TAMPA, FL - FILE: Jesus Montero #83 of the New York Yankees poses for a portrait on Photo Day at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 23, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. According to reports on January 13, 2012 the New York Yankees have traded catcher Jesus Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi to the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Seattle Mariners Top 20 Prospects for 2012
UPDATED JANUARY 17, 2012
The list and grades are a blending of present performance and long-term potential. Comments are welcome, but in the end all analysis and responsibility is mine of course. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. We are now taking pre-orders. Order early and order often!
QUICK PRIMER ON GRADE MEANINGS:
Grade A prospects are the elite. They have a good chance of becoming stars or superstars. Almost all Grade A prospects develop into major league regulars, if injuries or other problems don't intervene. Note that is a major "if" in some cases.
Grade B prospects have a good chance to enjoy successful careers. Some will develop into stars, some will not. Most end up spending several years in the majors, at the very least in a marginal role.
Grade C prospects are the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for. A few Grade C guys, especially at the lower levels, do develop into stars. Many end up as role players or bench guys. Some don't make it at all.
A major point to remember is that grades for pitchers do NOT correspond directly to grades for hitters. Many Grade A pitching prospects fail to develop, often due to injuries. Some Grade C pitching prospects turn out much better than expected.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise coming from me, and some C+ prospects turn out very well indeed.
Finally, keep in mind that all grades are shorthand. You have to read the full comment in the book for my full opinion about a player, the letter grade only tells you so much. A Grade C prospect in rookie ball could end up being very impressive, while a Grade C prospect in Triple-A is likely just a future role player.
2) Taijuan Walker, RHP, Grade A-: A future number one starter, if he stays healthy and builds on what he did in 2011. Combination of stuff, athleticism, and better-than-expected polish makes him special in my view.
3) Danny Hultzen, LHP, Grade A-: Less risk than Walker, but upside not quite as high. He still projects as a number two starter for me and he won't need long in the minors.
4) James Paxton, LHP, Grade B+: Borderline A-. Like Hultzen, he can be a number two starter with his plus stuff from the left side, although his command isn't as refined as Hultzen's. Can you imagine if the Blue Jays had signed Paxton in 2009? How good would that system look if they had another ace-quality arm?
5) Nick Franklin, SS, Grade B: Borderline B+. Don't be discouraged by the weird numbers at High Desert. He's got unusual pop for a middle infielder, and I think he has a decent chance to stick at shortstop
6) Vinnie Catricala, 3B-1B-OF, Grade B-: Borderline B. I don't know where he fits on defense but he should hit for average, get on base, and provide at least moderate power. B- might be too low, could go with straight B.
7) Francisco Martinez, 3B, Grade B-: It would be easier to get a read on this guy if the Tigers had handled him more cautiously, but he is very young and the bat has shown signs of coming around. Better chance to handle third base than Catricala, but needs more polish in all phases.
8) Alex Liddi, 3B, Grade B-: He ranks higher on my list than on most others, because I think his glove is better than his reputation. I suspect groupthink going on about his defense, but both visually and objectively it has gotten better, good enough to stay there in my view. Won't hit for average, but a guy who can hit 20 homers, play third, and is just 23 seems like a solid prospect to me.
9) Phillips Castillo, OF, Grade B-: High-ceiling bat, needs to improve plate discipline and hit outside the Arizona Rookie League, but very young. Could be best hitting prospect in the system a year from now.
10) Brad Miller, SS, Grade B-: Hitting style is unusual but he raked in college, controls the zone well, gets on base, runs well, and looked great with the bat in brief Midwest League debut. Lots of questions about his erratic glove, may end up at second but would be blocked there by Dustin Ackley.
11) Chance Ruffin, RHP, Grade B-: Borderline C+: His upside is limited, but he's ready now, and while he doesn't have classic closer stuff, it would not surprise me to see him get a shot in that role eventually.
12) Guillermo Pimentel, OF, Grade C+: Enormous raw power but with terrible plate discipline, young enough to improve. Like Castillo, he could rank much higher next year if he polishes his approach.
13) Stephen Pryor, RHP, Grade C+ High-ceiling relief arm was awful at High Desert but suddenly gained control at Double-A Jackson. Could help sooner than expected if that progress sticks.
14) Martin Peguero, SS, Grade C+: Signed as Estelion. Big bonus guy out of the Dominican, didn't really live up to expectations in Arizona Rookie League but was just 17. Very erratic defense.
15) Victor Sanchez, RHP, Grade C+: Big-bonus signee out of Venezuela at age 16, hasn't pitched yet, throws hard but we need to see him, etc.
16) Tyler Marlette, C, Grade C+: Talented, if somewhat raw, defender with a chance to hit if he can resolve some swing/discipline issues.
17) Stefen Romero, 2B-OF, Grade C+: Hit very well in the Midwest League. Oregon State product has a decent chance to keep hitting in my opinion, will have to see about glove. Some similarities to where Catricala was a year ago at this time, although Cat has an age/league advantage.
18) Carter Capps, RHP, Grade C+: High-ceiling arm from 2011 draft, mechanical questions will likely make him a reliever but he has the stuff to move quickly.
19) Erasmo Ramirez, RHP, Grade C: Control artist lacks plus stuff but could develop into inning-eating starter, might sneak into major league role in 2012 with a bit of luck. Jackson teammate Andrew Carraway could do the same but is older and gets less respect from scouts.
20) Jabari Blash, OF, Grade C: Has excellent raw power, draws walks, but strikes out a lot and is unpolished for a 22-year-old. He's got upside though.
OTHERS: Jonathan Arias, RHP; Tyler Burgoon, RHP; Andrew Carraway, RHP; Dan Carroll, OF; Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF; Dan Cortes, RHP; John Hicks, C; Cameron Hobson, LHP; James Jones, OF; Marcus Littlewood, C-SS; Jack Marder, C; Brandon Mauer, RHP; Alfredo Morales, OF; Steve Proscia, 3B; Dennis Raben, 1B; Jordan Shipers, LHP; Carson Smith, RHP; Forrest Snow, RHP; Carlos Triunfel, SS.
Pitching is the obvious strength here. Walker, Hultzen, and Paxton is an excellent trio at the top, all three of them projecting as pitchers you build staffs around. Sanchez could develop into similar talents, and you have several very interesting arms after them, particularly guys who could help in relief including some of the Grade Cs.
Hitting is a mixed bag. On the one hand, you have toolsy-but-raw guys like trade-acquisition Martinez and internal Latin American bonus babies Castillo, Peguero, Pimentel, and Morales. They have put a lot of money into these types of players, but there is a considerable risk that none of them are going to pan out. They all seem to have serious strike zone/contact issues. The recent acquisition of Jesus Montero adds a major league-ready bat with the strong potential to be an offensive monster.
On the other hand, you have college-drafted polished hitters like Catricala and Romero who put up the numbers despite lukewarm endorsements as amateurs from scouts. Miller can hit too but has positional questions. Nick Franklin has an impressive combination of tools and skills and I think he will blossom in 2012.
Liddi's strikeout issues are concerning and he's not going to win hitting titles, but as stated above I think his defense is underrated, there is thunder in that bat, and he's not an old prospect. He needs to make adjustments but people have been watching him for so long that it is easy to focus on his weaknesses and lose sight of his strengths.