Top 15 Prospects: Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners organization is loaded with high-ceiling pitching arms and could field one of the most potent pitching staffs in the game within the next two to three years. The club has done a great job of building an organizational strength that will thrive in its home environment. The front office spent time this past off-season answering questions about its future offense with the addition of Jesus Montero, one of the most potent bats in the minor leagues. The organization has some other interesting position players but a lot of them are raw and years away from helping out at the big league level.

1. Jesus Montero, C/DH
BORN: Nov. 28, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 5 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2006 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st (Yankees)

The Mariners organization acquired one of the top offensive prospects in baseball but it cost the organization dearly with pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos heading to the New York Yankees. The Mariners front office suggests that Montero will continue to catch, although the general consensus remains that he’ll move to first base or designated hitter sooner rather than later. The right-handed hitter made his MLB debut in 2011 and showed the ability to hit for both power and average despite the fact he didn’t turn 22 until this past November. Despite his youth, Montero already has five years of pro experience, as well as two full seasons in triple-A. He’s ready for prime time and could be the Mariners best hitter in 2012 – as a rookie. The home ball park could hamper his numbers a bit but the all-star potential could be there for years to come.

2. Danny Hultzen, LHP
BORN: Nov. 28, 1989
ACQUIRED: 2011 1st round (2nd overall), University of Virginia
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

Almost every single mock draft had Danny Hultzen heading to the Arizona Diamondbacks with the third pick of the 2011 draft. Seattle put an end to that speculation when it nabbed the southpaw with the second overall pick after Pittsburgh grabbed another college arm, Gerrit Cole, with the first overall selection. The U of Virginia alum signed too late to play during the regular season but he did pitch 19.1 innings in the Arizona Fall League. Hultzen looked good, posting a 2.79 FIP (1.40 ERA) with 18 strikeouts and just five walks. He doesn’t have “explosive stuff” but he’s extremely polished and has an above-average repertoire for a southpaw. His fastball sits in the low 90s and can touch 95-96 mph. He also has a potentially-plus changeup and a slider. With his strong debut the lefty could open 2012 in double-A, an aggressive assignment for sure but it would allow him to skip over the potent California League.

3. Taijuan Walker, RHP
BORN: Aug. 13, 1992
ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, California HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 4th

As a multi-sport star in high school, Walker was supposed to be a bit of a project when the organization signed him in 2010. The club has been fairly cautious with him so far but the right-hander may finally be ready to explode after a breakout ’11 season. Walker has a good chance at becoming one of the top pitching prospects in the minors in 2012 and could very well reach double-A if he continues to advance like he did last season. He spent all of ’11 in low-A ball and he posted a 2.70 FIP (2.89 ERA) in 96.2 innings. He overpowered more advanced hitters; his strikeout rate sat at 10.52 K/9 and he allowed just 6.42 hits per nine innings. Walker also does a nice job of inducing ground-ball outs. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and can touch the upper 90s. He also has a good curveball and changeup. He’ll face a stiff challenge when he opens 2012 in the California League (high-A ball) and he won’t turn 20 until August.

4. James Paxton, LHP
BORN: Nov. 6, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 2010 4th round, Independent baseball league
ACQUIRED: 1 season
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

The Blue Jays’ loss is the Mariners’ gain. When negotiations disintegrated between Toronto and its 2009 first round draft pick, Paxton headed off to pitch in an independent baseball league and re-entered the amateur draft in 2010. Due to an uneven performance, though, he slipped to the fourth round where he was an absolute steal for the organization. The Canadian native had an outstanding 2011 season while pitching in both low-A and double-A ball. At the higher level Paxton posted a strikeout rate of 11.77 K/9 with above-average ground ball numbers in 39.0 innings. He also made strides with his control, which can desert him at times. The southpaw has a solid pitcher’s frame and an above-average repertoire. His fastball ranges from 91-97 mph and he also a potentially-plus curveball and a solid changeup. He could return to double-A to open 2012 but may very well make his big league debut at some point during the coming season.

5. Nick Franklin, SS
BORN: March 2, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

Franklin opened a lot of eyes in 2010 when he unexpectedly slammed 23 home runs in 129 low-A ball games. His power dried up a bit during an injury-plagued ’11 season as he managed just five in 64 games while playing in the hitter-happy California League. His isolated power rate dropped from .205 in ’10 to .136 in ’11. Not a one-trick pony, Franklin isn’t afraid to use the whole field and should hit for a solid average at the MLB level. In the field, there are some concerns over his ability to stick at shortstop. A move to second base could cause a log jam in the organization with Dustin Ackley already entrenched there at the big league level. Franklin appeared in 21 games at the end of the season and then made up for some lost time with another 24 games in the Arizona Fall League. He should return to double-A to begin 2012 but could see triple-A before long.

6. Francisco Martinez, 3B
BORN: Sept. 1, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 international free agent (Detroit)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off (Tigers)

With apologies to Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi, the organization lacks a third baseman of the future and Martinez may be the club’s best hope. Acquired from Detroit during the 2011 trade that saw Doug Fister head to the Motor City, Martinez is still raw but has the chance to hit for both average and power, while also playing at least average defense. The 21 year old needs to curb his aggressiveness to realize his full potential but he held his own at double-a in ’11 while playing against competition three to four years older on average. Martinez could eventually hit 20-25 home runs at the big league level. He still makes a lot of youthful mistakes on defense but he has the athleticism and arm strength needed to excel at the position. He should move up to triple-A to begin the 2012 season.

7. Phillips Castillo, OF
BORN: Feb. 2, 1994
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Castillo was one of the top players nabbed during the international signing period in 2010. Just 17 years old in 2011 he had an outstanding pro debut by hitting more than .300 thanks to a .446 BABIP. He’s going to have to trim his strikeouts (31.4 K%) if he’s going to succeed at higher levels – but his 7.7 BB% was encouraging. Castillo has an athletic frame and a repeatable swing that could produce above-average power as he matures. Defensively, he profiles as a corner outfielder; his average range and decent arm will likely play best in left field. Castillo is still raw and will spend another year in extended spring training before moving up to another short-season squad.

8. Chance Ruffin, RHP
BORN: Sept. 8, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, U of Texas (by Detroit)
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 6th (Tigers)

Another part of the 2011 Doug Fister trade with Detroit, Ruffin is an (almost) big-league-ready reliever. The right-hander opened his pro career in double-A for Detroit. He pitched 34 innings with a 2.94 FIP before moving up to triple-A for another 14.2 innings. He also pitched 17.2 big league innings with both Detroit and Seattle, posting a 5.46 FIP (4.08 ERA). Ruffin struggled in the Majors because of inconsistent control and poor command, which led to too many pitches up in the zone. His repertoire includes a 90-95 mph fastball, plus slider and show-me curveball. He probably needs a little more polish and might benefit from some more time in triple-A before settling in as a high leverage reliever at the big league level.

9. Martin Peguero, SS
BORN: Nov. 3, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Peguero gets mixed reviews in part because of the questions surrounding his eventual defensive home. He’s considered average-at-best in most defensive categories, including range and arm strength. As a result he could eventually end up at second base, adding to the club’s backlog at the position. On offense he looked solid in his debut although he’s overly aggressive, which is not unusual for such a young, inexperienced hitter. On the plus side he makes a lot of contact, as witnessed by his 12.5% strikeout rate. Although Peguero doesn’t have much present power, he has the potential to develop good gap pop once he learns to use his lower half more often. He’ll definitely spend another year in extended spring training and Rookie ball.

10. Vinnie Catricala, 3B/OF
BORN: Oct. 31, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 3 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 10th round, University of Hawaii
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Catricala represented the best in-house threat to Francisco Martinez as the organization’s third baseman of the future, but the organization will have him focus on learning left field for the time being. A former 10th round pick, Catricala has come a long way to turn himself into a legitimate prospect. He’s hit everywhere that he’s played. He proved that his early 2011 numbers where not a fluke created by his environment when he actually improved after being promoted from the California League (high-A) to the Southern League (double-A). His wRC+ jumped from an already impressive 153 to 184. His bat speed helps him generate good power while his approach and his solid approach at the plate suggests he could hit for a high average at the big league level. His glove is his biggest weakness. Catricala probably wouldn’t stick at third base even if Martinez was not in the system and the presence of big leaguer Justin Smoak at first base crosses off the prospect’s best option. That leaves left field as his best option for playing time so hopefully the conversion will go smoothly.

The Next Five

11. Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP: Wilhelmsen has made an impressive comeback from what was effectively a retirement from professional baseball. The former top pitching prospect still flashes outstanding stuff out of the bullpen with a 91-95 mph fastball and potentially-plus curveball. With 33 big league innings in 2011, Wilhelmsen could open ’12 in the Majors although the organization has brought in a number of veteran relievers that could push him to triple-A.

12. Guillermo Pimentel, OF: Another top international signee, Pimentel has shown outstanding left-handed power potential during his two pro seasons but he also struggles to make consistent contact and needs to trim his strikeout rates, which have averaged just below 30% so far. He’s a below-average fielder who will likely play left field if he reaches the Majors so the majority of his value is tied up in his ability to hit.

13. Erasmo Ramirez, RHP: Ramirez doesn’t blow hitters away but he has plus control and a true out-pitch in his changeup. He also features an 87-91 mph fastball and curveball. He spent some time at triple-A and should return there in 2012. Ramirez could be one of the first pitchers recalled if/when injuries occur. He has the ceiling of a No. 4 starter.

14. Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF: Chiang learned to control his diabetes better in 2011 and the result was dramatic. The 23-year-old outfielder (who began his career as a second baseman) posted a wRC+ of 185 in his second go-around at the double-A level (He posted a wRC+ of 99 in ’10). At worst, Chiang could be a solid fourth outfielder with good line-drive pop and solid defensive skills. He’ll move up to triple-A in 2012.

15. Brad Miller, SS: Miller possesses a number of desirable baseball skills, which led to him getting popped in the second round of the 2011 draft. A college shortstop, he’ll likely move to second base as a pro but could also top out as a big league utility player if he cannot iron out his hitting mechanics, which could be an issue at higher levels. He hit very well in a small-sample size at low-A ball in 2011 and should open 2012 in high-A ball.

SLEEPER ALERT: Carter Capps, RHP: The right-hander is a little more raw than you would expect from an average college-groomed pitcher but Capps has not been pitching that long. He has a strong frame and an explosive fastball that can touch 95-96 mph. He also showcases an impressive slider. He has a curveball and changeup too but probably won’t need either if he sticks in the bullpen.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

36 Responses to “Top 15 Prospects: Seattle Mariners”

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  1. Brendan says:

    As a Jays fan, it does hurt to see Paxton got snapped up by the Mariners. I remember the negotiations being really difficult. At least the Jays got Noah Syndegaard with the pick for failing to sign him.

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  2. J-Dog says:

    On the last sentence for 12 Guillermo Pimentel, did you intend to say that Pimentel is a below average fielder (instead of hitter)?

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  3. Rip it says:

    Is that right that Montero and Hultzen have the exact same birth date?

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  4. Gus says:

    You know, I understand that Liddi has real holes in his swing and some problems with pitch recognition, but he’s shown he has good to great power to all fields, and is not an embarrassment at third (read: “improvements were made”). He’s also not that old, yet people seem to have grown tired of him. I find it odd that a player like Martin Peguero, who has shown very little, gets more love than a player who has made improvements as he has moved through the system and fills a position of real need in the org.

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    • Marc Hulet says:

      It’s personal preference… I’m not on the Liddi bandwagon, obviously, and I like the video I’ve seen on Peguero (along with the scout report) so I went with the high ceiling guy…

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  5. Andrew says:

    Where would you have ranked Jose Campos if he were still with the Mariners? I imagine right before or after Francisco Martinez?

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  6. yosoyfiesta says:

    Clearly, in Montero’s write-up, you meant that he could be Seattle’s best offensive weapon in 2012.

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  7. GTUTV says:

    What is the outlook on Forrest Snow? He moved up a number of levels within the organization in 2011 and had an impressive showing in the AFL, but I rarely see his name mentioned amongst M’s prospects.

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    • CSJ says:

      Snow forecast: Light to moderate, appearing quickly, most likely in the early evening but tapering off late.

      (quick mover, middle reliever ceiling)

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  8. Aesop says:

    Catricala’s line in his first attempt AA was .347/.420/.632 as a 22 year old, and he’s proven that he’s been able to hit at every level he’s been at, and despite not being a good defender his ranking seems a bit low. And also no Liddi mention at all? As a 23 year in his first go around at AAA he hit 30 HRs with a .229 ISO and a walk rate nearing 10% with improving defense, and in 2009 it .345/.411/.594 (in a hitter’s league I know but those are still great numbers). Is his K rate really high enough to completely write him off?

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    • Marc Hulet says:

      With Liddi I don’t think he’ll stick at third base – at least as a regular. And his strikeout rates suggest he won’t hit for average at the big league level and he hasn’t made any strides making better contact… The only time he really hit for average in the minors was during his stint in the Cal League and everyone hits for average there…

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      • gus says:

        Thanks for the writeup and replies. I don’t want to belabor this- and I know it’s damning with faint praise- but I think Liddi represents a viable in-house alternative to Mark Reynolds (a short-term solution suggested by Dave Cameron at USSM). One other question: I wonder if you could comment on James Jones (shiny after a few nice at-bats in Australia) and his demise as a prospect? It seems Nick Franklin was given a mulligan for a marginal 2011 and Jones was not, though both remain potential impact players. Would a good showing at Jackson-Tacoma this year vault him up the depth charts quickly?

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  9. subtle says:

    There is no doubt in my mind that Walker will be a better pitcher than Hultzen when he hits his prime. I guess you can move Hultzen slightly ahead due to the fact that he’s less of a risk, but he doesn’t flash anything close to what Walker has shown us. Walker is one sexy pitching prospect.

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  10. Nic says:

    The M’s top-5 prospects are as good as any team in the league. Nice writeup, Marc.

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  11. Alex says:

    Anyone know what ever happened to Carlos Triunfel?

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  12. Rehtul says:

    Where would you have Trayvon if he still qualified as a prospect? And any thoughts?

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  13. Stuart says:

    I hope Ruffin shows up and really surprises me, otherwise I just really don’t understand his high placement on so many lists. Sure there’s potential there, but I just can’t see how he could be a more valuable player than guys like Catricala and Erasmo Ramirez. The description of his abilities doesn’t impress. What am I missing?

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  14. Let's not kid ourselves says:

    Anyone know what happened to Adam Moore?

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    • gus says:

      He’s healthy again, supposedly. He played in the Arizona Fall League and reportedly grew more comfortable as that short season went on, though he hit only .259 in total. In short, he’s apparently healthy and fit but the org is going to “make him play his way into a spot” (read: be ready to fill in for an injured/traded Miguel Olivo). He’ll be splitting time with Ralph Henriquez (and possibly Jesus Sucre) at Tacoma to start the year.

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  15. Chuck Warner says:

    As I type this, Im scratching my head a little, literally. Why would the M’s have to include a high ceiling minor leaguer (Jose Campos) WITH an All-Star, Cy Young caliber pitcher in Pineda?

    It seems that Montero, who could be a bat with NO TRUE position, for Pineda would have been more than fair. Why would Jack Z throw in a high upside, power pitcher in Campos? Is it because of the other pitcher Seattle got, Noesi, is already major league ready? Did the M’s get fleeced a bit because Jack knew they weren’t going to get Prince Fielder-so he HAD to make a move to add a bat to appease the fans? Trades out of desperation rarely pan out.

    Great write up, by the way. Thanks.

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    • fwbrodie says:

      I think it comes down to the simple fact that bats have been much harder to come by for Jack Zduriencik, while the organization has become somewhat of a pitching factory. A guy who’s going to be hitting everyday with enough RH power to succeed at Safeco, vs. a starter with some injury history. You could understand why Zduriencik felt better about the deal than Cashman (the deal being Montero for Pineda) and was willing to include more. Also, Noesi fills the vacant big league rotation spot. Makes sense to me.

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      • Adam B. says:

        I think a lot of people are discounting Noesi’s value.
        As a plethora of “Twins style” pitchers have shown, his skill set could lead to a very solid #4 type pitcher.

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      • Ryan says:

        If it is so much harder to get great pitchers than hitters, then why did he take Hulzen over Rendon last June? I think it was just a matter of a trade that made sense for both teams based on their respective current roster constructions.

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  16. Manny Mejia says:

    I like the chances of Erasmo Ramirez, he is been a winner since since his first year in the marineers organization…progresing in every season he has played..

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  17. John says:

    “(Danny Hultzen) doesn’t have “explosive stuff” but he’s extremely polished and has an above-average repertoire for a southpaw”

    You may need to check your scouting scale. A FB that sits 92-94, and “also has a potentially-plus changeup and a slider”, sounds like “explosive stuff” to me. Let’s see….a 6 FB, 6 SL and 6 CH to go along with 6 command and 6 to 7 pitchability…..hmmmm…name me the LHP’s in the big leagues right now that have that stuff?

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    • Marc Hulet says:

      When I wrote that I knew someone would comment about it… what I meant by the comment was that he’s not a guy that just pumps fastballs in at 100 mph and gets by with glove-popping velocity. Yes, his stuff is above-average and flashes plus.

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