Ford's Classic run, poise impress on, off field

Mariners' top prospect flashes future potential with eye-catching spring

March 23rd, 2023

PEORIA, Ariz. -- For the first time in years, the Mariners didn’t have a hotshot prospect fighting for a chance to make the Opening Day roster, but could very well be that player one year from now.

Seattle’s No. 1 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 49 overall, Ford was reassigned to Minor League camp ahead of the club’s off-day on Tuesday, along with , Seattle's No. 2 prospect, who is much closer to the Majors. A lot would have to go right for Ford to be on the MLB doorstep in 12 months, but it’s not completely off the table.

Rake at Single-A Modesto? He did that last year, especially in the second half, finishing the campaign with 11 homers and a .274/.425/.439 (.863 OPS) slash line. Could Ford continue that production at High-A Everett? It certainly seems feasible. Could he then earn a promotion and finish the season at Double-A Arkansas, where the Mariners typically leave their best prospects until their callup?

Why not?

"Harry, he can handle a lot, as young as he is," Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Ford turned 20 last month but has been described by teammates and coaches as beyond his years with mental maturity, baseball IQ, physical strength and community efforts off the field. For these reasons, the Mariners intend to keep him at catcher, a premium defensive position.

Beyond the two emphatic homers he hit for Team Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic -- which inspired a wave of young children across the pond -- what stood out most to G.B. manager Drew Spencer was Ford’s preparation. The Mariners put a huge premium on the skill, which is a prominent reason why Cal Raleigh has earned so much trust within Seattle’s pitching staff, and Ford has already jump-started his progression in that regard.

"The thing I learned the most about was just really how to call a game and how to study hitters," Ford said. "I had a lot of help with some of the pitchers there who had more experience and were veterans and stuff, and really just taught me how they did it and how they did it well. So that was what I think I learned most."

The opposition he prepared for included his childhood icon, Freddie Freeman, and Mike Trout, the first of potentially many matchups once Ford reaches the Majors. Spencer allowed Ford to call each of Great Britain’s four games in Pool D play, which took place in Phoenix.

"Really with [Trout], it was just trying to just mix it up, tunnel pitches, make stuff look similar," Ford said. "It wasn’t like we were trying to strike him out. We were just trying to get him to hit a bad pitch."

Great Britain didn't have the robust baseball presence or talent that other Classic countries possess, which is perhaps why it was so easy for Ford to join the roster. That would’ve never happened for a young prospect on a star-studded Team USA. Yet Ford quickly became the face of the team -- for the big homers, for sure, but also his charisma.

"He's worldly,” Servais said. "He's very well-rounded. It's not just been baseball and that's the only thing he knows. He's a smart kid. He's got other interests, which isn't a bad thing."

The experience has Ford inspired to help grow the game overseas even more, and he already intends to play in the 2026 Classic.

"I definitely want to take a trip to England in the offseason next time and maybe try getting a camp run or something," Ford said. "Or even just like visiting like all those kids that made the video for me and stuff like that. I'm definitely planning on doing something like that in the offseason."

Ford went just 2-for-4 and played in only six Cactus League games, but his presence was effervescent throughout camp, and the fact that the Mariners didn’t reassign him until Tuesday underscores what the club believes in his potential.

Two springs ago, Julio Rodríguez was still clearly at least one year away, but Seattle’s front office suggested behind the scenes that he could arrive sooner than later -- which is precisely what happened. Management won’t put up barriers for its prospects, and Ford is the distinct headliner of its next wave of talent.

He’ll be a name worth watching when pitchers and catchers report in 2024.