After his first two years at Texas A&M, Zach DeLoach didn’t look like much of a Draft prospect, hitting a combined .239 with five homers. But then he won a Cape Cod League batting title in 2019 and went off during the truncated 2020 college season with a 1.336 OPS in 18 games. That was enough for the Mariners to take him in the second round of that summer’s Draft, a fair amount ahead of the scouting industry's estimates.
The Mariners’ No. 6 prospect quickly went out, and at least internally, showed the Mariners may have been right, performing well against a much older and higher level of competition at the club’s alternate site. That carried over to his first full season, when he hit .313/.400/.530 over 58 games in High-A to earn a promotion.
That’s when he first ran into trouble. The outfielder's OPS dropped from .930 in Everett to .722 in 49 games with Arkansas, and he’s brought the lessons learned from that experience to the Peoria Javelinas and the Arizona Fall League.
“Everyone is just better,” DeLoach said. “Everyone has experience at the Double-A level. I was a young guy trying to get as much reps and at-bats, just seeing pitches, I think to get more comfortable throughout the season.
“I think adversity is a real thing. I’m trying to fight through adversity, trying to figure out different ways to have success, working on different things and trying to find what works for me.”
So the 23-year-old's working on not trying to do too much, something that might have plagued the DeLoach once he got his promotion. The left-handed hitting outfielder has gone 3-for-21 over his first six games in the AFL, though he does have a homer and more walks than strikeouts. Given that he’s jumped on the fast track, he’s taking any chance thrown his way to work on his craft, even after a year in which he collected 501 plate appearances.
“I think it’s an opportunity to get better each and every day we come out here,” DeLoach said. “Every one of us loves the game of baseball, so it’s another opportunity and to play with some of the talent around the league.”
DeLoach is hoping the reps in Arizona will help him continue to make a name for himself in a very talent-rich farm system. That’s particularly true in the outfield, where Jarred Kelenic reached the big leagues, along with Taylor Trammell. Julio Rodriguez, MLB Pipeline's No. 2 overall prospect, should get there in 2022, providing a ton of competition.
“It’s a great situation overall for all of us,” DeLoach said. “We’re all pushing each other each and every day. When Spring Training rolls around, I’m sure we’ll all be together. We’ll continue to grind, continue to get in the weight room, continue to push each other on and off the field and continue to build those relationships.”
Mariners hitters in the AFL
Cade Marlowe, OF (No. 27): Marlowe went from being an unknown late-round senior sign to a legitimate prospect by finishing the year with a 20-20 season and topping the Minors with 107 RBIs. He’s 24 and was in A-ball, so the Fall League is a good opportunity for him to show how he can compete against better competition while providing preparation for Double-A and beyond in 2022. (He’s gotten off to a 3-for-25 start.)
Jose Caballero, 3B: Between the canceled 2020 season and an ACL injury, it’s been difficult for Caballero to get reps on the field. The Mariners got him back at the 2019 Trade Deadline when they sent Mike Leake to the D-backs, so they haven’t really been able to see him compete all that much after a 2021 season in which he played in just 20 games. He was healthy by the end of the year, and the Mariners want to see him get more competitive at-bats this fall while playing three infield spots.
Mariners pitchers in the AFL
Juan Then, RHP (No. 14): The Mariners were very excited to see what Then would do in 2021 after taking a huge step forward at the alternate site in 2020 and earning a spot on the 40-man roster. He got off to a solid enough start to his High-A season, but struggled after the opening month, then missed nearly all of June and July, so he’s getting the chance to get more innings while refining his premium stuff.
Dayeison Arias, RHP: The right-handed reliever pitched his way from High-A to Double-A in 2021 and struck out 14.1 per nine while walking 4.1. An uptick in velocity at instructs in 2020 was evident in 2021, and the Mariners want him to continue building his arm strength so those gains are lasting while he works on his command and tries to earn a spot on the 40-man roster.
Luis Curvelo, RHP: This is a big jump for Curvelo, who pitched all of 2021 in Low-A and just turned 21 while in the Fall League. The reliever is coming off a year in which he missed a ton of bats (13.0 K/9) and threw strikes (2.9 BB/9). There’s some interest in giving him a chance to start in 2022, and the AFL is providing a springboard for those conversations.
Devin Sweet, RHP: A non-drafted free-agent signing in 2018, Sweet has pitched as a starter and a reliever in the Mariners system. He began the 2021 season as a starter and made a successful full-time transition to the bullpen in Double-A for the first time (0.63 ERA, .160 batting average against in 12 relief outings) while also adjusting to being challenged to throw his changeup more frequently -- work that’s continuing this fall.