The Seattle Mariners currently own the second youngest team in baseball, which means their prospects are the core of the team not only for the future, but this season as well. The nucleus of the ball club consists of players in their mid-20s, but got a little older this offseason with the acquisitions of veterans Jason Bay, Raúl Ibañez, Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse. Needless to say, Spring Training will be a vital time for young players to step up and make the majors.
The Mariners have a highly revered farm system, highlighted of course by their big five; James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino and Danny Hultzen. But according to ESPN's Keith Law, "the gap between No. 5 and No. 10 in their system is huge," via thefanatic.net.
That means two things. First, the pressure's on for those big five to make a splash in the majors very soon. Second, the remaining prospects will need to step up in their absence and create their own reputations as soon-to-be-stars.
Here are the prospects with the most to prove this Spring.
Profile: RHP, age 20. Ranked 1st in Mariners farm system.
2012 stats: (AA) 7-10, 4.69 ERA, 118 K in 126.2 innings.
The 2013 season is most important for Walker after suffering a slight setback in 2012 after exciting 2010 and 2011 campaigns. He was just 19 years old for most of the AA season, so a stint at the next level is likely necessary before making the enormous leap to the big leagues.
Still, Seattle has failed to add any pitching thus far in the offseason, which is an encouraging sign for young pitchers.
Walker has a fastball that can reach the upper 90s and will certainly be heavily analyzed during Spring Training with a shot to get called up mid-season, if not sooner to round out the M's rotation.
Profile: LHP, age 23. Ranked 2nd in Mariners farm system.
2012 stats: (AA, AAA) 9-7, 3.05 ERA, 136 K in 124 innings.
Hultzen probably has the best chance of making the Mariners out of Spring Training. In his first year as a pro, Hultzen started immediately at the AA level and was promoted to AAA after 13 games.
He struggled initially at the next level, but finished the season averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
Hultzen's college experience also gives him a leg up. Two years at Virginia before being drafted were huge for his development, and he appears to be the most big league ready among Mariners pitching prospects.
Don't be surprised if Hultzen makes the squad out of Spring Training and contributes right away.
Profile: LHP, age 24. Ranked 5th in Mariners farm system.
2012 Stats: (AA) 9-4, 3.05 ERA, 110 K in 106.1 innings.
Lefty James Paxton is under pressure this Spring. Not only to solidify himself as ready for the next level, but to make an impact.
Paxton would be a great left-handed replacement in the rotation for Jason Vargas. His fastball reaches the high 90s and his power curve consistently keeps hitters off balance.
Through three minor league seasons, Paxton has struck out a notable 10.6 hitters per nine, all while giving up only nine home runs in 42 games.
Making it all the way to the majors without ever playing in AAA would be impressive, but Paxton has the credentials to accomplish the feat.
Profile: Catcher, age 21. Ranked 4th in Mariners farm system
2012 Stats: (A, AA) .360/.447/.689. 13 HR, 43 RBI
Former third overall pick and Golden Spikes Award winner Mike Zunino is moving through the minor leagues at an alarming rate.
With John Jaso being traded to Oakland, Jesus Montero has catcher locked up for this season, but he needs a backup. The M's could sign a veteran back-up or look within the organization for such player, and they might end up looking no farther than Mike Zunino.
If no other catcher is signed or called up, Zunino will have loads of pressure on him to spell Montero and get some looks at first base as well. Hit bat should be good enough to impress though.
Profile: RHP, age 22. Ranked 11th in Mariners farm system.
2012 Stats: (AA) 9-2, 3.20 ERA, 117 K in 137.2 innings.
Brandon Maurer will likely be a guy to get some innings later in the season out of the bullpen, but first he has to show he can hang.
He's often hyped by people within the Mariners organization, and at 6'5'' with a plus fastball, how can you blame them?
Maurer has pitched well at every level so far and after a short stint in AAA next year he should be ready for the big leagues.