Going into Saturday, O’Neill leads all Mariners’ minor leaguers with 29 home runs. It’s the second most in the Cal League and tied for second most in all of the minor leagues.
With the minor-league season in its final few weeks, it’s time to look at the Mariners’ top performers — player, starting pitcher and reliever.
This season hasn’t been a banner year for the farm system. Going into the season Baseball Prospectus ranked the farm system 23rd in all of baseball, while Baseball America had the Mariners at No. 25.
This season has been marked by some disappointing performances as players have struggled to adjust to higher levels of competition.
The two players named minor-league co-players of the year by the Mariners in 2014 have failed to put on repeat performances.
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Third baseman D.J. Peterson — once considered Seattle’s top hitting prospect — struggled in his return to Class AA Jackson, hitting .223 with a .636 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He had 19 doubles, seven homers and 44 RBI in 93 games but also 90 strikeouts with 31 walks. The Mariners still promoted him to Class AAA Tacoma in August, but he appeared in just four games before going on the disabled list with a strained Achilles.
First baseman/outfielder Jordy Lara has spent all season in Jackson and has hit .238 with a .678 OPS. He has 20 doubles, six triples, six homers and 33 RBI.
One of the co-pitchers of the year — right-hander Jordan Pries — has battled injuries this season with Class AAA Tacoma and is 7-4 with a 5.20 ERA in 16 starts.
Of the Mariners’ minor-league pitchers, Pries is the only one with more than 15 starts who has a winning record. But then again, none of the full-season minor-league teams — Class AAA Tacoma (59-68), Class AA Jackson (44-75), Class A Bakersfield (51-73) and Class A Clinton (39-83) — were anywhere near a winning record coming into Saturday.
These award winners were chosen from full-season affiliates. Players from Short-A Everett and the Arizona Rookie League Mariners were not considered. Also because of their call-ups, Jesus Montero and Ketel Marte have been excluded from consideration.
Player of the year
Tyler O’Neill, OF, Class A Bakersfield
When Chris Gwynn, the Mariners’ director of player development, stopped in to check on Bakersfield and watch a four-game series, O’Neill hit home runs in all four.
“One to right field, one to dead center, one of the homers to left field, he got inside fastball, got his hand through and crushed it,” Gwynn said.
Going into Saturday, O’Neill leads all Mariners minor-leaguers with 29 home runs. It’s the second- most in the Cal League and tied for second in all of the minor leagues.
“He’s figuring it out,” Gwynn said. “He’s not a finished product, but he’s going in the right direction.”
O’Neill is hitting only .255 with an .855 OPS and has struck out 117 times in 92 games. But he’s got the 29 homers, 17 doubles, a triple and 78 RBI. He’s even stolen 16 bases.
“The toughest thing has been keeping him aggressive while getting him to shrink the strike zone and be more selective,” Gwynn said. “It’s a delicate balance there.”
In his last 27 games since returning from the Pan Am games, O’Neill is hitting .294 with seven doubles, 13 homers and 33 RBI.
Starting pitcher of the year
Edwin Diaz, RHP, Class AA Jackson
At first glance, a pitcher with a 5-10 record and 3.71 ERA seems like an odd choice. But the 21-year-old right-hander is still one of the best pitching prospects. Moving up two levels in one season is a factor. Diaz was named the Mariners’ co-pitcher of the year last season after going 6-8 with a 3.33 ERA in 24 starts for Class A Clinton. In 1161/3 innings, he struck out 111 and walked 42. He started the season in Class A Bakersfield and was dominant in his first seven starts, posting a 2-0 record with a 1.73 ERA. He struck out 42 batters in 37 innings with just nine walks. The Mariners moved him to Jackson, knowing he’d have some struggles. He’s posted a 3-10 record with a 4.59 ERA in 16 starts.
“He hasn’t had great run support in some games,” Gwynn said. “But he’s also made some bad pitches. We moved him up a level to challenge him. And he’s being challenged.”
With a mid-90s fastball and aggressive mindset, Diaz is still getting swings and misses. He’s struck out 85 batters in 841/3 innings with the Generals. Opponents are still hitting just .232 against him for the season with a .651 OPS.
Relief pitcher of the year
Paul Fry, LHP, Class AA Jackson
He’s not on any of the Mariners’ top prospect lists, but that could change in the future. Fry took a major step in his development this season.
He was selected in the 17th round of the 2013 draft out of St. Clair Community College. Last season he made 38 relief appearances and posted a 4-4 record with a 2.71 ERA.
“He moved to Arizona and got really serious about his preparation in the offseason,” Gwynn said.
Fry was a late add to the Mariners’ mini-camp this spring and made the most of it, impressing coaches and appearing in a handful of Cactus League games.
He’s moved up two levels this season. He started the season with Class A Bakersfield and had success in the hitter-friendly Cal League. Fry made 28 appearances, posting a 4-3 record with two saves and a 2.13 ERA. He struck out 70 batters in 55 innings with just 14 walks. Opponents were batting .230 against him.
The solid performance earned him a promotion to Class AA Jackson where he’s 0-2 with a 2.50 ERA in 15 appearances with 30 strikeouts in 18 innings pitched.
After a couple of tough outings, Fry has adapted to the higher competition. In his last 10 outings, he has three saves and a 0.87 ERA, allowing one run in 101/3 innings.