Five Seattle Mariners were named in MLB‘s top 100 prospect rankings. Taijuan Walker, not surprisingly, was the very first Mariner on the list at #5. All of baseball considers the 20 year old RHP as one of the very best and that was proven when the Diamondbacks were willing to part with Justin Upton in a trade that would have also landed them the #47 overall prospect, Nick Franklin. It’s looking like more and more of a miracle that Upton rejected the trade and allowed the Mariners to keep their top young talent. Many analysts agreed, saying the package the Mariners were going to give up was too great, even for a young skilled outfielder such as Upton.
Danny Hultzen was the second Mariner, ranked #18, to be included and gives the Mariners the top RHP and LHP duo in the minor leagues. Hultzen is 23 years old, and although Walker is the higher rated prospect – it’s expected that we’ll see Hultzen in the big-leagues first because of his age and development while playing college baseball at the University of Virginia. Hultzen would have been ranked higher had he not had serious command issues in AAA, and had a reputation as a command pitcher when drafted. Hultzen will begin the season in Tacoma (AAA) and will likely get a call up sometime near the middle of the season if he shows he has greater control of his pitches.
One of the fastest players to shoot up the list is the latest Mariners #1 selection from the 2012 draft, Mike Zunino (23). A catcher from the University of Florida, Zunino had been known as a defensive catcher with great ability as a hitter. While spending his first season only playing 44 games, Zunino has shown more skill offensively than behind the plate. One of the major appeals to Zunino is his ability to handle a pitching staff, and with guys like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton coming up along with Zunino, that will be a huge benefit to the organization.
The former Gator will also start the season in AAA, unless he absolutely outperforms Jesus Montero and the newly sign Kelly Shoppach in spring training. Either way, Zunino will get time in the majors in 2013. Lets hope we don’t have another Jeff Clement scenario.
The other offensive player on the list is Nick Franklin. Franklin is currently playing shortstop in the Mariners organization – while many think he’ll eventually move to second base, the M’s are sticking with him as Brandan Ryan‘s eventual replacement, especially with Dustin Ackley as the teams current long-term option at 2B. Off course Ackley could always move back to the outfield where he spent his college career. Franklin did struggle a bit once he was called up to Tacoma, however at just 21 years old he’ll have time to work on everything he needs to improve before the Mariners ask him to contribute with the big club.
The last Mariner to make the list is the final member of the “Big Three” pitchers in the M’s organization. Paxton has two pitches, his fastball and curveball, that would allow him to have success at the MLB level. If he can continue to improve his changeup his chances of staying in a big league rotation will be much greater. Paxton has a solid strikeout rate and some see his future as a star reliever. The Mariners will try to keep him on a path as a starter as best they can. Paxton is also projected to start the year at the AAA level.
The Tacoma Rainiers will start the year with one of the most impressive rosters in all the minor leagues. Three future pitching stars as well as Zunino and Franklin will make them the early favorites to win at the AAA level. By July, and certainly September, it is very likely that all five will be seeing time down the road in Safeco Field.
Here is what MLB.com had to say about each player:
2013 Seattle Mariners Top 5 Prospects
|#5||Taijuan Walker||RHP||20||Scouting Grades* (present/future): Fastball: 6/7 | Curveball: 5/6 | Changeup: 4/5 | Control: 4/6 | Overall: 5/7
The Mariners didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2010 Draft, but that’s not something that bothers them all that much thanks to the development of Walker, their first selection that June. The 2012 Futures Gamer was the youngest pitcher in the Southern League and was dominant in the first half, though he did falter in the second half of the 2012 season. He has the makings of an excellent three-pitch mix, with a plus fastball, complemented by a curve and changeup, both of which have the chance to be at least above-average. He still needs to tighten up his command, but his athleticism – he was a basketball standout in high school – should allow him to do improve on that and become the frontline starter people project him as.
|#18||Danny Hultzen||LHP||23||Scouting Grades (present/future): Fastball: 5/6 | Slider: 5/6 | Changeup: 5/6 | Control: 4/6 | Overall: 5/6
Hultzen’s first full season of pro ball was a tale of two years. He was dominant in Double-A, then struggled once he moved up to Triple-A. The biggest surprise was a loss of control (he finished 2012 with a 5.4 BB/9 rate), something that was a plus for Hultzen coming out of the University of Virginia. Most see that as a blip on the radar and still feel his stuff and pitchability should have him ready for the big leagues very soon. Hultzen will run his fastball up to 93 mph and it has sink and tail to it. When he’s on, he can locate it to both sides of the plate. His changeup is his next-best pitch, an above-average offering, with an ability to pull the string on it. His slider is improved, with good deception and control of it, giving him the chance to have three above-average-or-better offerings. If his control issues are a thing of the past, he’ll help in Seattle sooner rather than later.
|#23||Mike Zunino||C||23||Scouting Grades (present/future): Hit: 4/5 | Power: 5/7 | Run: 2/2 | Arm: 4/5 | Field: 4/5 | Overall: 5/6
After a tremendous pro debut, the 2012 Golden Spikes Award Winner has most people asking when, not if, he’ll be in Seattle during the 2013 season. The son of longtime scout Greg Zunino, Mike reached Double-A during his first summer and shouldn’t need too much more time to be ready for the big leagues. Zunino has a lot of strength and bat speed, which will allow him to hit for power as a pro. While his swing can get long at times, he has an advanced approach at the plate, which should allow him to hit for average as well. Agile despite his size, he moves fairly well behind the plate, though he was a bit tired during his Arizona Fall League stint and his defense suffered as a result. He doesn’t have a cannon, but he has more than enough arm strength and is accurate. The Mariners took Zunino with the hope of him being their long-term solution behind the plate and it looks like he’ll answer that call sooner rather than later.
|#47||Nick Franklin||SS||21||Scouting Grades (present/future): Hit: 4/6 | Power: 4/5 | Run: 5/5 | Arm: 5/5 | Field: 5/6 | Overall: 5/6
Most have believed Franklin would make it to the big leagues, especially after his 20-20 first full season in 2010. The following year was interrupted by injury and illness, but he put that behind him with a bounce-back 2012 season that saw him reach Triple-A. A switch-hitter who has been much better from the left side thus far in his career, Franklin has a good idea at the plate with a good approach. The ball can jump off his bat thanks to his bat speed and he has more power than one would expect. His solid speed plays up because he has very good instincts on the basepaths. He’s played both shortstop and second base in his career and while he’s solid at short, some think he’d be even better as a full-time second baseman. Regardless of where it is, Franklin plays with a confidence that is important to see in a future everyday big leaguer.
|#61||James Paxton||LHP||24||Scouting Grades (present/future): Fastball: 6/6 | Curveball: 5/6 | Changeup: 3/5 | Control: 3/5 | Overall: 5/6
It’s hard to argue with what Paxton has been able to do thus far in his Minor League career since taking until March 2011 to sign. The big lefty has struck out 10.6 per nine innings over his two seasons in pro ball. The only question has been whether his command and his changeup would improve enough to be a starter for the long-term. He has a fastball that’s easily plus, one he can get up into the upper-90s and sits in the 93-94 mph range with regularity. He adds and subtracts from his power curve which has plenty of break to it. His changeup has improved, giving more hope to his ability to stay in a starting rotation. His long arm path, along with some other issues with his delivery, has led to command problems (4.3 BB/9) and that remains the key to his future. At the very least, that fastball-curve combination are more than enough to be an outstanding short reliever.