MIKE SALK

Salk: With stocked farm system, Mariners can have cake and eat it too

Jun 4, 2024, 12:44 AM

Seattle Mariners Jerry Dipoto Jonny Farmelo...

Jonny Farmelo, a 2023 Seattle Mariners first-round pick, talks with Jerry Dipoto on July 19, 2023. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

When Jerry Dipoto and his baseball operations team opted to rebuild the Seattle Mariners in 2019, they did so for a variety of reasons. Often, we think of the decision as being made primarily because the major league roster wasn’t good enough to contend for a championship.

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While that is certainly a major piece of the story, it overlooks a central component: the farm system was not in a position to help.

Yes, the roster was competitive in the American League West. But it was top-heavy (reliant on a quartet of aging stars), and it did not have the support in the minor leagues to augment its many holes. Further, the Houston Astros had a complete roster ready to compete at the major level and throughout the entirety of the system. It was going to take an overhaul to get to that level on a consistent basis.

A few years later, not only did the Mariners reach the postseason with their revamped roster, but they did it primarily with players they had groomed in the minors or acquired using players they had drafted and developed. The farm system had jumped from 30th to first in the rankings, and an excellent percentage of the prospects they held onto reached something near their potential in the majors. That is a huge (and somewhat rare) accomplishment. But it came at a price. As those young players either graduated or were traded, the system became barren once again.

Not anymore.

In Keith Law’s recent prospect ranking for The Athletic, the Mariners hold five of the top 50 players, more than any other team. Colt Emerson (10th) was their highest-rated player, followed by Cole Young (31), Felnin Celesten (36), Harry Ford (40) and Jonny Farmelo (49). All five had moved up the rankings this year, a testament both to the number of young players that are now playing in the big leagues and to their own improvement. I don’t know where exactly the Mariners’ farm system is ranked, but after starting the year at No. 18 according to MLB Pipeline, it would likely now be in the top 10.

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The fun thing about that group of five is that they all play up the middle (three shortstops, a catcher and a center fielder). And they aren’t the only names rising up the rankings. Law mentioned Tai Peete, Aiden Smith and Logan Evans. And there is lots to like with Lazaro Montes, Dawel Joseph, Tyler Locklear, Michael Arroyo, Ben Williamson and others. Not all of those players will reach their full potential, but the recent track record is pretty good for this development staff.

This was the goal. The Mariners have a real squad at the major league level. They lead the division by 4 1/2 games and have their best record at this time of the season in two decades. They have the easiest schedule moving forward of any team in the league, with their remaining opponents currently at a combined .471 winning percentage. Their farm system has already helped fill gaps this season (Emerson Hancock, Ryan Bliss, Jonatan Clase and a few relievers) and could be on the verge of contributing more with Locklear recently promoted to Triple-A Tacoma.

But we all know this team has in-season needs, and it sure looks like the farm system is strong enough to entice trade partners while remaining deep enough to survive those trades. That puts this team in a significantly better position than when this this journey began.

And they should use those assets to give them the greatest chance to win this year … while still balancing the overall health of the organization moving forward.

Would it be fun to have this whole group of youngsters hit the big leagues together? Sure! There would be some position overlap (especially at shortstop), but that’s a good problem to have and it would work itself out. It’s easy to imagine this group arriving together and tearing apart the AL West.

But there are some realities that will get in the way. History tells us that not all of these prospects will reach their ceiling and a few will likely fall way short of that goal. Furthermore, most of their top young players are position players, and by the time they are fully marinated and have enough big league experience to reach their potential, the current crop of dominant big league starters is likely to have seen some attrition and regression.

The 2024 Seattle Mariners have put themselves in a position that the 2023 group could not. They have a division lead into June and some clear opportunities for improvement (with corner outfield and bullpen leading the pack). Dipoto wants to sustain success to give his team multiple bites at the apple – I think this is absolutely the right approach in a league where the best teams make the playoffs and the hottest teams win championships. His system is deep enough to allow him to have his cake and eat it too.

Every top-tier trade target should be in play for this organization this summer. That might mean rental options (like Pete Alonso) or younger players with more controllability (like Vladimir Gurerro Jr. and Bo Bichette). Nothing should be off the table, especially when you remember how effective it was when the team traded for Luis Castillo in 2022.

This is why the Mariners rebuilt in 2019 and why they restocked in 2023. The lead-up to the trade deadline is going to be extra fun.

More on the Seattle Mariners

What stands out to Ryne Stanek about Mariners’ bullpen success
Insider on Mariners prospect’s fast rise: ‘He’s an extreme outlier’
Mariners finalizing deal with veteran OF who was a highly-ranked prospect
Mariners Takeaways: A historic weekend for starting rotation
The stat Seattle Mariners’ J.P. Crawford leads MLB in since start of 2023

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