As we're now into the offseason, I will be taking a team-by-team look at some of the prospects in the system that could be of interest for those of you in keeper leagues. The goal with each team is to take a look at a few players who are likely to have an impact in the Majors in 2012, a few who could be ready by the start of 2014, and a few more who are a long ways away, but could be interesting as well. The hope is that each organization will have enough players to fit into these categories, but some of the systems aren't going to, in all likelihood. The next team up is the Seattle Mariners.
The Mariners have very rapidly managed to build one of the top systems in the minor leagues. They have 3 of the top pitching prospects in all of the minors right now in their system, and also have a lot of high-upside prospects in the lower levels as well.
Ready in 2012
Liddi briefly made his debut at the Major League level after clubbing 30 home runs in the hitter friendly PCL. He continued to show that power in his brief stint, hitting 3 more in just 15 games. Here's what John Sickels had to say about Liddi in his review of his preseason top 20:
Defense has improved, power looks good, but strikeout rate is too high for comfort.
I have to imagine that Liddi will get an extended look at getting the starting job during Spring Training, with a very definite possibility that he will get a long look to start the year. If he plays a full season, I could see him hitting 15-20 home runs, but it could very well be with a poor batting average. I would probably only want him in an AL-only league until we find out if he can earn the 3B job.
Ruffin was acquired as a part of the Doug Fister trade, and quickly made an impression in the Seattle bullpen. Ruffin was the Tigers' 1st round pick in the 2010 draft, and was converted to relief in his final college season. His control numbers looked slightly better in the minors than they did with Seattle, but the sample sizes for both groups are a bit small to be sure. Ruffin projects as a potential long-term closer candidate, but I'd be shocked if he was given the job at any point in 2012. He could be a nice source of holds though potentially, as well as a high-strikeout reliever. Just remember that there's a pretty good chance that he will hurt your WHIP as well.
Hultzen is the top pick for the Mariners from the 2011 draft, and the #2 overall pick. He made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League, and has thrown 19 1/3 innings in 6 starts and an 18/5 K/BB rate. The early reports from the AFL have been good, and here's what Lincoln Hamilton over at Project Prospect had to say prior to the draft:
Hultzen should need very little time in the minors. Really, I think any time he spends there is wasted. He's good enough right now to battle in the major leagues. Hultzen's best trait as a prospect is that he has such a high floor.
Hultzen is a definite target for minor league drafts, and should be monitored to see if he manages to make the big league club out of spring training. If he does not, he likely will start at either AA or even potentially AAA, with the potential to be in the Majors before the end of the season.
Could be Ready in 2014
Franklin really emerged in 2010, clubbing 23 homeruns in the pitcher friendly Midwest League, and leading John Sickels to rank him at #26 among hitting prospects coming into this season. Franklin missed time with injuries this year, and clearly the power numbers were down. Franklin is also playing in the AFL, and has been playing every day down there. Through 22 games, he has hit 2 home runs, driven in 11, and is hitting just .229. The thing that continues to stand out for me is that he continues to strike out at a very high rate (25 in 22 games to just 11 walks in the AFL). Realistically, I think he will start the season at AA, and could potentially see some time in AAA depending on how he performs in Jackson. His time table is likely sometime in either late 2013 or early 2014 for the Majors, but I haven't really read much one way or another if he can stay at shortstop long-term. Either way, his bat looks like it should play at the major league level.
Paxton was drafted in the 4th round by the Mariners a year after failing to come to an agreement with the Blue Jays as their 1st round pick. He showed some of the skills that made him a top pick in 2009, as he averaged nearly 12 strikeouts per 9 innings across the two levels he played at in 2011. Project Prospect recently posted a scouting report on Paxton, and here's a little bit of what they had to say about him:
Paxton is raw for his age but he is also a rare talent. If he is able to harness his raw stuff, he could wind up being a No. 1-2 caliber starter and be an important part of a great future Mariners' rotation. He could force his way up in 2012, but 2013 is a reasonable time to expect him to solidify himself as a big leaguer.
Paxton looks to me like he has a lot of potential, but I want to see more from him in his return to AA in 2012. Off the top of my head, he would probably fall somewhere in the 80-110 range of all prospects, and should definitely be looked at in many minor league drafts.
Talk about some hitting numbers. Catricala hit 25 home runs, stole 17 bases, and hit a combined .349/.421/.601 between High Desert and Jackson. Catricala also showed some versatility, as he was called on to play 3B, 1B, and even the outfield at times. here's what he had to say about his defense in an interview with Rick Randall of Scout.Com:
SC: Have you been given any indication from the Mariners what their plans for you defensively going forward are?
VC: I think they look at me as a corner outfielder. Maybe occasionally an emergency infielder if they need me. Defense was my strong point growing up in high school. It kind of got away from me in college as my game shifted to the offensive side. Not that I don't work at it--I work my tail off at it. The game just changes as you move up the levels.
SC: How would you rate yourself defensively as an outfielder?
VC: You know what, actually considering how little game time, practice time and instruction I've actually had, I'm...I'm not bad. Not trying to be cocky, but whatever I may lack in speed and experience I think make up for in arm and instincts.
Sounds like his bat is what will bring him to the Majors, which is perfect for our purposes. I think that he will start the season at AA again, with the hope of getting him up to AAA around midseason. I believe that he has the potential to be a solid fantasy prospect, especially given the fact that he continued his performance once out of the ridiculous offensive environment of the California League. He could rise even higher in the rankings for the top prospects if he had a clear position, but I imagine he would fall somewhere in that 80-110 range overall based on him playing a corner outfield spot.
Long-Term Prospects (Won't Be Ready Until At Least 2015)
Walker made his full-season debut in Low-A Clinton, and was extremely impressive. Here's what Kevin Goldstein had to say as a part of his top 11 for the Mariners:
The Good: Walker's ceiling ranks with any pitching prospect in the game. He has an ideal frame, clean arm action, and the kind of athleticism normally reserved for shortstops and center fielders. His fastball sits at 93-96 mph, touches 98, and features some natural sink. His curveball is a monster power breaker that flashes as plus-plus, and his changeup is now a usable pitch.
The Bad: Walker is far from polished. His release points can be inconsistent, which causes his pitches to get left up in the zone and getting around on his curve. Walker’s changeup is still very much a work in progress. More than anything, he just needs innings because he was a multi-sport athlete in high school and lacks repetition.
He's extremely raw still, but Kevin's report mirrors what a lot of the other experts are saying: Walker is one of the highest-upside pitching prospects in the minors right now. I would honestly imagine that he would fall into my top 20 prospects right now, but remember that he is probably not going to be ready until after 2014, and could take even longer. Realistically, we may not learn a lot about him from the numbers he posts in 2012, as he is likely to be pitching in High Desert in the California League for a majority of the year.