Another season of Everett AquaSox baseball began Friday night, and there’s two things you need to know about the Seattle Mariners’ short-season single-A Northwest League affiliate.
Fact: What interests people most about the Sox are the players who might end up playing for the Mariners one day.
Fact: Most of the players on the roster aren’t going to get there.
Therefore, I wandered my way to Everett Memorial Stadium on Friday to get a gauge on the players who are the best bets of eventually plying their trade 30 miles down I-5 at Safeco Field.
So who are those players on Everett’s opening-day roster? Here are five top prospects I’ll be keeping a close eye on this season to monitor their progress toward becoming major leaguers:
Logan Gilbert, starting pitcher
Gilbert technically wasn’t on Everett’s opening-day roster, as he had yet to officially sign with the Mariners. However, since the Sox already announced that Gilbert would be joining the team, he’s the obvious choice to top this list.
Gilbert, 21, was Seattle’s first-round pick in this year’s amateur draft, selected 14th overall out of Stetson University. The 6-foot-6 right-hander had his second straight outstanding season for the Hatters, in between which he dominated the Cape Cod League. This year for Stetson he went 11-2 with a 2.72 earned-run average, walking 25 and striking out 163 in 112.1 innings.
Gilbert comes from a program that has a history of producing ace major-league starters (Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom). He’s considered a pitcher with a high ceiling, with a four-pitch repertoire that includes a fastball in the mid-90s. One concern is Gilbert saw a dropoff in his fastball velocity early this spring, though that reportedly bounced back.
Given Gilbert’s heavy workload in college, it’s unlikely he’ll get too much use with the Sox. I wouldn’t expect more than 20 innings before Gilbert is shut down, meaning if you want to see him pitch you probably should do so early in the season.
Josh Stowers, outfielder
Stowers, Seattle’s second rounder in this year’s draft out of the University of Louisville, was something of a surprise pick. The 21-year-old was considered an overdraft, being selected 54th overall though he generally wasn’t considered among the draft’s top 150.
But what Stowers does best is one of the Mariners’ mantras: control the zone. Stowers walked 52 times in 62 games for the Cardinals, which along with his .336 batting average gave him a mouth-watering .477 on-base percentage. Seattle must also have been tempted by Stowers’ late-season power surge (he finished the season with nine home runs and a .559 slugging percentage) as well as his 36 stolen bases.
If Stowers’ increased pop was legitimate and not just a two-week hot streak, and if he shows the defensive ability to stick in center field, he has the tools to be a complete player. He’s also no doubt motivated to prove the Mariners were justified in using a second-round pick on him.
Joey Gerber, relief pitcher
If there’s a player on Everett’s roster who has the chance to crack the majors in a hurry, it’s Gerber.
Gerber, a 21-year-old who was an eighth-round pick in this year’s draft out of the University of Illinois, was the Illini’s closer this spring, notching 14 saves and compiling a 3.14 ERA in 25 appearances. What pops from the right-hander’s statistics were his 45 strikeouts in just 28.2 innings, though his 14 walks were probably a few more than he would have liked.
Gerber has a typical relief pitcher’s repertoire with a fastball in the mid-90s and a wipeout slider. Being a pitcher who’s only considered a reliever may put a cap on Gerber’s value. However, as a successful and experienced college reliever, Gerber probably has the best chance among Everett’s players of moving through the system quickly.
Ronald Rosario, outfielder
Rosario, 21, is the familiar name on this list, as he played for the Sox last year. Usually repeating the Northwest League isn’t a positive sign for a player’s career, but in Rosario’s case that may be an exception. The 2013 international signing out of the Dominican Republic is the only player on Everett’s opening-day roster who was on MLB.com’s list of the Mariners’ top 30 (pre-draft) prospects, coming in at No. 22.
Rosario has all the tools, as he has a big arm, he can run, and at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds, he still has room to fill out. In about half a season with Everett last year Rosario performed well, slashing .294/.355/.516. His .871 OPS ranked second on the team among players who saw significant time.
Rosario’s task this year will be showing better strike-zone judgment after fanning 40 times in 126 at bats. If he gets off to a fast start, his stay in Everett could be a brief one.
Keegan McGovern, outfielder
McGovern, Seattle’s ninth-round pick in this year’s draft out of the University of Georiga, is interesting because he’s a study in the veracity of breakout seasons.
McGovern wasn’t drafted last June after a modest junior season, but he broke out in a big way as a senior as he slugged 18 home runs in 58 games, this after managing no more than six dingers in any of his three previous collegiate campaigns. But his numbers as a senior were terrific across the board — .319/.431/.644 slash line with a 37/47 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 58 games. As a left-handed power hitter in a park that’s a haven for lefty power, he’ll have every chance to prove his college year was no fluke.
Because McGovern was drafted as a senior he’s a little bit older, but at 22 years old he’s a standard age for the Northwest League.