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.
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.
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 …
Jason A. Churchill
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