In a season that has forced Mariners fans to question the integrity of the prospects in Seattle's farm system, three prospective pitchers continue to give struggling fans hope. Most Mariners fans know these three players: Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton.
Danny Hultzen is in Triple-A after killing it in Jackson, Taijuan Walker's fastball is still burning at high-90s in Double-A and James Paxton is continuing to prove himself into becoming a big league pitcher with rumors circulating that he may join the Mariners in late 2012.
Seattle hopes that these three pitchers will form a "Big Three" in their rotation for the future alongside Felix Hernandez. The three pitchers draw similarities to the Atlanta Braves' pitching rotation of the early '90s, featuring John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Steve Avery.
According to Baseball America's 2012 Top 100 Prospects list, Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker are ranked 21st and 20th overall. James Paxton ranks highly as well, 52nd overall.
Having three high quality pitching prospects is a luxury and could set up the Mariners' rotation for success; however it is a luxury the Mariners currently cannot afford. Currently, the Mariners are in an offensive slump. The team is batting .230 collectively. That's the second worst in the league.
The young Mariners' hitting prospects, Dustin Ackley (.233), Justin Smoak (.203) Jesus Montero (.245) and prospect Nick Franklin in Tacoma (.239) are not performing. Seattle needs hitters or hitting prospects. The Mariners' offense is boringly bad. It hurts the team, fanbase and farm system by forcing players up before they are ready.
Seattle needs some offense, either in terms of a hitting prospect or an already qualified batter. James Paxton is the trade chip necessary for such offensive acquisitions.
Who is the Mariners' best pitching prospect?
James Paxton is a tremendous pitching prospect. He possesses a solid frame for pitching at 6'4'' and has arm strength that scouts say is his best attribute. Paxton has a few good pitches in his arsenal. His fastball has touched 97 mph and remains his go-to pitch. His changeup and curve could use considerable work. Paxton also has a slider he can rely on.
The upside to James Paxton is high. The Mariners at one point believed he could be their eventual No. 2 starter behind King Felix.
Last year in Double-A, James Paxton recorded a 3-0 record with a 1.85 ERA. His ceiling was extremely high. This year, Paxton has shown a few more cracks. Currently in Jackson, Paxton is 3-3 with a 3.45 ERA. Paxton's upside remains, but his trade value may be decreasing.
The Mariners must pull the trigger while they still can.
And with young pitchers Erasmo Ramirez and Andrew Carraway beginning to make names for themselves, Seattle may have a crowded pitching rotation.
While having three elite pitching prospects is a luxury, the Mariners must make sacrifices for offensive performance. The fanbase would not be happy with primed pitching prospect Danny Hultzen leaving town, nor would it be wise for the Mariners to deal a player with a ceiling as high as Taijuan Walker.
That leaves James Paxton, the third member of the "Big Three" prospects, as the pitching prospect the Mariners must investigate trading.