Don't look now, but the Seattle Mariners have the best prospect system in the majors, featuring newly acquired catcher Jesus Montero.
While it depends on who you ask, but consensus puts the rebuilding M's near the very top. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com recently slapped rankings on the top 100 prospects in baseball and the Mariners took first place.
Among the top-100 were Jesus Montero (No. 12), Danny Hultzen (No. 16), Taijuan Walker (No. 18), Nick Franklin (No. 52) and James Paxton (No. 77).
My immediate reaction was a hint of surprise at Montero being outside the top five (for comparison, Ackley was in the top five last year), as he's been regarded as one of the best hitting prospects in the game. Just a sidenote- rumors have it that the M's were interested in Toronto's third baseman prospect Brett Lawrie for Michael Pineda, but the deal didn't work out.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Walker and Hultzen breaking the top-20.
And yes, all credit can go to Jack Zduriencik. My immediate reaction to the Prince Fielder signing was a mix of bitterness and relief, and I worried that Jack Z was taking too long. But it's clear that we can at least begin to catch a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel; a well-balanced team with power-hitting and dominant pitching. Young power-hitting and dominant pitching.
I felt a clear sense of excitement around the new identity the team was building this past weekend at FanFest. Talking with fellow Mariners fans, the optimism was palpable as attendees believe that this team could be really good in a few years.
When do you expect the M's to break out?
But just how long will that take? And how long is too long? It's a topic that has been heavily explored by many Mariners columnists recently, including a highly insightful piece by the Seattle Times' Jerry Brewer.
M's fans have endured so much grief over the last decade, and it's only a matter of time before you reject the gruel you've been fed, and become a cynic. Mariners fans were told to "Believe Big" in 2010; halfway through the season, Don Wakamatsu got the axe. I admit to being one of those cynics, somebody who couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by a somewhat quiet offseason.
But we just might have something brewing here, a budding dynasty if things turn out right. Jack Zduriencik is moving into his fourth year turning this ship around and there's a lot to like as we begin to appreciate his blueprint.
It's important to realize that the foundation is being laid, but it will remain to be seen if the building blocks stay in place. Justin Smoak is far from a sure thing at this point, Jesus Montero is still wet behind the ears, and it's anybody's guess how third base will turn out this year. Cynicists and optimists both have valid arguments.
If Jack Z's mandate lasts long enough, this plan might reach fruition. The pieces are beginning to fall into place and his vision is starting to be validated with rankings.
Bumpy rides are never fun. But you can't deny the sexiness of being the up-and-comer, and the Mariners have that feel in 2012.