|Original Published Date: Jan. 7, 2014|
For the past three years, the Mariners have been trying to land the “big” free agent. On December 12, 2013 Jack Zduriencik finally accomplished that mission as he introduced Robinson Cano to the Seattle faithful. And it’s a dwindling faithful…as public records indicate that despite the Mariners best efforts, the fans just have not been showing up. Will Robinson Cano change that? By himself…that’s unlikely, but maybe with some help from their farm system, Nintendo of America might have somebody to pair up with Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach.
In an effort to get something going in 2013, the Mariners aggressively promoted many of their top prospects. In fact, five of last year’s top 10 prospects are no longer eligible for the list. However, last year’s number one remains, and he could be special. Taijuan Walker is a premium athlete with an electric arm and despite some mechanical setbacks, has the arsenal and competitiveness to pitch at the top of rotation. Unless he suffers an injury, Walker should start the year as part of the Mariners starting rotation.
While he doesn’t have the talent of Walker, James Paxton also has a chance to log significant innings in Seattle in 2014. The arsenal took a step-up in 2013 and Paxton now has a chance to be a solid number three starter if not more. Further away are three interesting arms in Edwin Diaz, Victor Sanchez, and Luiz Gohara. While I like Diaz the best of the trio, all have the ceilings of a mid-rotation starter.
With the promotion of several highly regarded bats, the Mariners restocked in the 2013 draft by selecting two polished bats in D.J. Peterson and Austin Wilson. While neither player has the ceiling of a perennial all-star, Peterson can really hit and Wilson has the potential for plus future power. Both have the talent to move quickly through the system.
2014 and 2015 will be important years for Jack Z. and his leadership team. They need at least three of: Mike Zunino, Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Taijuan Walker, and James Paxton to take a big leap forward and contribute at the major league level. For my money, I think it’s Walker, Paxton, and Montero.
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: #1 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 210||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2013|
It was an impressive year for Taijuan Emmanuel Walker. After shoving it in Double-A during April and May, Walker was promoted to the PCL in June where he continued to pitch extremely well. After a stop-over in New York for the Futures Game, Walker made his major league debut on August 30th where he threw five shutout innings for a win against the hapless Houston Astros.
Taijuan Walker encompasses everything I want to see in a pitching prospect: a great arm, athleticism, and the mechanics to repeat his delivery. His arsenal consists of a mid 90’s fastball that averaged 95.42 MPH in his brief 15 innings of big league action. He hides the ball well on his delivery but in order to improve his command, he’s reduced his stride and therefore is losing some explosiveness on his fastball. Still it’s a plus pitch.
His secondary pitches consist of a mid 70’s slow curve that grades out as above average but he struggles to consistently throw it for strikes. I really like the shape of the pitch but it could take a step-up if he added a little velocity to the offering. His change-up has improved significantly over the past couple of years and now grades out as a solid average pitch.
While his curve and change-up are nice pitches, Walker added a cutter in 2013 that has a chance to be a true swing and miss offering. He throws it with plus velocity at 91-92 MPH but with a nasty sharp break on the tail. It doesn’t quite have the break of a slider but it’s not far off. For me, it’s a future 70 pitch.
Walker’s mechanics are very good but need some improvement for long-term success. The arm action is clean with great balance on his delivery. However, he shortened his stride in 2013, presumably to allow him to get on top of his pitches better. While this should help his control, he loses some explosiveness on his pitches; particularly his fastball. Plus, it causes him to land more upright causing his shoulder to take the brunt of the recoil. It was clearly noticeable once he was promoted to the majors and we had a chance to see the delivery through the lens of the center field camera.
As the Mariners revamp their major league club, Walker has become a potential trade chip to land an elite proven starter such as Tampa Bay’s David Price. While Walker is only 21-years-old, his ceiling is a number one and with six years of control, the Mariners will have to think long and hard about moving him. Assuming he stays in Seattle, he should start the year in the big league rotation.
Fantasy Impact: Taijuan Walker has averaged over a strikeout an inning in his 371.2 innings in minor league baseball. I would expect that to continue once he starts his big league career. His command still needs improvement, so his ratios could be league average over his first couple of years. However, there is definitely ace potential with Walker. Invest!
|2014 Age: 21||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-4 Weight: 220||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2013|
As with Taijuan Walker, James Paxton had a very productive 2013 season that resulted in a September promotion to Seattle. He took full advantage of his opportunity, going 3-0 and pitching to a 1.50 ERA in 24 innings.
I’ve had a chance to scout Paxton a couple of times in the past and what always stuck with me was his curve ball. It’s a 12-to-6 hammer that can get swings and misses from both sides of the plate. His fastball was good and sat 91-92 MPH but was just an average offering for me. However, in his 24 innings in Seattle, his fastball averaged over 94 MPH and he threw more four-seam fastball than two-seamers. I actually liked the two-seam offering better as it has a lot of sink and produces a ton of ground balls.
Has Paxton’s stuff ticked up or was he just amped up given his surroundings? If the sample size was just a few innings, I might attribute the increase in velocity to adrenaline. However, the increased velocity stayed throughout all of his 24 innings, so I’m inclined to believe the increased velocity is real. If so, he has a number three ceiling given his plus-plus curve ball and if his change-up improves, he could profile as a number two.
Assuming the Mariners do not add any free agent arms, Paxton should start 2014 in the Seattle starting rotation. At 25-years-old, it’s time for the Mariners to take off the training wheels and give Paxton a chance.
Fantasy Impact: Paxton is a strong Top 50 prospect and will likely land in the Top 40 of our overall 2014 prospect list. He’s big league ready and should be owned in all fantasy leagues for 2014. I would expect 7-8 strikeouts-per-nine with better than league average ratios with upside beyond that in 2015 and 2016.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 5-6
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 190||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
With the number twelve overall pick in the 2013 draft, the Mariners selected polished college hitter D.J. Peterson out of the University of New Mexico. Peterson had one of the best seasons in any level of the amateur ranks by posting a .408/.520/.807 slash line with 18 home runs in only 218 at-bats. It was indeed an impressive year but many question whether he’ll be able to translate his college game to the big leagues.
First, D.J. Peterson can hit. Not only did he have a .520 OBP in college but also posted an impressive .365 OBP in his 208 at-bats across the New York Penn and Midwest League. While he wasn’t able to maintain his 2:1 walk-to-strikeout rate he posted in college, he did manage a contact rate of 80% while walking 10% of the time.
The scouting report backs up the stat line as Peterson has a short compact swing that is made for contact. However, it’s the swing that also brings into question his future power potential. In analyzing the stroke, he doesn’t use his lower half very well and lacks leverage in the swing. Plus, at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he doesn’t have the body that screams “raw power”. While a .280 and 15 home run profile could play third, many question whether he has the athleticism to stay at the hot corner and might be destined for first base. If that occurs, he’ll likely have to change his swing to tap into more power.
Peterson should start the 2014 season in High Desert and could easily see Double-A by the end of the year. That would put him on an express train to the majors with a 2015 likely debut.
Fantasy Impact: Like many others we have written about, Peterson’s fantasy value hinges on his ability to grow into future power. If he does, he could profile into a Top 5 fantasy first baseman. If he doesn’t, he’s likely a bench player in a deep league. For now, I’m better the under.
|2014 Age: 20||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 165||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
It’s easy to get excited about Walker and Paxton as they are big league ready, but Edwin Diaz is a young, projectable arm that could one day join them in the Seattle rotation.
Diaz was taken in the third round of the 2012 draft from Caguas Military Academy in Puerto Rico. While he has a slight build at 6-foot-2 and 165 pounds, he has a fastball that sits 92-93 MPH with a lot of late tailing action. As he puts on weight, the fastball has a chance to add velocity and tick-up a grade. He throws two breaking pitches – a slow curve that he’ll likely use as a “show me” pitch as he settles on his tight mid 80’s slider that could become a real weapon.
The pitching mechanics are pretty raw with a lot of moving parts. He does show excellent momentum on his delivery and is one of the reasons he’s getting so much late life on his fastball. The Mariners will surely tighten up his mechanics over time.
Diaz should start 2014 in the Midwest League and should be one of the younger starting pitchers in the league. While there’s a long way to go, there is also a lot of upside in the 20-year-old right hander.
Fantasy Impact: While he could be three to four years away from sniffing Seattle, Diaz is a talent that should be added in all deeper Dynasty Leagues. I would rank him as a high risk/high reward Top 200 prospect.
|2014 Age: 19||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-0 Weight: 255||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
When you’re 18-years-old and weigh 255 pounds, “professional athlete” are not the first words that come to mind. However, Venezuelan Victor Sanchez is not only a professional athlete but will one day be pitching in the major leagues.
It’s easy to get caught up in his girth, but Sanchez has a nice arsenal, throws strikes and knows how to pitch. His arsenal starts with a 90-92 MPH fastball that has late life due to very good extension on his delivery. His secondary pitches consist primarily of a hard curve and change-up. They currently grade out as average pitches, but they play up because he’s able to throw each for strikes.
While Sanchez doesn’t have much physical projection remaining and therefore his fastball is unlikely to tick-up a grade in the future, his success will come from his ability to throw strikes. In 2013, he did just that. He walked 18 batters in 113.1 innings, which was seventh best in the league (minimum of 100 innings pitched). The command is not yet there but given his ability to repeat his delivery that should come with more repetition.
Sanchez should start 2014 in High Desert and will likely see Double-A as a teenager. While the arsenal and lack of physical projection will limit his upside, he has the ceiling of a number three starter with a floor of a number five.
Fantasy Impact: While I believe Sanchez will be a major league pitcher, maybe as soon as 2015, I’m not sure how valuable of a fantasy asset he will be. That could change if his secondary pitches tick up a grade which should result in more strikeouts. If not, his strikeout totals will settle in the 5.0-6.0 range. However, his ERA should be better than league average given that he doesn’t give up any free passes.
|2014 Age: 17||Ceiling: #2 starter|
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 210||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2017|
Brazil is not yet a hot-bed for professional baseball talent as soccer continues to be the number 1, 2, and 3 sport in the country. However, with the success of Yan Gomes (born in Brazil but moved to the United States at the age of 12), Andre Rienzo and now 16-year-old Luiz Gohara, maybe baseball could eventually challenge for the third spot.
Already physically mature at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Gohara has a nice arsenal that consists of a 90-92 MPH fastball, a slider that flashes plus-potential and a feel for a change-up. The arsenal worked well in six games during the Appy League as Gohara struck out 27 while walking only 9 in 21.2 innings. He was hittable as batters connected for 22 hits. However, he was all of 16-years-old and facing a college-heavy league of 21 to 23 year olds. No matter how you cut it, it was indeed impressive.
While raw, Gohara’s pitching mechanics show a lot of promise. He has good balance and is throwing over the top on a straight line to the plate. He does rush his delivery at times and does not consistently follow through, but there is clearly athleticism with promise that he will be able to repeat his delivery consistently in the future.
It’ll be interesting to see what the Mariners do with Gohara in 2014. While it’s likely that he starts the year back in the Peoria Complex, I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts the year in Clinton Iowa of the Midwest League. In fact, I believe the arsenal is mature enough for the challenge.
Fantasy Impact: It’s hard to add a player to your Dynasty League that was born in 1996, but Gohara should be owned in all deeper leagues. Yes, it could be 2017 before he makes his way to the majors but the talent is there. He has a ceiling of a number two starter with the chance for high strikeout totals and better than league average ratios.
|2014 Age: 22||Ceiling: Role 5
|Ht:6-4 Weight: 210||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016|
After selecting D.J. Peterson with their first round pick, the Mariners went back-to-back with college hitters and selected Austin Wilson with their second round pick. Wilson, a 6-foot-4, 210 pound outfielder from Stanford University, carrying tool is plus raw power that he gets through his size and a long leverage swing.
While his 2013 college home run output of five home runs was not impressive, it was done in only 118 at-bats. Wilson spent part of the year injured with an elbow contusion. However, he hit the ground running in the New York Penn League and slugged .414 in 203 at-bats. While again, it was not an impressive output, he did show his plus raw in batting practice.
It should be noted that many in the industry criticize the manner in which hitting is coached at Stanford. It’s viewed as a cookie-cutter approach and not geared towards the unique physicality and natural swing of a player. People will cite John Mayberry Jr. and Ryan Garko as recent examples of players who have underperformed. Is it lore or is there some truth to the argument? I have a tendency to think it’s more lore as the leap from college to success at the major league level is substantial and failure is more the norm than not. It’s really easy to point to a few failures and then draw a conclusion. For me, I’m going to scout and report on the player’s talent and not be overly swayed by a few random data points.
Wilson should start 2014 in the Midwest League and could easily wind up in High Desert by the summer. I do believe the power will come but the hit tool profiles as average at-best.
Fantasy Impact: Austin Wilson is an interesting prospect and should be monitored in all Dynasty formats. If the raw power starts to translate to in-game power and the contact rate hovers in the low to mid-70’s, I would be buying.
8. Tyler Marlette (C)
Drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 draft out of Hagerty high school in Florida, Tyler Marlette posted a .304/.367/.448 slash line in 270 at-bats in the Midwest League. He makes good contact and has good strike zone awareness posting a 9% walk rate. He also has good bat speed and while not blessed with great physical size, projects to have at least average if not more power. Sources were mixed on his catching ability. While he’s made improvements with his receiving skills, his total defensive package is still characterized as “raw”.
Marlette should start 2014 in the High Desert and remains an intriguing prospect with upside.
9. Ji-Man Choi (1B)
22-year-old Ji-Man Choi is given very little love in prospect circles. I get it…he’s a first base only bat with modest power upside. That said, he continues to perform well. In 2013, he played across three levels and posted a .921 OPS including hitting 18 home runs. Not only does he have an ability to make contact (84%) but he also has great strike zone awareness, posting a 15% walk rate. That’s the good news…the bad news is that his splits against left-handed pitching is not great. While he won’t be a star and is likely a second division performer, I believe he’ll make it the big leagues as early as 2014.
10. Stefan Romero (OF)
Prior to 2013, Stefan Romero primarily played second base, but the Mariners decided to move him to the outfield to speed his progression to the major leagues. He posted a nice .277/.331/.448 slash line in 375 at-bats in the Pacific Coast League. He has good bat speed that if given full-time at-bats could result in above-average future power. However, his aggressive approach at the plate is hurting his hit tool and ultimately his ceiling could be that of a super utility player in the mold of a “poor man’s Ben Zobrist”.
Romero is nearly big league ready and should get the call to Seattle at some point during 2014. If he doesn’t, that means he’ll likely have been traded to provide depth somewhere else for the Mariners.
2014 Emerging Prospect:
Yordi Calderon (3B)
Signed out of Venezuela for a $500,000 signing bonus in 2010, Yordi Calderon had a promising 2013 season, starting off in the Venezuelan summer league before finishing the summer in Pulaski Virginia in the Appy League. In 277 at-bats, he posted an impressive .950 OPS while hitting 11 home runs and stealing 16 bases. While still very raw, he has consistently improved his plate discipline and contact rate over the past three years and appears poised to handle a short-season assignment in 2014.