One of the perks of watching the Seattle Mariners in early spring training action is that their promising farm system is on full display. These games are incredibly valuable to these youngsters that are trying to impress and gain experience at the same time. Here is a ranking of the top 6 Mariners farm players waiting for their opportunity in the Big Leagues.
6) Brandon Maurer
The first name on this list may confuse some people, because Maurer is usually not mentioned with the ‘Big Three’ pitching prospects the Mariners have. Do not be fooled by his low profile, Maurer was named the Mariners Minor League Pitcher of the Year, while posting a 9-2 record with a 3.20 ERA in 24 starts for the M’s AA affiliate. Brandon has an intimidating downhill delivery, due to his 6-5 frame. While Maurer does not possess one pitch in particular that is phenomenal, his arsenal includes a curve, changeup, slider, and a fastball, all of which are above average pitches. Do not expect Maurer to be in the Mariners immediate plan; he has not faced competition above AA ball. Do not sleep on him though, Eric Wedge has been raving about his poise at camp. Maurer may very well sneak into the Mariners plans.
5) Nick Franklin
Due to Brendan Ryan’s atrocious hitting last year, Mariners fans have been clamoring for the prized shortstop prospect. Franklin draws appeal because his hitting ability has been exceptional for a shortstop. In his first full season in the M’s minor league system, he put up 22 2Bs, 23 HR, and 25 SB. Last year, Franklin was promoted to AAA midway through the season and struggled since then. He clearly has great talent and intangibles, but another season in AAA may be what’s destined for him. Aside from adjusting to better pitching, Franklin is certainly raw at the shortstop position; it is an area in his game the definitely needs more work. It’s obvious Mariners fans want more offensive productivity from shortstop, but it is looking like Brendan Ryan will be the fulltime shortstop for 2013. It could be worse; Ryan provides plenty of value in the field.
4) James Paxton
The 6-4 left hander out of the University of Kentucky is on the fast track to the Major Leagues. Paxton is considered one of the M’s top three pitchers and for good reason. Paxton is an interesting story; he did not sign a contract right out of college, instead waited some time before joining a club. He has spent the previous 2 seasons with the Mariners AA affiliate. He throws a fastball that easily reaches north of 95 MPH. Along with that, Paxton has a plus curveball that can even improve. He has a changeup that he is still developing; it is nowhere near a plus pitch yet. It is imperative for him to gain a third pitch, or else he will not become a starter you can rely on every 5th day.
3) Mike Zunino
The 3rd overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft is the Mariners projected catcher of the future. Zunino carries all of the qualities to be successful Major League catcher. Having won the Golden Spikes award his senior year of college, it was clear that he was already a well-polished ball player before he entered pro baseball. His transition to the minor leagues did not hamper his offensive game whatsoever. Between A and AA ball, Zunino hit a torrid .360 along with smashing 13 HR, which equated to a slugging percentage of .689. Scouts also rave about his incredible leadership that is evident after watching him call a ballgame. Zunino is clearly advanced considering he has not spent a full year in professional baseball. It would be best for him to spend a good chunk of this season in the minors, calling him up and not playing him every day could be detrimental to his development. Regardless of where Zunino is currently at, all signs point to him leading the Mariners pitching staff sooner rather than later.
2) Danny Hultzen
The Mariner took Hultzen with the second pick in the 2011 MLB draft for the same reason they drafted Mike Zunino; they wanted a player who was close to major league ready. The Mariners aspirations may be coming true very soon. Out of everyone on this list, Hultzen has the best chance of making the Major League roster out spring training. He has breezed through A and AA, however ran into a control problem during his time in AAA last year. This shouldn’t worry Mariners fans Hultzen’s control has been his calling card. His poor walk ratio is most likely due to his excessive innings amount for his first year in pro ball. He wields a fastball that has good sink and tops out at 93 MPH. Hultzen also has an excellent slider and changeup, both of which he can use at out pitches. It is still very early in spring, but Hultzen has already impressed his coaching staff with a calm demeanor on the mound. If he has a lights out spring, do not be surprised to see him make the 25-man roster.
1) Taijuan Walker
Do not be alarmed by Walker’s 4.69 ERA in AA last year. The 20-year-old’s future could be the brightest out of anyone on this list. Everyone who faces Walker says the same thing, “He throws an easy 97 MPH”. That is what is so encouraging about the young prospect; his windup and delivery look fluid and natural. There is a reason MLB.com ranked Walker the 5th best prospect in baseball. Walker compliments his electric fastball with a knee buckling curve and a changeup that has the drop of a sinker. One of the only current knocks on Walker is that while his stuff is filthy, he needs to gain better control of his secondary pitches; this not unusual for a young pitcher. Walker’s ETA to the Major Leagues is up in the air and completely dependent on the speed of his development. Mariners fan should rest easy knowing that he is maturing right before our eyes.
The Mariners have struck a proverbial gold mine with their Minor League system. Although the Major League team has not seen results on the field yet, there is no denying that entire franchise is quite healthy. There is nowhere to go but up for this team and that is because of the illustrious amount of talent that is waiting in the wings. All of the prospects above should be in the major leagues in 2 years, considering development goes as planned. Get to know these players because many of them could prove to be household names in the future.
Peter Reed is on Twitter. Follow him at @piratepeter11