SEATTLE -- For the third straight season, significant talent graduated from the Mariners' farm system and contributed in the Majors in 2023. There was no production more valuable than what Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo added to the starting rotation, especially given that they were unexpected injury replacements for veterans Marco Gonzales and Robbie Ray.
At this time last year, Miller and Woo were firmly on the radar, and it was a matter of when, not if, they’d arrive in 2023. That’s not as clear this year for the Mariners’ top-end prospects in a farm system that MLB Pipeline listed No. 19 in baseball in its most recent rankings.
“We think there's a wave coming that should arrive sometime mid-to-late season next year,” president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said. "Our farm system, and this is naturally what happens when your best players are teenagers -- and most of our best players are teenagers right now. When that is the case, you tend to move a little more slowly through prospect ranking systems.”
3 players who forced their way onto the radar this year
SS Colt Emerson (No. 4 prospect): There are loftier expectations as a club’s first selection in the Draft, but Emerson hit it out of the park -- literally and figuratively -- in his debut season after being taken with the No. 22 overall pick in July. He homered in his first at-bat in the Arizona Complex League and didn’t stop there. The 18-year-old was promoted to Low-A Modesto in early August, where he helped the Nuts win their first California League title since 2017. In the championship-clinching game, Emerson had four hits and four RBIs.
3B/1B Tyler Locklear (No. 11): Among the Mariners’ position-player prospects, Locklear might be closest to the Majors after jumping to Double-A Arkansas for good in August. Part of it is age (he'll turn 23 next month), part of it is development (he had a .971 OPS at High-A Everett before the promotion then a .786 OPS in 22 games after) and part of it could be a positional need (he moved exclusively to first base in 2023 after playing third in his debut season prior).
OF Lazaro Montes (No. 12): The Yordan Alvarez comparisons were murmurs when Montes joined the organization in the 2021-22 international signing period. But they grew much louder last month when Montes said that he mimics the game of the Astros’ slugger during a visit to T-Mobile Park. Like Emerson, Montes also helped mightily during Modesto’s title run, slashing .321/.429/.565 (.994 OPS) with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 156 plate appearances after being promoted in early August.
2 possible breakout players to watch in 2024
SS Felnin Celesten (No. 7): The headliner of last offseason’s international signing class could’ve just as easily been included here in 2023, but a hamstring injury suffered in early summer prevented him from making his pro debut. Many in the organization believe that the 18-year-old has the highest upside of any prospect in the system, which will make his 2024 season well worth following.
RHP Troy Taylor (unranked): A 12th-round pick in 2022 out of UC-Irvine, Taylor is among the relief-exclusive pitching class that the Mariners sent to the Arizona Fall League. The selection was on the heels of a strong finish at Everett, where he held hitters to a .413 OPS with 11 strikeouts in eight appearances, via a solid fastball and plus slider.
1 big question for next season
Can any of their prospects help the Major League team in 2024?
This is especially intriguing among position players. Locklear could be a candidate later in the season. And, behind the scenes, some have suggested that No. 1 prospect Cole Young has an outside chance to play his way up by season’s end. The candidate who could contribute the earliest is likely second baseman Ryan Bliss (No. 14), who’s been at Triple-A Tacoma since being acquired in the Paul Sewald trade.
“I don't think we should set an expectation to see them toward the tail end of next year,” Dipoto said. “But let's just say they won't surprise us if they do show up by the tail end of next year.”