Mariners showing faith in No. 8 prospect Locklear

June 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer's Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MIAMI -- The plan didn’t go quite, well, according to plan -- but as first-place teams do, the Mariners have adjusted.

The club’s roster moves earlier this week were broader than just transactional, as Seattle moved on from backup catcher Seby Zavala after slowly transitioning Mitch Garver into that role and activated Ty France from the injured list, yet retained rookie fill-in on the active roster.

Surprising? Not really.

Zavala was barely playing, while Garver has quietly been their most productive hitter in June, France had been on an upward trend before suffering a left heel fracture and Locklear has made a strong first impression.

“It’s going to take some maneuvering of the lineup on certain days and whatnot,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters this week in Cleveland, including contributor Henry Palattella. “We’ll find a spot. You can’t have too many good players. You just try to keep all those guys going. And it can be more challenging for a younger player who’s used to playing every day, but that’s just where we’re at right now.”

The personnel decisions speak to where the Mariners are at -- both within the season and their long-term competitive window, and how they intend to assemble their best 26-man roster on any given night.

Locklear is the club’s No. 8 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, and he debuted on June 9 after playing just 10 games at Triple-A Tacoma. But with Seattle facing a bevy of left-handed starters starting Thursday and continuing through its road trip in Miami and St. Petersburg, the club clearly saw the value of keeping him up over Zavala.

Locklear crushed two booming homers on the Mariners’ last homestand, but perhaps even more notably, he made a few key plays in the field -- including on two hard-hit chopping grounders from Corey Seager for the final outs on both Saturday and Sunday.

His defense was the most suspect component to his game, but the Mariners believe that most of Locklear's challenges are fixable. Infield coach Perry Hill has offered plenty of insight, and France has pointedly taken the youngster under his wing.

“Ty's been huge for me, honestly,” Locklear said, “just teaching me all this stuff around first base and positioning and all the defensive stuff and just the veteran leadership he's got. Talking to him every day, he's been awesome to just show me the ropes and kind of show me what a day-to-day basis looks like for an MLB player.”

Locklear isn’t even two years removed from being selected in the second round of the 2022 Draft, but he’s also 23 years old and he played four seasons at Virginia Commonwealth University. So far, he’s looked the part of a run-producing corner infielder.

Here are a few other updates from down the Mariners’ pipeline:

Triple-A Tacoma

Emerson Hancock exited Wednesday’s game in the fifth inning with lower back pain, though the Mariners aren’t concerned that there are any structural issues.

Hancock, who recently graduated from Pipeline rankings, has been vital in the de-facto No. 6 rotation spot, filling in when needed for Bryan Woo and/or other situations to help address collective workload.

Double-A Arkansas

Cole Young (No. 1) swatted his seventh homer of the year on Tuesday, which has him on pace to surpass his career-high 11 from last year. A sizable six of those have come in his past 27 games dating back to May 18, after homering just once in his first 31 contests. In this stretch, entering Thursday, he was hitting .310 with a .928 OPS.

High-A Everett

Michael Morales (No. 12) has put together one of the best seasons among the organization’s starting pitchers, as he’s now 8-1 with a 2.22 ERA and .653 OPS against in 13 starts. It’s been a hugely promising stretch for the 2021 third-rounder, who struggled to find his footing in his first two seasons.

Single-A Modesto

Not that it was ever in much doubt, but the Nuts will officially have the opportunity to defend their California League title, having clinched a playoff spot last Sunday by winning the North Division for the season’s first half.

Modesto might be the most stacked Mariners Minor League team of this era. But it’ll be curious to see how many among the group of Colt Emerson (No. 3), Lazaro Montes (No. 4), Tai Peete (No. 7) and Michael Arroyo (No. 9) are with the team for the playoff run, as many could be in line for second-half promotions.