When general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais unveiled their rebuilding plan, later dubbed “a stepback,” to the people who would have to approve such a drastic change in organization’s trajectory and philosophy, it featured the broad goal of sustainable winning beyond simply ending the Seattle Mariners’ embarrassing postseason drought with a wild-card appearance.
With Mariners’ chairman and majority owner John Stanton, CEO Kevin Mather and involved minority owner Chris Larson listening in the days after of the 2018 season, Dipoto outlined a plan that featured the goal of consistently competing for the American League West title and ultimately a World Series.
To reach those lofty heights, they stressed the need to accumulate and develop a trove of talented prospects in the organization to serve as a foundation of the rebuild, avoiding the uneconomical and largely unsuccessful path of building entirely at the MLB level via free agency.
There was a slight problem at the time. Seattle’s farm system had been quite fairly rated as the worst in all of MLB by a number of third-party outlets, including Baseball America, going into the 2018 season. There was Kyle Lewis, whose status had dropped due to injury, and not much else in the system. A retooling wasn’t needed at the MLB level but throughout the organization.
Now heading into Year 3 of this rebuild, that micro goal of resurrecting the farm system’s talent has risen from its nadir to unprecedented levels for the organization.
This week, Baseball America released its annual organizational (farm system) talent rankings going into the 2021 season. A glance at the top of the list showed the Mariners’ system ranked as the second-best in all of baseball behind only the Tampa Bay Rays, who ranked No.1 going into the 2020 season as well.
As for the larger, more important goal of sustained success at the MLB level, including something more than a random postseason appearance, well, that still remains unmet with odds of it happening this season or next season bordering somewhere between impossible and not likely.
Still, the remake of a lagging talent pipeline is a notable and needed step for any sort of future success.
From the Baseball America rankings: “In 2018, Seattle ranked dead last in our talent rankings. Trades, astute international amateur signings and excellent pitching development have turned the system around.”
Here’s Baseball America’s Top 10:
1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. Seattle Mariners
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Atlanta Braves
6. San Diego Padres
7. Baltimore Orioles
8. Minnesota Twins
9. Los Angeles Dodgers
10. Cleveland Indians
The Mariners feature five players in Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects in all of baseball:
* No. 3 — Julio Rodriguez, OF
* No. 4 — Jarred Kelenic, OF
* No. 35 — Logan Gilbert, RHP
* No. 57 — Emerson Hancock, RHP
* No. 73 — Noelvi Marte, SS
Beyond those five players, Seattle acquired outfielder Taylor Trammell at midseason in 2020 and he was in the top 100 in 2020 while right-hander George Kirby — a first-round pick — just missed on being in the top 100.
Seattle’s climb to the top has been steady from the depths of 2018. In the weeks after the decision to rebuild, Dipoto started culling the roster of established MLB players and their expected financial commitments in trades with prospects in return.
The biggest of those moves came when Dipoto 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 Kelenic and Justin Dunn.
The Mariners were No. 14 in organizational rankings going into the 2019 season. But as Rodriguez, who was signed a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, blossomed from a raw, power-potential laden youth into a possible superstar, it gave the Mariners’ system two elite prospects. Seattle was rated as the No. 5 system going into 2020 and moved up to No. 3 overall in a special midseason ranking by Baseball America.
The Mariners’ top 30 prospects, per Baseball America, feature 24 homegrown players who started in their system — 18 were drafted and five were signed as international free agents.