It was mid-September and Ryan Bliss had recently reached the 50-steal plateau. He had 19 homers, but he had no idea about the rarified statistical air he was nearing. That’s right, for this infielder, ignorance was…. Well, you know.
“It was one of those things, I was just playing and having fun,” said Bliss, the Mariners’ No. 14 prospect who finished the year as one of three players to reach the uncommon 20-50 plateau in the Minor Leagues. “I don’t know where I saw it, but I saw that I was close to it. It was maybe a couple of days or a week before I got my 20th home run. I didn’t really know or notice it, but it was just one of those things where I just had a really good season. Things were clicking for me and I just stayed with the process and had a great season.”
That season (23 homers, 55 steals) has been extended with the Mariners sending Bliss to play for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League, where he was off to a 7-for-13 start over his first four games. It’s a continuation of an amazing turnaround for the 2021 second-round pick who had a .214/.298/.343 line in his first year of pro ball.
“My first full season in 2022 was not ideal, was not anything that I wanted,” Bliss said. “I really took that year and I learned a lot. I learned to deal with situations, deal with failure and, at the same time, how to be a great teammate and get things done when things aren’t going your way. Being able to stay in it, don’t give up. I just wanted to learn the most and took that into the offseason knowing I had to get better at X,Y, Z. And it turned out well.”
He kept producing even after going through his first trade. Drafted by the D-backs, he was sent to the Mariners in the Paul Sewald trade. He hit 10 more homers and stole 20 more bags in 47 Triple-A games after the deal. And it happened just a short time after, unbeknownst to him at the time, he played on what could be his future big league home, at the All-Star Futures Game at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
“You never think it could be you,” Bliss said of the trade. “At first, it didn't really register until I honestly got on the plane, that I was going to a whole other organization, new teammates, new coaches… and I'm excited to be a part of the Mariners organization.
“It’s kind of crazy and ironic, because we left [the Futures Game] and my family and I were talking about how much we love Seattle and how beautiful it was. And not even a couple of weeks late, I get traded to the Seattle Mariners. Some things happen for the right reason.”
Mariners hitters in the Fall League
Harry Ford, C (No. 2/MLB No. 39): Ford has played A LOT of baseball, from the World Baseball Classic through the regular season, Futures Game, and the recently completed European Championships. But he’s kept himself in very good shape and after a year that saw him post a 135 wRC+, the Fall League will allow him to keep facing a high level of competition, something that could help him make the jump to help out in Seattle at some point in 2024.
Tyler Locklear, 3B/1B (No. 11): Locklear had a .908 OPS and 146 wRC+, but only played 85 games because he suffered a hand fracture from a hit by pitch. He has a little hand hitch with his setup at the plate and seeing more premium velocity in the AFL could help him make adjustments with his swing movements so he can continue to be productive as he moves up the ladder.
Mariners pitchers in the Fall League
Peyton Alford, LHP: A product of Virginia Tech, Alford went to the Draft League in 2021 and signed with the Mariners as a nondrafted free agent. He’s a stocky lefty with a unique slot, one who has missed a lot of bats with an uphill fastball that sits 93 mph, a 76-77 mph big curve and a speed-killing changeup. He’s walked more than five per nine in his Minor League career and that’s a big point of emphasis.
Jarod Bayless, RHP: Drafted in Round 33 back in 2019, Bayless has yet to make it out of A ball beyond a couple of small stops. He’s a slider monster, using an 80-mph sweeper from a crossfire delivery that helps the angle, to go along with a 91-94 mph fastball with a little sink and run. He’ll be 27 for the 2024 season.
Leon Hunter, RHP: Another 26-year old who spent the season almost entirely with High-A Everett, Hunter has a fastball that sits around 93 mph but his go-to is his trick pitch of a changeup. It’s firm, in the mid-80s, and has more downward action than a typical changeup. Both his offerings come out of a higher slot.
Troy Taylor, RHP: Taylor has some premium stuff that has the chance to play out of a bullpen. Using an upper-90s fastball and power slider, the reliever struck out 12.3 per nine across two levels of A ball in 2023. He’s continuing to work on his command in Arizona, something he showed marked improvement with as the year went on (1.85 BB/9 from July 1 on).