Hollander: ‘Big time’ for Mariners’ loaded farm system

Jun 3, 2024, 8:17 AM

Seattle Mariners prospect Harry Ford...

Seattle Mariners prospect Harry Ford bats during the All-Star Futures Game in 2023. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

After graduating a slew of pitching talent in previous years, the Seattle Mariners’ farm system took a brief dip, but it’s built plenty of momentum since thanks to a contingent of promising young bats.

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The Mariners feature one of baseball’s most intriguing farm systems, with seven players ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects and four in MLB Pipeline’s.

Seattle general manager Justin Hollander joined Seattle Sports’ Bump and Stacy recently for a conversation about the organization, and he believes it’s a “big time” for the franchise and its farm system.

“We should keep talking about them because we’re about to go back to the point where we have one of, if not the best, farm systems in baseball over the next 12 months,” Hollander said. “… It’s a big time for us.”

Next in line

The top-100 prospect that appears closest to making his major league debut is first baseman Tyler Locklear. The 23 year old is ranked as the No. 94 prospect by Baseball America. He played just 22 Double-A games a season ago and was called up to the Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers on Monday after 41 games in 2024.

With Arkansas this season, Locklear slashed .291/.401/.532 with 12 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 26 RBIs, 23 walks and 49 strikeouts. The Virginia Commonwealth product’s .933 OPS with Arkansas ranks third in the Texas League.

Since being called up to Tacoma, Locklear, a second-round draft pick in 2022, is slashing .304/.407/.391 in six games through Sunday.

“We just promoted to Triple-A after he really just beat (up) Double-A, which is hard to do,” Hollander said. “That’s a big jump from A-ball to Double-A, particularly for a right-handed hitter in the ballpark that we play in, and he just obliterated that league very quickly.”

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The top prospects

The Mariners highest-rated prospects are shortstop Cole Young and catcher Harry Ford. Baseball America ranks Young at No. 34 and Ford at No. 51, and MLB Pipeline has them ranked 26th and 27th, respectively. Both are excelling with the Double-A Travelers.

The 21-year-old Ford posted a scorching month of May, producing a .304/.418/.467 slash line five doubles, two triples, two home runs, 13 RBIs, nine stolen bases, 16 walks and 23 strikeouts. His 34 walks rank second in the Texas League, which comes after he led all of minor-league baseball in walks last season.

“Harry has just gone ballistic over the last month or so,” Hollander said. “He’s been one of the best minor league players at any level over the last month.”

The Mariners drafted Ford No. 12 overall in the 2021 MLB Draft out of North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia. Hollander pointed out that this year would have been when Ford became draft eligible had he signed with a college out of high school.

“I would be shocked if we weren’t talking about Harry Ford as, like, one of the five best amateur players in the country at this stage,” Hollander said, “and he’s in Double-A at 21 and showing us that he may be ready for a step up at some point later in the year.”

Young, the No. 21 overall pick in 2022, is another one of the high school bats the organization invested in early during the past three drafts. He’s had a quick ascent through minors, starting the season in Double-A after playing just 48 games with the High-A Everett AquaSox in his second minor league stop of 2023.

Young impressed during his first spring training with the club, posting a .333 average with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs in just 24 at-bats. His first month with Arkansas didn’t wow, but like Ford, Young had a red-hot May. In 21 games, Young slashed .298/.375/.524 with four doubles, five home runs, 13 RBIs, 10 walks and just 13 strikeouts.

The top arm

The Mariners’ newest addition to Baseball America’s list is also in Arkansas with Ford and Young. Right-hander Logan Evans recently made his debut at No. 99 to signify his status as the organization’s top pitching prospect after a dominant start to his second pro season.

Related: Why rising Seattle Mariners prospect Logan Evans needs to be on your radar

Evans, a 12th-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh in 2023, has a 5-2 record with a 1.23 ERA and 0.95 WHIP in 10 starts. He’s struck out 47 and allowed 15 walks over 51 1/3 innings. Evans also allowed only one run over 15 minor league innings in 2023.

According to Baseball America, Evans gained considerable velocity this past offseason and now sports a six-pitch mix that includes a mid-90s fastball and an elite slider.

This team is Nuts

The highlight of Seattle’s farm system thus far is what’s been going on with the Single-A Modesto Nuts. Modesto holds the top record in the California League at 35-14. Even more impressive is the squad’s whopping plus-142 run differential, which is over 100 runs better than the next-closest team.

Modesto is full of promising young hitters. Infielder Colt Emerson and outfielders Lazaro Montes and Jonny Farmelo each have at least one Top-100 ranking by Baseball America or MLB Pipeline. Hollander also noted infielder Michael Arroyo and outfielder Aiden Smith.

“It’s one of the best minor league teams in all of affiliated baseball right now,” Hollander said. “… You just go down the lineup, up and down the roster is just loaded with talent.”

Emerson has skyrocketed up the prospect rankings since being drafted No. 22 overall out of John Glenn High School in New Concord, Ohio. He’s ranked as the No. 49 prospect in MLB by Baseball America and No. 51 by MLB Pipeline. Emerson hasn’t played since May 16 and went on the IL May 21 due to a small fracture in his foot. After an impressive 24 games in the minors last season, Emerson is slashing .271/.441/.414 in 19 games this season.

Montes is ranked as baseball’s No. 82 prospect by MLB Pipeline and 79th by Baseball America. The hulking left-handed bat was an international free agent signing in 2022 out of Havana, Cuba. At just 19 years old, Montes sports an impressive .330/.429/.534 slash line through 48 games with the Nuts. He’s currently on pace for the Triple Crown in the California League. He leads the league in homers (nine), RBIs (57), batting average, slugging and is second in OPS (.962).

Farmelo is the final M’s prospect with a top-100 ranking, coming in at No. 98 for Baseball America. The speedy outfielder is also hitting well in Modesto with a .286/.426/.460 slash line, 10 doubles, three triples, four homers, 25 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in 42 games. The 19-year-old Farmelo was one of three high schoolers picked in the first round by Seattle in 2023, going No. 29 overall.

Smith and Arroyo are also off to strong starts with the Nuts. The 19-year-old Smith, a 2023 fourth-rounder, is slashing .273/.390/.460 with 13 doubles, one triple, five homers, 24 RBIs, 13 stolen bases, 29 walks and 43 strikeouts in 43 games. Arroyo, a 19 year old who signed as an international free agent in 2022 out of Cartagena, Columbia, has compiled a .255/.373/.435 slash line with seven doubles, four triples, six home runs, 36 RBIs, 27 walks and 47 strikeouts in 45 games.

“We’re really excited about where we’re at,” Hollander said, “and we do think over the course of the next year we’re gonna jump right back into the top five, in terms of the talent that we have coming, across all of baseball.”

Listen to the full conversation at this link or in the audio player near the top of this story. Tune in to Bump and Stacy weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. or find the podcast on the Seattle Sports app.

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