It’s time to take a look down on the farm to see which prospects are playing well, which are making a step forward and which ones need to pick up their production.
With the minor-league season now just past the halfway point, it’s time to take a look down on the farm to see which prospects are playing well, which are making a step forward and which ones need to pick up their production.
As a whole, general manager Jerry Dipoto and director of player development Andy McKay have pushed for individual improvement from the players, but also winning from the teams. That’s happened. Of the full-season squads, Class AAA Tacoma (45-35), Class AA Jackson (49-29), Class A Bakersfield (44-35) and Class A Clinton (46-33) all have winning records. The Rainiers, Generals and LumberKings are in first place in their respective divisions, with Jackson and Clinton winning the first half of their season and locking up postseason spots.
“Learning how to win a baseball game is a skill,” McKay said. “Just like learning how to bunt is a skill. So learning how to play the game in a way that gives you a better chance of winning it is important. I am a little surprised with how much we are winning and how fast it has happened, but I’ve been to all these places and they are all having a good time. Great clubhouse environment, great culture, kids are having a lot of fun.”
Tyler O’Neill, OF, Class AA Jackson
O’Neill has been the best player in the Mariners organization. The 5-foot-11, 210-package of muscle and power, who just turned 21 on June 22, has been dominant in his first season at the Class AA level and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. In 76 games, he’s hitting .306 with a .903 OPS, including 20 doubles, three triples, 14 homers and 60 RBI. He had a game where he drove in eight runs and a stretch of eight straight games where he drove in a least one run.
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But more importantly is his willingness to embrace the Mariners’ “Control the Zone” mantra about getting deep into counts and finding premium pitches to hit and reaching base. O’Neill has drawn 29 walks this season. He drew just 29 for all of the 2015 season. He’s reached base in 70 of 76 games and went 28 straight games reaching base.
“O’Neill has been killing it since spring training,” Dipoto said. “Tyler is still one of the youngest players in the Southern League. To go to the Southern League and dominate the way he has is rare at his age.”
O’Neill’s stellar season earned him a spot on the Southern League all-star team and recently a spot on the World team for the 2016 Futures Game during All-Star festivities in San Diego.
“Ideally, we would leave him in the Southern League for much of the season,” Dipoto said. “There is no rush. He’s an all-star and arguably the best player in the league. He’s in the discussion to win the triple crown. We’ll let him have a dominant season. And if we get the opportunity and things have gone consistently well, at the end of the season we’ll give him a taste of Triple-A and get him ready for next year.”
Runner up: Stefen Romero. He’s hitting .338 with a .960 OPS with 16 doubles, four triples, nine homers and 44 RBI for Class AAA Tacoma. Romero was recently named to the Pacific Coast League all-star team.
Art Warren, RHP, Class A Clinton
Edwin Diaz would have been the easy choice if he kept progressing in the minors. But instead he took his upper-90s fastball and nasty slider to the big leagues, where he’s flourishing.
Warren, 23, is having one of the best seasons of any Mariners minor-league starter in the system. In 14 starts for the LumberKings, Warren is 9-1 with a 2.19 ERA. In 74 innings, he’s struck 55 batters and walked just 18. Opponents were hitting .253. The strong start just earned him a promotion to Class A Bakersfield. After a shoulder issue last season, the 23rd-round draft pick in 2015 out of Division II Ashland University in Ohio is back throwing his fastball around 92-93 mph with a plus curveball.
Runner up: Nick Neidert. The Mariners’ top pick of the 2015 MLB draft (No. 60 overall) was called up to Class A Clinton on May 24 to make his first start of the season. Since then, he’s 5-1 with a 2.21 ERA in seven starts for the LumberKings. Opponents are hitting .193 against him. He has 32 strikeouts and six walks in 402/3 innings.
Biggest Leap Forward
Ryan Yarbrough, LHP, Class AA Jackson
A fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft out of Old Dominion, Yarbrough was a senior that received just a $40,000 bonus. But he’s been proven to be more than a money-saver for slot bonuses in that draft. He’s the embodiment of the mantra that Mariners amateur scouting director Tom McNamara preached of finding true prospects and future big-leaguers in senior signings.
He’s 6-5, 210 pounds but could still add muscle and strength. He has a fastball that sits in the low 90s with legitimate offspeed pitches — a curveball and changeup.
He’s been solid in his first season at Double-A. In 14 starts, he’s 7-3 with a 2.90 ERA with eight quality starts. From April 30 to May 29, he won six straight starts with a 1.46 ERA. In 802/3 innings this season, he’s struck out 65 batters and walked 23.
Runner up: It’s odd to think a former top prospect and first-round pick as making a leap forward, but after an abysmal 2015 season and start to the 2016 season with Class AA Jackson, D.J. Peterson has finally pushed through his struggles and earned a call-up to Class AAA Tacoma. Over his last 33 with Jackson, he hit .328 with a 1.022 OPS, 11 doubles, nine homers and 22 RBI.
Alex Jackson, OF, Class A Clinton
The Mariners’ No. 1-rated prospect by Baseball America and MLB.com hit a homer in his first game with Class A Clinton. But that was one of the rare highlights for the No. 6 overall pick of the 2014 draft.
In his first 16 games, Jackson hit .107 (6 for 56) with four homers, 12 RBI and 20 strikeouts. But he has started to pick it up of late.
Runner up: Austin Wilson. A second-round pick in the 2013 draft, Wilson is in his second season with Class A Bakersfield, hitting .221 with a.644 OPS and six doubles, a triple, four homers and 25 RBI. He also has 92 strikeouts and 26 walks in 252 plate appearances.