2012 Seattle Mariners Top 10 Prospects With Scouting Reports




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Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2011.

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Seattle Mariners

At first glance, the Mariners' 2011 season wasn't much better than the year before, which was arguably the worst in franchise history. They finished 67-95, the third-worst record in baseball, had a 17-game losing streak and wound up in the American League West cellar for the sixth time in eight years. Not coincidentally, the team drew fewer than 2 million fans for the first time in a full season since 1992.

Seattle's leadership believes things are moving in the right direction, though. After bottoming out in 2010, the major league team showed enough promising signs last year that GM Jack Zduriencik earned a contract extension before his third season at the helm had ended.

Former GM Bill Bavasi left the Mariners saddled with bad contracts and a gutted farm system. Zduriencik has preached rebuilding through player development, and he has stayed true to the plan despite the pain involved. For all that went wrong in 2011, a major league-high 18 rookies did appear in Seattle.

The most notable were Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda. In just his second pro season, Ackley took over at second base and hit .273/.348/.417. Pineda led all rookies with 173 strikeouts in 171 innings.

The rookie parade also featured intriguing storylines. Tom Wilhelmsen made it to the big leagues after quitting baseball in 2005 and taking four years off, spending time as a bartender and traveling. Steve Delabar worked as a substitute teacher after the Padres released him in 2008, then worked out for the Mariners in April, signed a minor league contract and reached Seattle in September. Alex Liddi became the first player born and raised in Italy to play in the majors.

The Mariners reaped benefits from their deals at the trade deadline, when they were among the most aggressive sellers in the game. They added big leaguers Casper Wells and Charlie Furbush and a pair of quality prospects in third baseman Francisco Martinez and righthander Chance Ruffin when they shipped Doug Fister and David Pauley to the Tigers. Seattle also landed major league outfielder Trayvon Robinson from the Dodgers and outfielder Chih-Hsien Chiang from the Red Sox in a three-way deal that sent Erik Bedard and former first-round pick Josh Fields to Boston.

The strength of the system now clearly lies with its pitching, a fact that became even more pronounced when Seattle used the No. 2 overall pick in the draft on polished lefthander Danny Hultzen. In November, the Mariners hired Padres director of player personnel Chris Gwynn as farm director. Replacing Pedro Grifol, who now will manage the club's high Class A High Desert affiliate, Gwynn will oversee the development of Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Co.

Seattle's pitching riches allowed it to make a blockbuster deal to upgrade its woeful offense in January. The Mariners sent Pineda and hard-throwing 19-year-old righthander Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. Montero immediately becomes the most dangerous hitter in Seattle's lineup, though it remains to be seen if he can remain a catcher.

1. Jesus Montero, c Born: Nov. 28, 1989 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 235
Signed: Venezuela, 2006. Signed by: Carlos Rios/Ricardo Finol (Yankees).
Jesus MonteroBackground: Montero should be able to handle the pressure of getting traded for Michael Pineda and the expectations that he can jump-start the Mariners offense, because few prospects have received such scrutiny in the minor leagues. It started as soon as the Yankees signed Montero out of Venezuela in 2006 for $2 million. His bonus later was reduced to $1.65 million, and the scout who signed him, Carlos Rios, was eventually fired for receiving kickbacks on international deals. Montero rifled through the lower levels of the minor leagues and spent just 44 games in Double-A before spending the last two seasons in Triple-A. Scouts thought he looked bored in 2011 before his first callup to the majors. Looking to upgrade their pitching, the Yankees sent Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Pineda and righthander Jose Campos.

Scouting Report: One of the more accomplished righthanded hitting prospects to come around in years, Montero hit .308/.366/.501 in five minor league seasons. He combines hand-eye coordination with an innate ability to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. He can square up pitches all over the strike zone, and while he's not a walk machine, he has gained a better feel for the strike zone with experience. Montero's front-foot swing isn't for everyone, but his tremendous strength makes it work and he projects to hit .290-.300 with well above-average power in the big leagues. His natural swing path produces excellent pop to the opposite field, and he should be able to hit homers even in cavernous Safeco Field, which is especially tough on righty sluggers. No organization has produced offensive catchers like the Yankees with Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada. Club officials admit they prioritize hitting ability in their catchers more than most organizations and Montero fit New York's profile—though most scouts from other organizations continue to question whether he can stay behind the plate. The Mariners have faith that he will, but Montero will have to continue to work hard to overcome his huge frame. He'll never grade as better than below average as a receiver, though his offensive production may make his defense palatable. He cut his passed balls from 15 in 2010 to seven last season, when his .997 fielding percentage led International League backstops. Despite solid arm strength, he threw out just 21 percent of the 93 basestealers who tested him in 2011. His long throwing stroke costs him consistency and accuracy. He's a well below-average runner who's prone to hitting into double plays.

The Future: According to the Yankees, Montero ended the season at 13 percent body fat, a sign he's ready for the grind of the big leagues physically. His righthanded power is needed in a Seattle lineup that hasn't gotten a 20-homer season from a righty since Jose Lopez three years ago. Montero is ready to catch 50 or so games a year while also getting regular at-bats at DH. If the Mariners need him to catch more than that—which they may not with Miguel Olivo and John Jaso on hand—Montero's defense probably would be too much of a liability.

Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'07 Yankees (R) 107 13 30 6 0 3 19 12 18 0 0 .280 .366 .421
'08 Charleston, SC (LoA) 525 86 171 34 1 17 87 37 83 2 1 .326 .376 .491
'09 Tampa (HiA) 180 26 64 15 1 8 37 14 26 0 0 .356 .406 .583
'09 Trenton (AA) 167 19 53 10 0 9 33 14 21 0 0 .317 .370 .539
'10 Scranton/W-B (AAA) 453 66 131 34 3 21 75 46 91 0 0 .289 .353 .517
'11 Scranton/W-B (AAA) 420 52 121 19 1 18 67 36 98 0 0 .288 .348 .467
'11 New York (MAJ) 61 9 20 4 0 4 12 7 17 0 0 .328 .406 .590
Major League Totals 61 9 20 4 0 4 12 7 17 0 0 .328 .406 .590
Minor League Totals 1852 262 570 118 6 76 318 159 337 2 1 .308 .366 .501

2. Taijuan Walker, rhp Born: Aug. 13, 1992 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 195
Drafted: Yucaipa (Calif.) HS, 2010 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: John Ramey
Taijuan WalkerBackground:  More of a basketball player in high school, Walker went 43rd overall in the 2010 draft and signed for $800,000. In his first full pro season, the Mariners held him in extended spring until May and shut him down when he approached 100 innings in August. In between, he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the low Class A Midwest League and was named Seattle's minor league pitcher of the year.

Scouting Report:
  Walker is long and loose with strong legs, square shoulders and room for projection remaining. He gets sharp downhill plane on an electric fastball that sits at 91-95 mph and tops out at 98. He didn't throw a curveball when the Mariners signed him, but they got him to scrap his slider and now he has a low-80s hammer with sharp 12-to-6 break. Walker has a circle change that grades as average and gives him a chance for a third plus offering. His command and control still need some polish but are more advanced than expected.

The Future:
  Seattle may take things slow with Walker, who will be 19 for most of the 2012 season. He may open the year at high Class A High Desert, though some club officials want to send him straight to Double-A Jackson. He profiles as a potential ace and could be in the big leagues by the end of 2013.
 
Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'10 Mariners (R) 1 1 1.29 4 0 0 7 2 3 1 0 3 9 .087
'11 Clinton (LoA) 6 5 2.89 18 18 0 97 69 33 31 4 39 113 .192
Minor League Totals 7 6 2.77 22 18 0 104 71 71 32 4 42 122 .185

3. Danny Hultzen, lhp Born: Nov. 28, 1989 B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-3 Wt.: 200
Drafted: Virginia, 2011 (1st round). Signed by: Mike Moriarty.
Danny HultzenBackground:  The Diamondbacks made seven-figure overtures to Hultzen after taking him in the 10th round out of high school in 2008, but he opted to attend Virginia. A two-way player for the Cavaliers, he led them to their first two College World Series berths and set school records for career wins (32) and strikeouts (395). While most clubs expected the Mariners to take a hitter with the No. 2 pick in the draft, they opted for Hultzen and gave him an $8.5 million big league contract that included a club-record $6.35 million bonus.

Scouting Report:
  Hultzen combines quality stuff and lots of polish. His fastball sits at 91-93 mph and reaches 96. He has an outstanding changeup and a solid slide that he can spot on both sides of the plate. He commands all three of his offerings well. Hultzen entered pro ball with an extreme knee bend in his delivery. Seattle left his full windup alone but got him to stand taller out of the stretch to prevent his secondary pitches from flattening out. He also lands closed and throws across his body, but that doesn't bother the Mariners because it adds deception.

The Future:
  As advanced as any player in the 2011 draft, Hultzen posted a 1.40 ERA in six Arizona Fall League starts. He has the upside of a No. 2 starter and will get a legitimate shot to make the big league rotation in spring training.
 
Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
Did Not Play

4. James Paxton, lhp Born: Nov. 6, 1988 B-T: L-L Ht.: 6-4 Wt.: 220
Drafted: Grand Prairie (American Association), 2010 (4th round).  Signed by: Brian Williams/Jesse Kapellusch.
James PaxtonBackground:  The Blue Jays drafted Paxton 37th overall out of Kentucky in 2009 but couldn't sign him. Team president Paul Beeston told a Toronto newspaper he negotiated directly with Paxton's adviser, Scott Boras, which effectively ended Paxton's college eligibility. His stuff wasn't as sharp when he pitched in the independent American Association before the 2010 draft, so he slid until the fourth round. The Mariners signed him last March for $942,500.

Scouting Report:
  Paxton is the rare power lefthander who combines high strikeout totals with above-average groundball rates. His fastball sits at 91-95 mph and peaks at 98. He can pitch up in the zone effectively but has just as much faith in his two-seam fastball as he does his four-seamer. He can use his plus 76-79 mph curveball to get ahead in counts or put away hitters. His changeup made a lot of progress after he switched to a circle grip in 2011, and should be at least solid in the future. Paxton's arm action gets long in the back, allowing batters to see the ball and limiting his command when he gets out of sync.

The Future:  Paxton has a No. 2 starter ceiling and could reach Seattle at some point in 2012.
 
Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'11 Clinton (LoA) 3 3 2.73 10 10 0 56 45 21 17 1 30 80 .211
'11 Jackson (AA) 3 0 1.85 7 7 0 39 28 10 8 2 13 51 .193
Minor League Totals 6 3 2.37 17 17 0 95 73 73 25 3 43 131 .204

5. Nick Franklin, 2b/ss Born: March 2, 1991 B-T: B-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 170
Drafted: Lake Brantley HS, Altamonte Springs, Fla., 2009 (1st round). Signed by: Chuck Carlson
Nick FranklinBackground:  Franklin led the Midwest League with 23 homers in 2010, but his 2011 season was a bit rockier. A teammate's bat flew out of the cage during batting practice and struck Franklin in the jaw, resulting in a concussion. During his time on the disabled list, he had bouts with food poisoning and mononucleosis. He returned to steal the show in the AFL Rising Stars Game, going 4-for-5 with two doubles and an opposite-field homer off No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole.

Scouting Report:
  Franklin is a rare switch-hitting middle infielder with solid power. He has good hand-eye coordination and hits the ball with authority to all parts of the park. He's much more productive batting lefthanded, and some scouts think he'll be best served by abandoning his righthanded swing. He's an average runner with fine instincts on the bases. Franklin's defense draws mixed reviews. His range and actions work at shortstop, but some evaluators feel his instincts and fringy arm would fit better at second base.

The Future:
  With Dustin Ackley at second base, the Mariners would love for Franklin to stay at shortstop. He should reach Triple-A during 2012.
 
Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'09 Mariners (R) 43 6 13 2 0 1 4 1 6 0 0 .302 .318 .419
'09 Everett (SS) 20 4 8 2 1 0 2 1 2 1 0 .400 .429 .600
'10 Clinton (LoA) 513 89 144 22 7 23 65 50 123 25 10 .281 .351 .485
'10 West Tenn (AA) 3 3 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 .667 .750 .667
'11 High Desert (HiA) 258 50 71 10 5 5 20 31 56 13 1 .275 .356 .411
'11 Mariners (R) 11 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 6 0 0 .091 .091 .091
'11 Jackson (AA) 83 13 27 3 2 2 6 6 18 5 3 .325 .371 .482
Minor League Totals 931 166 266 39 15 31 97 90 212 44 14 .286 .353 .460

6. Francisco Martinez, 3b Born: Sept. 1, 1990 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 180
Signed: Venezuela, 2007. Signed by: Alejandro Rodriguez/Pedro Chavez (Tigers).
Francisco MartinezBackground:  When the Mariners shipped Doug Fister and David Pauley to the Tigers in July, Seattle got four players in return. Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin and Casper Wells already have reached the majors, but Martinez was the key to the deal. He made the jump to Double-A at age 20 last year and looked like he belonged.

Scouting Report:
  Martinez has all the raw tools to fit the profile of an everyday third baseman, with the added bonus of plus speed. Live-bodied and athletic, he has excellent bat speed and a knack for hitting the ball on the screws. The ball explodes off his bat when he gets extended and makes contact, and he projects as a .275 hitter with 15-20 homers annually. Martinez shows soft hands and solid arm strength at third base. He must continue to refine all parts of his game, such as improving his feel for the strike zone, improving his jumps on the bases and becoming more reliable on defense (he made 35 errors in 2011).

The Future:
  With Martinez, Vinnie Catricala and Alex Liddi, the Mariners have a logjam at third base in the upper minors. Martinez is the best prospect and the best hot-corner defender of that group, so the position should be his at Tacoma in 2012.
 
Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'08 Tigers (R) 249 32 80 4 0 1 23 28 28 20 10 .321 .394 .349
'09 Tigers (R) 153 21 34 9 0 2 23 5 38 11 1 .222 .256 .320
'09 Lakeland (HiA) 18 1 3 0 0 0 2 0 3 1 0 .167 .167 .167
'10 Lakeland (HiA) 340 47 92 17 1 3 29 28 71 12 5 .271 .330 .353
'11 Erie (AA) 348 63 98 14 4 7 46 19 80 7 8 .282 .319 .405
'11 Jackson (AA) 129 20 40 7 3 3 23 4 24 3 2 .310 .326 .481
Minor League Totals 1237 184 347 51 8 16 146 84 244 54 26 .281 .329 .373

7. Chance Ruffin, rhp Born: Sept. 8, 1988 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 185
Drafted: Texas, 2010 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Tim Grieve.
Chance RuffinBackground:  Like his father Bruce, Ruffin starred at Texas, went in the top 50 picks as a free-agent compensation choice and reached the majors in his first full pro season. He led NCAA Division I in strikeouts per nine (13.5) ranked second in ERA (1.11) and third in saves (14) in 2010 before signing with the Tigers for $1.15 million. The fourth player from the 2010 draft to get to the majors, he was the player to be named in the Doug Fister trade in July.

Scouting Report:
  Ruffin is undersized but has quality stuff and a fearless mound presence. His best pitch is a wipeout slide that has two-plane break and usually ranges from 81-83 mph. His fastball sits between 92-95 mph with late life, giving him a second plus pitch. He also has a slurvy 76-78 mph curveball he can mix in to give hitters a different look. He'll need to tighten his control and command, which weren't as sharp as advertised as he flew threw the minors.

The Future:
  Ruffin pitched exclusively in Seattle after the trade and may stick there to open the season. He has closer stuff but likely will settle into a middle-relief role this year.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'11 Erie (AA) 3 3 2.12 31 0 10 34 23 9 8 2 16 43 .184
'11 Detroit (MAJ) 0 0 4.91 2 0 0 4 5 2 2 2 0 3 .313
'11 Toledo (AAA) 0 0 1.84 13 0 9 15 14 4 3 1 6 17 .241
'11 Seattle (MAJ) 1 0 3.86 13 0 0 14 13 6 6 2 9 15 .236
Major League Totals 1 0 4.00 15 0 0 18 18 18 8 4 9 18 .250
Minor League Totals 3 3 2.02 44 0 19 49 37 37 11 3 22 60 .201

8. Tom Wilhelmsen, rhp Born: Dec. 16, 1983 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-6 Wt.: 230
Drafted: Tucson Magnet HS, Tucson, 2002 (7th round). Signed by: Brian Johnson.
Tom WilhelmsenBackground:  Wilhelmsen walked away from the game in 2005 after being suspended by the Brewers for the entire 2004 season following a positive test for marijuana. After four years of traveling the world and working as a bartender in Tucson, he wanted to give baseball another shot. He went to the independent Golden League in 2009 before reuniting with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, who drafted him as Milwaukee's scouting director in 2002.

Scouting Report:
  Wilhelmsen's best pitch is his fastball, which usually arrives at 93-95 mph and tops out at 98. He backs it up with a 12-to-6 curveball that features good velocity (76-78 mph) and depth. When he started off slowly in the big leagues, the Mariners sent him down to Double-A to work on his changeup as a starter. The changeup improved and has some fade, but it's still fringy and he's not a rotation option for the long term. But the extra work as a starter helped Wilhelmsen repeat his delivery, get consistent downward plane on his fastball and gain confidence.

The Future:
  Once he returned to Seattle in August, Wilhelmsen posted a 2.35 ERA and a 22-4 K-BB ratio in 23 innings. He enters 2012 as one of the Mariners' top set-up men and will get a shot at closing if something happens to Brandon League.

Year Team W L ERA G GS SV IP H R ER HR BB SO AVG
'03 Brewers (R) 0 1 4.50 2 2 0 4 5 2 2 0 4 4 .294
'03 Beloit (LoA) 5 5 2.76 15 15 0 88 78 35 27 6 27 63 .228
'10 Mariners (R) 0 0 0.60 5 3 0 15 4 1 1 0 2 22 .082
'10 Everett (SS) 1 0 3.68 3 3 0 15 14 6 6 1 2 14 .241
'10 Clinton (LoA) 6 1 2.23 7 6 0 44 33 16 11 1 15 37 .199
'11 Jackson (AA) 4 5 5.49 14 12 0 61 66 45 37 8 26 40 .266
'11 Seattle (MAJ) 2 0 3.31 25 0 0 33 25 13 12 2 13 30 .203
Major League Totals 2 0 3.27 25 0 0 33 25 25 12 2 13 30 .202
Minor League Totals 16 12 3.33 46 41 0 227 200 200 84 16 76 180 .227

9. Vinnie Catricala, 3b/1b/of Born: Oct. 31, 1988 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 210
Drafted: Hawaii, 2009 (10th round). Signed by: Tim Reynolds.
Vinnie CatricalaBackground:  Signed for $90,000 as a 10th-round pick in 2009, Catricala hit .302/.380/.490 in his first two pro seasons before breaking out last year. The Mariners' minor league player of the year, he ranked second in the minors in extra-base hits (77) and total bases (313), third in hits (182), fourth in batting (.349) and sixth in OPS (1.022). He raised his production following a late-June promotion to Double-A.

Scouting Report:
  Catricala has a lean, strong frame to go with a sound approach and pure hitting ability. He has the shortest swing in the system, a compact yet powerful stroke with above-average bat speed. He has the tools to hit for solid average and power while also drawing a healthy amount of walks. Catricala has fringy speed and arm strength and he's still in search of a defensive home. He's not reliable at third base, where he made 14 errors in 54 games last year, and is better suited for first base or left field. He saw time at all three spots in 2011.

The Future:
  If he keeps hitting like this, the Mariners will make room for him in their lineup. With Justin Smoak in Seattle and Francisco Martinez joining the system, Catricala may wind up in left field. He could begin 2012 in Triple-A.
 
Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'09 Pulaski (R) 219 33 66 14 2 8 40 18 34 6 1 .301 .363 .493
'10 Clinton (LoA) 496 90 150 41 0 17 79 56 112 7 3 .302 .386 .488
'11 High Desert (HiA) 282 56 99 19 1 14 61 33 45 8 3 .351 .421 .574
'11 Jackson (AA) 239 45 83 29 3 11 45 24 47 9 1 .347 .420 .632
Minor League Totals 1236 224 398 103 6 50 225 131 238 30 8 .322 .397 .536

10. Phillips Castillo, of Born: Feb. 2, 1994 B-T: R-R Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 190
Signed: Dominican Republic, 2010, Signed by: Patrick Guerrero/Franklin Taveras Jr./Bob Engle.
Phillips CastilloBackground:  Castillo signed in July 2010 for $2.2 million, at the time a franchise record for a foreign amateur. He followed in the footsteps of Guillermo Pimentel by raking in the Arizona League as a 17-year-old last summer, tying for the league lead with 18 doubles and recording an .848 OPS.

Scouting Report:
  Castillo's offensive production will carry him. He produces above-average bat speed with a seemingly effortless swing and the ball jumps off his bat. He has good balance at the plate and an understanding of the strike zone, though he tends to be overly aggressive. As he becomes stronger and learns to be more patient, it's not hard to envision him anchoring the middle of a lineup. The other parts of Castillo's game are understandably raw. He's still learning to read pickoff moves and take proper routes in the outfield. He's a fringy runner who might lose a step as he fills out his large, athletic frame. He could wind up in right field if his average arm improves as he gets stronger.

The Future:
  Castillo will require time to develop but his bat should be worth the wait. He'll likely follow the same path as Pimentel, starting 2012 in extended spring training to smooth out his rough edges before joining short-season Everett or Rookie-level Pulaski in June.
 
Year Team AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG
'11 Mariners (R) 170 36 51 18 5 1 27 15 61 8 5 .300 .366 .482
Minor League Totals 170 36 51 18 5 1 27 15 61 8 5 .300 .366 .482