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Out of Right Field: Mariners prospect watch provides relief from bad news

Mariners prospect Wyatt Mills fires for Gonzaga Prep during a district playoff game against Mead in 2012 at Avista Stadium. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Mariners prospect Wyatt Mills fires for Gonzaga Prep during a district playoff game against Mead in 2012 at Avista Stadium. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Enough with the bad news.

It’s been a pretty crummy week to be a Seattle Mariners fan. Rather than dwell on the negative vibes emitting from the Safeco Field clubhouse surrounding the suspension of M’s star Robinson Cano for a PED masking agent – and his halfhearted nondenial denial – let’s instead look ahead at some of the Mariners top prospects in the minor leagues.

Anything to give M’s fans a break right now.

As with any discussion of Mariners prospects, we have to acknowledge that the M’s minor league system was ranked poorly at the start of the season – dead last in all of baseball by some.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few gems in the rubble worth mentioning.

Kyle Lewis, OF

Lewis is clearly the M’s top prospect. Besieged by a serious knee injury so far in his pro career, he’s finally back on the field for High-A Modesto in the California League.

Lewis’ first game this spring was on May 12. He has played in five games, going 4 for 20 (.200) with two RBIs and a walk against 10 strikeouts. The numbers in his first couple of weeks back aren’t the big thing – it’s that he’s back on the field at all and, with good fortune, stays there all summer.

Lewis was the Mariners’ first-round pick – 11th overall – in 2016 out of Mercer, where he was the Southern Conference triple crown winner his sophomore year.

When healthy, Lewis has the makings of a dynamic offensive talent capable of hitting for average and power. Big and physical, he possesses easy plus power to all fields, albeit with some swing-and-miss tendencies. His approach is solid and he controls the strike zone well while showing feel for hitting to all fields.

Lewis showed average speed before the injury. He’ll be evaluated the rest of the summer to see how much impact the injury has had. He compensates for a lack of range in the outfield with excellent instincts and jumps.

Wyatt Mills, RP

Want a feel-good story to latch onto? Here you go.

Mills, a right-handed reliever, was the Mariners’ third-round pick in the 2017 draft out of Gonzaga and Gonzaga Prep. Local boy makes good, what’s not to love?

Mills posted a 1.79 ERA with 12 saves his senior season with the Zags and finished his career with 21 saves, second most in program history. He signed quickly after the draft and put up some pretty cool numbers in his first pro offerings last year: 1.77 ERA and 0.836 WHIP with 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings across 18 games and 20 1/3 innings for Short-A Everett and Low-A Clinton.

In 14 games this season for High-A Modesto, he’s 2-0 with a 4.08 ERA and 1.075 WHIP and 9.7 K/9 rate against just 2.0 walks per nine.

He’s a lanky side-armer who features velocity and control and could very well factor on the major league roster later this season or during spring training next year. He throws a low-90s fastball that touches 95 on occasion, and features a tight slider which is devastating to right-handed batters.

Dan Vogelbach, DH

The time to find out whether Vogelbach will be a big-league hitter is upon us.

In limited duty over the past three seasons – including a 19-game stint with 63 plate appearances at the start of this season – Vogelbach has posted a .191/.290/.287 slash line with five extra-base hits.

That’s not going to cut it for a guy that the M’s still call a first baseman out of politeness only. He’s listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds. The first number is probably generous and the second conservative. Not shockingly, he’s a lousy runner and poor fielder.

But what he’s always been able to do at the minor league level is hit the ball. Far.

With Nelson Cruz’s contract expiring at the end of the season, Vogelbach, 25, seems to be the designated hitter-in-waiting as the M’s continue to stash him at Triple-A Tacoma.

All he’s done since he was sent down a couple of weeks ago – stop me if you’ve heard this one already – is mash the ever-living heck out of the ball. In 22 games and 99 plate appearances, Vogelbach is slashing .316/.465/.724 with eight homers and seven doubles.

The hefty left-handed hitter owns a career .288/.393/.483 minor league slash over eight seasons. He has nothing left to prove in the minors.

Evan White, 1B

White was the M’s first-round pick, 17th overall, in last summer’s draft. He’s rated by MLB.com as the organization’s No. 2 prospect behind Lewis.

White, 22, is a bit of a unicorn. He bats right and throws left, is extremely athletic and is a plus runner with solid arm strength, so he sounds like a prototypical corner outfielder, which he was with the U.S. college national team in 2016.

In fact, the weakest part of his profile at first base – where the M’s think he could be a Gold Glove caliber defender – is his power, which over three seasons at Kentucky was just starting to develop when he was drafted. He hit 10 homers his junior year after combining for seven his first two collegiate seasons.

After the draft, White got into 14 games with Everett last summer before a groin injury shelved him. He slashed .277/.345/.532 with three homers in 55 plate appearances. So far this season, he’s slashing .267/.347/.349 with a homer and seven doubles in 36 games and 167 plate appearances for Modesto.

He’ll spend all of this season and most of next honing his skills in the minors but could be a quick riser through the system.


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