Each offseason, MiLB.com goes position by position across each system and honors the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. Click here to locate your favorite club.
The Mariners are ready to contend, and there’s more talent on the way.
Seattle’s hopes of ending a 20-year postseason drought lived on until the season’s final moments in 2021. And while that was happening, the organization experienced incredible success at all levels of the Minors. Each of its six affiliates finished with a winning record as the organization posted a .572 win percentage overall. Triple-A Tacoma and the Mariners’ Rookie-level Arizona Complex League team each finished with the second-best record at their level.
Also, team offensive leaderboards were littered with Mariners affiliates. Low-A Modesto finished third among all full-season clubs with a .277 average, while High-A Everett was fourth with an .828 team OPS and fifth with 766 total runs scored. Tacoma finished in the top seven in average (.273), RBIs (732), homers (189), runs (763) and OPS (.822).
As productive as those offenses were in 2021, the Mariners were also the beneficiaries of some breakout pitching performances. George Kirby and Emerson Hancock -- MLB.com’s No. 33 and 34 prospects -- both had excellent seasons but were muscled out for a spot on this Organization All-Star list.
Although they’ve been aggressive on the trade market while also showing a willingness to spend in free agency, much of the Mariners’ core was built on homegrown talent -- or at least players acquired as prospects. They still have a lot of star power left in the Minors, including five prospects in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. And it shouldn’t be long before that group ends the drought in the Rainy City.
Mariners Organization All-Stars
Catcher – Brian O’Keefe, Arkansas (49 games), Tacoma (56 games): It was a decisive season for the 28-year-old after he was assigned to Double-A, a level at which he first debuted in 2017. But O’Keefe proved he was ready to make a push for big-league consideration.
“He had a lot to prove to himself. And he had a lot to prove to the Mariners,” Arkansas manager Collin Cowgill said. “We always knew he could hit. We knew he could throw. … Really, just watching him develop into a leader and someone who can control a staff at the big-league level was a lot of fun to watch.”
O’Keefe finished with a .268/.349/.485 slash line, 24 homers, 78 RBIs and 58 runs scored -- except for the on-base percentage, all of those were career highs. He batted .286 and hit 11 homers for the Travelers before being promoted in July.
He threw out 26 of 123 would-be base stealers and committed seven errors behind the plate over the course of the season.
First baseman -- José Marmolejos, Tacoma (83 games), Seattle (41 games): The 28-year-old from Miami was a monster with one of the best offensive seasons in the Minors in 2021.
Marmolejos was named Triple-A West MVP after batting .338 with 26 homers and 75 RBIs for the Rainiers. He led all qualified Minor Leaguers with a .672 slugging percentage and 1.111 OPS and finished in the top 10 among all Triple-A hitters in homers and RBIs despite spending more than a month in the Majors.
Marmolejos received 11 percent of the vote for the MiLBY Award for the Top Offensive Player in the Minors, and he beat out fellow Mariners first baseman Gabe Moncada -- who led all Minor League hitters with a 193 wRC+ -- for a spot on this list.
The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic native didn’t fare as well in the big leagues, batting .160 in 106 at-bats, but the power was still there. Marmolejos had 17 hits for the Mariners but four left the yard and four went for doubles while he drove in 12 runs.
Marmolejos elected free agency after the season and reportedly signed a deal in early December with the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball.
Second baseman – Edryn Rodriguez, Dominican Summer League (44 games): The 18-year-old got to stay close to home in his first professional season after signing with the club in 2019. But he proved to be a hitter worth keeping tabs on as he climbs the organizational ladder.
Rodriguez batted .309/.422/.515 with four homers, 14 doubles, one triple, 28 RBIs, 24 walks and 28 runs scored in just 136 at-bats at the Rookie level. The slugging and extra-base hit numbers were a bit of a surprise coming from the 5-foot-9 switch hitter, but he showed an ability to handle the bat well and consistently find the barrel at such a young age.
Although he only had 28 at-bats against southpaws, Rodriguez was excellent from the right side, batting .385 with a pair of homers, four doubles and 12 RBIs. He mostly played second base but was capable of filling in at shortstop this season.
Third baseman -- Jantzen Witte, Tacoma (104 games): After eight years in the Red Sox organization, Witte found his place in the Pacific Northwest.
The 31-year-old was a key figure in an incredible Tacoma offense, batting .299/.364/.491 with 19 homers, 19 doubles, one triple, 70 RBIs, 63 runs scored and 41 walks in the hitter-friendly environment. His homer output was a career high that tied with Connor Hoover for the most among third basemen in the system and was second to Marmolejos in Tacoma.
Witte also played some first base, second base and left field, but mainly held down the hot corner for the Rainiers. He committed eight errors in 125 total chances at third.
The 2013 24th-rounder is still looking to make his Major League debut and elected free agency in November.
Shortstop -- Noelvi Marte, Modesto (99 games), Everett (eight games): The Mariners have consistently had a prospect listed among the game’s Top 10 for most of the past decade, and Marte is next in line for that honor. The No. 11 overall prospect had an excellent first season stateside, reaching High-A as a teenager and proving that he will be a star in the Minor Leagues for the foreseeable future.
The Cotui, Dominican Republic native batted .273/.366/.459 with 17 doubles, 28 homers, two triples, 60 walks, 71 RBIs and 91 runs scored. He led the system in runs scored and finished fourth with 24 stolen bases.
Marte had already garnered some national acclaim, but he was the center of attention in August after a three-homer, nine-RBI performance for Modesto against Stockton.
“On most nights, he is both the youngest player and best player on the field,” Andy McKay, the Mariners’ director of player development, told MLB.com. “The hit tool and the raw power are usually the first things people notice when they watch him compete. … His ability to drive the baseball is very unique for his age.”
Marte had some difficult stretches at the plate, which is to be expected for a player his age, but he also looked like the best hitter on the planet for weeks at a time. He was the youngest player at the Mariners’ alternate site last season and one of the best hitters in the DSL in 2019.
The 20-year-old has a lot of defensive tools to improve upon -- he committed 30 errors in 393 total chances at shortstop this season -- but there’s plenty of time to do so. Marte signed for $1.55 million as a 16-year-old in July 2018 and might still be in the Minors when the Mariners finally end that postseason drought, especially if it’s in 2022. But it’s also likely that any sustained success in Seattle will feature Marte at shortstop.
Julio Rodriguez, Everett (28 games), Arkansas (46 games): There’s hardly a higher compliment than the one Cowgill paid Rodriguez, MLB.com’s No. 2 overall prospect, while reflecting on his season.
“I played with Mike Trout for two and a half years in the big leagues,” Cowgill said. “J-Rod can do a lot of those things.”
Rodriguez had one of the best offensive seasons in the Minors, batting .347/.441/.560 with 13 homers, 19 doubles, two triples, 47 RBIs, 64 runs, 43 walks and 21 stolen bases across two levels. He lasted only 28 games at High-A -- which was a cautious assignment after he missed 2020 with a broken wrist -- but only got better at the next level. Rodriguez batted .362 with a 1.007 OPS in his first experience at Double-A.
“He's the complete package, there's no doubt,” Cowgill said. “I also don't have much of a doubt that he's going to be in the big leagues at some point next year. … The athleticism, for sure, was impressive. I didn't realize how fast he was until I saw him get going. He can be a 20-20, 30-30 guy in the big leagues for a long time. But the athleticism and the speed was surprising, but the person inside that body, he's a mature kid and he's ready for the big leagues.”
Rodriguez also participated in the Olympic games in Tokyo this summer, earning a Bronze medal for the Dominican Republic. He played in 32 games with the Travelers after returning from the Olympics and batted .395 with four homers and 17 RBIs.
Cowgill mentioned that the organization would probably like to see Rodriguez take advantage of his raw power and hard contact ability a little more moving forward. He hit the ball on the ground almost 55 percent of the time at Double-A. Rodriguez also proved capable of being a productive center fielder, but he’ll need to get a little bit more accurate with his plus arm to thrive at that next level.
Cade Marlowe, Modesto (34 games), Everett (71 games), Tacoma (one game): The 24-year-old was one of the best power hitters in the system in 2021.
Marlowe went yard 26 times, which tied with Marmolejos for the most among Mariners’ Minor Leaguers. He also led the system with 107 RBIs, was second to Marmolejos with a .566 SLG and runner-up to Marte with 87 runs scored.
The 2019 20th-rounder out of West Georgia was a Low-A Player of the Month in May and a High-A Player of the Month in July. Marlowe made the most of his one-game stint in Tacoma as well, swatting a double during a 2-for-3 performance.
Marlowe did not fare as well with Peoria in the Arizona Fall League, batting .233 with five doubles and seven RBIs.
Zach DeLoach, Everett (58 games), Arkansas (49 games): The 2020 second-rounder out of Texas A&M proved to be too big for High-A in the early going.
He hit 23 of his system-leading 33 doubles and clubbed nine homers while batting .313 in 249 at-bats and was a High-A West Player of the Month with the AquaSox in June. But things leveled out a bit for him at Arkansas.
“He's definitely impressive. There's definitely some areas where he's going to need to improve, but the player is really good,” Cowgill said. “He's got some pop in that bat ... he can really top-spin the ball to right field. We'd like to see him hit the ball over the right fielder's head a little more often.”
DeLoach, the Mariners’ sixth-ranked prospect, batted .227 and saw almost a 5 percent increase in his strikeout rate after the promotion. He was named to the Fall Stars Game in the AFL but did not finish with impressive numbers on the circuit, batting .162 with four extra-base hits and nine RBIs for the Javelinas.
“He wants to be a good outfielder. He made strides with us to be a better outfielder. Knowing the type of person he is and the offseason ... he's a great ballplayer,” Cowgill said. “Him jumping right out of the gate and having a great start speaks to who he is as a player, too.”
DeLoach only played the corner outfield spots and committed three errors in right this season.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Matt Brash, Everett (10 games), Arkansas (10 starts): There were few pitchers in the Minors as dominant or entertaining as Brash this season.
“He was dominant from the time he showed up,” Cowgill said. “As soon as I saw the delivery and kind of the violence that he comes down the mound with, the aggression, I was immediately sold.”
His 2.31 ERA was the lowest among all pitchers in the system who completed at least 60 innings, and he finished second with 142 total strikeouts and third with 13.13 strikeouts per nine innings. Brash was the Double-A Central Pitcher of the Week twice in August, where he held a 1.16 ERA with 37 punchouts in 23 1/3 innings.
“Deception, the mentality, and then you couple it with, I mean, the guy's slider is elite. It's 97 [mph], his fastball. The changeup is getting better, and he's been throwing this knuckle curve his whole life that is equally as disgusting as his slider,” Cowgill said. “The guy is absolutely nasty, man. He throws bowling balls. Everything he throws is just firm. I stood in his bullpen almost every day that he threw one. The finish to the breaking ball, it picks up steam as it gets there, and it lands heavy. ... He was absolutely dominant.”
Brash hit double-digit strikeouts five times, topping out at 11 in three different starts. He made seven scoreless appearances and 11 in which he allowed less than two runs.
The Mariners’ No. 10 prospect will probably need to add some muscle to his 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame to stick in a Major League rotation. But he’s certainly got the stuff to get him there.
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Brandon Williamson, Everett (six starts), Arkansas (13 starts): It was difficult to outshine Brash in the Mariners’ system this season -- as well as Kirby and Hancock for that matter -- but Williamson was the Mariners’ true strikeout artist in the Minors this season.
The club’s seventh-ranked prospect was 14th among all Minor Leaguers with 153 punchouts and his 14.0 K/9 was 17th among players in that group to complete at least 60 innings.
“B-Will's fastball was one of his best weapons. He can throw that thing at the belt, left-handed or right-handed,” Cowgill said. “The ride that he has on that thing … and it's at 95 [mph], and it's only going to get better.”
Williamson posted a 3.39 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP and .227 opponent’s batting average across both levels this season. The 2019 second-rounder out of TCU gets a lot of deception out of his 6-foot-6 frame and can make the most of his four-pitch mix.
He's understanding how to throw the curveball effectively for both a strike pitch and an out-pitch,” Cowgill said. “Couple it with fastball and changeup, and he's got a decent idea of the movement on the slider, so he's figuring out how to place it and how to land it, how to kind of weaponize it as well.
“He's got four real pitches, He's really good with two of them. When the other two kind of come along the same lines, he's going to be an elite big-league arm.”
Williamson struck out a career-high 13 batters against Vancouver on May 29 and posted six scoreless outings this season.
Relief pitcher -- Michael Stryffeler, Arkansas (41 games): Stryffeler stayed out of his own way enough to become an effective reliever in 2021.
He posted a 2.09 ERA -- the second-lowest among all Mariners’ Minor Leaguers to complete at least 40 innings -- while striking out 71 and holding opposing batters to an .092 average over 43 innings in his first full season. He also allowed 36 walks and hit two batters to lead the system with 7.53 walks per nine innings.
“You start to watch him understand the shape of a slider. He worked on a new grip. We always knew it was good. Once he was able to command it, it's lethal. The slider's elite,” Cowgill said. “He also has a significant riding fastball -- 97, 98 [mph]. His biggest flaw is his ability to control both pitches. And when he figures that out, he's going to be an effective, middle-back end of the bullpen.
Once he locks the slider in, he's absolutely dominant, he's absolutely wipeout. We just need that to show up all the time or at least a little bit more of the time. ... The stuff's there, the mind's there, the body's there. It's just the ability to command both pitches, and when he does that, he's a big-leaguer.”
The 25-year-old from Lake Erie, Ohio, was pitching for the local Frontier League team, the Lake Erie Crushers, when he signed a Minor League deal with the Mariners in June 2019. He went undrafted after four years at Lake Erie College, a Division II school near his hometown, where he held a 6.08 ERA.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.