Top 15 Prospects: Seattle Mariners by Marc Hulet February 8, 2012 The Seattle Mariners organization is loaded with high-ceiling pitching arms and could field one of the most potent pitching staffs in the game within the next two to three years. The club has done a great job of building an organizational strength that will thrive in its home environment. The front office spent time this past off-season answering questions about its future offense with the addition of Jesus Montero, one of the most potent bats in the minor leagues. The organization has some other interesting position players but a lot of them are raw and years away from helping out at the big league level. 1. Jesus Montero, C/DH BORN: Nov. 28, 1989 EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons ACQUIRED: 2006 international free agent 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st (Yankees) The Mariners organization acquired one of the top offensive prospects in baseball but it cost the organization dearly with pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos heading to the New York Yankees. The Mariners front office suggests that Montero will continue to catch, although the general consensus remains that he’ll move to first base or designated hitter sooner rather than later. The right-handed hitter made his MLB debut in 2011 and showed the ability to hit for both power and average despite the fact he didn’t turn 22 until this past November. Despite his youth, Montero already has five years of pro experience, as well as two full seasons in triple-A. He’s ready for prime time and could be the Mariners best hitter in 2012 – as a rookie. The home ball park could hamper his numbers a bit but the all-star potential could be there for years to come. 2. Danny Hultzen, LHP BORN: Nov. 28, 1989 EXPERIENCE: None ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (2nd overall), University of Virginia 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA Almost every single mock draft had Danny Hultzen heading to the Arizona Diamondbacks with the third pick of the 2011 draft. Seattle put an end to that speculation when it nabbed the southpaw with the second overall pick after Pittsburgh grabbed another college arm, Gerrit Cole, with the first overall selection. The U of Virginia alum signed too late to play during the regular season but he did pitch 19.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League. Hultzen looked good, posting a 2.79 FIP (1.40 ERA) with 18 strikeouts and just five walks. He doesn’t have “explosive stuff” but he’s extremely polished and has an above-average repertoire for a southpaw. His fastball sits in the low 90s and can touch 95-96 mph. He also has a potentially-plus changeup and a slider. With his strong debut the lefty could open 2012 in double-A, an aggressive assignment for sure but it would allow him to skip over the potent California League. 3. Taijuan Walker, RHP BORN: Aug. 13, 1992 EXPERIENCE: 2 years ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, California HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th As a multi-sport star in high school, Walker was supposed to be a bit of a project when the organization signed him in 2010. The club has been fairly cautious with him so far but the right-hander may finally be ready to explode after a breakout ’11 season. Walker has a good chance at becoming one of the top pitching prospects in the minors in 2012 and could very well reach double-A if he continues to advance like he did last season. He spent all of ’11 in low-A ball and he posted a 2.70 FIP (2.89 ERA) in 96.2 innings. He overpowered more advanced hitters; his strikeout rate sat at 10.52 K/9 and he allowed just 6.42 hits per nine innings. Walker also does a nice job of inducing ground-ball outs. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and can touch the upper 90s. He also has a good curveball and changeup. He’ll face a stiff challenge when he opens 2012 in the California League (high-A ball) and he won’t turn 20 until August. 4. James Paxton, LHP BORN: Nov. 6, 1988 EXPERIENCE: 2010 4th round, Independent baseball league ACQUIRED: 1 season 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA The Blue Jays’ loss is the Mariners’ gain. When negotiations disintegrated between Toronto and its 2009 first round draft pick, Paxton headed off to pitch in an independent baseball league and re-entered the amateur draft in 2010. Due to an uneven performance, though, he slipped to the fourth round where he was an absolute steal for the organization. The Canadian native had an outstanding 2011 season while pitching in both low-A and double-A ball. At the higher level Paxton posted a strikeout rate of 11.77 K/9 with above-average ground ball numbers in 39.0 innings. He also made strides with his control, which can desert him at times. The southpaw has a solid pitcher’s frame and an above-average repertoire. His fastball ranges from 91-97 mph and he also a potentially-plus curveball and a solid changeup. He could return to double-A to open 2012 but may very well make his big league debut at some point during the coming season. 5. Nick Franklin, SS BORN: March 2, 1991 EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round, Florida HS 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd Franklin opened a lot of eyes in 2010 when he unexpectedly slammed 23 home runs in 129 low-A ball games. His power dried up a bit during an injury-plagued ’11 season as he managed just five in 64 games while playing in the hitter-happy California League. His isolated power rate dropped from .205 in ’10 to .136 in ’11. Not a one-trick pony, Franklin isn’t afraid to use the whole field and should hit for a solid average at the MLB level. In the field, there are some concerns over his ability to stick at shortstop. A move to second base could cause a log jam in the organization with Dustin Ackley already entrenched there at the big league level. Franklin appeared in 21 games at the end of the season and then made up for some lost time with another 24 games in the Arizona Fall League. He should return to double-A to begin 2012 but could see triple-A before long. 6. Francisco Martinez, 3B BORN: Sept. 1, 1990 EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent (Detroit) 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off (Tigers) With apologies to Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi, the organization lacks a third baseman of the future and Martinez may be the club’s best hope. Acquired from Detroit during the 2011 trade that saw Doug Fister head to the Motor City, Martinez is still raw but has the chance to hit for both average and power, while also playing at least average defense. The 21 year old needs to curb his aggressiveness to realize his full potential but he held his own at double-a in ’11 while playing against competition three to four years older on average. Martinez could eventually hit 20-25 home runs at the big league level. He still makes a lot of youthful mistakes on defense but he has the athleticism and arm strength needed to excel at the position. He should move up to triple-A to begin the 2012 season. 7. Phillips Castillo, OF BORN: Feb. 2, 1994 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off Castillo was one of the top players nabbed during the international signing period in 2010. Just 17 years old in 2011 he had an outstanding pro debut by hitting more than .300 thanks to a .446 BABIP. He’s going to have to trim his strikeouts (31.4 K%) if he’s going to succeed at higher levels – but his 7.7 BB% was encouraging. Castillo has an athletic frame and a repeatable swing that could produce above-average power as he matures. Defensively, he profiles as a corner outfielder; his average range and decent arm will likely play best in left field. Castillo is still raw and will spend another year in extended spring training before moving up to another short-season squad. 8. Chance Ruffin, RHP BORN: Sept. 8, 1988 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, U of Texas (by Detroit) 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th (Tigers) Another part of the 2011 Doug Fister trade with Detroit, Ruffin is an (almost) big-league-ready reliever. The right-hander opened his pro career in double-A for Detroit. He pitched 34 innings with a 2.94 FIP before moving up to triple-A for another 14.2 innings. He also pitched 17.2 big league innings with both Detroit and Seattle, posting a 5.46 FIP (4.08 ERA). Ruffin struggled in the Majors because of inconsistent control and poor command, which led to too many pitches up in the zone. His repertoire includes a 90-95 mph fastball, plus slider and show-me curveball. He probably needs a little more polish and might benefit from some more time in triple-A before settling in as a high leverage reliever at the big league level. 9. Martin Peguero, SS BORN: Nov. 3, 1993 EXPERIENCE: 1 season ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off Peguero gets mixed reviews in part because of the questions surrounding his eventual defensive home. He’s considered average-at-best in most defensive categories, including range and arm strength. As a result he could eventually end up at second base, adding to the club’s backlog at the position. On offense he looked solid in his debut although he’s overly aggressive, which is not unusual for such a young, inexperienced hitter. On the plus side he makes a lot of contact, as witnessed by his 12.5% strikeout rate. Although Peguero doesn’t have much present power, he has the potential to develop good gap pop once he learns to use his lower half more often. He’ll definitely spend another year in extended spring training and Rookie ball. 10. Vinnie Catricala, 3B/OF BORN: Oct. 31, 1988 EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons ACQUIRED: 2009 10th round, University of Hawaii 2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off Catricala represented the best in-house threat to Francisco Martinez as the organization’s third baseman of the future, but the organization will have him focus on learning left field for the time being. A former 10th round pick, Catricala has come a long way to turn himself into a legitimate prospect. He’s hit everywhere that he’s played. He proved that his early 2011 numbers where not a fluke created by his environment when he actually improved after being promoted from the California League (high-A) to the Southern League (double-A). His wRC+ jumped from an already impressive 153 to 184. His bat speed helps him generate good power while his approach and his solid approach at the plate suggests he could hit for a high average at the big league level. His glove is his biggest weakness. Catricala probably wouldn’t stick at third base even if Martinez was not in the system and the presence of big leaguer Justin Smoak at first base crosses off the prospect’s best option. That leaves left field as his best option for playing time so hopefully the conversion will go smoothly. The Next Five 11. Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP: Wilhelmsen has made an impressive comeback from what was effectively a retirement from professional baseball. The former top pitching prospect still flashes outstanding stuff out of the bullpen with a 91-95 mph fastball and potentially-plus curveball. With 33 big league innings in 2011, Wilhelmsen could open ’12 in the Majors although the organization has brought in a number of veteran relievers that could push him to triple-A. 12. Guillermo Pimentel, OF: Another top international signee, Pimentel has shown outstanding left-handed power potential during his two pro seasons but he also struggles to make consistent contact and needs to trim his strikeout rates, which have averaged just below 30% so far. He’s a below-average fielder who will likely play left field if he reaches the Majors so the majority of his value is tied up in his ability to hit. 13. Erasmo Ramirez, RHP: Ramirez doesn’t blow hitters away but he has plus control and a true out-pitch in his changeup. He also features an 87-91 mph fastball and curveball. He spent some time at triple-A and should return there in 2012. Ramirez could be one of the first pitchers recalled if/when injuries occur. He has the ceiling of a No. 4 starter. 14. Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF: Chiang learned to control his diabetes better in 2011 and the result was dramatic. The 23-year-old outfielder (who began his career as a second baseman) posted a wRC+ of 185 in his second go-around at the double-A level (He posted a wRC+ of 99 in ’10). At worst, Chiang could be a solid fourth outfielder with good line-drive pop and solid defensive skills. He’ll move up to triple-A in 2012. 15. Brad Miller, SS: Miller possesses a number of desirable baseball skills, which led to him getting popped in the second round of the 2011 draft. A college shortstop, he’ll likely move to second base as a pro but could also top out as a big league utility player if he cannot iron out his hitting mechanics, which could be an issue at higher levels. He hit very well in a small-sample size at low-A ball in 2011 and should open 2012 in high-A ball. SLEEPER ALERT: Carter Capps, RHP: The right-hander is a little more raw than you would expect from an average college-groomed pitcher but Capps has not been pitching that long. He has a strong frame and an explosive fastball that can touch 95-96 mph. He also showcases an impressive slider. He has a curveball and changeup too but probably won’t need either if he sticks in the bullpen.