Mariners prospects raring to go in Minors
Farm system seasons start Thursday; Lewis, Sheffield, Long among players to watch
SEATTLE -- A finally healthy Kyle Lewis, the Mariners' top Draft pick in 2016, is among those eagerly awaiting the start of the Minor League season on Thursday.
But the 23-year-old outfielder is far from alone in that, as more attention than normal will be focused on Seattle's farm clubs. A promising group of prospects appears to be knocking on the door after a busy offseason by general manager Jerry Dipoto.
"I can't wait," said Lewis, one of the many youngsters who got their feet wet in their first Major League camps this spring and will open the season at Double-A Arkansas. "We've been ready to go. The way the younger guys are coming together and will be in the Double-A group, we're just excited to get that rolling and see if the good starts we've had can carry over and continue to have some success."
After undergoing major right knee surgery during his first season of pro ball and then dealing with its lingering effects over the past two years, Lewis opened eyes with his play this spring.
"I had an opportunity to have a whole offseason and grind away at my swing, as well as my body, and I think that's the biggest thing," Lewis said. "I can feel even in BP the way the ball is coming off the bat, it's a lot different."
Lewis, the Mariners' No. 7 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is among an intriguing crew that will open at Arkansas, including right-hander Justin Dunn (No. 3), first baseman Evan White (No. 4), outfielders Jake Fraley (No. 14) and Dom Thompson-Williams (No. 15) and reliever Wyatt Mills (No. 16).
Triple-A Tacoma features several prospects considered closer to Major League ready, led by right-handed starter Justus Sheffield, who was installed as Seattle’s top-ranked prospect after being acquired from the Yankees. Erik Swanson, the No. 9 prospect acquired in that same trade for James Paxton, is scheduled to start the Rainiers' opener on Thursday in Sacramento.
Shortstop J.P. Crawford has already played enough in the Majors with the Phillies that he’s no longer regarded as a prospect, but he’s another among the group of young players at Tacoma who is expected to arrive in Seattle shortly, while second baseman Shed Long (No. 12), outfielder Braden Bishop (No. 11) and first baseman Joey Curletta (No. 18) are also just a phone call away with the Rainiers if needed.
Class A Advanced Modesto’s roster will include catcher Cal Raleigh (No. 13) and third baseman Joe Rizzo (No. 23), while further down the line, the club’s new Class A squad in West Virginia features several elite younger prospects, topped by highly regarded teenage outfielders Jarred Kelenic (No. 2) and Julio Rodriguez (No. 5) as well as last year’s first-round Draft pick, right-hander Logan Gilbert (No. 6).
While all these players will need time to advance through the system, Mariners manager Scott Servais witnessed enough of the group this spring to be intrigued.
"I'm really happy with what I've seen," Servais said. "You start to go down the list. We've talked about Lewis and White and Fraley and Shed Long and Sheffield and Dunn. There's a long list of guys that have really shown well and shown they're ready. They're very close to being ready to contribute at this level.”
All Mariners affiliates are opening on the road Thursday. In addition to Tacoma starting out in Sacramento, Arkansas is traveling to Tulsa, Modesto is playing Lancaster and West Virginia debuts at Greenville.