Breaking Down When Seattle Mariners' Next Prospects Will Arrive
Many of the top-ranked prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization have already reached the major leagues, but a few more could be on the way shorty.
The Mariners have already had James Jones, Dominic Leone and Roenis Elias make their major league debuts in 2014, and each has experienced some success. It should be only a matter of a few weeks before Chris Taylor and Carson Smith join them to fill a couple of holes on the roster.
Nine of these prospects stand out and should be able to reach the majors either later this season or in 2015. Prospects are not necessarily ranked by talent or upside, but rather by their expected date of arrival, major league readiness and how they can improve weaknesses on the big league roster.
These players have the talent to make the big leagues in the near future, but are either raw or being held back by other concerns.
Danny Hultzen, SP
There’s no doubt Hultzen has the stuff to be a successful middle-of-the-rotation pitcher in the big leagues. Hultzen posted an excellent 22.0 K-BB percentage and a 2.05 ERA in six starts in Triple-A last season and seemed poised to join the Mariners sometime in 2013 before a series of injuries delayed his major league aspirations.
What started as a mild shoulder concern turned into a devastating injury, and he's out for the entire 2014 season after undergoing labrum surgery. He could get a shot in late 2015 if fully recovered, but Hultzen’s future is a major question mark as of now.
Austin Wilson, OF
The Mariners selected Wilson in the second round of the 2013 draft and have seen him progress well since. After a nice season in Low-A last year, he has moved to Single-A Clinton and is hitting .274 with five home runs to begin 2014.
Wilson might be the most exciting outfielder in the Mariners system, but there are a few more major league-ready players who will reach Seattle before him. Look out for Wilson in 2016.
Tyler Pike, SP
If this list was made at the beginning of the year, Pike would have certainly made it, but he has struggled at the High-A level in 2014. Pike’s 4.88 ERA at hitter’s paradise High Desert isn’t too concerning, but his walk rate of 16.2 percent is.
Pike talked to Ryan Divish of The Seattle Times about the challenge that High Desert presents.
It’s been a little rough. I’m just trying to get used to everything. It’s a tough league to pitch in. I’d been struggling.
I knew coming that this is not a fun place for pitchers to be. And I think I was just trying a little bit too hard to do everything. ... I was trying not to miss over the middle and I was trying to pick at corners and I would end getting myself in trouble, falling behind and walking guys.
Pike has turned it around to an extent recently and will hopefully move up a level soon enough. He is definitely still part of the Mariners’ future rotation and might possess the best changeup in Seattle’s minor league organization
But the Mariners hoped Pike would be in Double-A by now, and he has likely fallen behind Victor Sanchez as a result. He’ll battle for a rotation spot in 2016.
9. Victor Sanchez, SP
ETA: September 2015
Although he is just 19 years old, Victor Sanchez has already progressed through the low minors and has already reached the Double-A level. Sanchez looks to be the most promising pitcher in the organization and could rocket through the minors at a similar rate to Taijuan Walker a year ago.
Sanchez has already developed a plus changeup to go with a lively low-90s fastball, and his curveball is coming along nicely. He missed a month this season with some arm tightness but looks to be healthy. He has only walked seven batters in 26.2 innings for the Jackson Generals this year.
If the Mariners weren’t stacked with young pitching talent, Sanchez would even have a chance to reach the middle of 2015. He should still get a look next September or out of camp in 2016 at the latest.
8. Patrick Kivlehan, 3B
ETA: Second-Half 2015
Patrick Kivlehan played four years of football at Rutgers, but the Mariners saw enough talent to grab him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft. He is understandably raw, but he has the tools to reach the majors by late 2015.
Despite a high strikeout rate, Kivlehan still walks plenty and has great power, which was enough to get him promoted to Double-A in early May. In 18 games, Kivlehan has walked in 13 percent of his at-bats and has hit two home runs, including the impressive opposite-field shot above.
Unfortunately for Kivlehan, he is blocked at third base by Kyle Seager and D.J. Peterson the top hitter in Seattle’s organization. He projects more as a corner outfielder, and the conversion could delay his arrival.
7. D.J. Peterson, 3B
ETA: Second-Half 2015
D.J. Peterson was billed as the most polished hitter of the 2013 draft and was drafted 12th overall by the Mariners as a result. He has backed that up by posting an OPS of over .900 in Single-A last year and hitting 10 home runs and 11 doubles in 45 games with High Desert this season.
Peterson has exceptional bat speed and a remarkable ability and a remarkable ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball. ... He also has a plus arm, although his lack of speed and quickness may push him across the diamond to first base. Regardless of where he winds up, his bat will make him a potential All-Star.
That might help Peterson reach the big leagues sooner, as Seager looks to be the long-term option at third. The second half of next year is incredibly soon for Peterson to reach the majors, but he is following a similar trajectory as Mike Zunino, who only played 15 games at Double-A and 52 at Triple-A.
6. Jabari Blash, Outfield
As evidenced by the video above, Jabari Blash has tremendous power to all fields. The 6’5’’, 218-pound outfielder hit 14 home runs in 54 games at the Double-A level and has four at Triple-A after being promoted earlier this month.
Despite the power and good walk numbers, Blash has struck out in 32 percent of his plate appearances in Tacoma. He talked to Tyler Maun of MiLB.com about the adjustment from Double-A.
"It's a little bit different from [Double-A] Jackson. I'm seeing a lot tougher pitches, and these guys don't miss as much. They're doing a great job moving the ball in and out.”
For that reason, Blash isn’t quite major league-ready, but he's closer than any other Mariners outfielder, with Julio Morban rehabbing a leg injury. The Mariners won’t ignore Blash’s power forever; he should get a chance by early 2015.
5. Jordan Pries, SP
ETA: September 2014
Jordan Pries is moving quickly through the organization, making a brief stop in Double-A to begin the season before making eight starts with a 2.56 ERA in Tacoma. When the rotation is fully healthy, there isn’t much room for Pries, but multiple injury concerns could mean he reaches the big leagues this season.
Pries could conceivably be called up soon to replace the ineffective Brandon Maurer, but a K/BB ratio of 1.48 will likely hold him in Tacoma for now. The Mariners could also be reluctant to move Pries on to the 40-man roster for the benefit of just a few starts before Walker or James Paxton returns.
But the Mariners will be watching Paxton and Walker’s (and potentially Roenis Elias’) innings very closely late in the season, meaning Pries could pick up a spot start in September. In any case, he will probably be called up as bullpen depth.
4. Ty Kelly, INF
ETA: Second-Half 2014
Ty Kelly has been right on the fringe of the majors for the past two seasons. The Mariners middle-infield logjam could sort itself out in a way where Kelly gets a shot before the end of the season.
He has been solid at the plate for Tacoma with a .263/.390/.413 line, including five home runs. Kelly has also shown a great eye throughout his minor league career and has walked more than he’s struck out this season.
If the Mariners are going to call up a shortstop soon, it’s going to be Chris Taylor, barring a further setback with his finger injury. Designated hitter and bullpen help are the two other big weaknesses for the Mariners, meaning Kelly doesn’t quite crack the top three, but he could get a shot as a utility infielder if Nick Franklin struggles into August.
3. Ji-Man Choi, DH
ETA: Second-Half 2014
Ji-Man Choi is currently serving a 50-game suspension for use of a banned substance, but he will return on June 8. He could see some time in the majors shortly after, barring a major slump.
Despite having relatively low expectations as a prospect, Choi flew through the low minors, including a .337/.427/.619 line with 24 doubles in 48 games at High Desert. Choi doesn’t have much power, but he walked more than he struck out at Double-A Jackson in 2013 and appeared poised to break out in Tacoma before the suspension.
Choi could probably use more time in Triple-A, but with the Mariners’ current DH situation and lack of right-handed bats, he might be forced up now. It’s going to take some time for Choi to get into rhythm after being out for 50 games, meaning he won’t be called up before Carson Smith or Chris Taylor, but he's in good shape for some at-bats in late July or August.
2. Carson Smith, RP
ETA: July 2014
Seattle’s bullpen has been middle-of-the-road and will likely be looking for some help soon. The hope was that Stephen Pryor would fully recover from lat surgery and be in the majors by now, but he has struggled in Triple-A and was shut down last Tuesday after an MRI revealed shoulder inflammation.
Carson Smith is next in line for a call-up, as he struck out everybody through the low minors and has taken over as Tacoma’s closer. As the video above shows, Smith has a bizarre delivery, but it allows him to get great arm action on a mid-90s fastball and a variety of offspeed pitches with some wicked break to them.
Former pitching coach Carl Willis told The Tacoma News Tribune last season that Smith could be deceptive to major league hitters, saying "he’s got a little funk to him that you don’t see as often from a right-hander."
The door isn’t quite as open for Smith as it is for Taylor, but the Mariners could choose to replace someone like Yoervis Medina with a more high-upside option soon.
1. Chris Taylor, SS
ETA: July 2014
Chris Taylor would likely already be in Seattle if it he hadn’t sustained a broken pinky finger on May 15. With Brad Miller continuing to struggle and Nick Franklin lacking the defense to be an everyday shortstop, Taylor and his .372/.414/.593 line is the obvious replacement choice at the position.
Divish reports that Taylor took swings and did some fielding work for the first time yesterday, hopefully meaning his timetable is another two to three weeks. Taylor will need some time to get back in rhythm but seems likely to join the club shortly after, possibly sometime around the All-Star break.
Bernie Pleskoff of MLB.com offers a breakdown of Taylor, saying he should excel at the plate, on the bases and in the field.
Taylor is a contact hitter with the ability to spray the ball to all fields with a short, compact swing. ... In addition, speed is one of his most refined tools, if not the most.
Between High Desert and Jackson, he stole 38 bases, using his speed to position himself to score 108 runs for the two teams combined. ... His range to both sides and coming in on balls is good. He gets rid of the ball quickly and has a strong and accurate arm.