The M’s have one of the best farm systems in the league. Jack and company have done a tremendous job of stocking the farm system with tons of young talent. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a great success rate with the recent young prospects that have made their way to the minors. And while some of those guys were brought up in another system, it still might suggest that there is a problem with player development at the higher levels. But that’s a bridge we will cross when we get there. For now, let’s enjoy the immensely talented farm that Seattle boasts, while I rank said players into my own personal top 10 for the upcoming season.
1) Mike Zunino, 21, C
2012 stats: .360/.447/.689 — .484 wOBA — 216 wRC+ — 13 HR in 44 games
I am a huge fan of Zunino and think he is going to be a big time player in this league. By most accounts he is already above average defensively, and from what we saw last year, pretty darn good with the stick too. If he continues to develop, there’s a chance we see him this year. If all goes well, we could be looking at a .290/.360/.480 type of player at a very defensive minded position.
2) Taijuan Walker, 20, RHP
2012 stats: 4.69 ERA — 4.04 FIP — 8.39 K/9 — 3.55 BB/9 — 0.85 HR/9 — 126.2 IP
Walker has all the upside in the world, and the makings of a future top of the rotation pitcher. He would have been my #1, but he had an underwhelming season last year, as seen in the stats above. But due to his age and past performance (2.89 ERA, 2.70 FIP in A ball last year) I am not worried at all about Walker. I look forward to having him behind Felix for years to come, and am happy that Upton nixed the deal and that Walker is still here. If he bounces back and doesn’t flame out, I think we are looking at #2, maybe even #1 caliber pitcher in the future.
3) Danny Hultzen, 23, LHP
2012 stats: AA: 1.19 ERA — 2.84 FIP — 9.44 K/9 — 3.82 BB/9 — 0.24 HR/9 — 75 IP
AAA: 5.92 ERA — 4.29 FIP — 10.54 K/9 — 7.95 BB/9 — 0.37 HR/9 — 48.2 IP
Hultzen, while lacking the upside of Walker, looks like he should be a very solid pitcher at the major league level. He was dominant in AA last year, before moving up to AAA and having some control problems. I think the control issues were mainly due to fatigue, since Hultzen had never pitched that much in one year. He was still striking guys out in bunches, and not giving up too many homers. I think he is a very safe bet to be a great #3 or good #2 pitcher in the MLB.
4) James Paxton, 24, LHP
2012 stats: 3.05 ERA — 3.29 FIP — 9.31 K/9 — 4.57 BB/9 — 0.42 HR/9 — 106.1 IP
Paxton is the oldest and least talked about of the top M’s pitching prospects, but he may be one of the more talented. He brings crazy heat for a lefty (95+), and features a dirty hook. Those are both great things to build a career on. What’s holding him back is his control issues, and lack of a solid third offering. He has a career 4.30 BB/9 in the minors, which FanGraphs says in between below average and poor. As for the third pitch, according to ProjectProspect, “Paxton has a changeup. That’s about the extent of the pitches merits.” Looks as though he will need to improve his third pitch to find success. If he does that, he could be a solid #3 starter in the bigs. If not, we should still see a good lefty reliever.
5) Brad Miller, 23, SS
2012 stats: A: .337/.409/.522 — .406 wOBA — 142 wRC+ — 11 HR in 97 games
AA: .320/.406/.476 — .407 wOBA — 151 wRC+ — 4 HR in 40 games
This rank might come as a surprise to some people, as most think Nick Franklin is the superior player. But I personally think Miller is the better prospect. He played great in his first full year split between A and AA. Although brief, his time in AA showed me that he wasn’t merely a High Desert mirage. He is an on-base machine, and that’s the kind of thing that tends to stick around. Of course there’s always a chance that he doesn’t reproduce those numbers. But for some reason, I still think he will be superior to Franklin. Both have concerns about their defense, but Miller’s seem to be rooted in his hands, as opposed to his physical limitations like Franklin. Reports say Miller will occasionally boot the easy grounders, but has good range and a solid arm. The big knock on him is his age, as he is already 23 and only going into his 2nd season, which is a year older than Franklin. Sometimes you see older guys taking advantage of younger competition, but I think Miller is for real, and that he can be a .280/.345/.450 guy at shortstop for the M’s in the not too distant future.
6) Nick Franklin, 21, SS/2B
2012 stats: AA: .322/.394/.502 — .408 wOBA — 151 wRC+ — 4 HR in 57 games
AAA: .240/.306/.412 – .317 wOBA — 83 wRC+ — 7 HR in 64 games
Franklin is lower on my list than most, and that’s mainly due to a couple things. One, I think Miller is better, thus Franklin goes behind him. And two, I am losing faith in his ability to play short stop. He is beginning to see more and more time at 2nd, and spent most of his time there in the AFL. Unlike Miller, his defensive problems seem to stem from his lack of range and things of that nature. Those are more likely to force a move from short than having slightly clunky hands. It is also much harder to improve physical limitations like that than mechanical issues. Don’t get me wrong, Franklin should be a solid player in the bigs. I just worry that his future is as a decent to good second baseman, rather than a good to great short stop. He should have a solid bat, but a solid bat at shortstop is a lot more valuable than it is at 2nd. Nonetheless, if he starts hitting again, we, or a team we trade him to, could be looking at a .280/.340/.440 middle infielder.
7) Brandon Maurer, 22, RHP
2012 stats: 3.20 ERA — 3.05 FIP — 7.65 K/9 — 3.14 BB/9 — 0.26 HR/9 — 137.2 IP
Maurer (pronounced like Joe Mauer) had a breakout season last year at Double-A Jackson after being fairly average before that. Maurer has a solid pitchers body at 6’5″, 200 pounds, which is always a plus. From what I have seen he has solid, but not overpowering stuff like you might expect from someone his size. Most reports have him around 92-94, and topping out at about 96, with three other offerings- curve, change and slider. The curve seems to be the best of them, followed by the slider and then the change. But all seem to be at least average, which is a very good sign. Secondary pitchers are usually what holds young pitchers back. Having 3, or even better 4, useful pitches is the difference between a talented guy who never made it, and a guy with a major-league future. And if all that isn’t enough, Maurer had a 2.40 ERA over his last ten starts. If he can build on that out of the gate next year and prove he is for real, yo may be able to add another #3, or even #2 starter to the list. Right now, he looks like at least a #4, and could soften the blow if one of the Big 3 are moved.
8) Stefen Romero, 24, 2B/3B
2012 stats: A+: .357/.391/.581 — .415 wOBA — 147 wRC+ — 11 HR
AA: .347/.392/.620 — .449 wOBA — 179 wRC+ — 12 HR
Romero continued his trend of exceeding expectations last year, and won Mariner’s Minor League Player of the Year. Very few people expected him to hit as well as he has, seeing as he was a 12th rounder out of Oregon State, but he has proven all of them wrong. Much like Miller, he hit better in AA than he did in A+, proving that he wasn’t just a High Desert mirage. Most reports say he has solid range at 2nd base, which is surprising from a guy who is 6’3″ 225 pounds. He has also seen time at third, and in the outfield, where I think he will be long term. He probably wouldn’t be more than average at 2nd anyway, but even so, he is blocked by Ackley, and Franklin/Miller. He is also blocked at third by Kyle Seager. That, combined with the fact that this organization has a lot of depth at those spots, tells me Romero should be moved to a corner outfield spot. As of now, his bat fits just fine, and the organization lacks a reliable outfield prospect. Also like Miller, he was old for his level, which can skew the numbers, and presents a chance that he becomes the next Vinnie Catricala. But, I talked to Seattle Clubhouse’s Rick Randall, and he said that Romero has better bat speed, and he isn’t worried about him flaming out, so I will take his word for it. If Romero moves to the outfield, and continues to hit the way he has been this year in AAA, we could be looking at the M’s future left fielder, and a .280/.340/.480 line year in and year out. Needless to say, I am a big fan of Romero as well, and wish I could have put him higher on the list. Just goes to show you how deep this system is.
9) Victor Sanchez, 18, RHP
2012 stats: 3.18 ERA — 3.65 FIP — 7.31 K/9 — 2.86 BB/9 — 0.53 HR/9 — 85 IP
Sanchez was signed out of Venezuela in 2011 at 16 years old, and had his first taste of pro ball last year at 17. He made 15 starts in Everett, and had a solid year. He is listed at about 6’0″ and 250 pounds, which is massive for someone so young. There are positives and negatives about his size. Its good because he is built well, which should make for durability and strength. The downside is that it doesn’t leave a lot of room for growth. There aren’t a ton of reports on him yet as he has only played one year here, and it was in short-season A ball. But from what I have seen, he has a low 90′s fastball and a slider as his go to pitches. You would want/expect someone so big to throw a little harder, and I am sure he will eventually. He may never be a mid-upper 90′s guy, but hopefully he can get it up to the lower-mid 90′s. At this point it is a wait and see situation with him, but he has already had more success than most international signings do, and that’s a good sign .
10) Carter Capps, 22, RHP
2012 MLB stats: 3.96 ERA — 2.17 FIP — 3.47 xFIP — 10.08 K/9 — 3.96 BB/9 — 25 IP
Capps is a hard throwing reliever who was able to fly through both AA and AAA last year, and make 18 appearances for the big club last year. He can hit triple digits on occasion, and is consistently in the high 90′s. He also throws a harder breaking ball, either a slider or a cutter. He was drafted as a starter, but it looks like he will be a back-of-the-pen guy going forward, and that’s probably where he best fits. He put up solid numbers in the minors also, including a 1.29 ERA and 1.63 FIP in AA last year. Capps looks like he should be a reliable bullpen arm for the future, and will probably be a set-up guy for Tom Wilhelmsen this year. If his secondary pitches develop, he should be able to be a closer in the future.
Stephen Pryor, 23, RHP
Gabriel Guerrero, 19, OF
Patrick Kivlehan, 23, 3B
Leon Landry, 23, OF
Tyler Pike, 19, LHP
Well, there you have it. Whether you agree with my list or not, its obvious that this is one of the best systems in the league, and should make for a good future in Seattle.