Mike Zunino - Marvin Gentry-USA Today Sports Images
Seattle Mariners Top 20 Prospects for 2013
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. Full reports on all of players can be found in the 2013 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 reasonable 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. Some end up as role players or bench guys. Many don't make it at all.
Also note that there is diversity within each category. I'm a tough grader; Grade C+ is actually good praise, and some C+ prospects (especially at lower levels) 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.
This list is current as of January 15, 2013
1) Mike Zunino, C, Grade A-: Complete catcher, either the best catching prospect in baseball or second-best behind Travis D'Arnaud. Power, patience, defense, great makeup. Does everything.
2) Taijuan Walker, RHP, Grade A-: Some slippage in his numbers, but that's forgivable for the youngest pitcher in the Double-A Southern League. Still has premium combination of fastball, breaking stuff, developing changeup, high upside.
3) Danny Hultzen, LHP, Grade B+: I will be honest, I am not comfortable with Hultzen's grade or his placement here and may revise it significantly before the book goes to press. I think it is a mistake to dismiss his Triple-A struggles too cavalierly. His command was just too poor at that level for us to ignore, especially given his past reputation and track record. I'm nosing around about this one and gathering more info and opinion, so stand by.
4) James Paxton, LHP, Grade B+: He still has occasional command troubles but the stuff is first class, love the 92-95 fastball and big-breaking curve. Number two starter upside. Very good season in Double-A (3.05 ERA, 110/54 K/BB in 106 innings).
5) Nick Franklin SS, Grade B+: I trust my eyes on this one, good tools across the board and the skills are in there. Is he a second baseman or a shortstop? I'd give him a chance at short. Needs another half-season in Triple-A following .243/.310/.416 line at Tacoma.
6) Brad Miller, SS, Grade B+: I am actually more confident in his bat than I am in Franklin's, but he's a year and a half older and that matters. Still, if anything Miller is underrated nationally. He can really hit (.320/.406/.476 in Double-A) and he has the range/arm for shortstop if he can cut down on routine errors.
7) Brandon Maurer, RHP, Grade B: Finally healthy and showed what he could do with four-pitch arsenal and mid-90s fastball, 3.20 ERA with 117/48 K/BB in 138 innings. Next stop, Triple-A. If he stays healthy, he's a number three starter.
8) Victor Sanchez, RHP, Grade B: Youngest pitcher in Northwest League held his own against older hitters at age 17 (3.18 ERA, 69/27 K/BB in 85 innings). Lacks physical projection at 6-0, 255, but already throws hard. Will truly dominate when breaking stuff improves.
9) Stefen Romero, 2B, Grade B: Not a tools guy, but just hits and hits and hits including .347/.392/.620 in Double-A. He's not bad at second base, but with other middle infield options around in this organization he may shift to a corner.
10) Carter Capps, RHP, Grade B-: Always tough to know how to grade relievers. Former catcher hits 99 MPH and reached the majors within a year of being drafted. Needs command refinements, but definite closer upside.
11) Stephen Pryor, RHP, Grade C+: Borderline B-. Like Capps, tough to grade. Stuff is almost as good as Capps, and he's another guy with closer potential if the command sharpens up a bit more.
12) Luis Gohara, LHP, Grade C+: At this point the C+ guys are interchangeable depending on what you want to emphasize, so please no whining about "you should have ranked #12 at #16 and #20 at #13." Gohara is a 16-year-old Brazilian lefty signed for $800,000 this past summer. He's enormously projectable and generated loud buzz in instructional league. He could turn into anything from a number one starter to an injured A-ball washout, but keep his name in mind. You might hear a lot about it next summer.
13) Gabriel Guerrero, OF, Grade C+: Vlad Guerrero's nephew tore up the Dominican Summer League, looked good in three weeks of rookie ball, and offers a similar package of tools to his uncle. That doesn't mean he will become his uncle, of course; bloodlines only take you so far (ask Preston Mattingly), but his upside clearly bears watching.
14) Patrick Kivlehan, 3B, Grade C+: Played four years of football at Rutgers, but despite years of rust he thrived when he went back to the diamond last spring, then hit .301/.373/.511 in the Northwest League. He strikes out a lot and is understandably raw for a college guy.
15) Leon Landry, OF, Grade C+: Toolsy LSU product acquired from Dodgers in Brandon League trade, runs well, gap power, good glove, hit well in California League. Profiles as fourth outfielder or platoon partner.
16) Julio Morban, OF, Grade C+: Cal League "breakouts" can't be fully trusted, especially at High Desert, but Morban looks like the best of the batch of power-hitting Latin American outfielders with bad plate discipline that the Mariners spent a lot of money on over the last few years.
17) Tyler Pike, LHP, Grade C+: Very projectable lefty was bought away from Florida State scholarship, showed three-pitch mix in rookie ball. Another mid-rotation upside arm.
18) Carson Smith, RHP, Grade C+: Dominated Arizona Fall League (2.40 ERA, 18/4 K/BB in 15 innings). Great slider, could follow Pryor and Capps into Mariners bullpen soon. Posted 2.90 ERA with 77/28 K/BB in 62 innings at High Desert, 54 hits, 2.34 GO/AO. Do you know how hard that is?
19) Anthony Fernandez, LHP, Grade C+: Four-pitch lefty posted 3.68 ERA with 79/14 K/BB in 88 innings at High Desert. Do you know how hard that is? He looked good in Double-A too (3.32 ERA with 55/24 K/BB in 76 innings). Not overpowering but knows how to pitch.
20) John Hicks, C, Grade C+: Very athletic catcher hit .312/.351/.472. It was at High Desert though, so don't assume that will hold. Stole 22 bases, threw out 54% of runners. Has strike zone issues and needs to improve blocking, but an intriguing player.
OTHER GRADE C+: Logan Bawcom, RHP; Vince Catricala, 3B; Timothy Lopes, 2B; Jack Marder, C-2B
OTHERS: Taylor Ard, 1B; Jabari Blash, OF; Matt Brazis, RHP; Jin-Man Choi, 1B; Edwin Diaz, RHP; Josephy DeCarlo, 3B; Roenis Elias, LHP; Jabari Henry, OF; James Jones, OF; Bobby LaFramboise, LHP; Marcus Littlewood, C; Tyler Marlette, C; Jamodrick McGruder, 2B; Yoervis Medina, RHP, Guillermo Pimentel, OF; Steve Proscia, INF; Jordan Shipers, LHP; Chris Taylor, SS; Carlos Triunfel, INF.
The major league team isn't winning, but the minor league system is filled with talent of all varieties and help will be arriving soon.
On the pitching side, you have Walker, Paxton, and the enigmatic Hultzen leading the pack, with Maurer not far behind. You also have fireballing relievers Capps and Pryor who are ready now, plus more bullpen arms on the way backing up the starters. Although I wouldn't count on any of the starters being fully ready until 2014, few systems have this many potential starting pitchers this close to being ready for the majors. Victor Sanchez and Luis Gohara provide additional long-term upside arms as the Mariners maintain their emphasis on Latin American talent.
That focus has worked well for them on the pitching side, but hitting has been weaker as many of their Latin American imports (Carlos Peguero, Carlos Triunfel, Guillermo Pimentel, Phillips Castillo, plus Francisco Martinez and Johermyn Chavez acquired in trades) have failed to thrive. This seems like a systemic problem. Fortunately, they have drafted well and bats like Mike Zunino, Stefen Romero, Nick Franklin and Brad Miller will be ready within the next year. And there is plenty of material at the middle and lower levels of the system, both in terms of future role players and potential regulars.
Everyone always mentions the problems caused by the extreme hitting environment in High Desert, but that isn't just a matter of statistical distortions. Some hitters have developed bad habits with their swings that don't work well at higher levels, and it certainly doesn't do a lot for the confidence of pitchers. That said, any pitcher who survives in that environment, let alone thrives, is someone to watch carefully even if they don't have great scouting reports.
Overall, despite player development issues that need to be looked at, this is clearly one of the deepest, richest farm organizations in baseball.