So who is worth watching in the M's farm system at this point? I have compiled a starting lineup, along with a left-handed and right-handed pitcher, with the following conditions:
- No 2013 draft picks included
- Nobody in AAA Tacoma included
C: Tyler Marlette, Clinton - There are questions if Marlette will stay behind the dish, but the power potential he had in high school is showing up in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League. That's a good omen. Marlette is the best position prospect in the system that nobody talks about (not saying he is the best, but the best nobody talks about). That should change next season.
1B: Ji-Man Choi, Jackson - Choi has quietly hit the tar out of the ball every level he has played at, though without the prototypical power most think of with a first basemen. However he has some power, and a strong second half in Jackson could make him an intriguing name in 2014, especially given how thin the Mariners are at first base.
2B: Gabriel Noriega, Jackson - Truth be told it's hard to find a second base prospect in the M's system (I could go with Jack Marder, but he's having a really tough season), so I borrowed Noriega from shortstop. His glove is his calling card, but his bat has come a long way this year. Perhaps he can hit enough to be a passable bench option some day.
SS: Chris Taylor, Jackson - Taylor was a slap-hitting shortstop at the University of Virginia, but as a pro he has shown more power. Not a ton, but enough to be interesting at shortstop, along with good stolen base numbers. I am interested to see where he ends up on prospect lists at the end of the season. If he can hold his own in AA then I expect a bit of buzz to develop around him. This is his first full pro season, and it couldn't be going any better (though most of it was in High Desert's friendly hitting confines).
3B: Patrick Kivlehan, High Desert - I gave some serious consideration to Ramon Morla here too, but Kivlehan has done a nice job cutting his strikeout rate and he is at a bit lower level. I felt it would be cheating if I loaded up on players in AA.
OF: Julio Morban, Jackson - One of the pleasant surprises in spring training, Morban has continued to hit in AA this season. The strikeouts are still high and the walks low, but his contact is solid. He is also young for the league (just 21 years old). He could be less than a year away from Safeco Field, unless you expect all these dingers from Raul Ibanez to still be around next year.
OF: Jabari Blash, High Desert - Blash came out of community college with a reputation as a toolsy player that was yet to put all his skills together. He still strikes out way too much, but his power has played extremely well in High Desert's launchpad. I'm not sure he's any more of a prospect than James Jones, whom I kind of like, even though he gets less attention than Blash.
OF: Jabari Henry, Clinton - Henry has put up a surprising season in Clinton. He is a bit old for the league, but an OPS around .900 for any hitter in the Midwest League deserves attention. The rapid development of his plate discipline between last summer and this season gets two thumbs up from me, and makes him a candidate to move through the system quickly next season if he is a legitimate prospect.
LHP: Tyler Pike, Clinton - The Mariners put the prep lefty straight in full-season ball as an 18-year-old, and he has held his own. Will they dare place Pike in High Desert at some point in the next season? It would be a bit ridiculous for him to jump up to AA so soon. Though Pike is in the middle of the a nice year at Clinton, it isn't so dominant to force a promotion.
RHP: Carson Smith, Jackson - Even though Smith is a reliever he should get more attention as a prospect. He's got great stuff, and his ERA over 3.00 this season is bad luck that shields his greatness. In 29 inning so far, Smith has 36 strikeouts, just 8 walks, and a ground-out to air-out ratio of 5.67 to 1. Strikeouts and grounders, the rarest of combos.
So there you go. Far from a complete prospect list, but there are still guys worth watching throughout the Mariners minor leagues. The cupboard isn't bare, even as the Mariners raid it like the parched and starving team that they are. This next wave, with a little luck, will hopefully have some shelf life.