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Sports >  Seattle Mariners

Analysis: In 2018, the Mariners farm system ranked dead last. Now, it’s No. 3. Here’s how they did it.

UPDATED: Wed., Aug. 12, 2020

Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez bats during spring training baseball practice Feb. 13, 2020, in Peoria, Ariz.  (Associated Press)
Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez bats during spring training baseball practice Feb. 13, 2020, in Peoria, Ariz. (Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – To be fair, as the Mariners have slowly climbed up from where they couldn’t go any lower, the two front-office members most often asked about the subject – general manager Jerry Dipoto and director of player development Andy McKay – still maintain that rankings from “third-party” media don’t influence their decisions.

Now they’re a little more likely to acknowledge their existence, though.

As for the Mariners marketing and public relations staff? They now welcome these lists as helping push the message that the team’s rebuild plan is working.

On Wednesday morning, longtime publication Baseball America released its midseason farm system rankings, and the Mariners climbed up two more spots from its preseason spot to the No. 3 organization in all of baseball.

The Top 5 farm systems per Baseball America:

  1. Tampa Bay Rays
  2. San Diego Padres
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Toronto Blue Jays
  5. Los Angeles Dodgers

Here’s what Baseball America said about the Mariners:

“The Mariners added one of the best pitchers in the 2020 draft, Emerson Hancock, to their growing collection of prospect talent. With Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic leading the position player group, the Mariners now have a promising pitching duo of Hancock and Logan Gilbert in conjunction.”

Why the two-spot increase from preseason to midseason?

The Mariners added Hancock, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 draft, along with second-round pick outfielder Zach DeLoach, and other teams had players gain MLB service time and lose their prospect status.

Hancock, who was projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick last year before dropping in an interrupted college season, was inserted as the Mariners’ No. 3 prospect behind Julio Rodriguez (No. 1) and Jarred Kelenic (No. 2). He moved ahead of right-hander Logan Gilbert (No. 5) – Seattle’s 2018 first-round pick – as the organization’s top pitching prospect.

The Mariners have six players on Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects list: Rodriguez (8), Kelenic (12), Hancock (54), Evan White (56), Logan Gilbert (63) and Noelvi Marte (99).

Seattle has now gone from worst to third in Baseball America’s rankings in just over 2½ years.

In late January 2018, the Mariners ranked 30th out of 30 teams in the preseason farm-system rankings with only one prospect at the time – outfielder Kyle Lewis – rated in their Top 100 prospects, at No. 67.

About week after the 2018 list published, Dipoto and McKay tried to downplay that dubious ranking at the Mariners’ annual pre-spring training luncheon.

“I do respect Baseball America a lot,” McKay said at the time. “I don’t read it. I haven’t read it since I’ve been involved in professional baseball. The rankings in general, you look at what that job is and it’s evaluate what happens in the past and predict what’s going to happen in the future. It’s not just really information I care a whole lot about, to be honest with you.”

The always-verbose Dipoto didn’t wait for questions on the subject that day, launching into a lengthy soliloquy.

“Before taking questions, I would like to first say hopefully what you’re hearing this morning resonates with you,” he said. “We have really exceptional people in this organization, exceptional people who are running exceptional programs. We’re making a lot of progress. Sometimes that doesn’t turn into championships at the big-league level, sometimes it does. We’re improving in a lot of areas, and never more in two areas that we just heard in high performance and player development, regardless of how we’re ranked in Baseball America.”

To be fair, there wasn’t much that either could say publicly. They couldn’t come out and lament the farm system they inherited from the previous regime led by general manager Jack Zduriencik.

Though Dipoto would often say the current regime and players couldn’t focus on what happened in the past.

Privately, people within the organization admitted it deserved the ranking based on failed drafts, trades and poor development.

“We made mistakes,” said team CEO Kevin Mather before the 2018 season. “We can’t afford to do that.”

Mather, Dipoto, chairman John Stanton and Chris Larson, a member of the minority ownership group, enacted a rebuilding plan, often called a “step back,” after the 2018 season and culled the roster by trading veterans for young, controllable talent. That’s a big a reason for the farm system’s improvement, along with some high draft picks that come from poor seasons.

Obviously, the trade that sent second baseman Robinson Cano, with his albatross of a contract, and reliever Edwin Diaz, coming off an unrepeatable 57-save season, to the Mets in exchange for five players headlined by prospects Kelenic and Justin Dunn has helped the rankings.

“Frankly, right now, we couldn’t be happier with the talent that we’ve been able to amass in the last year and two months,” Dipoto said in March. “We went from a really rough farm system with not a lot of burgeoning talent to one of the more well-regarded farm systems in the league. … I’m really excited about the talent that we put in place.

“And where we are at the end of this year will reflect whether this group is ready to go out and compete at a high level in 2021, or if we’re a year out. We know we have the right group of players. Now it’s just a matter of, are we a year out? Are we two years out?”

Besides releasing the midseason rankings for farm systems, Baseball America also released the updated Top 30 prospects for each organization.

Here are the Top 10 of the Mariners’ updated Top 30 prospects:

  1. Julio Rodriguez, OF
  2. Jarred Kelenic, OF
  3. Emerson Hancock, RHP
  4. Evan White, 1B
  5. Logan Gilbert, RHP
  6. Noelvi Marte, SS
  7. George Kirby, RHP
  8. Justus Sheffield, LHP
  9. Justin Dunn, RHP
  10. Kyle Lewis, OF
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