The Mariners farm system is thought by many to be one of the top systems in the league. Before the 2012 season, they were rated 4th by John Sickels, 7th by Baseball Prosectus and 11th by Keith Law. I would say that those rankings held true during the year, as for every top guy that struggled, there was a lesser player who broke out. I am going to highlight the top 5 guys, as well as a few who played either much better or worse than expected, and give them a grade based on improvement, level and overall performance.
Jesus Montero, C, Preseason Rank: 1
Obviously, Jesus has been up with the big club all year, and has gotten some mixed reactions. He hasn’t played the the star he is/was supposed to be, but it is his first full year, and he is 22 years old. To this point, he has hit .264, with a .300 wOBA, 15 HR, 91 wRC+ and a 0 WAR. Although it is underwhelming at first glance, you have to realize that he is a catcher, and that is generally defensive-minded position. If he had enough ABs as a catcher to qualify, he would be 10th in OPS among catchers. Was I hoping for more? Of course, but I still think he has done a fair job as a rookie catcher, hitting right handed at Safeco. He needs to start using the “oppo” power we heard about, as so far only 3 of his 15 home runs are not to left or left-center. The good thing is, when he hits a homer, he hits a homer. I expect big improvements next year, and it’s hard to predict, but I look for him to put up numbers around a .275 average, .320 wOBA, 22-25 HR and 115 wRC+.
Season Grade: B-
Taijuan Walker, RHP, Preseason Rank 2:
Taijuan Walker is a future top-of-the-rotation starter. Not as a Mariner as long as Felix is here, but he has all the makings of an ace. While he struggled this year, posting a 4.69 ERA and 4.04 FIP, he was elite last year with a 2.70 FIP. That’s not what we are talking about though. All the rest of his stats were down this year as well, and he did not perform well overall in AA. He started off really strong, with an ERA in the twos, but he has some rough starts to end the year. He could benefit from staying in AA to start next year, and he may not be up with the big club as soon as some expected. Even after his disappointing season, I still think he will become a number 2 starter in the future, and will fit in well behind Felix for a long time.
Season Grade: C-
Danny Hultzen, LHP, Preseason Rank: 3
Hultzen’s 2012 didn’t go as expected. He was the #2 overall pick in 2011, and after a great performance in the Arizona Fall League, most expected he would see the majors this year. Some even thought he had a chance to win a rotation job out of Spring Training. That did not happen, and he started the year in AA, where he dominated. In 13 starts (75 1/3 IP) he posted an astounding 1.19 ERA, 2.84 FI, 84.1 LOB% and 9.44 K/9. Those numbers earned him a spot in the Futures Game, as well as a call up to AAA. Since the call up however, Hultzen’s did a full 180. In his 12 starts (only 48 IP) for Tacoma, Danny was awful, as seen in his 5.92 ERA and sky-high 7.95 BB/9. Those walks are really what killed him, as his 4.29 FIP is not nearly as bad as you would expect. He also struck out an insane 10.54 batters through 9. Those two stats, along with how he has performed in the past, are the reasons that I still believe that Hultzen will become a #2 type starter in the future, maybe as soon as late next season. My grade may seem a little high, but because he was so good in AA, I think he deserves it.
Season Grade: C+
James Paxton, LHP, Preseason Rank: 4
Paxton joined the other 2/3 of the “Big Three” in AA to start the year, and despite being overshadowed by them, he was the most consistent, and arguably had the best year of the three. In 21 AA starts this year, Paxton was solid across the board with a 3.05 ERA, 3.29 FIP and 9.31 K/9. He has also struggled with control, and this year was no exception, as seen in his 4.57 BB/9. However, because he is able to pitch well despite the control problems, it doesn’t worry me as much as Hultzen. Walks are expected from Paxton, whereas Hultzen was/is supposed to be a strike thrower. If James can keep his walks in check, at least to a certain degree, he could be another #2-3 starter-type for the Ms in the future. Imagine a 2014 rotation of Felix, Walker, Hultzen, Paxton and Iwakuma/Vargas/Ramirez. If all 3 of the young guys pitch as well as we expect them too, we have three top-of-the-rotation starters behind Felix.
Season Grade: B+
Nick Franklin, SS, Preseason Rank: 5
Franklin had another solid season this year, splitting time between AA and AAA. He crushed the ball in Jackson, hitting .322 with a crazy .413 wOBA, and 155 wRC+. He had only 4 homers in AA, and I don’t think we will see him hit 23 again like he did in 2010. Franklin was called up to AAA after 57 games, and did not play quite as well there. In 64 games he put up a .240 average, .315 wOBA, 7 HR and a very low 82 wRC+. He had good year overall, and should improve his AAA numbers next year. I think we will see Franklin in Seattle at some point next year. It just depends on how well he hits, and If it is enough to take time away from defensive wizard Brendan Ryan. I think he will become a .275, 12 HR, 20 SB type player in the bigs, which would be great production from a SS, should he stick there defensively.
Season Grade: B+
Vinnie Catricala, 3B/OF, Preseason Rank: 6
After exploding last year for a .349 average, .449 wOBA, 169 wRC+ and 25 homers combined between A+ and AA, “V-Cat” has had an underwhelming year in AAA. It seems as though these Tacoma struggles are becoming a pattern among our prospects, as V-Cat hit just .229 with a .289 wOBA, 10 HR and 65 wRC+ this year. That is a massive drop-off from 2011, and it was a big surprise to me. He hit better in Jackson than in High Desert, where everyone hits well, so I thought he was for real. He still could be, but I have some doubt after his horrible season. He has well below-average defense, and may end up at DH long term. That creates even more pressure on him to hit well, as he brings next to nothing defensively. He has the talent to become a solid contact and power hitter (.275 avg, 20 HR), we will just have to wait and see if he puts it all together again next year.
Season Grade: C-
Brad Miller, SS, Preseason Rank: 10
Despite Miller being unorthodox to say the least, he knows how to hit. He reminds me of Craig Counsell, but better. He split the year between A+ and AA this year, and crushed the ball in both places, with a combined .326 average, .409 wOBA, 15 HR and 147 wRC+. That proved he wasn’t a High Desert mirage, and made me believe he has a chance to be a very good player in the future. And why not, he was drafted in the 2nd round in 2011, but he isn’t talked about much. His defense is questionable, and he may end up at 2nd or 3rd in the future, but it doesn’t really matter if he keeps hitting like he did this year. We could have a logjam at 2nd/3rd in the next couple years with Ackley, Seager, Miller, Stefen Romero and Steven Proscia. All in all, Miller put together a great year, and most likely bumped himself up the prospect list for next year.
Season Grade: A-
Stefen Romero, 3B, Preseason Rank: 17
Romero is my pick for Mariner’s Minor League Player of the Year in 2012. He hit well in High Desert to start the year (as everyone does), but much like Miller, he continued that in AA with a .347 average, .447 wOBA, 12 HR and 178 wRC+. Add that to his almost equally as dominant numbers in A+, and you get a combined .352 average, .432 wOBA, 23 homers and 163 wRC+ in 116 games. He is looking like this year’s V-Cat, and is a similar player in many ways. Both right-handed, both play 3B and OF and they were both drafted fairly late in their respective drafts (Romero 12th round, Catricala 10th round). Let’s hope Romero fares better next year than V-Cat did this year. Romero’s future is hard to judge because he isn’t very “toolsy”, but he has hit everywhere he has been, and will most likely jump into the Mariner’s top 10 prospects next year. If he ends up making it, and not fizzling out at AAA, he has a similar projection as Catricala, around a .270 average and 18-20 HR.
Season Grade: A
Seattle’s farm system will most likely have a similar rank as it did this year, with some guys moving up, and others moving down. The future looks bright in Seattle, and we have enough depth to make a trade for a bat, while still keeping some solid young guys in the mix for the future.