2013 Seattle Mariners Top Prospects

 

System Overview: Led by Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and Brandon Maurer, Seattle was already home to a promising collection of prospects. It was last season’s draft, however, that pushed the organization’s farm system towards the upper echelon of baseball.

Four of the team’s picks — catcher Mike Zunino, second baseman Timmy Lopes, left-hander Tyler Pike and shortstop Joe DeCarlo — all currently rank among the system’s top 16 prospects.

Zunino looks like a middle-of-the-bat with plus-power coming from an elite position; Lopes, nabbed in the sixth round, hit a surprising .316/.381/.479 during his time in the ASL; Pike showed promising peripherals, and DeCarlo, the 64th overall pick, was the only one in the bunch to struggle, though he still managed to show some pop and solid on-base skills.

Outside of those players, shortstop Brad Miller looks like an above-average regular thanks to his offensive potential. Former top prospect Nick Franklin’s shine has dulled a bit due to some continued struggles against left-handers. And both Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor have impact late-inning potential.

 

 #1. Taijuan Walker, Age: 20, Position: RHP

As the youngest player in the Southern League last season — nearly five years younger than the average player — Walker continued to showcase his talents as one of the game’s top pitching prospects. In 25 starts (126.2 innings) with the Jackson Generals, the young right-hander struck out 118 (8.4 K/9), walked 50 (3.6 BB/9), and posted a strong 3.89 Skill Independent ERA, or SIERA, nearly a full run better than his actual ERA.

Projection: Walker, the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 draft, could probably step into a big league rotation right now and be a team’s third or fourth best starting pitcher. He solidly built — 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds — to withstand the rigors of 30+ starts in a year. And along with a power arsenal, his average command should only improve as he matures. There aren’t many legitimate aces developing in the minor leagues, but Walker’s certainly one of them.

Ceiling: 6.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average to Inevitable

 

#2. Mike Zunino, Age: 22, Position: C

Arguably the top collegiate bat available in last year’s draft, the Mariners grabbed Zunino, who hit .322/.394/.669 with a staggering 28 doubles and 19 homeruns for Florida, with the third overall pick. And after absolutely destroying low-A competition — he hit .373/.474/.736 with 10 doubles and 10 homeruns in just 29 games — the organization had him bypass both A- and High-A and pushed him straight to the Southern League, where he continued to mash (.333/.386/.588). Overall, he hit .360/.447/.689 during his debut. And his total offensive production, according to Weighted Runs Created Plus, was 80% better than the average, the highest mark among minor league catchers with at least 180 plate appearances.

Projection: It will be interesting to see the path the Mariners take with Zunino, who not only looks close both offensively but defensively, as well, after nabbing 43% of would-be base stealers last season. He’s likely headed back to Double-A to begin 2013, but could be a mid-season call-up. Right now, he profiles as 25- to 30-homerun threat capable of hitting .300/.400/.500. Per the usual, however, I’m going to reserve any long term projections on recent draft picks until after the 2013 season.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

#3. Danny Hultzen, Age: 23, Position: LHP

A bit of a surprise choice for the Mariners with the number two overall pick in the 2011 draft, Hultzen’s debut was a tale of two seasons — literally.

The 6-foot-3 left-hander jumped all the way to Double-A from the collegiate ranks, where he dominated the competition. In 75.1 innings with the Generals, he averaged 9.4 K/9, 3.8 BB/9, and allowed just 10 earned runs. His production in Triple-A, however, was drastically different.

In 12 starts with the Rainiers, Hultzen still showed a strong K-rate (10.5), but his control literally evaporated (8.0 BB/9).

Projection: The dramatic loss of the strike zone isn’t overly concerning at this point. Not only did he show a strong feel for the mound during his final season in college — he walked 23 in 118 innings, or averaged 1.75 BB/9 — but it rebounded nicely during winter ball where he walked five in 19.1 innings. He’s likely to develop into an upper-rotation-type hurler with the peak of a good number two.

Ceiling: 5.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average

 

#4. Carter Capps, Age: 22, Position: RHP

Blew through the minor leagues since his selection in the third round of the 2011 draft, Capps dominated the South Atlantic League competition last season, averaging 13.0 K/9 and just 2.2 BB/9 in 50 innings, to go along with an impressive 1.80 SIERA.

Capps also made one appearance in Tacoma and threw another 25 for Mariners (10.08 K/9, 3.96 BB/9 and 3.26 SIERA).

Projection: Armed with a plus-plus fastball — it averaged 98.3 mph during his big league debut — Capps is slated to begin the year back in the Mariners bullpen, where he should remain for the better part of a decade.

Ceiling: 1.5- to 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Above-Average to Inevitable

#5.  Brandon Maurer, Age: 22, Position: RHP

The 21-year-old showed some serious promise while making his Double-A debut. In 24 starts (137.2 innings) with Jackson, the 6-foot-5 right-hander missed some bats (7.65 K/9), did a decent job limiting free passes (3.14 BB/9), and generated some groundballs (44.3%).

Projection: Though not along the same lines as his teammate Taijuan Walker, Maurer was still quite young for the South Atlantic League, nearly three years the junior to the average hitter. And while his K-rate isn’t eye-popping, per se, he has shown an above-average ability to miss bats in the lower rungs of the minors. He’s definitely not an elite pitching prospect, but he should settle in as a good #3 or #4 at some point in the coming couple years.

Ceiling: 3.0- to 3.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate to Above-Average

 

#6. James Paxton, Age: 24, Position: LHP

After dominating in a brief seven-game stint to close out the 2011 season, Paxton headed back to Jackson last year, throwing 106.1 innings with 110 punch outs (9.3 K/9), 54 walks (4.6 BB/9), and a generous amount of groundballs (45.8%).

Projection: Paxton has the ability to develop into a mid-rotation-type starter, maybe a touch better, but his control/command is spotty at best. Already 24, the 6-foot-4 left-hander hasn’t made any significant progress in limiting free passes. And he if he doesn’t take a developmental step forward this season, Paxton could be headed to the bullpen so the team can see some big league value from him.

Ceiling: 3.5-win (starter); 1.0- to 1.5win (reliever)

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate (starter); Above-Average (reliever)

#7. Brad Miller, Age: 23, Position: SS

The franchise’s second round pick from Clemson two years ago, Miller began the year in the bandbox known as High Desert, where he hit .337/.409/.522 in 97 games, though his production on the road was far less impressive (.283/.366/.397). The organization then bumped him to Jackson, an offensive-friendly environment but not nearly on the same level as High Desert, and he hit .320/.406/.476 in 70 plate appearances.

Projection: With Nick Franklin now spending time at the keystone, Miller appears to be the long term frontrunner at shortstop. He’s shown an above-average eye at the plate, solid-average power with the potential to develop into 15+ homeruns and 25+ doubles, and enough speed to swipe 10 or so stolen bases. He’s likely headed back to Double-A, but barring any major developmental setbacks he could possibly position himself for a September call-up.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

#8. Nick Franklin, Age: 22, Position: 2B/SS

Franklin’s stock rebounded somewhat after a disappointing 2011 season (.281/.352/.418). The former first rounder began the year in the Southern League, hitting a robust .322/.394/.502 while showing an above-average eye at the plate (10.0% BB-rate) and solid pop. He was then promoted to Tacoma, where his production dipped noticeably (.243/.310/.416). In total, he hit .278/.347/.453 with 32 doubles, nine triples, and 11 homeruns. And his total offensive production was 18% better than the average.

Projection: Despite the uptick in production last season, Franklin no longer looks the part of a budding superstar like he once did. Instead, he profiles as a solid-average bat with 15- to 20-homerun potential, a handful of stolen bases, and solid on-base skills. Outside of which side of second base he settles in at, the main problem seems to be his struggles against left-handers, whom he’s hit just .213/.283/.308 since the beginning of 2011. He’s still plenty young enough to figure them out, and if he does he could be an above-average regular.

Ceiling: 3.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Low to Moderate

 

#9. Stephen Pryor, Age: 23, Position: RHP

Pryor spent time at three different minor league levels last season — High-A, Double-A and Triple-A — where he allowed just four earned runs in 38.2 innings, and averaged 10.9 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9. He also made another 26 appearances (23.0 IP) for Seattle, averaging 10.57 and a whopping 5.09 BB/9.

Projection: Similar to Capps because of his rapid ascension through the minors, Pryor’s ceiling isn’t quite as high due to below-average control/command. Pryor has a big time fastball and the strikeout numbers to match, but once the velocity dips a mph or two, so, too, will his value.

Ceiling: 1.0- to 1.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Inevitable

 

#10. Stefen Romero, Age: 24, Position: 2B

Romero, a former twelfth round pick in 2010, had a breakout season last year, hitting an impressive .357/.391/.581 in the high octane High Desert, with 19 doubles, three triples, and 11 homeruns. And after 60 games he was bumped to Double-A, where he continued to mash (.347/.392/.620). Overall, his total offensive production was a staggering 59% better than the league average, the second highest mark among any minor league second baseman.

Projection: Both Jackson’s and High Desert’s ballparks tends to inflate offensive production. With that being said, however, Romero hit .307/.336/.546 on the road, while showing above-average power (.239 ISO). He doesn’t walk much, just 5.9% in his career, so that will likely cap his ceiling a bit. But he does show some speed and if he can stay at the keystone, his bat plays up even more. He could develop into .280/.320/.430-type hitter at the big league level.

Ceiling: 2.5-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

 

#11. Victor Sanchez, Age: 18, Position: RHP

Sanchez showed some serious promise as the only 17-year-old in the Northwest League last season. In 85 innings, the portly right-hander demonstrated an above-average feel for pitching by averaging just 2.86 BB/9 and mixing in a decent ability to miss some bats (7.31 K/9).

Projection: Given 2012 was his professional debut, any long term projections will be withheld until following the 2013 season. However, he looks like he could move quickly. But his frame (6-foot-0 and a massive 255 pounds) is already a concern. Plenty of ballplayers have eaten their way out of careers before.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

#12. Anthony Fernandez, Age: 23, Position: LHP

The then 22-year-old showed some pitch-ability between High-A and Double-A last season, as his control took another developmental step forward. In total, he tossed 164 innings, struck out 134 (7.4 K/9), and walked just 38 (2/1 BB/9).

Projection: There’s plenty of guys like Fernandez mulling around the Double-A and Triple-A levels, a guy with an idea how to pitch, but won’t miss a tremendous amount of at bats, though he did post a groundball rate near 50% last season. He’s big (6-foot-4) and looks durable enough to handle 200 or so innings, and he probably peaks as a decent backend guy, nothing more.

Ceiling: 2.0-win player

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: Moderate

 

#13. Timmy Lopes, Age: 19, Position: 2B

After being selected in the sixth round of last June’s draft, Lopes showed the makings of a quality prospect. He hit .316/.381/.479 with 11 doubles, 12 triples, and seven stolen bases in the Arizona Summer League. His total offensive production was 26% better than the league average.

Projection: Typically, an organization’s most recent fourth round pick won’t rank among the team’s top prospects, especially one as loaded as Seattle’s. But Lopes showed an above-average eye at the plate (9.9% BB-rate), strong contact skills and promising power, despite failing to hit any homeruns. Plus, his home ballpark tends to depress offensive production too. He’s one to watch in the coming years.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

#14. Tyler Pike, Age: 19, Position: LHP

Again, another solid pick outside of last year’s first round, Pike, nabbed in the third round, turned in a dominate debut showing in the Arizona Summer League, averaging 10.1 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, and allowed just 10 earned runs in 50.2 innings. He also induced a decent amount of worm-burners too (45.0%).

Projection: Pike’s more likely than not the better prospect than his draft counterpart, Lopes. But he’s a young pitcher. And young pitchers tend to get snake-bitten by injuries. That’s the reason why he’s ranked a notch lower.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

#15. Gabriel Guerrero, Age: 19, Position: RF

Guerrero dominated across two rookie levels last season, hitting a combined .349/.393/.593 with 14 doubles, four triples, and 15 homeruns.

Projection: Not unlike the previous pair of prospects, it’s still too soon to know what type of player Guerrero can develop into. However, he showed some serious power potential mixed in with some strong contact rates — always a positive sign.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

#16. Joe DeCarlo, Age: 19, Position: 3B

DeCarlo didn’t quite have the impact that his fellow 2012 draft picks did, despite being nabbed in the second round. He hit .236/.368/.401, with 12 doubles, three triples, and a quartet of homeruns.

Projection: Not too much to go on, obviously, but he walked a lot, nearly 14% of his plate appearances, and showed solid-average pop.

Ceiling: Too soon to tell

Likelihood of Reaching His Ceiling: N/A

 

Photo of Taijuan Walker Courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire via CPSSports.com



About

After serving as a video scout/analyst for Baseball Info Solutions, Joe Werner began writing at his original site, ReleasePoints.com. He’s since transitioned into his current niche, prospect analysis, at ProspectDigest.com. He has been fortunate — and incredibly blessed — to have some of his work published and mentioned by several major media outlets, including: ESPN, Cleveland.com and the Baseball Research Journal. He can be reached at: JosephMWerner@yahoo.com.