James Paxton has now made two solid start in the big leagues. On September 7, the 6-foot-5 left-hander held Tampa Bay to four hits and an earned in six frames at Safeco field in his big-league debut. He fanned three and issued one walk, throwing 59 of 95 pitches for strikes. Saturday, Paxton made his first road start in St. Louis and yielded but two hits in six shutout frames. He walked two of 22 batters faced and struck out five Cardinals. In the minors, Paxton was very inconsistent. He had stretches where he looked great for three or four innings and then came undone and his overall line ended up all crooked and unclean. He also had stretches of multiple starts where he either was terrific, or couldn’t get beyond the fourth or fifth inning, often running up his pitch count and allowing too many batters to reach base, many by way of the base on balls. On the surface, it may just seem like Paxton has simply thrown more strikes in his two major league outings, limiting the walks and therefore holding down the runs that would ultimately cross the plate. That isn’t true, however. In his first start, Paxton threw 62 percent strikes. In the minors, for the season, he threw 62 percent strikes. He did throw 67 percent strikes versus the playoff-bounds Cards, but that’s merely five more strikes per 100 than he’s averaged all season. The difference is where Paxton is missing when he does not throw a strike. It’s more often been down in the zone than his typical outing in the minors. He did this in Tacoma, too, for a start or two here and there, and even for a little longer stretch the second half of the year. For the most part, however, he’d miss up and/or catch too much of the plate and get hurt. Paxton has pitched at 92-96, toughing as high as 98, and is doing a good job of throwing downhill, creating plane. He’s following through, finishing out front and thus keeping the ball down a lot more. The curveball has been average, with a few plus editions mixed in, and he’s throwing his changeup to right-handed batters with effectiveness. Paxton, 24, has No. 2 upside if he can find a way to replicate the mechanics he’s employed in the majors. The jury is still out, and won’t be fnished deliberating until well into next season, perhaps longer, but we know how good Paxton could be if he puts it altogether. The Cardinals know, too.
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
To accompany the 2013 M’s Prospects of the Year, we’ve also put together the All-Prospects Team for 2013. Unlike the POY, players that continue to hold onto prospect status qualify, so, for example, Brad Miller is not eligible, despite his being named Prospect Insider’s 2013 Seattle Mariners Prospect of the Year. Nick Franklin also does not qualify. This is not a top prospects list of any nature. It’s also not simply a list of players at each position that improved their status the most. It’s the top talents that performed the best and made the most progress, improving their stock and getting closer to the big leagues in the process. It’s not based on statistics and it’s not based on a player being promoted. Those are each results of what matters most — development — the most significant major factor in choosing the All-Prospects Team. It’s worth noting that a player that conducts such development closer to the majors was given a bit more consideration, but at times the player’s upside and performance — again, not statistics — won out, too. Pos. Player Levels MiLB Stats SP Taijuan Walker AA, AAA, MLB 2.93 ERA, 141.1 IP, 57 BB, 160 SO SP James Paxton AAA, MLB 4.45 ERA, 145.2 IP, 58 BB, 131 SO SP Edwin Diaz R 1.43 ERA, 69 IP, 18 BB, 79 SO RP Dominic Leone A, A+, AAA 2.25 ERA, 64 IP, 18 BB, 64 SO RP Carson Smith AA 1.80 ERA, 50 IP, 17 BB, 71 SO RP Stephen Kohlscheen AA 2.30 ERA, 66.2 IP, 25 BB, 85 SO 1B Ji-Man Choi A+, AA, AAA .295 AVG/.394 OBP/.535 SLG 2B Tim Lopes A .272 AVG/.315 OBP/.344 SLG 3B D.J. Peterson SS-A, A .303 AVG/.365 OBP/.553 SLG SS Chris Taylor A+, AA .314 AVG/.418 OBP/.455 SLG C Tyler Marlette A .304 AVG/.367 OBP/.448 SLG OF Jabari Blash A+, AA .271 AVG/.387 OBP/.534 SLG OF Stefen Romero AAA .277 AVG/.331 OBP/.448 SLG OF Julio Morban AA .295 AVG/.362 OBP/.468 SLG
Despite a less-than-ideal final pitching line, right-hander Taijuan Walker took another step toward the big leagues Thursday, showing progress in a few key areas en route to three great innings, one awful one and one so-so one. At the end of the night, he fanned eight and allowed five runs. Walker dominated the first three innings and flashed a plus curveball, perhaps the best two I’ve ever seen him throw, to compliment his 88-91 mph cutter and four-seam fastball that teased 97 and sat 92-96. The bad inning came in the fourth when Walker was up in the zone and lost some balance in his delivery. He hung a curveball that was hit out by former Mariners farmhand Mike Wilson in the third and then gave up several singles in the fourth that led to four more runs. He never lost his cool, however, and fought through some command issues in the fifth to get through the inning unscathed. Long ball aside, the curveball was better for the most part; he’s had a tendency to telegraph the pitch some, something he didn’t do in this start, and he also flashed a couple of solid changeups to left-handed batters. In the fifth, after issuing two walks and getting two outs, Walker worked Brandon Allen to a 2-2 count and struck him out on a hard changeup. Note: I had originally labeled the 2-2 pitch to Allen a cutter, but Walker alerted me that it was a hard change. Walker showed maturity, a better curveball and the same fastball life and use of his cutter that suggests he’s going to be very good, very soon. He had the bad inning — it happens, and he hadn’t had a hiccup in any of his first four starts in Triple-A — but there were still reasons to love what taking place at Cheney Stadium. Walker is likely to make his big-league debut next month. Robbie ErlinTucson left-hander Robbie Erlin made the start for the Padres Thursday. He sat 88-90 with his fastball, throwing from a high three-quarters arm slot but creating some arm side run that was effective versus right-handed batters. His curveball, clocked in the 72-75 mph range, showed well above average break, but he didn’t have good command of it in this start. Erlin’s best pitch was his 80-84 mph changeup, which he threw for called strikes and induced a few swings and misses. His fastball command did him in versus Tacoma, who stacked nine right-handed batters against him, which can be counterproductive versus a changeup left-hander. Erlin looked like a back-end starter Thursday, but if there’s a firmer fastball in that arm, he possesses the delivery and secondary stuff to be a solid No. 4 as early as 2014. NotesStefen Romero is figuring out left field fairly well, showing better reads on fly balls and better routes to the ball. His arm is fringe-average, but he threw a perfect strike to the place twice Thursday on single to left … Abraham Almonte is a popular question for me on Twitter because he’s putting up solid numbers. He’s a below-average defender in center — perhaps passable, though — but runs well (low 4’s up the line including 3.55 on a drag bunt earlier this homestand), which qualifies as 65 or 70 grade speed. He’s a decent switch hitter, but has well below average power and profiles as a fourth or fifth outfielder … Rehabbing big leaguer Franklin Gutierrez appears 100 percent healthy and is swinging a solid bat for Tacoma. He may not be activated anytime real soon, but he’s closer to being ready at the plate than Michael Morse … Morse’s timing is still way off, suggesting the long layoff has reverted him back to spring training. He needs a few more days, based on what I saw Thursday … Stephen Pryor threw Wednesday and topped out at 90 mph. I’m told that was by design, however, as he’s working through some mild soreness in his right triceps and was just working on his command. He did show off the curveball and slider. He’s still a little ways away … Carter Capps is commanding his fastball — he went Thursday and looked solid — but his breaking ball, as expected, will need more time. He’ll be back in September.
Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker began the 2013 season back in Double-A Jackson where he spent all of 2012 because he needed to improve in several areas and the club correctly deemed the Southern League as the best place for him to take on such tasks. Tuesday, the 20-year-old showed how far he’s come in only four months and why he’s among the very top pitching prospects in all of baseball. Walker, a sandwich-round selection in 2010 (No. 43 overall), used his stuff, poise beyond his years and a maturity level necessary for the circumstances to toss six shutout frames at the Fresno Grizzlies, allowing three singles and two walks, while striking out four. He threw 87 pitches, 56 for strikes, and for all 87 he appeared to be every bit the phenom he’s been cracked up to be since he burst onto the scene three summers ago as a raw 17-year-old. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Walker featured a four-seam fastball that sat 93-95 mph and touched 97, and came to the plate with ferocious downward plane, creating a very heavy ball, one extremely difficult to square up for hitters. He commanded the pitch down all night, missing only below the zone, not up, with some occasional arm side run and natural sink. He worked his 90-93 mph cutter in often, helping set up a much-improved 71-74 mph curveball that froze batters all night. He sawed off several bats with the four-seamer and cutter and used the curveball with two strikes or to keep the Fresno lineup off balance. He tossed a half-dozen or so below-average changeups in the mid-80s, but kept it down or away from left-handed batters and one in particular showed some fade, though each lacked sink. He maintained good arm speed on the pitch, but it’s still a ways from being more than a show-me offering. Walker’s velocity didn’t dip much from the stretch — he sat 93-94 with runners on — and did not let some bad luck get to him. There were 4-6 borderline pitches on which he did not get the call from the home plate umpire, but he went back to work, rather than allowing it to get to him and affect his approach. The four-seamer induced ground balls and the cutter forced poor contact that resulted in shallow fly ball outs and pop ups, and he did miss some bats with both pitches. His curveball is a full grade better today than in spring training or at any point a year ago, and he’s taken well to the cutter and seems to know how to use it. Walker’s delivery was very consistent with one exception: He drops his arm slot slightly and opens up early on the curveball, which could be an issue against better hitters and it’s something he’ll need to fix for general consistency purposes, if nothing else, but big leaguers will see it and exploit it. Walker’s velocity comes free and easy without much effort, which bodes well for his ability to hold that velocity deep — which he did through pitch 87 Tuesday and has done through the low-100s in the past — and if his high three-quarter arm slot can be maintained with the curveball, there’s no reason to believe he won’t max out and become a No. 1 starter. There may even be ace material here, though we’re likely a few years away from that kind of command from Walker. I came into this start with one objective, which was to remain as objective as possible. Even doing so, it’s difficult to suggest Walker is on a path that will lead to anything but future stardom. That isn’t likely to occur in 2013, and while he’s likely to see the big-league mound in 2014, he may not settle in and succeed at a high level right away. His stuff, athleticism and his apparent acumen for progress may prove me wrong there, however. He was very crude coming out of high school and in less than three years has gone from high-upside project to elite pitching prospect on the doorstep of the majors. He’s raised the ceiling on all of his grades since then — here’s my 2010 draft-day scouting report on Walker for subscribers — and now the sky is the limit. After four innings, M’s scouting director Tom McNamara tapped me on the shoulder. I looked back and he gave me a look as if to ask, “so, what do you think so far?” My response? “I’d be excited if I were you.” Taijuan Walker is a phenom, and it may not be long before he’s toeing the rubber at Safeco looking to back up a Felix Hernandez gem with one of his own.
A B C D E 1 NO. PLAYER POS AGE LEVEL 2 1 Kyle Lewis RF 23 A+ 3 2 Noelvi Marte 3B 16 NA 4 3 Logan Gilbert RHP 21 NA 5 4 Julio Rodriguez RF 17 DSL 6 5 Evan White 1B 22 A+ 7 6 Damon Casetta-Stubbs RHP 18 NA 8 8 Sam Carlson RHP 19 NA 9 7 Josh Stowers CF 21 SS-A 10 8 Braden Bishop CF 24 AA 11 10 Cal Raleigh C 21 NA 12 11 Juan Querecuto SS 17 DSL 13 12 Bryson Brigman SS 23 A+ 14 13 Luis Liberato CF 22 A+ 15 14 Daniel Vogelbach DH 25 AAA 16 15 Rob Whalen RHP 24 AAA 17 16 Art Warren RHP 25 AA 18 17 Seth Elledge RHR 22 A+ 19 18 Matt Festa RHR 25 AA 20 19 Joe Rizzo 3B 20 A+ 21 20 Wyatt Mills RHR 23 A+ 22 21 Joe DeCarlo C 24 AA 23 22 Jansiel Rivera RF 19 SS-A 24 23 Anthony Jimenez OF 22 A+ 25 24 Johendi Jiminian RHP 25 AA 26 25 Ronald Rosario RF 21 SS-A 27 26 Michael Plassmeyer LHP 21 SS-A 28 27 Joey Gerber RHR 21 SS-A 29 28 Eric Filia LF 26 SS-A 30 29 Max Povse RHP 24 AA 31 30 Holden Laws LHP 18 NA 32 31 Joe Rosa 2B 21 A 33 32 Ian Miller CF 26 AAA 34 33 Osiris Castillo SS 17 DSL 35 34 Brayan Perez LHP 17 DSL 36 35 Donnie Walton 2B 24 AA 37 36 Ryne Inman RHP 22 A 38 37 Luis Veloz OF 18 DSL 39 38 Jake Anchia C 21 SS-A 40 39 Joey O’Brien RHR 20 SS-R 41 40 Arturo Guerrero OF 17 DSL