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Drayer: New prospect rankings show how far Mariners’ system has come

OF Julio Rodriguez is the Mariners' No. 1 prospect per Baseball America. (Getty)

For the better part of the last month, Baseball America has been rolling out its organizational top 10 prospects lists for 2021, and Monday was the Mariners’ turn to take the spotlight.

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As been the case the past few years, the spotlight is bright. That, of course, has not always been the story for this franchise when it comes to prospects. And before we get into a look at the history and progression, quick – how many total hits did the two No. 1 picks and one No. 2 pick in the Mariners’ top five from 2015 accumulate in the major leagues? We’ll answer that later in the post.

OK, let’s take a look at the latest rankings, which were put together by Baseball America’s Bill Mitchell, who has long had eyes on the Mariners. (Note: To look at Baseball America’s full breakdown of their top-10 Mariners list, a subscription is required.)

2021

1. Julio Rodríguez, OF
2. Jarred Kelenic, OF
3. Logan Gilbert, RHP
4. Emerson Hancock, RHP
5. Noelvi Marte, SS
6. Taylor Trammell, OF
7. George Kirby, RHP
8. Cal Raleigh, C
9. Juan Then, RHP
10. Andrés Muñoz, RHP

BA’s 2021 top 100 list for all prospects has not yet but been released, but Seattle’s top 10 list includes six players who were in the top 100 last year – Rodriguez (6), Kelenic (9), Hancock (47), Gilbert (55), Trammell (69) and Marte (88). A quick look back at the 2020 preseason rankings reveals four players who graduated to the majors and one player (Brandon Williamson) who fell off the list.

2020

1. Rodríguez
2. Kelenic
3. Evan White, 1B
4. Gilbert
5. Kirby
6. Marte
7. Justus Sheffield, LHP
8. Justin Dunn, RHP
9. Brandon Williamson, LHP
10. Kyle Lewis, OF

Worth noting, with all the talk of Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto’s trading habits, all 10 from the 2020 list are still in the organization with four inked into the 2021 roster. We could see similar movement as the 2021 season goes on with Gilbert and Kelenic expected to debut, Muñoz on track for a June or July return from Tommy John surgery, and Raleigh and perhaps Trammell having shots at late season call-ups.

Beyond the names who are closer to major league-ready, the pitching jumps out with No. 1 picks Hancock and Kirby getting nods, and it’s good to see Then at 20 years old cracking the top 10 for the first time.

Regardless of arrival date projections, it’s hard to see any of these players not making a major league roster in the next few years, which in the past hasn’t always been the case.

While acknowledging that hindsight has always been 20-20 when it comes to prospect lists, it is interesting to look back at the path that was taken to get to a farm system that is now highly regarded and still building. What we have seen since the teardown in 2019 is a different focus than what we saw before.

When Dipoto first arrived on the scene, the directive was to win now, and as such players in the minors were largely seen as a means of adding to the big league club. A bottom 10 farm system in 2015 quickly thinned out to supplement the major league team.

Here’s a look at what Dipoto inherited coming into his first offseason.

2015

1. Alex Jackson
2. D.J. Peterson
3. Ketel Marte
4. Patrick Kivlehan
5. Austin Wilson
6. Edwin Diaz
7. Gabby Guerrero
8. Luiz Gohara
9. Ryan Yarbrough
10. Carson Smith

In this ranking, the answer to the question I asked near the top of this post can be found. Alex Jackson and D.J. Peterson, both No. 1 picks for the Mariners along with 2013 No. 2 pick Austin Wilson, have combined for all of two hits in the major leagues. While much was lost on the picks from previous Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, there was value in Marte, Díaz (though it should be pointed out after he was converted to a relief role and quickly moved up under Dipoto) and Yarbrough, who was traded to the Rays for Drew Smyly.

In his first offseason with the Mariners, Dipoto traded 15 players, including two (Kivelhan and Smith) from the top 10 list. The 11 players he acquired were almost all players expected to play for the big league team with only one (Boog Powell) landing on the 2016 top 10 prospect list.

2016

1. Alex Jackson
2. Edwin Díaz
3. Drew Jackson
4. Tyler O’Neill
5. Nick Neidert
6. Luiz Gohara
7. Braden Bishop
8. Andrew Moore
9. Boog Powell
10. D.J. Peterson

This list is even thinner than the previous year with not a single top 100 prospect as Jackson and Peterson were dropped from the list. Of the Mariners’ top 10 that year, three players are out of affiliated ball and just two have proven to be above-league average players.

One year later, the top 10 list had more Dipoto influence from his first draft pick with the Mariners at No. 1, a member of what could be considered his first blockbuster trade at No. 5 and in-season pickup Daniel Vogelbach at 10.

2017

1. Kyle Lewis
2. Tyler O’Neill
3. Luiz Gohara
4. Nick Neidert
5. Mitch Haniger
6. Andrew Moore
7. Drew Jackson
8. Max Povse
9. Dan Altavilla
10. Daniel Vogelbach

If this list looks perhaps a bit better than that of the previous year, rest assured it didn’t at the time with the Mariners falling closer to the cellar in farm system rankings. Trades of O’Neill and Gohara and questions about Lewis’ knee plummeted Seattle to dead last heading into 2018.

2018

1. Kyle Lewis
2. Evan White
3. Sam Carlson
4. Julio Rodríguez
5. Braden Bishop
6. Max Povse
7. Matt Festa
8. Art Warren
9. Joe Rizzo
10. Juan Querecuto

Of course, organizational rankings take more into consideration than just the top 10, but the quality of the top 10 is a good indicator of the depth of system and there were alarms all over this list. It’s never good to have three relievers among the best of your system, nor is it encouraging to have two 16 year olds regardless of how heralded they are. This is where the Mariners were heading into the 2018 season, which would help convince ownership that it was time to start over.

With a commitment to rebuild the farm, the first turn was dramatic with the Mariners jumping from worst to 11th in Baseball America’s organizational rankings.

2019

1. Justus Sheffield
2. Yusei Kikuchi
3. Jarred Kelenic
4. Evan White
5. Julio Rodríguez
6. Justin Dunn
7. Logan Gilbert
8. Kyle Lewis
9. Shed Long
10. Noelvi Marte

The rest, as they shall say, is recent history.

In 2020, the Mariners jumped to third in the rankings, which is an incredible leap from the last-place finish just two years prior.

What shouldn’t, and I don’t think hasn’t, been lost by those who follow the team is the importance of depth. While the Mariners currently have quality, all it takes is one look at the Padres, who ranked second in 2020, to see the distance is still great between the Mariners and the top two systems in baseball.

The Padres were able to acquire Blake Snell and Yu Darvish without doing much damage to their top 10. They were able to do that because they had exactly what the Rays were looking for – a major league-ready top (as in baseball, not organizational) pitching prospect and a stocked enough farm system that made the moves comfortable.

In just two years we have seen dramatic improvement in talent in the Mariners’ farm system. Ready or not, if the Mariners wish to stay on schedule with the rebuild, they are going to need to dip into the farm soon. Before then, a good draft and move here or there could make it easier to take that leap.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Mariners insider Shannon Drayer on Twitter.

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