Now that the season is over, it will be time for teams to assess their needs for next season and start planning for 2016. We're at the same point for fantasy owners in dynasty leagues, and we're here to help you with the information you need as you prepare for your minor league drafts.
In previous years, we have done rather intensive top 10 prospect lists, including an organizational rundown, opportunities in the coming season, as well as the top fantasy prospects. However, we have found that a number of these topics are covered as we continue through the offseason, and specifically through profiles done as a part of our preseason redraft rankings. As a result, this year's top 10 lists will be primarily that: a list of the prospects with brief writeups rather than the 4000-8000 word opuses that have occurred in the past. We feel that this year's format will both suit the goal better (of providing fantasy relevant information and rankings) as well as allow us to move through them much more quickly so that they can be completed by the Christmas holiday.
The schedule itself is fairly basic: We cover a division, going in alphabetical order of city/location name. This means the next team after this post will be the Rangers. After that, we start over on the East Coast in the National League and do the same, starting with the Braves.
With fantasy prospect rankings, the key to knowing the usefulness of a specific player is how large and deep of a league you would need to be in for them to end up as a fantasy starter. We will be ranking 10 prospects in each system, but that doesn't mean that every one of them is useful if you play in a 12-team mixed dynasty league. With that said, we're aiming to provide useful information whether you play in a 10-team mixed, a 15-team AL-only, or a 24-team mixed.
Prospect rankings also come with the same caveat I provide every year. They represent a snapshot of how we view the players at the time of publication. There will inherently be more information published throughout the offseason, and so it is very possible that by the end of the offseason, how we view a player may be very different from where we had them originally. We're going to get some of these right, we're going to get some of these wrong, and in general my reminder is to find information you trust, and use it to your advantage. If that comes from us, that's great and we're happy you're here. If it doesn't, we'll continue to work and hope that you'll keep checking in to see how we're doing.
Something new I wanted to introduce this year is a tier system to help delineate where prospects are likely to fall on the overall top prospect list. We have not completed our top prospects lists yet, and will not likely do so until we are close to finishing all the prospect rankings. The tiers are here though to provide some clarity when comparing between different teams. It's by no means a perfect system, but the goal is to give you a general idea of which players we think are in a similar range in terms of value and ranking. Since the tiers are also expected to be relatively consistent across teams, there may be tiers which do not have prospects for certain teams.
Tier 1 - The Elite Prospects
These prospects are expected to be in the top 25-50 prospects overall, and have the potential to be among the top options at their position regardless of format or league size.
The Mariners do not have any prospects in this tier.
Tier 2 - The Top 100 Candidates
These prospects are expected to be in the discussion for the top 100 prospects overall, and are expected to be starting options in all formats.
#1 - Alex Jackson (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 20
Alex Jackson has been on the prospect radar since his sophomore year of high school, his name making the rounds due to two particularly loud tools - thunderous raw power, and a cannon arm (albeit from behind the plate instead of right field). He was the consensus top high school bat in the 2014 draft, and demonstrated why by batting .280/.344/.476 with a couple of home runs in his professional debut. He entered 2015 as one of the best prospects in baseball (ranked 20th by Baseball America and 28th by MLB.com), and began the season in the Midwest League ... where he hit .157/.240/.213, earning a demotion to the Low-A Northwest League. Jackson bounced back nicely in the more age-appropriate league, slashing .239/.365/.466 with 8 HR in just 197 PA (though he did miss time due to hand and shoulder injuries). Jackson currently has some contact issues, but he has a good approach and a discerning eye, as well as the power to hit 25-plus home runs at his peak. It's a classic right field profile, with a bit more upside depending upon the evolution of his hit tool.
Tier 3 - The Next Group of Starters
These prospects would likely slot into the 100-200 range on an overall ranking list, and would be starters in mid-depth formats like 12 and 14 team leagues.
#2 - Edwin Diaz (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 22
If you were to take Edwin Diaz's stats at face value, you would likely be unimpressed due to a middle-of-the-road walk rate and the 4.57 ERA at Double-A. This is a textbook example of the perils of scouting the stat line, however, as most every scouting report indicates that Diaz improved his change-up and command markedly over previous seasons. Diaz's arsenal consists of a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a slightly above-average slider, and a solid change-up, and he has all the makings of a mid-rotation starter.
#3 - Luiz Gohara (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
The Mariners have moved Luiz Gohara through the minors at a slow and steady pace, allowing him to work on all three of his pitches at every level. The 6'3", 250ish mountain of a teenager dials his fastball up to the high-90s with regularity and features two off-speed pitches in the mid-to-high 80s, picking up whiffs with all three pitches. He struggles mightily with command and control, but his mechanics have improved gradually every step of the way, and he's far more athletic than his size would suggest. He is still several years away developmentally, but Gohara has the stuff and the build to be a mid-rotation starter - and it isn't difficult to envision a bit more when you see the movement on his fastball.
#4 - D.J. Peterson (3B)
Age on Opening Day: 24
D.J. Peterson raked his way through the low minors, posting a .316/.374/.588 slash line with 31 HR in 522 PA across Class A. He then held his own at Double-A, with 13 HR and an .808 OPS in half a season in 2014. As a result of his performance and underlying tools (plus raw power, average contact skills), Peterson was ranked as high as the top-50 (by MLB.com) entering 2015. The reports indicated that he had some trouble with offspeed stuff, but it had yet to hold him back. That changed in 2015, as he was fed a steady diet of junkballs, batting .223/.290/.346 with only 7 HR in 93 games in his second trip through Double-A. Peterson's strikeout and walk rates remained steady, but his power vanished as he struggled to make solid contact. He did battle nagging injuries, and the tools are still there - but 2015 represented a step back for Peterson, and the likely move to first base puts more pressure on his bat.
#5 - Tyler O'Neill (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 20
Comparisons to Brett Lawrie have been made for quite some time, as Tyler O'Neill is a similarly powerfully built Canadian with something of a temper (he broke his hand punching a wall in 2014). It's a bit lazy, to be sure, but it is not an insult - Lawrie was an excellent prospect. O'Neill has tremendous power (46 HR and a .251 ISO in 823 PA in his career), well above-average bat speed, and a better eye at the plate than his strikeouts would suggest. He's extremely aggressive, and occasionally sells out for power - but he has the offensive package to be a quality left-fielder in any format. Moreover, he has worked on becoming more athletic since moving from behind the dish as an amateur, and he chipped in 16 SB this year.
Tier 4 - Single League and Deep Format Plays
These prospects would likely slot into the 200-300 range on a ranking list, and would have the most value to mixed leagues with 16+ teams and single-league formats with 12+ teams.
#6 - Patrick Kivlehan (1B/3B/OF)
Age on Opening Day: 26
Patrick Kivlehan is one of the most interesting prospects in the game, having played four years of football at Rutgers, and only one season of baseball - as a senior. As a result, his age is a bit misleading, as he was no more experienced than your average JuCo player when he was drafted. And that inexperience shows, as Kivlehan has awkward swing mechanics and struggles with both premium velocity and break. Nevertheless, he is a tremendous athlete, with average or better power and speed, and he may end up qualifying at three positions down the line. His batting average may never be pretty, but he could contribute everywhere else while splitting his time between the four corners.
#7 - Nick Neidert (RHP)
Age on Opening Day: 19
Nick Neidert was the Mariners' top pick in this year's draft, taken 60th overall out of a Georgia high school. Were he a bit taller (he's listed at 6'1"), some posit that he would have been a first-rounder, due to his low-90s fastball, advanced feel for a change-up, developing curveball, and strong all-around command profile. His ceiling may not be loftier than the middle of a rotation, but he has a relatively high floor (particularly for a high school pitcher).
#8 - Luis Liberato (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 20
There is a non-zero chance that Luis Liberato is the toolsiest player in the Mariners system, given his average or better potential in the traditional five tools. He batted .260/.341/.453 with five home runs and ten stolen bases in his injury-shortened full season debut (215 PA), showcasing above-average bat speed and athleticism. Liberato is aggressive at the plate, but he has a good idea of the strike zone and makes plenty of contact. He remains young and raw, but he has a great deal of potential nevertheless.
Tier 5 - We Ranked Ten Prospects, We Really Did
These prospects generally will be useful in the deepest of formats. Think 24+ teams for mixed leagues and single-league formats with more teams than the league it uses. In many cases, these will be part-time players or utility-types when they get to the majors.
#9 - Ryan Yarbrough (LHP)
Age on Opening Day: 24
Unexciting may be the best way to describe Ryan Yarbrough, a prototypical command/control southpaw that seems slated for a career at the back of a rotation. He throws three pitches (90ish MPH fastball, change-up, curve) for strikes, and has the build and track record of a work horse. He won't maintain the strikeout per inning rates that he has shown thus far, but he has enough stuff and deception to keep batters honest.
#10 - Brayan Hernandez (OF)
Age on Opening Day: 18
Ranked third in the deep IFA class of 2014, Brayan Hernandez has the skill-set of a prototypical center-fielder - he's athletic, utilizes the entire field, runs the bases well, and has the frame to add at least a modicum of power. This ranking is a combination of factors (mostly the shallowness of the Mariners system and the sterling scouting reports on Hernandez), as he only put up a meager .224/.295/.328 line in the Dominican Summer League and remains several years away.