Top 11: Down on the Farm

Another Top 11 coming right up! This time a look at the young guns in the Mariners farm system. The major league team might not be very impressive, but Jackie Z and co. have been hard at work stocking the shelves of the minor league affiliates with top talent through the draft and trades. Here’s the best of what the Mariners farm system has to offer.

11. Phillips Castillo (OF, Rookie)

This 18 year old prospect, who was signed by the Mariners out of the Dominican in 2010, shows great promise a few years down the road. He began by hitting a solid .300 and a .848 OPS in the Arizona League last season at the Rookie level. Castillo possesses the potential to develop some power in his bat, but will also hit for average. Again, keep in mind that he is still at least three years away, but ESPN Insider Keith Law did coin him as the Mariners’ minor league “sleeper,” which is promising. He probably has one of the highest ceilings offensively in the Mariners system, but we all know that anything can happen in the minors.

10. Brandon Maurer (SP, AA)

Selected by the Mariners in the 23rd round of the ’08 draft, Maurer is your prototypical starting pitcher coming in at 6’5″ and 200 lbs. This is now year five for the 21 year old righty and he seems to be making steady progress. He has been injury prone in the past, having dealt with elbow troubles, but he seems to be doing quite well so far this season with the Double-A Jackson Generals of the Southern League. He currently boasts a 5-1 record and 3.82 ERA, but has been extra impressive in June, compiling a record of 3-0 and a 2.73 ERA. Look for him to continue to improve if he can stay healthy.

9. Brad Miller (SS, High-A)

Selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, Miller has torn up the minors since then. He batted .415 for the Clinton Lumberjacks in the Single-A California League, and has set another hot pace this season by batting .322 with a .934 OPS for the Advanced-A High Desert Mavericks. This should come as no surprise though, as Miller was the ACC player of the year in 2011 for Clemson and is a two-time USA national team member. He has been described as a “hard-nosed” player who can either stick at shortstop, or develop into a utility man down the road.

8. Francisco Martinez (3B, AA)

Another member of the powerful Double-A team the Mariners have, Martinez was acquired from the Tigers in the Doug Fister trade. He can hit for power to all fields and shows great athleticism on defense at the hot corner. He is only currently batting a modest .253, but managed to hit for a .310 average through 33 games last season at the Double-A level so hopefully he can find his stroke and put in a improved second half. I think he is probably three years away from the big leagues, best case scenario.

7. Carter Capps (RP, AA)

Capps is a large human being. Weighing in at 220 lbs and standing 6’5″ tall, he dominates batters with an impressive fastball that approaches the triple digits. He also throws a slider, curveball, and changeup, although they still need some work. He was drafted in the third round of the 2011 draft after setting a Div. II record with 24 straight wins, going 10-0 and 14-1 in 2010 and 2011 respectively. He struggled a bit initially in Single-A last season, but has settled nicely in the closing role in Double-A. Appearing in 25 games this season so far, he has pitched 34.2 innings and currently has a 1.30 ERA with 10 saves, a 5.3 SO/BB ratio, and a .195 opponent batting average. I can’t wait to watch this guy climb the minor league ladder and cement himself as a force in the Mariners bullpen.

6. Vinnie Catricala (3B, AAA)

Named the 2011 organization player of the year, Catricala has never ceased to impress since entering the Mariners system in 2009. An above .300 hitter at every level he’s encountered so far, Vinnie is a well groomed batter with good plate discipline. He can play third, first, or outfield, but as of right now we will list him as a third basemen. Don’t be surprised if you see Catricala in the big leagues in the next two years.

5. James Paxton (SP, AA)

Paxton is one of the prized pieces of the Mariners pitching prospects. Standing at 6’4″ and 220 lbs, the southpaw has a nasty fastball that can reach up to 97 mph, a curveball that has potential to develop into a plus breaking ball, and a changeup. Paxton is still raw for his age, but if he is able to pull it together, he could really become something special. He has the looks of being as high as a number two starter in the majors, and I see him breaking into the league probably by 2013 or 2014.

4. Mike Zunino (C, )

Just drafted by the Mariners with the third overall pick in this year’s draft, Zunino is a special player. If you want to know much more about this guy, check out our article by the “Credible Italian Guy,” who is a freak when it comes to everything Mariners. Truly great work on his part, but if you are pressed for time let me tell you a few things about Zunino on why he is so special. He is great defensively, which is something that current catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero has been criticized for. But not in this scenario. Zunino is a lock to be that backstop that is so coveted by teams. Secondly, he is above average offensively, especially for a catcher. And lastly, he is experienced, having played in the SEC for the past three years, and is great leader, which you can never have to much of on your ball club. Overall, a great pickup for the Mariners organization.

3. Nick Franklin (SS, AAA)

When I think Nick Franklin, I think of a younger Michael Young. Franklin is a line drive hitter who has shown some pop in his bat at times. He is also above average defensively, showing nice range, and is fast on the base paths. Franklin just was promoted to Triple-A Tacoma this past weekend after batting .322 over 57 games for Jackson. I would be excited about this talented infielder as a Mariner fan and would expect to see him in the big leagues by next season at some point.

2. Danny Hultzen (SP, AAA)

Easily the closest person on this list to breaking into the Majors, Hultzen came into the Mariners system with an already high floor. Drafted second overall in the 2011 draft out of Virginia, Hultzen is bound for probably a middle to back end of the rotation spot. He doesn’t possess as high of a ceiling as most number two overall picks do, but he is a talented young pitcher nonetheless. His fastball clocks in at around 95 mph and has a plus slider and a changeup that is coming along nicely. He was absolutely dominant in Double-A earlier this season, posting an 8-3 record with a 1.19 ERA, and in turn has recently been promoted to Triple-A Tacoma. He was roughed up in his first start there, but this is still a learning process so I’m sure he will do fine from here on out. Don’t be surprised if he is a late season call-up to the majors, but I definitely see Hultzen in the starting rotation for the Mariners at the start of next season.

1. Taijuan Walker (SP, AA)

The best of the best, Taijuan Walker is a future number one ace for the Seattle Mariners. It’s hard not to love everything about this guy. Standing at 6’4″ and 210 lbs, the 19 year old righty is a complete stud. He has a potentially elite fastball that tops off at 99 mph, a nasty 12-6 curveball, and a changeup that is still a work in progress. Walker oozes potential. Thinking about him in a rotation with Hultzen, Paxton, and hopefully still Felix makes my heart skip a little. The Mariners could have the best starting pitching in the majors a few years down the road. And I know I may be getting out a little over my skis here, but a guy can dream can’t he? Anyways, I see Walker breaking onto the majors scene by 2014 and cementing himself as a dominant force for years to come.

Well, there you have it. Our top 11 prospects in the Mariners farm system. It is a little relieving to look at this list, especially after enduring another series lost to the lowly Padres. The future is bright people. Just keep remembering that. Jackie Z has been busy at work constructing a team of the future, and I think he has done a pretty good job at it thus far. At some point the Mariners will start turning it up. Nobody knows when that will be, but I can’t wait for it to happen.

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