The rebuilding project of the Seattle Mariners has been a long, long decade going, but according to MLB.com's prospect list, the Mariners are going to get a very nice boost quite quickly. The Mariners have five players in the top 100, and are the top-ranked team by accumulation of points given to the prospects.
General Manager Jack Zduriencik has made it quite clear the Mariners needed to restock their farm system after a rash of ill-advised Bavasi era trades left it more depleted than Justin Smoak's batting average. After a few years of smart drafting and international scouting, the Mariners have a few players who *hopefully* will make a big splash with the major teams quite soon.
Pitchers Taijuan Walker (fifth) and Danny Hultzen (ninth) head the pack in the top 10 prospects, with shortstop Nick Franklin (31st), catcher Mike Zunino (51st) and pitcher James Paxton (82nd) heading the rest of the list.
Read what MLB.com said about the players after the jump.
The way Walker pitched in his first full season, in 2011, helped the Mariners forget they didn't have a first-round pick in 2010. The SoCal high school product was a multi-sport star and, as a result, is really focusing on pitching full time for the first time as a professional. So far, so good, as he was dominant in the Arizona League in 2010 and the Midwest League in '11 and then held his own in '12 at Double-A Jackson, where he pitched most of the season at age 19. The stuff is there, with a mid-to-high 90s fastball and excellent curve. His changeup is rapidly improving. That three-pitch mix, his size and athleticism could all add up to a frontline starter in the future.
While most thought Seattle would go after Anthony Rendon with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2011 Draft, the Mariners had their sights set on Hultzen all along. The University of Virginia product is the kind of college lefty expected to move quickly, but he's more than just a command/pitchability type. Hultzen's velocity increased in his junior season, giving him a plus fastball from the left side as well as a plus changeup. His slider isn't quite as good as those first two, but it's a serviceable pitch and Hultzen will work to improve it. He has indeed moved quickly through the Mariners system, pitching in the Arizona Fall League in 2011, then Double-A and Triple-A in his first full season in 2012.
After going 20-20 in his first full season, everyone was excited to see what Franklin would do in year No. 2 with the Mariners. But the 2011 season really never got going full-bore for the infielder because he was hit in the face with a bat during batting practice in June. He did eventually return and played well in the Arizona Fall League, named the No. 14 prospect there by MLB.com. He then hit .322 over 57 games at Double-A Jackson to start the 2012 season before being bumped up to Tacoma, where he split time evenly between shortstop and second base, perhaps signalling the beginning of his transition away from short.
The 2012 Golden Spikes Award Winner has the chance to be a fairly quick to the big leagues everyday catcher for the Mariners. While some concern was voiced over an up-and-down junior season, Zunino has outstanding bat speed and loft, which should translate to a lot of power as a professional. His swing can get long at times, but if he finds some consistency. He should hit for average and pop, just as he did during his pro debut. He's a natural leader behind the plate who can run a pitching staff -- one with an accurate arm, good hands and more than enough agility to stay there long-term. Middle of the order, run-producing catchers don't grow on trees, but that's what the Mariners added to their system.
Paxton didn't sign with the Mariners until March 2011, but he made up for lost time quickly by double-jumping from Class A to Double-A during the season, pitching well at both levels. He followed that up with a very solid season at Double-A Jackson. Paxton's two best pitches are his fastball, a truly plus offering he can crank up into the upper 90s, and an excellent power breaking ball. The improvement he's shown with his changeup is a big reason the Mariners are even more excited about his potential as a Major League starter. He was shut down a bit early in 2011, more as a precaution than anything, and he missed the month of June in 2012 with a sore right knee, but, assuming he's healthy, seeing him in Seattle's rotation soon is not out of the question.
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