of course, but Hultzen having that weapon to use against left-handed hitters has been a key for him throughout his career, so you have to hope that the new version of the pitch is at least just as effective.
While Seattle's selection of Hultzen has grown with malign among fans into near legendary status as he has worked through his injury issues, it shouldn't be forgotten that -- as detailed in the graphic above -- Hultzen wasn't just a "close to the majors" starting pitcher. He had very, very good stuff. Minor League Players surveyed following the 2012 season voted him as the Best Lefty in the Minors. Probably the biggest question that Hultzen has to answer, has to prove, in 2015 is, "what will his stuff look like?" Danny was 92-94 with the fastball, touching a tick higher at times prior to the injury. He also had a wipeout slider and probably could call his changeup his best pitch. If he can get back to even 90-92 regularly with the fastball while maintaining some run and sink, keep the slider sharp and effectively change speeds it stands to reason that he could still succeed as a big league rotation piece. That question will start to get answered in spring training, but the likelihood is that Danny will spend the bulk of 2015 pitching for Tacoma.
4th rd, '14
Short Season Everett
The M's selection of Yarbrough in the 2014 Draft looked like a move to save money more than anything. Having tabbed Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan in the first two rounds, making a move for a senior sign arm just made sense. The thing is, though, Yarbrough absolutely went off in Everett in his debut, striking out better than one-third of the hitters he faced while walking only four batters, allowing just six earned runs and posting a 0.75 WHIP while pitching in the college-prospect-heavy Northwest League, sort of demolishing the notion that he was a draft pick born out of budgeting. He walked only four and allowed just four earned runs as a starter all year, held opposing hitters to a .428 OPS on the year. Only seven pitchers in the entire minor leagues threw more innings and had a lower BB/9 than Ryan and his 13.25 SO:BB ratio with Everett was the best mark posted by a NWL starter with 10 or more starts since 2000 and his 11.60 SO:BB ratio overall was the fourth best number in the minor leagues in 2014. He walked just 15 in 86 innings in his final season at Old Dominion (1.6 BB/9), so this season was just more of the same for Ryan as he has always exhibited good control.
On top of those amazing numbers, Yarbrough also ran a 55.8% ground ball percentage on the season and had the highest swing-and-miss percentage of any pitcher in the organization with more than 6 1/3 innings. He didn't walk a single left-handed hitter all year and struck out 18 of the 37 lefties he faced overall, and although the sole homer he allowed on the season was surrendered to a lefty (Roberto Ramos), it is plain to see that the long Yarbrough presents a very tough assignment for any left-handed hitter. He saw a jump in velocity once he reached the pros and minor league coaches got their hands on him, and growth in that area and others in the coming season when the gloves come off (he went more than three innings in an outing only three times) could make the tall lefty even more of a prospect. "He impressed me a lot," said an AL East scout who I spoke with about Yarbrough. "I know he was a senior sign, but the stuff is real."
Although he does have fantastic size, Yarbrough works from a low arm angle and throws a bit across his body (like Hultzen), so while he doesn't generate much of an advantage from his height, he still has a delivery that is one reason that left-handed hitters have a hard time getting comfortable against him. Working in shorter stints, his fastball was regularly 90-93 for Everett, and he does a remarkable job of consistently working at the bottom of the strikezone while getting good sink on the pitch, too. He has a big, slurvy breaking ball that generates a lot of swings-and-misses and a changeup that really keeps right-handers off of his fastball. Yarbrough figures to see Clinton to open 2015, where the focus will definitely be on stretching him out and measuring how he fares in longer outings, but at age 23 and with great success so far, Seattle won't hesitate to move him along quickly if he shows that he can handle the competition.
3rd rd, '13
Seattle's 3rd round pick from the 2013 draft, O'Neill built on a solid showing in the AZL his first season that saw him land at No. 25 in last year's countdownin a big way this past year, hammering out a 9.3% extra base hit rate and putting up an ISO numner (.216) more than 50% higher than any player his age or younger in Seattle's system that saw significant PAs. The son of a former Mr. Canada, the muscle-bound O'Neill homered twice in his first game back in Clinton after missing more than two months and wound up in the Top-20 in the league in a number of power categories despite playing in just over 40% of the games on the year. His home runs as a percentage of contact (9.2%) was the best mark in the league and despite a high strikeout rate (32.9%), especially after his return from injury, O'Neill managed very encouraging numbers overall in his first taste of full season ball. "Big time power," is what Gwynn says when asked about O'Neill. And that is promise that organizations salivate over.
Despite all the promise in his bat, there were definitely still some red flags for Tyler, starting with that injury. He suffered the injury when he broke his hand after punching the dugout wall in frustration following a strikeout in a game for Clinton during a rough stretch in May. And while teenage plate discipline numbers are almost always severe in hitters with the type of power that O'Neill has, the strikeout rate climbed to 38.2% following his return to the lineup while his walk rate dropped to 7.3%. Although he's very strong -- especially for his age -- Tyler can get pull-happy at times, and that led to a lot of weak, topped grounders to the left side in 2014. And while his transition from prep catcher/infielder to corner outfielder in the pros is going pretty well, he still isn't the smoothest out there with his routes or decisions. Most of this is likely to simply improve with experience and maturity, but O'Neill still has some work to do. The comps to country-mate, fellow Langley Blaze alumni and fellow McNamara/Zduriencik pick Brett Lawrie are natural, and they are built the same, look similar, and as his GM with Langley, Diamondbacks scout Doug Mathieson, told me, "Tyler even walks that Brett."
O'Neill does have a very strong arm and he is still athletic and quick for his size. Whatever ends up happening defensively or with his plate discipline numbers, the power -- which is already plus -- is only going to increase. When Tyler learns to let the ball travel a bit more and use his strength more consistently to the opposite field, there aren't going to be a lot of parks that can contain him. And if he can get a bit more selective in the process, O'Neill has the potential to turn into one of baseball's rarest prospects right now: a right-handed power hitter with some defensive value. Given his age, an assignment to the California League and new affiliate Bakersfield seems likely for O'Neill in 2015, and his raw power could generate some head-turning numbers there if he stays healthy and improves his approach a bit. If that does happen, look for O'Neill to start creeping into the conversation as a Top-100 prospect in baseball. As he said to me in our interview following the 2013 draft, "I want to be one of those guys that brings the younger kids out to watch them play and get them to love the game," and he has the ability to do just that.
5th rd, '11
Marlette -- who ranked 18th a season ago, 42nd the year prior and 29th following his first season in the system -- had his game take off in 2013, but in 2014 he took it to a whole other level while logging his most extensive playing time. One AL East scout told me late during the 2013 season, "He's showing a little pop, but the power will come." And in 2014, it finally did come in the form of game results, as Marlette slugged 17 home runs and 42 extra base hits for an 11.2% XBH rate. He also again threw out 35% of would-be base stealers, stole nine bases of his own and posted decent walk (7.5%) and strikeout (18.9%) rates as a young prospect in the California and Southern Leagues. But while his numbers alone were impressive, the path that he took to achieve those totals speaks to Marlette's abilities as a ballplayer.
While you have to qualify every High Desert player's stats by considering the environment, a look at Marlette's home run plot chart (above) shows a very encouraging sign: the right-handed hitter put 11 of his 17 homers out up the middle or to the opposite field. Expanding the view of his offense overall shows that Tyler hit the ball to right field (64 times) and center field (48 times) more than anywhere else on the field, speaking to his advanced approach at the plate, which scouts who I've checked in with in the last two years have unanimously commented on. While his OPS was .200 higher at home in Adelanto (.971 to .771), Marlette actually had more extra base hits and a higher frequency of them on the road than at home while playing for the Mavs. And he absolutely destroyed left-handed hitting, posting a .402/.424/.695 slash in 85 PAs. "For me, he has the highest offensive ceiling of any catcher in their system right now," an AL West scout told me this month about Marlette, and he's been doing all of this while playing against older competition.
Always a good throwing catcher as a converted prep third baseman, Marlette continues to improve his receiving and blocking skills as he gets more accustomed to the rigors of the position. And he has shown to have a great, natural rapport with and command of the pitchers on his staff at every stop according to his coaches. As Marlette continues to work on his defensive game, his play at the plate is already reaching the point that there isn't much left to prove. The catcher provides good contact abilities, plus pop and an all-fields approach that enable him to hit for both average and extra base power thanks to a short stroke and what scouts like to call 'hitter's arms'. He should start 2014 as the starting catcher with Jackson, but he could see Tacoma before the season is out depending on how the position moves ahead of him. With just a bit of improvement in defense and plate discipline, Marlette will be knocking on the door for what could be a long career as a big league catcher.
8th rd, '11
|162 Game Avg.||0.00||68||63||15||0||23||76||219||0.600||2.2||0.0||3.2||10.8|
Smith has rocketed through the Mariners' system pretty quickly for an eighth round pick, reaching the big leagues at the end of just his third pro season. And his performance in Seattle combined with his track record during his climb through the minors suggest that his days in the minor leagues could already be over. Assigned to Triple-A Tacoma to open 2014, the 6-foot-6 right-hander had a rough time getting going, allowing multiple runs in four of his first 11 outings, but after a couple of stints on the shelf with injuries, Smith came back to prove he could be dominant once again, allowing just five earned runs over his final 30 innings (1.50 ERA) for the Rainiers while posting a better than 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in that time.
An extreme ground ball pitcher, Smith gets a ton of routine outs and limits the amount of damage done against him by keeping the ball on the infield for the most part. Combining his 8 1/3 shutout innings at the big league level with his minor league season, Smith allowed just five extra base hits to the 211 hitters he faced and got ground balls in an amazing 66.1% of balls in play, and running a 3.65 GO/AO ratio during his 39 MiLB appearances. He has a 62.4% ground ball rate for his minor league career and didn't allow even one ball hit in the air in Seattle at the end of the year.
He has very good stuff, but everything that Smith throws is elevated in effectiveness because of his unorthodox delivery and abnormal release point. Working from a very low three-quarters arm slot, Smith is 'all knees and elbows' and sort of slings the ball across his body towards the plate. As you can imagine, this makes it very difficult for right-handed hitters to pick the ball up. And that arm slot and motion mean that (as shown in the chart above) he gets a ton of movement in both his fastball and slider. That fastball works in the 93-95 range, with the hard, sweeping slider working around 84-86. Smith also uses a hard changeup at times that is 87-89, but the thing that makes that pitch so effective is, again, his delivery. With the off-season moves of the Mariners and the apparent need they have in the big league pen, it seems that Carson is a natural fit in their big league pen. But even if he opens 2015 back in Tacoma, his presence will be felt in Seattle soon enough.
That does it for our eighth weekly look at five prospects making up this year's Top-50. Just two left to go, so check back next Monday as we crack the Top-10 and give you reports with even more depth on the best of the top Mariners' prospects to watch.
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.