Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

Three of the four full season leagues have their All-Star Games this week, so in this installment of Three Up, Three Down, we look at the entire first half of the minor league season to see which six players stood out the most.

For the fifth consecutive season, SeattleClubhouse is checking in each Monday with a rundown of the best and worst performances in the minor leagues from the past week within the Seattle Mariners' organization. The goal with this weekly piece is to keep you up to date on your favorite M's prospects while also shining a little brighter light on some of the lesser known standouts in the system, spreading the coverage around and highlighting those that deserve it most.

While the roster in Seattle doesn't have a lot of soft spots, the talent in the system still is a very important part of the ability for the Mariners to sustain success. And there is still quite a bit to be learned on some of the better prospects in the organization. Hopefully Three Up, Three Down helps with that learning for our readers, covering players in their age-26 or younger season who have not exhausted their MLB rookie status.

With this week's look being timed just before the Low-A, High-A and Double-A All-Star Games, we're taking the entire first half into consideration as we look at three players on each side of the spectrum on their way towards Seattle in 2015. Here we go -- Three Up, Three Down.

THREE UP

Ketel Marte - SS, Tacoma Rainiers: .343/.394/.434 (68-198), 10 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 24 RBI, 18 BB, 20 SO, 17-20 SB
Even though he's been out of action since the end of May with an injured wrist, Marte -- who was No. 7 for me at the end of last season and No. 5 prior to the 2015 season -- has performed better than any other hitter in the organization to date in his healthy time on the field. The shortstop made it up to Tacoma out of positional necessity late in the 2014 season and enjoyed some encouraging success at the plate, but this year he has taken it to the next level as he is third in the PCL in average, has picked up 19 multi-hit games and is the second hardest qualified hitter in the league to strikeout (9.1%) while increasing his walk rate to a career best number (8.1%). All while hitting in the top one-third of Tacoma's order while being among the youngest position players in the league.

His solid April (.310/.358/.345) blossomed into a fantastic May (.369/.423/.505) during which he put up a solid 7.9% extra base hit rate. And May also saw Marte make improvements on the defensive side of things, making just four errors over his last 36 games after committing four in the first 15. The 21 year old switch-hitting Marte has continued to improve as a right-handed hitter this season, which was a big weakness earlier in his career. And while the contact rate and speed are still a huge part of his game, he isn't the slap hitter that he was when he first came to the U.S. three years ago. Marte consistently sprays line drives from foul line to foul line from both sides of the plate but he still has that extreme contact approach. Even though that is the case, his plate discipline has markedly improved the past few years and he gets himself out far less often by putting bad pitches in play now.

While he isn't a middle-of-the-order big bopper or a flame-throwing starter that usually occupy the upper-end of prospect lists within an organization, Marte is quickly proving himself worthy of a high-ranking spot with his bat-to-ball skills, plate discipline, plus speed and solid shortstop defense. It will be interesting to watch Marte once he returns from the wrist injury, because the Mariners are getting pretty flush with big league caliber shortstops with Miller, Taylor and now Marte all in the fold.

Nelson Ward - 2B, Bakersfield Blaze: .280/.370/.449 (66-236), 12 2B, 8 3B, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 34 BB, 63 SO, 7-11 SB
Ward, a 12th round pick in the 2014 Draft, played at three levels last season and didn't have particularly notable success, hitting a combined .253/.336/.384 in 220 plate appearances. He started off 2015 where he ended 2014, in Clinton, and earned himself a promotion to High-A Bakersfield after hitting .270/.370/.436 in 46 games for the LumberKings to open the season. He's moved from shortstop to second base for the most part and has played well there, with only two errors in 261 chances between Clinton and the Blaze.

Ward leads the organization in triples, ranks third in walks and sixth in total bases, all adding up to be good enough for eighth in the system in OPS at .820. The University of Georgia product won't turn 23 until August, and while the strikeouts are high (63 in 273 PA), the uptick in production in the other areas certainly are offsetting it so far. He has eight multi-hit efforts in 19 games since his promotion to Bakersfield and has hit .339/.393/.518 against right-handed pitching for them so far. The left-handed hitting Ward has had a lot of issues versus left-handed pitching on the year (6-for-34, 14 strikeouts), but his success against right-handers is among the best in the organization so far, too.

Ward is enjoying what is typically viewed as a higher-than-sustainable BABIP in Bakersfield thus far with a .408 clip, but if he gets the strikeouts back down under control then he should have more chances to have that even out while still producing at his current level. And his 2014 numbers lead me to think that he can do that. Ward doesn't have great size or any tools that immediately jump out at you, but he's a, "classic baseball grinder", as one person put it. Is this a statistical oddity from an "org guy" or something more? Whatever it is, Ward is worth watching right now.

Paul Fry - LHP, Bakersfield Blaze: 4-2, 1 SV, 2.01 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 22 G, 44 2/3 IP, 34 H, 10 ER, 0 HR, 11 BB, 59 SO
So far in 2015, Fry has been doing a lot of what is typically the most unrecognized job in baseball -- long relief. Nevertheless, he's done it so well that he is turning heads within the organization, and he definitely has himself on the watch list here at SeattleClubhouse. Seattle's 17th round pick in 2013 out of a Michigan community college, Fry has now made 74 appearances as a pro (mostly in relief) and has put up a 2.92 ERA and 10.6 strikeouts-per-9 in 144 2/3 innings in those 74 games. The left-hander ranks fourth in the system in strikeouts and he has allowed just one earned run in 34 innings while striking out 34 and walking just three since April 28th.

While he has been successful since day one in the system, Fry had allowed left-handers to hit .229 entering this season, but they've gone just 12-for-60 in 2015 while striking out in almost 40% of their plate appearances against him this season. But the thing that is allowing Fry to dominate more this year is that right-handed batters have hit just .212/.252/.231 against him, managing only two extra base hits (both doubles) in 112 plate appearances. In 2015, he's running an 11.9 SO/9 average and 33.0% strikeout percentage -- good for the seventh best number in the minor leagues. Fry was picked as a California League All-Star -- the only player from Bakersfield to earn that honor -- thanks to his efforts this year, and he's also been singled out in conversations I've had with the player development staff a few times.

Fry is a fastball-slider pitcher, working in the low-90s with his fastball and running his slurvy-slider up there in the low-80s. He's been used as more than a situational lefty (something that the Mariners -- and other clubs -- do regularly with their better relievers as they make their way up the ladder) and responded well to that challenge. Does he have enough to keep right-handers down as he progresses up the chain? Only time will tell, but it is clear that Fry is worth following as he's performed far better than could have reasonably been expected when he was drafted already.

THREE DOWN

D.J. Peterson - 1B, Jackson Generals: .207/.288/.326 (50-242), 13 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR, 31 RBI, 25 BB, 63 SO
Many fans of the minors and the Mariners headed into 2015 with an imaginary clock in their minds counting down to when Peterson -- our No. 1 prospect in the Top-50 before the season -- would finally force the organization to make a move and bring him up to the big club. But after torching High-A and Double-A pitching in 2014 on his way to 31 homers, Peterson answered a somewhat disappointing assignment out of spring camp back to Jackson with a resounding thud. After hitting at least five home runs in every full month a year ago, he didn't hit a single home run in April and has picked up just two each in May and June. And while he hit left-handed pitching at a .299/.333/.557 clip in 2014, he's been completely baffled by them in 2015, collecting just three hits in 37 plate appearances while having the platoon advantage.

Peterson has the third most strikeouts in the M's system with 63 and he already has as many three strikeout games (five) through 64 games in 2015 as he did in a full season (123 games) last year. But while the whiffs have ticked up a bit (21.2% to 23.2%), the real concern is the total lack of power. His ISO has dipped from .254 in 2014 to .118 here in 2015, and while his extra base hit frequency has picked up lately (nine in the last 17 games, 12.9% XBH), it seems to be coming at the price of selling out for power, as D.J. has hit just .194 in that time and struck out 17 times in 70 plate appearances.

The right-handed hitting Peterson still has a short stroke geared for power that generates easy loft and backspin providing plenty of carry for his home run power to play to all fields, but he's been guilty of pulling off a lot this season, resulting in a lot of topped grounders to the left side. His plate discipline and pitch recognition are being challenged more this year than at any time in the past, but one has to think that some of that (at least early) was due to him pressing to try and get some more production. His move to first base defensively has been going well and he's plenty athletic to handle the position better than he did third, where his lack of ideal quickness sometimes led to footwork issues. Peterson does have a strong arm and that could mean that the M's continue to let him get time at third base, but the primary focus right now is Peterson's bat, which will 100% determine his value. A good outcome for 2015 at this point would be Peterson turning it on enough in the second half that he earns a late-season look in Tacoma, setting him up to potentially see the big leagues in 2016.

Jabari Henry - OF, Jackson Generals: .176/.264/.296 (19-108), 8 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 13 BB, 36 SO
Like Marte, Henry has missed almost a month of action at this point due to injury, but his play during his time on the field was quite bad. After a monster, break-out campaign in 2014 that saw the Florida International product hit 30 home runs and drive in 95 -- numbers that put him in pretty elite company a season ago -- Henry has hit just one long ball in the 32 games he's played in 2015, and he has almost twice as many strikeouts as hits on the year overall. I believed enough in what I saw of and heard about Henry's 2014 in High-A to rank him 21st in this spring's Top-50 countdown, but he's been a shell of himself this year in Double-A.

Henry grew up playing with Brad Miller, and talked about that experience and what he took from Brad with me last year, but he's had nothing but struggles in his first taste of the Southern League, where Miller really took off just a few seasons ago. Prior to his knee injury, Henry was in a 1-for-20 funk and was hitting just .167 in May after hitting .185 in April. His last 25 games produced just a .157/.255/.241 slash and his homerless streak had extended to 26 games, double his longest drought for the Mavs in 2014.

Henry doesn't offer plus speed or defense, although he is solid in both areas. But that means that his offense will have to drive him. And through the first half of the Double-A season, it isn't driving him anywhere but down. He does have the ability to hit for power and to draw walks, but that potential hasn't shown itself in 2015 as it has been completely drowned out by the strikeouts. Sometimes hitters get in funks, lose playing time as a result and have a hard time pulling out of those funks due to the decrease in playing time. I'd suspect that if/when Henry comes back that the outfield will free up a bit for Jackson with a promotion, which could lead to more time for him and a chance to right the ship. I do think he can be better than he's been, obviously, but the promise he showed in the California League is now looking more like a result of the environment.

Austin Wilson - OF, Bakersfield Blaze: .191/.291/.299 (37-194), 4 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 21 BB, 59 SO
Peterson and Wilson were the prized pieces of Seattle's 2013 Draft and thought to both have potential to move relatively quickly through the system, coming from good college programs. But while Peterson had a very good 2014, Wilson battled the injury bug a year ago, getting into just 75 games. While he's been healthy this season, the results haven't been there, and the big outfielder has been below the Mendoza Line much of the year while seeing his strikeout totals pile up. Wilson's .191 AVG and .299 SLG are unsightly numbers for a highly touted, bat-first prospect in his age 23 season in the California League in what has been a season-long struggle. Wilson hit .200 in April, .200 in May and is at .172 through 19 games in June.

Wilson has struggled at times in each of his previous two seasons, but he's also had some very hot stretches that have erased the struggles. No such hot stretch has come yet in 2015 as he's managed to collect multiple hits in back-to-back games just one time all year. Like Peterson, the strikeouts have been Wilson's biggest issue, and also like Peterson, the right-handed hitter has struggled even more against left-handed pitching (.545 OPS) than he has against right-handed pitching (.607 OPS).

There really aren't a lot of positives to pluck from this season for Wilson, but he is posting his second straight improved season in terms of walk rate (9.4% this year). Austin also remains what most people would call a prototypical right fielder, with a big body that can move and a strong, accurate arm. But the right-handed power hitter isn't hitting or hitting for power in 2015, and it isn't the "Stanford Swing" that's doing him in. Wilson is playing at an age-appropriate level and struggling with pitch recognition and with having a plan at the plate. He remains one of Seattle's top prospects and it very well may click at any moment, but 2015 has been an abysmal season for him so far.

. . . . . . . . .

That will put a wrap on this week's installment of the hot and not-so-hot -- this time of the entire first half -- in on-field performances in Seattle's system. The good news for everyone in the system is that there is still time to make 2015 a great year. We will have a lot more coverage to come in the year's second half, so check back in with us as each week as we incorporate "Three Up, Three Down" into our regular reports. And make sure to stick with SeattleClubhouse throughout the entire calendar year for reports from all of the Mariners' affiliates and prospects.

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.


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