3 Mariners hitting prospects leading Arizona Fall League juggernaut

Oct 11, 2023, 1:31 PM | Updated: 3:23 pm

Seattle Mariners Ryan Bliss...

Ryan Bliss makes a throw during the 2023 Futures Game at the Seattle Mariners' T-Mobile Park. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The 2023 baseball season is over for most of the players in the Seattle Mariners organization, but there are seven continuing to play in the Arizona Fall League. And they’re not just playing – they’re significant pieces on a team that is dominating its competition.

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The Peoria Javelinas feature players from five MLB organizations: the Mariners, Miami Marlins, Cleveland Guardians, Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres. It appears this year’s roster is a good mix of the five teams, as the Javelinas are off to a 7-0 start and have truly been a juggernaut, owning a plus-47 run differential. The Surprise Saguaros (4-4 record) are the only other squad in the six-team league with a positive run differential at plus-4.

Of the seven Seattle players on Peoria’s roster, three are hitters who have contributed to an offensive explosion.

Harry Ford is the most recognizable of the three names. Entering Wednesday, Seattle’s 2021 first-round MLB Draft pick and No. 2 prospect as ranked by MLB Pipeline already has three home runs in just three games played. That’s enough to tie him for the AFL lead for homers despite having far less plate appearances than most other players in the league. Ford, who also has five walks and nine RBIs, owns a .250/.471/1.000 slash line for a 1.471 OPS.

Ford, an exciting 20-year-old catcher, has also starred in international competition for Great Britain in recent years, including the World Baseball Classic last spring. In fact, just three days before making his AFL debut last week, “Sir Harry” hit leadoff for Great Britain as the team took second place in the European Championship in Brno, Czechia.

Tyler Locklear, a 2022 second-round pick of the Mariners, is another hitter standing out for Peoria. He has a .300/.464/.550 slash for a 1.014 OPS with a homer, five walks and six RBIs. The 22-year-old Locklear, who has played both first base and third base in the minors, spent most of 2023 with Ford on the Single-A Everett AquaSox before receiving a call up to Double-A Arkansas in late August.

Locklear’s contributions got the attention of MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis, a well-known reporter in the prospect world.

“Peoria unquestionably has the best offense in the (Arizona Fall League), and it will be even more formidable if Tyler Locklear gets going like he did last night,” Callis said Sunday on social media.

As great as Ford and Locklear’s numbers are, there’s another M’s prospect who has perhaps played an even bigger role in the Javelinas’ eye-popping start.

Second baseman Ryan Bliss is 7 for 13 at the plate with six walks in four games so far, giving him a slash of .538/.684/.615 for a 1.299 OPS. He also has three steals on six attempts. The 5-foot-6 Bliss was part of Seattle’s late July trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and if all goes well could be the Mariners’ future at second base.

The 23-year-old Bliss has been on a roll for a while now, as he had an impressive finish to the end of the Triple-A season with Tacoma. In 21 games for the Rainiers in September, he slashed .329/.456/.659 (1.115 OPS) with seven homers, four doubles, a triple, 11 steals on 12 attempts, and 20 walks to just 18 strikeouts.

Bliss was a second-round selection by Arizona in the 2021 MLB Draft and represented the D-backs in the 2023 Futures game during All-Star Week at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, and he will be a name to watch as a candidate to make the Mariners when spring training rolls around next February. He is Seattle’s No. 14 prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline.

Locklear, Seattle’s 11th-ranked prospect, is another candidate to make his MLB debut sometime in 2024 after reaching Double-A this season, while the younger Ford’s arrival to the bigs will probably be closer to 2025.

In addition to the three M’s hitters, Seattle pitching prospects Peyton Alford, Jarod Bayless, Leon Hunter Jr. and Troy Taylor play for the Javelinas, and they’ve been enjoying success as well. Also on Peoria’s roster is Kyle Manzardo, a WSU product and Idaho native who is Cleveland’s No. 2 MLB Pipeline prospect.

What is the Arizona Fall League?

Each MLB team sends seven prospects to the AFL, which plays a regular season from October to mid-November and ends with two days of playoffs. There is also an annual Home Run Derby and “Fall Stars” game towards the end of the regular season.

The Javelinas play their home games at the Peoria Sports Complex, which is where the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres hold spring training.

The AFL is essentially a showcase league for baseball’s premier prospects. Per the official Arizona Fall League website: “Approximately 50 percent of all players named to the 2022 MLB All-Star Game in Los Angeles are AFL alums. Twelve out of 20 players in the starting lineups for that game (starting pitchers and DH included) once played in the Arizona Fall League.”

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3 Mariners hitting prospects leading Arizona Fall League juggernaut