Welcome to the big leagues, Brandon Maurer.
Thursday afternoon, fans of the Seattle Mariners had hoped to see the rookie hurler make the leap from Double-A to the majors unscathed following his impressive showing in spring training.
Unfortunately, the Oakland A's had other plans (via Yahoo! Sports).
Over the course of six innings, Oakland scored six runs on eight hits, two of which were home runs, against Maurer. Yet, what may have seemed like a step backward for the young Maurer was actually an important step toward the future for the Seattle Mariners.
After all, one bad outing does not make a season, and Maurer will likely have his fair share of ups and downs while in Seattle. More importantly, though, Maurer's appearance should be the beginning of a new era for the Mariners as they hope to move past a decade of mediocrity.
Ever since general manager Jack Zduriencik took over the ballclub back in late 2008, the team has been stockpiling prospects (h/t MLB.com) that fans have been eagerly awaiting to see in action for the M's. After years of seeing a slow trickle of talent make it to Seattle, this year, quite a few potential stars appear to be knocking at the door.
Yet, after Maurer, who turned out to be the biggest surprise this spring, who will the Mariners be tempted to promote this season?
While I can't imagine the M's being in any major rush, here are the first five players I can see the team promoting to the big leagues in 2013.
OK, so this isn't going to sound like much of a shock, but I really like Danny Hultzen's chances of getting to Seattle before anyone else this season.
In fact, I almost wonder if he could have already been there had he been healthy this spring.
Going into spring training, if someone told me a rookie would make the starting rotation for Opening Day, I probably would have wagered on Hultzen. Even midway through March, I might have been tempted to give Hultzen a slight edge over Brandon Maurer. But then, Hultzen got hurt, and Maurer never looked back.
So now what?
Hultzen will begin 2013 where he ended 2012: Triple-A Tacoma.
Following a promising start to last season at Double-A Jackson, Hultzen earned a promotion to Tacoma, where soon after the wheels fell off, as he explained to Jose M. Romero at the Tacoma News Tribune:
The biggest difference for me was just the experience of the hitters in Triple-A. What made the Triple-A hitters so good was they had their approach, they knew what they were doing up there and that made it a lot more difficult to pitch to.
When I had no idea where the ball was going, they knew that so they would just take, take, take, take (pitches) until they got that cookie that they wanted and they would mash it.
Hultzen’s numbers reflected his wildness, which started soon after he arrived in Tacoma in June. He said he somehow lost all the feel for his pitches and went from 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA in Jackson to 1-4 with a 5.92 ERA with the Rainiers and almost a walk an inning (43 in 48† innings).
The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they tell a pretty good story of what happened at Triple-A.
I’m past it. It’s behind me and I’m ready to move on. I have a chance to kind of redeem myself … and get the opportunity to go back (to Tacoma) and prove that’s not the pitcher I am.
I'm inclined to believe him, especially if his performance in Arizona the past few weeks is any indication. If he can continue to build upon that at Tacoma, it's not unreasonable to expect him in Seattle later this summer.
What may even speed up the process is the mere fact that Hultzen is a lefty. Right now, beyond veteran Joe Saunders, Hultzen is arguably the next-best left-handed starting pitcher on the entire organizational depth chart.
If Saunders were to get injured or falter while Hultzen looks lights out in Tacoma, the temptation might be there, but the likelihood of that happening would seem pretty remote for today.
My best guess for Hultzen, if all goes according to plan, is that we will see him sometime around the All-Star break in July.
Is it possible he might bring his catcher with him as well?
Mike Zunino will get to Seattle at some point this season.
To me, the question is not if, but when.
As the good folks at USS Mariner explained earlier this week, Zunino's progression seems rather straightforward:
If Mike Zunino’s pitch blocking improves, it may be hard to keep him down come July. This is as good a position-player prospect as the M’s have had in a while. People point to Jeff Clement, but Clement’s initial seasons in the minors, in winter ball (he played in the old Hawaiian league) and in AAA weren’t stellar.
We remember his insane half-season in AAA, but he stumbled out of the gate. Zunino hasn’t stumbled, or come close to stumbling, at the plate in his brief career. If he keeps that up in his first taste of AAA, the M’s will look to move Kelly Shoppach.
With Zunino, it's hard not to get a little excited. Honestly, when was the last time the Mariners produced a position player of this caliber?
Zunino has shot through the system at warp speed, but is it really possible to think he will be in Seattle come July?
Depending on how things unfold this season for the Mariners as a team and how Jesus Montero and Shoppach fare behind the plate, it's not far-fetched to think the ballclub would be willing to plug in Zunino sooner rather than later.
If he continues to show the promise we've seen thus far, how can they deny giving him a chance over a journeyman like Shoppach during the second half of the season?
From this point onward, it gets hard to judge who gets the call to the big leagues.
Initially, I was tempted to pencil in left-handed starter James Paxton here, but given how much he struggled this spring, I think he will need some time this season to recover at Triple-A before the Mariners consider promoting him.
Meanwhile, will infielder Nick Franklin get the call at some point?
After arriving at Tacoma toward the end of last season, Franklin struggled. But much like Danny Hultzen, I can picture him rebounding the second time around.
However, the biggest problem for Franklin—along with the next player on this list—is where exactly do you put them in the field?
Franklin originally was slated to play shortstop, but he has gradually been shifted to second base. Right now, though, Dustin Ackley looks to be there for the foreseeable future, which leaves me to wonder what the M's really intend to do with Franklin.
Over the winter, I figured he would be shopped around, and though he was rumored to be included in the failed Justin Upton deal (ht/t the Seattle Times), the fact is, Franklin is still a Mariner.
If he continues to swing the bat as well as he has throughout his time with the organization, the team will be all but forced to make a decision at some point, either this season or next, regarding his future—whether it be at second, short or, perhaps, in the outfield.
Crazy as it may sound, I tend to think that either Franklin or Ackley may need to make the move. But for this season, expect Franklin to make it to Seattle as a middle infielder some time later this summer, getting a few at-bats and starts here and there to measure his worth moving forward.
Much like Nick Franklin, Stefen Romero is a man the Mariners may someday need to find a spot for in their lineup, according to MLB.com, who rates him the team's No. 12 prospect:
Romero fits under the description “Have bat, will travel” perfectly. In this case, it’s not to other organizations, but rather to a number of defensive positions.
A third baseman in college, he played there, second base and a little outfield during his 2011 summer debut in the Mariners system. In 2012, he played second exclusively and he may yet end up in right field.
The simple fact is if Romero keeps hitting like he did in 2012, they’re going to find a place for him in the lineup.
During spring training, Romero was one of the bigger surprises in camp until he got hurt. However, if Romero can come back healthy, start hitting again and spend some serious time in the outfield, he could make his way to Seattle a lot faster than anticipated.
Fact is, the Mariners outfield this season, with the exception of Michael Saunders, is an aged collection of players who, at any minute, could turn to dust. Today, Raul Ibanez, Jason Bay, Franklin Gutierrez and Mike Morse look good, but let's remember, the season is long, and none of them are getting any younger.
Even if that group stays healthy and productive, it's still playing on borrowed time.
Meanwhile, Carlos Peguero, Eric Thames and Denny Almonte will likely be seeing the majority of playing time in the outfield at Tacoma, but I can't picture any of them having as high a ceiling as Romero in the major leagues.
At some point, the team needs to consider options that are going to take over long-term, and if Romero is smart, he may take advantage of a situation that is begging for someone to step up to fill a huge void within the organization.
It may sound crazy today, but in a few months' time, it may make a lot more sense.
Speaking of someone who may fill in at a position in need of a youthful injection of talent, did anyone else find it curious how long Brad Miller stuck around at spring training?
Unlike everyone else on this list, Miller won't be starting this season at Triple-A Tacoma; however, I wouldn't rule him out from making the leap to Seattle before this season is over.
Miller looked pretty good at times in spring training and is the kind of gritty gamer who could someday become a regular in the M's infield.
Right now, Miller will be starting the season in Double-A Jackson, but if he continues to progress and anything happens to veteran Brendan Ryan, the temptation to fast-track Miller could be too hard to resist.
But what about Nick Franklin, Stefen Romero or even Carlos Triunfel at shortstop instead?
Those players are all possibilities, yet I get the feeling the job is going to be Miller's before this season is over.
In the case of all these players, what happens next depends in large part on them and how they perform, but it's also on the Mariners as well. Injuries and poor performances can open doors that today may appear closed, so you never know.
The good news is that all of these players, with the obvious exception of Hultzen, can hit the baseball. And the Mariners organization has been in need of hitters for ages now. Where these hitters will end up playing remains a mystery for today, but it is an issue that can be sorted out over time once these players show what they are capable of doing.
As for the bad news, there aren't quite as many pitchers on this list as I had originally anticipated.
James Paxton, once upon a time, seemed like an obvious choice, but his recent struggles led me to question whether we won't see him until late in the season. Meanwhile, like it or not, Taijuan Walker is still a year away, which, long-term, is probably for the best.
Overall, though the M's farm system looks fairly solid. If you're like me, you're starting to get itchy in waiting for some of these kids to break out on the scene.
Hopefully, Hultzen and Zunino will be ready soon, but until that time, we have to hope that Brandon Maurer continues to defy the odds.