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Mariners check in as Baseball America’s worst farm system

Kyle Lewis is a "frontline prospect," but the rest of the Mariners' farm system is lacking. (AP)

Baseball America has been unveiling its top 10 prospect rankings for each organization this week, and Friday the Mariners got their turn in the spotlight.

The evaluation? Not particularly good in the eyes of Baseball America.

“There is little truly strong in baseball’s worst farm system,” wrote Bill Mitchell.

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There it is. There has been little question that the Mariners’ farm system would be ranked toward the bottom as we have seen prospect after prospect traded from an already thin system. That said, Baseball America likes 2016 first-round pick Kyle Lewis – if he can remain healthy. And he’s not just a top Mariners prospect, but a “frontline prospect” in general.

Directly behind Lewis in the Mariners’ rankings sit two players drafted in 2017: first baseman Evan White and starting pitcher Sam Carlson, who check in at No. 2 and 3. Outfielders Julio Rodriguez and Braden Bishop follow at 4 and 5, with a trio of pitchers we could possibly see in the big leagues at some point in 2018 following with Max Povse (who converted back to starting this fall) and relievers Matt Festa and Art Warren. Third baseman Joe Rizzo comes in at No. 9, and shortstop Juan Querecto is No. 10.

Lewis and Povse are the only two who remain from Baseball America’s Mariners list from last year. Tyler O’Neill (ranked second in 2017), Luiz Gohara (third), Nick Neidert (fourth) and Drew Jackson (sixth) are all out of the organization, traded for Marco Gonzales, Shae Simmons, Mallex Smith, Dee Gordon and Chase De Jong.

The final three from the 2017 list are no longer considered prospects, with Mitch Haniger becoming an everyday player and Dan Altavilla and Daniel Vogelbach exceeding at-bat and innings limits for consideration in the rankings.

By their own definition, the rankings are based on Baseball America identifying the prospects with the “highest ceilings, with consideration given to the likelihood of reaching those ceilings.” The prospect rankings are about talent and the farm system evaluations take talent into heavy consideration. It is not the full picture however, and while the Mariners’ system is far from stocked, there are pockets that can be helpful – most notably relievers they have or can develop.

It would appear from Day 1 that general manager Jerry Dipoto has seen the value in relievers, both for his club and for currency to acquire other players. For 2018 he has built what looks to be a very good bullpen on paper with depth behind it. That bullpen has been built to fill in the blanks for what is missing in the rotation. The Mariners are not the only team to try this model and we will see if it works and can be sustained.

The most immediate problem to having a system without stars is in player acquisition. The Mariners simply cannot compete when it comes to putting prospect packages together for upper-tier starters with favorable contract situations. If Tampa Bay All-Star Chris Archer was made available tomorrow it would be very difficult, likely impossible, for the Mariners to acquire him for players from the farm system.

Real-time prospect and farm system ranking is far from an exact science. You just don’t know with any young player. The evaluation by Baseball America is a painful one, but it is in the ballpark at best. Ultimately, the mark of a good, healthy farm system is one that provides players to help the big league team, either on the field or in what they can bring in trade.

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