|Original Published Date: Dec. 4, 2012|
The Seattle Mariners have done a nice job in accumulating a deep and talented minor league organization. They are particularly deep in starting pitchers with the trio of Walker, Paxton, and Hultzen nearly ready to advance to the Major Leagues.
Taijuan Walker is an elite athlete and one of the better pitching prospects in the entire minor leagues. While his 2012 statistical line was disappointing, he was the youngest pitcher in the Southern League and is still learning how to pitch. Danny Hultzen and James Paxton are a pair of lefties who should start 2013 in Triple-A and while Hultzen is the more highly touted prospect, Paxton might in the end be the better pitcher. Rounding out the pitching prospects is Brandon Maurer, a hard throwing right hander who has good stuff but ugly mechanics.
Also included in the Seattle system are a group of middle infielders that include Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, and Stefan Romero. While most of the industry will be the highest on Franklin, I actually think that Miller has a chance to be the best of the group.
Finally, there is Mike Zunino, the number three overall pick in the 2012 draft. While Zunino doesn’t have an elite tool, he also doesn’t have any weaknesses and should be the catcher of the future for the Mariners as soon as next year.
|2013 Age: 20||BP: California|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 210||Bats: Right Throws: Left||ETA: 2013-14|
Taijuan Walker was a 2010 First Round Supplemental Pick and was drafted as a project – an elite athlete who spent more time on the basketball court than the pitching mound. Very quickly, he is translating talent into skill as he pitched well in Double-A as a 19-year-old.
Walker is clearly blessed with great natural ability and that shows in his easy delivery that generates a plus fastball. Not only does Walker produce plus velocity as his fastball reaches the upper nineties, it has excellent movement. Plus with his long stride and extension, the ball explodes on the hitter. His arsenal also includes a curveball that he struggled throwing for strikes in 2011 but showed flashes of being a real swing and miss pitch in 2012. When I saw him in Spring Training, the changeup was also fringy but improved as the season went along. However, the development of the pitch was not enough to offset a left-handed split of .230 vs. RHB and .286 vs. LHB.
So, if Walker has such great stuff with easy velocity, why did he post a 4.69 ERA? The fact is he is a very inexperienced pitcher given his lack of pitching as an amateur and also was one of the youngest pitchers in Double-A. While he’s athletic, he’s mechanics are not consistent and this is leading to some bouts of wildness. Plus, his pitchability is also lacking. He doesn’t setup his pitches well and is still visible working on his stuff.
I’ve followed Walker since he was drafted as I have a bias towards premium athletic pitchers. The raw stuff and pitching mechanics are there, he just needs experience. It’s actually unfortunate that Walker was not able to spend time in High-A in 2012 but clearly the Mariners did not want to subject him to the hitter-friendly Cal League. However, High-A would have been more appropriate for his development. That said, do not be surprised if Walker repeats Double-A in 2013. That would not be an indication of the Mariners souring on their future star but instead a logical move given his development needs.
Fantasy Impact: Walker is one of the few pitchers in the minor leagues with ace potential. Yes, there is considerable development needed, particularly in the fine art of pitching, but the arsenal is developing very nicely and the mechanics are there. I’m drafting Walker in a Dynasty League as one of the Top five pitchers off the board in my minor league draft.
|2013 Age: 21||BP: Florida|
|Ht:6-2 Weight: 220||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2013-14|
After a stellar college career that saw Mike Zunino appear in three college World Series tournaments as well as winning numerous awards including the 2012 Golden Spikes award as the top amateur baseball player in the United States, Zunino was selected #3 by the Seattle Mariners in the 2012 draft. Zunino doesn’t have a ton of tools, but is a solid all-around baseball player with great make-up and leadership ability. His hit tool is graded out as a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale with average future power potential. Given his current baseball ability, Zunino was drafted third because Seattle saw a high floor player with the ability to move through the development process quickly – and quickly he has.
In a small sample size of 161 at-bats, Zunino batted .333 with an 80% contact rate and a 14% walk rate in 2012. The majority of those at-bats were in the Short Season Northwest League, but he did get 51 at-bats in Double-A, including helping the Jackson Generals through the playoffs. The scouting reports are also encouraging with many scouts believing he is nearly ready for the majors.
Zunino also played in the AFL where I got a chance to see him play in several games. He is as good as advertised with one exception. The athleticism is really poor. Yes, he’s a catcher and you expect to see some of that, but his trunk is really large and his speed is well below average (30 grade on the 20-80 scouting scale). Plus, the bat was just ok for me. The bat speed was slow and there just wasn’t a pop to it. Granted, he had played in a ton of games when I saw him, but I spoke with two scouts during one game and they commented on the same thing.
Fantasy Impact: People are jumping all over Zunino from a fantasy standpoint and while I think he’ll be a solid contributor, I don’t see him as Top five fantasy catcher. The bat will play well but I see a .270 hitter with 15 home runs and not a 20+ home run hitter unless the fences are moved in significantly. As minor league catchers go, it’s d’Anaurd followed by NYY Gary Sanchez and Mike Zunino. If you’re looking for floor over ceiling, it’s Zunino first. If it’s ceiling over floor, it’s Sanchez.
|2013 Age: 23||BP: Maryland|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2013|
The Mariners surprised the industry when they selected Danny Hultzen with the number two overall pick in the 2011 draft. The general consensus was that Hultzen was a polished college pitcher who lacked the ceiling of other pitchers as well as several positional players in the loaded class of 2011.
The Mariners looked brilliant in April and May as Hultzen dominated Double-A with a 1.19 ERA and a 2.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The arsenal look as good as advertised with a low 90’s fastball, a plus changeup, and a workable slider – not an elite arsenal, but really good. However, on June 23rd, he was promoted to Triple-A where he gave up five earned runs while walking five in three innings; and things never got any better.
I’ve had a chance to watch most of Hultzen’s games in 2012 in an attempt to find out what happened. While I won’t dismiss a hidden injury, it does appear to me that there are definite mechanical problems with his delivery. First, he crouches before his delivery. It’s very unusual and I’m not sure why he does it, but the result is it not only a reduced downward plane but a greater chance of missing your release point. If you pitch tall with good posture, the center of your release is full height. As you crouch, you loose the center and therefore your muscle memory has got to be perfect. Secondly, he doesn’t finish off all of his pitches, particularly his off speed offerings. Because his release point gets off, he starts aiming his pitches and then everything starts to unravel.
The bad news is that the problems existed in Double-A, however with the aggressiveness of the hitters he was facing, they were swinging at his breaking pitches that were rarely being thrown for strikes. That was not the case in Triple-A. Is it fixable? Yes and I believe that Hultzen has the athleticism to make the corrections but in my opinion, he still needs more grooming.
Fantasy Impact: In Dynasty Leagues, Hultzen is still viewed as an elite pitching prospect, however, I would put him in the class with Odorizzi, Teheran (much reduced in my eyes), and teammate James Paxton. He should definitely be drafted high in a Dynasty League, but I do not consider him in the same class as Cole, Bundy, Walker, or Miller.
|2013 Age: 24||BP: Canada|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 220||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2013-14|
The senior member of the stacked 2012 Jackson Generals pitching staff was 23-year-old James Paxton. Sometimes overlooked pitching alongside Walker and Hultzen, Paxton has an advanced arsenal with both a two and fourseam fastball that sits in the low to mid 90’s, a 12-6 hammer curve that might be a plus-plus offering and a changeup that grades out as average.
He throws mostly two seam fastballs that generate a lot of ground balls (1.98 G/F). Additionally, he pitches with a high three-quarters delivery that gives his pitches a lot of downward plane making it difficult for hitters to pickup. This makes his plus curve ball that already has a nasty break even more difficult to hit.
He pitches tall with nice posture that leads to great balance on his landing. The delivery is free and easy. In fact, the delivery looks so good that I’m surprised that he has problems throwing strikes (4.57 BB/9). I’m guessing it has a lot to do with the number of two seamers he throws and problems with locating them down in the zone.
Fantasy Impact: I really like Paxton and see his floor as a number three starter with number two upside provided he stays in Seattle. With Seattle needing offense, they will eventually need to trade some of their excess pitching and that could very well be Paxton.
|2013 Age: 22||BP: California|
|Ht: 6-5 Weight: 200||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Brandon Maurer was the other guy in the rotation for the Jackson Generals. While he doesn’t have the arsenal that the Big Three possess, he pitched well in 2012 and is yet another good arm in a very deep system.
Maurer is tall and lanky at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds. He has a deep arsenal with a fastball that can hit the mid-90’s, a slider that looks like a real weapon and a changeup that I would grade out as average; which is part of the reason why left handed batters managed a .271 batting average.
While the arsenal is solid, the pitching mechanics are not and this could ultimately spell trouble for Maurer. He pitches with max effort starting with a very fast delivery where he doesn’t use his lower half very well. His does use a variety of arm angles but mostly pitches with a low three-quarters delivery and even sometimes comes from almost a side arm release. Because of the quick and herky-jerky delivery, his balance is not very good. In fact, I’m surprised his control is as good as it is.
Fantasy Impact: With all the red flags, Maurer should be considered a late flyer in a Dynasty League given where he’ll play as a Major Leaguer. That said, it seems reasonable that one of the Mariners top pitching prospects will be moved for offensive help. Don’t be surprised if that’s Brandon Maurer.
|2013 Age: 23||BP: Florida|
|Ht:6-2 Weight: 185||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2013-14|
Yes, Brad Miller is 18 months older than Nick Franklin, but you know what, I think he’ll be a better major league player. Am I 100% confident? No, but let me explain my rationale.
Miller has a quick compact left handed swing that enables him to make good solid contact. His load is not good as he holds the bat very high, not quite like Kevin Youkilis, but unlike Youk, he doesn’t move his hands down before the swing but instead keeps them high. This will make it difficult for him to hit with a lot of power but he’s ready to hit as there is very little movement in the swing.
In addition to having the ability to make solid contact, he also has a nice approach with a good sense of the strike zone. If you couple this with above average speed, he has the ability to bat leadoff at the highest level. With the speed grading out at 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale, Miller also has the ability to steal 20 bases at the highest level.
Defensively, I see him as an average defender at shortstop. Candidly, he would play better at second base, but you could say that about most of the minor league shortstops.
Fantasy Impact: I think Miller needs to be owned in a Dynasty League. The speed and bat will play at the highest level and the fact that he has a chance to bat leadoff only makes the potential higher. I see him as a late round pick and if you were to take him ahead of Nick Franklin, I’m totally fine with that.
|2013 Age: 22||BP: Florida|
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 180||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2013-14|
Nick Franklin was drafted in first round of the Year of Trout (2009) with the 27th overall selection. He’s a nice player, a major league talent even, that will likely earn millions of dollars playing this game. However, for me, he’s a second division middle infielder with an average hit-tool, average speed, and average power. He doesn’t have a single plus tool and therefore I don’t see him being a star.
Franklin is a switch hitter with pretty big platoon splits. His batting average as a lefty is a fine at .303 but as a right-handed batter, his batting average is an anemic .202. The contact is good from the right side, however he just makes weak contact. While he has a nice compact swing, the bat speed is not great which will limit his power production. He does have nice bat control so I could see him developing more loft in his swing in order to increase his power production.
As a defender, he profiles best as a second baseman, but that position is currently occupied by Dustin Ackley. He could break into the major leagues as a shortstop but I don’t believe he is athletic enough to profile as a plus defender and given the level of pitching staff that the Mariners are likely to have, this could be a real problem.
Fantasy Impact: As a fantasy player, I think Nick Franklin will provide you with a .270 batting average but with minimal power and speed. In fact, he reminds me of a lighter version of Dustin Ackley who I view as a Middle Infielder in a standard fantasy league.
Drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft, Carter Capps blitz through the minor leagues making his big league debut in 2012. Capps pretty much is a one pitch pitcher; a plus-plus fastball that averaged 99.13 MPH in his 25.0 innings in Seattle. In fact, he threw the pitch 79% of the time and still managed to strikeout 10 batter per nine. While the pitch has elite velocity, it also has a lot of movement and with his length at 6-foot-5 and a very long stride to the plate, the ball explodes onto hitters. His curve and changeup are still developing but I believe it’s just a matter of time before he starts to incorporate them into his arsenal and then you are looking at a future closer. Finally, if you want to see what a future closer looks like, go to Youtube.com and watch Capps in a Cape Cod outing. His shirt tail is hanging out and candidly, he looks like a mess; or said another way – a closer.
Signed in 2011 out of Venezuela for $2.5 million dollars, Victor Sanchez stands 6-foot tall and weighs 255 pounds and is only 17-years-old. The arm though is electric with the ability to run his fastball to the mid-90’s. His secondary pitches are still emerging but they all look like they will develop. His delivery is very “Johnny Cueto-esque” where he twists his back to the batter and then slings the ball to home plate. In fact, his off balance landing looks very similar to Cueto. While the delivery might look like Cueto, the chance of him equaling his output is low, but there is clearly talent.
Stefan Romero is yet another middle infield prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization. Drafted in the 12th round in 2010, Romero is an aggressive hitter who makes very good contact (85%) but doesn’t walk very much (5.6% walk rate). He has nice bat speed with natural loft in his swing that should equate to future average power. While he’s by no means a burner, he did manage to steal 12 bases in 2012 after stealing 16 in 2011.