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Track Record: Sheffield ranked as the Yankees top prospect this off-season before being the key acquisition in the trade to the Mariners for ace James Paxton. Growing up in Tennessee, the Sheffield brothers were quite the one-two combination of pitchers. Older brother Jordan went to Vanderbilt before becoming a supplemental first-round pick of the Dodgers in 2016, while Justus signed with the Indians out of high school as a first-round pick. Justus was traded to the Yankees with Clint Frazier in 2016 to help the Indians acquire reliever Andrew Miller. Sheffield quickly made a splash in his new organization. In the playoffs, he pitched the first half of a no-hitter against Binghamton before handing the ball to righthander Taylor Widener for the final four innings. Sheffield missed time in 2017 with an oblique issue and missed one start in 2018 with tightness in his left shoulder. The Yankees moved him to the bullpen in August to prepare him for a bullpen role in New York in September. He struggled to throw strikes in three late-season outings in New York.
Scouting Report: Sheffield is a starter who attacks hitters like a late-inning reliever. Everything he throws is hard and he shows little finesse. He attacks hitters with an effort-filled delivery. A generation ago, that would likely lead to a move to the bullpen, but today Sheffield will get to prove that his all-out approach can work for five to six innings per start. After much debate, the Yankees sent Sheffield back to Double-A Trenton to begin the season so he could continue to sharpen the command of his mid-90s fastball. He worked to add two-plane break to his mid-80s slider. He was successful at times in this regard, with the pitch showing more depth in particular during his stint in the big leagues. Now, he'll need to work to repeat the mechanics that allowed him to make this change. His 87-89 mph changeup had been too firm, and the Yankees wanted to see him figure out a grip that would allow him to get more separation between it and his fastball. In spurts he showed the ability to dial back his offspeed pitches, but sometimes, especially when he moved to the bullpen, adrenaline took over and he reverted back to throwing everything as hard as possible. Expect to see better results now that his major league debut is behind him.
The Future: Sheffield will likely return to Triple-A to begin the season, but this time across the country in Tacoma, but he should be pitching for the Mariners before too long.
TRACK RECORD: For the second consecutive season, the top Japanese pitcher coming to the U.S hails from Hanamaki Higashi High. Kikuchi actually graduated from the school the year before Shohei Ohtani arrived, but Ohtani beat him to MLB because Kikuchi waited until he had pitched eight seasons in Japan before being posted. Kikuchi entertained coming to the U.S. immediately out of high school but ended up signing as Seibu’s first pick in the 2009 draft. His best season in Japan was in 2017 when he went 16-6, 1.97. He missed time early in 2018 with a stiff shoulder and was still effective upon his return, but he never showed the same level of dominance. Still, he was highly sought after in free agency and signed with the Mariners for a guaranteed four years and $50 million.
SCOUTING REPORT: Kikuchi’s delivery demonstrates his athleticism and balance. He hangs over the rubber on his plant foot through a very extended leg kick that can help disrupt a hitter’s timing. He attacks hitters with a 91-93 mph four-seam fastball that can touch 96. It projects as at least an above-average pitch. He’ll likely look to add a two-seam fastball when he comes to the U.S. to give him a fastball with some sink. Kikuchi pitches off his fastball more than most Japanese pitchers, using it to set up a plus mid-80s slider. The pitch is especially effective because he can command it so well. He can bury it or sweep it out of the zone, but he also can tickle the bottom of the zone with it when needed. His 73-78 mph average curveball is more of an early-count surprise pitch. It’s a big, slow breaker which is effective because of the change of pace and his ability to throw it for strikes. At its best, his curve can lock up hitters who are looking for a fastball. He has sporadically thrown a straight changeup to righthanders. It’s a below-average pitch and he’s more effective against righties by working in and out with his fastball. He’s shown a comfort and ability to dot the inside corner.
THE FUTURE: Kikuchi is a mid-rotation starter as a lefty with a track record of success, a plus slider and above-average control. He’s lacks the ceiling of a Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish or Daisuke Matsuzaka, but he should be a useful addition to the Mariners rotation.
TRACK RECORD: Kelenic won a pair of gold medals for USA Baseball’s 18U National Team, then graduated early from his Wisconsin high school to train for the 2018 draft. His pedigree and dedication paid off when the Mets drafted him sixth overall as the first prep player off the board and signed him for a franchise-record $4.5 million bonus. After one summer in the Mets organization, Kelenic was the jewel of the prospect haul for the Mariners in the trade that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to New York.
SCOUTING REPORT: Kelenic immediately became the Mariners’ best position prospect after the trade and could develop into a center fielder with five aver- age or better tools. He has a long track record with wood bats and a simple, quick lefthanded swing honed by countless hours in the batting cage. His feel for the barrel gives him a plus hit tool, while his strong batting eye makes him an on-base threat who will bat toward the top of a lineup. Kelenic’s raw power is at least plus and as he tweaks his approach and launch angle he should get to above-average pop in games. Projected as an average runner, his raw speed might be a bit short of the center field prototype, but he has the instincts to stick there as a solid-average defender. An above-average arm could make him a plus defender on a corner.
THE FUTURE: Kelenic turned 19 in July after the draft and was old for his high school class, but that should help ease his transition to low Class A West Virginia in 2019.
Track Record: White grew up outside of Columbus, Ohio, and was a big Reds fan, especially admiring first baseman Joey Votto. The All-Ohio player of the year in 2014, White comes by his athleticism naturally. Both his father and grandfather played minor league baseball, and his parents were both college basketball players. Undrafted out of high school, White earned second team All-America honors as a Kentucky junior in 2017. A career .356 hitter for the Wildcats, he also played with USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team in the summer before his junior year. White is the rare five-tool player at first base, with a plus arm and above-average speed that could fit in the outfield if he weren't so adept defensively at first base. He's also unique in that he bats righthanded yet throws lefthanded. If he threw righthanded he would be a candidate to play third base. The 17th overall pick in 2017, White began his pro career at short-season Everett, though his season was curtailed by a quad injury. He got in a full season in 2018, mostly at high Class A Modesto followed by six weeks in the Arizona Fall League.
Scouting Report: White's footwork around the first base bag are so graceful that his movements there have been called ballet-like, earning plus-plus grades for his defense. He has very good instincts and soft hands. A plus hitter with advanced skills and a plan at the plate, White is a hit-over-power type of hitter who uses all fields and makes hard contact. Questions have been raised as to whether he will hit for enough power to profile as a starting first baseman, though his above-average raw power and good exit velocities hint at a chance to exceed his average power projections. White started answering doubts about his power in the second half of 2018 by lowering his hands, keeping his bat in the hitting zone longer and staying through the ball. The results showed when he hit five of his 11 Cal League home runs in August. He has a good swing and finds the barrel a lot, and he studies opposing pitchers' tendencies.
The Future: While he doesn't have the same power profile, White has been compared with the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger as a first baseman who could also play center field. First base is a position of need for the Mariners, so White could move up quickly. He'll advance to Double-A Arkansas in 2019 and could see time at Triple-A.
Track Record: Rodriguez dominated the Dominican Summer League just one year after signing with the Mariners for $1.75 million. Named the team MVP after posting a .929 OPS, Rodriguez's season ended in mid-August when he injured a foot attempting to steal a base, but he was able to participate in the fall development programs.
Scouting Report: A smart hitter for his age with very good control of the zone and the ability make adjustments at the plate, Rodriguez's loudest tool is his plus-plus raw power, which already ranks among the best in the organization. His rhythmic swing gives him a solid bat path through the zone. While only an average runner, he runs the bases well. Rodriguez should develop solid instincts and routes in right field, where he should be at least an average defender. He gained enough arm strength since signing that his arm now earns a 70 grade.
The Future: Rodriguez has as much upside as any prospect in the Mariners' organization. His advanced baseball acumen and tool set may allow him to start his U.S. career at short-season Everett or perhaps even low Class A West Virginia.
TRACK RECORD: Dunn spent most of his time in college in the bullpen, and then scuffled in his full-season debut in the high Class A Florida State League. But after he made 24 starts while taming the FSL and reaching Double-A in 2018, his future appears firmly planted in the rotation. Based on that development, the Mariners acquired Dunn in December as one of the top prospects in the deal that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to the Mets.
SCOUTING REPORT: Dunn evolved from thrower to pitcher in 2018 by working his fastball to both sides of the plate and up and down in the zone at 93-95 mph from an effortless delivery. He can sink his fastball for early-count groundball outs or throw it with riding life up in the zone for swinging strikes. Dunn’s slider is his go-to secondary weapon, and it flashes plus with two-plane break to neutralize righthanded hitters. He committed to throwing his changeup in 2018 and made huge strides. The mid-80s pitch fades to his arm side and bottoms out as it approaches the plate, erasing the ugly platoon split he had in 2017. His athletic motion allows him to throw first-pitch strikes and grants him access to future average control.
THE FUTURE: Dunn is positioned to assume any role the Mariners need in the second half of 2019, be it multi-inning reliever or spot starter. Long term he has the profile of a No. 3 or 4 starter.
Track Record: Gilbert excelled at Stetson by going 23-3, 2.48 with 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings in three seasons. He spent most of the summer recovering from mononucleosis and toe surgery and did not pitch professionally.
Scouting Report: Gilbert profiles as a workhorse with a heavy power fastball with life and downward action. After pitching in the mid-90s during the Cape Cod League, his heater was more regularly in the low 90s as a college junior. But even with the diminished velocity, his fastball projects to be an above-average thanks to excellent extension and late life. Both of his breaking balls—a spike-curveball and a hard slider—were no better than average pitches to outside observers. The Mariners see the potential for both pitches to be plus, especially the curveball with two-plane action and depth. Rounding out Gilbert's arsenal is a potentially average mid-80s changeup with fade. His athleticism allows him to repeat a free and easy high-three-quarters delivery.
The Future: Gilbert should be advanced enough to jump straight to full-season ball to start his pro career, but staying behind in extended spring training to limit his innings in his first season is also a possibility.
Track Record: Lewis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a home plate collision in his 2016 pro debut. He has been working his way back from that injury ever since. Lewis' 2018 season got a late start when he was held back in extended spring training until May to strengthen his knee. After an appearance in the California League all-star game, Lewis moved up to Double-A Arkansas for the remainder of the year.
Scouting Report: At the plate Lewis is balanced and short to the ball, with loose hands and the ability to adjust to fastballs in the zone, but he sometimes looks like he's trying to make up for lost time in every at-bat. He struggled to make consistent contact after the move to Double-A and has yet to show the plus-plus raw power he had in college and his pro debut. He is a fringe-average runner. Lewis is still capable of making highlight-reel plays in the outfield, with his speed underway and solid instincts being the strong points. His lack of first-step quickness will likely push him to right field. He has an above-average arm.
The Future: Barring any further issues with his knee, Lewis should be ready for a full workload in 2019, likely heading back to Double-A to start the year.
TRACK RECORD: Long’s pro career got off to a slow start, but he took off at the plate once he moved from catcher to second base, where his athleticism plays better. He has steadily worked to improve his defense at second while consistently providing solid-average power and a discerning batting eye. After a solid showing at Double-A and the Arizona Fall League in 2018, the Mariners acquired Long from the Reds for second-rounder Josh Stowers.
SCOUTING REPORT: Long is a bat-first player, using special bat speed and barrel manipulation to hit the ball to all fields. While he has had some issues with making consistent contact, his lefthanded bat shows signs of being above-average with future average power. His hands are very strong, which allows him to generate his bat speed. Long’s actions in the field need work, but his athleticism and average arm have helped him improve to the point where he’s a fringe-average defender. He is an average runner who is efficient stealing bases with advanced instincts, making him a double-digit home run, double-digit stolen base threat.
THE FUTURE: Long should see regular at-bats at Triple-A Tacoma in 2019. If he continues to improve his defense, he has a chance to emerge as the Mariners' second baseman of the future.
Track Record: Marte was one of top infield prospects in the 2018 international class, with the Mariners signing the native Dominican for $1.55 million. While he has yet to make his pro debut, Marte participated in programs at the Mariners' complex in Peoria, Ariz., in the fall.
Scouting Report: Marte was more than just a player groomed to stand out in showcases. He also showed the ability to perform in game situations. He has intriguing power-speed potential, with an advanced approach at the plate, good strike-zone awareness and plenty of raw power from a compact stroke with whippy bat speed. While he's got a strong build, Marte is light on his feet. He's a plus-plus runner, a tick better than he was when he signed due to added strength. He's got plenty of work to do to be able to stay at shortstop, including improving his footwork and arm accuracy. Marte's future position will likely be determined by how much he grows as the body matures.
The Future: Like Julio Rodriguez before him, Marte will begin his pro career in the Dominican Summer League in 2019 and may spend the whole summer there before making his U.S. debut in 2020.
-- Reports written by Bill Mitchell
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