M’s MiLB Notebook: Shortstops, catchers & corners

 The Seattle Mariners’ farm system is not very good right now. Both Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, who each qualify, still, are on the disabled list, but a lot of the club’s better young talents are in the major leagues and no longer qualify, including Brad Miller and Mike Zunino. Those that are healthy and remain prospects, however, are faring quite well, including a trio of shortstops, a converted catcher who used to be a shortstop and a bat-first catcher showing improvement behind the dish. Of course, that means I’m going to lead off with a couple of corner-glove bats.

Austin Wilson, RF — Clinton LumberKings
Wilson sat out four days with a minor injury but returned Friday and hasn’t skipped a beat. The 2013 second-round pick is batting .400/.476/.771 in his last 10 games, drawing six walks against seven punchouts in the process. For the year, Wilson is up to .311/.393/.500 with three home runs, nine doubles and nine walks.

When I made calls on Wilson this week the worst of the three initial comments on how he’s looked went like this: “Well, I’m not seeing any reason he slipped to them in the second; using the whole field, steady progress from last spring … he’s not the same hitter, and they (Mariners) have to be pretty happy about that.”

One opposing pitcher told me through his agent that Wilson “sees my breaking ball really well,” which made him “kind of a nightmare to pitch to.” He doesn’t always do the damage, but he’s covering the plate, recognizing pitches and situations, doing his homework on the pitcher and the results are showing up — and have since late last summer in Short-season Everett.

He hasn’t sped up his ETA to the big leagues significantly just yet, but he’s not likely to see the Midwest League too deep into the summer months.

Wilson, 22, ranked No. 6 overall in my M’s Top Prospect rankings.

Gabriel Guerrero, RF — High Desert Mavericks
Through May 10 a year ago, Guerrero was batting .225/.261/.297, and that was after a 5-for-7 doubleheader that included two doubles. At that point he’d drawn six bases on balls and whiffed 27 times in 30 games started. He hadn;t hit a single long ball and those two doubles brought him to seven extra-base hits.

This season, through 35 games, Guerrero has countered 39 strikeouts in 157 plate appearances with 13 extra-base hits, including five home runs, and nine walks. He’s batting .315/.357/.473 for the year.

“What he’s doing,” explained one scout that sat on the Mavericks-Visalia series and part of the Mavericks-Rancho series earlier this month, “is putting together the better at-bats more often. He’s been a guy all along that will put barrel to baseball, but you could catch him chasing down and away, up and in — a lot of up-and-in stuff — and he’d get himself out. He’s learning about himself as a hitter. (There’s) nice upside there.”

Guerrero still is raw in many areas. Despite significant progress he’s nowhere near ready for a new challenge and may remain in High Desert all season.

And in case you’re wondering, Guerrero has hit exactly ero cheap home runs. I spoke to a team representative Wednesday and he’s hit each of the five very hard. He’s not simply getting “Cal League” numbers. He’s earning them.

Most important is Guerrero’s approach and control of the strike zone. Like his uncle Vlad, he is a good bad ball hitter, but that only works to an extent, and he’s not quite as gifted as his superstar uncle in terms of making contact on all those out-of-zone offerings.

Guerrero ranked No. 9 in my pre-season rankings. If I were to reset them today, he’d ran no higher than No. 8, but he’d get a half-grade spike in his present hit tool grade, perhaps more.

D.J. Peterson, 3B/1B — High Desert Mavericks
Peterson batted just .269/.313/.410 in April — in the California League — but he’s turned it up a few notches in nine May contests, batting .341/.372/.439. Word I am getting is that he may be looking to do too much when he earns a hitter’s count, and the numbers back that up as the 2013 first-round pick is at .277/.323/.399 when ahead in the count 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 3-1.

Regardless of the numbers, Peterson continues to show he can hit line drives from gap to gap, showing big pull power and big power to center field and even occasionally right-center field, and when he’s not over-anxious and pressing to go big, he displays strong discipline and avoids chasing balls out of the zone.

I believe the M’s will ignore Peterson’s statistics in High Desert. If he’s healthy and gets the reps in Advanced-A ball, he’ll see Double-A Jackson by August.

Peterson ranked No. 3 in the pre-season rankings and nothing would change there for me now after six weeks of action.

Shortstops, shortstops and more shortstops
It’s a hot topic right now among fans of the Seattle Mariners. How long should the M’s wait to send Brad Miller to Triple-A Tacoma and recall Nick Franklin? For me, not now. Six weeks ago Miller won the job in spring training because he was the better bet to hit and the better long-term option between the two with the glove. He hasn’t hit, has struggled defensively some, committing six errors of varying types.

Franklin is batting .376 in the Pacific Coast League playing both middle-infield spots. He’s hitting for power — .677 slugging percentage thanks to seven doubles and seven home runs — and boasts a .459 on-base mark.

So why not make the swap? Because it’s May 10, and making that change now means a lot more than making the change.

When Miller earned the gig in March, that decision wasn’t about just 2014, or about the first few months. That choice, made by more than just skipper Lloyd McClendon, was about all season, and beyond. When that kind of decision is made, six weeks of baseball — 36 games worth — can’t take it back.

So why not make it a temporary exchange? Because that isn’t necessarily going to help Miller, the team in the future, or even the team in the present.

Franklin batted .324/.440/.472 in the PCL a year ago, was called up to the big leagues and initially hit fairly well. He then started to struggle to make contact against big-league arms, finishing 28 for his last 163 (.172) with 57 strikeouts. I’m not suggesting the exact same result is due in 2014, but minor league numbers guarantee absolutely nothing.

Franklin could very well come to the bigs and produce more than is Miller. I’d bet on it, though there’s a good chance the improvement is negligible over any stretch of time.

There will come a time — for me, maybe a month from now — when Miller’s struggles will warrant such a move, for his own good and the team’s. Franklin will be first in line to replace him, but he isn’t the only option.

Chris Taylor, a glove-first shortstop, has been darned-near as good at the plate as has Franklin, sitting at .353/.395/.579 in 32 games. He doesn’t project to hit for the power of Franklin or Miller, but can handle the bat and is a full grade better in the field than either of his two shortstop cohorts.

He’s not on the 40-man roster, though if hes deemed the best option the M’s should not let that get in their way. It’s too early for Taylor, in my opinion, but in July I may feel different, and it may not matter what Miller and Franklin are doing at the time.

If you’re looking for other shortstops to follow in the Mariners’ system, I wrote about one of them right here.

Catching on
Tyler Marlette, my No. 8 prospect before the season began, hasn’t put up pretty numbers at the plate in High Desert. He does have five long balls, however, boasts a solid 11-16 BB/K ratio and is well on his way to taking another step forward defensively this season.

I’m told the improvements are noticeable when you watch Marlette for extended periods of time. He’s making plays and doing things catchers need to do that he wasn’t making early last season. He’s dropping fewer pitches — it’s rare now, as it should be — and he’s shoring up his throwing technique and footwork, which go hand-in-hand.

He’s just 21 and has come a long way since Draft Day 2011 when 75 percent of the scouts I spoke to listed him as a future right fielder. Now, the majority like his chances to be adequate, maybe even solid-average in time.

Marcus Littlewood, who was drafted as a shortstop and converted to catcher, isn’t having any issues with the bat this season, and continues to progress behind the plate.

“He’s starting to really look like a catcher,” one scout said. “It’s smoothing out. It’s a process, but he’s taking top it, it appears.”

The switch-hitting Littlewood is batting .341/.427/.537 and has produced from both sides of the plate. He’s 9-for-20 from the right side, including two home runs and a 9-2 BB/K ratio, though scouts tell me his left-handed swing still is superior.

I would be surprised if Littlewood doesn’t join Marlette in High Desert in a month or two. He can still work on his defense while being challenged by more mature pitching.

Notes
Since April 20, Taylor is batting .367/.405/.620, but does not lead the organization in any of the three categories during that span. Zach Shank, a 23-year-old second baseman, is batting .400 in 16 games since April 20. Ty Kelly‘s .486 OBP tops the charts, and Jabari Henry‘s .673 slugging percentage ranks No. 1 … Kelly leads the organization in walks for the year with 28. Dario Pizzano (High Desert) is second with 23 … Taylor ranks No. 1 in extra-base hits for the season with 20. He and Tim Lopes share the lead with four triples … Edwin Diaz leads the system with 33 strikeouts, and has logged those in 29 2/3 innings. He’s also walked 18, as he looks to iron out some inconsistencies with his delivery. His slider has shown plus most times out, however … Right-hander Emilio Pagan, who was slated to give starting a shot this season, has been used as a multi-inning closer, instead. He’s logged five saves, tops in the system, but more impressive is his 20-2 K/BB ratio in 16 2/3 innings. Pagan still may start later this season, I’m told … One relief pitcher to keep an eye on is righty Aaron Brooks from Mountlake Terrace. He’s 6-foot-6 and throws from a low three-quarter slot. He was just sent out April 30, bit in his first four appearances has not walked even one of the 34 batters he’s faced. The club believes they can get him into the low-to-mid 90s consistently …

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 after getting his start at InsidethePark.com. He spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio prior to joining HERO Sports in July, 2016. Find Jason's Mariners podcast, Baseball Things, right here and follow him on Twitter @ProspectInsider.

11 Comments

  1. Bookbook, if you’re going to trade Seager, why not get something better than Joc Peterson. And, shy put Franklin at third, when your most logical choice, if you’re going to replace Seager, is going to be D.J. Peterson?

    If all you’re going to get back is yet one more prospect to develope, for Seager, why do it at all.

    Clue…….prospect means “could be”, and “established” means “is”. Seager is established, and that’s not easily replaced.

  2. Nice writeup Jason, it is good to hear there is some hope in the system. I am also curious how Chris Taylor works out and having competition for spots in the infield is a good thing.

  3. Trade Seager for Joc Pederson, then park Franklin at 3rd.

  4. Its going to be interesting to see the progression of the three headed SS monster (Taylor, Miller, Franklin). Personally I agree with Jason and think this position is going to be Talyor’s in a year or two, so I’m excited to see what the front office is going to do with Franklin and Miller. Second base is out of the question so it seems to me that one or both of those guys will need to be converted into an OF or traded.

  5. Thanks, SomeDud(e). There is nothing more impressive than someone who simply makes random comments with no substance.

    If you disagree, say why. Otherwise, you contribute nothing.

    So, thanks for nothing.

  6. It’s crazy how fast things change in the minors in terms of depth and organizational strengths.

    Just recently, it seemed like we were overloaded with pitching, and had no impact hitters. With Walker, Paxton, Hultzen, Maurer, Pike, Diaz, and Gohara, we were loaded with guys at all levels of the organization. Now, not so much. Hopefully Walker and Paxton can make quick and successful comebacks, but their graduation doesn’t leave much in the cupboard. Pike is holding his own in a league that is brutal for pitchers in A+, but his BB rate is scary. Diaz has had mixed results, and Sanchez hasn’t pitched in weeks. Overall, the pitching depth has really taken a dip. Obviously the graduation of Walker and Paxton (assuming they get back OK) is good. But given the volatility of pitching, you need to have a constant stream of talent. Seems like its slowed down.

    On the other side of the coin, we’ve now got some interesting position players. James Jones has gone from a sleeper to a guy who could help the team right now. I’m hoping he can be what Michael Saunders should have been. Guerrero and Wilson are my new favorite prospects. They are exactly what we need: OFers who have upside. Peterson has talent, although I expected him to rake in HD. Hopefully he is starting to break out right now. We’ve got a logjam of SSs now. Franklin REALLY deserves a chance in the bigs, and Taylor and Mate give us some depth. My other favorite: Tyler O’Neill. He’s handled A- Clinton pretty well thus far. That’s a tough league for an 18 year old. He could be another impact bat. Even Jesus Montero is looking alright! In general, we’ve got some interesting position players now.

    I still think the M’s biggest organizational problem is in player development. We suck at turning good prospects into good ML players. Until we solve that problem, none of this will help the team. Right now, I’d say this is a poor farm system in general. Probably bottom third of the league. But if we can’t develop thos guys into ML talent, who cares?

  7. Wow. Just… wow. Amazing how many of you have a short memory, or no memory at all. I’ll let you all figure it out.

  8. I kind of disagree on the article’s viewpoint of Miller and Franklin, but what was said makes sense. I really think Taylor is our SS of the future anyways, so who cares if Nick comes up now? Then when Taylor is ready, Nick can play other positions. Miller does have potential, but just like Ackley, he might need to get it back somewhere else. The rhetoric of “he’s done all he can at AAA’ is just that, rhetoric. If he’s SUCKING at the majors then he has NOT done all he can. He has not developed certain skills at the plate and more importantly, his confidence. This whole talk of hurting their value is nonsense. If our goal was to keep Miller and trade Franklin, then Franklin should have been playing every day in the majors to procure a trade. If other teams covet Franklin or Miller right now, they’re not going to want them less because we send them down. What we really need to do is make a trade for an OF.

  9. I disagree, Miller is a dead weight dragging against the team’s progress and he has shown no signs of figuring things out. Send him down and let him work on it out of the spotlight before he’s permanently scarred. That’s what minor leagues are for, The Show is for those who are ready for the spotlight.

  10. Taylor has done nothing but hit since being drafted in the same year as Zuino and Leone. Sooner or later they are going to have to give him a chance. But at least not being on the 40 man is keeping him from being rushed to the M’s. Chris Taylor 984 PA in the minors .322/.409/.470 in contrast to Miller 867 PA, .334/.409/.516. Relativly the same. I see no reason to push Taylor, but it is nice to see depth, just wish Miller would start hitting like he should be capable of.
    Speaking of the 2012 draft I noticed your #22, Kivlehan, just got promoted to Jackson after raking High Desert. Sleeper?

  11. I can’t believe that anyone in the organization would want to swap Miller/Franklin at this point. Doing so would be saying “we give up” on Miller. Franklin sitting in AAA doesn’t hurt his stock as much as demoting Miller after 6 weeks.

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