By Simong Teska
Personally, one of my favorite things about the Major League Baseball All-Star break is the aftermath that always includes an updated Top 100 Prospects List from MLBPipeline.com. This year was no different, as I was curious to see what Mariners – if any – would make the list, especially after trading No. 2 organizational prospect Tyler O’Neill to the St. Louis Cardinals last week.
Single-A Advanced outfielder Kyle Lewis came in at No. 47 overall as the lone representative for the Mariners on the prestigious list. O’Neill, meanwhile, slipped to No. 100 on the list after being ranked much higher during spring training.
WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT LEWIS?
It’s a small sample size due to a knee injury that set the 22-year old’s development back a bit this season, but in 19 at bats through six games for Modesto, he is showing both power and his ability to hit to contact. Lewis has a .368 batting average and three home runs with seven RBI.
Again, very small sample size, but that’s what Lewis has been up to so far this season for at least a somewhat competitive level of the minor leagues. He also played 11 games in the Arizona League, but analyzing Class-A Advanced is as low in the minors as I will go to evaluate a player’s major-league promise. If I start evaluating short-season, single-A players I apparently have nothing to do in my free time.
Anyways, the Mariners like Lewis. If he didn’t start the season injured, I would have expected him to be in Double-A by now, but I would assume that’s where he will begin 2018 with a projected major-league debut in 2019.
By then, the 24-year old outfielder will be ready to make an impact – assuming he doesn’t get traded at the deadline next year like O’Neill was this year.
WHY DID THE M’S TRADE O’NEILL?
The trade with the Cardinals for SP/RP Marco Gonzales was a bit of a head scratcher for me at least. I know the Mariners need relief pitching and the 25-year old Gonzales gives you some flexibility with the ability to start as well. At least general manager Jerry Dipoto realized the trade for Miami Marlins pitcher David Phelps was NOT going to solve the bullpen issues independently (Unfortunately, that is old news at this point, so ranting about how much I dislike David Phelps wouldn’t be relevant.)
Anyways, I am guessing that the numbers O’Neill put up at Triple-A this year were underwhelming for the Seattle brass. It’s a pretty healthy sample size – 349 at-bats in 93 games for Tacoma, but the 22-year old hit only .244 in a hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He did add 19 home runs and 56 RBI with nine steals, and I’m not sure how he is defensively, but Dipoto must have seen a red flag somewhere.
I really don’t know, but I am trying to justify it for him.
Gonzales, meanwhile, has some major-league experience this year. It might be an experience he wants to forget though – lasting 3.1 innings, giving up five earned runs and three home run balls when he pitched for the Cardinals. At triple-A, however, he pitched well this year, going 6-4 in 11 starts with a 2.90 ERA for Memphis. In his one start for Tacoma, he went six innings and gave up three runs.
I get it that the Mariners need pitching depth and Gonzales can start or come out of the bullpen, I just don’t know if trading a power hitter who is three years younger for Gonzales was the best move. It will end up being one of those ‘wait and see’ trades, I guess. Until we see how it turns out, I am proceeding with skepticism.
Keep in mind the Cardinals system produces outfield talent so quickly, they resemble a Chinese manufacturing plant. This year alone, Tommy Pham, Randal Grichuk, Stephen Piscotty and most recently Harrison Bader, who doubled and scored the walk-off run Tuesday night, have all come from the Cardinals minor-league system. There’s also former Cardinals outfielders Colby Rasmus and that Albert Pujols guy – who came up at as a third baseman but started his career in the outfield.
Tyler O’Neill will be next… I’m not saying Gonzales won’t be worth it – just saying O’Neill will be better.
BACK TO KYLE LEWIS
Sorry, I got super distracted. I have been pretty hot about the O’Neill trade, so I needed to get that out of my system.
Anyways, Lewis will be a fun one to watch over the next two years in the minor leagues. The bottom line is he will need to stay healthy and will the knee injury hinder his speed at all? That could be a huge factor.
The former Golden Spikes award winner in 2016 was drafted 11th overall by the Mariners and immediately jumped to the top of their organizational top prospects list. The Golden Spikes Award is given to the top, amateur baseball player in the country, so winning it in 2016 is nothing to scoff at.
Lewis is the real deal (when healthy).
To put it into perspective, other recent winners of this prestigious award include Andrew Benintendi of the Red Sox (2015), A.J. Reed of Houston (2014) and highly-touted Brendan McKay out of Louisville in 2017.
Lewis a big presence at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. Since he’s only 22-years old he will likely fill out that frame and add some muscle. He can hit for power and he can hit for average.
The big question remains: How is the rebuilt ACL going to heal and will that set back his development further? We shall see.
The Mariners’ farm system is fairly weak – to be polite, making not only Kyle Lewis more valuable to the team than most No. 1 organizational prospects, but it also limits what kind of pitching additions the M’s can make before Monday’s trade deadline.
Taking the first two games against Boston has been refreshing and maybe Seattle can make a playoff push without landing a top-level, pitching talent.
Enjoy the rest of your week, readers. Go Mariners!