Last Updated on June 14, 2014 by

JacksonAlexWhen the 2012 season ended the Seattle Mariners had one of the top 10 or 12 farm systems in baseball. I made the argument they could have been as high as No. 8. Their stock of talent was led by right-hander Taijuan Walker and left-handers Danny Hultzen and James Paxton. The club had just drafted catcher Mike Zunino, Hultzen and fellow 2011 draftee Brad Miller were on the fast track after strong showings in their first full seasons in pro ball and Nick Franklin, the No. 27 pick in the 2009 draft, had lit up Double-A Jackson and spent two productive months at Triple-A Tacoma at age 21.

The system was set up to produce several average or better talents into the majors over the ensuing year or so, an occurrence that would have thrust the club closer to contention and handed GM Jack Zduriencik ammo for free agents — and to suggest to ownership to support such chases — and numerous assets for offseason trades.

Since then, Hultzen has undergone serious shoulder surgery, Walker and Paxton have turned up lame in the shoulder department themselves and have combined for two starts in 2014 — both by Paxton — Zunino has graduated, as has Miller, and Franklin, after a strong showing last summer in the big leagues, has struggled at the plate this season and showed signs of a lack of focus. The system has taken a beating. But the club was very top heavy below the big leagues prior to the 2013 draft and international signing period, and lacked outfielders, corner bats and overall depth. Post mortem, the organization’s talent collection slipped into the mid-20s.

Two drafts, two Latin signees and some key development from previous drafts later and not only is the depth greatly improved, but there’s more balance, more bats and a strong group of outfield prospects.

We’re now halfway through the minor league season and more key developments have taken place, and the club has enjoyed another productive draft Ill have a final take on the draft class of 2014 later this month). The structure of the Top 25 has been greatly impacted by both elements. That impact is reflected in the Mid-season Top 25.

Taylor3Chris1. Alex Jackson, RF
2. D.J. Peterson, 1B/3B
3. Taijuan Walker, RHP
4. James Paxton, LHP
5. Gabriel Guerrero, RF
6. Chris Taylor, SS
7. Austin Wilson, RF
8. Luiz Gohara, LHP
9. Gareth Morgan, RF
10. Edwin Diaz, RHP
11. Tyler Marlette, C
12. Victor Sanchez, RHP
13. Ketel Marte, SS
14. Tyler O'Neill, RF
15. Patrick Kivelhan, 3B
16. Tyler Pike, LHP
17. Ji-Man Choi, 1B
18. Greifer Andrade, SS
19. Jabari Blash, RF
20. Carson Smith, RHP
21. John Hicks, C
22. Corey Simpson, RF
23. Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP
24. Marcus Littlewood, C
25. Abraham Almonte, OF

Just Missed: Jack Marder, 2B/LF; Ulises Perez, RHP; Adalfi Almonte, OF; Lars Huijer, RHP; Carlos Misell, RHP; Christian Carmichael, C; Tyler Olson, LHP; Grady Wood, RHP, Austin Cousino, CF. Emilio Pagan, RHP, Jabari Henry, OF; Jamal Austin, CF; Jochi Ogando, RHP; Trevor Miller, RHP.

Graduated: James Jones, OF; Dom Leone, RHP; Stefen Romero, OF; Roenis Elias, LHP.

Injuries impacted development/placement: Julio Morban, OF; Anthony Fernandez, LHP; Stephen Landazuri, RHP; Danny Hultzen, LHP.

WilsonAustinReady for Promotion
1. Austin Wilson
Wilson’s numbers are terrific — .300/.380/.527 with 10 home runs — and his contact rate is satisfactory. Through June 13, the right-handed batting Wilson is hitting .326/.399/.554 against right-handed pitching, and he’s up to .340/.436/.787 this month. Nine of his 10 long balls have come since April 30 in 166 plate appearances.

Removing the two plate appearances in that span where he’s been hit or was credited with a sacrifice, Wilson’s homered(9), doubled (10), tripled (3) or walked (19) 25 percent of the time he’s stepped into the batter’s box.

Wilson simply needs to see the better pitching in Advanced-A where the improved command and sharper breaking balls will challenge him. It’s time.

2. D.J. Peterson
Peterson should see Double-A Jackson this summer and if he continues his torrid pace in High Desert that could occur before the end of the month.

Since April turned to May, Peterson is batting .327/.383/.643 with 13 home runs and 15 doubles. Yes, much of the power can be attributed to the environment, but he is putting barrel to ball regularly. One concern is the strikeouts. If the Mariners aren’t convinced he can handle the right-handed breaking ball and cut down his chase percentage, he could stay in the Cal League beyond June.

AndradeG3. Greifer Andrade
Andrade, who just turned 17 years of age January 27, was the club’s biggest Latin American free agent signing from last season. The club has played him at shortstop primarily, but it’s hit bat they’re after. It’s worth noting he’s inexperienced at shortstop, so there may be some growing pains in that area.

In the Venezuelan Summer League, Adrade has more than shown he’s ready for the rookie-level Arizona League, tallying eight multihit games of the 22 he’s played thus far. He’s doubled eight times, swiped eight bags and is batting .321/.363/.417.

If you believe in clutch hitting, Andrade has done that, too, albeit in a small sample. With runners in scoring position, Andrade is 11-for-25 (.440) with three doubles and 13 RBI. With runners in scoring position and two out, the 6-foot-1, 170-pound infielder is 6-for-12 with two walks, two doubles and five RBI.

If there are no visa issues with Andrade and the Mariners have the room — clubs are limited in how many visa’d players they can house in the U.S. — Andrade should see the states this summer.

Others deserving: Stephen Kohlscheen, RHP; Jabari Henry, OF; Emilio Pagan, RHP.

Expected to debut in short-season leagues: Luiz Gohara, LHP; Gareth Morgan, RF; Alex Jackson, RF; Gianfranco Wawoe, 2B/CF; Leurys Vargas, OF; Austin Cousino, CF; Brett Thomas, OF; Gabrial Franca, SS; Wilton Martinez, OF; Hersin Martinez, OF; Phillips Castillo, OF.

The injuries and graduations certainly have hurt but the Mariners have recouped some of the ground they lost thanks to the additions of Jackson and Morgan earlier this month and the promising progress of Wilson, Guerrero, Taylor, O’Neill and Marte. The trend is positive with most of the top talents and with Sanchez’s return to form after a stint on the disabled list, the club also boasts one more mid-rotation pitching prospect that could be ready as early as 2015.

There’s catching with Marlette, Hicks, Littlewood and Carmichael — each of the four have at least a shot to be a backup, if not more — there are two legitimate shortstops in Marte and Taylor and there are now several corner outfielders with high-ceiling upside and growing probability to go with Peterson, who is most likely to end up at first base.

Potential 2018 Lineup
1B D.J. Peterson
2B Robinson Cano
3B Kyle Seager
SS Brad Miller/Chris Taylor
C Mike Zunino
LF Austin Wilson
CF James Jones
RF Alex Jackson
DH Gabriel Guerrero

Potential 2018 Rotation
1. Felix Hernandez, RHP
2. James Paxton, LHP
3. Taijuan Walker, RHP
4. Hisashi Iwakuma, RHP
5. Roenis Elias, LHP

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    Any idea whats up with Gohara? I see he’s on the roster for Arizona. That would seem to be a step back from Pulaski. Are they just putting the kid gloves on after he got hurt last year?

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    I’ve always felt that the trade deadline is a time to sell or stand pat, as a general rule. That’s especially true now, as the extra wild card and increased parity makes the pool of buyers much larger. Thus, the cheeky answer to your question of “when is their year,” is never. That is, if “their year” means the time when its appropriate to go all in. Midseason trades should be tweaking things, or adding that one last player who puts the team over the top. Don’t think the M’s are close to that right now.

    In reality, I just think they need to be very careful about getting into bidding wars in what looks to be a really bad sellers trade market.

    I think everyone would agree that there isn’t a good time to mortgage the future. I’d much rather see the Ms run like the Cardinals: they develop talent and keep it. The Cubs seem to be adopting a similar strategy: develop a pipeline on young talent so that you don’t need to acquire expensive players via trade or free agency. Plus, offense is down across the league, so the Ms will find it more difficult to address their biggest need: bats.

    That said I’m sure that Jack is on the phone looking for additions. If something materializes that makes sense, why not? I just don’t see many “big names” being out there. There is nothing wrong with avoiding a desperation trade.

    This year is already a success thus far, IMHO. Mike Zunino is looking like a franchise cornerstone. James Jones could be a long term solution in CF and lead off. I’m hoping his BB rate eventually gets back up to the levels he was at in the minors. Roenis Elias is looking like the guy we hoped Ramirez and Maurer would become. Felix and Kuma are both great, and seeing the latter build off his breakout year last season is a big deal. Cano is more or less what we paid for: a legit middle of the order hitter and leader who adds some legitimacy to the roster. And Kyle Seager is still a well above average regular. Thats a good nucleus starting to form.

    Again, if the right trade emerges – particularly for a player who could help beyond this year – great. But some minor moves and patience might be the best plan. Things to look forward to in the latter part of the season:

    -can Taijuan Walker get healthy and develop into a 1-2 starter? If so,that would give us the start of a RIDICULOUS rotation with Felix and Iwakuma.

    -can Paxton get back on the field? When he’s healthy, he’s been damn good. If he can stay off the DL, he gives is a potentially awesome rotation with Felix, Iwakuma, Walker, and Elias.

    -can Montero be an incredibly pleasant surprise? If so, he could give us a good RH power bat.

    -after a bit of roster churning, could Choi, Blash, and Taylor perhaps make an appearance in Seattle?

    I’m wondering if the trade deadline this year will be more about jettisoning guys off the roster. How much longer can the Smoak and Ackley experiments last? I realize that they will get many more chances than they deserve because Ackley was the #2 overall pick and Smoak was the centerpiece of a blockbuster trade by the current regime. Likewise, I wonder what the team will do with Morrison and Hart if they continue to struggle. But it might be a good idea to move on and pick up some undervalued players mid-season and give it a shot.

    One thing the M’s could do is just move those guys in ‘challenge deals’ for other players who also might be change of scenery types. I’m thinking Domonic Brown, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, or someone like that. I know its not the flashy move that people might be hoping for, but sometimes those types of moves pay off bigtime. If we traded Ackley for Brown, it might make sense for both clubs. I’d hate to watch Smoak or Ackley go to another team and finally put it all together, but I don’t see any reason to believe that that will happen here. Might as well try something different. If they can make a move for a similar type of player who might thrive here, why not?

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    Awesome stuff JAC, like always. I love your midseason prospect reports and seeing how the players have progressed since the handbook comes out. Such a nice sight to see all those bats ranked highly in our system. Very excited about our OF prospects.

    Wonder which of these players get shipped out at the deadline?

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    Jerry, when exactly is “their year”? Their year is anytime they have an opportunity to be a playoff team, be it this, next, or years after. It does mean that Seattle has to be careful who they trade for. But, Jack has been consistent about not trading for a single season rental player. For instance, if Seattle did trade for Ramirez, and he could be here for the remainder of this year, and all of next year (not knowing his contract situation), then why not stablize that position, if you can do it for a reasonable loss of prospects? Jack also needs to send a message that if they continue to play well enough to take one of the wildcard spots, that he’s willing to go the extra distance. Do you really expect him to go to his players and say, “Thanks for the great effort, but I don’t believe enough in you to make any substantial trades.”

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    Mostly I agree with what you are saying. Considering how many major talents are on the fast track in the minors but not on the 40-man pruning back can make way for new & better growth in the near future. Trading Franklin, Maurer, Erasmo, Romero, Morrison, Medina, Ackley, Sanchez, Pike, &/or Smoak (if anybody would take him) for the right return(s) could really help the now & clear the way for the future. Peterson, Blash, Taylor, Hicks, Kivlehan, Hultzen, & Carson Smith will need 40-man spots in the near future.

    The growth of the team this year has been exciting despite the troubles with Smoak, Hultzen, Walker, Paxton, Miller, & Franklin. Finding a league-average cost-controlled center field with room for growth has been a real boon. Wilhelmsen appears to be fixed. Saunders has stepped up. Seager has put 2013’s 2nd half struggles behind him. Zunino looks like a budding star. Elias has been fun story who could really help to balance out the back end of a contender’s rotation. Leone & Farquar are keepers. That’s a lot of good, young pieces to build around. Not good enough for a farm system fire sale but enough that a couple pieces could really help this team contend now & in the near future. Owning ROOT means money should not be an issue but putting more butts in the seats down the stretch can help open the pocketbooks & help legitimize the team in the eyes of free agents.

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    I’m hoping the M’s keep things in perspective as the trade deadline approaches. If they can pick up someone who is a contract dump, that would make sense. Kemp would be a nice fit. If they can swing a blockbuster for a good player who will be around for a while – I’m thinking a Carlos Gonzalez type of move – that would make sense too. I think that prospects are overvalued right now, and the M’s could potentially get a solid deal on an established player. If some team decided to jettison some contracts (I’m thinking about the Red Sox from a few years ago) the M’s could potentially add a player or two that could help them now and in the next 1-2 years, which is when I think their window of contention will really be open. But the M’s need to be careful.

    However, I’m worried that the M’s will make dumb decisions this year. Although they are doing pretty well thus far, I just don’t think they are legit contenders yet. The offense is terrible, and I think they are headed towards a correction back to .500. I think that’s their true talent level right now. This is an important year for developing players and getting back to respectability. Finishing around .500, with development of some of the younger guys on the roster, would be a step in the right direction. Mortgaging the farm system for a minor addition would be dumb right now. Not that mortgaging the future is ever a good idea, but this is the type of situation in which teams often make dumb moves: a team that has been bad for a decade, and has seen gradual erosion of fan interest, with a GM on the hotseat, in the midst of a surprising (and I think flukey) season. This is the type of team that sometimes makes Bavasi-level bad decisions when they aren’t able to accurately evaluate their own clubs ability to contend.

    If they can make a smart move and bring in a player or two who could help now and in the 2015/16, awesome. Even if it just helps keep them relevant till late in the season, that would be positive. If they can also get Walker and/or Paxton healthy, and see what they have with Jones, Ackley, Smoak, Morrison, Miller, Romero, etc, that’s good enough. As I said before, this is a big year in the M’s getting back to respectability and earning back fan support . But we definitely don’t need to give up good young players for a stopgap. This isn’t their year yet.

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    Jason, Am I crazy to postulate that Wilson may have as high or a higher ceiling than even Jackson? Less likelihood to achieve it, perhaps, but his athleticism is pretty stunning and his intelligence and work ethic are a pretty terrific combination in tandem with his physical gifts.

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    Thanks for the prospect update!

    I am curious to see if Jack Z will be a buyer at the trade deadline (or sooner)? If so, what prospects would he be willing to trade and yet still be desired by other teams?

    With the 2nd wild card and the parity in baseball, I don’t see a lot of sellers out there.

    Nick Franklin has been available since Cano signed, but has stayed with the team. Either we overvalue him or teams are under valuing this former 1st round pick. Injuries have devalued our top pitchers (Walker, Paxton, and Hultzen). Mauer has flopped at the big league level but is still young. Who does that leave us as far as desirable pieces to trade? Erasmo Ramirez maybe? As much as I would love to add a bat, the best move may just be to ride the season out and add more pieces next year.

    Could a trade with the Dodgers for Kemp happen this year? They would have to eat a lot of his salary and not expect too much in return. Hart is going to miss most of his incentives they had built into the budget, so that frees up some money. Will be interesting to see if they can pull something off.

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    It’s true that Guerrero is not far behind, and Austin Wilson’s a level behind him. On the other hand, the Mariners themselves have done very little to block outfield (or 1b or DH) prospects at the major league level. We could use five. Pronto.

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    Kivlehan’s troubles in the field may be a big part of his dimming star. If he’s a 1B then the bat has to really develop into something worthwhile. Personally, since he was a DB in college it seems he would run well enough to play an outfield corner but since his age is up there for a prospect & we suddenly have a whole wave of corner outfieldes with similar profiles it all better get sorted soon.

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    I suspect Nick Franklin is no longer officially a “prospect” or he’d still be high on this list.

    Just based on recent performance as he adjusts to AA, I don’t see why Kivlehan’s prospect sheen keeps on dimming–but he seemingly is no longer well thought of by many pundits.

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    so is nick franklin garbage now after 51 at bats

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    Re: O’neill, he punched a wall after a K and broke his hand. I believe I read he is hoping to be back in late July.

  14. Franca is still hanging on at last check. He’s on the restricted list. He can play 2B, handles the bat really well.

    Velasquez is a 1B/DH only. Hes 20 and still in the VSL. I haven’t seen even a second of him live OR on video, but if he were legit he’d be in the states this year. I don’t hear great things.

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    Didn’t Franca retire?

    Landazuri sure had a rough return outing.Landry is starting to become interesting again. Landry, Marder, Hicks, & Kivlehan have all really come on for Jackson. Been fun to read the box scores.

    JAC, is Alberto Velasquez a legit prospect at all?

  16. maqman — no conflict of interest at all. I do have a link to my CBS blog on the right side (Championship!) of the page and I do link out those pieces on Twitter, too. Much appreciate the kind words.

    Jerry — I’ll ask for an update on O’Neill.

    As for sleepers, a few on the lower portion of the top 25 stand out for me, like Littlewood. Still hitting enough. Catching still a work in progress. Could be a guy who doesn’t get to bigs until he’s 26 or 27 but is good once he gets there.

    I also like Ogando’s upside a lot. Has top 10 abilities.

  17. Some scouts are telling me I have Marte too low — should be top 8 or so, ahead of Taylor. Also got a note that I have Blash too low and Kivlehan a few spots too high. Good feedback.

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    I fee Morgan will be knocking on the door and trying to force his way onto your 2018 lineup. Hope I’m right. Also hope Taylor can take the starting SS spot. Love the infusion of young talent and the lack of the usual names we have all come to know.

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    Thanks Jason!
    Any hope for Jordy Lara? I know there Cal league numbers, but there very decent numbers.
    Would like to see a little more starting pitching, but like you say, more balanced.

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    Thanks again Jason. Question: Why don’t you provide links from PI to your articles at CBS Seattle? Some guys are missing some good content, although I realize there may be some kind of conflict of interest possibility.
    There’s a good backgrounder on Morgan at:
    I find it disappointing how many of our once bright and shiny prospects have failed to produce in The Show. Hopefully some of them will finally get their acts together, preferably sooner rather than later. If we had a league average offence we could be contenders.

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    Good stuff Jason, thanks for the work you put into the site and your article.s

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    Its funny how fast our system transitioned from pitching heavy to hitting as the system strength.

    I really hope that at least one of Walker/Paxton/Hultzen can get past their arm problems and live up to their ability. If we can get two of them healthy and productive, that would give us a pretty stacked rotation.

    The current lack of good arms in the system is a bit concerning. Hopefully some of the younger guys – Diaz, Gohara, Sanchez, Pike – can step up. Seems like all have had mixed results (don’t think Gohara is pitching yet, though).

    Looking forward to hearing your opinions on the new draft class. The guy I’m particularly interested in is Morgan. The M’s threw down some serious cash to get him signed, and the scouting reports I’ve read mentioned that he improved quite a bit in terms of approach and hitting over the course of the year. It would be great if he ends up being the steal of this draft. We could use a bit of good luck.

    With Morgan, Jackson, Guerrero, Wilson, Peterson, and O’Neill, we’ve got some interesting high-upside bats in the system. We need stars. Hopefully one or two of those guys goes crazy and turns into that type of player.

    A few questions:
    -Whats up with Tyler O’Neill? He hasn’t played in a while, and I’ve seen that he’s on the DL. He was putting up very promising numbers in Clinton, which is a pretty tough league for a prep player’s first full-season assignment. Any info about his situation? Hopefully he can get back on the field, because he was doing well pre injury.

    -Who are your favorite sleepers? You mentioned Andrade. Any other guys to keep an eye on?

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    Awesome. Thanks Jason. This is why I love this site.

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