With the First-Year Player Draft approaching quickly, and the minor league call-up season getting underway, fans are starting to wonder what types of moves will be made to address their team's early-season issues.
Since it's pretty certain what the Mariners will be doing with their second overall draft pick, it's a good time to look at what's going on with the farm teams in Tacoma, Jackson, and High Desert.
It's tough to speculate on who might be called up this year or next, but what we can do is examine the performance of some of the hottest minor leaguers in Seattle's organization. Here's a look at the top ten prospects set up to hit the majors by 2013.
Littlewood is a high-potential young guy from Utah who the Mariners snagged in the second round of last year's amateur draft.
They got him out of high school, but he already hits like a pro. He's still young and growing, but if the rest of the Mariners' options at shortstop don't work out, we could see Littlewood step in.
He could also work out at third base since he throws right-handed and the Mariners have Chone Figgins there right now...
The Mariners aren't in dire need of a pitcher right now, but this guy would fit in nicely with their rotation or bullpen. His size (6' 6'', 235 lbs) is reminiscent of Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, which must be a good sign.
However, Felix, Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Pineda, Aaron Laffey, David Pauley, and Brandon League have put on quite a show this year, so I don't see the Mariners calling on too many backups any time soon.
It's unlikely that a spot opens up for Cortes, since there are a couple of other pitchers ahead of him in line, but he has encouraging K/9 and BB/9 ratios that the Mariners seem to love.
He's also spent a lot of time in the minors with both the Royals and the Mariners, so he's definitely gaining experience and wariness that will carry over to wherever he ends up.
A young, hard-hitting third baseman from High Desert—who saw that coming? But I'm not giving Liddi enough credit. While he did shine in High Desert, Liddi has also played very well in Double-A West Tennessee and Triple-A Tacoma.
What is becoming a commonality among these top prospects for the Mariners remains constant for Liddi—he's a high-power, high-average guy who has some issues in the field.
If Anthony Rendon doesn't work out this year though, we might see Liddi come up in a year or two, because we certainly can't go another season with Chone Figgins hitting second if we want any sort of shot at the playoffs.
Yes, he's wearing braces in that picture—but he's only 20, and he started playing professionally when he was 17. So did Felix.
Pimentel has been encouraging both at the plate and in the field. The Mariners currently have a lot of guys moving around in the outfield (a little less now that Guti's back), so it's quite possible that Guillermo could slide in at some point next year.
It's sad to think about it, but Ichiro will be moving on not too long from now, and Pimentel could be the replacement.
Maurico Robles is a little guy (well, for a baseball player at least) who can do a lot of damage, especially with his wicked changeup.
He's had a lot of experience in professional baseball, and the only thing that precludes him from a higher rank here is the fact that he's a pitcher. Like I said earlier, the Mariners' pitching staff is pretty awesome this year, so they should only need to make minor tweaks over the next few years.
However, if the M's send Bedard elsewhere this year or next, there will be an opening in the starting rotation that Robles could snag.
Taijuan is in the same boat as Robles—he could get called up in the event of a trade involving Bedard, Fister, or Vargas, but that's unlikely for this year at least. We could possibly see both Walker and Robles in the Mariners' starting rotation by 2013, but there are no guarantees.
Last year, Walker pitched a few games in relief, experiencing some decent success. This year, he has converted to a starter and put up a nasty 12.1 K/9 ratio. He is progressing very quickly through the minor league system, so a 2013 major league call-up isn't out of the question.
The Mariners' love of strikeout pitchers is what puts Walker ahead of Robles in my ranking system.
We could see Seager hit the major leagues if things didn't work out with the guys ahead of him in line or if he suddenly exploded with power.
Currently, he's behind Ackley at 2B, Franklin at SS, and potentially Rendon at 3B, but he can play anywhere in the infield, which increases his value. He's mostly a contact hitter, but in the midst of the rest of these guys, he'd be a nice balancing factor.
Also unlike the rest of this group, he doesn't look terrible in the field. He's still making some mistakes, but I don't think his glove will hinder his shot at the bigs as it might for the other players.
Considered the best power hitter the Mariners have in their farm system, Chavez could certainly be in the mix for the starting LF position either this year or next.
After coming over in the Brandon Morrow trade with the Blue Jays, Chavez has torn up minor league pitching, especially with High Desert. This year has been a little less exciting, but there's still reason to believe that he'll heat up.
He has great raw power and a canon for an arm, so he'd be very valuable as an outfielder for Seattle. If Ichiro tanks out or Gutierrez's stomach problems resurface, Chavez would be a leading candidate for a replacement.
Nick Franklin's nifty combination of power and speed would look really nice in the Mariners' struggling batting order. He's proven his worth as a first-round draft pick in the minors.
Major concern: fielding. He made 22 errors last year with Clinton and West Tennessee and has accumulated a .948 fielding percentage over three years playing professionally.
His fielding position also happens to be one of his biggest assets. The Mariners currently have Brendan Ryan at short who's doing a pretty nice job but is a bottom-of-the-order hitter.
Franklin would slot in the middle to top part of the order, considerably boosting the lackluster offense characteristic of the Mariners over the past few years.
Dustin Ackley has undoubtedly generated the most hype of all of these guys. He's currently playing in Tacoma after having switched up from West Tennessee halfway through last year.
Ackley has already hit seven home runs through 50 games this season. It took him 134 games last year to reach the same mark, and he did it with a batting average 20 points lower than this year. Also worth noting, five of the seven homers from last year came in his 52 games with Tacoma (Triple-A), while he hit just two in 82 games with West Tennessee (Double-A).
While his stats this year aren't incredible (seven home runs, .857 OPS, and a .88 K/BB ratio), he's shown major improvement, even as he climbs the farm ladder.
His fielding is still a concern, but that should improve with time, also.
The fact that he plays second base just adds to the probability of a call-up sooner rather than later given the Mariners' current lack of a solid 2B.
Dustin Ackley is definitely part of the Mariners future.