Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Seattle Mariners

EVALUATING THE PROSPECTS 2016
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The Mariners organization won’t be confused for having one of the top farm systems in baseball, but the developments of the past year help bring some legitimate optimism for its future contributions to the big-league product. A number of low- and medium-level trades have bolstered the middle of the pack, with guys like Boog Powell and Nick Wells providing some high-floor, moderate-upside additions to a prospect pool that has seen better years.

On top of that, and maybe most excitingly, the 2015 draft class is already proving to be a kickstart for the organization. Though it’s way too early to anoint a lot of their fresh faces as sure big leaguers, it’s hard to have a better start than what they have put together so far. Drew Jackson and Braden Bishop were both known as excellent defenders, but it was their hitting performances that were the story of the post-draft months. Nick Neidert and Andrew Moore lead a list of 2015 draftees who are quality contenders for at least upper-minors success as pitchers, and both have a reasonable chance of eventually being starters for a major-league team.

The very recent success of the prospect class couldn’t come at a better time, when less recent high draft picks like Alex Jackson and Austin Wilson have seen their stocks plummet in a very short time. Jackson is particularly troubling for me: although you can still see similarities to the hitter he was before being in conversation for a first-overall pick, nearly everything has gone south for him statistically and physically. Though the player development and scouting staffs still have their work cut out for them, new management under Jerry Dipoto promises to at least add some fresh voices to the fold. If you buy into momentum, they have plenty of it heading into the 2016 season and this June’s draft.

Here’s the primer for the series and my scouting thoughts in general. The grades I put on players heavily weight the functionality of each tool in game situations, rather than just pure tool grades. Here is a table to understand the position player grades:

Scouting Grades in Context: Hitters
Grade Tool Is Called Batting Average HR ISO Baserunning Runs Fielding Runs
80 80 0.320 40 0.300 12 30
75 0.310 35-40 0.275 10 25
70 Plus Plus 0.300 30-35 0.250 8 20
65 0.290 27-30 0.225 6 15
60 Plus 0.280 23-27 0.200 4 10
55 Above Average 0.270 19-22 0.175 2 5
50 Average 0.260 15-18 0.150 0 0
45 Below Average 0.250 12-15 0.125 -2 -5
40 0.240 8-12 0.100 -4 -10
35 0.230 5-8 0.075 -6 -15
30 0.220 3-5 0.050 -8 -20

As well as one to understand what the overall grades approximate:

Scouting Grades in Context: Overall
Grade Hitter Starting Pitcher Relief Pitcher WAR
80 Top 1-2 #1 Starter —- 7
75 Top 2-3 #1 —- 6
70 Top 5 #1/2 —- 5
65 All-Star #2/3 —- 4
60 Plus #3 High Closer 3
55 Above Avg #3/4 Mid Closer 2.5
50 Avg Regular #4 Low CL/High SU 2
45 Platoon/Util #5 Low Setup 1.5
40 Bench Swing/Spot SP Middle RP 1
35 Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up Emergency Call-Up 0
30 *Organizational *Organizational *Organizational -1

One other difference in the way I communicate scouting grades to you is the presence of three numbers on each tool instead of just two. The first number is the current grade. The second number is the likely future grade; or, if you prefer percentiles, call this the 50th percentile projection. The third number is the ceiling grade, or 90th percentile projection, to help demonstrate the volatility and raw potential of a tool. I feel this gives readers a better sense of the possible outcomes a player could achieve, and more information to understand my thoughts on the likelihood of reaching those levels. If you prefer the traditional methodologies of other publications, I would suggest averaging the latter two grades together to get a semi-optimistic view of where a player projects.

In the biographical information, level refers to where they finished the year, unless they were sent down for injury rehab or other extraneous reasons. Ages are listed as of April 1, 2016. You can also find each player’s previous rank from Kiley’s list last year. Below, Dave Cameron shares his thoughts on the general state of the organization. Returning for his popular cameo, Carson Cistulli picks his favorite fringe prospect toward the end of the list.

Organizational Overview
The Mariners crashed hard in 2015, leading to an organizational reboot of sorts. But with an aging core of a few still-good players and a weak farm system, the team decided to hold off on the full rebuild for now, and are giving their veterans another chance to prove they can carry a weak supporting cast to the postseason. If they get a few strong years from their best talents, they could squeeze a season or two out of contention out of this group, but as age continues to chip away at the production of the expensive players on the roster, a tear-down is inevitable. The only real question is when the organization will pull the plug on this particular group, and how aggressively the team will scale back the roster after a failed rebuild cycle under Jack Zduriencik. But for now, they’ll put that future rebuild aside and try to make one last run before time catches up with them.

50+ FV Prospects

1. Edwin Diaz, RHP
Current Level/Age: Double-A/22.0, 6’3/165, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 98th overall (3rd round) in 2012 out of Puerto Rico HS by SEA for $300,000 bonus
Previous Rank: 4

Diaz has similarities to Sam Coonrod, who I aggressively ranked as the number-two prospect in the Giants organization. He’s difficult to pick up with his quick motion and a little hitch in his stride. He has two pitches that are clearly superior to his changeup in his fastball and slider, and he toes the line of being too high-effort for some people’s tastes. Diaz, I would say has more of a chance of needing to move to the bullpen, because of both his slight build and more stress placed on his arm when he really gears up. His fastball and slider are good enough that he could be an elite closer option if the rotation doesn’t work out, but I still lean toward his remaining a starter.

His low three-quarters slot gives his fastball devastating run, and he commands it in and around the zone enough to be at least a plus pitch. His slider took some steps forward last year to project along the same lines, even though his focus was on improving his changeup for most of the season. His work on his third best pitch did have a positive effect on its ceiling, to the point where it’s possible it becomes an average offering in the end.

Diaz has been durable so far in his career, and when he’s throwing his pitches without max effort, they still have a ton of movement and are hard to square up. He already has more bulk on his body than his listed 165 pounds would suggest, and some more growth is still expected as he challenges for a look in the big leagues this year. Because he is flirting with being too hard on his arm, pay close attention to how it increases or decreases as he adds more mass. If he tightens up with more weight, we can safely assume he will end up in the pen. If not, the Mariners have a nice future addition to the middle of their rotation, and possibly more.

Fastball: 55/60/65 Slider: 55/60/65 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 45/55/60+

Video courtesy of Stanford Athletics

2. Drew Jackson, SS
Current Level/Age: Low-A/22.0, 6’2/200, R/R
Acquired: Drafted 155th overall (5th round) in 2015 out of Stanford by SEA for $335,400 bonus
Previous Rank: NA

Jackson was known for his amazing arm strength and plus raw speed when he was drafted in the fifth round last June, but he really only hit his last year at Stanford. Nobody was expecting the type of production he ended up having to start his professional career. He’s purely a contact hitter with a flat swing and a short, quick path. He can have situational gap power, with enough bat speed to drive pitches above the belt for extra-base hits.

His defense is where his future value gets interesting. Everything good about his play at short is geared toward using his plus-plus arm strength. He moves his feet well before fielding the ball, has a quick transfer and then of course has the sort of arm strength possessed by very few players in the game. He also has plus or better raw speed and decently soft hands. What his arm does, though, is effectively give him an extra step or three added on to his already solid range.

Where some defenders could cover the same range or more and put a glove on the ball, Jackson has enough arm that if he fields it, the runner is essentially out. With the slightest improvements to his hands, he exponentially gains overall defensive value because of how reliable his arm is, which is why I can see him having a higher defensive ceiling than some of the more polished fielders at the position.

Jackson also surprised everyone with his base-stealing efficiency. Even if he keeps a fraction of that kind of success, his plus raw speed could play up a full grade above it on the bases. Because of his relative lack of power, I’m not counting on the walks sticking around in the big leagues, but they at least illustrate his disciplined approach at the plate. If his bat plays up to its realistic ceiling, he’s a plus regular even if he has near bottom-of-the-scale power. I’ll be very interested to see how his bat plays against more age-advanced competition this season.

Hit: 40/50/55 Power: 25/30/30 Run: 65/65/70 Field: 55/60/65 Throw: 75/75/80
Overall: 35/50/60+

45+ FV Prospects
3. Andrew Moore, RHP, VIDEO, Low-A

Moore’s straight overhand delivery and ability to pound the zone predictably gave Northwest League hitters problems after the Mariners took him with the 72nd-overall pick in June. For his high slot, he has unusually good arm action; usually guys at the extremes tend to have stiffer shoulder rotation, but he makes it work nicely. His changeup has plus potential, and if one of his breaking balls could show more consistent break, he could really solidify his future as a big league starter.

He has enough command of his full arsenal and enough stuff to be a back-end starter or solid reliever, though reaching his ceiling would put him in the middle of a rotaiton. It’s hard to tell which one for sure, though I’m leaning toward seeing him in the 50+ group by the end of this season.

Fastball: 50/55/55 Curveball: 45/45+/50 Slider: 40/40/45 Changeup: 50/55/60 Command: 50/55/60
Overall: 40/45-50/55

4. DJ Peterson, 1B, VIDEO, Triple-A

Peterson had a terrible year, going from being too pull-conscious to unsuccessfully messing with his swing midseason. His year culminated with an Achilles injury that took him out of game action right when he was starting to get his swing back, making the stat line look disastrous as a result. The best thing about his regular season was his decision to get back to what he does best: driving the ball around the field and letting his power come naturally.

In the Arizona Fall League action in which I observed him, he looked much more comfortable than in the regular season, hitting true line drives around the field with great carry. His meager .209 average in the fall was an inconvenient mirage that fit the theme of the rest of his season, which was built around a very unlucky .239 BABIP.

The biggest difference I saw was how well he stayed on his legs. Even at his worst in Double-A and Triple-A last year, his hands have some of the easiest quickness and nicest paths in the minors. Too often last year he tried to go get the ball out in front to yank it to left field, and it turned into so much of a dive with his upper body that he had nothing behind the ball even when he squared it up. In the fall, he was much more trusting of his hands, letting the ball get deep where his swing worked best as a full-body effort.

It may seem like something of a reach looking at Peterson’s stat line, but I’m not concerned enough to drop his hitting grades way down. Being officially tied to the first-base position now, the pressure is on his bat to live up to its old hype. Even with a projected average bat and above-average to plus power, he’ll be just below an average regular big leaguer because of the lack of defensive and base-running value. His ceiling is a bit higher if he continues to keep his new (and old, I suppose) approach, so at least one of the holdover hitting prospects looks like he’ll provide good value.

Hit: 45/50/55 Power: 45/55-60/65 Run: 40/40/40 Field: 40/40/40 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 35/45-50/55

5. Alex Jackson, OF, VIDEO, Single-A

Jackson still shows the bat speed and some of the elements of his swing that got everyone so excited when he was drafted, but there are also a lot of negatives showing up. His shoulders and midsection have stiffened up noticeably, taking away a lot of the easy look to his quick swing from years past. The majority of his swings now are much more geared for line drives than as an amateur, and he also pulls off the path of the ball earlier, due in part to both the stiffness and the more downward finish through contact. As a result, breaking balls have been enduring only tickles from his quick bat as he struggles to square them up.

His defense and speed aren’t really a part of the equation, as his future value is tied to how much he’ll hit, and hit for power. The big strikeout rates are tough to swallow against the level of competition he’s facing, but I do think there is hope if he can get comfortable at the plate and smooth out some of the rough physical aspects of his at bats. That he’s probably not done filling out really makes me hesitant to give him a pass on his struggles, because he isn’t compensating at all yet for the growth he has gone through. More growth could really set him back.

I’m not going to back off his potential ceiling as a middle-of-the-order threat yet, but the combination of more rigid actions and the prospect of further natural tightening of his body as he matures makes him a riskier bet than I would have hoped a couple years ago. The one thing I think we can bank on is him deciding it’s time to start driving the ball, even if it comes with more missed contact. The power projection is still there, but something really has to change physically and/or mechanically to maximize his quality of contact.

Hit: 20/45-50/55 Power: 30/55/60 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 20/45/55-60

6. Nick Neidert, RHP, VIDEO, Rookie

Neidert was a nice grab for the Mariners in the second round with some projection based on his lanky frame and easy arm action. There may not be a ton of velocity gains ahead of him without better use of his hips and legs, but he has enough run and command of his fastball for it to have a plus ceiling regardless. His offspeed repertoire consists of three pitches that are all around average, with the curve representing the most projection in the group.

He throws strikes and nothing comes in straight, giving him a solid fifth-starter future. If his fastball command steps forward like it could, he has upside as a mid-rotation guy as well. He should move fairly quickly through the lower levels, especially compared to most prep pitchers, because of his pitchability.

Fastball: 50/55/60 Curveball: 45/50/55 Slider: 40/45/45 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 35/45/55

7. Christopher Torres, SS, VIDEO, Rookie

Torres has smooth hands from both sides of the plate, projecting him to be a solid contact hitter who already controls the strike zone very well for his age. Power will be a difficult proposition for him without a big change in approach and use of his body, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. He has turned out to be a better runner than expected, and his defensive skills should allow him to stick at shortstop long-term. Making the jump to the U.S. in 2016 after a solid Dominican Summer League season will help place Torres among the better prospects in the organization.

Hit: 25/50/55 Power: 20/30/40 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 60/60/60
Overall: 20/45/55

8. Ryan Yarbrough, LHP

Yarbrough has great feel for his arsenal and plus potential command. Though none of his fastball, slider or changeup are standout pitches, he mixes and spots them well enough to keep hitters out of rhythm. His changeup could come close to being a plus pitch if locates it consistently as well as on his best days. Either way, after more than holding his own in the California League, Yarbrough should be challenging for a back-end rotation spot by the end of the year. There isn’t a ton of upside unless his command goes to another level, but a solid four or five starter is nothing to discount.

Fastball: 50/50/55 Slider: 45/45/50 Changeup: 50/55/55+ Command: 55/55/60
Overall: 45/45+/50-55

9. Boog Powell, OF, VIDEO, Triple-A

Regardless of baseball value, Powell became the most interesting player to watch in this system when the Mariners acquired him from the Rays in the Logan MorrisonDanny FarquharBrad Miller trade. He’s the most likely of any on this list to play in the majors, and he has some upside if for no other reason than because of his sheer will. He made two of the most ridiculous plays of the year for Tampa’s Triple-A affiliate, offering the ability to play all three outfield positions well.

He makes pitchers work with solid contact skills and excellent plate discipline. A lack of power and a poor arm are the only negative marks against him. He has a line-drive swing, and while we shouldn’t expect him to carry his ~.400 BABIP over the last two years into games against major-league defenses, he does have the skill set to stay above-average in that regard. All told, he’s an excellent fourth outfielder who will produce like a starter at times, and will be a very exciting player to watch for his effort level alone.

Hit: 50/50+/55 Power: 35/35/35 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 55/55/55 Throw: 40/40/40
Overall: 45/45-50/50

10. Nick Wells, LHP, VIDEO, Low-A

Wells was part of the return for Mark Lowe going to the Blue Jays in July, and adds a moderate-upside starting prospect to the bottom half of the system. Having just turned 20 and still having room to fill out, it’s easy to see his fastball gaining a few ticks and his secondary stuff going along with it. Right now his fastball is already tough on hitters, with a late arm acceleration making the ball jump on them. His curveball is the only pitch that really shows flashes of being above-average, but the hope is some strength gains will help improve his slider and changeup as well.

One important thing to watch for is how the added weight will affect his arm action, since that acceleration at the end could either stay loose and safe or get muscled and stiff. He’s a good bet to remain in the rotation, while a third- or fourth-starter role is also a fair possibility.

Fastball: 50/55/55+ Curveball: 45/50/55 Slider: 40/45/50 Changeup: 40/40/45 Command: 45/50/55
Overall: 35/45/50+

11. Tony Zych, RHP, VIDEO, MLB

Zych has really come on strong as a relief option the last two years, and in 2015 he took his control to a whole new level. While his fastball averaged 96 mph in the big leagues with good run, it also spends most of its time in the middle of the zone. Its main purpose is just to set up his plus or better slider down and to his glove side, which makes you wonder what he could do if he could command it as well as his slider. His slider works even when a little elevated, so his future at the back end of a bullpen is reliant on continuing to pound the zone and possibly taking a step forward keeping his fastball out of harm’s way.

Fastball: 55/55/60 Slider: 60/60+/65 Command: 45/45/50
Overall: 45/45/50

12. Guillermo Heredia, OF, VIDEO, NA

Heredia is a perfect fit for the Mariners, who have a near complete lack of major league-ready outfielders in the high minors. It’s been two years since Heredia played regularly before he defected from Cuba, and as Yasmany Tomas can attest, any time off of that length can take a while to get past when it comes to comfort in the professional ranks. Heredia has outstanding defensive skills in center, but also has the arm strength to fit in right.

He has above-average raw speed, which should help pad his doubles totals with his all-fields low line-drive approach, though he wasn’t a big base-stealer in Cuba. There isn’t a ton of upside unless his contact rate really translates well, but he should shoot enough balls around the outfield to have potential as a regular center fielder. Most likely he’s a solid fourth outfielder with tremendous defensive value.

Hit: 45/45/50 Power: 35/40/40 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 60/60/60 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 40+/45/50

13. Luiz Gohara, LHP, VIDEO, Single-A

Though it’s likely just a matter of time before he moves to the bullpen full-time, Gohara has two strong weapons at his disposal from the left side. His fastball works in the low- to mid-90s but can feel faster at those speeds. His slider is wildly inconsistent, but usually has enough bite to see a potential plus grade within reach. He has a changeup that doesn’t really go with his aggressive approach or arm-heavy delivery. His thick lower half and midsection portend a continued reliance on pure arm strength to power past opposing batters, which really only works in the bullpen with his present and projected command. It’s a likely late-inning role if that’s the route the Mariners decide to go.

Fastball: 50/60/65 Slider: 45/55/60 Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 35/40/45
Overall: 35/45/50

40+ FV Prospects
14. Luis Liberato, OF, VIDEO, Low-A

Liberato starting in full-season ball with the Mariners’ Single-A affiliate to get at-bats rather than hang in extended spring training for a couple months, and even got into a few Double-A games before the Northwest League schedule started up. Though he was completely overmatched, I like the move by Seattle’s player-development department, since Liberato’s biggest needs revolve around timing and pitch recognition at the plate. It’s arguably better for him to get into actual game action than complex intrasquads to get those reps.

As for his tools, he’s still very raw despite the somewhat breakout performance in Low-A, but also very promising. He has impressive bat speed, yet will continue to have trouble barreling half-decent pitching with some pitch recognition issues that may only be a problem of youth. His excellent walk rate looks to be more a product of patience than a true discerning eye, so it isn’t something we can count on in the long-term just yet. With his body starting to fill out, he has the potential to grow into average or better power at the expense of some raw speed, though he still shows the ability to play a solid outfield and good instincts on the bases.

His rawness puts him in the 40+ group, but his potential is as high as just about any position player in the Mariners’ system. Look for a bigger test spending the year in full-season ball in 2016.

Hit: 25/40-45/50 Power: 30/50/55 Run: 60/55/60 Field: 45/50/50 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 25/40/55+

15. Brayan Hernandez, OF, VIDEO, Rookie

Hernandez hasn’t made his debut in the states yet, but the combination of what I’ve seen on video and the reports from team sources have me cautiously optimistic about his future. Reputed to be an above-average runner with the chance to stick in center, he brings a simple, compact stroke with some natural lift to his pull side (at least, on the right-handed side of his switch-hitting). That he also makes good contact and has flashed some power in front of scouts and in the Dominican Summer League give him an intriguing if volatile future profile.

Call this a very soft buy for now, and the hope is to be able to catch some of his games later in the summer when the short season leagues open up. You can get uppity about his rank, or you can realize that there just aren’t that many position players that have much upside in the organization, and file it under, “Hmm, that’s interesting.”

Hit: 30/45/50 Power: 25/45/50 Run: 55/55/55 Field: 50/50/55 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 25/40+/55

16. Greifer Andrade, INF, VIDEO, Rookie

There are a lot of ways Andrade’s career could go, both offensively and defensively. He has the tools to play somewhere in the infield, but sources are conflicted over where that ends up being. He makes a lot of contact with an aggressive approach, and has enough of a line drive swing and good bat speed to see him making it work even from his very young age. Power is unlikely to come around, though he’s so far away that it’s not impossible he develops some more.

Hit: 25/45/55 Power: 20/35/40 Run: 50/50/50 Field: 50/50/50 Throw: 50/50/50
Overall: 20/40/50+

17. Paul Fry, LHP, VIDEO, Double-A

Despite his fastball coming in a hair over 90 from the left side, Fry has potential as a late-inning option out of the Mariners bullpen. Across 90.2 innings split between High-A, Double-A and the Arizona Fall League, he didn’t allow a single home run and struck out 123 batters. His slider is an above-average or better offering with great arm speed and enough bite to rack up swings and misses, and his changeup has hard sinking action, more like a splitter than a prototypical changeup.

Being left-handed with an above-average fastball and two quality secondary pitches automatically makes you interesting, and his strike-throwing ability makes him a solid bullpen arm right from the start this season. Look for him to get a call-up sometime this season when the Mariners need an extra arm, though Fry could pitch his way into staying there very quickly.

Fastball: 50/55/55+ Slider: 55/55/60 Changeup: 45/45/50 Command: 45/45/45
Overall: 40/40-45/45+

18. Braden Bishop, OF, VIDEO, Low-A

Bishop is another surprise performer out of the 2015 draft, a third-rounder who hit much better than expected in his first pro exposure, albeit coming in the Low-A Northwest League. There are still significant limitations on his power potential and his hit tool, with good contact skills but a very ground ball-heavy profile and little strike-zone control. His plus speed and potential elite center-field skills give him a high floor on a major-league bench, but the upside isn’t much higher without big changes to his hitting approach.

Hit: 35/45/45+ Power: 25/30/30 Run: 60/60/60 Field: 60/60/65 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 35/40/45

19. Jio Orozco, RHP, VIDEO, Rookie

I might have to just copy and paste this sentence: [player name] is another suprise performer out of the 2015 draft, a [round number] rounder who [skill of choice] much better than expected in his first pro exposure. Orozco’s early success may have been less surprising when you look at his kit. He brings a low-90s fastball and a potential average curve and changeup to the mound, with advanced ability to throw strikes.

There isn’t much if any physical projection, so his progression will be based on honing his command. I don’t see enough upside in the secondary stuff to have more than a fifth-starter ceiling, but again, he adds another asset with a clear path past the lower minors to this org, which is valuable in itself.

Fastball: 45/50/50 Curveball: 45/50/55 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 40/45/50
Overall: 35/40+/45

20. Dan Altavilla, RHP, VIDEO, High-A

Altavilla responded well to facing High-A competition, putting together some impressive starts while showcasing his mid-90s fastball in a tough league. His secondary stuff lags behind his heater, and his overall command is just so-so, leaving him looking like a guy who should end up in the bullpen. Should the Mariners make that move, he could focus on just his fastball and slider, which looks to be his best offspeed delivery.

Fastball: 55/60/60 Slider: 45/50/55 Changeup: 35/40/40 Command: 40/40/45
Overall: 35/40/45

21. Cody Mobley, RHP

More projectable than both Orozco and Dylan Thompson, Mobley’s curveball gives him a clearer path to putting up strikeout numbers, but his lower command keeps him in the same range. Team officials see his changeup improving enough to be a starter, but I’d like to see some more positive signs before really buying into it. He has the floor of a middle reliever and some upside that could push him into mid-rotation territory if his change and command works out.

Fastball: 45/55/55+ Curveball: 45+/55/60 Changeup: 35/40/45 Command: 35/40/45
Overall: 30/40/45-50

22. Dylan Thompson, RHP, VIDEO, Rookie

Thompson has a bit more upside than Rookie-ball contemporary Jio Orozco, but a lower floor due to less of a chance sticking as a starter. He has a more aggressive delivery and some physical projection left, though I think added strength has a high likelihood of making his somewhat stiff arm action a little more so. Still a valuable prospect, Thompson’s slider has above-average big-league potential as he tightens it up, though command will be what gets it there. His fastball has good life, and should tick up in velocity from its current low-90s range.

Fastball: 50/55/55+ Slider: 40/45+/55 Changeup: 40/45/50 Command: 35/40+/45
Overall: 35/40/45-50

23. Tyler O’Neill, OF, VIDEO, High-A

The California League offers another tribute to the unfortunate reality of the high minors in the form of Tyler O’Neill. His explosion of power was more about run environment favoring brute strength sluggers than any major improvements to his game. He still has an ultra-aggressive approach with plus raw power, and strikeouts are still going to be what keeps him from being a full-time player in the majors. The 16 steals were a pleasant surprise, though he’s still a below-average runner at heart.

On a side note, it’s a little eerie and a lot disappointing how quickly Alex Jackson’s grades could resemble O’Neill’s. Come back to us Alex…

Hit: 35/40/45 Power: 45/55/60 Run: 45/45/45 Field: 45/45/45 Throw: 55/55/55
Overall: 30/40/45

24. Austin Wilson, OF, VIDEO, High-A

Wilson is the kind of hitter that should really be able to take advantage of the California League, with sizable raw power but trouble squaring the ball up consistently. I almost expect him to repeat the level in 2016 and hit 25 homers, get everyone excited, and then show his real colors in Double-A. He is what he has been since before being drafted: big raw power, poor bat path and sequencing, and poor adjustability to changes of speed. The power downturn in 2015 will reverse, but the hit tool is going to keep him out of a big role in the majors.

Hit: 35/40/40 Power: 45/55/60 Run: 45/45/50 Field: 45/45/50 Throw: 55/55/60
Overall: 30/40/45

Cistulli’s Guy
Dario Pizzano, OF, Double-A

Last year, when this list was authored by body-spray enthusiast Kiley McDaniel, the designation of Cistulli’s Guy was more or less a 50-50 proposition between Pizzano and shortstop Tyler Smith. The profiles were largely similar: similar age, similar sort of plate discipline. What Smith conceded in power on contact he compensated for by means of defensive skills. Ultimately, the author chose Smith — largely because of his ability to play shortstop — while also acknowledging that the decision was ultimately the product of randomness.

A year later, Pizzano appears in this space — less because either he or Smith have changed substantively, but rather because they remain so similar. Pizzano recorded the lowest strikeout rate of his career (8.2%) for Double-A Jackson in a season limited to 243 plate appearances by a mid-June injury. Smith, for his part, proceeded to record almost precisely the same walk and strikeout rates for Jackson that he’d produced the season prior in the Cal League. The both retain clear flaws — Pizzano his defensive limitations, Smith his lack of power — but both also would likely benefit the parent club in a bench role, at the very least.

Does the following video footage depict Dario Pizzano homering this past April? Maybe it does and maybe it does.

Quick Hits
Upper-level hitters: OF Ian Miller (VIDEO) is a plus center fielder with plus-plus speed. He just needs to figure out a way to parlay decent contact into better than a 40 hit tool, since he has no power to speak of. OF Dario Pizzano (Cistulli’s Guy above, VIDEO) is interesting for his high contact rates and ability in the minors to draw walks, but he doesn’t have enough upside with his bat, glove or legs to make much of an impact.

C Tyler Marlette (VIDEO) comes through the zone very flat, relying only on his raw strength to drive the ball consistently. As a result, he isn’t going to drive pitches down in the zone as well, while his contact rate remains a concern going forward despite the improved strikeout rates. Though his catching skill won’t turn a lot of heads, it’s just good enough to be a fringe-average option defensive behind the plate. He has backup potential. Though I do like SS Tyler Smith’s (VIDEO) defensive skills enough to see him playing a decent shortstop, a lack of an impact bat or speed keep him from being more than a fringe option in the majors.

Lower-level hitters: OF Gareth Morgan (VIDEO) has all the physical attributes he needs, but lacks the finer athletic qualities in the box that will let him tap into the tools. Coupled with an aggressive approach and major contact issues, and Morgan’s bid for a major-league career is looking very bleak. SS Rayder Ascanio (VIDEO) is an absolute beast on defense, but he may need to be a 70- or 75-grade fielder to be much of a big league option. The walk rates he has shown in the lower levels won’t survive pitchers with more control challenging him to hit without any power. OF Austin Cousino (VIDEO) looked rough in 2015 with everything to do with hitting, having his plate discipline further exposed and his swing’s ability to drive the ball regressing noticeably. He may still be closer to the Low-A version of himself talent-wise, but it was an abrupt enough step back to keep him here for now.

Upper-level pitchers: RHP Jonathan Aro (VIDEO) throws strikes and has a decent fastball that could put him in the middle of a bullpen for a few years, though his secondary stuff doesn’t show enough potential to make him an irreplaceable member of a staff. RHP Mayckol Guaipe (VIDEO) continues to prove he can throw strikes better than a few years ago, and may carve out a role as a ground-ball middle-relief specialist.

LHP David Rollins (VIDEO) can be hard to time up for hitters, but his command is lacking and he shows little feel for his primary breaking ball. LHP Tyler Pike (VIDEO) has a solid fastball and curve with an even better changeup that got him into the upper minors as a starter. His stiff body and arm contributes to poor command that likely puts him in the bullpen as a big leaguer, where he may be a solid reliever.

Lower-level pitchers: LHP Jacob Brentz (VIDEO) might have a future as a strikeout lefty, but his command issues remain and likely limit him to a possible bullpen role. RHP Kyle Wilcox (VIDEO) has fairly even upside on his fastball, curve and change. None of them are plus, and above-average may be a stretch, particularly given his erratic feel. He may move quickly through the lower minors out of the pen, but a clear path to the majors isn’t there yet.





Dan is Fangraphs Lead Prospect Analyst, living in New York City. He played baseball for four years at Franklin & Marshall College before attending medical school. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DWFarnsworth.

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D.K. Willardson
6 years ago

What a shame on Alex Jackson. So much talent and a swing which was never great has deteriorated beyond comprehension. Without a complete transformation, I’ll be surprised if he ever even makes it to the majors. Not sure who was responsible for giving him the wrong prescription for his mechanics but they are clearly in the wrong line of work.

When he was drafted, I thought the line was that he was “too valuable” to put behind the plate – kind of like a Harper decision. Have you heard any discussion of moving him back behind the plate as the offensive bar would at least be within reason?