Not everything has been perfectly peachy in the Seattle Mariners’ farm system, but a review of the first half of 2019 shows the organization is having its most promising minor-league season in years.

That’s no accident.

This, at least in part, is what the Mariners had in mind — acquiring and developing young talent — when they outlined their “step-back” plan last winter. And so far, there are more hits than misses with the newly acquired prospects, and with the talent already in the system, and with more intriguing developments sure to come.

Mariners owner John Stanton reveals his view on the Mariners' ‘step-back’ plan: Frustrated but optimistic

Here, some midseason hardware for some of Seattle’s top prospects:

Hitter of the Mid-Year: Jarred Kelenic

Affiliate: Modesto (High-A)

Position: CF

Season stats: .302 BA, .952 OPS, 235 AB, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 16 2B, 11 SB

Still just 19 — he turns 20 on July 16 — Kelenic has been among the fastest-rising prospects in the minors, now a consensus top-30 prospect in the game. Acquiring him, and Justin Dunn, from the Mets is looking more and more like Jerry Dipoto’s best move as the Mariners’ general manager. Kelenic might be the Mariners’ best prospect since Alex Rodriguez, and the ideal scenario for the Mariners would be that his his arrival kicks the organization’s turnaround into hyper-drive come 2021.

Pitcher of the Mid-Year: Ljay Newsome

Affiliate: Modesto (High-A)

Position: RHP

Season stats: 5-4 record, 3.70 ERA, 82.2 IP, 86 H, 113 K’s, 8 BB

Newsome’s breakthrough has been the most pleasant surprise for the organization this year. A 25th-round high-school draft pick in 2015, he wasn’t even ranked among Seattle’s top 30 prospects coming into this season (per Baseball America), but through Sunday the 5-foot-11 right-hander leads all minor-league pitchers with 113 strikeouts in 82 2/3 innings. Just as impressive: He has issued just nine walks in 15 starts. Newsome was the starting pitcher for the North team in the California League All-Star game last week (posting two strikeouts in his one inning), and on Sunday he made a spot start in Tacoma. He was dominant through four innings, allowing one hit with nine strikeouts, before surrendering four runs in the fifth. Questions remain about his long-term projection — whether he can be more than a back-end starter in the majors — but there’s little doubt he’s worked his way onto the Mariners’ radar.

Fast Track Award: Logan Gilbert

Affiliate: Modesto (High-A)

Position: RHP

Season stats: 5-2 record, 2.06 ERA, 70 IP, 53 H, 91 K’s, 14 BB

So far, the Mariners have gotten everything they could have hoped for from their 2018 first-round draft pick. Gilbert, in his first pro season, has a 91-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 70 innings. At this rate, it’s not a stretch to think the 6-foot-6 right-hander could arrive in Seattle in the second half of 2020.

The Pleasant Surprise Award (Hitter): Jake Fraley

Affiliate: Tacoma (AAA)

Position: OF

Season stats: .309 BA, .927 OPS, 246 AB, 12 HR, 52 RBI, 16 2B, 17 SB

Outside of Newsome, no one has been a bigger revelation than Fraley. Acquired from Tampa Bay in the Mike Zunino trade, the versatile outfielder quickly made an impression in spring training and has carried that into the season. He was the Texas League Player of the Month in May, and last week he was promoted from AAA Tacoma. In his first game for the Rainiers, he hit a three-run homer and made a diving catch in the outfield. There’s a good chance he could be a September call-up in Seattle.

The Pleasant Surprise Award (Pitcher): Justin Dunn

Affiliate: Arkansas (AA)

Position: RHP

Season stats: 5-3 record, 3.46 ERA, 65 IP, 62 H, 81 K’s, 20 BB

Dunn’s progress, in truth, is less a surprise and more of a confirmation of what the Mariners hoped they were getting from the Mets in the winter blockbuster trade of Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. A first-round pick in 2016, Dunn had a season-high nine strikeouts and one earned run in six innings in his most recent start. He rose to No. 68 on the Pipeline prospect rankings this month, and he’s one of seven Arkansas players set to take part in the Texas League All-Star Game on Tuesday night.

The Knock-Knock Award: Shed Long, 2B, Tacoma

Affiliate: Tacoma (AAA)

Position: 2B

Season stats: .273 BA, .817 OPS, 176 AB, 7 HR, 27 RBI, 7 2B

Knock-knock as in, this guy gets his base knocks. And knock-knock as in, this guy is knocking down the door for another shot in Seattle. Long, 23, made his major-league debut with the Mariners on May 11, and in 69 major-league at-bats he hit .232 and stole three bases. If the Mariners are successful in their attempts to trade Dee Gordon, Long should get the chance to start every day at second base in the second half of the season — and perhaps well beyond.

Reliever of the Year: Sam Delaplane

Affiliate: Arkansas (AA)

Position: RHP

Season stats: 4-2 record, 3.35 ERA, 40.1 IP, 23 H, 80 K’s, 15 BB

Delaplane, a 23rd-round draft pick out of Eastern Michigan in 2017, has struck out 51.3% of batters this season — the best rate in all the minor leagues among pitchers with at least 30 innings. (Among all pitchers in the majors and minors, only Milwaukee left-hander Josh Hader, at 54.1%, has a higher strikeout rate.) At 5-feet-11 and 175 pounds, Delaplane doesn’t appear overpowering, but he uses a mid-90s fastball and a devastating curveball to great effect. Since being promoted to Class AA, he has been truly dominant. In five appearances, he has struck out 18 of the 28 batters he’s faced, allowing only one hit and one walk, with no runs allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Remarkable.


The Uh-Oh Award: Justus Sheffield

Affiliate: Arkansas (AA)

Position: LHP

Season stats: 3-6 record, 5.91 ERA, 67 IP, 71 H, 64 K’s, 43 BB

Let’s start with an encouraging development: Sheffield has been sharp in two starts for Arkansas in the past week, allowing two runs over 12 innings, with 16 strikeouts and just two walks. The two walks, in particular, are noteworthy. Before being demoted, Sheffield had struggled with his control in Tacoma, having walked 27 batters in his previous 36 2/3 innings in Class AAA. Sheffield, the key return in the James Paxton trade with the Yankees, had entered the year as the Mariners’ No. 1 prospect. He is that no longer, and his issues in Tacoma had some wondering whether long term he might be better suited to pitching out of the bullpen. As an aside, it’s worth noting that, yes, the Pacific Coast League is generally a hitters’ haven, but Tacoma’s Cheney Stadium this season has been the most pitcher-friendly park in the PCL, according to Baseball America research.

Guess Who’s Back (Back, Way Back) Award: Julio Rodriguez

Affiliate: West Virginia (Low-A)

Position: RF

Season stats: .347 BA, .937 OPS, 75 AB, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 5 2B

Rodriguez, 18, was out for nearly two months because of a broken left hand, the result of a hit-by-pitch in early April. He was back in the West Virginia lineup June 10, and in 12 games since he has five multi-hit games and two home runs. A 6-3, 230-pound power hitter, his development will be one of the more intriguing story lines in the second half of the season for the Mariners.

Mr. Dependable Award: Evan White

Affiliate: Arkansas (AA)

Position: 1B

Season stats: .298 BA, .841 OPS, 198 AB, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 16 2B, 1 SB

White was slowed by a hip-flexor injury early in the season, but he rides into the Texas League All-Star Game with a 22-game hitting streak, during which he’s hit seven home runs while posting a 1.042 OPS. Considered the best defensive first basemen in the minor leagues — and an all-around good guy — White is the Mariners’ first baseman of the future.

Most Underrated Award: Donnie Walton

Affiliate: Arkansas (AA)

Position: 2B/SS

Season stats: .315 BA, .850 OPS, 248 AB, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 8 2B, 8 SB

Walton, a fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2016, has a .407 on-base percentage (second-best in the Texas League) as Arkansas’ leadoff hitter. Over his past 14 games, Walton is hitting .500 (29 for 58), raising his batting average from .258 to .315 at the All-Star break. “He’s the hottest hitter alive right now,” Evan White said.

Tip of the Cap Award

To @MiLBMariners, an indispensable resource and a must-follow for all Mariners minor-league news.