SHANNON DRAYER

Drayer: 3 Mariners in top 20 in new Baseball America prospect rankings

Jan 19, 2022, 4:27 PM

Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Mariners prospect Julio Rodríguez looks on before a game against the Angels on Oct. 2, 2021. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The Mariners once again have made a strong showing in the latest Baseball America top 100 prospect list.

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Five Mariners are on the list, led once again by outfielder Julio Rodríguez at No. 2 overall. The full list of M’s in the top 100 is:

• 2. Julio Rodríguez, OF
• 12. George Kirby, RHP
• 18. Noelvi Marte, SS
• 45. Matt Brash, RHP
• 83. Brandon Williamson, LHP

This marks the fourth straight year the Mariners have placed at least five players on the Baseball America’s first top prospects list of the year. A far cry from 2018 when they had just one ranked player (Nick Neidert), and a complete turnaround from 2016 when general manager Jerry Dipoto and new farm director Andy McKay inherited a system with no players ranked in Baseball America’s top 100.

The turnaround as far as rankings go happened quickly, aided in great part by names from the outside that were added during the big teardown after the 2018 season. The 2019 list included six Mariners – 3 home grown, 3 acquired in trade.

• 23. Jarred Kelenic, OF
• 33. Rodríguez
• 68. Logan Gilbert, RHP
• 72. Justus Sheffield, LHP
• 73. Evan White, 1B
• 99. Justin Dunn, RHP

As the outside additions gave a jump start to the effort to improve the farm system, the larger, more lasting impact was being made behind the scenes. That was through philosophies being established and taught, systems put in place, and upgrades made in resources with everything from mental skills coaching to the latest technology made available and utilized at all levels. The ultimate goal wasn’t to make a one- or two-year splash; it was to sustain a high level of success in producing players.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” Dipoto said on his weekly 710 ESPN Seattle show following the announcement of the 2021 list. “Somehow we have to turn the good thoughts about our farm system into production at the major league level and we feel that’s something we have been good at, and we need to continue to excel in that area.

“The waves of talent are coming and now if we are doing our job well, those waves won’t really stop. They may slow, but you should always have a group of players that are encroaching upon the big leagues and supplementing that next roster or joining a core.”

The next wave is on the doorstep with the previous one barely through. As Kelenic, Gilbert and catcher Cal Raleigh set out to further establish themselves after getting their first tastes of the bigs, now Rodríguez, Kirby, Brash and Williamson will seek their opportunities to take a seat at the table.

If it all seems a little too perfect, it probably is. The names above would represent a head-spinning amount of young talent in one place on a big league roster. Prospects are never a sure thing. Promise and production at the big league level are two very different things, but there is much about where the Mariners stand prospect-wise today that should be encouraging.

While the Mariners have had five to six players on Baseball America’s list heading into each of the last four seasons, in terms of rankings, the 2022 list looks very different from that in 2019. The Mariners are currently one of three organizations in baseball to place two players in the top 15, and the only one to place three in the top 20. In total, the Mariners have four of the top 50 prospects in the game. In 2019, their highest-ranked player was Kelenic at No. 23. Again, no guarantees with any player, but the higher the ranking, the higher the confidence level in the evaluations. There are fewer misses near the top.

One surprise perhaps is the omission of 2020 first-rounder Emerson Hancock, who was ranked 57th on the previous list. On 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy last week, Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser hinted at the demotion, noting that Brash and Williamson had eclipsed the former No. 6 overall pick overall in the eyes of their evaluators.

“He used to be kind of a polished delivery guy who had good velocity, but he started just trying to throw really, really hard last year and lost some of that polish in that delivery and that control,” Glaser said. “Most evaluators actually see him as a future reliever given the health and just kind of the way his delivery works now.”

A curious reaction based on just 44 2/3 innings pitched in the pros. Should he prove to be healthy – and so far so good as Hancock took part in the Mariners High Performance Camp last fall and is currently participating in the Dominate the Zone Pitching Camp – it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be an addition to the midseason rankings.

Dipoto has listed Hancock as a player who could debut in 2022, but if he doesn’t, add him to the next wave. As for future lists? At some point we should see the bigger names in the organization like ’21 first-rounder Harry Ford and highly-regarded international signing Lazaro Montes. But also keep an eye out for the surprises, players like Brash and Williamson who benefit from a bit of development and open eyes.

Baseball America’s Glaser: Julio Rodríguez can be one of the faces of MLB

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