Ranking the Seattle Mariners' 15 Best Minor League Prospects
With the dust settled following the MLB Trade Deadline, the Seattle Mariners organization can now, once again, take stock of their best prospects as the team continues to rebuild.
Going into the season, the Mariners farm system ranked amongst the league's best and, fortunately, the team managed to not only retain their best prospects, but add a few more to the mix following trades that shipped off Brandon League, Steve Delabar and Ichiro Suzuki.
So now as the M's move on from the deadline, I figured it might be worthwhile to revisit the team's best prospects with a little bit of help from the folks at MLB.com and rank them based on their current development and potential talent.
While in some ways it is disappointing to perpetually be left waiting for next year, one has to figure, or at least hope, that some day things will finally work in the M's favor.
Understand that ranking these players is far from an exact science, but for those of us following the Mariners, it's in many ways all we've got.
No. 15: Leon Landry, Outfield
At No. 15, Leon Landry starts the list as one of the newest Mariners having been included in the deal with the Dodgers for Brandon League.
As Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone writes...
Landry, 22, is a former third-round pick in 2010 out of LSU. He was hitting .328 with 26 doubles, 15 triples, eight homers and 51 RBI in 80 games for Rancho Cucamonga (High A), mixing his time between left and center. His 15 triples lead all minor-leaguers, so he's obviously got speed.
Sounds good, right?
Well not so fast according to ESPN's Keith Law via Stone's writeup...
Landry has speed but is weak on pitch recognition and overall instincts while lacking power...If he could play center field well, he'd be a good fourth outfielder candidate, but his defense out there remains weak so he doesn't profile even as an extra outfielder right now.
This almost sounds eerily like the initial thoughts on Trayvon Robinson this time last year after he came to the Mariners, and to date it's held true.
Whether Landry nets out as anything more than a role player will depend heavily on how well he responds once he moves on from the Single-A California League, which all too often inflates stats for hitters.
Fingers crossed on Landry, but it's really a shame the Mariners couldn't get more for League.
No. 14: Jabari Blash, Outfield
If Leon Landry isn't your cup of tea, I'm afraid that Jabari Blash is another outfield prospect with question marks.
He’s still pretty raw in many facets of the game. The tools are undeniable, though, and they started to show through in the Northwest League in 2011, displaying some of his power-speed combination. While he swings and misses quite a bit, he also will draw some walks.
Hopefully he starts to put things together, because at age 23 he's still young, but getting old fast.
No. 13: Brandon Maurer, Pitcher
At No. 13 we shift gears to pitching prospect Brandon Maurer.
Maurer is the first pitcher on this list who has logged in serious time with the M's Double-A affiliate Jackson Generals this season, but he is certainly not the last.
At 6'5", the hard-throwing righty still has a ways to go before reaching the bigs, but if he keeps striking out hitters just shy of his current pace, the Mariners could find a spot for him on their roster in the next few years.
No. 12: Guillermo Pimentel, Outfield
At No. 12, I'm featuring a player that could some day either be something special or yet another failed youngster that never blossomed.
Guillermo Pimentel last year ranked sixth amongst the M's top prospects, sixth amongst all outfielders, and 37th overall according to MLB.com.
This year he's dropped sharply to 17th in the organization and completely off the map amongst outfielders and the overall MLB list.
Having moved up to Single-A Clinton, the 19-year-old has struggled a bit, especially in averaging more than a strikeout per game, but still has the kind of raw power that makes scouts drool.
For now, he's still very young and hopefully, in time, he will make his mark, but it will probably take a few years and a lot of patience.
No. 11: Phillips Castillo, Outfield
Speaking of patience, Phillips Castillo is yet another youngster the organization is banking on to produce.
Similar to Guillermo Pimentel, Castillo has power, potential and a long road ahead of him before getting to Seattle.
Hopefully at least one of them will make it, but then again, there are no guarantees in this business.
No. 10: Carlos Triunfel, Shortstop
Speaking of disappointments, to long-time Mariner fans, Carlos Triunfel represents just one of the empty promises of so many failed rebuilding projects.
And yet, is he really a bust?
I'd honestly like to find out and truly believe he can't possibly be any worse than the incumbent for the Mariners at shortstop, Brendan Ryan (regardless of how well he plays defense).
With Nick Franklin knocking at the door to be the likely successor for the M's at shortstop next year, shouldn't Triunfel at least get a fair shot to distinguish himself before ending up in a spring training battle next March?
I know I've brought this topic up on several occasions now, but I can't let go of the nagging fear that Triunfel will end up as one of the many players the Mariners gave up on too soon—especially with Ryan now staying put after the deadline and Geoff Baker at the Seattle Times saying the M's should keep him past this year.
No. 9: Brad Miller, Shortstop
Meanwhile, as if there isn't enough competition at shortstop for the Mariners within the farm system, here's another guy to keep an eye on.
At the beginning of the season I wasn't quite sure what to make of 2011 second-round pick Brad Miller, and even after he ripped the cover off the ball at Single-A High Desert, I still found myself a bit skeptical.
At the same time, Miller is a gutsy player out of Clemson who has the pedigree and tools needed to succeed at the big league level and reminds me in some ways of former ACC products, and current Mariners Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager.
If Miller can continue to hit at Double-A Jackson following his recent promotion, he might have a place in Seattle by some time late next season at the rate things are going. If not, he'll join the growing list of players in the organization who suffer from "High Desert Fever" in having experienced success in the California League, but falling flat after their promotion.
No. 8: Carter Capps, Pitcher
Shifting back to pitching at No. 8, Carter Capps is an unpolished gem, but one the M's could find a place for by next season or perhaps now?
After putting up some solid numbers in Double-A Jackson, Capps recently got the call up to Triple-A Tacoma which is impressive given he was only drafted by the Mariners last year in the third round, and now he becomes the second draftee from 2011 to make it to the pros after being called up to the bigs on Tuesday.
Will he continue to rack up strikeouts in Seattle or will he hit a wall like several other pitching prospects?
With the M's continually shuffling their pitching staff, either due to trades or through injuries, it would seem that Capps time is now, but I honestly would have preferred to see him get a little more work at Tacoma.
Either way it will be exciting to see how he performs.
No. 7: Francisco Martinez, Third Base
At No. 7 we start to look at players who not only could make the club, but would be seen as disappointments if they didn't at some point.
Last year, prior to the trade deadline, Francisco Martinez came to the Mariners as one of the key pieces in the deal that sent pitcher Doug Fister to the Detroit Tigers.
With power to all fields Martinez looked like a solid fit for the M's future plans, yet in his first full season with the ballclub while playing at Double-A Jackson, he's only hit two home runs through 250+ at bats.
While this is certainly a major concern, along with the rest of his numbers at the plate, what has made Martinez season somewhat noteworthy is his work on the basepaths.
Perhaps in time his power will come around, but, for now, if he can continue to steal bases and boost his average a bit, he still could redeem himself within the organization as a pro in the next few years.
No. 6: Mike Zunino, Catcher
For someone who only came into the organization a few weeks ago, it's hard to say where exactly first-round draft choice Mike Zunino should rank in the M's system.
Can he be a productive major leaguer?
Perhaps, but his ceiling seems low. Meanwhile, what about Jesus Montero's prospects behind the plate?
For today, I suppose one can't quibble with such details given the Mariners lack of quality hitters, so I'll rank Zunino fairly high up with the hopes that he someday proves me wrong.
No. 5: Vinnie Catricala, Third Base / Outfield
During spring training, Vinnie Catricala looked like he could be the Mariners third baseman of the future, but unfortunately for him, he never made the final cut.
Sadly this year, his chance of making the majors before September seem to have slipped away given the emergence of Kyle Seager and the fact that Catricala hasn't really stood out at Triple-A Tacoma while posting fairly pedestrian numbers.
Someday, Catricala will get his shot to play for the Mariners, but I'm not quite sure whether he will produce at the major league level as anything more than a role or bench player.
No. 4: Nick Franklin, Shortstop
At No. 4, Nick Franklin ranks as the team's highest positional prospect.
Some could argue that Franklin should be higher up on the list given his ability to hit with some pop and steal a base, not to mention his promotion to Triple-A Tacoma a little over a month ago, but I can't help noticing his lack of discipline at the plate given how often he strikes out.
It's something the organization has failed to address at all levels and concerns me whether Franklin will ever be more than a bottom of the lineup, middle infielder who can occasionally hit a mistake, but more often than not gets eaten alive by good pitching.
No. 3: James Paxton, Pitcher
The top three prospects for the Mariners come down to the "Big Three," starting pitchers Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton.
Paxton is a big lefty who stands at 6'4" and can bring the heat.
Currently at Double-A Jackson, Paxton has been slowed a bit this year by injuries and the occasional mixed performance, but one can hope that's just part of the process in learning how to pitch as a pro.
Can Paxton become a front of the rotation pitcher?
Let's hope so, but he certainly has some strong competition.
No. 2: Danny Hultzen, Pitcher
It may come as a surprise to some that Hultzen is listed at No. 2, but it's not as if I doubt his abilities.
Hultzen, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 Draft, is a crafty lefty that I considered untouchable at the deadline and, to the delight of Mariners' fans, stayed put.
Will we see him before the end of the season?
It's not something I would rule out, but I still think he would be better off coming up next year given his struggles at Triple-A Tacoma.
Putting him in a no-win situation right now with the big club seems a bit foolish and I honestly think he would have a greater impact coming to Seattle following spring training next year after, hopefully, getting himself sorted at Triple-A during the remainder of this season.
No. 1: Taijuan Walker, Pitcher
Taijuan Walker is a young right-hander who some day could either join Felix Hernandez in the M's starting rotation or be given the unenviable task of replacing King Felix.
It's almost unfair to put such weighty expectations on the shoulders of someone still at Double-A and won't turn 20 for another few days. Yet, for an organization in need of a boost, he's arguably the prospect with the highest ceiling who people could be talking about years from now.
Yes, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are talented, but Walker is the guy who could some day have his own cheering section at Safeco Field.
Part of me was worried the M's would consider packaging him at the deadline for someone like Justin Upton, but for now, Walker is still a Mariner.
Will he or anyone else on this list be great?
Unfortunately, far too many players on this list come with serious question marks once you look past the "Big Three," especially the position players.
So while the M's always seem to have an endless number of arms at their disposal, they still sorely lack hitting from top to bottom throughout the organization, unless you wish to put stock in the numbers from players at Single-A High Desert in the California League.
I for one can't, otherwise I'd have put this guy on the list hoping someday he'd return to form.
For baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest, it's hard enough to see the current team of big leaguers flail night after night at the plate (yes, I know they've won six straight), but knowing that help really isn't on the way is downright depressing.
Wait 'til next year seems hard to believe or even a year or two after that for that matter.
With the trade deadline now past, the chance for the M's to add another meaningful bat to their farm system has come and gone once again with little or nothing to show for it.
I'd like to offer greater comfort to Mariners fans beyond vague scouting reports and empty hopes and dreams, but I'd be lying to you and wasting your time. The truth is, Taijuan Walker is the only player on this list worth betting on and someday he can only help twice a week at most.
That said, I really do hope Mike Zunino and the rest of the players on this list prove me wrong. It would certainly prove to be a nice change of pace from the usual over the past decade.