Prospects and Suspects
By: Matt Gaeta
In my continuing looked at the most improved minor league farm systems over the past couple of years, we take a peek at the Seattle Mariners. When you build a ballpark with the pitcher friendly dimensions that SafeCo field possesses, your best move as an organization is to focus player development resources on grooming pitchers. Taking a chapter from the blueprint laid out by Earl Weaver, it looks like the Seattle Mariners have established a franchise philosophy of growing pitchers and buying bats. This isn't to say that the Mariners are void of impact bats in their minor league system, because I believe they might have one of the most solid collection of infield talent in baseball. But this team is only going to go as far as their collection of arms will take them. So let’s take a look at what the Mariners have to offer the AL West, in what I see as a mind-blowing collection of talent to work off the bump in the foreseeable future.
Probably the best rotation in minor league baseball, the Jackson Generals possessed what is probably 80% of the 2014 opening day rotation for the Seattle Mariners.Taijuan Walker:
Drafted out of high school in 2011, Taijuan was a prototypical multisport star in high school that didn't focus solely on pitching so he was considered a raw product and slipped to the 41st overall pick of the draft. Not having a 1st round selection in the draft, the Mariners decided to go high-risk, high-reward with their first selection in the draft, and so far it's been all reward. Taijuan has an almost dreamlike pitchers’ frame at 6'4'' 210 pounds, with athletic ability to spare. His natural strength allows for a fluid and almost effortless delivery, with a clean and quick delivery of all of his pitches. Taijuan brings a fastball to the table that has the potential to be considered elite, with boring action and great late movement. The pitch sits in the 94-96 mph range and tops out at 99 when needed, and his fluid deliver gives the pitch late bite and movement that bores down hard on right hand hitters. His curveball has the potential to be a true top line out pitch but, he needs to be more consistent when through it (because when he throws it), he has the tendency to get sloppy with it at times. But when it's on, it's a true hard hammer curve. He needs to be given time to develop his changeup like most youngsters, but he maintains arm speed when delivering it. The overall deception of the pitch is still spotty at this point in his young career. He needs to learn how to rely on his natural ability and refrain from overthrowing, which causes his pitches to be delivered high in the zone. As with all young pitchers there remains a lot of learning for this kid to truly have a repertoire to get major league batters out, but all early indications are positive and he seems to have the ability to anchor a staff in the future.Danny Hultzen:
The first pitcher taken in the 2011 amateur draft, Danny was considered an extremely polished college pitcher and destined for a fast track to the major leagues. The thing that made him so appealing coming out of Virginia was his pinpoint control, but early into his professional career control seems to be his biggest problem. Walking 5.2 batters per 9 innings, much has been written about Danny's lack of control so far in his professional career. I think it's not as big an issue as evaluators are making it to be. I believe Danny has just pitched to more disciplined batters in AA and AAA than he faced in the ACC and has the ability to make the proper corrections moving forward. A big solid kid like Taijuan, he also has a great pitchers frame at 6'3'' 200 lbs with a great foundation to hurler from. His fastball is an exceptional pitch, sitting at 91-93 mph with the ability to dial it up to 95, the pitch has great sink to it that allows him to stay low in the zone with it. His slider is already a major league ready pitch that comes very fluid and naturally out of his hand. Not to seem redundant, but as it seems to be the story of most young pitchers, he's going to need to be given time to develop his changeup to be a true presence on the mound. Danny has show the ability to throw the changeup but still lacks consistency and confidence in the pitch. Taken as the second overall draft pick can be a little deceptive, as he isn't the frontline starter you would hope to get out of this pick but more of a low ceiling high floor middle of the rotation guy. That being said, there is no reason why Danny can't have an extremely productive career although I doubt Seattle has anything more then a solid number three type of pitcher here.James Paxton:
The biggest steal in 2010 draft, James was drafted in the 4th round after going in the 1st round in the previous years draft. Seems to be a reoccurring theme with the Mariners pitching prospects, he also has a solid pitchers frame standing at 6'2'' 200 lbs. He has a very heavy fastball that sits between 92-94, but has been known to dial it all the way up to 99 at times. However, he seems to favor his two seam fastball that is a very effective pitch and induces a lot of ground ball outs. His slider has the chance to be a plus major league offering and can be utilized as an out pitch in the future. He has a curve ball that he offers at times as a show you pitch but it's more a slurve and might need to be shelved in the major leagues. His changeup is serviceable and will keep hitters off balance, but nothing beyond that. The biggest concern with James is his long delivery and the ability the hitters have to identify his pitches because of it. Although statistically he had the better season out of the the three pitchers mentioned so far, I think he is destined to fall behind both Taijuan and Danny in the organizations depth chart.Brandon Maurer:
Quite possibly the biggest surprise for the Mariners over the past few seasons and the first pitcher out of this quartet to get a look in the major leagues. Brandon follows our trend of big solid pitchers with a 6'5'' frame that very easily carries his 200 lbs. Drafted out of high school in 2008 in the 23rd round Brandon was never considered a top pitching prospect until this season. He utilizes that big frame to produce a fastball that sits comfortably in the 93-95 with a topside of 97. This fastball has plenty of arm side bite and downward plane to be more then serviceable. He has a very solid set of secondary pitches that include a tight slider, a truly deceptive changeup, and a real 12-6 curve ball. Although none of these offerings are off the chart good, as a collective group they are more then enough to be help Brandon become a very good innings eater type for the Mariners.
Besides having these four very solid young pitchers in AA this season the Mariners have plenty of pitching depth in the organization not limited to but including: Erasmo Ramirez, Victor Sanchez, Anthony Fernandez, Stephen Pryor, Carter Capps, Yoervis Medina, Brian Moran, Stephen Kohlscheen, Trevor Miller. These aren't just names they are all legitimate pitching prospects. I think I could add an additional 8-12 names to this list comfortably. That being said, this is a great collection of pitching that the Mariners have developed and rightly earning them a spot on my top 5 most improved farm systems.