Have you ever thought about the confusion that most come with farmers who follow minor league baseball closely. They might ask, “What’s going on down on the farm today?” How does the farmers confused son answer? It could be, “The cows are milked, the chickens are laying eggs, and the sheep dog is having a good time.” He could also say, “James Paxton looked awfully good in his debut and Nick Franklin has started the season on fire.” Both answers are correct, assuming the farmer has kept his farm in good health, but the father’s probably only looking for one answer. Man, that would get confusing. Of course you haven’t thought about that. No one has because that’s stupid. Well, maybe the select farmers who follow baseball make a good wise crack about it sometimes.
The Mariners farm has been making a good amount of noise in the last year. How’s that for a transition? Say what you want to about Jack Z, but he has truly brought the farm system to one of the highest levels it’s ever been at in organizational history. Yes, that doesn’t mean definite success but that’s one of the reasons why Matthew, me and many others are big fans of his.
The minor league teams opened the season Thursday and I thought I’d give you a quick rundown of players you might be interested and where they’re at. I’ll just go team-by-team through the system with the players I find the most interesting. I will skip over some players because, either, I don’t find them interesting or I just simply miss them on accident. Leave any player questions in the comments and I’ll get to them. Also, Jay Yencich from USS Mariner has written a preview for each team that will be much more detailed than my rundown so I’ll link it by the team name for all those hardcore fans like the farmer in the first paragraph (ha! You thought I couldn’t tie that back in).
Tacoma Rainiers (AAA) USSM Preview
Triple-A teams often don’t have top prospects in them, at least for long. It’s thought that AAA teams store all the depth for the big-league club and that includes many AAAA players (what I mean by that is players who have mastered triple-A but can’t quite cut it in the majors for the long haul). No offense, Mike Wilson. That holds mostly true this year. The Mariners double-A team may have more talent on it, but Tacoma still has some very interesting names. Here are the names that intrigue me the most in Tacoma.
Players to watch:
Maurico Robles and Forrest Snow (SP) – Tacoma’s starting rotation leaves a bit to be desired but these are the two most interesting prospects here. Robles is a lefty who has a low-90’s fastball. If he’s going to make the majors, it’ll be as a reliever. I’m not sure why he isn’t in the bullpen already. He struggles with control. Forrest Snow is a UW alum and stands a bit more of a chance to get into the M’s rotation at some point. He’s basically skipping the double-A level. He doesn’t have the best stuff (good change-up but everything else is about average) but could be a decent back of the rotation starter. Anthony Vasquez is in Tacoma too but he should never start a game for the M’s again. Please.
Charlie Furbush – You know about him. He’s a lefty and was with the Mariners most of the 2nd half last year. He is in the bullpen but he could make a spot start here and there. He has decent stuff and sometimes it’s even pretty good. If he keeps the home runs down he’ll find his way up soon.
Chance Ruffin – Tacoma’s strength is their bullpen. Ruffin is a righty with a mid-90’s fastball and good slider. He was with the M’s at the end of last year and will be again, I imagine.
Shawn Kelley – Another good righty in the bullpen. He lost a little velocity from Tommy John surgery and maybe they sent him down to try to get it back? I don’t know, but he’s probably better than some of the guys in the Seattle bullpen.
Cesar Jimenez -Cesar is a lefty specialist and there’s usually a place on big-league clubs for players like this eventually. He has gotten a little worse with his control and overall numbers the last couple of years. Still, he’s worth keeping an eye on. All four of these guys aren’t far from making the Mariners and I bet some of them will be up before the end of the month even.
Vinnie Catricala (3B) – Position players! Vinnie is probably the best, actual prospect on Tacoma. He can hit really well. Vinnie made a push for the 3rd base job in the spring but lost out. That’s probably good since he’s hardly played in AA, and has not played at all in AAA. He has improved his strikeout numbers last year and hopefully will do so again this year. He needs to improve his defense too. The guy can hit and will find a place on the M’s soon if he can find a true position.
Carlos Triunfel (2B, SS) – Triunfel will probably play shortstop for Tacoma most of the time. He used to be the prized prospect in the system but a broken leg kind of unhinged him and he hasn’t really regained his top status since. His hitting numbers went down and his defense at shortstop is questionable. He’s still pretty young and had a large improvement last year so maybe there’s still hope for him.
Carlos Peguero (LF) – Maybe I shouldn’t put him in here because if you follow what I write you know that I’m not a fan of his at all. He swings and misses way too much, sucks at defense, and has no plate discipline. That being said, he hits the ball a country mile and has started off the year on fire.
Trayvon Robinson (CF) – Trayvon strikes out too much but he hits for some power and has a good amount of speed (although his stolen bases have gone down a lot for some reason). If he could up his contact rate, he’d be a really interesting player that would be fighting to the top of the centerfield pile. Lets hope for some development.
That’s it for Tacoma, and I’m already over 1000 words. Check out the most talented team in the minors after the jump! I’m not kidding, extremely talented!
Jackson Generals (AA) USSM preview
This team was named the most talented minor league team by Baseball America. It’s easy to say why. They have 4 of the top 100 rated prospects in baseball.
Who to watch:
Andrew Carraway and Brandon Maurer (SP) – These guys would probably be the most interesting prospects in Tacoma. In Tennessee they are the 4th and 5th most interesting. Carraway is good depth. He has decent stuff and a low-walk rate. That’s a good combo, as we’ve seen from Doug Fister and Blake Beavan. Maurer has gotten hurt a lot but has a pretty nice fastball-slider combo. He’s capable of putting up a big year if he stays healthy, I would say keep an eye on him.
Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton (SP) – There’s the big 3. Man, it’s fun to write all those names down. They are all top 50 prospects in baseball and all have reasons to say they are better than the other. Hultzen was the number 2 pick last year and mixes a mid 90’s fastball with a good change and a decent slider. Oh yeah, and he’s left-handed. The guy will be good. He struggled in his debut a bit but he struck out 7 in 4 innings and has been striking out everyone in spring training. Taijuan Walker is the youngest and maybe the most exciting of the big 3. He has absolutely electric stuff and is extremely athletic. A high 90’s fastball, and improving secondary stuff. The Mariners truly found a gem here. He’s being promoted quickly and as long as he’s staying healthy I think we’ll see him next year before he’s 21. Paxton is more major-league ready than Walker. He’s another lefty with a devastating fastball-curveball combo. He might be my favorite of the 3 but his health is the most questionable. If he stays healthy and keeps doing his thing, he could be in Seattle by June. He had 11 K’s in 5.2 innings on Friday. Man, these are high K numbers.
Carter Capps (RP) Carter Capps would be the other big gun, if he was starting. Some people are angry he’s not starting but it looks like he’ll be fast tracked to the major league bullpen. He’s got a very good fastball that could touch triple digits in relief. Keep an eye if he gets any starts sometime soon. Otherwise expect him in the bullpen within a few years.
Stephen Pryor (RP) Pryor is another guy who could make the bullpen quickly. He’s got a great heater that goes along with a good curveball. Capps or Pryor could be closing for the M’s in the not-so-distant future.
Nick Franklin (SS/2B) – Franklin is the other guy who’s often rated in the top 100 prospects in baseball. He’s the Mariners best position playing prospect (unless you think very highly of Catricala). He had a very interesting (in a bad way) year last year. He struggled in the easiest park to hit in the minor leagues, in high-A ball. Came to double-A and was awesome for a week, got a concussion, then food-poisoning, then maybe mono. He’s healthy now and this is a big year for him. He’s started off the season really hot and hopefully he continues this. People also question if he can stay at shortstop but most people think so.
Francisco Martinez (3B) – Martinez is the other guy from the Doug Fister trade and might be the most interesting. He hit very well in Jackson last year after the trade. Some people thought he’d start the year in Tacoma and he might end up there if he keeps hitting like he did last year.
Rich Pothyress (1B) – Pothyress has a long way to go but he can hit the ball a long ways. He could break out with some huge power numbers but needs to work on his contact rate.
Johermyn Chavez (RF) – Chavez, like Pothyress, has big-time power but may have inflated numbers from high-A ball last year. Watch him but don’t be surprised if he struggles.
Chih-Hsien Chiang (RF,LF) – Chiang came over with Trayvon Robinson in the Erik Bedard trade last year. He was great in the minors before the trade and then struggled mightily afterwards. Some cite diabetes for the drop off but it’ll be interesting to see if he bounces back.
There are probably more players I should have added but I’m nearing 2000 words and still have two teams to go. This team has plenty of future Mariners on it and it’ll be exciting to follow these guys until some get called up. Taijuan Walker starts today, so y’all know.
High-Desert Mavericks (High-A) USSM preview
Matthew has talked about the ballpark the Mavericks have played in. To put it simply, the numbers at the High Desert home field will be skewed in favor of the offense. So, if you see someone putting up good offensive numbers but not being talked about seriously, that’s the reason why. This, and the next, team previews will be a little shorter because I, admittedly, don’t know as much about these players.
Players to watch:
Carson Smith (SP) – Smith was drafted in the 8th round last year and signed too late to play. He’s the most interesting of the rotation arms. He’ll have a mid-90’s fastball and a few other decent pitches. We don’t know if he’ll stay in the rotation long term but here’s to hoping. None of the other pitching prospects interest me too much.
Jonathan Arias (RP) – Arias is interesting because he was a catcher, switched to pitcher a few years back and then struck 101 guys in 63.1 innings. Dang! That’s a lot of guys. He walks a few too many guys to be taken seriously, so far.
Tyler Burgoon (RP) – This will be a test for Burgoon, who pretty much destroyed Clinton (the level below High-Desert) last year. He had about 4 times more K’s than BB. He has a mid-90’s fastball mixed with a good slider. He could be a fast mover through the system if he does okay here.
John Hicks and Jack Marder (C) – If you’re keeping track, which I bet you aren’t because this post is so long, these are the first catchers on the list. The catchers thus far are mostly just journeymen who are there for organizational depth but these guys are actually prospects. Both of them were drafted last year. Hicks was picked in the fourth round. He is not the best defensive catcher because he’s in the Mariners organization. He hits for a decent average but doesn’t walk much so far. Jack Marder played a few games at High-Desert last year. He played 9 at catcher and 5 at second base, weird huh? Marder might hit fairly well but he’s pretty new to the catcher position and needs to work on that.
Brad Miller (SS) – The second round pick last year has been hitting very well in the limited time he’s seen in the minors. The question is if he can handle the position while still hitting for a high enough average. I guess that’s the question for every baseball player ever? He started off the season with a couple of home runs, which is good to see because many people have said he doesn’t have much power.
That’s about all I see that interest me here. Maybe James Jones and Julio Morban in the outfield, but they have a long ways to go.
Clinton Lumberkings (A-Ball) USSM preview
The last team I’ll go over because Everett doesn’t start for a while. They also have my favorite team name in the system. Is a lumberking a king of lumber? Can it be that simple?
Players to Watch:
Cameron Hobson, Jordan Shipers, and Steve Landazuri (SP) – Clinton has a fairly interesting rotation. These are the guys I find the most interesting. They were all drafted in the last two years and all have decent stuff. Hobson is a lefty who impressed in Everett last year with 51 K’s and only 8 walks in 43.2 innings. Shipers was drafted out of high school in 2010 and is another lefty. He had a low 90’s fastball and a good change but his walk rates are far too high right now. Steve Landazuri is the righty in this group and is another guy with a low-90’s fastball. Like Shipers, he was drafted out of high school and has high walk rates. All of these guys are pretty young and have some inconsistencies, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them jumps into the top 10 of the systems prospect rankings by the end of the season.
Out of all the relievers, Wes Alsup is the most interesting of the bunch. He has a mid 90’s fastball and a mid 80’s slider. He didn’t play baseball much in high school or college. He was rated as the number 2 prospect in the independent league last year before the M’s picked him up.
Steve Baron (C) – Just kidding. But, he is in Clinton. Anything hitting wise would be nice from him. Steve, if you read this I hope you prove me and everyone else wrong and turn into an all-star major league catcher.
Mike Dowd (C) – Dowd was another guy who was drafted last year and he is pretty good on the defensive side of the field. He is very inconsistent on the offensive side and his numbers in Everett last year weren’t very good. He’s still young so here’s hoping for some improvement. We could really use one of these catching prospects to turn out.
Dan Paolini (2B) He’s the most enticing player on the infield. He was the 10th round pick last year and did pretty well offensively in Pulaski (the rookie league). Roman Morla (3B) also had a good year in Pulaski in 2010 but then he was bad in Everett last year so who knows if he could return to form.
Guillermo Pimental (LF) – Pimental is one of those international free agents the M’s spent a good chunk of change to get. He’s got tremendous power ability, some say 30+ home runs, but may swing at bad pitches too often. With a good year, Pimental could be in the top 5-10 prospects in the organization coming into next season.
Jabari Blash (RF) – We end with one of my favorite names in the whole system. He may strikeout too much but the guy can hit the ball for extra bases and can draw a walk too. He’s been a little bit inconsistent and that has plagued him, but if he could put it together he will easily be in the top ten prospects in the system because of his talent. Clinton might have the most exciting set of outfielders in the organization in these two guys. Jamal Austin may be another guy to look out for. He’s extremely fast but struggles at the plate a little bit.
That’s close to 3,000 words on these teams, which is making me wonder why I didn’t break this into a few different posts but oh well. Hopefully that gives you some guys to look out for. Larry Stone often posts recaps and box scores of the different games on his blog. That’s a good way to follow along and you can ask me too, I try to keep up. Now time to watch Yu Darvish face off against Chone Figgins!
Thanks for reading!