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Clase, Bliss provide vaunted power-speed combo

M's prospects reach rarified air with homer, stolen base prowess
September 15, 2023

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

This story was excerpted from Daniel Kramer’s Mariners Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SEATTLE -- Julio Rodríguez, who joined the 30-30 club on Monday, wasn’t the only player in the Mariners organization this week to reach a rare statistical feat underlying his elite power and speed combination. Two of Seattle’s promising prospects also joined some rare company in the Minor League ranks.

That would be Jonatan Clase, who blasted his 20th homer of the year on Tuesday, which -- coupled with his 73 stolen bases -- made him the first player since records began tracking in 1961 to have a 20-70 season in the Minors.

For more context on the rarity, a 20-70 season has been done only three times in the Majors -- by Rickey Henderson twice, in 1985 and 1986, and Eric Davis in 1986. Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. is within striking distance of joining that club this year, with 37 homers and 65 steals and a little more than two weeks to go.

Then on Wednesday, second baseman Ryan Bliss hit his 20th homer to become just the fifth Minor League player over the past 30 years with a 20-50 season. Three of those five 20-50 occurrences have been this season. Bliss joined Clase and the Reds’ Blake Dunn. The Yankees’ Anthony Volpe reached the mark last year, then before that, it hadn’t happened since Andruw Jones in 1995.

Clase is the club’s No. 8 prospect and Bliss is No. 14, per MLB Pipeline. Both aren’t quite knocking on the big league door, but they could be by this time next year -- particularly the righty-hitting Bliss, who could be in the mix for a middle infield role come spring. Among other players vying for that role would include righty Jose Caballero, lefty Josh Rojas and switch-hitter Sam Haggerty, which could create a logjam.

Bliss has 52 stolen bases this year, including 17 in 38 games at Triple-A Tacoma, where he’s played since joining the organization as the key prospect return in the Paul Sewald trade with Arizona. Clase has widely been touted with the best speed in the farm system, but some have suggested that Bliss is right there with him.

Overall, the club views Bliss’ prospect value higher than most middle infielders because of his wide-ranging skillset, headlined by the power/speed combo.

“He’s been a great addition, excited for him to be a Mariner,” director of player development Justin Toole said. “He’s shown some ability to do damage with the speed tool as well. It’s been fun getting to know him -- twitchy, exciting athlete.”

Clase could receive consideration for the Majors next year, too. But he’s probably further behind following a dip in production since a May 3 promotion to Double-A Arkansas, where he’s hitting .222/.332/.397 (.729 OPS) in 106 games after a clip of .333/.453/.701 (1.154 OPS) at High-A Everett. Another full season in the Minors could raise his floor more towards an everyday role in the Majors.

“It would be easy for him to want to hit homers and forget about the speed or just want to slap the ball around and forget about the ability to do damage,” Toole said. “He hasn’t done that. He’s continued to tap into his strengths throughout the year. He’s the type of guy you watch and think, ‘OK, what’s he going to do next?’”

The Mariners always knew that Clase had world-class speed and they were bullish on his power despite a 5-foot-9, 150-pound frame. That’s largely because he’s among the most athletic players in the organization.

“It’s so exciting to watch,” Toole said. “Not many guys have the skillset he has, that power/speed combo. I think he’s been able to balance the two well.”

For a farm system that has churned out countless top-end pitchers, this week it saw the fruits of its position-player development blossom as well.