Mariners Top 20 Prospects: Number Ten

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Given the lack of power the Mariners have shown at the plate this year, it’s a good thing that the number ten prospect in the system should be someone that projects to hit some homers:

10. Rich Poythress
Position: 1B |  Hits: R Throws: R
DOB:  8/11/1987  |  HT: 6’4″ WT: 235 LB
Notes: Poythress is a strong, strong kid.  Tall and thick, there’s not much fat on his frame, but there is plenty of muscle.  He’s never going to make you think he’s a track star, but he will occasionally hit a ball 400-plus feet much faster than a track star could run the same distance.

Unsurprisingly, Poythress’ game is one based on his power.  He blasted 31 homers for High Desert in 2010, and added 33 doubles just for good measure.  Unlike many Cal League “sluggers”, Poythress has legit power that lets him hit the ball out of any field in any park, and he’s as willing to hit one the opposite way as he is to pull the ball.  If he makes it as far as the majors, that trait will help Poythress conquer the Safeco Field effect of dampening right-handed power.

Many people write off big power numbers like what Poythress put up last year when that production comes in the California League, especially when they play their home games at High Desert.  However, there are several reasons to think that Poythress’ production isn’t that sort of mirage.  His willingness to hit the ball with power to all fields is one, and his home/road splits are another.

Poythress hit .339/.413/.579 with 14 homers and 16 doubles at Stater Brothers Stadium, and .291/.346/.581 with 17 homers and 17 doubles away from it, and in five fewer games.  The drop in the walk rate away from home is a minor concern, but the power numbers actually going up a tick is a very good sign for his future.

The scary thing about Poythress is that despite the power that he currently portrays, he could actually have more than he does.  His swing isn’t terribly efficient; it’s a very raw strength/muscle swing that’s on the slow side and leaves him vulnerable to good breaking pitches.  It’s not the same long swing issue that plagues guys like Alex Liddi, Greg Halman, and Carlos Peguero, but it could become problematic as he advances.

What could help Poythress advance more than anything else would be to find a way to get his bat speed up to par.  His wrists and hands stay very stiff through most of his swing; if he could manage to free them up and involve them in the swing, his bat speed would increase greatly and the head of his bat would stay more sound through the zone.  In theory, those changes would allow Poythress to get a little bit more power out of his swing, and hopefully help him cut down on the ground balls a bit as well.

Poythress could also stand to walk more as well.  His walk rate wasn’t bad at a little over 9% in High Desert last year, but walks in the Cal League are always inflated by poor pitching, and by pitchers working around the better hitters like Poythress.  He’s off to a good start in that regard in 2011, with 8 walks in 62 PA’s with AA Jackson (that’s one more walk than total hits, actually), but he has to be patient and more selective at the plate or good pitchers will abuse him and his swing.

Still, despite those flaws, Poythress has a promising future if he can prove this year that 2010 wasn’t a Cal League fluke.  Justin Smoak’s presence in Seattle means that Poythress would be limited to the DH role if he were to make it, but with his bat (and a glove that’s inferior to Smoak’s), that’s hardly a bad thing.

2011 Outlook: Will spend most of the season further establishing himself in AA Jackson.  Could get late-year callup to Tacoma if a 1B is needed there.

Major League ETA: Mid/late 2012

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4 responses to “Mariners Top 20 Prospects: Number Ten

  1. What are the odds that Poythress & Raben are DH platoon partners sometime in the near future? At least Raben can play a little corner OF here & there. The thought of Poythress subbing much at 3B is troublesome but if he makes adjustments to his swing like you suggest his bat could play well enough there in very brief doses to get him in the lineup a few extra games over the course of a season.

    • I would say the odds are very low of Raben and Poythress platooning at DH, as I don’t think Raben will ever make the majors for any significant spell of time. His knee injury has really hampered his development, and thanks to it I’ll be stunned if we see him play more than a handful of games in the OF for the rest of his career. As much as I like Raben, I’m not sure how well he’ll hold up and advance thanks to the knee.

      And Poythress at third will be a rare thing at best. He doesn’t have the athleticism, footwork, range, or arm for the position. He did play there a few times last year in HD, but that was driven by the team being in need and him having played there at times for Georgia.

  2. Pingback: The High Desert Effect | Mariners Farm Review

  3. Pingback: Mariners Top 20 Prospects: Number Nine | Mariners Farm Review

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