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Walker spent most of his time at Yucaipa (Calif.) High focusing on basketball. He averaged 21 points and 15 rebounds per game as a senior, earning the nickname "Skywalker" thanks to his dunking ability, a nickname he has stitched into his glove. When he played baseball, he mostly played shortstop, with Diamondbacks prospect Matt Davidson manning third base to his right. It wasn't until the end of Walker's junior year that he really began to pitch. He created significant buzz in the fall of 2009 that carried over into the spring of his senior season. The Mariners selected him with their first pick (43rd overall) in the 2010 draft and signed him for $800,000. Walker, who was 17 when he was drafted, blew opponents and evaluators away in his first full pro season. Seattle 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 Mariners minor league pitcher of the year. Walker has an ideal frame and athleticism for a pitcher. He's 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 significantly improved his fastball command and his curveball during his three months at Clinton. He didn't throw a curve 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's biggest goal last season was to improve his changeup. He has a circle change that grades as average and gives him a chance for a third plus offering. He throws it from the same slot and with the same arm speed as his fastball. Walker's control and command still need some polishing but are more advanced than expected. He has excellent feel for spotting his fastball and isn't afraid to own the inner half of the plate. Walker's superb athleticism is obvious when he's on the mound. He repeats his effortless delivery well and maintains his velocity deep into games. He's working to make his mechanics more consistent and tweaked a few things in 2011, including adding a slight hip rotation at his balance point. Walker also holds runners and fields his position well. He's a tough competitor, a sponge for information and a hard worker. He moved to Peoria, Ariz., this offseason to work out regularly at the Mariners' spring-training facility. Walker, who will be 19 for most of the 2012 season, may open the year at high Class A High Desert, which would be close to where he grew up. On the other hand, some club officials want to skip Walker straight to Double-A. The Mariners are already in good shape at the top of their rotation with Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, but Walker profiles as another potential ace and could be in the big leagues by the end of 2013.
The Diamondbacks made seven-figure overtures to Hultzen after drafting 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 overall pick in the 2011 draft, they opted for Hultzen and gave him an $8.5 million big league contract that included a club-record $6.35 million bonus. 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 slider 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. 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 shot to make the big league rotation in spring training.
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 had 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 to the fourth round. The Mariners finally signed him last March for $942,500, which looks like a steal after he dominated and reached Double-A in his pro debut. 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. His delivery was very slow when he entered pro ball, but he worked hard to cut his time to the plate from 1.6-2.0 seconds to 1.3-1.4. Paxton could return to Double-A to start the season to avoid the cold early-season weather at Triple-A Tacoma. He has a No. 2 starter ceiling and could reach Seattle at some point in 2012.
The 27th overall selection in the 2009 draft, Franklin signed for $1.28 million and set a Clinton record and led the Midwest League with 23 homers in his first full pro season. His 2011 season was a bit rockier, as a teammate's bat flew out of the cage during batting practice and struck Franklin in the jaw, resulting in a concussion. While on the disabled list, he had bouts with food poisoning and mononucleosis. He returned to steal the show in the Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars Game, going 4-for-5 with two doubles and an opposite-field homer off No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole. Franklin is a rare switch-hitting middle infielder with solid power. He utilizes a coiling leg kick that triggers an aggressive hip turn, allowing him to get the most of his size. 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'd 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. He played both positions last year. With Dustin Ackley at second base, the Mariners would love for Franklin to stay at shortstop. He should reach Triple-A during 2012.
Campos tried to join the Cardinals, but it never became official because his parents refused to sign the contract. When the Mariners offered slightly more money at $115,000, he signed with them in January 2009. A cousin of big leaguers Alcides and Kelvim Escobar, Campos led the short-season Northwest League in ERA (2.32) and strikeouts (85) in his U.S. debut. Campos' fastball operates at 92-95 mph and has been clocked as high as 98. For a youngster, he has advanced feel for pitching off his fastball and locating it. His heater has deception, angle and life. Just a thrower when he got to Everett last summer, he grew as a pitcher. His hard curveball and his changeup show flashes of becoming plus pitches. They lack consistency but improved as he cleaned up his delivery. Earlier in 2011, he was landing stiff and upright, throwing with just his arm. Now he lands on a softer front leg and gets more extension out front. He shows great poise on the mound and fills the strike zone. Campos is yet another frontline starting pitching prospect in Seattle's stable. He'll head to low Class A, where he'll give Clinton another ace to follow in Taijuan Walker's footsteps.
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. 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). 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. Seattle protected him on the 40-man roster in November.
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 innings (13.5) while ranking 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 big leagues, he was the player to be named in the Doug Fister trade in July. Ruffin is undersized but has quality stuff and a fearless mound presence. His best pitch is a wipeout slider 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. With his size, stuff, makeup and alma mater, he elicits comparisions to Huston Street. Ruffin pitched exclusively in the majors after the trade and may stick there to open the 2012 season. He has the upside of a closer but likely will settle into a middle-relief role this year.
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. Wilhelmsen capped his improbable story by opening 2011 in Seattle. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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 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. 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 Everett or Rookie-level Pulaski in June.
While many college hitters saw their stats decline when the NCAA switched to lesslively bats in 2011, Miller put together his best season at Clemson, hitting .395/.498/.559 to win Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year honors. A two-time member of the U.S. college national team, he went 62nd overall in the draft and signed for $750,000. Miller is a hard-nosed player who always has a plan at the plate. He has an unconventional set-up with his hands held above his head, though not as extreme as Craig Counsell. Once Miller's swing gets going, however, his hands get into a good launch position and his barrel stays in the hitting zone for a long time. He consistently squares up lefties and righties alike and sprays the ball to all parts of the park. He batted .415 when he joined Clinton for 14 games at the end of the season. He'll never be confused for a slugger, but does have enough power to hit 30 doubles and 10 homers annually. Miller has a tick above-average speed and it plays up because he's instinctive and runs the bases well. He struggles defensively at times and had to move to DH in 2010, when he made 31 errors. His footwork isn't always fluid and at times he drops his elbow on throws, causing the ball to tail away from the first baseman. However, his makeup and work ethic give him a chance to remain at shortstop. If not, he should be able to shift to second base, and at worst he's a utility infielder with a lefthanded bat. He'll spend his first full pro season in high Class A.
Pimentel signed for $2 million in 2009 and quickly validated the hype, ranking as the Arizona League's No. 1 prospect in 2010 and smacking 11 homers at Pulaski last summer. He has 30-homer potential thanks to his developing strength, quick hands and athletic actions. He shows well above-average power to his pull side and natural lift in his swing. He'll need to improve his pitch recognition, show more patience at the plate and learn how to make adjustments on the fly. Pimentel's ultimate value is tied to his bat because he's limited to left field because of his below-average speed, range and arm strength. Still raw in many facets of the game, he must improve his routes in the outfield and his baserunning skills. Managers also would like to see him play with more fire, as he seems to just go through the motions at times. Pimentel will get his first shot at a full-season ball at Clinton in 2012.
Ramirez has shot through the system since signing out of Nicaragua in September 2007. He skipped a level to begin 2011 in Double-A at age 20, and he finished the season in Triple-A. It's easier for pitchers to advance when they have above-average control, and he rarely gives a hitter a free pass. While he fills the strike zone, he needs to sharpen his command. He sometimes catches too much of the plate and needs to learn when it's smarter to get hitters to chase. Using an effortless delivery, Ramirez throws a 90-94 fastball. It lacks plane because he's short and he loads up on his backside in his delivery. When he misses up, his fastball gets hammered because it's flat. Ramirez has good feel for his secondary pitches, a slurvy 10-4 breaking ball and a solid changeup, but both need further refinement. Though he's short, he's built like a tank and has proven durable while throwing 304 innings over the last two seasons. He's extremely competitive and can reach back for a little extra when he needs a strikeout late in the game. With his happy-go-lucky nature and obvious love for the game, Ramirez could be a fan favorite in Seattle. He'll likely start 2012 back in Tacoma and projects as a back-of-the rotation workhorse.
Though six Italian-born players already had played in the big leagues, Liddi became the first born and raised in Italy to reach the majors when he got there in September. His promotion capped a season in which he ranked third in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League with 30 homers and 273 total bases. His game is quite similar to that of Mark Reynolds, as both have plus raw power but not enough other tools to be a viable everyday option for a contending team. As with Reynolds, Liddi's biggest problem is making contact. His 187 strikeouts between Triple-A and the majors were the fourth most in pro ball in 2011. (Reynolds was second with 196 whiffs.) Liddi is a below-average hitter who doesn't recognize pitches well or make adjustments at the plate, limiting his usable power to 15-20 homers annually in the majors. He's a well below-average runner with stiff infield actions. He did loosen up some last year and started 21 games at shortstop for Tacoma, and he does have plus arm strength. He led PCL third basemen with 18 errors in 115 games last year but had just one miscue in 14 big league contests. Despite his flaws as a player, Liddi is lauded for his makeup and hard work. He could beat out Kyle Seager and Chone Figgins for Seattle's starting job at third base in 2012, and should be able to contribute at least as a power bat off the bench.
After showing one of the system's best fastballs in his 2010 pro debut, Pryor looked ready to zoom through the system. He got of to a slow start last season, missing the first four weeks with elbow tendinitis and posting a 19.29 ERA in his first nine appearances in high Class A. He rallied and was lights out from June through the end of the season, recording a 1.88 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 38 innings while reaching Double-A. Pryor has a big, intimidating build and the stuff to match. His heavy fastball operates at 93-95 mph and gets as high as 98. He worked on keeping his fastball down in the zone in 2011, though he can elevate it for a punchout. He throws a hard downer curveball at 80-82 mph, but the biggest factor in his second-half success was the addition of a nasty 87-91 mph cutter. Even with his extra-large frame, Pryor has good body control and loosened up his delivery a little bit in the second half of the season. The Mariners have a collection of power arms in front of him, but if he continues on his roll, he could join the big league bullpen at some point in 2012.
Capps was a catcher in high school, then redshirted his first year at Mount Olive (N.C.) before moving to the mound in 2010. He dominated NCAA Division II hitters as a starter for two seasons, winning his first 24 decisions before taking a loss during the 2011 D-II College World Series. Drafted 121st overall in June, he went to the Cape Cod League--making his first airplane trip--and posted a 0.39 ERA in relief before signing for $500,000. Capps' sinking fastball sits in the low 90s when he starts, but rises to 94-97 mph when he comes out of the bullpen. There were reports that he touched 99 mph in the Cape. He gets some swings and misses with a 79-83 mph slider and flashes an average changeup in the same range. His changeup has nice fade and he throws it with the same arm speed as his fastball, but he's still developing it after rarely using it in college. Capps has an unconventional delivery that doesn't use his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to his advantage. He has a long stride that drops him way down in his delivery, and he also throws across his body from a low three-quarters arm angle. The Mariners tried to raise his arm slot a bit in instructional league. Despite his unorthodox mechanics, Capps usually throws strikes. He has a quiet confidence and could move quickly as a reliever. His fresh arm and ability to hold velocity deep into games bode well for his potential as a starter, while his unrefined changeup and delivery point more toward the bullpen. He could start his first full pro season in high Class A.
The Mariners are one of the biggest players on the international market, and they landed the best pitcher in the 2011 class in Sanchez. It cost them $2.5 million, the most they've ever spent on a foreign amateur. Venezuelan scouts viewed him as the nation's top prospect since he was 13 and the second-youngest player on Venezuela's 14-and-under team at hte COPABE Pan American championships in 2008. That squad also included Blue Jays righthander Ardonys Cardona and Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor. Sanchez struck out eight in a five-inning no-hitter against Ecuador, missing a perfect game when he hit a batter. He has a stout, muscular frame with sloped shoulders and large hands. He already shows impressive velocity, sitting at 92-94 in instructional league. He has a loose arm with an easy delivery, and his atheticism helps him throw his fastball for strikes to both sides of the plate. Sanchez's advanced feel for pitching stands out. He already flashes an above-average changeup and shows the ability to spin a breaking ball well. He threw a hard slider before signing but has worked with his curveball more since turning pro. His curve has sharp break and he locates it well. Sanchez's body is relatively filled out and he won't gain much more velocity as he gets older. His relatively short stature also limits the plane on his fastball, which can flatten out at times and become hittable. Sanchez likely will begin 2012 in extended spring training to work on the nuances of pitching before reporting to the Arizona League at age 17 in June.
Marlette was a high-profile player on the prep showcase circuit in 2010, winning MVP honors at the Aflac All-America game after homering at Petco Park. A fifth-round pick last June, he gave up a Central Florida commitment to sign for an over-slot $650,000. He continued to show power in big league parks after he signed, hitting several balls into the left-field upper deck during batting practice at Safeco Field. On the showcase circuit, Marlette had a tendency to get pull-happy and leak open on his front side. He did a better job of staying closed last spring and displayed plus power to all fields. He struck out 13 times without a walk in his brief pro debut, and how much he'll hit for average is tied to his ability to maintain a more disciplined approach. Marlette's offense is ahead of his defense. Though he has above-average arm strength, his receiving needs a lot of work. He's a grinder who will put in the work to improve. He has below-average speed, though that doesn't matter at his position. Marlette plays with a lot of confidence and is a sparkplug in the clubhouse. He's likely headed for extended spring training and then Everett in 2012.
In the 51-year history of the draft, only 18 players signed out of the 36th round have made it to the big leagues. Seattle had the best of that group in Raul Ibanez and have another 36th-rounder knocking on the door with Snow. Both his high school coach (Dana Papasedero from Lakeside High in Seattle) and college pitching coach (Washington's Joe Ross) scout for the Mariners, who drafted him in the 44th round out of high school before signing him for $20,000 after three up-and-down years with the Huskies. Snow quickly turned a corner as a pro, showing improved stuff almost immediately. He threw a 93-95 mph fastball as a reliever in his pro debut, then worked at 88-92 mph as a starter last year. He throws his sinking heater to both sides of the plate and uses his height to get a steep downhill plane. He did a better job of pitching off his fastball in 2011, setting up his best pitch, a changeup he calls "The Snowflake." It's already an above-average pitch and has plusplus potential. He throws two breaking balls, though both his curveball and slider are below average. His high three-quarters arm slot theoretically would lends itself more to a curve, though his slider would pair better with his sinker if he winds up in the bullpen. Snow repeats his delivery well, doesn't have any significant mechanical issues and owns solid control. He could fill nearly any role on a big league pitching staff. After climbing to Triple- A in his first full pro season then pitching in the Arizona Fall League, he could reach Seattle in 2012.
Blash took a winding route to pro ball. The White Sox drafted the Virgin Islands native out of high school in 2007 in the 29th round, but he turned them down to attend Alcorn State. Academically ineligible in 2008, he transferred to Miami Dade JC for the following season and emerged as one of Florida's top juco talents. The Rangers selected him in the ninth round of the 2009 draft but he again didn't sign, and his 2010 season ended early when he was kicked off the team in April. The Mariners took him in the eighth round two months later and he finally signed for $140,000. Blash stands out immediately for his chiseled physique, and one Northwest League manager compared him to a stronger version of Eric Davis last summer. Blash's strength shows up at the plate, as he led the NWL in extra-base hits (30) and slugging (.574) after faltering in the first half in the Midwest League. His swing gets too long at times and he has some holes on the outer half of the plate, so he may not hit for a high average. Blash is still raw for a 22-year-old. He has a good eye at the plate but can be too passive and gets himself into a lot of two-strike counts. His prospect status hinges solely on his bat, because he's a fringy runner and left fielder with an average arm. He gets careless at times with his defense. How Blash handles his second shot at low Class A in 2012 will tell a great deal about his future.
A case of strep throat caused Maurer to miss the 2007 Area Code Games before his senior year, but he got plenty of looks pitching in the same Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High rotation as Gerrit Cole. While Cole went in the first round of the 2008 draft--and would go No. 1 overall in 2011 after three years at UCLA--Maurer slipped to the 23rd round, where the Mariners bought him out of a Long Beach State commitment with a $150,000 bonus. He has filled out nicely since then and still has a springy, loose body. Maurer's fastball sits at 91-94 mph and gets as high as 97. He mixes in a solid slider with plus potential and shows feel for a changeup and a curveball that could both be average in time. He pounds the strike zone with all of his pitches, showing average control and working with an extremely quick tempo. Maurer has pitched just 185 innings in four pro seasons because he has had trouble staying healthy. A sore elbow limited him to 15 innings in 2010, and a shoulder strain held him to 79 frames last year. The good news is that he has avoided surgery, and to his credit, he moved to the Phoenix area this offseason so he can workout at the Mariners' spring training facility. Though he still throws with some effort, Maurer has smoothed out his delivery since signing. If he can stay healthy and get stretched out, the best-case scenario is that he becomes a No. 2 starter. If he can't handle bigger workloads, he still could be valuable as a late-inning reliever. He'll probably open the season in high Class A.
When the Mariners selected Dustin Ackely second overall in 2009, they then took two of his North Carolina teammates with early picks: third baseman Kyle Seager in the third round and lefthander Brian Moran in the seventh round. They did something similar last June, choosing Danny Hultzen at No. 2 and two of his Virginia teammates, Hicks in the fourth round and third baseman Steven Proscia in the seventh. A product of the same Goochland (Va.) High program that spawned Justin Verlander, Hicks signed for $240,000. He didn't become a full-time catcher until 2011, when he helped the Cavaliers to the College World Series semifinals by tying Proscia for the team lead with eight homers and 59 RBIs. Hicks doesn't have one carrying tool, but he has all-around potential to go with tremendous makeup and leadership qualities. He has gap power and a contact-oriented approach at the plate, though he would benefit from working deeper counts and drawing more walks. He's more athletic than most catchers, albeit still with below-average speed. Hicks has average arm strength and threw out 44 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. He has the potential to be an average receiver once he gets some more experience. Hicks has to stay behind the plate to have value because his bat isn't potent enough for another position. He'll open his first full pro season in high Class A.
Littlewood came to pro ball with above-average on-field maturity and instincts, thanks to two stints with U.S. national teams and the fact that his father Mike played briefly in the Brewers system and is the head coach at NCAA Division II Dixie State (Utah). The Mariners invested a 2010 second-round pick and $900,000 in Littlewood, but the early returns last year were disappointing. He hit just .158/.236/.211 at Clinton and didn't fare much better after a demotion to Everett. He was supposed to have a mature approach and control of the strike zone, but he fanned 104 times in 328 at-bats. A switch-hitter, he still could hit for a solid average with 10-15 homers annually if everything clicks. Littlewood embraced the opportunity to enhance his defensive value when Seattle asked him to move to catcher. A below-average runner, he didn't have the range for shortstop or the quickness for second base, the two positions he played in 2011. His above-average arm strength and his agility should work behind the plate. He worked with catching coordinator Roger Hansen during the season to prepare for making the full transition in instructional league. The move will take some pressure off Littlewood's bat. If he hits, he can be an everyday player. If he doesn't, he still can be a backup--an option that wouldn't exist had he remained in the middle infield. Seattle may keep Littlewood in extended spring training at the start of 2012 so he can focus on his catching.
Seattle was an aggressive seller at the 2011 trade deadline. After the Mariners sent Doug Fister and David Pauley to the Tigers, they engaged the Dodgers and Red Sox in a three-way trade. In exchange for giving Erik Bedard and minor league righthander Josh Fields to Boston, Seattle got Trayvon Robinson from Los Angeles and Chiang from the Sox. Chiang hit .273/.319/.422 in his first five pro seasons and didn't take off until he got a better handle on his diabetes before the 2011 season. He played with more energy and consistency, leading the Double-A Eastern League in slugging (.648) and earning a trip to the Futures Game. Chiang is an aggressive hitter with pop to the gaps and some home run power to the pull side. His bat and power still don't grade out as more than average, which makes it hard to project him as a regular. A former second baseman, Chiang is an average defender with solid arm strength in right field. He's a below-average runner with a thick lower half. He's one of 10 outfielders on the Mariners' 40-man roster, which will make it tough for him to find playing time in Tacoma. He could return to Jackson after his disappointing showing following the trade.
Though it seems like Triunfel has been around forever, he'll turn just 22 in February and already has made it to Triple-A. Signed for $1.3 million in 2006, he hasn't lived up to the expectations that came with that bonus. Triunfel has impressive hand-eye coordination and bat control which allow him to hit for average, but he doesn't do much else. He's too aggressive at the plate and gets himself out by putting tough pitches in play instead of working counts. He has some strength but it doesn't translate into in-game power because he focuses on making contact rather than waiting for a pitch he can drive. Scouts long have thought that Triunfel would become too thick in the lower half to remain at shortstop, but he got slimmer and showed better agility in 2011. He's still a below-average runner, however. His best tool is his cannon for an arm. Triunfel likely will end up as a utilityman who can play anywhere in the infield. He was added to the 40-man roster in November but will begin 2012 back in Tacoma.
Acquired along with Luke French from the Tigers at the 2009 trade deadline in exchange for Jarrod Washburn, Robles pitched well in his first full season with the Mariners and ranked No. 6 on this list a year ago. But 2011 was essentially a lost year for the Venezuelan lefty. He had bone chips removed from his elbow in March and never was quite right upon returning. Instead of sitting at 91-94 mph with his fastball, like he had in the past, Robles pitched at 89-91. His secondary pitches also slipped after he previously showed flashes of a plus changeup and average curveball. Though he has displayed enough pitches to start, his control never has been good--he has averaged 5.0 walks per nine innings as a pro--and he lost his margin for error in 2011. Robles still could make it as a No. 4 or 5 starter if his stuff recovers, and he always could find a home in the bullpen. How he looks in spring training will determine how Seattle handles him in 2012.
In high school, Proscia was a standout football player at national powerhouse Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.), playing on both sides of the ball for a nationally ranked team that won state championships in 2006 and 2007. His gridiron mentality is evident on the diamond, as he's a blue-collar grinder who started every game but one during his three college seasons at Virginia. After signing for $160,000 as a seventhround pick in 2011, he had no trouble adapting to pro ball, even with an aggressive assignment to high Class A. Offensively, Proscia fits the bill at third base. He has above-average power potential with bat speed, a swing that stays in the hitting zone a long time and the ability to lift the ball and create good backspin. Proscia has feel for the strike zone, but he can get too aggressive at the plate and drew just four walks in 44 pro games. He did hit 12 homers, though 11 of them came at extremely hitter-friendly High Desert. Proscia has a thick, muscular build and is better coming in on balls than he is moving laterally. He has solid arm strength but may profile best defensively as a corner utility guy rather than as a regular at the hot corner. The speed of the pro game and High Desert's fast infield helped contribute to Proscia making 10 errors in 28 games at third. He has fringy speed but runs the bases aggressively. He may return to high Class A to being 2012 in order to work on his defense.
Arriving with Brandon League in the December 2009 trade that sent Brandon Morrow to Toronto, Chavez finished second in the California League with 32 homers in his first season in the Seattle system. His second was a different story, as he ranked second-to-last among Double-A Southern League qualifiers with a .216 average. Chavez always has been prone to strikeouts and streakiness. When he's confident and on a roll, everything seems to come easy to him, but those times were few and far between with Jackson. He looked uncomfortable and out of sync at the plate. He's still learning to recognize pitches and too often chases breaking balls out of the zone, negating his strength. He profiles as a below-average hitter with plus power potential. Chavez is a below-average runner, but he's a good athlete who plays average defense and fits the right-field profile with the best outfield arm in the system. His 18 assists ranked second in the SL last year. He'll take another crack at solving Double-A pitching in 2012.
After breaking Gordon Beckham's Georgia school record with 86 RBIs in 2009, Poythress led the minors with 130 RBIs the following year. He also ranked second in the California League in slugging (.580) and third in homers (31). His 2011 encore wasn't as impressive, as his numbers plummeted in Double-A. He did make strides in the second half, batting .316/.396/.455. Poythress' swing is built more for line drives than homers and his power comes mostly to the opposite field. He does have strength and can turn around anyone's fastball, as evidenced by the homers he hit against hard-throwing Chris Archer (Rays), Matt Bush (Rays) and Paul Clemens (Astros). He has a solid approach at the plate but ultimately may not produce enough offense to profile as an everyday player at first base. Poythress played some third base in college and in pro ball, but first base is his only option at the upper levels. He has good footwork around the bag and an average arm for the position. He's a bottom-of-the-scale runner and no threat on the bases. Poythress will try to show more power when he repeats Double-A in 2012.
Although a few other teams were on him, the biggest surprise in the 2011 draft came when the Mariners turned to Germany for their ninth-round pick. Cohoes, whose family is from Ohio, was eligible because he attended a U.S. high school on the Patch Barracks, where his father Chris is an Air Force pilot. His grandfather, Rex Leach, ranks fifth all-time in Ohio high school basketball scoring--one spot behind LeBron James. The first player ever drafted out of Germany, Cohoes nursed a left quadriceps injury after signing for $650,000 and it lingered, keeping him out of instructional league. When healthy, he shows intriguing tools and raw potential. He has a wiry, athletic frame and plus speed and arm strength. Ohio State also wanted him to run track if he made it to campus, and Kent State would have given him a shot on the mound had he signed there. He has the tools to stick at shortstop or make it in center field, his main position in Germany. Cohoes has bat speed and a fluid swing, though his stroke can get out of sync, typical for someone with his limited experience. Given his background, Seattle will need to take things slowly with Cohoes. He'll start 2012 in extended spring training before easing into pro ball in the Arizona League in June.
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