The Top-Five Mariners Prospects by Projected WAR by Carson Cistulli March 31, 2015 Yesterday, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Seattle Mariners. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Seattle’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Mariners system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value. Below are the top-five prospects in the Seattle system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time. Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par. t5. John Hicks, C (Profile) PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 415 .220 .262 .314 64 0.5 Between Hicks and Tyler Marlette (below), the latter is probably the overall more impressive prospect. Marlette was drafted out of high school (Hicks, college); received a signing bonus of about $650 thousand (Hicks, about $250 thousand); and earned a promotion to Double-A in just his age-21 season (while Hicks only first appeared there as a 23-year-old). For 2015, however, they profile as almost the same player, projected by Steamer to produce roughly identical offensive lines while both benefiting — deservedly so, it would appear based on McDaniel’s analysis — from the catcher positional adjustment. Should something happen to Jesus Sucre, Hicks would be an entirely acceptable replacement. Even if something doesn’t happen to Sucre, that might still be the case. t5. Jordy Lara, 1B/3B (Profile) PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 550 .226 .263 .352 74 0.5 Lara is listed here as a first and third baseman because those are the positions at which he’s recorded the majority of his appearances as a minor leaguer (224 and 159 games, respectively) — and like D.J. Peterson below, he receives the more favorable third-base positional adjustment. Realistically, however, that’s probably optimistic. Consider: of Lara’s 106 defensive appearances in 2014, zero of them were recorded at third base, 84 of them at first (with the remainder in right field). McDaniel regards him as a first baseman, as well. Perhaps, given what he has of athleticism, he’s capable of playing an above-average first base. Even still, the penalty to the forecast is substantial: about 10-12 runs. That renders Lara about half a win below replacement level, as opposed to above it. 4. Tyler Marlette, C (Profile) PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 415 .218 .257 .331 67 0.6 Only 13 batters aged 21 or younger appeared in the Double-A Southern League last year and Marlette was one of them. In the absence of all other information regarding a prospect, age relative to level remains a strong indicator of future major-league success — and, indeed, nine of those 13 batters also appeared among Kiley McDaniel’s preseason top-200 prospect list. As the projection here suggests, Marlette’s version of major-league success is unlikely to occur in 2015. To receive a win projection above replacement level as a 22-year-old, however, is a promising development. t2. Ji-Man Choi, 1B (Profile) PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 550 .244 .309 .385 100 0.9 As McDaniel more or less states, Choi doesn’t possess a typical first-base offensive profile. Most of his batting value as a minor leaguer has been a product of his capacity to make contact and control the strike zone. Indeed, over the past two seasons, Choi has posted walk and strikeout rates of 13.0% and 14.1%, respectively, over 795 plate appearances. That sort of performance will probably allow him to hit like an average major leaguer — a suspicion which Steamer confirms, projecting Choi to produce a 100 wRC+ exactly. Over that same two-year interval, however, he’s hit just 24 home runs — or 18 home runs per every 600 PAs. Of the 41 seasons of two or more wins produced by first baseman between 2012 and -14, only seven of them (or roughly 17%) featured a rate of fewer than 18 homers per 600 plate appearances. In other words, it’s possible to post an average season at first base in the absence of above-average power, but it’s also unusual. t2. D.J. Peterson, 3B (Profile) PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR 550 .222 .267 .372 82 0.9 Like Lara above, Peterson is listed here as a third baseman. Like Lara above, Peterson’s Steamer projection includes the third-base positional adjustment. Like Lara above, however, Peterson is unlikely to play a substantial amount of — or any — third base at the major-league level. There’s a bit more promise overall here, though, than with Lara — which is why Peterson receives a relatively promising forecast for a player with zero major-league experience entering just his age-23 season. Peterson is still making the majority of his defensive appearances at third base and he continued to exhibit pretty impressive power last year even after departing the inflate run environment of the High-A California League. Decidedly not a finished product, Peterson still appears to feature enough skill now at least to survive as a bench-type player in the majors. 1. Danny Hultzen, LHP (Profile) IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR 150 8.8 3.5 0.9 3.76 1.8 There’s probably more agreement concerning what Hultzen is now than what he will be eventually. The last time he pitched as a professional, Hultzen was excellent, producing strikeout and walk rates of 27.6% and 5.7%, respectively, over 30.2 innings at Triple-A in 2013 — all of it in a starting capacity. That’s encouraging. Hultzen has had shoulder surgery in the meantime, however, which means even though his repertoire has looked promising this spring — and might even translate to performance in the short term — that there’s a greater cause for concern regarding Hultzen’s long-term future. It’s that uneasy relationship between his present and future which explains how Hultzen can receive the top projection among Mariners prospect for 2015 but still only profile as a 40-grade future-value pitcher in Kiley McDaniel’s estimation.