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Drayer: Top prospects help carry Mariners to impressive farm system ranking

Aug 12, 2020, 11:34 AM
Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic...
Mariners OF Jarred Kelenic is Baseball America's No. 12 prospect. (Getty)
(Getty)

In 2018 when Jerry Dipoto and the Mariners decided to scrap the current direction of attempting to add to an aging core, clear the decks and rebuild, the Mariners farm system was ranked dead last by Baseball America. What a difference two years, or more specifically one offseason and two drafts can make.

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When the Baseball America’s mid-season farm system rankings were released Wednesday morning – subscription required and recommended – the Mariners came in at No. 3 behind the Tampa Bay Rays in first and San Diego Padres in second, up from the No. 5 ranking they received at the beginning of the year.

One reason for the jump, the number of top prospects the Mariners possess. Along with the farm system rankings, Baseball America released their top 100 prospects list with the Mariners just one of three teams to place six or more players on the list.

8. Julio Rodriguez
12. Jarred Kelenic
54. Emerson Hancock
56. Evan White
63. Logan Gilbert
99. Noelvi Marte

It should be noted that for all clubs, with no minor league season this year the mid-season rankings are more about the draft picks entering the list than established prospects climbing it. Baseball America clearly liked Mariners top pick Emerson Hancock heading into the draft as they have him the second highest 2020 pitching selection in their top 100 with Asa Lacy coming in at 38 and Max Meyer at 59.

For a second straight ranking, Julio Rodriguez comes in ahead of Jarred Kelenic. In talking with Baseball America’s Bill Mitchell, who wrote up the Mariners previous top 30 rankings, the decision to put Rodriguez ahead of Kelenic was the toughest decision he has had to make at the top of any organization in his 12 years of evaluating prospects for the publication.

“Probably if I had to poll 100 knowledgeable observers it would have been 51 to 49,” he said on the Hot Stove Show. “By the end, we all felt that putting Julio Rodriguez and his sky high ceiling, it was the right choice. It’s a good problem for the Mariners to have. They have two bonafide No. 1 prospects.”

Dipoto’s stated goal in rebuilding the organization has been to build to sustain winning. The true test of any farm system is how well it is able to supplement the Major League team be it by graduating players to the big leagues or providing the currency for the general manager to go out and get players that will help at that level.

In order sustain, the Mariners need what Dipoto has called waves of talent, the first of which we are seeing right now at the big league level with Kyle Lewis (ranked 10th in the Mariners organization by BA), Evan White, Justus Sheffield (8), Justin Dunn (9) and a number of relievers. It will be their success or failure along with the success or failure to replace that talent as they graduate from rankings eligibility that will ultimately determine if the Mariners development plan was a success.

The process will be ongoing but a step in the right direction can be seen in the current top 30 with the two top prospects yet to break into the majors, a strong assortment of arms with Baseball America crediting the Mariners pitching program in “maximizing talent and creating an organization of strikeout machines,” and outside of catching, few glaring weaknesses. Depth of the system beyond the top 30 will remain important as well and with less room for error with these players as both the minors and the draft shrink.

For now, the Mariners farm system in the eyes of Baseball America is about as healthy as it has ever been. While nothing is certain when it comes to prospects, at the very least the Mariners now have numbers.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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Drayer: Top prospects help carry Mariners to impressive farm system ranking