It’s always nice for an organization when a top pitching prospect gets close to big league ready. When that prospect becomes a model for how to get ready for that moment for the entire system, that’s a bonus. And that’s who Logan Gilbert has become to the Mariners.
In 2018, Gilbert was the first of three straight college arms taken by the Mariners in the first round, followed by George Kirby and then Emerson Hancock. Had the 2020 season been a normal one, chances are Mariners fans would have seen the team’s No. 4 prospect in Seattle last year. Instead, he’s at Minor League Spring Training -- nearly all of the organization’s top prospects are there rather than the alternate training site -- getting ready for the start of the Triple-A season next week.
Not only has the stuff been outstanding, with his usual plus fastball, three secondary offerings and above-average command coming from his 6-foot-6 frame, but the way he goes about his business has created a culture for a very talented crop of pitching prospects.
“That’s how valuable he is,” Mariners farm director Andy Mckay said. “When your top guy has behaviors like that, it’s hard for a pitcher to watch what he does and not think they should be doing something similar. When one guy becomes two and two becomes three, it really helps.
“For me, what Logan does for our group, as far as the example he sets, he ups the game and raises the standard level for everyone. And there are now talented people around him.”
That includes those two first-rounders, of course. Kirby, drafted out of Elon University in 2019 as a starter with decent stuff and other-worldly command, has seen the work pay off in terms of his velocity. In a recent three-inning outing, the right-hander was throwing his fastball in the 99-102 mph range. He’s not throwing triple digits every time out, but he is throwing consistently harder, and keep in mind this is a guy who didn’t walk a single batter in 23 innings of his pro debut.
It’s filtered down to the next tier of pitchers like Brandon Williamson, Isaiah Campbell, Levi Stoudt and Adam Macko, with a good game of one-upsmanship helping all of the arms improve.
“Everybody likes to be the best,” McKay said. “To be the best around here as a pitcher you have to keep your foot on the gas and keep pushing. There might be someone on the other field everyone’s watching. It’s exciting to have that many guys who are interesting like that and exciting to watch.
“We have that internal competition going. When you draft as much pitching as we’ve drafted, you hope it’ll look like that.”
While Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodríguez have kept doing Kelenic and J-Rod kinds of things -- Rodríguez opened as many eyes as anyone in big league camp -- it’s time to focus on a few rungs lower in the organization, on what could be the future left side of the infield in Seattle.
By now, most know about Noelvi Marte, at least if the amount of questions about when he’d make the Top 100 are any indication (by the way, if you missed it, he’s now actually on the list, at No. 96 overall). People are pretty confident he’s going to hit, but there was more of a question about where he was going to play defensively long-term. That wasn’t because of a lack of tools, but rather that he could outgrow shortstop.
“The defense is cleaning up and our hope is he can stay at shortstop,” McKay said. “There’s a high standard for what that means. That’s what we’re focused on, ensuring he’s a true shortstop who sticks there for many years. He’s such a plus athlete, it creates a ton of options. You could see him playing anywhere, other than probably catching, if given enough time. The priority is having a shortstop who can stick there.”
The Mariners are hoping No. 16 prospect Milkar Perez will play alongside him at third. Neither teenager has played officially in the United States yet, something soon to be rectified. Perez has continued to show the kind of bat that profiles well at the hot corner.
“He’s showing the raw power we saw last fall and we’re seeing the hit tool,” McKay said. “It’s like a 70 arm playing third. He’s becoming an impressive defender there. All last fall, it was him at third and Marte at shortstop. That left side was exciting.”
Alternate training site update
The Mariners limited who they sent to their alternate site this year. Located exclusively at T-Mobile Park, there aren’t real games being played, so it was deemed better for the development of top prospects who will be a phone call away in Triple-A, like Kelenic and Gilbert, for example, to stay and play against other teams in Arizona. But a pair of relief prospects in the Top 30 have gotten the chance to hone their craft there, showing they should be ready to contribute soon.
No. 18 prospect Aaron Fletcher and No. 22 Wyatt Mills have both stood out, Fletcher from the left side, Mills from the right. Fletcher threw well in big league camp and has carried it over to his current work. Mills took a big jump last year to land on the 40-man roster and has continued to show off his better stuff, working on pitch execution and facing left-handed hitters.
“They’ve been great in live BPs and simulated games,” McKay said. “We’ll be thrilled on May 6 when we can play a real game.
“I think one of the most underrated parts of MLB is the depth of your 40-man roster. You don’t win with your 25-man roster, you win with your 40-man. Those guys on the roster, in Tacoma or Arkansas, they really are part of your team. They’ll take enough at-bats or throw enough innings, it’ll impact you.”
Prospect we’ll be talking about in 2022
The Mariners have built up one of the more impressive groups of pitching prospects in baseball by largely raiding the college ranks. The 2019 Draft itself has provided six Top 30 arms, all from college programs. But keep an eye on Adam Macko, a lefty born in Slovakia but taken from a Canadian high school in the seventh round. He pitched 23 1/3 innings the summer after he signed, and the missed year didn’t help, but there’s confidence that at this time next year, people will have a lot more to say about him.
“He’s a young lefty with the ability to spin it,” McKay said. “It’s a true left-handed power breaking ball. That’s the carrying tool right now. We’re excited to let him pitch in a normal rotation.”