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 here is our fourth report in our Top-50 countdown covering prospects number 35 through 31.
35. Emilio Pagan – RHP, 6’3”, 210, A+, 5/7/91, L/R
The Mariners' High-A affiliate isn't in High Desert anymore, but any time that a pitcher puts up numbers like Pagan did this year in the California League, regardless of home field, it is impressive. The 24 year old right-hander's third year in the system ended with a 2.53 ERA, a 27.0% strikeout rate and 3.26 strikeouts per walk in 78 1/3 relief innings. Seattle's 10th round pick in 2013 out of Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina where he was a very good pitcher and hitter, Pagan also held opposing batters to a .632 OPS (the league hit to a .734 OPS as a whole) and he held righties to a .190 average with a nearly 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against them in 185 plate appearances. Even though Emilio had pitched well in each of his first two seasons, racking up 28 saves while climbing three levels, 2015 was easily his best showing as a pro, and a very encouraging sign for his future with Seattle.
His ERA on the season was the fifth best stateside number in Seattle's system among arms with 40 or more innings, and Pagan's 88 strikeouts as a reliever were the second most in the Mariners' system (behind only Paul Fry). Even though he pitched well throughout the season for the Blaze, "he dominated the final two to three months of the year," Bakersfield's Dan Bresbis said. Indeed, from when the calendar flipped to July through the end of the year, Pagan put up a 1.89 ERA and struck out 39 of the 138 batters he faced, limiting hitters to a .591 OPS in that 18 appearance stretch. "Emilio is always aggressive, spots his fastball well and has a solid slider, particularly against right-handers," the Blaze announcer later said. Through these first three seasons, right-handed hitters have managed to hit just .191 in 375 trips to the plate against Pagan, walking in just 5.3% of trips while striking out in 35.2%. Adding a fun personal note to Emilio's time with the High-A affiliate this year Bresbis said, "[Pagan] and his wife adopted a stray dog we found on the field and named it Blaze."
Pagan is an athletic 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, fields his position well as a former infielder and he does a good job of repeating his simple, compact delivery. Working out of the windup with no one on and using a smaller leg kick with runners on base, he consistently works the lower portion of the zone and on the outer half of the plate to both lefties and righties, throwing primarily his fastball -- which sits in the low-90s and can touch 93 with some good run when it is down -- and his slider -- a late-breaking offering with good tilt -- but complimenting those offerings with a firm changeup at times, usually to left-handers. He is a fast worker with no one on, getting much more deliberate when runners reach. Emilio worked more than one inning in 27 of his 42 outings with Bakersfield in 2015, and he figures to see more multi-inning outings this coming season when he'll likely move up to Jackson.
TOP TRAIT(S): Fastball/slider combo, consistent mechanics, athleticism
34. Jiovanni Orozco – RHP, 6’1”, 208, AZL, 8/15/97, R/R
Orozco was a four-year varsity pitcher for Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona, and the Mariners signed him away from a commitment to Arizona after making him their 14th round pick in the 2015 Draft. Perhaps thanks to a tie to the organization -- he played for Jack Howell's son's select program outside of high school -- the M's were able to get him away from that commitment that seemingly let him slip a bit in the draft, as he performed with arm talent and polish that looked far superior to what teams usually get in those middle rounds of the draft. The youngest player selected by Seattle in 2015, he pitched as a 17 year old until his final two appearances of the season, racking up a 6-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing 24 baserunners in 21 1/3 innings during his pro debut. He only allowed runs in three of his eight outings and ended the regular season with his best outing, striking out six in four innings of work where he allowed only three baserunners and not walking a batter.
Orozco was a hitter in high school, too, and really made a lot of progress at the plate his final two seasons, to the point that his high school coach gave an interview saying he thought that the right-hander could make it in the pros either as a pitcher or a first baseman. The Mariners -- and most other teams it seems -- clearly think more of him on the mound, and that looks like it will be his permanent home in the pros. Though 21 1/3 innings in the AZL isn't a lot of work to get a read on a player, Orozco pitched in fall instructs, too, and I received a couple of very strong reports on him from there. Even being one of the youngest players from the class, Jio could move pretty quickly thanks to his advanced physical maturity.
Although he has a bit of a thick frame -- especially in the lower half -- for a teenager, Orozco is a good athlete with plus arm speed and a clean, consistent motion that generates a lot of power in his pitches. Working from an arm slot that is nearly straight over the top, his fastball can get to 94 mph with late life, and Jio also shows a 12-6 curve and a changeup that both flash as plus offerings. The Mariners figure not to push him too hard in his first full year in the system, so expect Jio to go to Everett after he finishes up extended spring training work this year.
TOP TRAIT(S): Arm speed, physical maturity, three-pitch mix
33. Timmy Lopes – 2B, 5’11”, 180, A+, 6/24/94, R/R
Although he is more smart than freak athlete, Lopes does have plus athletic gifts and he was one of the players who we covered in November's Searching the Seattle Mariners' system for athletes piece. After three seasons of up and down results, which led to two previous appearances at No. 28 on our Top-50 countdown, Lopes put together his most consistent, most impactful year with the bat in 2015 in Bakersfield. The 5-foot-11 second baseman ended up hitting third in the order in more than one-quarter of the Blaze's games and ended up leading the club in hits, runs and doubles, leading the team and the California Leage in steals with 35, and coming in second on the team in total bases and walks while playing a strong second base defensively. Even though he was counted on to drive in runs for a struggling offense in parts of the year, Lopes also tied for the most sacrifice bunts (14) in the Cal League, showing he can handle the bat in a few ways. Using the whole field, 12 of his 33 extra base hits were hit to center field or the other way to right, and he really is a player that doesn't try to do too much with the bat, hitting the ball where it is pitched.
Lopes is a hard worker that maximizes his abilities through effort and smarts. As Bakersfield's Dan Bresbis told me,"[he] fits that grinder mold of guys that put in a ton of work and bust hard every night. And it paid off. Lopes struggled mightily to begin the year, but got better every month and wound up as a third-place hitter for the team without a real threat of hitting a home run." And even though he was caught stealing the second most times in the Cal League (18), those league leading 35 steals were impressive. Bresbis said, "his speed surprised a lot of opposing pitchers to start the year, and defenses began keying in on him as the year progressed, forcing Lopes to pick his spots and learn how to steal a bag and not just go and hope for the best."
Without the truly elite tools that some prospects who can't put it together in game action flash, Lopes is a very intelligent player and baserunner with athleticism to help him get the most out of his skill set. He's an ideal fit defensively at second base and plays the position well. He can handle shortstop in a pinch, but his range and arm are better suited for second base. Lopes is a patient, contact, foul line-to foul line hitter, and he doesn't have much home run power other than the ocassional pitch he'll get around on and pull out. But he is advancing as a hitter in terms of hitting the ball with authority up the middle and the other way, and that should help him succeed as he prepares to advance to the tough Double-A level in 2016.
TOP TRAIT(S): Baseball IQ, athleticism, speed
32. Mayckol Guaipe – RHP, 6’4”, 235, MLB, 8/11/90, R/R
Guaipe was added to the Mariners' 40-man roster in November of 2014 following his most successful, most consistent minor league season in the system. That 2014 campaign was Guaipe's eighth in the M's system, and in his ninth year in 2015, he cracked the Triple-A roster and then the big league roster for the first time. He pitched well in Tacoma, albeit with a much lower strikeout rate than he'd been showing the past couple of seasons when working strictly in relief, then the right-hander made 21 appearances out of Seattle's bullpen and showed at times that his fastball-slider combo could be a swing-and-miss pair. But out of character from his minor league profile, he allowed five home runs in just 26 2/3 innings and showed a real vulnerability against opposite handed hitters as he had lefty batters slash .452/.540/762 with three homers and a 1:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against him in 50 trips to the plate. That home run total tied for the most that Guaipe had ever given up in a season.
Guaipe has a good arm, and his control has improved in leaps and bounds from earlier in his career, but fastball command still isn't always there for him. But more importantly -- at least in the big leagues in 2015 -- Mayckol struggled to put batters away with two strikes. Three of the five homers he gave up came on two-strike pitches, and hitters put up a .464 SLG against him with a two-strike count; the American League had a .277 SLG as a whole in 2015. That can be tied to command, but it can also be tied to him being somewhat predictable. Being able to work in a third offering more regularly, or even just change the eye level of the hitter more consistently, could help him out a lot.
Big and phyisical with long levers, Guaipe works 92-94 with his sinking fastball and can get it up to 96 at times, particularly if he elevates. But if the pitch isn't down, it usually isn't getting that good movement away, and that is where most of the homers came from. His slider has good late tilt and the downward dive making it almost look like a 12-6 curve, but he throws it at 82-86. He also rarely throws a firm changeup as a show pitch to left-handed batters. He worked in back-to-back games three times for Seattle and made seven appearances in the club's final 14 games, and the former starter has shown the ability to work multiple innings in successive outings without much rest in between, which is helpful for someone with his middle-inning profile. Guaipe doesn't look like a lock for the M's big league bullpen in 2016, but I would expect him to still make several appearances for them and pitch regularly for Tacoma, having an option remaining.
TOP TRAIT(S): Fastball/slider combo, durability
31. Erick Mejia – SS, 5’11”, 155, SS, 11/9/94, B/R (Traded to Dodgers)
Traded to the Dodgers this past week after we'd already finalized our list and nearly finalized this piece, Mejia finally got his shot at a non-Rookie affiliate in 2015, putting in time at four spots but doing his most frequent and best work for Everett in the Northwest League. Though you would like to see a prospect get to Everett before his fourth season in the system, Mejia showed that he was one of the more complete players on a good roster once he arrived. The 20 year old switch-hitter stole 18 bases without being caught for the AquaSox, hitting .282/.361/.336 in 36 games there, which included 25 errorless games at second base. Mejia, who was also covered in that "Searching for Athletes" piece from November showed an advanced approach at the plate, an understanding of who he is as a hitter, and great baserunning and defensive instincts at a level where those can often make a big difference in the outcome of games.
Mejia slugged just .336 for Everett, but the NWL slugged just .358 on whole and Everett had a team slugging of .370, so it isn't like he was a slap hitter. One Everett staffer characterized Mejia with this breakdown, which I think sums him up nicely: "Nice combination of speed, plate discipline and gap-to-gap power. Athletic defensively with a good arm and can handle either middle infield spot." He made 11 errors as a shortstop between the four levels in 2015, but prior to this season he had very strong rates there. He has the range and arm to be a shortstop long-term, but even if he becomes strictly a second baseman I feel that Mejia has the ability to remain a prospect on the rise if the bat continues to advance.
Mejia should get a shot at full season ball with Los Angeles in 2016, as I thought he would be on Clinton's roster if he'd remained in Seattle's system. He has a chance to become a little bit more of a prospect if the approach stays consistent (10.7% BB rate with Everett) and the gap-to-gap power continues to develop, but with his defensive abilities and speed I feel he has a shot to at least become a utility infielder that reaches the big leagues for a few seasons even if that offensive development doesn't fully materialize.
TOP TRAIT(S): Speed, approach, hands
There you have the fourth of our 10 weekly looks at five prospects in the Seattle Mariners pre-2016 Top-50. Check back next Monday as break down 30 through 26, and stick with SeattleClubhouse throughout the off-season for the most news on the Mariners' system.
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