One month into the 2013 season, the Seattle Mariners are five games below .500 with a record of 12-17 but somehow currently in third place in the AL West.
As we turn the page from April to May on the calendar, can the Mariners improve upon their slow start?
It's hard to say, as the team has finally shown some signs of life during its recent homestand. Unfortunately, the team's upcoming travel plans could complicate things.
The question is, will any of the team's top prospects be ready?
While it may be a bit presumptuous to forecast what may happen in the next month or so, I figured it might help to check in on how the Mariners' top 10 high-level prospects are currently doing.
Understand, though, that the focus of today is to look at players we may actually see in the next year or two, rather than lower-level prospects like Victor Sanchez, Gabriel Guerrero or Tyler Pike.
So without further ado, let's see how the kids are doing.
OK, so Taijuan Walker probably isn't coming to Seattle any time soon.
That said, the team's top prospect is holding his own in Double-A Jackson so far this season.
With a record of 2-2 (29 IP, 1.55 ERA, .150 BAA, 32/18 K/BB, 5 GS), Walker is still maturing at a reasonable pace.
Perhaps his command isn't perfect, but if he can continue to keep this pace, he should make it to Tacoma by midseason.
In an ideal world, sometime this summer Walker would take Danny Hultzen's spot in the rotation at Triple-A Tacoma, after Hultzen graduated to the majors.
Unfortunately, late last week Hultzen was scratched (Tacoma News Tribune) from his scheduled start and will likely miss his next few starts with left rotator cuff strain and tendonitis.
Should we be worried?
At the very least we should be concerned. On the bright side, prior to last week Hultzen's April looked solid with a record of 3-1 (22.2 IP, 2.78 ERA, .198 BAA, 25/6 K/BB, 4 GS).
Hopefully Hultzen is fine, but until we hear otherwise, it's hard to give him a grade.
It's funny to think this time last year Mike Zunino was still at the University of Florida, weeks away from being drafted by the Mariners with the No. 3 pick in the 2012 MLB draft.
Meanwhile, whenever the M's struggle either at the plate or behind it, I can't help but wonder when Zunino will be ready to come up the road from Triple-A Tacoma to play in Seattle.
Of course, it didn't help matters that Zunino got off to a blistering start, only to cool off for a stretch, before rebounding again (.222/.333/.542, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 24/10 K/BB, 19 G).
Long story short, he's not ready yet.
However, if he can continue to hit like he has while settling in over the course of the next few weeks, the time could come for him to make his debut in Seattle sooner rather than later.
Hitting alongside Zunino at Triple-A Tacoma, infielder Nick Franklin has put up some fairly impressive numbers through the month of April (.410/.538/.623, 3 HR, 14 RBI, 8/16 K/BB, 17 G).
To think, Franklin was almost shipped off this winter with Walker for Justin Upton.
In the past, I've had my doubts about Franklin's plate discipline, but so far the numbers speak for themselves, especially the strikeouts-to-walk ratio during this, his second stint at Tacoma.
The big question now is where do you play him, according to The Seattle Times Larry Stone:
The question is whether Franklin can handle major-league shortstop defensively, and there are some doubters. He has played just six games at short for Tacoma, and 10 at second base. I don’t see the Mariners moving Ackley out of second base, not when he’s hot (a 10-game hit streak in which he’s well over .300) and has his average on the upswing. But the fact is, Ackley has three extra-base-hits, one RBI, and a .570 OPS with nearly 20 percent of the season gone. There could be some playing time to be had at second base.
Franklin is not on the 40-man roster, so room would have to be made. Someone would also have to come off the major-league roster, of course. I doubt if the Mariners are ready to cut ties with Andino this soon into the season.
It’s not as cut and dry as it looks. It rarely is. But when a player is hitting .400 at the top level of the minor leagues, his time is coming. Fast.
Indeed, it's not as cut and dry as Franklin driving up the road from Tacoma to Seattle.
At the same time, if Franklin can stay this hot through the month of May, the M's may have no choice but to call him up sometime this summer.
Of course, not all of the Mariners' top prospects had a great month of April.
Starting pitcher James Paxton for whatever reason has struggled so far this season between spring training and during his time in the minors.
At Tacoma, Paxton is 1-2 (21 IP, 6.00 ERA, .306 BAA, 22/12 K/BB, 5 GS) so far this season.
His number are not all together terrible given the fact he is still getting settled at Triple-A, but at the same time, it's not quite what most of us were hoping for this season.
While Paxton still has plenty of time to get back on track this year, I'm not sure I'd expect to see him in Seattle until very late this season if at all.
Shortstop Brad Miller is hitting .278/.356/.478 with four home runs, 12 RBI, 21/10 K/BB (24 G) at Double-A Jackson, but could he be the Mariners shortstop of the near future?
I suppose that depends on a few things, but the recent demotion of Brendan Ryan for Robert Andino leaves me to wonder.
If things fall apart in Seattle over the course of the next month or two, I'd imagine that Franklin will be promoted from Triple-A, which therefore should pave the way for Miller to take his spot.
At the same time, will the M's even play Franklin at shortstop?
Depending on what the team intends to do with Franklin, that could make all the difference for Miller.
Last month, I predicted that Miller could be fast-tracked to Seattle this year, and so far based on his performance, I still see the potential.
Speaking of prospects I believe could be promoted this season, enter infielder Stefen Romero.
Romero, you may recall, had a promising spring before getting hurt, has now returned to Triple-A Tacoma after starting the season at Single-A High Desert while hitting a combined .309/.377/.473 with one home run, eight RBI and 9/4 K/BB in 14 games.
Moving forward, can Romero stay healthy and productive?
If so, what position will he play?
These are all questions that the M's may need to sort out some time this season, but for now it seems that Romero simply needs to settle in at Tacoma and let his bat do the talking.
When it comes to outfield prospects, the Seattle Mariners seem to be lacking quality options within the highest levels of the farm system.
Julio Morban, though, may be someone to keep an eye on moving forward given he's only 21 years old and hitting .306/.342/.500 with one home run, four RBI and 11/1 K/BB in 11 games.
Perhaps those numbers aren't quite off the charts, but if he can piece together a solid full season at Double-A Jackson this year while improving his plate discipline, he might be worthy of a promotion to the big club sometime next year.
It's reached the point I genuinely feel bad for Vinnie Catricala.
Two years ago in 2011, Catricala was the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year while splitting time between Single-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson (Mariners.com).
Catricala then went to spring training in 2012 and pieced together a performance that some considered worthy of grabbing a roster spot. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be, and ever since then, Catricala has seemingly been in free-fall.
After experiencing a lackluster season at Triple-A Tacoma in 2012, Catricala did himself no favors with an underwhelming spring training this year that landed him back at Double-A Jackson in which he's struggled to hit .186/.207/.233 with zero home runs, 10 RBI and 22/2 K/BB in 23 games.
Is Catricala really another High Desert mirage?
I don't think so, but one can only hope he gets his act in gear soon, otherwise his shot at the majors could be hanging by a thread.
Speaking of disappointments, it seems with each passing day the Doug Fister trade looks more and more like a major mistake.
Other than Charlie Furbush becoming the team's go-to left-handed long reliever last season, what other positives can be gleaned from that deal for the M's?
Casper Wells is gone, Chance Ruffin continues to backslide and Francisco Martinez so far this season is struggling (.210/.247/.247, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 23/4 K/BB, 20 G).
Wasn't Martinez supposed to be the "gem" of this deal for the Mariners?
If it seems like Martinez has been stalled at Double-A ever since joining the organization, it's because he has.
If the month of April is any indication of what to expect for 2013, then I can't imagine Francisco will ever make it to Seattle, let alone Tacoma.