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, Tom Allison, Tom McNamara, Tim Kissner and others -- and other respected baseball contacts from outside of the organization to help develop our unique set of rankings. SeattleClubhouse's personal taste and scoring plays into the determination of where the prospects 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 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 will be free for anyone who visits the site, the other six will be subscriber only.
As you will see during this countdown, 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 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 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.
And now we are on to prospects number 40 through 36 in our countdown.
40. Anthony Misiewicz – LHP, 6’1”, 190, SS, 11/1/94, R/L
Misiewicz, Seattle's 18th round pick in the 2015 Draft and one of eight players selected out of Michigan State this year, really took to the pro game and made a pretty dazzling debut for the AquaSox, as only two Northwest League pitchers had more innings and a better ERA than the left-hander's 2.14 mark for Everett. His 0.86 WHIP was the seventh best mark overall in the league and the best for any pitchers who had five or more starts. Add on top of those numbers his low 1.9 BB/9 and 4.0-to-1.0 strikeout to walk ratio (both big improvement over his college rates), and it is easy to see why he comes in here at No. 40 on our countdown. But really the change in approach that led to his step forward in command is the biggest plus from this first season for Anthony. After a great start for Everett in July where he struck out seven in four hitless frames, he told MiLB.com, "I kept going to the fastball instead of throwing curves like I did so much in college." And that focus on using his fastball more as a weapon earned Misiewicz a lot of attention while working in a tandem with 2nd round pick Andrew Moore.
Misiewicz, "had a great deal of success pitching inside and breaking some bats with a sinker, which may have been his best pitch," an Everett staff member told me after the season. And that sinker led to a .189 BA against him and perhaps more impressively just a .270 SLG allowed over the 172 plate appearances that opposing hitters had against Anthony. Six of his 14 appearances -- half coming as a starter and have in relief -- were shutout outings, and he allowed more than one earned run on just two occasions on the year. After walking 62 in 168 1/3 college innings (3.31 BB/9), he walked just 10 in 46 1/3 innings in his 20 year old year for Everett.
The lefty's fastball can touch the low-90s and has good run and sink on it. He also works with a mid-70s curve and a changeup with some depth even if it is lacking much separation from the fastball. Misiewicz works from a three-quarters arm slot and has a little funk to his front side, but lefties did hit him better than righties in this first year (.617 OPS vs .461 OPS). Despite being a reliever in more than 80 percent of his collegiate appearances, the Mariners look to be comfortable with stretching him out a bit, and Anthony should get a chance to start in 2016 as he moves up to full season ball, most likely in Clinton.
39. Corey Simpson – OF, 6’2”, 210, SS, 12/8/93, R/R
Repeating the Northwest League in 2015 having finishing up there following his demotion from Clinton to end the prior season, Simpson didn't take a huge leap forward in his production for Everett, but he did still make strides. And as a 21 year old (now 22) he was one of the more potent power bats in the league, ranking in the top-10 in homers and total bases for the year as Everett's every day left fielder. He was red hot to start the season and faded down the stretch (just 7 for his final 47, ending on a 1-for-21 slump) and also seemed to lose his way against left-handed pitching -- hitting just .195/.229/.338 in 2015 after a .264/.306/.374 combined slash in 2014 -- but his June and July were a key piece of Everett's early season run. Simpson did continue to be plagued by the strikeout, whiffing in more than 28 percent of his trips after seeing that number around 24 percent for the Frogs a year ago, but overall he showed a better approach and made some more plays in the outfield with his arm while posting higher slash lines than in 2014.
Seattle's 6th round pick in 2013 out of a Texas high school, Corey has grown into his body a bit more as he's matured, and while he isn't a Gold Glover, the converted catcher is taking better routes in the outfield now, too. People within the organization aren't totally pleased with his strikeout rate and range in the outfield, but Simpson has flashed some real raw power that is among the best in the system and even with the change in throwing mechanics that came with the change of position, he, "has a strong accurate arm," said an Everett staffer.
There is hope that his defense will continue to improve as he gains more experience in the outfield, but if that doesn't come around, Corey does have the size to take a shot at first base, too. Simpson's first test in the Midwest League came when he was an extremely young, raw player -- a very aggressive assignment by the organization -- and it didn't go well. He hit .199/.236/.284 and struck out in 42.7% of his plate appearances during that try in 2014. 2016 figures to be his shot at redemption with the LumberKings, and while he does still have a lot of polish to go, another full season shot should give Simpson a chance to regain some confidence and push towards a more complete profile.
TOP TRAIT(S): Raw power, throwing arm
38. Zack Littell – RHP, 6’3”, 190, A-, 10/5/95, R/R
Seattle's 11th round selection in the 2013 draft out of a North Carolina high school, Littell has been solidly steady in his pro career thus far, reaching full-season ball for the first time in 2015 and setting career high marks in a number of stats while making the third most starts for the LumberKings. Littell turned in six starts of at least 6 innings while allowing zero or one earned run and he gave up more than four in just four outings. He struck out seven or more five times, ran a 42.1% ground ball rate and had the 13th best FIP in the Midwest League (3.27) among starters with at least one hundred innings. Littell again gave up more hits than innings, but a primary reason for those results is that the right-hander is always aggressive in the zone. Pitching all year as a 19 year old, his walk rate of just 6.2% was the second lowest number by a teenage starter in the league, and he has walked just 2.3-per-nine so far in his 215 2/3 pro innings.
That manner of going after hitters, and his stuff, can be eye opening at times to those who watch Zack pitch. One staff member with Clinton told me, "it was evident immediately that Littell was one of the guys who could project as an MLB pitcher," noting that the right-hander has, "an exceptional mix of a fastball and multiple offspeed pitches that completely overmatched the much older competition of the Midwest League at times." And the fact that he was able to do that at just 19 years of age was not lost on him or the rest of the league: "Mature beyond his years," the same source said. And he's stayed healthy while honing his craft, racking up the most innings of any right-hander the M's took in that '13 Draft.
Littell did see a big dip in his strikeout numbers with the competition jump in '15, but he has a good fastball that he uses down with good run early in the count, elevating when necessary to try and get himself a strikeout. And he can get swinging strikes with that pitch, as it works comfortably at 90-92 in his starts and can touch higher at times. His big 12-6 curveball is his second best offering, with his changeup still lagging behind. Because of that, Littell saw nearly all of the damage against him done by left-handed hitters this season; they hit .361/.395/.541 while righties hit just .210/.273/.279. He should see High-A in 2016 as a 20 year old, and that is yet another tough challenge. He will need to clean up his offspeed offerings against lefties and find a way to limit damage in the Cal League, but Littell is an arm that is climbing quickly in the system and on our rankings.
TOP TRAIT(S): Mentality, size/frame, armspeed
37. Dario Pizzano – OF, 5’11”, 200, AA, 4/25/91, L/R
This is Pizzano's time making our top-50 list, as he came in at 38 a year ago and 37 the year prior, and while I'd like to avoid sounding like a broken record, this kid can flat out hit. After an uncharacteristically down first half in 2014, Pizzano was absolutely on fire for Jackson in the first half of this season until a hand injury cut his season short for the Generals. That was really a shame, because the Columbia product was selected as a Southern League All-Star and had the lowest strikeout rate in the league when he was hurt. He got the chance to end his year with a nice little surprise as a mid-season addition to the Peoria roster in the AFL, but Dario got into only nine games there. Still, Pizzano -- Seattle's 15th round pick from 2012 -- has done enough from this point that his profile is pretty set.
Former M's MiLB Field Coordinator Jack Howell said often that Pizzano is simply, "a very intelligent hitter who controls the zone." And those walk and strikeout numbers in over 1,500 minor league plate appearances do jump out at you and lead you straight to that assumption. But he isn't simply a hitter that can take a walk. Jackson's Brandon Liebhaber says of Pizzano, "He is a tireless worker, and the hit tool is very real. He has the ability to drive the ball to all fields, and he's told me he was always trying to line the ball over the shortstop's head." As you can see from the 2015 heat map image below, he did a fine job of that.
But while he's patient at the plate and willing to take a walk if he doesn't get his pitch, Pizzano is not exactly a quiet player. He has some fire in him, and as we found out in our two 2013 interviews, he's confident in his abilities and his knowledge of hitting. "He plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder," Liebhaber explained, pointing to his 15th round selection and his Ivy League college career, which isn't your typical high-end prospect profile. And truthfully, he still really isn't a high-profile prospect. Quite possibly because there isn't a standout defensive tool and there isn't a ton of power that has shown up in his game quite yet. But Pizzano may have the best hit tool and best plate discipline in the entire system. And in this game, if you can hit, they'll find a place to play you. Look for Pizzano to play in Tacoma in 2016.
TOP TRAIT(S): Hit tool, plate discipline
Portland Sea Dogs
36. Jonathan Aro – RHP, 6’0”, 175, MLB (BOS), 10/10/90, R/R
The first player we're covering in this countdown that was added by the current GM, Aro came over to Seattle a month ago in the trade with Boston that netted Seattle Wade Miley, costing Roenis Elias and Carson Smith. While he is easily the least known of the four players in that deal, the 25 year old has turned in some pretty spectacular numbers the past three seasons while climbing up Boston's system, and he ended 2015 in the Red Sox's big league bullpen. The MLB numbers weren't overly exciting, but Aro had put up a 1.04 WHIP, 9.1 SO/9 and 3.7 SO per BB over the last three seasons as he jumped from Short Season ball to Triple-A. He got hit much harder in his first MLB stint than in his second, but really we're only talking about 10 1/3 innings there, so it is hard to draw any conclusion from that. An interesting (if somewhat meaningless) side note on the right-hander: Aro was twice hospitalized with Dengue Fever before coming stateside to pitch for the Red Sox.
Aro worked more than one inning in 29 of his 34 minor league appearances in 2015 and has made 12 starts among his 101 minor league appearances. And even though he has made just two starts in the past three seasons, he's proven durable out of the pen, going five or more innings in 11 outings in all in his career to date. Red Sox Manager John Farrell said of Aro when Boston called him up, "He’s a strike-thrower. He’s got some swing-and-miss to his fastball and he doesn’t fear contact."
While Aro almost assuredly isn't going to be Carson Smith and, really, isn't even a sure bet to crack the M's 25-man roster out of camp, the 25 year old doesn't look like fodder, either. Those minor league rates are backed up with a solid relief arsenal, as Aro's two-seam fastball sits 91-93 and his four-seamer can reach 95, especially when he works up with it, as he likes to do. He gets more late run on the two-seam pitch when he stays down, but his high three-quarters, somewhat short-arm delivery give his fastball some "jump" to it. His primary secondary offering is a slider that has good vertical movement. Interesting here is that he seems to frequently work up with that pitch, too. And as he only allowed eight home runs over the past three minor league years, he seems to get away with it. Aro also has a changeup that has some late action down and away from left-handed hitters. That pitch could end up determining his ability to stick in the major leagues, but if it takes a step forward in consistency then Aro could have three solid offerings with swing-and-miss potential.
TOP TRAIT(S): Fastball/slider combo, durability
That wraps up our third weekly look at five players in the Seattle Mariners pre-2016 Top-50 prospects. Check back next Monday as break down 35 through 31, and stick with SeattleClubhouse throughout the off-season for the most news on the Mariners' system.
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.