The Seattle Mariners have very quickly turned around their decrepit farm system into one of the strongest in the league. Trades for studs like Jarred Kelenic, Justin Dunn, Justus Sheffield, Dom Thompson-Williams and Shed Long certainly helped, while they’ve finally started to make some progress with their homegrown talent – including recent draftees Logan Gilbert, Evan White, Kyle Lewis and international signing Julio Rodriguez.
The system is still a little top heavy however, although that doesn’t mean there aren’t some hidden gems hiding beneath the surface. One of those potential gems is 25-year-old infielder Donnie Walton, who had himself a heck of a season at Double-A Arkansas, and is reportedly going to get a chance to play in the big leagues down the stretch.
Oh Donnie Boy
Walton is a rare prospect who was drafted three times; first out of high school as a 36th-rounder, then again after his junior season at Oklahoma State as a 23rd-rounder by the Brewers, and then finally as a fifth-round senior sign by the Mariners in 2016.
Walton hit well in short-season Everett after getting drafted, which is expected out of an advanced college bat playing against much younger competition. That earned him a promotion to High-A for 2017. He missed a good chunk of the season with a wrist injury, but was respectable with a .269/.349/.358 slash line.
2018 saw Walton fare extremely well in High-A but struggle in Double-A, which started to make him an afterthought among Mariner farmhands. After all, he was a 24-year-old who hit .238 with just one home run at Double-A.
However, Walton went to work immediately in 2019, and rose his stock significantly. His final line at Double-A in 2019 is outstanding: .300/.390/.427, 11 home runs, 10 stolen bases, 72 runs scored, 11.3% walk rate, 12.9% strikeout rate, .373 wOBA and a 134 wRC+.
In fact, Baseball Prospectus runs their own version of WAR (called WARP) for minor leaguers – and Walton’s 6.6 mark is the highest among all minor league baseball players in 2019.
That’s in part due to his elite defense at shortstop, a quality that won’t help him as a dynasty asset – at least in the scorebook – but could help him earn more consistent playing time in the future.
Walton screams future big league utility infielder. I know his defense at shortstop is excellent, but I don’t think he will hit enough to be a big league regular – at least not over J.P. Crawford.
However, his outstanding plate discipline and high contact numbers definitely have my attention. There have been a lot of players with these traits who end up finding power later in their career – a la Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez of the Indians, and to a lesser extent Alex Bregman of the Astros.
I would be ran out of the industry if I projected Walton to have a career similar to any of those players, especially since he’s already 25 and has not even played above Double-A (yet), but I’m curious to see how the juiced ball jumps off his bat.
Walton hit 13 home runs in just under 1,000 minor league plate appearances from 2016-2019, but he hit 11 in 558 PAs in 2019. It’s possible he’s a late bloomer in the power department, and with adequate speed and elite defense, there is definitely potential for him to be a solid big league regular who puts up 15/15.
He’s up in the big leagues now, but I don’t know that there are enough at-bats for him to be a contributor outside of deep AL-only leagues. Dylan Moore for some reason keeps getting a lot of playing time for Seattle, which will limit Walton.
Still, in deeper dynasty leagues he’s worth a gamble. I think he’ll start the 2020 season in Triple-A, but I could see him up with the big club sooner rather than later. And a potential power surge at age 26 is certainly not unheard of.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on twitter)