Every offseason, countless minor league prospect reports are released. Media sources big and small release top 10 lists of prospects for every major league team, some good, some a little bizarre, all of them fairly meaningless except as a distraction until the season starts.
For the Mariners, every list I saw has the same three prospects at the top. Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda are 1-2 in varying order, and Nick Franklin is pretty well always third. Baseball America, easily the most well-known of all the prospecting media sources, just released their Top 100 Prospect list, and these three are the only Mariner guys to make the list. That’s not a bad thing, as that’s about the average. It’s the same amount as the Rangers and Angels, and one more than the A’s. Furthermore, two of the Mariners are in the top 20 (Ackley #12, Pineda #16) and Nick Franklin is at #53. Not a bad showing, overall.
So, what do the Mariners have in these three? We’ve written to varying degrees on each, but to put it simply, they are, along with Felix and Justin Smoak, the foundation of the Mariners’ current rebuilding plan. Here’s a quick rundown of each after the jump:
Dustin Ackley– Ackley was the #2 overall pick in the 2009 draft out of North Carolina and was touted as the top college hitter of the past decade by BA at the time. He got his first major professional experience this past year, starting at the double A level. His initial results were fairly unimpressive; most thought he would put up huge numbers right away. In his defense, he was making the switch from first base and outfield to second base, and after a month or two, he was hitting pretty well for his first year in the pro’s. He moved up to Tacoma halfway through the year and leveled off a bit, but it was still a solid first year. He’s likely to start at Tacoma again, but should be in Seattle by early summer.
Ackley is a threat to win batting titles, and he has an eye that should produce a .400 on-base percentage eventually. He’s more likely to hit a ton of doubles than home runs, but it wouldn’t be crazy for him to reach the mid-20s in homers at his peak. It’s hard to tell how the power will develop, but even if it doesn’t progress a ton, his contact ability and incredible eye should make him at least an average offensive second baseman, and probably a lot better. Whether he’ll stick at second is unsure as well. He’s an outstanding athlete and could easily switch to the outfield, but most think he’ll be okay at second, hopefully better. I have high hopes. He’s a hard worker and smart player, and with only one year at the position, he’s still likely to improve greatly.
Michael Pineda– Pineda is a mammoth right-handed pitcher. Two years ago he had some elbow issues that kept him off the field and out of most prospect talk. Last year, he made up for lost time in a hurry as he rocketed through double-A to Tacoma as well. He throws in the mid to high 90’s with solid command. His offspeed stuff needs some work, but it has potential to be above average as well. He too should be in Seattle by the summer, and probably has even odds to start the year in the rotation for the big club.
Injuries are always a risk for young pitchers, and that goes double for Pineda, given his previous arm issues. If he stays healthy, however, there’s no reason he can’t become a true top of the rotation pitcher. He’ll never be the number one guy in Seattle as long as Felix is around, but he can be an excellent complement.
Nick Franklin– Franklin is by far the biggest question mark of the three. Selected 25 spots after Ackley in 2009, he was a bit of a surprise pick. As a high school shortstop, he was seen more as a decent bat, good glove baseball rat type guy, who may or may not hit enough to make the bigs. A season later, Franklin made the Mariners scouting department look brilliant by exploding for 23 home runs in low-A ball in one of the better debuts for anyone in that draft.
2011 is a huge year for Franklin, after the surprise of 2010. If he can come close to duplicating last year’s power and show he can stick at short in the future, he’ll rocket up BA’s Top 100 list. Lots of people have doubts about his ability to play short long-term, but he’s probably at least two years away from the team needing to make a decision on that. If he can stay at short, you can argue that he’s the second best shortstop prospect in baseball. If he has to move to second or third, he’s still a decent prospect, but nowhere near as exciting. He’ll start the year in high A or AA ball. He could move fast, but it’s doubtful that he’ll see the majors before 2013.
So that’s the future, hopefully. Keep them in mind when the Mariners are struggling this year. Also keep in mind that it’s possible none of them will ever do anything in the majors. That’s just the way prospects work. The jump to the majors is huge, and some just don’t have what it takes to make it. Personally, barring injury, I feel pretty good about Ackley and Pineda. Franklin’s too far away to know anything yet.
One other bright spot to remember: due to their horrible 2010, the Mariners again have the #2 pick in June’s draft, and it’s considered the deepest draft in years. Right now, the top two candidates are probably Rice 3B Anthony Rendon and UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole. Either of them would likely be at the top of any Mariners prospect list, now or when they’re drafted. Baseball America noted this week that Rendon would probably be a top 10 prospect in all of baseball right now, maybe as high as #2. They said Cole might immediately become the top pitching prospect in baseball, as well. Good guys to have around. There are others on the radar as well, so we’ll see what happens in a couple of months. The future is looking brighter, Mariner fans.