Mariners Prospects of the Year

 The 2013 minor league season is winding down. A handful of playoff series are concluding over the next few days. The regular season ended nearly two weeks ago. That means it’s time to dole out the annual awards.

These awards are based on prospect status, progress during the year — including some basis on performance — and overall future outlook as a result of what occurred this season.

Pitching Prospect of the Year | Taijuan Walker, RHP
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it wasn’t. Walker is the top overall prospect in the Seattle Mariners’ farm system, and he performed well at three stops this season, including three starts in the big leagues. He’s the top pitching prospect in the organization by a landslide, but Walker had competition in the running for the club’s pitching prospect of the year.

In the end, Walker’s ascension from Double-A Jackson to the big leagues, which was well-timed and well-earned, is a direct result of the combination of natural physical tools and the hard work the just-turned 21-year-old has put in since being the No. 43 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. In three years, he’s gone from raw, athletic and project to a very promising, high-upside potential No. 1 starting pitcher that may not spend any more time in the minors.

In 2013, Walker improved his fastball command, developed a solid cutter that wasn’t introduced to him until last summer, and his curveball is now threatening to become a consistent offering. His changeup is of the hard, splitter-like variety, but it’ also better today than it was a year ago.

We mentioned to Tai that he was our choice for the M’s Pitching Prospect of the Year, and asked him if he was going to Disneyland. He replied “thank you very much” and “no, I’m going to St. Louis!” The kid’s all business when it counts. Sounds similar to another right-hander the M’s grew for themselves, doesn’t it?

Runner-Up | Edwin Diaz, RHP — Pulaski (R)
Diaz dominated the Appalachian League for the Pulaski Mariners, which isn’t saying a whole heckuva lot, but he did so as a 19-year-old in his first full stay in the states after being tabbed in the third round of the 2012 Draft. He’s wiry at 6-foot-2 and under 170 pounds, but his loose, quick arm produces plus velocity into the 93-95 mph range, setting up a promising curveball and a changeup that’s come a long way in just one year.

Others: Tyler Pike, LHP — Clinton (A); Victor Sanchez, RHP — Clinton (A); Dominic Leone, RHP — Jackson (AA); James Paxton, LHP — Seattle (MLB).

Position Prospect of the Year | Brad Miller, SS
He’s graduated out of prospect status after his time in the majors, but Miller may be the only prospect in the system whose ascent to the majors trumps that of Walker’s. Miller, too, started the year in Jackson, and forged his way into the majors by batting .356/.426/.596 in 26 games at Triple-A Tacoma.

In his three stops this season, Miller had combined to hit .290/.352/.433 with 22 doubles, eight triples and 18 home runs in 138 games. He’s drawn 57 walks and struck out 92 times. He’s also continued to develop at shortstop.

I’m not sure Miller will ever be more than an average glove at shortstop, but he has enough arm and athleticism to be passable there, and he’s a tireless worker with good instincts, both attributes which should help seal up some holes as he gains experience.

Perhaps the most impressive statistic for Miller this year is that he hasn’t gone more than three games without a hit in the big leagues, and has just one instance where he went more than two games without reaching base via walk or hit. He hasn’t slumped all year, and as of Friday’s game in St. Louis, he’ll have as many games played — and already has more plate appearances — in the majors as he’s had in the minors in 2013.

Runner-Up | Chris Taylor, SS — Jackson (AA)
Taylor’s calling card as an amateur was his glove, and he’s still playing that part very well as pro. His bat, however, has developed enough to start wondering whether or not he may be more than organizational depth.

He’s a slightly above-average runner with a 55 arm, great hands and feet and a great feel at the plate. His swing still needs a lot of work, but he knows who he is at the plate — not a power hitter, but one that needs to hit line drives and ground balls to have success.

After batting .335/.426/.524 at Advanced-A High Desert, Taylor moved on to Jackson where he continued to hit, finishing the season at .293/.391/.383. He also stole 38 bases in 43 attempts this season.

Taylor isn’t among the top 10 prospects in the system, but on draft day in June of 2012, the thought was that he’d never hit, would dry out in the Southern League and end up Chris Woodward or Brendan Ryan at best. It’s still not likely, per se, and the upside is still limited, but there’s a chance he’s a little bit more than that.

Others: D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B — Clinton (A); Tyler Marlette, C — Clinton (A); James Jones, OF — Tacoma (AAA); Abraham Almonte, OF — Seattle.

Breakthrough Prospect of the Year | Chris Taylor, SS — Jackson (AA)
Taylor, as mentioned above, has made significant strides at the plate and has some scouts believing he’s a future something, rather than a future all-glove, no-hit option to stash in Triple-A in case of injury.

One high-ranking scout of an NL East club said this week that Taylor “has a swing I don’t recognize from two years ago,” and that’s a good thing. There’s better plane and a more purposeful load that could create legit gap power as times passes.

Runner-Up | Gabriel Guerrero, OF — Clinton (A)

Guerrero is a big, strong kid with average athleticism and big bat speed on a swing that generates searing line drives. He’s just scratching the surface in the power department, and he’s still learning to work counts and make more consistent contact — 21 walks, 113 strikeouts in 2013 — but batted .271 despite those deficiencies.

He did bat .306/.42/.395 in 74 games to finish the season, including all four of his home runs on the year. There’s above-average corner outfield upside here, and Guerrero is in the mix for a top 10 spot in the Prospect Insider Handbook.

Others:
Edwin Diaz, RHP — Pulaski (R); Dominic Leone, RHP — Jackson (AA); Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP — Jackson (AA); Tyler Marlette, C — Clinton (A); Jabari Blash, OF — Jackson (AA).

— Jason A. Churchill and Michael Schwartze

Photo of Taijuan Walker by Jeremy Daniel

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