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Story Lines to Follow (2014 Midseason Report, Part 3)

Taijuan Walker (photo credit: by Bob Levey)
Taijuan Walker, as I type this post, makes his season debut tonight. That only seems appropriate as I wrap up my series of midseason reports (here's part 1 and part 2) by taking a look forward at some of the juiciest and most important story lines to follow through the rest of the season. The story lines at the MLB level are relatively well-known, which is why I'll also include some story lines sprinkled throughout the minors. I'll even offer some bold predictions!

Storyline #1: The starting rotation. The whole darn thing.

After three months the Mariners rotation has been okay, maybe even good. It's got the potential to derail or become one of the strongest units in the American League over the next three months. I'm serious.

What will Felix Hernandez do in the next three months? We know he'll be good, but how good? He's pitching as well as he ever has. It's unfair to expect him to keep up his current pace...but this is King Felix we are talking about. He's got a chance to win 20 games, and ERA title, and have the most strikeouts in the AL if he can keep his current pace up - and do all of that while likely pitching in the thick of a pennant race. How fun would that be to watch?

What will Roenis Elias do in the second half? Will he improve or trail off? He could do either. What about Chris Young? Will he get injured? History suggests he will. Is Taijuan Walker ready to take over a rotation spot? He starts to answer that question tonight. Can James Paxton get healthy? Can Erasmo Ramirez find his command by the end of the season?

I don't have a hard time imaging the Mariners rotation turning into the Felix and 'Kuma show, like last year, or rising up and featuring the King in his career year with a cavalry of number 2 and 3 starters behind him. It's interesting to have a starting rotation with such a range of possibilities at this stage in the season.

I predict that, as a unit, the starting rotation's production doesn't change - however, individual production changes greatly. Chris Young gets injured at some point and his loss is noticeable, but offset by Taijuan Walker's emergence. Adding another arm in a trade wouldn't be a bad idea, but I'm not convinced it's necessary. The Mariners have enough talent in house if it can get healthy.

Storyline #2: The missing bat

The Mariners could use another hitter. That answer could be Corey Hart, but I wouldn't bet on him at this point. In fact, I wouldn't bet on anyone in the organization right now being the answer. Instead, I predict the Mariners will pull a noteworthy trade in the next month. The centerpieces will be Nick Franklin and either Dustin Ackley or Stefen Romero, and in return the Mariners will get a left fielder or center fielder - perhaps a deal with D'Backs for either of their currently injured outfielders Mark Trumbo and A.J. Pollock, who should both be healthy by August.

Storyline #3: Who gets hot in Tacoma?

The Rainiers have a collection of players who could push their way onto the M's roster, especially if the M's offense slumps. It's easy to imagine Abe Almonte, Ji-Man Choi, Nick Franklin, Jesus Montero, Chris Taylor, or Stefen Romero in a Mariners uniform, partly because most of these players have already been up in the majors at some point this year. Somebody from the group is bound to get hot and generate buzz, especially considering that the Mariners are going with a large 13-man pitching staff for the time being. My bold prediction: Abe Almonte finds his stroke, and ends up in a center field platoon with James Jones.

Storyline #4: The Jackson third basemen

The Generals feature both Patrick Kivlehan and D.J. Peterson, two of the Mariners better hitting prospects. Peterson in particular is probably considered their best. Question marks surround both of their abilities to stay at the hot corner defensively. Obviously, they can't both play third base simultaneously. The easy fix would be alternating them between third base and DH, but this could also be a convenient excuse to give both of them playing time at different positions. My prediction is that Peterson plays some first base, but Kivlehan sticks between third and DH.

Storyline #5: Filling Vlad's Long Shadow

Fun fact: High Desert outfielder Gabby Guerrero is the nephew of retired Angels superstar Vladimir Guerrero. The older Gabby gets, the more he plays like Vlad. He's got a strong arm, power potential, and never walks. He's yet to have a crazy hot streak in High Desert, or a major slump. I predict he has one or the other, and I'll go bold and predict he has a hot streak. When that hot streak hits, Gabby Guerrero is going to look like Vlad. His hot streak will propel him up prospect lists and garner him recognition as one of the better outfield prospects in all of baseball going into 2015.

Storyline #6: More blasts, less punches

As mentioned in part 1, LumberKings prospect Tyler O'Neill flashed great power before breaking his hand when he punched a concrete wall in the dugout. How will he do when he gets back on the field? Did he start the year on a power surge, or is he simply a more powerful hitter than expected at this stage in his career? I predict that O'Neill slows down, though doesn't come to a screeching halt. He'll get to at least 11 home runs on the year, though with a mediocre average, low OBP, and high strikeout rate. He'll establish himself as a raw, intriguing talent.

Storyline #7: The next Mariners pitching prodigy

It's hard to analyze anything that happens in the short-season leagues for a plethora of reasons. Small sample size is an issue. That's combined with the majority of players getting their first taste of professional baseball. The short-season leagues are one big adjustment period for pretty much everyone involved. This is my long way of saying that there's no real reason to worry if guys like Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan struggle this year, and there's also no real reason to think either of them will rocket through the minor league system if they show well.

However, very early on, it looks like something special is unfolding in Arizona. Luiz Gohara is about to burst on the prospect scene. He's already whispered about, but hasn't pitched much in the minors yet. He got 6 starts in Pulaski last season and looked very good. He has two starts in Arizona so far and looks utterly dominant. I predict that Gohara lights up the Arizona Rookie League, which won't get a ton of publicity, but will safely put him in position to make his full-season debut in Clinton next season. You might as well pay attention to him now before he blows up and becomes a big deal. Gohara is left-handed and I predict he will be at least as well-regarded as James Paxton, and could be the best M's left-handed prospect since Mark Langston.

The Mariners, unlike most seasons in recent memory, should be relevant through August and September. They are still relatively young and could get better from internal development. However, they could also go out and acquire some talent, especially as some of the really young players in the lower levels of the minors flash some promise. The Mariners have their holes, but they could produce a very fun three months, and this just might be the dawn of another golden age that at least gives M's fans something besides the late '90s to reminisce about with pride.

State of the Mariners (2014 Midseason Report, Part 2)

Roenis Elias (photo credit: by Otto Greule Jr.)
The Mariners hit game 81 in the schedule last night in about as uninspiring a fashion as possible. Josh Tomlin's 1-hit, 11-strikeout, complete game shutout brought back that good old feeling of hopelessness and deflation that the Mariners have provided so many times the past few years.

Thankfully, that helpless feeling isn't so prevalent in 2014. The Mariners sit at 43-38 on the year, on pace for 86 wins if their totals are simply doubled. That's much closer to good than bad, and good enough to potentially squeeze a wild card berth out of.

The 2014 Mariners are a mix of bright and dark spots so far, as might be expected of a team with the M's win-loss record. Understanding what's gone right and wrong is vital to figuring out possible trades at the deadline which could push this team into the playoffs.

Here's my breakdown, group by group, of the 2014 Mariners at the halfway point. It's part 2 of my midseason report (part 1 focused on the minor leagues). Grades are used to help compare player production to preseason expectations:


  • Mike Zunino, C - Zunino's the best defensive catcher the M's have had since Dan Wilson. He's also the most powerful catcher the M's have probably ever had. His low contact rate keeps him from being a good offensive player, but the power and defense are very, very nice, and easily enough to make him a bona fide starting catcher right now. I'm very impressed by Zunino's production this year and see star potential in him down the line. He's one of the biggest reasons the Mariners have a winning record this season. Grade: A
  • Justin Smoak, 1B - Smoak has patience at the plate, sure hands at first base, and a great work ethic...but little else. How many more plate appearances do the M's need to decide he's not a starting first basemen in the majors? First base remains a black hole and should be a relatively easy spot for the Mariners to upgrade their production. Maybe LoMo is the answer. Smoak, unfortunately, is not. Grade: F
  • Robinson Cano, 2B - Cano isn't a bust, but he's not a rousing success either. The lack of power remains troubling, though everything else is there. He's going to make the All Star team mostly on recognition, because he's played like an above average position player, not one of the premier talents in all of baseball. The Mariners are certainly better with him, and it's fun to watch him play, but there are lots of good players that are fun to watch that make less than $24 million. Grade: D
  • Brad Miller, SS - The most underrated move of Lloyd McClendon's managing tenure so far was sticking with Miller through his deep slump. His defense remained good through the slump, which helped his overall production tread water. Now that he's starting to hit again his overall WAR is spiking quickly. Even with the huge hitting slump included, Miller's first half puts him on pace to be a decently productive starting shortstop. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised if he surges in the second half and ends up being one of more productive shortstops in the AL this year. I think he'll end up being just about what the Mariners hoped he could be this season. Grade: C
  • Kyle Seager, 3B - Seager's home/road splits are crazy this year. He's on pace to put up the best season any batter has ever had at Safeco Field. He continues to improve each year and is now a borderline All Star talent. Moreover, his overall numbers don't suggest any fluky luck. He doesn't have an unsustainably high home run rate, or BABIP, or low strikeout percentage. Seager is one of the best bargains in baseball right now, and his step forward thus far makes him the offensive MVP, even above Cano. Grade: A


  • Dustin Ackley, LF - Ackley, the left fielder, is much like Ackley, the second baseman. The hitting still isn't what it was supposed to be back when he was a top prospect. The defense remains surprisingly nice. Overall, that makes Ackley a bench player in a perfect world. There are some numbers to suggest that Ackley is the victim of some bad luck this season though, and if that's the case, he might be a candidate for a second half surge. That would be welcomed. Grade: D
  • James Jones, CF - Jones is a fun player to watch, but he's not terribly productive. His defense, thus far, grades out below average in center field though I think he has the tools to become a good defender with more experience. His approach at the plate maximizes his speed, but also limits him to nothing much beyond a slap hitter. One thing worth noting is that Jones, for whatever reason, seemed to struggle the first half of seasons in the minors and get really hot to finish out the year. Perhaps Jones is just getting comfy in the majors and will go on a tear through August and September. Even though Jones shouldn't be a starter on a contending ball club, the reality is that he basically came straight from AA with only a pit stop in Tacoma and has helped the Mariners outfield stay afloat instead of totally imploding. I'm pleasantly surprised at how well he has done. Grade: B
  • Michael Saunders, RF - Saunders might be the most important position player the M's have, simply because he's the only good outfielder they have. Saunders is blossoming this year into the quality outfielder many thought he could be as he worked through the minors. Thanks to James Jones he can play a corner slot too, which is his best fit. A healthy Saunders the rest of the way is essential to the M's success the rest of the season. Grade: B
  • Corey Hart, DH - Hart looked pretty rusty, as might be expected, even before the injury that has sidelined him for some time now. Still like that the Mariners signed him, and thanks to the structure of his deal, they might have money to spend now because he isn't going to reach incentives put in the contract. A healthy and resurgent Hart would be a huge boost for the offense though. Grade: F


  • John Buck, C - Is what he is; a dependable backstop you don't feel guilty about leaving on the bench most nights behind Zunino. Grade: C
  • Logan Morrison, 1B/DH/OF - The jury is still out on LoMo, thanks to the injury that forced him to the DL. It would be nice if he could keep up the power he's shown recently. Grade: D
  • Willie Bloomquist, INF - Like Buck, he is what he is and has been used accordingly. Grade: C
  • Stefen Romero, OF - I am impressed at how many at-bats Lloyd McClendon finds for Romero. I worried about him getting buried on the bench when he made the team. Injuries have probably helped carve out his role. With that said, Romero isn't ready for the majors. Every number screams that. If I controlled the team I would demote him immediately and bring back Abe Almonte as a reserve outfielder. Grade: D
  • Endy Chavez, OF - I can't believe Endy keeps finding his way back to the majors with the Mariners and playing significant innings. He's well past his prime and should be at the end of the bench (at best) mentoring younger players. I'm pleasantly shocked at the homer he hit the other day. He earns the following good grade because of that and how low my expectations are of Endy at this stage in his career. Grade: B
  • Cole Gillespie, OF - Cole looks a whole bunch like a AAAA outfielder - consistently strong production in AAA that consistently does not translate in the majors. The Mariners got a short burst of production from him and that's probably about all that could have been hoped for. Grade: C

Starting Rotation

  1. Felix Hernandez - Despite all the love and adoration showered on the King every five days, he is underrated. I really mean that. King Felix, to date, is having the best year of his career and it's not all that close. He should be a legitimate MVP candidate (not just Cy Young) with the way he's been pitching. Felix is in the middle of what could go down as the best season a Mariners pitcher has ever had. He's unreal. Grade: A
  2. Hisashi Iwakuma - 'Kuma isn't a second ace, and thankfully that conversation seems to have subsided with his recent subpar starts. He's a good pitcher though, and his skills play up and look even better in spacious Safeco Field. Iwakuma has given the Mariners exactly what should be expected of him since returning from injury. Grade: C
  3. Roenis Elias - There's an argument to be made that Roenis Elias is the unsung hero for the M's so far this year. The rotation started the year with all sorts of question marks and remains perilously thing thanks to continued injuries. Elias, as it turns out, was going to get the 17 starts he's made so far no matter how good or bad he was. Thankfully, he's been surprisingly good. He was ready for a rotation spot and has room to grow into a legitimate number 3, maybe a number 2 in a career year. Grade: A
  4. Chris Young - Much has been made of Young's comeback season so far, and how much of a savior he has been. Young has been a savior, don't get me wrong, but his success is much less surprising than Elias's. Young just had to stay healthy. He's pitching the way he has pitched for years now when he's healthy. The Mariners would be wise to add some rotation depth before Young gets injured again. Grade: C
  5. James Paxton - It's hard to grade Paxton. One one hand, those first two starts were phenomenal. It's easy to dream on what he could do for the Mariners coming down the stretch. However, he's injured...again. Paxton has a growing history of injuries that sideline him for stretches of seasons. It would be really, really nice if Paxton could get healthy and give the Mariners the depth they need in the rotation. Grade: D
  6. Erasmo Ramirez - I've long been a believer in Erasmo, but he's been horrible this year. It's hard to figure out where his control and command has gone. He's had every opportunity to nail down a spot in the rotation this year and can't find a way to do it. There's still time for Ramirez to develop, given that he's only 24 years old, but this year has been very disappointing thus far. Grade: F
  7. Taijuan Walker - Taijuan should make his season debut tomorrow, and that will be exciting. He has the potential to transform the Mariners rotation into a strength as the team pushes for a playoff spot. I expect Walker to have his ups and downs, but no other wild card contender has an arm like him bolstering their rotation midseason.


  • Joe Beimel - Beimel has resurrected his career in the M's bullpen and been a nice addition. Grade: B
  • Danny Farquhar - Lord Farquhar's breakout 2013 campaign was no fluke. He's filthy this year too. Sneaky good acquisition in the Ichiro trade. Grade: C
  • Charlie Furbush - The 'Bush has settled down after some early season struggles. He's taken a step back this year, though he's still quite good. Grade: D
  • Dominic Leone - While it's nice to think that Leone "came out of nowhere," minor league scouts raved about his stuff once the M's made him a full-time reliever. His success is nice, perhaps a pleasant surprise, but it hardly came out of nowhere. I think he's the first of a handful of nice bullpen arms the Mariners will develop over the next few seasons. Grade: B
  • Yoervis Medina - He is what he is, the definition of effectively wild - thankfully, emphasis on "effectively" so far this year. Grade: C
  • Tom Wilhelmsen - The Bartender found his command again this year, at least a bit better than last year. If I were Jack Zduriencik I'd actually be shopping him around a bit, because I'm guessing some other teams can see him as a closer again, or depth in case their closer struggles or gets hurt. Grade: B
  • Fernando Rodney - As much as I still believe that Rodney was an unnecessary investment, given how little budget the M's apparently had remaining, he's earning his keep. He is the M's best reliever, despite the roller coaster rides from time to time, because that fastball-changeup combo is rather unhittable. As a fan, I secretly enjoy ninth innings with Rodney. They are very entertaining, and for the most part successful. Grade: B
Averaging the grades I gave, the infield earns a 2.2 GPA, the outfield a 1.75 GPA, and the bench a 1.83 GPA. Overall, that suggests the offense has been near what was expected at the start of the year, or perhaps slightly below what was expected.

The starting rotation earns a 2.16 GPA from me, and the bullpen garners a 2.4 GPA. Overall, at least in my eyes, the pitching staff has been better than expected, and is ultimately the reason the Mariners have a winning record. I figured this would be a .500 team at the start of the year, and they are slightly better than that. Some of the credit for the pitching staff's success has to go to Mike Zunino and his precocious handling abilities early on in his career. Some also has to go to Lloyd McClendon, at least in my opinion, because both the rotation and bullpen seem to have a strong sense of when they will and won't pitch. I think that helps pitchers mentally prepare themselves and ultimately allows them to perform closer to their full potential.

I hope the Mariners make some deadline trades to improve this team. It's a team worth bolstering. They are in the thick of a playoff hunt and a little added talent could go a long way. There are clear areas of need at first base in the outfield, which makes improvement easier to do. It doesn't take an All Star to make this team better; a serviceable veteran at first base or in the outfield would do.

Overall, the Mariners have delivered an enjoyable season to date. There are good reasons to believe they can deliver an exciting pennant chase deep into September, if not beyond.

Farmhands of Note (2014 Midseason Report, Part 1)

 Chris Taylor (photo credit: by Mike McGinnis)
The Mariners play their 81st game tonight, exactly halfway through the schedule. That makes this time of year a nice one for reviewing the season so far, especially given that the trade deadline looms.

Minor league seasons aren't quite as a long as Major League ones, so they are passed halfway points or just starting seasons in the case of all the half-season affiliates. Regardless, it's time to check in on the farm.

This is a season of transition in the M's farm system because so many of the bigger names have graduated to the MLB roster over the past year and a half. Still, there are talents worth getting to know, some of which are posted here:

Tacoma Rainiers (AAA)
  • 1B Ji-Man Choi - Choi lost most of the first half to a 50-game suspension. However, his limited AAA at-bats show more of what he's flashed throughout his minor league ascent: patience with a little bit of  power. Choi recently started a game in the outfield too; I'm curious to see if that was just to get him on the field with Justin Smoak rehabbing, or something more to add some versatility. Choi is a guy to watch closely over the next month. I'll go out on a limb and say that, with a good July, Choi is in the majors by August - either with the Mariners, or with a team he's dealt to in a deadline trade for a bat.
  • INF Nick Franklin - I won't spend too much time on Franklin because he's a fairly well-covered player now. Franklin hits in AAA and is yet to produce similar results in the majors. Robinson Cano has displaced him. If I was Jack Zduriencik, this is the player I would center any trade around to acquire a bat.
  • RHP Stephen Kohlscheen - A former 45th round draft pick (!), Kohlscheen has quietly and methodically risen through the minor leagues. He just got to Tacoma a few weeks ago, but he was fantastic in AA. Given the struggles of Logan Bawcom and Carson Smith in Tacoma this year, there might be a larger opening for Kohlscheen than most realize. He's not a big-time prospect but it isn't hard to see him quietly eating up some middle innings in a bullpen in the near future. He's my early favorite to be a dark horse candidate for the M's opening day 2015 roster.
  • RHP Brandon Maurer - Technically, Maurer is a Mariner right now, but his ticket back to Tacoma will be punched any day now. He has flamed out as a starter the past year and a half, but reports are that his fastball reaches 98mph out of the bullpen. I am intrigued to see how he fares in a regular bullpen role, and given the aforementioned struggles of Bawcom and Smith, there are some bullpen innings to grab in Tacoma.
  • RHP Jordan Pries - For now, the Mariners rotation is fine, though history suggests it's only a matter of time before Chris Young breaks down. Pries is easily Tacoma's most productive starter and might be next in line for a rotation spot at this point (assuming Taijuan Walker gets called up for Monday's start). I've seen a few Pries starts in Tacoma. He's all about "pitch ability" and command, though not quite smoke and mirrors. He's basically another Blake Beavan at best. That might not sound exciting, but don't forget that Pries didn't cost Cliff Lee to acquire (the Mariners selected Pries in the 30th round in 2011).
  • SS Chris Taylor - Truth be told, the reason Nick Franklin is my top trade trip is because of Chris Taylor. I love Taylor. I don't think he's a star, but he's a darn good middle infielder and would have no problem stepping into a backup role on the Mariners right now. Taylor is a solid defender that has (and will) stick at shortstop, though he has also played some second base this year. He doesn't have the power that Franklin has, but consistently drives the ball in the gaps and has good speed that generates a few triples where others have doubles. I'll be surprised if both Taylor and Franklin are still in the Mariners system come August 1.
Jackson Generals (AA)
  • 3B Patrick Kivlehan - The former Rutgers football player continues to hit, even as he transitions out of High Desert's friendly confines and into a more pitcher-friendly Southern League. His defense is still an issue, and it's bad enough that he probably moves off of third base in the near future. At least I would move him off of third base at this point, and a corner outfield spot would make a ton of sense.
  • RHP Stephen Landazuri - Landazuri is a bit like Brandon Maurer in that he's a prep arm the Mariners signed rather late in the draft (22nd round in 2010) and have slowly developed. The fruits of their labor look like they are about to pay off again as Landazuri continues to post better and better numbers each year even as he faces more advanced competition. An injury sidelined him for about a month and a half, but he's back now, and should be watched closely in the second half.
  • 3B D.J. Peterson - The M's first round pick last year just got promoted to AA in the past week. It's amazing to me that he continues to play as much third base as he has. If he has a future in Seattle, it's clearly at first base. I would start grooming him at first base now with an eye towards making sure he's ready to take over at some point in 2015, perhaps as early as opening day.
  • SS Ketel Marte - The Mariners were very aggressive with Marte when they placed him AA this year. He's very young for AA (just 20 years old) and essentially skipped High Desert. However, Marte has made the Mariners look smart. While his hitting isn't amazing - he's a slap hitter with speed - it's as good as it was in Clinton. He's handled the jump just fine. Don't let the 23 errors fool you; Marte's calling card will be his defense as he matures. He profiles as an above-average defender at shortstop. It doesn't take much hitting for a slick fielding shortstop, particularly one with Marte's speed, to be an MLB-caliber player. Marte will never be a top prospect, but he's another reason that Nick Franklin should be expendable at the trade deadline.
  • LHP Tyler Olson - Olson got promoted to Jackson when Landazuri got hurt earlier this season, but wasn't sent back down once Landazuri was healthy. Olson, a southpaw from last year's draft, is already 24 years old and needed to move quickly through the minors to become an interesting prospect. He has, and so far has struck out more batters than I expected out of him. He's a fringe starting prospect at this point, and could provide depth as a sixth or seventh starter as early as next season.
High Desert Mavericks (A+)
  • OF Jabari Henry - Henry's path in the minors, at least at this early juncture, looks a bit like Stefen Romero's. Henry, like Romero, was a college bat that posted a deceptively good year in Clinton his first full season as a pro. This year Henry has erupted at High Desert's launching pad. If he continues to hit when he gets a promotion to Jackson, either at some point this summer or at the start of next year, he will generate buzz. For now the jury is still out.
  • RF Gabby Guerrero - Gabby started to flash his power potential at the tail end of last year in Clinton and has continued to build on that success. His game remains raw across the board, but the tools are there and the production is starting to show up.
  • C Tyler Marlette - The Mariners don't look like they'll need a catching prospect for a little while with Mike Zunino already producing in the majors, which makes Marlette a quiet trade chip for the upcoming trade deadline. Marlette can hit and his receiving skills continue to develop.
  • RHP Dylan Unsworth - Unsworth's season stats are pretty bad, but those need to be taken with a few grains of salt in High Desert. He's been doomed by unsustainable hits allowed and home run rates, which are partly products of High Desert's extreme hitting environment. Unsworth has flashed potential from time to time, most notably with a 12-strikeout performance on June 20. He's also from South Africa, if you are the type of fan who likes to root for international prospects from unexpected baseball locales.
Clinton LumberKings (A)
  • RHP Edwin Diaz - Diaz dominated in Pulaski last season and has followed up with a solid debut in full-season ball for the first time. I'm interested to see if the Mariners place him in High Desert next year or push him to Jackson. He's quite young at only 20 years old.
  • C Marcus Littlewood - Littlewood might be in the process of re-emerging as a prospect after an arduous transition to catcher. He projected to have a decent bat when he was drafted, but that disappeared until this season. Perhaps the high learning curve behind the plate was too much until this season. Littlewood will stay under the radar for the rest of this season, but next could (and needs) to be a big one for him if he's going to be a legitimate prospect. His production this year opens up the possibility that he could emerge.
  • OF Tyler O'Neill - O'Neill's season came to a screeching halt when he punched his hand into a concrete wall after a strikeout. Walls are still undefeated. However, pre-temper tantrum, O'Neill had 6 home runs in only 119 at-bats as one of the youngest batters in the Midwest League. It's historically a league that dampens power production, and 6 home runs over a full season for O'Neill could have been a success. He will hopefully be back on the field soon, and a strong finish to 2014 will put him in prime position to be a breakout prospect next year.
  • OF Austin Wilson - Wilson is a bit old for the Midwest League, and given his strong production, I'm a little surprised that he's still in Clinton. The power Wilson flashed in batting practice but not so often in Pac-12 games last year has been apparent in Clinton, which bodes well for his future. He still strikes out a fair amount though, which isn't an issue in low A, but should eventually be an issue.
The overarching message should be that the Mariners farm system is not bereft of talent. Jack Zduriencik has developed a pipeline. It's particularly telling that a handful of later draft picks are developing - that's a sign that the Mariners are honestly developing talent, not just lucking into finished products.  The Mariners have a deep enough system to pursue some sort of bat at the trading deadline without mortgaging their entire future.

2014 Draft: Mariners Recap

The MLB Draft wrapped up today, meaning all 40 of the Mariners draft picks are in. Time to take a glance at all of them with the always entertaining and fleetingly insightful pick-by-pick grades!

  1. Alex Jackson, RF, Rancho Bernardo HS (CA) - Great fit for the organization and great value, even at sixth overall. Jackson was in the discussion for best bat in the whole draft class, and he's certainly the most compelling right-handed bat, and the M's could really use some right-handed juice to balance out the lineup. Jackson could stick at catcher but the Mariners are smartly moving him off the position to let his back carry him as far and fast as it can. Grade: A
  2. (Actually competitive balance round B) Gareth Morgan, OF, Blyth Acadamy (ON) - Morgan was, without question, the top Canadian prospect in this year's draft class. Like Alex Jackson he packs a ton of power in his right-handed bat, though he is more raw with more contact issues. Still, pick 74 was the right range for him and he fits an organizational need. Neither he nor Jackson are surefire things, so I particularly like that the Mariners got both of them. The odds of multiple prospects flaming out are lower than just one. Grade: A
  3. Austin Cousino, CF, Kentucky - Cousino has a concerning strikeout rate, but mixes gap power with good speed and tremendous defense at a premium defensive position. Looks like a fourth outfielder at best to me. I don't mind his skillset, but this is a little early to take him. Grade: D
  4. Ryan Yarbrough, LHP, Old Dominion - Yarbrough, a senior, has great size at 6'6" but not much production. Uninspiring selection, though it's worth noting that it seems the Mariners on day 2 reached over and over - possibly to save some money to make sure they get both Jackson and Morgan signed. Worth keeping in mind, though this is still very early for a guy like Yarbrough to go. Like Cousino, I have no problem with Yarbrough getting drafted, but this is way too early for what he brings to the table as a prospect. Grade: F
  5. Dan Altavilla, RHP, Mercyhurst College (PA) - Altavilla completely dominated at Mercyhurst and also got a few innings in the Cape Cod league last summer. He walked too many batters there but held his own. Not a bad guy to take a chance on; I'm intrigued to see what he does. Grade: B
  6. Lane Ratliff, LHP Jones County JC (MS) - Ratliff struck out a bunch of batters in the junior college ranks but also gave up a bunch of home runs. Like several of the M's day 2 guys, I like that he got drafted, but I don't think he needed to be drafted this high. Still, that K rate is really nice and sometimes home runs are fluky. I'll trust the M's on this one. Grade: C
  7. Taylor Byrd, LHP, Nicholls State - Quietly productive lefty that cut down his walk rate dramatically from his junior to senior season without a drop in his strikeouts or uptick in hits allowed. Nice pickup at this point in the draft. Grade: B
  8. Kody Kerski, RHP, Sacred Heart - Diminutive righty that looks like he has tapped out all his potential. Not much growth in his stats from junior to senior season. Perhaps he looks better in a bullpen role? He was productive as a starter. Grade: D
  9. Peter Miller, RHP, Florida State - It's hard to make sense of Miller's stats. They are all over the place. His playing time cut down as a senior, which suggests other FSU pitchers surpassed him. FSU is one of the premier baseball programs in the nation though. Still, Miller was a 16th round draft pick last year and took some steps back this year. No need for him to get drafted this high. Grade: F
  10. Adam Martin, C, Western Carolina - Another senior college player drafted by the Mariners, Martin packs a punch with his bat, though it comes with lots of strikeouts. He also plays a premium defensive position, which is a plus. Nice pick. Grade: B
  11. Jay Muhammad, RHP, Coral Springs Christian Academy (FL) - I don't have much to go off of or say with Muhammad. The video linked to shows a body that's easy to dream about growing and increasing velocity with it. He already throws 86mph or so, with a few 90mph readings thrown in. Maybe the Mariners know he'll sign even though this is a bit late for some prep players. Grade: C
  12. Nelson Ward, SS, Georgia - The junior shortstop really improved his plate discipline and hit for a little more gap power. I like the progress, especially if he can stick at shortstop. His growth in college is impressive. Grade: A
  13. Marvin Gorgas, RHP, East Hampton HS (CT) - Gorgas is small but packs a punch, consistently hitting the low 90s with his fastball. He extends well. No doubt he would have been a higher pick if he was taller. I'm impressed someone with his stuff was still available here. Grade: A
  14. Chris Mariscal, SS, Fresno State - He better field because he doesn't look like much of a hitter. Grade: F
  15. Lukas Schiraldi, RHP, Texas - Most interesting thing to me is that Schiraldi is listed at 6'4" on his Baseball Cube page, but 6'6" on the MLB draft tracker. He's tall either way, but a surprise growth spurt might explain his lack of control and strikeouts this year. I hope it does, because otherwise I can't find a redeeming quality in this pick. Grade: D
  16. Wayne Taylor, C, Stanford - Dude can't hit and he's getting a Stanford education. Wayne, if you read this blog, stay for your senior year and get your degree. You'll get drafted again next year. Grade: F
  17. Trey Cochran-Gill, RHP, Auburn - He's a short right-hander that doesn't strike anyone out in relief. Oh, and Trey is a junior, so he can go back to school and see if he improves his stock. Huge fan of this pick. Grade: F
  18. Nick Kiel, LHP, Bellevue CC (WA) - I'll never argue with a local pick on day 3. Never. Plus, though Kiel is undersized, he was a lights-out ace! Grade: A
  19. Rohn Pierce, RHP, Canisius - Doesn't strike anyone out, but also doesn't walk anyone or give up hits. A junior and a candidate to go back to school and see what happens next year. Grade: D
  20. Hawtin Buchanan, RHP, Mississippi - Love the name, and considering he's from Biloxi, Mississippi I can hear in my head the heavy southern drawl I desperately hope he has. Hawtin has pitched very little for the Rebels, but when he has he's been ineffectively wild - with strikeout though! And he's 6'8". And his name is Hawtin. I just can't hate on this pick, all things considered. Grade: C
  21. Jay Baum, SS, Clemson - Sneaky good pick if he signs, given that he's a junior. Baum's double rate exploded this year and he's always made consistent contact. Some clear signs he's starting to square up the ball in ways he hasn't before. I could see him getting picked much earlier next year if he goes back to Clemson for his senior year. Grade: B
  22. Jarrett Brown, LHP, Georgia - This junior lefty reliever had a brutal season. Stay in school, Jarrett! You'll get drafted next year and odds are you'll get picked higher. Grade: F
  23. Pat Peterson, LHP, NC State - I like Pat's brother, Eric, more but Pat will do at this stage in the draft (if he signs; he's another junior). Steady producer that keeps improving. Grade: B
  24. Sheehan Planas-Arteaga, 1B, Barry - I'm a sucker for small school guys with huge numbers on day 3, and Sheehan fits that mold perfectly. He had 41 walks this season. Nobody wanted to pitch to him and yet he still slugged .600. Grade: A
  25. Vinny Nittoli, RHP, Xavier - Don't like the low strikeout rate, but do like the significant growth from season to season. Perhaps he could miss more bats in a relief role too. Nice pick at this stage in the draft. Grade: B
  26. Taylor Smart, SS, Tennessee - I'll avoid all the dumb puns with this pick and simply note that, though Smart played for Tennessee, he was born in Maple Valley, WA! That and he had a solid senior season for the Vols. Grade: A
  27. Andrew Peterson, 2B, Oregon State - No bat, but at least the Mariners kept contact with one of the best baseball programs in the region. Grade: D
  28. Dominic Blanco, C, Gulf Coast HS (FL) - Do you get excited when a draft pick has no chance of signing? Stop being excited. My biggest pet peeve with the MLB draft is how every team punts late picks on high school players with pretty much no chance of signing. Grade: F
  29. Tyler Herb, RHP, Coastal Carolina - I will cave in with my words here and say that Herb could use a spicy out pitch. But at least he's a seasoned senior that should sign. Grade: C
  30. James Alfonso, C, Hartford - Fun fact! Jeff Bagwell went to Hartford. He was also drafted 26 rounds before Alfonso. James has a decent bat and plays one of those premium defensive positions. Also a senior. Grade: B
  31. DeAires Moses, CF, East Nashville Magnet School (TN) - I'll give some points just for the name. Also, I love when a place of education is called a magnet school with no further explanation. What does a magnet school in Tennessee attract? BBQ? Blues guitar players? Can DeAires Moses cook some mean ribs or play some cold-blooded pentatonic riffs? Grade: D
  32. Chase Nyman, 2B, East Mississippi JC (MS) - Nyman brings some speed and contact ability, and he's already set to sign. He had a circuitous route as an amateur, starting at Ole Miss, then going to Chipola JC, then East Mississippi, and he planned to walk on at Mississippi State until the Mariners drafted him. Grade: B
  33. Tom Verdi, SS, Connecticut - Really question Verdi's hitting ability, but he plays shortstop and has a little speed. Also a senior. Grade: C
  34. Andrew Summerville, LHP, Lakeside HS (WA) - Although a prep pick, a local one. Maybe he wants to be true to the blue! Grade: B
  35. Chris McGrath, LHP, Marist School (GA) - Not a local prep pick. Extremely doubtful he wants to be true to the blue. Grade: F
  36. Spencer Hermann, LHP, Fisher - Lefty with decent numbers at a small school. Grade: C
  37. Sam Lindquist, RHP, Stanford - Tall righty that rarely pitched, but he's from Mercer Island. Grade: A
  38. Taylor Zeutenhorst, OF, Iowa - Cool name and he hit 9 home runs this past season out of nowhere, though with a stunning number of strikeouts. Grade: B
  39. Kavin Keyes, 3B, Oregon State - Keyes lacks power but makes contact, for what it's worth. Grade: C
  40. Scott Manaea, C, St. John's HS (NY) - Prep catcher that won't sign to finish the draft. Wooooo. Grade: F
Overall I like this Mariners draft class. I love how they handled their two picks on day one. Those picks seemed to cast a heavy shadow on day two, although I still think the Mariners could have found more talent without risking bonus money. Lastly, day three was nice, with several local picks in the late rounds. The success of the class clearly rides on the broad shoulders of Jackson and Morgan at the top, though a handful of arms that could develop into bullpen pieces or spot starters were added as well. I'd call this a strategic haul that complements the pieces already in the farm system.

2014 Draft: Day 3 Preview

It's getting very late so I won't write much. I'll say more about the Mariners draft in my annual pick-by-pick rundown, but day 2 at first glance looks pretty boring by design. Lots of...affordable picks today, potentially because Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan come with some noteworthy price tags. I'm okay with affordable picks if it means getting both of those guys signed.

Day 3 is the day I like to turn and give whatever due respect I can to college seniors. As I comb through data I'm constantly amazed at the tremendous seasons players have across the nation...only to not get drafted. I wouldn't go as far as saying it's a shame, especially now that the draft is 40 rounds instead of 50, but I will say that I like the idea of more baseball teams using late round picks to honor good careers with a paycheck in a rookie league for a few months. Just give these players enough of a taste of pro ball for some of these noteworthy players in their own right to be able to say they were drafted and played a few pro games. On a related note, the number of accomplished players in college who do nothing, even in the minors, reminds me how difficult baseball is, and just how phenomenal even the worst MLB players are.

Here it is, the list for the third and final day of the draft, rounds 11 through 40:

Remaining from the Day 2 Preview
  • Mike Alexander, C, Delaware State
  • Dustin Beggs, RHP, Georgia Perimeter College
  • Jace Conrad, 2B, Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Matt Cooper, RHP, Hawai'i
  • Matt Fraudin, RHP, Gardner Webb
  • Connor Goedert, 3B, Neosho County CC
  • Chase Harris, OF, New Mexico
  • Casey Jones, UT, Elon
  • Jake Kelzer, RHP, Indiana
  • Conor Lourey, RHP, High Point
  • Keaton McKinney, RHP, Ankeny HS (IA)
  • Cody Mincey, RHP, South Carolina
  • Aaron Nardone, OF, Delaware State
  • Julio Nunez, UT, Alabama A&M
  • Connor Panas, 1B/3B, Canisius
  • Eric Peterson, RHP, NC State
  • Brandon Rawe, OF, Morgan State
  • Joel Seddon, RHP, South Carolina
  • James Vasquez, 1B, Central Florida - Hit well with an advanced approach at the plate, though his bat is his only tool.
Some college seniors more than worth recognizing
  • Kevin Archbold, LHP, Albany
  • Anthony Azar, C, Sam Houston State
  • Mat Batts, LHP, UNC-Wilmington
  • Tim Colwell, OF, North Dakota State
  • James Connell, RHP, Kennesaw State
  • Montana Durapau, RHP, Bethune-Cookman
  • Joey Epperson, LF, UCSB
  • Casey Grayson, 1B, Houston
  • Sean Godfrey, OF, Ball State
  • Mackenzie Handel, OF, Stephen F. Austin
  • Zach Hirsch, LHP, Nebraska
  • Tyler Kuresa, 1B, UCSB
  • Bo Logan, LHP, Florida Atlantic
  • Whit Mayberry, RHP, Virginia
  • Kyle McKenzie, RHP, Tulane
  • Danny Mooney, RHP, Davidson
  • Clay Murphy, RHP, Missouri State
  • Seth Neely, 1B, Wofford
  • Ryan Plourde, C/OF, Fairfield
  • Chase Raffield, OF, Georgia State
  • Bennie Robinson, 1B, Florida A&M
  • Dan Savas, RHP, Illinois State
  • J.P. Sportman, OF, Central Connecticut State
  • Scott Weathersby, RHP, Mississippi
  • T.J. Weir, RHP, Ball State
  • Nic Wilson, 1B, Georgia State
  • Andrew Woeck, RHP, NC State
  • Brian Wolfe, 1B, Washington
The MLB draft resumes at 10 a.m. Pacific time, and I'd recommend using the draft tracker

2014 Draft: Day 2 Preview

I don't have a ton of time to write about day one tonight, but there isn't much to say either that hasn't already been said. If you read my top 27 preview yesterday you probably noticed that I called Alex Jackson the Mariners dream scenario. So, I like the M's top pick, to say the least. I also like Gareth Morgan at pick 74. Great fits, great value, great everything. Definitely some bust potential in both bats, but that power is something the Mariners really need to grab in the draft. Between D.J. Peterson Austin Wilson last year, plus Alex Jackson and Gareth Morgan this year, I like the odds that the Mariners have at least one future masher in their farm system now.

Without further ado, some more names to watch out for on day 2...

Still Available from my top 27 (ranking in parentheses):
  • LHP Aaron Brown (23)
Some additional position prospects to watch for:

  • Caleb Adams, OF, Louisiana-Lafayette - Flashed good power and good patience for an underrated Ragin' Cajuns team.
  • Mike Alexander, C, Delaware State - Senior, but very productive bat at a premium position. Might be worth a pick, especially for a team with pricey draft picks from earlier in the draft.
  • Jace Conrad, 2B, Louisiana-Lafayette - A little aggressive at the plate, but chance to hit for some average with speed at a position where it doesn't take much offense to be productive.
  • Connor Goedert, 3B, Neosho County CC - Goedert is set to go to Wichita State and on some level replace first round pick Casey Gillaspie. However, I'd be curious to see if an MLB could convince him to go pro this year. I like Goedert's hitting potential.
  • Chase Harris, OF, New Mexico - New Mexico is a launching pad, but Harris still looks like a good hitter to me.
  • Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Sacramento State - Polished approach at the plate with power, though accomplished in a small school against lower college competition.
  • Casey Jones, UT, Elon - Did a little bit of everything, both offensively and defensively, at Elon.  Makes me wonder if all that flexibility can play up and congeal into some sort of MLB player.
  • Kevin Krause, C/OF, Stony Brook - Productive small school player at a premium position. Worth a look as the draft advances into the later stages.
  • Trace Loehr, SS, Rex Putnam HS (OR) - Not sure about Loehr's power potential, but solid contact ability with a chance to stick at a premium defensive position.
  • Jordan Luplow, OF, Fresno State - A bit of a one-year wonder, but an intriguing speed/power combo if he is the real deal.
  • Gareth Morgan, OF, North Toronto Collegiate Institute (Canada) - The best Canadian prospect this year. Morgan has significant power potential but makes inconsistent contact. I don't think his swing needs as much reworking as Michael Gettys's though.
  • Aaron Nardone, OF, Delaware State - Extremely productive senior.
  • Julio Nunez, UT, Alabama A&M - Similar to Casey Jones; a little bit of everything everywhere. Maybe enough of his skills develop to make him a future big-league player.
  • Connor Panas, 1B/3B, Canisius - Exhibited power and speed, though with more strikeouts than I'd like to see in a small school prospect.
  • Milton Ramos, SS, American Heritage School (FL) - I wonder about the bat, but the fielding is really good, and worth drafting him for alone.
  • Matthew Railey, OF, North Florida Christian HS (FL) - Railey's bat is his calling card. Could hit for average and power.
  • Brandon Rawe, OF, Morgan State - Flashed some power and hitting ability, though against lower level college competition.
  • James Vasquez, 1B, Central Florida - Hit well with an advanced approach at the plate, though his bat is his only tool.

Some additional pitching prospects to watch for:

  • Dustin Beggs, RHP, Georgia Perimeter College - One of the most productive pitchers in the JUCO ranks
  • Matt Campbell, RHP, Clemson - A senior, but very productive in the ACC. I like ACC players.
  • Dylan Cease, RHP, Milton HS (GA) - Would be picked higher but he has injury concerns (and a body/windup that would suggest injury concerns). Really good stuff though.
  • Michael Cederoth, RHP, San Diego State - The lazy comparison is former Aztec fire-baller Stephen Strasburg, but the better Aztec comparison is D'Backs closer Addison Reed. Cederoth doesn't have either pitcher's breaking stuff, but he's a productive closer with an electric fastball.
  • Matt Cooper, RHP, Hawai'i - A senior but utterly dominant. Worth a pick, especially for a team worried about salary bonus totals.
  • Zac Curtis, LHP, Middle Tennessee State - One of my favorite "sleepers" in the draft. Curtis looks like a LOOGY on the mound given how short and slight of build he is. However, he rushes the ball up in the low 90s and was one of the most productive pitchers in all of college baseball this year.
  • Austin DeCarr, RHP, Salisbury School (CT) - Prep players from northern schools get less exposure to due shorter baseball seasons so I try to keep closer eyes on guys like DeCarr. Has good size, velocity, and some feel for a breaking ball.
  • Brock Dykxhoorn, RHP, Central Arizona College - Deserves to be drafted based only on his name, but he's also been extremely productive.
  • Mike Franco, RHP, Florida International - Productive college arm that's flown under the radar a bit despite stuff that grades as MLB legit, including velocity in the low 90s.
  • Matt Fraudin, RHP, Gardner Webb - Small school pitcher that gave up some extra base hits but the rest of his peripheral stats look really good.
  • Jace Fry, LHP, Oregon State - Not elite K numbers, but extremely productive for a great team in a very strong conference.
  • Jonathan Holder, RHP, Mississippi State - One of the most productive college closers of all time, for what it's worth. Holder's best pitch is a hammer curve. Probably not much of a ceiling with him but it's easy to see him as a bullpen contributor in the near future for someone.
  • Jake Kelzer, RHP, Indiana - Kelzer is another sleeper pick of mine. His main sport has been swimming despite his 6'7" frame. I kind of want to see him swim, honestly. He pitched very well out of Indiana's bullpen this year though with feel for a breaking ball.
  • Conor Lourey, RHP, High Point - Have to feature Lourey just to link to this fantastically college-grade feature on him for a High Point sports broadcasting class. Also, Lourey is a 6'8" behemoth on the mound with big-time production, though out of bullpens at lower levels of competition.
  • Keaton McKinney, RHP, Ankeny HS (IA) - Another more northern prospect. Features a good frame with a good fastball and solid mechanics.
  • Cody Mincey, RHP, South Carolina - Super productive reliever in the SEC
  • Eric Peterson, RHP, NC State - Bit of a home run problem but everything else in his numbers was great. Interestingly, sometimes college pitchers that make it in the pros have elevated home run rates. Not completely sure why, but perhaps because they've built velocity suddenly and not figured out how to command it quite yet?
  • Jeremy Rhodes, RHP, Illinois State - Extremely productive college arm, albeit in a small conference.
  • Reed Reilly, RHP, Cal Poly - Some control issues, but very difficult to hit and a nice, big frame for pitching.
  • Bradley Roney, RHP, Southern Miss - Like Reilly, some control issues, but pro-caliber stuff and results in college that support the scouting reports on his stuff.
  • Carson Sands, LHP, North Florida Christian HS (FL) - Prep left that might have got buried amidst all the great lefties in this draft. Nice pitching ability right now with classic body type that looks like it could fill out and add velocity.
  • Jordan Schwartz, RHP, Niagara - Another small school arm with intriguing stats, outside a small home run issue.
  • Joel Seddon, RHP, South Carolina - Burst on the scene this year as a highly productive member of the Gamecocks bullpen. His lack of playing time before this year is a blessing and a curse - is he a fluke or could he potentially be ready to take off? Certainly worth taking a chance on in day 2.
The MLB draft resumes at 10 a.m. Pacific time, and I'd recommend using the draft tracker.

2014 Draft: My Top 27

The MLB draft starts tomorrow! Even as my work year winds down with the end of school, I spared enough hours to look through the college ranks and "scout" the top prep players - and by "scout," I mean scour YouTube after looking at whatever free lists I could find across the internet.

I wouldn't say my draft list is a joke. I spend some legitimate time on it and do what I can to bring my own perspective and insights. However, quite frankly, if my draft board outperforms anybody's (especially an MLB team's) then they need to reconsider how they are using their resources. Me, volunteering maybe 15 hours of my time with only publicly available data and videos, should never beat out a professional scouting department.

The scary thing, to me at least, is that I probably could run a pretty decent draft with the info I gather most years. Let that thought sit in as I unveil my 2014 top 27, the shortest list in a while because of the shortest first round in a while. Enjoy!

27. Luis Ortiz, RHP, Sanger HS (CA) - Ortiz features a power fastball and power breaking ball which together make him one of the most productive pitchers in this year's prep class. That is no small accomplishment because this draft class features a ton of really good prep pitchers. There have been some concerns with Ortiz's conditioning but his physique improved considerably this season. All things considered, he looks like a future closer to me if he reaches his full potential.

26. Tyler Kolek, RHP, Shepherd HS (TX) - You will have a very hard time finding a list with Kolek lower. He's in the discussion for the first overall pick, and the rumors I'm reading suggest he won't make it past the White Sox at third overall. I came into this process assuming I would rank Kolek first overall but the more I thought about him and where he should rank he slipped down my draft board. The case for Kolek is pretty simple: he's blessed with a phenomenal arm. Kolek hits 100mph in high school with stunning ease. Some say he is the hardest prep thrower they've ever seen. That arm strength was why I expected to put him first overall on my draft board. However, when I watched some video of him pitching, all I saw was throwing. I saw no pitching. Kolek throws really hard all the time. The good news is that his fastball is so overwhelming that it's enough to destroy prep batters. It won't be enough as a professional. I still like Kolek, but this draft class is loaded with pitchers who throw nearly as hard as Kolek with more command, better off-speed pitches, and a better feel for pitching.

25. Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Sandalwood HS (FL) - Reid-Foley bounced all around my rankings and if I kept thinking about this list he would probably bounce around some more. His skill set has a hard time standing out in this year's crowded prep crowd, which is both his greatest strength and weakness. Reid-Foley throws pretty hard (into the low 90s) but doesn't have elite velocity. He's got good breaking stuff. He also has good command. Reid-Foley does a little bit of everything well but has no signature thing, like Tyler Kolek's blazing velocity for instance.

24. Spencer Adams, RHP, White County HS (GA) - I seem to be a bit higher on Adams than other rankings I've seen, though not much higher. I think he will sneak into the first round one way or another. Adams has a prototypical pitcher's body - tall, long limbs, and easy, repeatable mechanics. I like him a ton because he also plays basketball, which suggests tremendous athleticism and the potential for rapid growth as he focuses on baseball. It's the same formula that catapulted Taijuan Walker to where he is in the Mariners system today. Adams doesn't throw quite as hard as Walker, but he could add some velocity in time. Adams already has a simple wind up, and he has a breaking ball that flashes as a good pitch.

23. Aaron Brown, LHP, Pepperdine - Brown also plays the outfield at Pepperdine but his future is on the mound. He hits for power and not much else. Brown is already an accomplished pitcher and I like his potential to develop more than most college lefties as he focuses only on pitching. It also helps that Brown does not have to rely on "pitchability" (basically some mix of command and the ability to zig when a batter wants to zag). He has a good arm.

22. Matt Imhof, LHP, Cal Poly - Imhof is sort of like the collegiate version of Sean Reid-Foley. He's easy to lose in the mix because the college ranks have a crazy number of good left-handed starting pitchers. Imhoff cuts an imposing figure on the mound at 6'6" and each year at Cal Poly has figured out how to leverage his frame into better and better results. Imhof held his own on Team USA last summer and followed up with a terrific junior campaign. The significant growth from year to year makes me wonder how high Imhof's ceiling is. Maybe he's found it, maybe there are a few more major steps forward to come.

21. Nick Burdi, RHP, Louisville - There was some noise that Louisville would transition Burdi to the starting rotation this year, but they kept him at closer where he slammed the door (again) all season long. Burdi features a fastball that sits in the upper 90s that could get him to the majors in a hurry if he stays a reliever. I would keep him in the bullpen if I was the team drafting him.

20. Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco - Finally, a position player! I think this is a bit of a down year for bats, but really it's hard to tell because this is definitely a great year for pitching. Zimmer brings an intriguing power/speed combo to the ballpark, though with some contact issues. His skill set reminds me some of Chris Young (the outfielder, not the Mariners pitcher/savior of the rotation.)

19. Sean Newcomb, LHP, Hartford - I've seen some whispers that Newcomb could be the Mariners pick at number six. That's a bit high for him if you ask me, though not a bad pick. Newcomb has great stuff, namely a fastball that can reach 95 or so from the left side. Also, while Newcomb is a pitcher from a small school, he held his own in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer. Usually someone like Newcomb would be higher on my board but there's simply so many quality arms this year.

18. Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville - Freeland and Newcomb are essentially interchangeable on my board, though they are not the same pitcher. Freeland doesn't have Newcomb's pure power (though Freeland throws in the low 90s so he's not a soft tosser). He possesses stunning command. Freeland's skill set outperformed Newcomb in the Cape Cod League so I went with him above Newcomb here.

17. Jacob Lindgren, LHP, Mississippi State - I've seen Lindgren cracking top 100 lists but I am higher on him than most. To start with, Lindgren's production is comparable to both the guys below him on my list, Newcomb and Freeland, but he got his results in a major conference at a larger school. He was overpowering as a reliever this year, though not exactly a revelation given how productive he was as a starting pitcher his sophomore year. Lindgren features a fastball in the low to mid 90s (depending on if he is starting or relieving) and a nasty curveball that lefties in particular struggle against. I would try Lindgren as a starter but he should make a good bullpen lefty if starting doesn't work out.

16. A.J. Reed, 1B, Kentucky - Reed is a classic slugging first base prospect. He will hit singers. He will also strike out. No college bat has more power than Reed, hence his ranking on this list. I wouldn't be annoyed if the Mariners took him, though it would be a reach and Reed's contact issues give him so bust potential. Reed pitches some for Kentucky too so perhaps there is some more growth to come at the plate. He's a better hitter than pitcher so there isn't much doubt he should play first base as a pro.

15. Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU - Nola is a pretty popular pick for the Mariners at number six in mock drafts. While he wouldn't be a bad pick I'm not sure he would be a good one either. Nola had a magical season at LSU that capped off a remarkably productive college career. Nola's greatest asset is his command, though to say he is a soft-tosser when he throws in the low 90s would be disingenuous. Still, Nola's breaking stuff isn't too special (other than his ability to place it), though his three-quarters delivery seems to add some deception. He profiles as a guy that could make it to the majors very fast but doesn't have much of a ceiling. Still, Nola might be the safest bet in the whole draft to make a contribution as a starting pitcher - just quite unlikely to ever anchor a staff. I'd like to see the Mariners go for some star power; Safeco Field can help guys less than Nola perform like Nola.

14. Daniel Gossett, RHP, Clemson - Much like Lindgren, I see Gossett popping up later on most prospect lists and few seem as high on him as me. In general, I think ACC prospects get undervalued. It is the best baseball conference in the nation. Gossett's scouting report reads similar to Nola's - righty with good command, relatively mediocre stuff (a low 90s fastball and solid change up) and great command. His numbers are very similar to Nola's too, but he performed in a tougher conference. Clemson's team isn't as good as LSU's, and Nola also had a long scoreless innings streak that generated buzz. I think these are the main reasons that Nola is better known than Gossett. Niether of those facts mean much going forward. In my eyes, Nola and Gossett are pretty much the same pitching prospect, though Nola is likely to go in the top 10 and Gossett has a good chance to wait until day 2 to get drafted.

13. Kodi Medeiros, LHP, Waiakea HS (HI) - I like Medeiros more than most, sort of. Really I just value his skill set more than most. Few argue with Kodi's electric stuff. He generates insane movement on all his pitches, and his sidearm delivery makes the pitches even tougher to pick up. Medeiros has the nastiest stuff of any pitcher in this draft, college arms included. However, he also has trouble commanding his pitches, didn't face very stiff competition, and looks like the type of pitcher that could break down early in his career. Medeiros is a polarizing prospect, but I've got enough of the Seahawks mentality in me to love him. Don't worry about the faults, worry about the strengths. Medeiros has some unreal stuff from the left side. Watch how much trouble the catcher has because he keeps underestimating how much the ball will move. The catcher is Jakson Reetz, a very good prospect in his own right likely to be drafted on day 2, or potentially near the end of day 1:

12. Trea Turner, SS, NC State - Turner's spot on my big board has as much to do with position scarcity as it does his talent. Turner flashed blazing speed on the base paths as a freshman, and his speed is still his best tool. Everything else about Turner is largely unspectacular, but he also boasts no liabilities. Decent bat, decent power, decent patience, decent defense...solid all around. He does all of that at shortstop though, so all his tools play up considerably. There aren't many shortstops, even in the Major Leagues, with the mix of tools that Turner possesses. He could be a good leadoff hitter, which at shortstop carries significant value. He's another popular name linked to the Mariners, and depending on how the draft goes, I could be rather content with him at number six.

11. Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS (FL) - Gordon has emerged as a consensus top-5 pick so I have some explaining as to why I have him ranked this low. Gordon didn't look all that good in summer showcase events, which is where all the Youtube videos come from, so he started completely off of my board. However, scouts say he fixed some of the flaws he showed at the plate in the summer, and the production he had his senior year backs that up. At the end of the day Gordon is a borderline five-tool talent at a premium defensive position. I saw an extremely raw batter in summer showcases, but his senior season quelled some of my concerns. Gordon will get billed a "can't miss" phenom if  he goes in the top 5, but that's an exaggeration. There are holes and concerns, particularly with his approach and consistency at the plate, but his talent is more than worth taking a chance on.

10. Michael Chavis, 3B, Sprayberry HS (GA) - Chavis plays shortstop but I think his home will be at third base. Chavis has a great bat and his body type suggests he will fill out and lose some of the mobility that lets him range around at shortstop for the time being. With that said, Chavis already carries a big stick and more size will bring more power. There's also a strong record of shortstops becoming elite defenders at third base. Evan Longoria and Manny Machado come to mind.

9. Touiki Toussaint, RHP, Coral Springs Christian Academy (FL) - Toussaint, in my opinion, has the most upside of any prospect in this entire draft. I hope you are sitting down before you watch him unleash his curve ball (first one snaps off around the 31 second mark):

Medeiros has the most electric stuff of any pitcher in this draft, but Toussaint's curve ball is the deadliest pitch in the entire draft. It's absurd, and as it turns out, Toussaint hasn't quite figured out how to command it yet. That's partly because Toussaint is also a starting outfielder on his prep team, and would be a legitimate pro prospect as an outfielder. However, that curve ball is the reason everyone believes he is a pitcher (well, that and because his fastball gets into the upper 90s).

What's even more amazing about Toussaint is that he didn't start pitching until 4 or 5 years ago. He got a much later start than other elite prospects. This is partly due to his back story. Toussaint is Haitian, and he says he learned to deal with draft prep pressure from watching his father, a high ranking politician in Haiti. Toussaint wasn't a child in the United States' hyper-competitive elite sports culture which tends to identify athletic talent early on.

This will be my longest write up on any prospect, if you haven't guessed by now. Toussaint is my favorite prospect in the 2014 draft. His coaches say he lights up a room with his positive energy, and why wouldn't he be happy with his crazy athletic ability and even crazier curve ball? Toussaint is still quite raw, and too raw for me to rationally put him atop this year's big board. However, I hope Toussaint lands in an organization that knows how to cultivate pitching prospects because I want to see him harness all his potential.

8. Brandon Finnegan, LHP, TCU - Finnegan is relatively short. He might be six feet tall, he might not be. However, he brings the heat, touching 95mph throughout his starts and complimenting his fastball with some nice off speed offerings. Finnegan has been a productive college pitcher and was one of the better arms for Team USA last summer. He profiles as a guy who could fly through a minor league farm system.

7. Michael Conforto, LF, Oregon State - Conforto is a super local product, considering that he graduated from Redmond High School. He didn't get drafted out of high school, which is rare for a college slugger so high on draft boards as a junior. I'm not the only one high on him, though I have him a bit higher on my board than most. Conforto can flat-out rake. He hits for average and power with an advanced approach at the plate. He has a good feel for the strike zone and exhibits great plate coverage with his swing. The knock on Conforto is his athleticism, which likely limits him defensively to left field. This draft class has lots of defensive liabilities though, and few of them offer the kind of talent and skills at the plate that Conforto brings. He would be an interesting pick for the Mariners at six, though he is left handed, like just about every other impact bat the Mariners already have.

6. Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State - Pentecost surged up my draft board as my research unfolded. I have my worries about him because he played at a rather small school, but his video tape looks good, his Cape Cod numbers last summer were great, and scouts generally like his game. Most think Pentecost can stick behind the plate, which boosts his value. Most also think he projects as a doubles hitter though I think he has a bit more power than that. He certainly flashed more in the Cape Cod league last summer. Regardless, good hitters are hard to find at catcher, whether they are double hitters or something more.

5. Casey Gillaspie, 1B, Wichita State - The younger brother of White Sox third baseman Connor Gillaspie, Casey is likely to get drafted even higher than his older brother who is a former compensatory first round selection. Casey is a switch hitter that will play first base because he doesn't have the athleticism for really anywhere else. Gillaspie pretty much profiles to be everything the Mariners hope for Justin Smoak. Casey is a switch-hitter that has flashed above-average power with a great approach at the plate and sure hands with unspectacular range at first base. Gillaspie is a realistic target for the Mariners at the sixth pick and he is one of two college bats I would seriously consider if I were Jack Zduriencik.

4. Kyle Schwarber, C, Indiana - Here's the other college bat I would target if I were Z. Schwarber will likely be available for the Mariners. I'm a bit higher on him than most, though I'm not totally sure why. Schwarber has a great bat and he plays a premium position. There's significant doubt about Schwarber sticking at catcher but he might be athletic enough to handle a corner outfield spot, and should have a good enough bat for first base too. The Mariners could still use hitters and their biggest holes are in the corner outfield and first base. Either Schwarber fills an organizational need or he sticks at catcher where he becomes tantalizing trade bait (assuming Mike Zunino locks down catcher, which looks safe if you ask me). The only knock on Schwarber from a Mariners perspective, is that he's a left-handed bat.

3. Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (CA) - In a perfect world the Mariners get this guy right here, but I don't expect him to fall outside the top five. Jackson is likely the best power prospect in this draft. There are questions about whether he sticks as a catcher or not, though I personally think he can. His transfer on throws to second is impressively quick. I think the bigger question is if a team wants to keep Jackson's bat in the minors long enough to iron out all the intricacies of catching. I know I wouldn't. I'd put him in right field from day one and let him hit his way to the majors.

2. Carlos Rodon, LHP, NC State - Rodon had a "down" season, although the bigger problem is that most probably had insane expectations of him. He emerged early on as the runaway top prospect in this class, though he never should have been given that title. Yes, the stuff is filthy, and he's left-handed to boot. However, while Rodon's strikeout totals have always been silly, his walk rates have always suggested some command issues. Control is still an issue but it continued to improve this year. I hope the team that drafts Rodon doesn't rush him.

1. Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS (CA) - I think the argument over who's the top prospect in this draft is over. Aiken more or less came out of obscurity, especially in this loaded draft for pitchers. He gained velocity on his fastball this year but didn't lose command of his breaking pitches. Aiken has an overwhelming arsenal, especially for high school, because he's able to control all of his pitches and is liable to throw his breaking pitches at any time and throw them for strikes. That's what separates Aiken from his peers, and everyone in this draft for that matter. That and he's left handed. Never hurts to be left handed.

It seems fitting that the year of the Tommy John surgery would feature a draft loaded with pitchers, especially prep pitchers, the most likely to need those TJ surgeries down the road. I am curious to see if teams pick the best player available or go with the best at positions of need, because some team pretty early on is going to have a choice between a position player or higher ranked pitcher. Will some prep arms slide or not?