Blockbuster deals have radically changed the 2019 Mariners
For a Seattle Mariners fanbase that could, and probably should, be losing faith in the organization competing for a playoff spot in at least the next two years, leave it to a 19-year-old to try to spark some hope.
Before either of the two blockbuster trades the Mariners orchestrated with the Mets and Phillies became official on Monday, outfielder Jarred Kelenic scooped everybody with a post to his Twitter account.
“Get ready Mariner Nation,” he wrote. “It’s time to bring a championship to Seattle.”
It’s the same thing general manager Jerry Dipoto has been preaching – saying that all this offloading is really allowing the Mariners to compete for a World Series by what he said is 2021, and not just competing for the second wild card in 2019.
So who is this cast of prospects shouldered with such a quest? It’s their challenge to not only eventually get the Mariners to the playoffs for the first time in what will surely be a streak that approaches or passes 20 years, but also to their first World Series.
The Mariners went from what many experts considered the least-talented stash of young players in baseball to much, much better with additions of the Yankees’ top prospect, two of the Mets’ top-five prospects, a long-time top Phillies prospect and other 26-year-old or younger players.
Through their six trades over the past month – in which the Mariners have dealt away Edwin Diaz, Robinson Cano, Jean Segura, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz and Alex Colome – they’ve returned prospects such as Kelenic, left-hander Justus Sheffield, right-hander Justin Dunn, right-hander Erik Swanson, outfielders Jake Fraley and Dom Thompson-Williams, left-hander Ricardo Sanchez and right-handed reliever Gerson Bautista.
Add them to the former first-round picks already in the system with first baseman Evan White, outfielder Kyle Lewis and right-hander Logan Gilbert as well as rising 17-year-old outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez, and the Mariners’ farm system has come a long way in a short time frame from where it was a year ago.
“We feel like we just went from somewhere in the bottom five to somewhere in the top 10,” Dipoto said Monday. “And that is a pretty swift move to do in about a month. We are very much looking forward to next year’s draft and the international market and the ability to continue to look at the idea of turning veteran players into young players.
“This is the road we’ve opted for, and we’re excited to watch the guys play, but we think our system has come a long, long way.”
Matt Eddy, an executive editor with Baseball America, said in a phone interview Monday that he might put this Mariners’ farm system just outside the top 10. He said it’s probably closer to the middle of the pack across MLB.
Eddy said Sheffield remains the Mariners’ new No. 1-ranked prospect, and that Kelenic, Dunn, White and Rodriguez should follow to round out their top five.
Shortstop J.P. Crawford, 23, recently graduated from prospect over his past two years appearing for the Phillies. So his arrival in Monday’s Segura trade doesn’t count toward how the industry views the Mariners’ farm system. Same applies for 25-year-old outfielder Mallex Smith and 26-year-old catcher Omar Narvaez, who were also big Mariners additions over the past month.
“All of these younger players have high ceilings,” Eddy said. “But the fact that they were available in trades does indicate that, at least to some degree, that there is risk associated with them.”
Some of that risk? Some wonder if Sheffield doesn’t have the frame to be a workhorse starter and that maybe he’s more of a reliever down the road. Reports were saying the Mariners thought more highly of Sheffield than others around the league when they traded Paxton to get him.
The same skepticism exists for Dunn, who was a reliever for part of his draft year in college before being selected in the first round as a starter in 2016. Lefties raked against Dunn in 2017, hitting .345 with a .464 on-base percentage, but that dipped with the improvement of his changeup to .264/.356 in 2018
And Eddy sees Crawford as a high-floor option. Never shown a lot of power, but plenty of plate discipline, speed and defensive abilities. He hit just .214 in each of his past two seasons of big-league experience, but he has a .333 on-base percentage in 72 games.
The biggest question will be Kelenic. If he pans out, maybe the Mariners postseason plans do, too. Eddy pointed out that of the 13 left-handed hitting outfielders drafted out of high school in the top 10 of the draft since 1987, many fizzled other than Josh Hamilton … and there was also Ken Griffey Jr.
The difference is Griffey and Hamilton were both No. 1 overall picks. Kelenic was the sixth pick – even though Dipoto said Monday that the Mariners thought he was the best player in the draft.
“I think we underestimate how long it takes these players to become regulars in the major leagues,” Eddy said. “Look at David Dahl in the 2012 draft. He’s still not an established regular. Austin Meadows in the 2013 draft, and he’s still not an established regular.
“While true that (Kelenic) does have a high ceiling, I think we undersell how difficult the climb is just because of how difficult it is to establish yourself as a major league corner player. The offensive bar is so high.”
But Dipoto is insistent that they still view 2021 as their playoff window. He also expects most of these prospects they’ve acquired to be with the Mariners by the middle of the 2020 season.
“The only player we’ve acquired in the past month who might be pressed to get on the front side of that window is Jarred Kelenic,” Dipoto said. “Everybody else should be making their way toward Seattle, if not immediately, then certainly by midseason 2020, which that was the timeline we were trying to set up. And they join a group of players we already have, guys like Evan White, Kyle Lewis, Logan Gilbert and the like. We feel like we have a group here that has now just expanded and that by midseason 2020 we’ll have a group that is young and energetic and a lot of fun to watch.
“And I don’t think we’ve put a lot of stress on our player development system. (Crawford) has already been to the big leagues. So has Justus Sheffield. Mallex Smith just finished a 3.5 wins-above-replacement season. Omar Narvaez is just about two wins. These guys have already started to scratch the surface and most of them have already performed at the upper levels in a way that would suggest if there is more time needed, it shouldn’t be two years.”