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, 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.
Nos. 30 through 26 (SUBSCRIBER ONLY)
Nos. 25 through 21 (SUBSCRIBER ONLY)
Nos. 20 through 16 (SUBSCRIBER ONLY)
And now we are going to get through prospects numbered 15 through 11 in our sixth annual Top-50 countdown with these five in-depth reports.
15. Brayan Hernandez – OF, 6’2”, 175, DSL, 9/11/97, B/R
Hernandez, who was the top prospect in Venezuela and Baseball America's No. 3 International prospect overall in 2014, made his professional debut in 2015 for the Mariners' newly created second team in the DSL. Playing all season as a 17 year old, the switch-hitting outfielder -- who I ranked 25th last year before he'd even played a game -- didn't really have any long stretches of notable success playing in the 38 team league, but he did still manage to post an extra base hit rate above the league average (6.1% to 5.4%) and had a solid walk rate (9.1%) while playing most of his games in center field, where he is above average. Brayan was starting to turn it on with the bat in the second month of the season, but he ended the year on an 0-for-21 skid that dropped his AVG from .255 to .224 and his OPS from .704 (which is what the league as a whole and both of the M's affiliates hit) to .623. Probably a 55 runner, he stole nine bases and was caught six times, painting even more of the picture that shows just how raw Hernandez is as a prospect at this point in time.
Considered among the best athletes available in the 2014 class of international players, Hernandez has flashed all five tools both in his pre-signing workouts and in his time on the practice fields and in games for the M's. Tim Kissner told me a year ago that Brayan is, "a plus athlete with plus instincts and tools." He has true centerfield abilities defensively, and even though his broad shoulders indicate that his frame could thicken up significantly in time, most expect him to be able to stick in center long term. In those showcase workouts, Hernandez was limited to hitting right-handed thanks to an injury to his right shoulder, but he homered and doubled and showed a great approach in those games.
Hernandez's frame and his ability to switch hit with quick, strong hands and wrists lead to the power projection, and even though he has a swing path geared for contact, the power -- which could also be average -- will come without him selling out for it as he fills out with age. His defense and athleticism will enable him to move as fast as his bat allows him to, with a worst case outcome being Brayan turning into an above average corner outfield defender.
Hernandez is 18 now so he would be allowed to come stateside if the M's desired him to, but with their state of the art facility in the Dominican, it isn't a sure thing that he will be in Arizona when the short season teams start playing. Wherever he ends up, this second season -- the season where most international prospects really start to perform -- should be a better gauge on where exactly Hernandez is in terms of a timetable for climbing the minor league ladder and knocking on the door in Seattle. Best case scenario is probably two-plus full seasons away.
TOP TRAIT(S): Speed, athleticism
14. Tyler Marlette – C, 5’11”, 195, AA, 1/23/93, R/R
Marlette has been on our countdown each of the past four seasons, peaking with a ranking of 12th a year ago after turning in his most complete, best offensive season at the plate for High Desert with two weeks in Jackson to end his year. Put back in High-A to open 2015, Marlette was one of the only hitters to perform early in the season for the Blaze, ending April with a .345/.406/.569 slash to go along with four homers and 13 RBI in his first 14 games. But Tyler would then go in a 14-for-96 skid over his next 25 games, leaving for Double-A ball once again with just a .216/.284/.365 slash and a 21.6% strikeout rate over 162 plate appearances to show for his time. After a slow start in getting re-acclimated to the pitching at that level, Marlette would turn in a very strong July (.327/.364/.462) and hit .296/.321/.437 with 14 extra base hits and just a 15.0% strikeout rate over the final 140 plate appearances of his year for the Generals. In his continuing evolution as a catcher, Tyler also threw out 30.2% of would-be basestealers and cut his error total from 13 in 2014 to just five in 2015.
The right-handed hitter hit right-handed pitching fairly well on the year, slashing .248/.302/.415 against them while struggling to just a .206/.250/.250 mark in 72 trips against lefties. His extra base hit total fell off dramatically, from 42 to 28, with his percentage falling from 11.2% to 8.0%, but that number was still good for 11th among hitters who tallied at least 100 total bases in Seattle's system. "Marlette is a player who improved as the year went on," Jackson's Brandon Liebhaber told me after the season. "After some early struggles, he showed he was more than capable to produce on offense at the level. His defense took a step forward in 2015, too, especially in regards to lateral movement," he added. The broadcaster finished by saying of Marlette, "At the plate, he is still very aggressive but has the power to produce extra-base hits consistently." And unlike many young hitters, that power isn't only to his pull side. Marlette has shown a willingness to wait on balls and drive them to the opposite field, knowing that his power can play all the way around to right field. Tyler hit four of his seven homers in 2015 up the middle or the other way, and you can see from the chart below that that wasn't an anomoly.
An NL West scout who had seen Marlette in 2014 then saw him again early in the year told me, "I'm not sure if he is nursing an injury or what, but he doesn't look the same." For whatever it's worth, Marlette didn't miss any significant time during the year with Bakersfield or with Jackson, and his 89 games and 350 plate appearances were franchise highs from the catcher position. That said, he did DH more extensively than he had in the past, catching only 73 of those 89 games. Regardless, Marlette looked healthy and was catching regularly for Jackson (splitting time with Marcus Littlewood again) at the end of the season.
Marlette does have plus game power, but he also has a level swing and a more contact-oriented approach than you typically see from strong high school hitters playing power positions. Some of that can be attributed to his build and his shorter, "hitter's arms", allowing him to be quick to the ball and avoid looping or selling out for power. Although he's never posted a walk rate above 8.1% and has been at just 6.9% the past two years, Marlette does have a good understanding of the strikezone and he does lay off pitches out of the zone. But if he sees a strike, he's usually swinging. As a catcher with a squatty build, he's a 30 runner, now and in the future, but he has an offensive profile and enough improving defensive tools that he looks like a good bet to reach the big leagues in at least a backup role at some point. He'll likely head to Jackson to open 2016, but even with the depth at the top of the system, the 23 year old Marlette could see Tacoma at some point in 2016 if all goes well.
TOP TRAIT(S): Power, bat speed, arm
13. Andrew Moore – RHP, 6’0”, 185, SS, 6/2/94, R/R
Seattle's second pick in the 2015 Draft, 72nd overall, Moore had one of the best debuts in the Mariners' system pitching in a tandem in Everett. The 21 year old right-hander allowed more than one earned run just twice in his 14 outings and struck out five in four separate three inning outings. The three inning appearances were the plan with Moore, who had worked 122 1/3 innings in 16 starts for Oregon State during the college baseball season -- a season that saw the Springfield, OR native rack up more strikeouts (111) than he allowed baserunners (107) while leading the Beavers to the NCAA tournament. Andrew also struck out more batters (43) than he allowed to reach base with Everett (39). And, of course, in a remarkable display of command that deserves a tip of the cap to his stuff, Moore walked just two (both left-handed hitters) of the 151 hitters that he faced during the season. And further speaking to his command, Moore carried a very strong ground ball rate thanks to his consistent approach of working the lower edges of the strike zone.
It was a fantastic debut pro season for Moore, who has long carried the stigma of being a "small-ish" right-hander because he is just at 6-foot. He proved a lot of those doubters because of his shorter frame to be ill-informed with his performance and arsenal in college and again with Everett. And along the way he made a ton of fans -- in the stands and in the organization. "Another high character guy. He’ll throw four pitches for strikes at any time in the count. The fastball command is impeccable, the change might be his second best pitch," is how a long time member of Everett's staff summed up Moore's performance and abilities.
Moore has long been praised for his bulldog mentality and his work habits and both of those were apparent with Everett, too. Batters managed a .301/.301/.473 slash against the right-hander with the bases empty but fell to .171/.190/.220 with runners in scoring position. And the strikeout rate jumped from 26.9% with no one on to over 38% with RISP. Both of those stats point to his mentality and his baseball intelligence -- knowing what to do and when to do it on the mound.
Moore has four pitches, headlined by his fastball that he can get up to the mid-90s, although it was more consistent in the low-90s with Everett. He works that pitch to all parts of the zone intelligently, and although he doesn't get good movement on the offering thanks to his straight over the top delivery, he does throw downhill with it and does a better job of creating plane than a normal six-footer does. He has a curve and slider, with the curve having more promise and better shape, but Moore's best secondary offering is his changeup, which shows plus potential thanks to some late sink and a consistent release. Moore will hit full-season ball in 2016 and should be one of the top right-handed arms in the rotation in Seattle's system.
TOP TRAIT(S): Mentality, intelligence, command, armspeed
12. Ryan Yarbrough – LHP, 6’5”, 205, A+, 12/31/91, R/L
Yarbrough, who shot up the rankings for the Mariners throughout the industry a year ago after being what many considered to be a money saving pick as a senior sign in the 2014 Draft, battled a groin injury this past season, but when he was healthy, the left-hander showed a lot of the same promise that landed him on those lists -- including being the SeattleClubhouse No. 14 prospect prior to 2015. Ryan made 22 starts on the year overall, but in his 16 starts in the Cal League he posted the eighth best ERA among the 34 pitchers that had at least that many starts. Nine of those 16 starts went at least five innings, and he struck out more than a batter an inning in nine of the 16, too, including all five of his starts after returning from the injury and rehab starts in the AZL and with Clinton. In those final five healthy starts, Yarbrough pitched to a 2.77 ERA and held opposing batters to a .633 OPS, striking out 34 and walking just six in 26 innings of work.
Bakersfield's Dan Besbris got a front seat look at Yarbrough's year and it was very clearly divided into three parts in his eyes: "Ryan missed time with a groin strain, an injury he attempted to pitch through in May to disastrous results [7.14 ERA, .930 OPS allowed]. When he was healthy, Yarbrough was one of my favorites. He works blindingly fast out of the windup (less so, out of the stretch), working the lowest edge of the zone. Early in the year when the weather was cool, he went after hitters with the fastball and, in one start, induced 13 straight batters to hit the ball on the ground." Those ground ball tendencies have yielded a 56.4% ground ball rate through his first two seasons, and combining that with Ryan's strikeout rates and swing-and-miss stuff that were present again post-injury, it is easy to envision him as a future big leaguer.
"He's got the ability to miss bats and has a couple of solid to plus pitches, and he gets the ball on the ground a lot. That is a good profile," an NL West scout who watched Yarbrough in '15 with Bakersfield told me. Yarbrough got 15 or more ground balls in three of his first six starts (all 6-inning outings) and didn't allow a home run until his seventh start, surrendering seven on the year in all, just eight now in his 139 1/3 total pro innings (0.5 HR/9). The tall left-hander also has a solid move to first base, and opposing runners were successful in just 11-of-22 steal attempts in 2015.
Despite reports to the contrary around the Draft, Yarbrough does repeat his delivery very well and he does have a good amount of deception in his three-quarters delivery. The fastball that he leads with works comfortably in the 90 to 92 range, bumping higher at times, and he commands the pitch very well. He throws a slurvy breaking ball in the high-70s that generates lots of swings and misses and features a changeup with solid fade and sink that can be an out pitch, too. Because Ryan did miss a chunk of time this past season with injury, his immediate future isn't exactly obvious. "Selfishly, I hope the M's feel like 2015 was a wasted year and I get to see him again [in Bakersfield]," said Besbris. He followed that up with, "when healthy, though, I feel he could handle Double-A." Yarbrough did get 16 starts in High-A, and 22 starts overall, bringing his career total to 36 games in two pro years. As an arm that entered the pros as a college senior, to me that looks like enough to move him to the Jackson rotation in 2016.
TOP TRAIT(S): Size, deception, three-pitch mix
11. Christopher Torres – SS, 5’11”, 170, DSL, 2/6/98, B/R
Probably one of the lesser known names on the countdown, Torres is an interesting case as a player who had a reported big money deal fall through and he ended up falling into the M's lap for $375,000 according to Baseball America. Just over a year later, that investment is looking like a pretty incredible steal for Seattle. Torres just missed reaching a .400 OBP for the year in his first pro season, but he posted the fifth best walk rate among DSL hitters who had at least 200 plate appearances at 18.6% by drawing the fifth most walks in the league (51). Torres also played 53 of his 64 games at shortstop for the M's, and though he had a high error total (27) and went more than four games in a row without making an error just once on the season, many expect him to be a special player defensively when all is said and done. While Torres is about five months younger than Hernandez, there is little question that he'll be with a U.S. affiliate in 2016 as he's a player who is praised for his maturity and understanding of the game and situations.
"He's a guy who is mature beyond his years," said one former M's PD staffer who is very high on Torres. "He's in charge out there and really understands the game." Torres has the instincts, arm strength, footwork and range to stick at shortstop, the error total will obviously need to get cleaned up, though. A switch-hitter who has a natural looking swing from both sides of the plate is a better left-handed hitter currently. He managed just one extra base hit in 78 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in 2015, slashing .260/.429/.387 from the left side.
As you would like to see with these young players debuting in pro ball, Torres got better at the plate as the season went on, and he ended up hitting .327/.448/.481 and collecting six extra base hits over his final 16 games. He stole 20 bases in 29 attempts on the year including his final eight without being caught. It is tougher to rank the players who don't play stateside, but the feedback I got on Torres was universally positive, with one list I got from inside the organization having Christopher ranked No. 5 in the M's system. That may be a lot to put on a player who has only completed his 17 year old debut season in the DSL, but you have to like the profile that Torres has.
Even if he can't stick at shortstop, the defensive tools will be plus at second and -- if the bat continues to develop while he maintains the plate discipline numbers -- the offense that Torres could offer may play at any of a number of positions. Incredibly athletic with quick hands, feet and overall actions, Torres is a plus runner that could rate as average everywhere else in the scouting spectrum once developed. He is, of course, a long ways away, but I figure that he'll play shortstop for AZL or possibly even Everett in 2016.
TOP TRAIT(S): Baseball instincts, intelligence, speed
That wraps up our reports on prospects No. 15 through 11 in the Seattle Mariners' organization. Next Monday we will start the coverage of the Top-10 with five more prospects, marching even closer to the top names in our annual Top-50 countdown. Be sure to check in for that and for all of our reports throughout the year.