When 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.
1. 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.
Ready 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.
3. 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
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.
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