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Drayer: Baseball America’s Bill Mitchell breaks down Mariners’ farm system

This spring will be big for Mariners prospect Kyle Lewis, who was slowed by an ACL injury. (AP)

Bill Mitchell, who covers Mariners prospects for Baseball America, joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mariners Hot Stove Show this week to talk about the latest prospect rankings. Mitchell gave an improved picture of the organization, which has used Jerry Dipoto’s “step back” as an opportunity to restock a farm system that had been ranked at or near the bottom of baseball.

Mariners Hot Stove Show, Jan. 8: Hour 1 | Hour 2

“It’s improved considerably,” Mitchell said. “Not just the depth of the system, but the talent at the top. At the end of the day you are measuring your farm system by how many impact players you have. By adding Justus Sheffield, Jarred Kelenic, and someone who didn’t even make our list because it was too late, (Yusei) Kikuchi – he’s certainly among their top three prospects – there’s a lot of depth at the start.”

While new additions Sheffield, Kelenic, Justin Dunn and Erik Swanson help beef up the list of the top 10 Mariners prospects, first baseman Evan White, the Mariners’ top pick in 2017, remains a favorite of Mitchell’s.

“I’m really high on Evan White,” he said. “The rap against him in the past was yeah, he is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. His defense is plus-plus. I had one of his former coaches say he’s a ballet artist around the bag. He’s a rarity in that he is a plus runner for a first baseman, he could play some outfield. The rap against him was concerns he wouldn’t hit for enough power as a first baseman. He did make adjustments with his hands and started driving balls better. The Mariners feel he will hit for power because he gets good exit velocities. He gets into the launch angle revolution and hits 20, 25 home runs to go with plus-plus defense, that is maybe an All-Star-caliber first baseman. And the makeup is outstanding too.”

One player not in the top 10 but of interest to Mitchell is shortstop J.P. Crawford, who was acquired from the Phillies in the Jean Segura trade. He is no longer eligible for prospect ranking but will most likely start the season in the minors.

“He struggled at Philadelphia this year,” said Mitchell, who pointed to injuries as perhaps playing a part in Crawford’s struggle. “But just a year ago he was a top 20 prospect in all of baseball. Is he a change-of-scenery guy who with some adjustments will get back to where he was before? It certainly will be interesting to watch him.”

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Another player that will be watched closely is Kyle Lewis, the Mariners’ 2016 top pick who finally returned to full-go late last season after struggling to come back from knee surgery.

“He has to get that knee stronger and make some adjustments at the plate. We are sure not seeing the explosiveness we saw before. It started coming together in the playoffs here at the Double-A level, and I did see him working out in the fall. He’s a great kid, looks in great shape but it was a serious injury. An ACL is a tough injury. Everyone will be watching him closely in the spring.”

A prospect coming off not an injury but a rookie season lost to illness is Logan Gilbert, who was the Mariners’ top pick last June. Coming off a heavy workload in his final college season, the Mariners had determined they would limit his innings in short season. As it turned out he reported to Everett with a severe case of mono and didn’t pitch at all. In Mitchell’s eyes, there are questions to be answered when he hits the field this spring.

“His velocity was down in his final year at Stetson,” Mitchell pointed out. “We don’t know that might have been some early effects of the mono. He can work with less on the fastball because he gets outstanding extension. He’s a big kid (6 foot 6). The fastball really plays up. If he gets back some of the velo he had in the Cape Cod League, with that extension, I think you are talking about more than a middle-of-the-rotation starter perhaps, but we haven’t seen him as a pro yet and have to be patient. I think they will start him slow but I see him getting to full season ball before too long into the summer.”

Mitchell has met but not yet seen prized international prospect Julio Rodriguez play.

“I’m really eager to see him,” he said. “I’ve heard wonderful things about his makeup. I think he is going to move fairly quickly. I think he will skip over rookie ball. He maybe has as much upside in anybody in the organization right now but he’s far away and there is a lot of risk with a player at that level.”

Outside of the top names, Mitchell has a few sleeper picks to keep an eye on. Relievers of interest include submariner Nolan Hoffman and Joey Gerber, who one scout said brings “violent velocity.” And a particular favorite of Mitchell’s is Donny Walton, a middle infielder out of Oklahoma State who put up nice numbers split between High and Double-A last year.

“He just does all the right things,” he said. “He bunts, he runs well, he can play a lot of positions in the infield. He’s never going to be a star, he won’t be a regular, but I guarantee this guy will have a Major League career as a utility player and a grinder off the bench. He will come pretty quickly in the next couple of years.”

The Hot Stove Show can be heard on Tuesdays from 7-9 p.m. on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Video: Grading each of Mariners’ 73 trades made under Jerry Dipoto

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