The Seattle Mariners are one of the most exciting young franchises in the entire MLB. Yes, the Seattle Mariners. The franchise with the longest playoff drought of any major American sports franchise also boasts the top-ranked farm system in baseball. Seattle has just six winning seasons since 2004 and zero playoff appearances since 2001. That misfortune is destined to turn around in the next couple of seasons. We already saw hints of that success last season, when the Mariners won 90 games, finishing second in the AL West and just two games back of a Wild Card berth.
Some of the top young talents have already arrived. Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert made their debuts last season. The next wave should arrive this season to supplement the roster even further. With the arrival of even more elite talent, the Mariners are destined to finally break their playoff drought next season.
These are the top prospects to watch for the Mariners next season:
1. Julio Rodriguez / OF / ETA: 2022
Julio Rodriguez is a no-brainer at number one for the Mariners. He’s a no-brainer for many prospect lists at number one in the entire MLB. Rodriguez is still just 21 but the ceiling is sky-high for the young superstar. The Mariners signed a then 17-year old Rodriguez in July 2017. He ranked as MLBPipeline’s No. 9 international prospect and signed for $1.75 million. Rodriguez hits for average to all fields and carries elite-level power.
Julio started the 2019 season with the Mariners Low A affiliate, the West Virginia Power. Rodriguez was just 18 in a league with an average age of 21. Despite his age, he dominated. He hit .293/.359/.491 with 10 home runs in 67 games for the Power. His dominance earned him a late-season promotion to High A Modesto. In a small sample (17 games) Julio was even better, hitting .462 with 5 more home runs. It’s hard to find a true comp for JRod, as it depends heavily on where he settles in the outfield. The Mariners have discussed playing him in center, but he’s played mostly right field to this point in his career. As a RF, Julio comps well to Nelson Cruz and Bryce Harper. His ceiling is truly that high.
The last time we saw Julio, he appeared in 74 games between High A and AA. He finished the 2021 season with a robust batting line of .347/.441/.560. Rodriguez hit 13 home runs, 19 doubles, and walked 43 times.
He missed some time due to his appearance in the Olympic Games for the Dominican Republic. Rodriguez cemented himself as a top prospect in all of baseball despite playing in AA at just 20 years old. He somehow got even better when he promoted from High A to AA. Look for Julio to start the 2022 season in AA once again. He should make his way to AAA very quickly, if that is required. I don’t expect Rodriguez to contend for a roster spot on Opening Day, but look for him to make his debut by July with the Mariners deep in the playoff hunt.
2. George Kirby / RHP / ETA: 2023
George Kirby is a right-handed starting pitcher drafted by the Mariners 20th overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. Kirby entered the Mariners system at age 21 after three seasons pitching in the NCAA. He projects as a future front of the rotation starter. His ceiling is one of the best starting pitchers in the MLB, an elite front of the rotation Ace. His floor is still an above average 4th or 5th starter.
Kirby has the best command in the entire minor leagues. He boasts a 60-grade fastball that he throws 93-96 but touches 99. His fastball features late break and he commands it incredibly. Kirby also throws a plus curveball, plus changeup, and an average slider.
The biggest hang up so far with projecting Kirby is his inability to put together a full season to this point in his professional career. Across two seasons in the minor leagues, Kirby has compiled just 90 total innings pitched. Results in his limited work have been exceptional. He’s thrown 105 strikeouts and walked just 15 batters. His FIP through those 90 innings is sub-2.50.
Kirby entered the Mariner’s system out of college, so he should have been a fast mover through the Mariners system. If I was an extreme optimist, I’d say that Kirby could debut late next season, but the truth is that his workload just isn’t there yet. The Mariners will look to get Kirby a full season’s workload this season between AA and AAA before giving him a chance to make the big league rotation out of Spring Training in 2023. If the Mariners make the playoffs this season, then it’s a stretch, but Kirby could contribute out of the Major League bullpen late this season.
The biggest teller of the timetable for his arrival isn’t the talent; that’s already proven. Instead, it’s his health and ability to stretch his arm over 30 strong starts. Should he put together his elite talent and a full workload, Kirby’s comp for the Mariners is Shane Bieber.
3. Noelvi Marte / SS / ETA: 2024
Noelvi Marte is yet another magnificent international signing by the Mariners in recent years. Marte signed with the Mariners in July 2018 as a 16-year old shortstop from the Dominican Republic. His speed, raw power, and ability to hit for average made him the 7th ranked prospect in the international signing class. The Mariners were happy to sign him for $1.55 million. At just 16, Marte stood 6’1″ at 181 pounds. Marte has continued to grow into his frame and add muscle. In 2021, his first professional stint, the results were clear.
At 19, Marte made his professional debut at Low A Modesto. He played 99 games in Modesto before a late season promotion to High A Everett. Between the two leagues, Marte posted a .273/.366/.460 batting line in 107 games. He hit 28 doubles, 17 home runs, stole 24 bases, and walked 60 times. There is some swing and miss in his game; he struck out 117 times. However, with his ability to walk and hit for average I don’t expect the strikeouts to become a problem.
Marte’s quick hands, elite bat speed, and five tool talent are going to carry him far. Long term, Marte could stick at shortstop but more than likely his frame will move him to third base. If he sticks at shortstop, Carlos Correa is a good present day comp to Marte. Should he move to third base, I liken Marte to Yoan Moncada. Noelvi could hit 25-30 home runs with ease and get on base consistently. He carries All-Star potential with an MVP-level ceiling on the left side of the infield.
Still just 19, it’s a long shot that we see Marte debut in Seattle anytime in 2022. Most estimates have Marte reaching the major leagues in 2023. If so, it would likely be in mid to late 2023. The infield is deep in Seattle and should allow a bit extra time for Marte to develop.