In the past two seasons I’ve created Top 25 prospects lists that have begun sometime well before the season started, and included in-depth profiles on each of the Mariners top 25 prospects. This year, partially as a result of real-life, grown-man reasons, I haven’t been able to do that.
The other reasons revolve around a general disenfranchisement the Mariners have created with their fanbase, myself to a large extent included, and that the Mariners have a large chunk of some of their past top prospects are in the big leagues. That’s not to say that they don’t have compelling prospects, but that most of the guys that are on the verge of becoming big league regulars have already seen time at baseball’s top-level, and most of those who haven’t aren’t destined for stardom – at least it would be hard to project that kind of ceiling from their present skills and production.
It’s worth pointing out that many of these players I’ve seen very little of. Much of this is based on scouting reports and statistical analysis. There are better scouts than me around by a long shot.
1. Taijuan Walker, RHP, Age 21
Walker’s ascent through the Mariners farm system was both steady and persistent. His results have been good at every level, and he’s made stops in Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Walker made his big league debut in 2013, showing the plus fastball that made him a prospect to begin with, and showed that he’d developed secondary pitches that, while not complete, have a good chance to be effective big league pitches. Walker experienced some shoulder tightness at the beginning of Spring Training, but recently made his first Spring Training start, and figures to log most of his innings in the Mariners rotation in 2014.
2. James Paxton, LHP, Age 25
After being a first round pick of the Toronto Blue 2009 and not signing with the team, Paxton was a bargain selection by the Mariners in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. Paxton has had issues with walks through his career, but his 2013 season was somewhat promising, as he averaged only 3.6 BB/9, certainly not stingy with walks, but a substantial step forward for Paxton. Paxton’s fastball had more velocity than one would have expected early in his minor league career, averaging 94.9 miles-per-hour in 2014.
3. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Age 23
Peterson was the Mariners top pick in 2013. Drafting him marked the fourth of five years that the Mariners drafted an accomplished college player with their first pick. Much like when they drafted Dustin Ackley in 2009, Peterson is considered an advanced hitter and doesn’t necessarily have a clear-cut position in the big leagues. Peterson’s natural position, third base, is blocked by Kyle Seager, and any chances of Seager moving off the position are probably completely extinguished by the presence of Robinson Cano and Brad Miller. Peterson may not be athletic enough to stick in the outfield, but has potential for his bat to play as an average-ish first baseman with decent defense at the position – a position where the Mariners don’t have a clear future.
4. Luiz Gohara, LHP, Age 17
Gohara was the youngest Mariner in Pulaski last year, and in fact, he was the only minor of the bunch. In fact, Gohara was the only player in a season earlier than his Age 18 season to pitch in the Appalachian League, and one of only four minors. This indicates that the Mariners are pretty high on him, and while his style and while his size and handedness may eventually draw CC Sabathia comparisons, his production may one day match, considering the type of stuff Gohara has at such a young age. Gohara is a long ways away, but this Mariners organization hasn’t been afraid to debut top prospect pitchers before they’re privy to their first legal alcoholic beverage.
5. Tyler Pike, LHP, Age 20
Some of the prospect reports I have read have ranked Edwin Diaz, a pitcher the Mariners selected 28 picks ahead of Pike, well ahead of Pike in their prospect rankings. Diaz is fine, but he pitched 2013 in rookie ball, while Pike was in Single-A. Pike doesn’t have the kind of top-end upside that Diaz has, but his floor is ostensibly much lower, and if he’s able to continue being productive, he could make it to the big leagues relatively soon. Pike’s 4.6 BB/9 in 2013 is concerning, especially paired with a reduced strikeout rate, but frequently pitchers at this level are pitching less for ultimate effectiveness, and more for development.
6. Chris Taylor, SS, Age 23
As many insults as we’ve hurled at the Mariners for their lack of importance placed on defense, they’ve been pretty steadfast in their desire to have quality defenders at shortstop. Two years of Brendan Ryan and the draft picks of Nick Franklin in the first round and Brad Miller in the second have shown that the Mariners care about the position defensively. Franklin has since moved to second base and onto the trading block, and while Miller has potential to become an above-average defender at the position, such development is far from a certainty. When the Mariners drafted Chris Taylor there was no doubt he could field, but his hitting (.865 OPS between High-A and Double-A last year) have catapulted him into position as one of the Mariners top prospects. Certainly, his 2013 numbers are suspicious considering how much of his season was spent in Adelanto, California, but nonetheless, Taylor’s stock is high, albeit volatile.
7. Patrick Kivlehan, 3B, Age 24
Entering his Age 24 season, and only having graced Adelanto for about half a season, Kivlehan’s spot in my top 10 may seem curious. Granted, Kivlehan is older than most of Single-A’s top prospects, but he’s also spent considerably less time playing baseball than most of those guys. A former Rutgers football standout, Kivlehan has hit, and hit, and hit since re-kindling his love affair with baseball. Kivlehan may never completely curb a strikeout issue that has plagued him through the minors, but he cut his strikeouts from nearly one strikeout every three plate appearances to less than one every five. It stands to reason that Kivlehan may have another big jump in his development waiting around the corner. If he does, he could be a very good big leaguer, even if he doesn’t stick at third base.
8. Stefen Romero, OF, Age 25
Drafted as a second baseman, Romero has become an outfield prospect for the Mariners, and perhaps their only real outfield prospect with both upside and a chance to play in the big leagues in 2014. Romero’s best chance of being a productive big leaguer is if he’s able to play some infield in addition to a respectable outfield. He doesn’t walk enough, and has had something of a strikeout problem at point in his minor league career. Romero should break camp with the Mariners after having a very good spring. It’s worth pointing out that Romero’s decent 2013 was aided considerably by a .331 BABIP, a figure he’ll likely never sustain in the majors.
9. Austin Wilson, OF, Age 22
Wilson has physical talent to become very good hitter and a very good fielder. Something in the realm of Alex Rios isn’t crazy, though Wilson may not be able to maintain the same athleticism as his body matures. Wilson will have to overcome the Stanford hitter stigma that has been created by several failed top picks from Stanford. After a solid showing in Everett last year, Wilson could rocket through the Mariners system if he remains productive at higher levels of the minors. He could also become the latest Mariners outfield prospect to fall victim to strikeouts and a power outage after leaving the low minors.
10. Edwin Diaz, RHP, Age 20
Diaz has gone from a guy that was considered largely a non-prospect to a guy who has neared the top of several Mariners prospect lists. His sparkling 1.43 ERA in Pulaski last year is perhaps misleading, but Diaz has always had potential to develop into a viable starter that can miss bats, or a dominant high-leverage reliever. Being able to dominate rookie ball is hardly a precursor for great things, and for me, Diaz will have to maintain his production in the upper minors to reach any higher on the Mariners top prospect rankings.
11. Tyler Marlette, C, Age 21
Occasionally there are players in a farm system that you fall in love with. I’m pretty high on Tyler Pike and Luiz Gohara. I like their stuff and their pitchability combo. When I hear people saying that Pike’s ceiling is something like a back-of-the-rotation starter, I feel like someone is hedging their bets. It’s easier to not look stupid if you don’t say anything. Marlette has been one of these players for me. The Mariners drafted him in 2011 and paid him well over his slot price. Marlette has potential and athletic ability to be able to hit well and catch at a level above average. If he does that he could end up being something an echelon below star, but very good. His bat plays a lot worse at other positions, but everyone’s plays worse at positions other than catcher, save for shortstops. After a mostly nondescript 2012, Marlette hit well in Single-A as a 20-year-old in 2013.
12. Ji-Man Choi, 1B, Age 23
The lasting image of Moneyball, that is the book, not the movie, but maybe even the movie, is Jeremy Brown – at least, that’s the lasting image for me. Brown was a catcher that wasn’t a great power hitter, didn’t have an ideal body type, but was good enough at a lot of things that go under valued to make him intriguing. Choi is basically exactly this. He started his career as a catcher and has become a first baseman, and the first instinct for many scouts is to say things like “his bat won’t play there,” or “he’s not tall enough to play first base.” There may be some truth to either of these, but we have to understand that there is a breakeven point for undervalued abilities and archaic archetypes. Choi doesn’t look the part, and his power surge in 2013 may have been largely aided by Adelanto’s hitter friendly climate. That in mind, he walked nearly as many times as he struck out, which was both a very good strike out rate for a player with his power, and a very good walk rate for a player with his ostensible lack of power. Choi will look crappy in any clothes you put him in, but he just might hit well in those same clothes.
13. Danny Hultzen, LHP, Age 24
Two years ago I had a really hard debate on my hands – having to decide whether I considered Hultzen or Taijuan Walker the Mariners top prospect. I loved Hultzen’s polish and proximity to the big leagues. It literally came down to the end of the preliminary rankings I’d made, and I finally gave Walker and his upside the nod over Hultzen. Had you told me that day Walker would make the majors before Hultzen, I’d have reacted in some manner of tired, cliché-ridden shock. Hultzen’s injuries have been well documented, and while medical science has turned Tommy John surgery into the pitcher-elbow equivalent of having your car’s timing belt changed, shoulders are a different story. Hultzen will miss all of 2014, and that will be a major setback for 2015, when he’ll be entering his age 25 season.
14. Yordi Calderon, 3B, Age 20
Before the 2012 season, I was pretty high on Calderon. He’d shown the ability to walk, and the ability to hit for some power. At that point coming off of his age 17 season, I didn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t develop. Then again, player development is fickle. Calderon struggled in his second shot at foreign rookie ball in 2012, but absolutely crushed it in 2013, with an isolated power of .247, and a .425 on-base percentage. Calderon should get a shot at domestic ball this year, hopefully getting a shot in Clinton or higher. His promise remains, but at Age 20, he’s got some catching up to do if he is going to fulfill the entirety of his promise.
15. Victor Sanchez, SP, Age 19
While Danny Hultzen has been disappointing in his own regard, Victor Sanchez may be the second most disappointing prospect the Mariners have had in recent years, behind only Jesus Montero. Sanchez was never considered a prototypical pitcher, measuring only six-feet tall, but after a promotion to Clinton last year we saw Sanchez’s strikeout rate and walk rate drop, while his weight ballooned. Media outlets have Sanchez listed at 255 lbs, but Sanchez is beginning to look more like Rich Garces every day. In fact, I was toying with omitting Sanchez from this list, but I wanted to relive the glory that was Rich Garces. Sanchez will need to slim down and bulk up his strikeout rates, which presently sit at a pedestrian 6.3 K/9.
Guys I didn’t include that you may think I should have:
Carson Smith – a reliever. Could be very good, but most of the best relievers are fungible, so I don’t rate minor league relievers very high.
Dominic Leone – See Carson Smith.
Stephen Pryor – See Carson Smith and Danny Hultzen.
Julio Morban – 30 percent strikeout rate with considerably less power than Carlos Peguero, who has become a journeyman.
Jabari Blash – Crazy upside. Can he hit for a full season outside Adelanto?
Joe DeCarlo – High upside, limited defensive skill set. Bat plays at third, but does his glove?
Roenis Elias – Probably breaks camp with the team. Good spring, but somewhat ordinary peripherals.
Brandon Maurer – Rough debut in 2013. Could end up a reliever.
Tim Lopes – One season of developing power would have him on the list.
Guys I like that didn’t make the list:
Dario Pizzano – Tons of walks, very few strikeouts, some power. Will his glove play anywhere?
Troy Scott – A bunch of strikeouts pitching in rookie ball.
Dylan Unsworth – A no-stuff guy with crazy K/BB (28.00). Had 56 strikeouts and two walks last year in 72.0 innings mostly in Clinton.
Daniel Paolini – Nearly equal walks and strikeouts. Adelanto-aided power.
Kristian Brito – Came close to Top 15. Huge power. Lots of strikeouts. Few walks.