For those baseball fans who have their eyes fixed toward a hopeful future instead of focusing on the moment, and others who are obsessed with the potential of players yet to see the big leagues, this month of the offseason is bliss as multiple media outlets release their rankings of baseball’s top prospects.
Well, it’s enjoyable when your team has talent in the system worthy of ranking. And after inheriting a dearth of talent in the system, Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners president of baseball operations, has carefully restocked the barren system with talent and depth. Using trades of veteran players for prospects, putting together solid draft classes under the leadership of Scott Hunter, the team’s director of amateur scouting, and the maturation of international signings, the Mariners have the No. 1 farm system in MLB per Baseball America’s midseason organizational rankings released in mid-August.
On Wednesday, Baseball America released its annual preseason top 100 MLB prospects list, which the publication has been compiling since 1990.
For the second consecutive year, the Mariners placed five players on the list, which is vastly different to the 2018 preseason list where Kyle Lewis was their lone representative.
As expected, ultra-talented outfielder Julio Rodriguez headlines the list of Mariners selections. He is ranked No. 2 behind Baltimore switch-hitting catcher Adley Rutschman, who moved into the top spot after Rays shortstop Wander Franco graduated from the list. Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick out of Oregon State in the 2019 draft, should make his MLB debut this season.
Rodriguez did get some consideration for the top spot. But according to Baseball America, a poll of MLB talent evaluators pushed Rutschman above Rodriguez and Royals shortstop prospect Bobby Witt Jr., who was ranked No. 3.
One Mariners prospect absent from the top 100 is hard-throwing right-hander Emerson Hancock, who was ranked as the No. 57 prospect on the 2021 preseason list. The Mariners first-round pick (sixth overall) in the 2020 draft has battled some shoulder fatigue over the last two years.
He was limited to 12 starts in 2021 — nine with Everett followed by three with Arkansas — posting a 3-1 record with a 2.62 ERA. In 44 2/3 innings, he struck out 43 batters with 17 walks.
“Hancock’s shoulder issues created some uncertainty about his future and evaluators were divided on whether he projects to be a starter or reliever,” said Kyle Glaser, national writer for Baseball America. “There are concerns about his health, as well as his delivery and the way some of his stuff played in his pro debut. Hancock is still a good prospect who projects to play a role for the Mariners and wasn’t too far off making the list, but ultimately the questions surrounding his future pushed him just below some other players as we put together the Top 100.”
Glaser did say that catcher Harry Ford, the Mariners’ first-round pick (12th overall) in 2021, was in consideration to make the top 100 list.
A 5-10, 210-pound ball of muscle, athleticism and potential drew raves from Mariners staffers and opposing scouts in his first professional season. In 19 games in the Arizona Complex Summer League, Ford, only 18, posted a .291/.400/.582 slash line with seven doubles, three homers, 10 RBI, nine walks and 14 strikeouts.
The Mariners’ five prospects in Baseball America’s Top 100:
No. 2 — Julio Rodriguez, OF
Previous 2021 ranking: No. 3 preseason, No. 2 midseason
The uber-talented slugger posted a .347/.461/.546 slash line with 19 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs, 47 RBI, 21 stolen bases and 43 walks in 74 games between High-A Everett (28 games) and Double-A Arkansas (46 games). He also helped the Dominican Republic win a bronze medal in the Tokyo Olympics, which cost him some minor league games. A longshot to make the opening-day roster, he is expected to make his MLB debut at some point during the 2022 season.
No. 12 — George Kirby, RHP
Previous 2021 ranking: No. 12 midseason
The Mariners’ first-round pick (20th overall) in the 2019 draft is a strike-throwing machine as evidenced by his 80 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 67 2/3 innings between High-A Everett and Class AA Arkansas. Thanks to a conditioning program since joining the organization, he’s pushed his fastball up to 99 mph, and his stuff on his off-speed pitches has improved. Shoulder fatigue cost him a handful of starts in the middle of the 2021 season, but he’s expected to push his workload to over 100 innings in 2022. His MLB debut in 2023 is almost certain if not sooner.
No. 18 — Noelvi Marte, SS
Previous 2021 ranking: No. 73 preseason, No. 10 midseason
Playing as one of the youngest players (19) in the Low-A West League, Marte was outstanding in his first year of full-season baseball. In 107 games (99 with Low-A Modesto and eight with High-A Everett) and 511 plate appearances, Marte posted a .273/.366/.459 slash line with 28 doubles, two triples, 17 homers, 71 RBI, 24 stolen bases, 60 walks and 117 strikeouts. He’s a combination of speed, athleticism and power. Even on an accelerated development track, Marte likely wouldn’t debut in MLB until 2023 at the earliest. Given his size, which is well over his listed 6 foot 2 and 181 pounds (closer to 6-3, 210) and some inconsistencies defensively (he committed 30 errors in 99 games in Low-A in 2021), scouts project him as a third baseman.
No. 45 — Matt Brash, RHP
Previous 2021 ranking: No. 99 midseason
Called up in the final week of the season, Brash never got to pitch in a game. He will head into spring training as a longshot to make the starting rotation, but he will certainly make his MLB debut at some point in the 2022 season. Acquired from the Padres for reliever Taylor Williams, Brash has a fastball that can touch 100 mph to go with a nasty slider. He dominated hitters in 2021. He appeared in 10 games for High-A Everett, posting a 3-2 record with a save and a 2.55 ERA. Promoted to Arkansas in mid-July, he made 10 starts, posting a 3-2 record with a 2.13 ERA with 80 strikeouts and 23 walks in 55 innings. Opponents had a .162/.249/.237 slash line against him.
No. 83 — Brandon Williamson, LHP
Previous 2021 ranking: not ranked
Williamson makes his first appearance in a Baseball America Top 100 list after a solid 2021 season where he posted a 4-6 record with a 3.39 ERA in 19 combined starts between Class AA Arkansas and High-A Everett. In 98 1/3 innings, he struck out 153 batters with just 33 walks. A second-round pick (No. 59 overall) in the 2019 draft out of TCU, Williamson has improved his velocity on his fastball, which can touch 97 mph while improving the consistency with his plus-curveball and finding more confidence in his changeup and slider. At 6-6, he has a deceptive delivery that frustrates hitters.