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' staff -- including Jeff Kingston, Andy McKay, Tim Allison, Tom McNamara, Jack Howell, Tim Kissner and others -- and other respected baseball contacts from outside of the organization to help develop our unique set of rankings. In doing this, we take a deeper look than most other publications, getting background information about potential nagging injuries or personal issues, etc., that could have led to a change in player performance. SeattleClubhouse's personal taste and scoring plays into the determination of where the prospects ultimately land on the list, too; that scoring system is a combination of potential ceiling, perceived 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. 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.
We do updates on a smaller scale throughout the year, but just as with every pre-season list, this pre-2016 countdown is 50 deep. The landscape of the organization has definitely changed since our last report, even in the Top-5, so this extended breakdown will be much different than what has been seen from us as it is a true fresh look at the organization as it now exists, with completely up to date late- or post-season input. The reports will be thorough for all players covered, but they'll get more so as we climb towards the top of the heap. And while four of the ten pieces -- including this first one -- will be free for anyone who visits the site, the other six will be subscriber only.
As you will see during this countdown and as was detailed in our Top-50 Preview, many of the higher-ceiling prospects in the Mariners’ system are on the younger side, residing in the lower levels of the minor leagues. So while the system isn’t as bereft of talent as the common narrative seems to be, there aren’t many MLB-ready prospects knocking on the door, and that is primarily what leads to this Mariners' farm system generally being considered a bottom-third system in baseball.
Each player we cover this year will be presented with a photo (when available) and bio info with age at the time of publishing as well as the level at which they ended during the 2015 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.
Here now are the first five prospects in our Annual SeattleClubhouse Top-50 Countdown: Nos. 50 through 46.
50. Logan Taylor – IF/OF, 6’1”, 200, SS, 9/22/93, R/R
Leading off our countdown with a player new to the system, Taylor was Seattle's 12th round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft out of Texas A&M, where he held down starting roles at multiple positions for the Aggies the past two seasons. That versatility continued in his debut pro season with Everett, as the 21 year old logged 14 or more starts at second base and third base and in right field. He also made some start in left for the Frogs and ended his year with a strong slash line for the Northwest League at .267/.351/.392. That slash dipped a lot late in the short season schedule, as he was hitting .311/.381/.474 with 11 of his 15 multi-hit games already under his belt at the end of July before going into bit of a prolonged slump. Still, Logan's complete season efforts with the bat represented production well above league average (which OPS'd .685) and he was one of the main forces in Everett's offense, collecting 30 RBI and 11 multi-RBI games in his first 30 games.
Taylor -- who was referred to by Everett manager Rob Mummau as "the Ben Zobrist of the Northwest League" -- is a right-handed bat who struggled against left-handed pitching, OPS'ing .200 points lower versus them than versus same-handed arms (.599 to .799). Maybe that is encouraging because he managed to do so much of his work against righties, or maybe it is a troubling sign of him missing often against offspeed pitches. That said, he does do a good job of staying back for the most part, using the entire field very well and showing most of his average power up the middle. "He's a natural hitter with a good feel for the strike zone and a good swing,” Mummau said of Taylor back in July.
Taylor has good bat speed, of course the defensive flexibility that we've mentioned, and he managed to walk (9.1%) and strikeout (20.5%) at better than league average rates, but he doesn't have any true stand out tools -- as a hitter or as a defender. Even though he came up as a shortstop, he doesn't have plus speed, either, and he's likely already had his last taste of the middle of the diamond as a por. His dad Kirk played baseball in college and Taylor exhibits great baseball instincts which tend to help players at the lower levels exceed beyond what their skill set may suggest. But in order to succeed as he continues to advance, Taylor will need to continue to see his average power grow and refine his defensive abilities in the corners. Taylor is likely to see full season ball for Clinton in 2016, and if he can stake claim to a defensive home and hold onto it, his bat should have a better chance to take the next step.
TOP TRAIT(S): Versatility, baseball instincts
49. Marcus Littlewood – C, 6’3”, 208, AA, 3/18/92, B/R
Selected by the Mariners with their pick after they selected Taijuan Walker in the 2010 draft, Littlewood was seen as an advanced high school bat at a premium defensive position at the time when he entered the system. The somewhat unique circumstance around him, though, is that the premium defensive position at that time was shortstop. Converted to catcher after his first pro season, Littlewood struggled to get untracked offensively, shuttling between Everett and Clinton until the very end of 2014, when he finally got a taste of High-A competition. But a strong start back in the California League to open 2015 earned him a promotion to Double-A Jackson, and while Marcus was a slightly below average bat there overall, he showed encouraging signs in his first season being challenged in the upper minor leagues. He had a 35-game stretch with Jackson where he had an .800 OPS, a two-homer game, 12 extra base hits, 15 walks and just 18 strikeouts while hitting in the middle of the Generals order much of the time. He also had his strikeout rate down at 18.6% after carrying a 23.7% rate into the level, and some of those results could have been the result of him being a little more relaxed at the plate.
"Coaches told me they let him go a little bit at the plate," Jackson's Manager of Broadcasting and Media Relations Brandon Liebhaber told me after the season. And that meant that Littlewood was, "freer to pull the ball and that led to the power," he added. And he did pull the ball with more authority from both sides of the plate, hitting all nine of his home runs on the season to his pull field and putting up a .159 ISO for Jackson, his highest mark since 2012 in Low-A. And after building a reputation early of struggling against left-handed pitching, 2015 saw Littlewood have his third straight season of OPS'ing higher versus southpaws than their right-handed counterparts, with a .687 mark against them as a right-handed hitter in 75 PA this year, but he also managed a .677 OPS and six of his nine homers from the left side, which was encouraging.
Even before the plate discipline ratios started to reflect it, Littlewood has made strides in his approach at the plate as a pro, more often getting a good pitch to hit now than his "swing at any strike" approach had him doing early. This is Marcus's fourth time on the SeattleClubhouse Top-50, as he's ranked 12th, 30th, 47th and 33rd over the last four seasons of our countdown. He still has good raw power, soft receiving hands, a plus throwing arm and improving footwork and blocking skills behind the plate. His improvement in pitch recognition with Jackson was a good sign, and if he can put together some longer stretches of success at the plate and behind it, his stock will continue to rise as he climbs towards the majors, likely beginning 2016 in Jackson once again, where his ability to switch-hit certainly plays in his favor for a future role.
TOP TRAIT(S): Plate discipline, baseball instincts
Ashland University Athletics
48. Art Warren – RHP, 6’3”, 200, AZL, 3/23/93, R/R
Another newcomer to the list and the system, Warren was a nondescript 23rd round selection out of Division II Ashland University in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference where he was a starter for one season following his transfer from Cincinnati. As a starter for the Eagles, he struck out 52 in 60 1/3 innings and posted the fifth best ERA on the club at 3.88, but Warren also walked 47, making him look like a project-type selection. If that was the plan of attack, whoever was heading up the project is doing a solid job. The right-hander only threw seven regular season innings, but he showed enough in his brief exposure to the M's coaches and instructors in the AZL that he got the most intense moment in their most important game of the season, getting called into a second and third, nobody out situation with Peoria up by one run and getting out of it with two big strikeouts. He allowed runs in only one of his six appearances on the season and struck out 10 of the 29 hitters he faced in all.
Jack Howell told me this fall that he considers Warren, "one to really watch", adding that his breaking ball basically looks unhittable. His statistical history will tell anyone paying any attention that command and control have always been his problem, but it sounds as if the M's were able to iron some of that out after Art came back from a shoulder injury (that apparently was news to him when discovered, but that caused him to miss a month and a half). Warren also missed all of 2014 with Tommy John surgery, so arm health and proper mechanics are something to watch with him.
Having hit 96 before the surgery, Warren was said to be working comfortably at 91-93 with his fastball in Arizona, touching higher at times, but getting good arm-side movement down in the zone and working with a change and breaking ball complimenting his repertoire. When he is locating, his breaking ball can be a devastating pitch against lefties and righties, showing very good, late bite, and that command is what has taken the longest to come back after his TJ surgery. With his build, pitches and background, we should see Warren get a crack at starting in 2016, probably at a full-season affiliate like Clinton if he shows he is healthy in spring.
TOP TRAIT(S): Size, armspeed, breaking ball
47. Jake Brentz – LHP, 6’2”, 195, SS, 9/14/94, L/L
Toronto's 11th round pick in 2013 out of high school in Missouri, Brentz entered the Mariners' organization by way of the Mark Lowe trade at this year's deadline as one of three left-handers that Seattle netted in that deal and is already our third newcomer to the system on this countdown. The trade ended up earning Brentz a promotion, as he was pitching in the Rookie Appalachian League for the Blue Jays before the deal, where the Mariners no longer have an affiliate effective just this season. Despite the increase in competition level that came with his move, Brentz faired quite well for Seattle in Everett, as he struck out a hitter an inning and allowed just nine hits in his 14 innings of action covering five appearances with the AquaSox as one of the bigger left-handed power arms in the Northwest League.
Brentz is the least polished of those three left-handed arms, having been more of a hitter in high school before his arm strength was discovered. But he's a full-time pitcher now, and he flashed that big arm for Everett, consistently hitting the mid-90s with his fastball early in appearances in his brief time with the club. That power in his arm is definitely intriguing, but even after three seasons and 83 1/3 minor league innings under his belt, Brentz, "has a long way to go in becoming consistent," as one AquaSox staffer put it. His breaking ball isn't a consistent pitch for him and his changeup, while getting better, is still a work in progress, too, so right now much of the left-hander's success is tied to command, and he has walked 6.2-per-9 in his minor league career to date. That fact right there is clearly why Toronto felt comfortable in giving up a left-handed arm that can hit 97.
While he was in a tandem starting role for Everett, Brentz's long-term future may be best curated in a bullpen role, where his big velocity has a better chance of being an immediate and effective weapon. But without a consistent delivery and consistent command of the strike zone currently, Jake's future is very hard to predict. Still, this kind of velocity in an athletic left-hander isn't common, and the M's figure to make trying to harness his abilities and getting a more consistent release point a big priority in player development going forward. As he'll be just 21 in 2016, look for him to possibly return to Everett and return to starting again in the coming season as the club works to get Brentz's mechanics in-synch and repeatable before challenging him with another move up the ladder.
TOP TRAIT(S): Armspeed
46. Joe DeCarlo – 3B, 5’10”, 210, A-, 9/13/93, R/R
DeCarlo is our second familiar face in our first five in the Top-50 countdown here, having placed 45th on the list a season ago, 50th prior to 2014 and 36th in 2012. All of the tools and promise that have had him in our rankings in the past land him here once again, even though much of that promise has yet to materialize on the field for Joe. Mature physical strength from his stocky build, patience at the plate, soft hands and a strong throwing arm have yet to produce a batting average over .250, more than 10 homers or a strikeout rate under 25.0% outside of Rookie ball, and in 2015 DeCarlo barely cleared the Mendoza Line, hitting just .203 in his most extensive action as a pro (477 PA in 115 games). He did draw an organization-high 70 walks (14.7%), but he also made 22 errors, many of them coming on routine plays.
Having the lowest average of any Midwest League player who eclipsed 350 plate appearances while repeating the league isn't an honor that DeCarlo -- Seattle's 2nd round pick in 2012 -- wants to have, but because of his skillset and relative young age, he does still have a chance to break out of this funk and turn his prospect stock around. One Clinton staffer said about his defense that, "at times he flashed a potential gold glove." And that opinion goes with what Howell and the now departed Chris Gwynn have told me about Joe's defense at third base in the past. But while the defense figures to naturally get better, the bigger question certainly lies in the future of DeCarlo's bat. "The power has not advanced like many in the system thought it would," that same Clinton staffer told me in December. Even though he's been struggling -- and there is no argument there, it has been a struggle -- DeCarlo continues to use the entire field (as shown below), which is encouraging. And the PD staff mentioned to me last year that he was showing a, "much improved approach).
While that spray chart does show foul line to foul line coverage, what it also reveals is that nearly all of DeCarlo's power is currently playing to his pull side. He has plenty of strength to alter that, and as his overall approach uses an all-fields attack, learning to trust his power in that same fashion is something that DeCarlo needs to discover. As he has already spent two full seasons in Clinton, DeCarlo does appear likely to get a shot in High-A Bakersfield in 2016, and that change in venue could possibly be something that spurs him to taking that next step in development and becoming a more complete hitter, seeing his power play in games more often, getting on base more consistently and experiencing some prolonged success could go a long way in helping Joe grow.
TOP TRAIT(S): Raw power, hands, glove, patience
There you have the details on our first set of prospects in the SeattleClubhouse Annual Top-50 Prospect Countdown for the Seattle Mariners. Check back next Monday as we cover five more prospects in the system on our way to the top.
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