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TOP 10 PROSPECTS
|1. Kyle Lewis, of|
|2. Tyler O'Neill, of|
|3. Luiz Gohara, lhp|
|4. Nick Neidert, rhp|
|5. Mitch Haniger, of|
|6. Andrew Moore, rhp|
|7. Drew Jackson, ss|
|8. Max Povse, rhp|
|9. Dan Altavilla, rhp|
|10. Dan Vogelbach, 1b|
Everything changed for the Mariners in 2016. For an organization that has often struggled to win at the major league level or develop frontline homegrown talent, that was a good thing.
Jerry Dipoto took over as general manager after the 2015 season and cleaned house. Dipoto replaced Jack Zdurencik, who was fired after seven seasons without a playoff berth, and brought in Scott Servais as manager, hired Andy McKay as farm director and made 12 trades before the season began.
The result was the Mariners' most successful season in years. They went 86-76 and remained in the hunt for an American League wild card until the season's final weekend, while their second-place finish in the AL West was the franchise's best since 2007.
The Mariners' success was even more pronounced at the minor league level. All six of Seattle's domestic affiliates made the playoffs, with Double-A Jackson and the Rookie-level Arizona League club winning championships. All in all, Mariners domestic affiliates combined for a .581 winning percentage, the third-best rate by any organization in the last eight years.
Dipoto and McKay instituted a hitting summit for their minor leaguers in their first season at the helm, gathering their offensive prospects in Arizona for a week in January to impart an organization-wide hitting philosophy focused on reducing strikeouts.
A system-wide improvement in contact rate yielded major improvements in performance from many of the organization's top prospects. Noted power hitters Tyler O'Neill, D.J. Peterson and others cut their strikeout rates from the previous year and saw jumps in production as a result of better pitch selection.
That, plus steps forward from righthanders Nick Neidert and Andrew Moore and lefthanders Luiz Gohara and Ryan Yarbrough, gave the Mariners a large group of quality prospects who performed, a welcome development for a front office emphasizing players' need to “earn their promotions" with measurable on-field performance.
The positive results from the initial round of change led to even more change after the season. Dipoto made five trades in a span of 16 days in November, with previous regime holdovers Taijuan Walker, Alex Jackson, Ketel Marte and Zack Littell highlighting a cavalcade of players sent away and Jean Segura, Danny Valencia, Mitch Haniger and Max Povse leading the group of players heading to Seattle.
The new players brought in strengthened the Mariners both at the major league level and in their farm system, which already received a boost over the summer when Kyle Lewis, the 2016 Golden Spikes Award winner and BA College Player of the Year, fell to them at No. 11 in the draft. They also snagged well-regarded prep third baseman Joe Rizzo, college middle infielders Bryson Brigman and Donnie Walton, and a number of mid- to late-round picks who had impressive pro debuts, topped by righthander Brandon Miller (sixth round), third baseman Nick Zammarelli (eighth), lefthander Tim Viehoff (12th) and outfielder Eric Filia (20th).
Coming off their most successful season in years at the major league level and with the farm system in better shape than any time in recent memory, optimism abounds in Seattle with the Dipoto-led regime at the helm.
1. Kyle Lewis, of |
Born: July 13, 1995. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 210. Drafted: Mercer, 2016 (1st round). Signed by: John Wiedenbauer.
|Based on 20-80 scouting scale—where 50 represents major league average—and future projection rather than present tools.|
Background: In the age of never-ending prospect showcases and 14-year-old class rankings, Lewis was somewhat of a late bloomer. He played varsity all four years at Shiloh High in Snellville, Ga., but never won anything more than regional honors and went undrafted out of high school. No Southeastern Conference school offered him a scholarship—including Georgia less than an hour away—and he ended up at Mercer, which had just two NCAA tournament appearances in its 65-year history when Lewis arrived on campus. He split time playing baseball and basketball growing up, but once he began focusing solely on baseball in college, he flourished. With his elite athleticism and intelligence, Lewis adapted quickly and made the Atlantic Sun Conference all-freshman team. He became a middle-of-the-order impact regular as a sophomore, thrived in the Cape Cod League (.300/.344/.500) and emerged as one of the most potent forces in college baseball as a junior, hitting .395/.535/.731 with 20 home runs and winning the Golden Spikes Award and the BA College Player of the Year. The Mariners had him ranked as one of the top three players on their board, and they were shocked and ecstatic when he fell to them at No. 11. He signed for $3,286,700. Lewis got off to a blazing start as a pro before he tore the ACL and medial and lateral meniscus in his right knee in a grisly collision at home plate just 30 games into his pro career at short-season Everett.
Scouting Report: Lewis is an offense-first center fielder with plus power to all fields and a patient approach that allows him to control the strike zone and punish mistakes. He has some swing-and-miss to his game, like most power hitters, but he has enough feel for the barrel and understanding of what to do at the plate that he still is regarded as an solid-average hitter. He is a below-average runner out of the box but ticks up to average underway. His instincts, reflexes and efficient routes make up for whatever he lacks in terms of raw speed in the outfield and make him an above-average defender. His plus arm, combined with average speed, have some evaluators predicting he ends up in right field. However, the Mariners will leave him in center for now. There is concern about how his knee injury will affect his power base and already suspect speed, but Lewis is a hard worker who plays the game with passion and a big smile. There is little doubt among observers Lewis will put in the work to get back to the diamond as quickly and strongly as possible.
The Future: Lewis draws comparisons with his childhood hero Adam Jones, another former Mariners top prospect. He had surgery on his knee in August and is not expected to begin baseball activities until April. He will continue his rehab at the team complex in Arizona until then, with an eye on reporting to a full-season affiliate by mid-summer. Low Class A Clinton is his likely destination, but high Class A Modesto is a possibility with its drier climate making for a better playing environment post-surgery.