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From worst to first: Mariners’ farm system ranked No. 1 in all of baseball

The Seattle Mariners’ farm system has landed in Baseball America’s spotlight, including outfielder Julio Rodriguez, ranked No. 2 overall.  (Associated Press)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Mariners have gone from worst to first … in farm system rankings.

They hope that will eventually lead to a similar progression on the field. Of course, wins and losses, postseason berths and playoff wins are not subjective like prospect rankings, but it’s still an accomplishment for the organization.

On Monday, Baseball America released its midseason organizational rankings, which rate the strength of the farm systems in Major League Baseball. The updated rankings take into account prospects who have graduated from prospect status by reaching MLB limits to qualify for the rookie of the year awards.

The Mariners, who were ranked as the No. 2 system by Baseball America, took over the No. 1 spot despite having outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-hander Logan Gilbert graduate from prospect status.

The Mariners still have four players in Baseball America’s top 100 prospects, led by outfielder Julio Rodriguez, ranked No. 2 overall. Shortstop Noelvi Marte has moved to No. 8 on that list while right-handed pitcher George Kirby is knocking on the top 10 at No. 11. Right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock is ranked No. 50 in the top 100.

The Rays, the No. 1 team in the preseason rankings, dropped to seventh after graduating their top four prospects: shortstop Wander Franco, the top prospect in all of baseball; outfielder Randy Arozarena, who was the team’s postseason hero; right-handed pitcher Luis Patiño and lefty Shane McClanahan.

In late January 2018, the Mariners were ranked 30th out of 30 teams in Baseball America’s organizational rankings.

At the time, general manager Jerry Dipoto and director of player development Andy McKay downplayed the “third-party rankings.”

“I do respect Baseball America a lot,” McKay said at a news conference shortly after those rankings came out. “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.”

But when the Mariners went into their “step-back” rebuild, accumulating several prospects while trading away veteran players, the farm system slowly was restocked with talent, including Kelenic. The signings of Rodriguez and Marte by former international scouting director Tim Kissner have been key for the system.

The Mariners have also had much more consistent success with their amateur drafts, specifically their first-round picks: Kyle Lewis, Evan White, Gilbert, Kirby and Hancock.

Kirby and Hancock were recently featured on the cover of Baseball America with the headline “The Next Wave.”

Scouts have raved about the Mariners’ talent at the lower levels of the minor leagues, including right-hander Matt Brash, acquired in a trade with the Padres; lefty Adam Macko, a draft pick out of Vauxhall, Alberta; and several other hard-throwing pitchers, including right-hander Levi Stoudt.

The Mariners haven’t shied away from mentioning or marketing the rankings of their prospects and the farm system, particularly after the 2019 and 2020 seasons when success at the MLB level wasn’t a priority or selling point.

As former president Kevin Mather pointed out in his infamous Zoom meeting with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary club on Feb. 5:

“We started the step-back plan in August of 2018,” he said. “We have gathered prospects. It’s been an expensive and I know painful process for our fan base. But we have six in the top 100 of Baseball America – now when you’re lousy in your minor leagues, you dismiss Baseball America and say, ‘We’ll see what happens, kids change, kids grow up’ – but since we have six of the top 100, we don’t dismiss it. We speak quite highly of it.”

Sewald returns as a new dad

The Mariners made a roster move Monday, returning right-handed reliever Paul Sewald to the active roster from the paternity list. To make room, right-hander Yohan Ramirez, who pitched in Sunday’s loss to the Blue Jays, was optioned back to Triple-A Tacoma after the game.

Sewald and his wife, Molly, became first-time parents with the birth of a daughter named Chloe.

Manager Scott Servais was happy to have Sewald, who has served as a part-time closer since the trade of Kendall Graveman, back in the bullpen and ready for late-inning leverage situations. But not as happy as Sewald is at the moment.

“He’s excited as he should be,” Servais said. “He’s a dad for the first time, and he’s also excited to get back and join his teammates.”

Sewald, 31, has posted a 7-3 record with four saves and a 2.84 ERA with 12 walks and 64 strikeouts in 37 relief appearances this season.

He’s struck out 42.1% of the batters he’s faced, which leads the AL and ranks fourth in the big leagues among pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched.