After a long season that I really don’t have the words to describe, the Mariners are finally down to about 2 months and 60 games left. While the trade deadline and maturation of Michael Saunders have made the last month a little more interesting, something else that is both significantly better and more interesting is the Mariners farm system. Most of the affiliates are hovering near the top of their leagues, a nice sign for a franchise that needs to learn how to win. More importantly, the talent level has improved to the point where each team has more than a few interesting players.
There’s a lot of interest in the Mariners’ minor league system right now, for good reason, so I thought I’d take a walk around the farm and give a quick rundown of who to watch at each level. One caveat: I’m no scout and haven’t seen more than a handful of these players in action. Everything you’ll see here is my composite memory of scouting reports and media pieces I’ve read. There are some good writers, local and national, who know a lot more. Jason Churchill at Prospect Insider typically has a lot of good information from a scouting standpoint, while Jay Yencich at Mariners Minors puts out a ridiculous amount of recaps, etc. Jay also does a great weekly Minors Recap at USS Mariner that will keep you up on the majority of the system goings-on. Here’s this week’s. There’s plenty of other good stuff out there, especially Jon Shields at both ProBallNW and Lookout Landing.
I’ll take these one at a time and hopefully bust through them in the next few weeks, before the minor league seasons end and I take another vacation! First up: AAA Tacoma.
AAA Tacoma Rainiers (Pacific Coast League)
To start the year, the Rainiers were mostly a collection of moderate talents and organizational guys who were around chiefly as big league insurance against injuries. There were some interesting guys, but I doubt most Mariner farm system watchers would have had any Rainiers in their top 5 prospects, maybe even top 10. That’s changed in a big way recently. I’m going to break guys down into tiers depending on the level of prospect they are. This is not every player on the Rainiers, just those that I think are interesting for whatever reason.
I’m Kind of a Big Deal
Dustin Ackley- 2B (OF/1B) There’s plenty on Ackley here and elsewhere, so I’ll try to keep this brief and current. Ackley was the second overall pick last year and is hailed as maybe the best college hitter of the last decade. He started the year in AA and got off to a rough start as he transitioned to 2B (played 1B last year of college due to an arm injury). Since April, he’s shown the contact hitting and on-base skills that make him one of the top 10 prospects in baseball. Sounds like a combination of Ichiro-esque contact ability and Figgins walk rates, with speed to rival either of them. Power isn’t showing much, but I’d expect lots of doubles eventually, with a chance at homers in the 20s at his peak. Defensively, the swith to second has been rough, but I haven’t heard anyone who doesn’t think he can be at least average there in the next couple of years. Decent chance he ends up in left or center or even back at first down the road though. He could be a future batting champion, and it would surprise no one if he started 2011 at second for the Mariners. He could be up even sooner if Jose Lopez goes away in the next month.
Michael Pineda- RHP Baseball America uses the term “helium” to describe a prospect who’s improving their stock, but Pineda is more like a rocketship right now. A decent prospect with some arm issues last season, he’s now one of the top few starter prospects in baseball. He’s about 6′ 6″, 250 at least, and throws in the mid-90s. In his last start, he reportedly sat at 97 MPH and hit 100, getting 11 K’s in 5 innings. Opinions differ on his offspeed stuff. Sounds like it’s decent but underdeveloped because… he throws 97 with excellent command! Think Doug Fister that month when he was hitting every spot, then add 10 MPH. Right now they have him on a strict pitch count to limit his innings (due to those arm issues, which haven’t bothered him this year), but there’s no reason to think he couldn’t be the Mariners second or third best starter right now. Barring injury, he’ll be a Mariner by next June at the latest.
Biding My Time
Adam Moore- C Everyone knows about Moore, but I’m betting public opinion on him is pretty sour, which I’d say is unjustified. He struggled mightily before being injured, but that’s not uncommon for a rookie catcher. He’s killing the ball again at Tacoma, and will be up soon to stay, or at least until he proves he’s not a major league catcher. He’s still well-thought of and is the Mariners’ only internal shot at a good catcher in the next 5 years, at least. I’m betting he takes hold of the starting job by the end of the year.
Scary Awesome, Also Just Scary
Greg Halman- OF Halman feels like he’s been around forever, but he’s still only 22 (for a few weeks). I wrote something on him recently, but the basics are this: crazy power, best in the system; good athlete, solid defense; strikes out like you wouldn’t believe. This year, I think he’s gotten a few more walks and a few less strikeouts, and anything he connects on is probably going for extra bases. He was pretty much written off after a terrible 2009, so the rebound is good to see. He’ll have to continue to improve the pitch recognition to stick in the bigs, but there’s some hope again with Halman. If he ever totally clicks, he could be a 30-40 homer guy.
Biding My Time, But Not Much Time Left
Matt Tuiasosopo- Everything but C & P Tui can now play pretty much every position poorly, which would be surprisingly valuable if he could ever start hitting in the majors. He’s only 24 with less experience than some, so I guess there’s still hope, but I’ve pretty much written off any chance of him being a good starter. I hope he proves me wrong eventually.
Mike Wilson- OF I think I’ve heard Wilson described as a less spectacular Halman, and that makes sense in my mind. Similar profile with everything (good and bad) on a smaller scale. He’s having a good year, but he’s now in his late 20s, so to expect much is risky. Expect him to see some time in Seattle in September, unless the Mariners have decided he’s just not in their plans. If he shows he can hit a little in the bigs, he could be a good platoon/back-up type, but it’s just as likely he’s with another organization this time next year.
Ryan Feierabend- SP Doesn’t totally fit here because he’s still recovering from arm surgery, but the guy’s been around forever. A soft-tossing lefty, he’ll never be a star and might never be a big leaguer, but there’s a moderate chance he sees the back of the rotation sometime next year.
Matt Mangini- 3B/1B Mangini is a former first round pick who was largely forgotten until a good year so far this year. Not sure he has enough to really make it though. He hits well enough that, if he translated his current numbers to the bigs, he’d be a solid third baseman. Chances are good he has to change positions though, and it’s debateable whether he’ll hit well enough to be a full-time 1B or DH. He’s got a chance though, and provides good depth if nothing else.
Your Attention Please. Now Pitching…
Anthony Varvaro, RHP
Edward Paredes, LHP
Two relievers recently promoted from AA, my knowledge here is limited, but they’re both well thought of. Varvaro was drafted while recovering from surgery and has never quite regained his pre-surgery stuff, but he’s one of the better relief arms in the system and will probably see the bullpen in 2011. I’ve always like him, for some reason. I think it’s the name. I know next to nothing about Paredes, but he’s likely to be up in 2011 at some point too.
Next up: AA West Tennessee, home of the Slammin’ Italian and uh, some other guys!