Minor League Keeper Thoughts: Seattle Mariners

Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

Craig Goldstein takes a look at some of the top fantasy prospects in the Seattle organization.

Jason and I continue our look at some of the more relevant prospects in each of the 30 MLB organizations. We won't be looking at each prospect in every organization, but rather providing brief profiles of players that are either expected to make an impact as soon as next season, or are worth watching in dynasty and keeper formats. In general, they will be sorted in the order of when they are anticipated to be in the Majors, even though it is no guarantee that they will get there.

Our goal is to speak more to each prospect's fantasy value, so while we do look at a player's defense, it is really only in the context of where they will end up when they get to the Majors, and how that may affect their long term outlook. We will be going roughly in alphabetical order, and planning to have the series completed by the end of the year.

Previous Reviews

NL West: Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles
NL Central: Chicago, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh
NL East: Atlanta, Miami, New York, Philadelphia
AL East: Baltimore, Boston, New York Yankees
AL Central: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City, Minnesota
AL West: Houston, Los Angeles, Oakland

System Overview

Recently on Twitter, Joe Sheehan started playing a game applying lines from the movie Rounders to the Royals (pre-Wil Myers trade), starting with the maxim "If you sit down at a table and can't identify the sucker in the first 30 minutes...you are the sucker". Well, the thing is, if the Royals and the Mariners sat down for some gambling, we'd soon reach the point in the movie where the Royals would look across the table at the Mariners and exclaim "you know what? F*** you and your never ending string of [pitching prospects]". Then the Royals would leave in disgust and go get roughed up and all their prospects stolen by the Rays*. Oh...sorry, Royals fans.

*Yes this makes the Rays "Grama" which...yeah this whole thing fell apart pretty quick.

Seattle features talent up the middle to complement their cadre of young arms that range from refined to power with a good mix of both. Headlined by Taijuan Walker, Seattle's system boasts considerable depth and isn't short on potential either. 2013 will likely bring about the debuts of prospects Danny Hultzen, Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, James Paxton as well as continued use of impressive reliever Carter Capps. If I'm a fantasy owner looking for young viable talent, I'm going to keep my eyes glued to the Pacific Northwest.

Graduates in 2012

Jesus Montero (C), Trayvon Robinson (LF), Alex Liddi (1B), Munenori Kawasaki (SS), Erasmo Ramirez (SP), Hisashi Iwakuma (SP)

AAA or Higher in 2012

These are players who reached the Mariners' Pacific Coast League affiliate in Tacoma in 2012. They will likely see time in the Majors in 2013, and could be a significant contributor there.

Carter Capps (BBRef Statistics)
Stephen Pryor (BBRef Statistics)

I'm grouping these guys together as they're both relievers, and should open the season in Seattle's bullpen. Either one could have a shot at the closer gig if something were to happen to Tom Wilhelmsen, but until or unless that happens, neither is fantasy relevant outside of deep deep leagues.

Nick Franklin (BBRef Statistics, Brief Profile)

I discussed Franklin briefly in a prospect comparison with Hak-Ju Lee before the season started, but haven't revisited him since. Franklin is ideally suited for second base, though his shortstop play is passable. Defense isn't the draw on Franklin though, as he hit a robust .322/.394/.502 in Double-A Jacksonville before slipping a bit upon a promotion to Triple-A. Slated to return there to begin 2013, Franklin could get a promotion with a hot start, as Seattle's incumbent shortstops aren't exactly mountains to traverse and conquer. Seattle hasn't had an offense-first anything in quite a while, so Franklin could quickly become a fan, and fantasy owner favorite as an offense-first middle infielder.

Danny Hultzen (BBRef Statistics, Profile)

As you'll note in Jason's profile (linked to above), Hultzen is an interesting prospect. Drafted as a supreme command pitcher, Hultzen had stuff but more importantly had the control and command to make that stuff play up. Unfortunately, for brief periods in 2012, Hultzen's command deserted him leading to an inflated Triple-A ERA and an average of almost a walk per inning. Double-A was a different story for Hultzen, who waltzed right through the Southern League, leaving with a sparkling 1.19 ERA. I'm confident Hultzen will once again show the refined qualities that got him drafted second overall in 2011, and that will put him on track for a major league debut in 2013. I expect he will be a mainstay in the rotation shortly thereafter, and would even label him as draftable in keeper leagues that don't use a minor league system. I'd expect a good WHIP and enough strikeouts to make him worth your while, though Trevor Bauer he is not in that department.

AA in 2012

These are players who reached the Mariners' Southern League affiliate in Jackson in 2012. They could see time in the Majors in 2013, but are more likely to arrive during the 2014 season.

Taijuan Walker (BBRef Statistics)

You've likely read about this pitching wunderkind ad nauseum if you're a prospect hound so I'll try to keep it brief. After skipping over Hi-A completely, Walker compiled 118 strikeouts in 126.2 innings, finishing the season with an 8.4 K/9 and a 3.6 BB/9. We would all like to see that BB/9 drop, but for a 19 year old getting his first exposure above Lo-A, this is season was an unqualified success. Walker pitches in the mid 90s, reaching 97 MPH, flashing a plus curveball and a plus change up. Neither pitch is consistent right now, but they can all be electric. He's my #2 overall pitching prospect behind Dylan Bundy, and they're neck and neck for me. I love Walker's build, stuff, stamina and ability to rise to meet his challenges. It wouldn't be damaging to return Walker to Double-A, where he would still be one of the younger players on the circuit, but Seattle has been aggressive so far, and I wouldn't be surprised if they challenged him with a promotion to Triple-A. He could see time in Seattle by season's end, but 2014 is a more likely target.

Mike Zunino (BBRef Statistics, Profile)

The third overall pick in the 2012 draft, Zunino was moved aggressively through Seattle's system, reaching as high as Double-A and even playing a stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he performed with aplomb. Zunino is more than the sum of his parts, as his scouting report won't blow anyone away. He has power, showing the ability to loft the ball without creating too much length in his swing. His arm is good, not great, and while he's a big target, he moves well for his size. He has an advanced approach at the plate, allowing him to wait for his pitch and drive it. His best attribute is likely his attitude, with off the charts makeup. Pitchers love throwing to Zunino and he is a natural leader, with a strong work ethic. He is the kind of player I love to own in fantasy, because if there are necessary adjustments, you never worry that he will work to make them. Zunino should start 2013 in Triple-A, but could easily be ready mid-season. Whether he makes that appearance depends on whether Seattle wants to start his service clock early, or hold off until 2014.

James Paxton (BBRef Statistics, Profile)

I wrote about Paxton in June (linked above) and since then he saw his control fail him, only to regather himself and finish solidly. With Paxton, his stuff is never in question, it's whether he can command it enough to make use of it. Some have felt he's better suited to being a reliever, be it because of his control, his stamina, or because his motion allows the batter to get a good look at the ball. With 110 strikeouts in 106 innings though, the Mariners are likely to let Paxton continue to take his lumps in the hopes he finds the magic key to consistent control, allowing him to reach his ceiling of number 2 starter. I think he settles in as something less than that, perhaps a 2 on a good day with some low 4s thrown in, averaging out to a 3/4 over the course of a season. He's someone to look out for if he ever figures it all out though.

Brad Miller (BBRef Statistics, Brief Profile)

Miller is one of the better prospects that people don't know about. He's never hit under .320 as a professional and has a career OPS of over 900 as a shortstop. That seems like someone who should get more attention. So what's the catch, right? The catch is that part of that production came in the California League (410 of 610 total at-bats, to be exact), which is known for it's hitter friendly environment. The 2011 second round pick continued raking upon his promotion to Double-A Jackson however, and has to be taken seriously. He has solid pop, and makes good contact, but he's also shown impressive patience, posting a BB% in the double digits in 2012. Miller isn't a lock to stay at short defensively, though he has the skills to do so. He did have 36 errors in 2012, and though they're not always an accurate measure of defensive competence, Miller has had a sketchy defensive profile dating back to his Clemson days. Miller does have some speed, swiping 23 bases in 30 tries. He's likely to be a major league player, be it at shortstop or elsewhere and is worth rostering in any dynasty league.

Others of Note

Brandon Maurer (BBRef Statistics)

I'll admit that Maurer snuck up on me as a prospect after throwing only 79.1 innings in 2011, with a 4.99 ERA to boot. This past season was a different story however, as Maurer made 24 starts, striking out 117 in 137.2 innings, and finishing with a 3.20 ERA. Maurer controls a four pitch mix, with a fastball in the mid 90s, a plus slider and a developing curve and change. He actually might be around the zone too much for his own good, as he doesn't give hitters the opportunity to get themselves out. He improved his conditioning in between 2011 and 2012 allowing for better health and the development of his pitches. Maurer looks like a mid-rotation workhorse at 6'5/200 lbs, and he could get there as soon as 2013 after beginning the year in Triple-A.

Stefen Romero (BBRef Statistics)

Romero is an odd case. He's a stout 6'3/255 lbs but the Mariners are trying to squeeze him in at second base. He's adequate there defensively...for now. He's 24 and unlikely to drop any weight, meaning he's likely to move down the defensive spectrum. He's also seen time at 3B, DH, and outfield in the Mariner organization. Thing is...he can really hit. Splitting time between the high octane environment of the California League and Double-A Jackson, Romero recorded a combined .352/.391/.599 slash line. He actually improved his slugging percentage after leaving the hitter friendly Cal League, though he projects as high as a 20 home run hitter at the major league level. He's a contact oriented batter who doesn't strike out, but doesn't walk much either. He's got great control of his swing, allowing for the high contact rates he thrives on, and he uses his strong wrists and hands to rope line drives all over the field. He's a hard worker who doesn't take plays off and works every at-bat. He's probably a better fit at 3B or in the outfield, though that puts even more pressure on his bat.

Leon Landry (BBRef Statistics)

Acquired in the trade that sent Brandon League to Los Angeles, Landry went crazy after switching teams but remaining in the Cal League, hitting .385/.414/.663 in 104 at-bats after the deal. Landry is a bit small at 5'11/185 lbs, but he has strong wrists that make him more than just a slap hitter. He won the Cal League batting title in 2012 while recording 65 extra base hits. He doesn't project to be a power hitter however, and playing in Double-A outside the friendly confines of the Cal League will allow us to see if Landry is really a prospect or not. Sticking in centerfield is a must for him as a move to a corner would be akin to a death knell given the lack of power in his bat. He does have some speed, though he's not a burner. We'll see how he handles Double-A in 2013.

Victor Sanchez (BBRef Statistics)

Sanchez belongs to the next wave of pitching talent in the Mariners organization, as everyone listed above has reached Double-A and Sanchez is waaaaay back in short season ball. He was the top arm in the 2011 international class, throwing in the low to mid 90s, with control, as well as change that features good fade. He throws both a curve and a slider, but might be better off picking one and going with it, as they are both slurvy. He's an intelligent pitcher and does a good job of keeping hitters off balance. He's pretty physically maxed out at 6'/255 lbs, so there isn't much left in the way of projection. He looks like a middle of the rotation starter. He's got a long way to and should start that journey in Lo-A next year.

Statistics and scouting info from Baseball America, Baseball Reference and FanGraphs

You can follow me at @cdgoldstein

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