With a Stocked Farm, the Seattle Mariners Can Have Cake and Eat It Too

When Jerry Dipoto and his baseball operations team chose to rebuild the Seattle Mariners in 2019, they did so for a variety of reasons. Often we think the decision was made primarily because the major league roster wasn’t good enough to contend for a championship.

The Seattle Mariners reached first place in June for the first time in 21 years

While this is certainly a major part of the story, it overlooks a central element: the agricultural system was in no position to help.

Yes, the roster was competitive in the American League West. But he was top-heavy (relying on a quartet of aging stars) and he didn’t have the minor league support to augment his many holes. Additionally, the Houston Astros had a full roster ready to compete at the major level and throughout the system. It was going to take an overhaul to achieve this level consistently.

A few years later, not only did the Mariners reach the playoffs with their revamped roster, they did so primarily with players they had trained in the minors or acquired using players they had drafted and developed . The farm system had moved from 30th to first in the rankings, and an excellent percentage of the prospects they held were reaching something close to their potential in the majors. This is a huge (and somewhat rare) accomplishment. But it came at a price. As these young players graduated or were traded, the system became barren again.

No more.

In Keith Law’s recent prospect rankings for The Athletic, the Mariners have five of the top 50 players, more than any other team. Colt Emerson (10th) was their highest-rated player, followed by Cole Young (31), Felnin Celesten (36), Harry Ford (40) and Jonny Farmelo (49). All five have moved up the rankings this year, a testament to both the number of young players now playing in the big leagues and their own progression. I’m not sure where the Mariners farm system stands exactly, but after starting the year ranked 18th according to MLB Pipeline, it would probably be in the top 10 by now.

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The fun thing about this group of five is that they all play up the middle (three shortstops, a catcher and a center fielder). And these aren’t the only names climbing the rankings. Law mentioned Tai Peete, Aiden Smith and Logan Evans. And there’s plenty to love with Lazaro Montes, Dawel Joseph, Tyler Locklear, Michael Arroyo, Ben Williamson and others. Not all of these players will reach their full potential, but the recent record is pretty good for this developmental team.

It was the goal. The Mariners have a true team at the major league level. They lead the division by 4 1/2 games and have their best record at this point in the season in two decades. They have the easiest schedule of any team in the league, with their remaining opponents currently having a combined winning percentage of .471. Their farm system has already helped fill in the gaps this season (Emerson Hancock, Ryan Bliss, Jonatan Clase and a few relievers) and could be poised to contribute more with Locklear recently promoted to Triple-A Tacoma.

But we all know this team has needs going into the season, and it appears the farm system is strong enough to attract trade partners while remaining deep enough to survive those trades. This puts this team in a much better position than when this journey began.

And they should use those strengths to give them the greatest chance to win this year… while balancing the overall health of the organization going forward.

Would it be fun to see this whole group of young people playing together in the big leagues? Of course! There would be some position overlap (especially at shortstop), but that’s a good problem and would resolve itself. It’s easy to imagine this group coming together and tearing up the AL West.

But certain realities can get in the way. History tells us that not all of these prospects will reach their ceiling and that a few will likely fall far short of that goal. Additionally, most of their best young players are position players, and by the time they are fully marinated and have enough big league experience to reach their potential, the current crop of dominant big league starters will have probably experienced some attrition and regression.

The 2024 Seattle Mariners have put themselves in a position that the 2023 group could not. They have a division lead through June and clear opportunities for improvement (with the corner outfield and bullpen leading the pack). Dipoto wants to sustain success to give his team several bites at the apple – I think that’s absolutely the right approach in a league where the best teams make the playoffs and the most successful teams win championships. His system is deep enough to allow him to have the cake and eat it too.

All the top business goals should be in play for this organization this summer. That could mean rental options (like Pete Alonso) or younger players with more control (like Vladimir Gurerro Jr. and Bo Bichette). Nothing should be ruled out, especially when remembering how effective it was when the team traded for Luis Castillo in 2022.

That’s why the Mariners rebuilt in 2019 and restocked in 2023. The period leading up to the trade deadline is going to be a lot of fun.

Learn more about the Seattle Mariners

• What stands out from Ryne Stanek about the success of the Mariners bullpen
• Insider on Mariners prospect’s rapid rise: ‘He’s extremely aberrant’
• Mariners finalize deal with veteran OF who was a top prospect
• Mariners Takeaways: A historic weekend to start the rotation
• Seattle Mariners JP Crawford’s statistic leads the MLB since the start of 2023

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