2 exciting Mariners prospects hit Double-A

August 11th, 2021

SEATTLE -- The Mariners promoted two of their top pitching prospects in less than 24 hours of each other, as right-handers Emerson Hancock and George Kirby, two critical pieces in Seattle’s rebuild, have advanced from High-A Everett to Double-A Arkansas.

Hancock will start Wednesday for the Travelers against Springfield, and Kirby will likely follow soon after. Both were dealing with shoulder issues in June that sidelined them each a month, but more out of an abundance of caution than due to the severity of the injuries.

Hancock is MLB Pipeline’s No. 21 overall prospect and Kirby is No. 70. They rank Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, in Seattle’s system behind Julio Rodríguez, who recently took the top spot after Jarred Kelenic exceeded rookie limits.

Hancock, the Mariners' first-round pick with the No. 6 overall selection last year, has a 2.32 ERA, 30 strikeouts, 13 walks and just one homer allowed in 31 innings over nine starts. Kirby, the 20th overall pick in 2019, has a 2.38 ERA, 52 strikeouts, eight walks and one homer allowed in 41 2/3 innings over nine starts.

The promotions fall in line with the trajectory of Seattle’s top prospects and rounding out the Double-A roster. Levi Stoudt, another rapidly rising name in prospect circles, was promoted on Saturday. Brandon Williamson and Matt Brash, two pitchers who are just behind Hancock and Kirby, graduated to Everett earlier this summer.

And that’s just the pitching staff. Rodríguez was promoted there on June 29 before stepping away to play for the Dominican Republic in the Olympics.

“A lot of the players that began the season in Everett have moved on to Arkansas, which was by design,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said recently on his podcast, The Wheelhouse. “We were hopeful that by mid to late July, we were going to be able to start transitioning a lot of the [Everett] players to Arkansas while we were starting to filter some of the draftees to [Low-A] Modesto and pushing players in that direction. Part of the prerequisite of that was going to be that the [Everett] players needed to get off to good starts and showed that they cleared that hurdle developmentally.”

With just seven weeks of Arkansas’ schedule remaining, it’s likely that most of this group will remain there the rest of the year.

“It’s a quicker league,” Dipoto said. “It’s obviously not as hitter-friendly of a ballpark. Some have adapted more quickly than others to the new challenges, but most of the players that began the season in Everett are there now in Arkansas. All of our system seems to be thriving. The teams are winning. The prospects are developing as quickly or on par with what we would’ve hoped, and the people in Little Rock are going to have fun watching this group.”

Noelvi keeps raking

He’s further behind, simply due to his age and experience, but given the way Noelvi Marte is hitting, it’d be hard to tell.

The 19-year-old has been on an absolute tear in August for Modesto, hitting .375/.459/.906 (1.366 OPS) with five homers, 13 RBIs, six strikeouts and five walks in 37 plate appearances across seven games. Last Tuesday, he homered three times in one game, which led to him being named the Low-A West Player of the Week. It’s been a huge bounce back after a slight regression in July. For the season, Marte is hitting .279/.363/.491 (.854 OPS) with 17 homers, all with Modesto.

“This is the first time he’s gone through the long season,” Dipoto said. “He was electric in May and June. He was blah in July and then came out in a big way and said, ‘I’m back to doing the wonderful things I was doing before.’ He got a second wind.”

The primary third baseman has shown glimpses of greatness all season, his first Stateside after signing as an international free agent in 2018, but never as dominantly as he has the past week. Marte is MLB Pipeline’s No. 82 overall prospect, but he will almost assuredly be among the biggest climbers in all of baseball in the upcoming re-rank. And a promotion to Everett could be on the horizon.

“I think Noelvi, more so than any of our prospects, has gained the national spotlight,” Dipoto said. “He entered the season on the back end of the top 100 for a couple of the third-party grading systems, didn’t make the cut for others. Now as you look at the midseason updates, he elevated for most third parties, he’s inside the top 25. Some, they have him up to 16 or 15. I think right now, that’s an exciting development for us.”