Some day, when we look back, I'd like to think that the summer of 2013 will prove to be a turning point for the Seattle Mariners.
A time when the team finally turned a corner by ushering in a new wave of youngsters that will perhaps form the Mariners' core nucleus in the not-too-distant future.
Of course, that in and of itself may end up being wishful thinking (if not completely laughable), but for the better part of this season, the M's front office has gone forward with this plan by promoting top prospects Brandon Maurer, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino and Brad Miller with the hopes that they could help the team both this year and for the next several.
It's reached a point where it seems that just about every top-shelf prospect has made it to the majors this season, but does that mean the Mariners' farm system is now devoid of talent?
Let's take a look and see as we go position by position to break down Seattle's standout prospects in the hopes of finding some answers.
Let's cut to the chase, Taijuan Walker is not only the Mariners' best prospect, but also arguably one of the best in all of baseball.
MLB.com's No. 4 prospect is as much of a sure thing as the M's have within their entire farm system given his enticing mix of size, athleticism and variety in his offerings split between a fastball, curve and changeup.
So when will we see him in Seattle?
That depends, as Walker hit a bump recently having struggled in his past few starts after reaching Triple-A Tacoma at the tender age of 20 (although by the time you're reading this he could be 21).
To this point, he's impressed at each stop, but the Mariners have also been cautious with the young right-handed starter in making sure he isn't rushed.
So while it may be tempting to promote him this season, I can't see the M's pushing it at this point. Better to let him settle down at Tacoma this year and bring him to spring training next year with the chance to earn a spot in the rotation.
At that time, he may face some competition from several other notable prospects like Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. In time, if Walker improves his command and stays healthy, he should distinguish himself from the rest of the pack.
If we assume that Walker is the only sure thing the Mariners have in all of their farm system, then who or what exactly is left to discuss?
Going back to the beginning of the year, I believed that catching prospect and 2012 No. 3 overall pick in the MLB draft Mike Zunino would still be in the minors inching closer to a promotion in September.
Turns out the M's needed Zunino a bit sooner than I anticipated, but perhaps worst of all, his season already appears to be over due to an injury to his left hamate bone.
Prior to the injury, though, it was easy to forget that there are other catchers in the Seattle farm system, each hoping to make the majors some day.
At the top of the list and No. 13 overall for the Mariners, according to MLB.com, is 20-year-old Tyler Marlette.
Marlette who currently finds himself playing at Single-A Clinton was an All-Star this past season and with good reason given his all round performance both at and behind the plate.
Of course, let's not forget that Marlette is still a youngster who has a long journey ahead of him before making his way to Seattle along with competition from a few other catchers between him and Zunino within the organization.
As we begin to work our way around the diamond, I will confess that I was a little surprised to find the recent No. 1 draft pick in this June's draft, D.J. Peterson, listed as the M's fourth-best prospect, according to MLB.com.
With all due respect to Peterson—who pieced together an impressive resume in college playing for the University of New Mexico—I wonder if it might be a bit premature to have Peterson listed so high just weeks after signing with the organization?
Then again, I felt the same way about Zunino this time last year as well following his successful stint with the Everett Aqua Sox.
In both cases, I hope that I'm proved wrong, but I still struggle seeing Peterson at third base given the fact that Kyle Seager looks to have found a home there for years to come.
Of course, if Peterson can keep hitting like he did in college and similar to his brief stint at Everett while rising through the system, then I suppose that's a problem we can all learn to live with when the time comes.
Until then, I suggest he keeps his first base mitt handy, especially if he's looking to speed up the process of getting to Seattle within the next year or two.
Up the middle, similar to Marlette at catcher, Chris Taylor prior to this season was a bit of an afterthought within the ranks of middle infielders. That was due to the likelihood of Nick Franklin pushing for his chance to play in Seattle this season along with fellow prospect Brad Miller situated right behind him on the depth chart.
Meanwhile, as all the hype and attention has escalated since their respective arrivals in Seattle, Taylor has quietly gone about his business working his way upward through the M's farm system while earning an All-Star appearance at High Desert this year.
Unfortunately, it would seem that Taylor's ceiling as a prospect isn't quite as high as either Franklin or Miller, but then again, it's impressive to see him go from relative obscurity prior to this season to No. 6 overall on the M's prospect list at MLB.com.
Could he continue to surprise?
It's possible, but his play at Double-A Jackson will prove telling as to whether or not he can continue making his way to the majors.
If he can hit there and show that his numbers at Single-A High Desert aren't a mirage, then he might have a shot.
If he flounders, he will join a long list of prospects who came up short after looking great in the California League.
Why does MLB.com list Brad Miller as the Mariners' No. 3 prospect?
Good question. I will let the folks who put together the list answer:
To be eligible for a list, a player must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
In other words, Miller has yet to cross the threshold of being considered a true rookie, but the good news is that the time will come soon.
While we wait, let's reflect on the fact that Miller in the span of this season alone has gone from Double-A Jackson to Triple-A Tacoma and now looks to be more than capable of holding his own in Seattle.
When you really think about it, that's no small feat, yet it just goes to show that in some cases talent sometimes can't wait.
Sadly for Stefen Romero, his rise through the ranks has been anything but meteoric.
For a brief moment during spring training this year, Romero looked like a potential candidate to push for a roster spot, but he ended up injured. After finally getting healthy, he has remained stuck at Triple-A Tacoma in spite of posting solid numbers as the Mariners' No. 8 prospect, according to MLB.com.
Could Romero, if he continues to hit, get called up in September?
I'd imagine he will, but long term, you have to wonder what the future holds for a player like Romero who still doesn't have a defined position?
As I mentioned earlier, Seager is posting All-Star-caliber numbers at third base; meanwhile, every other position within the infield is currently occupied by higher-rated prospects like Nick Franklin and Brad Miller or remains a logjam of players the organization has yet to sort out, as is the case at first base.
Right now Romero's best option is playing the outfield as talent and depth are both lacking at the major league and highest levels of the minors, not to mention the fact that he's a right-handed hitter, which the M's sorely need in their lineup regardless of position.
Last but not least, the outfield situation.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is mess with no end in sight as it's been years since the Mariners produced a decent outfielder not named Adam Jones.
Could this year's second-round selection, Austin Wilson, from Stanford University break through?
The scouts at MLB.com list him as the M's highest outfield prospect, No. 9 overall, just weeks after signing with the team.
Yet what's hard to tell at this point is whether that ranking speaks more about Wilson's potential or the Mariners' lack of talent in the outfield within their entire farm system.
In fairness to Wilson, I loved the fact that the M's selected him back in June and believe he has as good a shot as any given his size and raw talent to some day patrol the outfield at Safeco Field. Of course, that will likely take some time to happen as Wilson is currently still getting his feet wet up the road in Everett with the Aqua Sox.
Meanwhile, are there any other prospects worthy of discussion?
In the immediate sense, I'm afraid not.
While I'd like to get excited about Vladimir Guerrerro's nephew Gabriel, who happens to be ranked No. 10 right after Wilson, the fact is he's not much further up the ladder given he's only currently at Single-A Clinton and sadly has yet to display any of his uncle's power at the plate.
For what it's worth, the first player we may see make any impact within the M's outfield is Julio Morban (MLB.com).
Morban, currently at Double-A Jackson, has proven there is life after High Desert by managing to hold his own at the plate and in the field while having a solid season.
Depending on what the Mariners do over the winter, Morban could go to spring training with a puncher's chance of making the final roster. Then again the team could insist on trotting out the usual batch of fossils with the hopes they don't turn to dust before the All-Star break.
Honestly if given a choice between seeing Morban get a shot, find out whether Raul Ibanez can avoid retirement for another year or waiting for Franklin Gutierrez to turn up lame with some fluke ailment once again, I'm rolling the dice on Morban.
It's time for some new blood, as we all need to move on from the ghosts of seasons past and stop recycling.