When the best hitter on your major league team is Kyle Seager, it’s not too soon to start looking towards the future. No offense to Seager, but a 24-year-old that was never highly touted should only be your best hitter if he’s taking the league by storm. Seager isn’t bad, but most elite hitters have more than three walks in 25 games.
And afterall, it was only last season that Seager was finally getting noticed after hitting .333/.399/.495 in 90 minor league games and now he’s the big league regular at third. Who could be joining him?
Here’s a look at the top Mariners prospects coming into the season and how they’re doing:
Taijuan Walker, SP, 19 at AA
The big right-hander is the M’s top prospect right now and even at his young age is having the best season of any of the “Big Three” in Jackson.
27.2 innings, 21 H, 1.30 ERA, 28 K, 8 BB, 1 HR
There is a reasonable chance that Walker, Baseball America’s #20 prospect coming into the year, will be a top 5 prospect going into 2013 and maybe the number one pitching prospect in baseball. He’s younger than any other pitcher in the league by two years and that includes Diamondback’s top prospect Trevor Bauer.
Compare his numbers to Bauer, BA’s #9 prospect and the 3rd overall pick last season: 41.1 innings, 51 K, 25 BB, 1.96 ERA, 27 H, 1 HR.
Bauer doesn’t have the innings restriction that Walker has, so he has a larger sample, but Walker walks a lot fewer batters and has a much better K/BB ratio. All while being two years younger than any pitcher and two years younger than any hitter besides the 20-year-old Christian Bethancourt from the Braves organization.
If the season ended today, I believe Walker would have to be considered the top prospect in the loaded Southern League and one of the top ten prospects in all of baseball.
I think we found a rightful Prince for the King.
Danny Hultzen, SP, 22 at AA
The number two overall pick last season, Hultzen has had bright spots and low spots, with his lowest spot coming in his start on Saturday when he walked seven batters in 4.1 innings. Overall numbers:
30.2 innings, 15 H, 2.35 ERA, 34 K, 19 BB, 1 HR
As you should expect from anyone making a debut, Hultzen is working through his rough patches. Otherwise, he still looks like he’ll make a solid number two and maybe one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball if all goes well.
What’s phenomenal at this point is his 4.4 hits allowed per nine innings which leads the league by 1.7 H/9 for anyone with over 30 innings. Batters are hitting just .142 against Hultzen and he has a 1.11 Groundout-to-Flyout ratio.
Get your control under control and Hultzen will be just fine. It just might not be until September before we see him in the majors.
James Paxton, SP, 23 in AA
The final part of the big three is the wild but exciting Paxton, a southpaw that might either strike out 10 or walk 10 on any given night.
28.2 innings, 21 H, 2.51 ERA, 36 K, 18 BB, 1 HR
He’s had phenomenal starts, bad starts, and okay starts but once he strings together enough okay-to-great starts, he’ll be in the majors. He just needs to be more efficient with his pitches so that he can go six innings more regularly. He’s only gone six (and it was exactly six) once this year.
But batters are hitting .202 off of Paxton and he’s striking out over 11 per nine. In five of his starts he has allowed a total of two combined earned runs and in the sixth start he allowed six earned runs.
We just need more consistency and efficiency or he’ll get eaten alive in the majors.
Nick Franklin, SS, 21 at AA
Despite being one of the youngest teams in the league, the Generals boast the most talent and that’s why they’re in first place. Franklin is a big reason why and even though his power and speed seem to be down, he’s controlling the strike zone better than he ever has.
In 2010, Franklin surprised everyone with a 23 HR/25 SB season at Clinton but then he struggled and got hurt at High Desert last season. We weren’t sure what we’d be getting this year, but he’s been good for Jackson all things considered.
.299/.364/.443, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 11 R, 1 SB, 8.9 BB%, 13.4 K%, .144 ISO
His power hasn’t been as good as it was in 2010 (.205 ISO with Clinton) but as one of the youngest hitters in AA, he’s holding his own and after striking out over 19% of the time last season, he’s gotten that way down. (Strikeout rates stabilize at 150 plate appearances and Franklin is at 112.)
He hasn’t been a world beater but give him time and he’s still the SS of the future for Seattle.
Francisco Martinez, 3B, 21 at AA
Another youngin’ for Jackson, is Martinez the 3B of the future for Seattle? Luckily, Seager has taken some pressure off of the other competitors (or added to it) by having a solid season while others have struggled.
Martinez is hitting .278/.341/.348, with 0 HR, 7 RBI, 6 2B and 11 SB.
He’s walking at a good clip (11 walks in 126 PAs) but zero power. Surprisingly, Martinez has stolen eleven bases after swiping ten bases all of last season. If he can finally tap into the supposed “power” that he has and continue to walk and steal bases, Martinez will be a very good prospect but he hasn’t gotten there yet.
However, like Franklin he’s one of the youngest hitters in the league. Give him time.