Mariners Minors report: Who broke out in '21?

October 18th, 2021

SEATTLE -- For all the excitement built into the Mariners’ 90-win season at the big league level, Seattle saw similar on-field results down on the farm. Each of its four Minor League teams and two extended affiliates finished the season above .500, making them one of just four organizations to do so.

The Mariners' farm system heads into the offseason ranked as the No. 2 in baseball, per MLB Pipeline, representing a huge leap from when the roster overhaul began three years ago and even from last winter, when it was No. 4.

Before heading into the depths of winter, let’s circle back on where Seattle’s farm system stands:

3 players who forced their way onto the radar this year

RHP Matt Brash (Mariners' No. 10 prospect)
This one is obvious, given that the high-velocity righty was called up during the final week of the regular season to help the Mariners’ late playoff push. The 23-year-old never wound up getting into a game, but that will certainly change in 2022. Brash should be an easy shoe-in to earn an invite to what would be his first big league Spring Training.

But what his role will be, at least by Opening Day, could be dictated on how the Mariners address their rotation this winter. President of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has already said that adding at least one to two starting pitchers is a priority, and though Brash was installed in the bullpen after his late callup, it’s unlikely that he’d be used there in April like he was in the final week, when there was the urgency of a playoff chase.

“I think my stuff has gotten a lot better this year,” Brash said. “I'm throwing harder. My speed has gotten a lot better. But I think it's just I've learned throughout the year how to pitch and how my stuff plays. And now I'm just really comfortable each time I get out there.”

It’s also possible that the Mariners wait to fully stretch Brash out early next season and allocate his big league innings for the second half, much like they did with Logan Gilbert. Either way, it’s a strong bet that Brash will be a big part of the Mariners’ plans next season.

RHP Levi Stoudt (No. 9 prospect)
Stoudt was one of the many arms that opened the season in High-A Everett's loaded rotation, but he graduated to Double-A Arkansas midseason. With the higher affiliate, he had a 2.55 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings in three starts. At Everett, he was 6-1 with a 3.52 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 64 innings.

The quiet, cerebral Stoudt has bounced back nicely from the Tommy John surgery that he underwent shortly after the Mariners selected him the third round in 2019. He’s emerged as a strong candidate to contribute sooner than later in the Majors if he stays on this trajectory.

OF Cade Marlowe (No. 27 prospect)
Marlowe wasn’t just a surprise breakout in 2021; his production at the plate earned him the Mariners’ Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year Award, for which he was honored during the final series of the season at T-Mobile Park. He wound up playing in the final game for Triple-A Tacoma while he was in the area.

Marlowe slashed .275/.368/.566 (.934 OPS) with 26 homers, 107 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 106 games, making the leap from Low-A Modesto to High-A Everett in mid-June. He was one of 16 Minor Leaguers to hit at least 20 home runs and steal 20 bases, and he was the first Mariners prospect to do so since Jarred Kelenic in 2019.

“I think just trusting in the plan that my coaches gave me each and every day, and not really worrying about the results and focusing on process,” Marlowe said of the keys to his success last season. “Just getting to the field, doing my work every day, being diligent about that, and just letting the rest take care of itself.”

The 24-year-old is on the older end of the prospect spectrum, but given how he hit in 2021, he should be primed for big things in ’22.

2 possible breakout players to watch in 2022

INF Edwin Arroyo (No. 11 prospect)
Arroyo didn’t report to a Minor League affiliate last season due to the Draft being pushed back, the downsizing of the Minors altogether and the Mariners’ caution with their high school selections. But that figures to change in 2022 for Arroyo, who was one of Seattle’s more athletic picks, taken in the second round.

At 17 years old, Arroyo was one of the youngest selections in baseball, and he figures to continue growing and getting stronger. He’s been in Arizona since signing, getting acclimated with the high-performance staff and participating in the Arizona Complex League, where he slashed .211/.337/.324 (.661 OPS) and hit two homers in 86 plate appearances.

3B Milkar Perez (No. 13 prospect)
Perez had such a productive run in the Arizona Complex League that the Mariners promoted him to Low-A Modesto for the final two weeks of its season, where he slashed .296/.406/.370 (.777 OPS) in 32 plate appearances. In the ACL, he hit to a .310/.463/.379 slash line (.842 OPS) in 45 games.

It was a wildly promising season for a player who the Mariners were high on and eager to see after the cancelation of the Minors season in 2020.

1 big question for next season
What else could it be, other than how and when will Seattle use Julio Rodríguez? Because Dipoto made it crystal clear in his end-of-season press conference that the 20-year-old uber-prospect should play a "significant role" in Seattle in 2022. But Dipoto also said that Rodríguez's contributions, at least early on, will be dictated by how the Mariners’ roster looks once the dust settles from free agency.

Rodríguez, who has said that he intends to compete for an Opening Day roster spot, has logged most of his Minor League innings in right field. Do the Mariners move Mitch Haniger to left when Rodríguez is ready? What about Jarred Kelenic, who had his struggles in center? A lot of this will hinge on Kyle Lewis’ health, too.

Even if there is an outfield crunch with J-Rod’s arrival, it’s a problem the Mariners would be glad to have.