Scout's View: Mariners Double-A Pitchers
The Mariners have stockpiled their top pitching prospects at Double-A Jackson, and we were able to catch up with a scout who recently saw the Generals in action. While the scout missed seeing one of those blue-chippers, lefthander James Paxton, we were able to get his thoughts on Seattle's top two prospects, righthander Taijuan Walker and lefty Danny Hultzen, along with power righthanded reliever Carter Capps.
Hultzen was as close to big-league ready as any player in last year's draft, when Seattle made him the second overall pick, and he's lived up to the billing in his first full season. Hultzen lead the Southern League in wins and ERA with an 8-3, 1.19 record and his 79 strikeouts in 75 innings are second in the league. He's been untouchable lately, riding a 27 2/3 inning scoreless streak that dates back to May 23.
"He's got a knack for commanding his fastball. He never seems to leave balls up in the zone. When he misses, he has a knack for missing in and out rather than up and down. With that crossfire delivery that he's got, he really creates very good angle, and the angle to the hitter plays, not only versus lefties because of the advantage of being left on left, but he's got enough feel to run that fastball in to the glove side. It makes him really tough because he has that deception and that angle doesn't allow the hitter to really get a lot of clean swings against his fastball. His velocity wasn't overwhelming. He might've touched a 95, but he was pretty much 90-93 for the most part.
"The breaking ball certainly doesn't have the depth or the bite that Walker's does, but it's a good pitch. He was able to spin the baseball and because of his feel, he knows how to land the breaking ball just like he knows how to land his fastball. He would backfoot it to righthanded hitters and he can backdoor it to righthanded hitters. And given the angle that he throws from, just a serviceable breaking ball is going to be enough versus lefthanded hitters just because of where it's coming from. And his changeup was plus.
"He's got weapons and he's got advanced command. So, there's no reason why this guy can't be a No. 2 or a No. 3 starter with what he brings to the table."
Walker entered the year ranked as Seattle's No. 1 prospect and was sailing along with a 4-2, 2.23 mark through his first nine starts before running into trouble in his last three outings. He's given up 13 earned runs in his last 12 2/3 innings, inflating his ERA to 3.79. Still, he's piled up 59 strikeouts in 57 innings and has done it as the youngest pitcher in the SL at age 19.
"He was like 92-94 and touched 97. Obviously what stood out about him was his size because he's a physical guy and he creates really good leverage with his delivery. And his breaking ball was just a bastard; a hard downer with good bite and good depth. He didn't appear to have tremendous pitch feel. He didn't move the ball around the zone nearly as well as Hultzen does, but the stuff was louder than Hultzen's just in terms of two power pitches.
"Just a physical dude that had a workable delivery and created really good leverage and his fastball touched 97, and the breaking ball was well above-average at times."
Like Hultzen, Capps is in Double-A in his first full season after being a supplemental third-round pick out of Division-II Mount Olive (N.C.) last June. The hard-throwing righthander has taken over as Jackson's closer since Stephen Pryor was promoted in early May, amassing nine saves to go with a 1.34 ERA in 34 innings. He's fanned 51 hitters, ranking second among SL relievers with a 13.63 strikeouts-per-nine rate.
"He's kind of a physical freak in terms of his arm strength. I don't think he threw a pitch under 97, and he bumped 100. Several 98s and 99s. The delivery's ok. He's a little rotational and it's a real deep arm swing. There's not much of a free, easy circle. It's just kind of a plunge and then go, and I think because of that, he's going to have some difficulty commanding the baseball. But he threw enough strikes to consider it average control, and when you're throwing that hard, maybe you can get away with it. Craig Kimbrel doesn't have an ideal arm action either, but because of his velocity Kimbrel can make up for the fact that sometimes he pitches in the top of the zone and might miss his spot a little bit more frequently than a guy who misses his spot throwing 90-92 can get away with.
"Some of (his breaking balls) kind of hang and others just come out the side of his hand, but it was like 80-83. I think it looks more like a curveball than a slider, but again because of the depth of his arm swing, I think it's always going to be tough for Capps to consistently command his breaking ball. But he does have the arm speed to create spin and the pitch does have depth occasionally. If he can ever learn to land it, then he's going to have a chance to pitch at the back of a bullpen as well just because the arm strength is premium.
"Is he Matt Lindstrom or is he Craig Kimbrel? Ultimately, I think the consistently of the breaking ball and the ability to command the fastball are what's going to be the difference between those two guys because even at 97-98, the pitch in the middle of the zone didn't have a ton of life to it. I mean, 97's got life, but it's not like it's heavy sink or cut or anything like that, and that's always been Matt Lindstrom's problem."