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 this is the first of our 10 reports that is subscriber-only content, so 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 fifth report in our Top-50 countdown, covering prospects number 30 through 26.
30. Anthony Jimenez – OF, 5’11”, 165, DSL, 10/21/94, R/R
Jimenez has proven to be one of the better defensive outfielders in the organization in his two years in the Foreign Rookie Summer Leagues, which was to be expected and really what turned Seattle but he has really impressed with the bat, putting up similarly strong numbers in both the VSL and DSL. He went to fall instructs for the M's in September, one of only two outfielders (Brayan Hernandez was the other) and nine total players invited from the DSL by the club to participate. His 2015 OBP of .370 was the eighth best in the system among players with 250 or more plate appearances and only seven M's farmhands had more PA and a higher OPS than Anthony in 2015, and his 30 stolen bases were tied for third in the DSL, fifth most in the organization. Jimenez also lowered his already strong strikeout rate to just 10.3% as a 19 year old and hit his first five home runs as a pro.
But getting back to the root of who Jimenez is as a player, one former Player Development staffer called him, "truly a pure center fielder with everything that you look in from a defender out there." And as we covered in the Searching the System for Athletes piece in November, and as the stats show, he can really run. The 53 steals are no fluke, either, and Jimenez figures to continue to be one of the bigger threats on the bases for Seattle as he comes stateside and climbs the ladder. That combination can lead to a lot of excitement in his game, and that wasn't lost on those who have seen him. "He was one of the more exciting kids they had in instructs," an AL East scout said to me this fall. The scout continued, "He's obviously raw, but he can run and he's a plus defender in center."
Jimenez figures to get a shot at a stateside affiliate in 2016, and it is doubtful to me that he'll spend the whole season in the AZL, so he could possibly see Everett out of extended. But because of the defense, speed and contact profile, a higher assignment is possible, too. Wherever he ends up, watching the bat and tracking his ability to keep his strong contact/on-base profile will be a good barometer of if/when he'll climb the ladder, because the defense and speed are ready for a more challenging assignment already.
BEST TOOL(S): Speed, defense, contact profile
29. Ryan Horstman – LHP, 6’1”, 185, A-, 6/20/92, L/L
Horstman, Seattle's fourth round pick in 2013, threw the most regular season innings of his career in 2015. The bad news is that still meant he only faced 51 hitters and threw only 13 2/3 innings, splitting time between three levels. The left-hander struck out 20 of those 51 hitters he faced, and has fanned 30 of the 88 that he's faced altogether in regular season minor league action. Drafted out of St. John's after his freshman season, Horstman has had elbow troubles in each of his three seasons as a pro. Shut down by injuries again for May, June, July and most of August, Ryan found a way to get into nine games in the Arizona Fall League to end his year, continuing his scoreless innings streak there until Red Sox prospect Carlos Asuaje finally ended that with a home run in his last appearance of the year. That home run was the only one that Horstman has allowed as a pro and he's given up just six extra base hits total at all stops, covering 32 innings and 125 batters faced.
That ability that Horstman has shown to limit the damage on batted balls is probably more impressive than his ability to rack up strikeouts to this point, and a skill that will be more important for him to carry forward to continue finding success. He ran a 40% ground ball rate in 2015 between all stops, so it isn't like he's an extreme ground ball arm, and the fastball has some movement but it isn't a true sinker-type. It seems more that Ryan sequences his pitches well and succeeds by keeping hitters off balance while working on the edges of the strike zone. That becomes more challenging as players move up the developmental ladder in the minor leagues and hitters and umpires improve. An AL East scout who has seen Horstman a few times said, "He doesn't blow guys away, but he works smart. Good arm."
Despite the massive (*small sample size caveat*) strikeout rates that he's posted so far, Horstman really doesn't blow guys away, as he works at "only" 90 to 93 with his fastball and doesn't have what would be considered a real "wipeout" breaking ball among his two -- a slider that he throws in the mid-80s and a curve in the high-70s -- secondaries. But he has great feel for pitching, commands his arsenal very well and has a penchant for getting ahead and staying in control of at bats, dictating what hitters can do off of him. If he can stay healthy -- which based on his history to this point is a legitimately huge "if" -- he could be a reliever that climbs the system quickly for Seattle. He figures to get a shot at at least Clinton and maybe even as high as Jackson to start 2016, and you have to think that the goal is 40-plus innings with good results. If that can happen, even though he is a reliever without elite stuff, Horstman will climb this list and would figure to be close to earning himself a 40-man spot.
BEST TRAIT(S): Command, pitchability, armspeed
28. Greifer Andrade – SS, 6’0”, 170, DSL, 1/27/97, R/R
Transitioning full-time from the VSL to the DSL in 2015 like Jimenez did, Andrade, too, saw similar success and production in the more challenging competition environment of the Dominican. He carried an extra base hit rate of 6.6%, a walk rate of 6.2% and a strikeout rate of 15.1% in his 18 year old season. Andrade -- who tried out for MLB teams as an outfielder, signed with the Mariners as a shortstop and played strictly shortstop, second base and third base in his two seasons of play at the foreign academies -- went to instructs this fall as a shortstop, but he still may ultimately end up in the outfield. Whatever position the Mariners wind up settling on for Greifer, the real promise for him still lies in the potential in his bat. Andrade ranked 44th for SeattleClubhouse a year ago, and while his error rate was high (fielding percentage just over .900) at shortstop, the fact that he showed he can handle the infield a bit does help with his future projection.
Again like Jimenez, Andrade hit his first pro homers in the DSL this season, picking up a not-too-impressive total of three round-trippers in 258 plate appearances. Unlike Jimenez, though, that part of Andrade's game does figure to be a prominent factor as he matures. Still, Andrade isn't going to be a huge body with massive power, so maintaining some defensive ability at a position -- most likely second base or in an outfield corner -- will be necessary. Andrade's inexperience showed a bit in his splits versus left-handed pitching; he maintained a strong AVG against them (.304 compared to .308 against RHP), but he didn't pick up an extra base hit and had a much higher strikeout rate when facing lefties. He should improve there as he gets more exposure, and frankly that is a better weak split to have than the other way around.
Andrade does fit the athletic profile that Dipoto has stated as an important ingredient for the M's succeeding, so he figures to be on the short list (maybe even higher than I have him here) in terms of "organizational fit" for this front office. Andrade's quick hands and short swing lead to very good bat speed and some loud contact, but as the states show and as I pointed out above, that hasn't shown itself in the way of playable game power much to date. Still, he can run a bit, has shown decent plate discipline, has a level swing with some whip in it and has some defensive flexibility. Greifer turns 19 in a couple of days and he has only 377 trips to the plate in Foreign Rookie Ball on his resume so far, so the most likely scenario I see for Greifer in 2016 is sticking in Arizona to play in the AZL. His performance there with the bat will determine how quickly he moves up, and his show in the field will go a long way in determining his long-term defensive home.
TOP TRAIT(S): Bat speed, athleticism
27. Dylan Thompson – RHP, 6’2”, 180, AZL, 9/16/96, L/R
Thompson, the M's fourth round pick from this year's Draft, got into only nine games in his debut pro season, but he certainly impressed in that small sample. Allowing less than a baserunner an inning and putting up a strong 3.13 SO:BB ratio with nearly a strikeout an inning, Thompson showed an ability to work ahead and adapt to the pro game well, and in his final two starts of the season -- which both went four innings -- the struck out 10 and allowed just a .179/.250/.250 batting line against him. Another encouraging aspect of his season is that Dylan managed to hold left-handed batters to a .167/.278/.200 slash, and his strikeout rate against them (27.8%) was very good, speaking to the quality of his offspeed stuff. Baseball America had the 18 year old righty pegged as the 20th best prospect in the AZL in their September recap, which is based mainly off of the opinions of scouts and coaching staffs from the league. And at least internally, there are many that think the ceiling for the 6-foot-2 pitcher is among the best in the system among starting pitching prospects.
His 0.98 WHIP was the 10th best mark in the AZL among arms that threw as many or more innings than Thompson did, and his 6.1 H/9 mark was bested by only three arms with more innings. "The Thompson kid can really pitch," one former front office executive said to me late in the year. He has good stuff, but as that quote suggests and as others have said, it's more than his stuff that makes him stand out. His demeanor and approach are what set Thompson apart from other arms fresh out of high school. “He’s such a competitor,” Mariners manager Darrin Garner told BA. “You don’t see that from a young kid.” Intangibles like that can be invaluable, but they can also be a lot of fluff. A lot still depends on what the player can do on the field. But at least through his first test as a pro, Thompson has shown that he puts it together when he is on the field.
That said, Thompson really does have plenty of stuff to dream on, as he throws five pitches with a fastball that sits 90 to 92, a cutter, a sweeping slider, bigger curve and a solid changeup. He has a great frame that you can project adding 20 or so pounds on, and he's athletic. That combo typically leads to increases in velocity as pitchers mature. If that takes place and Dylan can work comfortable in the 92-94 range, he really could start to look like a middle- to back-of-the-rotation type of future prospect. The next two rungs on the organization's minor league ladder are heavily pitcher-friendly, so Thompson could also gain even more confidence in the next couple of seasons. He figures to be a part of the Everett rotation in 2016, where he'll look to sharpen his offspeed pitches and learn more about pitching and about himself.
TOP TRAIT(S): Frame, mentality, repertoire
26. Kyle Wilcox – RHP, 6’3”, 195, SS, 6/14/94, R/R
Wilcox -- Seattle's 6th round selection out of Bryant College -- picked up a lot of late-inning, high pressure assignments for the AquaSox in his pro debut, leading Everett and tying for second in the minor league for Seattle with nine saves. He finished 16 of his 19 appearances which was behind only teammate Matt Clancy (who we just covered at number 43 on our countdown) in terms of percentage of appearances that were game finishers among stateside arms. And in many of those outings, he flat out dominated. Wilcox had two outings of less than an inning where he gave up three runs each. If you take out those two games, he held opposing hitters to a .135 AVG and struck out 23 of the 86 men he faced. Maybe that's cherry picking a bit, but this one isn't: right-handed batters hit just .143/.276/.163 in 58 trips against the right-hander, striking out in over one-quarter of their shots at him. Wilcox's first appearance for Everett, while I was in attendance, that I immediately put him into my mid-season Top-35.
And he left an impression on most who saw him throw. "He's a premium college arm," an Everett staff member told me last month. "Good fastball, curve and change. He had a few bouts of wildness, but showed decent command otherwise," he finished up. That is a good summation of what Wilcox is at this point. He was a bit underexposed thanks to playing at a small school in the Northeast in high school and college, but he has everything you'd want from a college arm. He has come a long ways in terms of control since he debuted in college, but there is still growth to come there. If he does progress in terms of command and control, then starting could still be an option for Kyle, but if it doesn't, he seems to have an approach and an arm that could flourish out of the pen.
First and foremost, Wilcox has a fastball that frequently sits 92 to 94, and he can touch up to 97 at times. He's big and athletic, using a long stride in his delivery to help his plus arm speed, but also to really help his fastball jump on batters. He is athletic and repeats his delivery well, although maybe that long stride isn't as consistent as it could be. His hard breaking ball is a pitch that he doesn't always locate well, and getting into unfavorable counts because of that and the changeup missing is what led to most of the hits off of him. In just over 20 innings, Wilcox -- who is a fast worker when he's on -- looks like he could be a fast-track relief arm, but as I said above, I'm not sure that the club wants to discount him as a starting option just yet. If they do decide to let him have a shot at starting, a return to Everett to start the 2016 season could be in line. I'd say it is more likely that he heads to Iowa to be the likely closer for Clinton.
TOP TRAIT(S): Armspeed, athleticism
That does it for our fifth weekly look at five of the top prospects in Seattle's system. We have five more weekly looks to go to finish our annual coverage of the best 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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