The Mariners list required some last minute revisions after they dealt Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to the Yankees for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi. Despite a powerful trio of arms atop the list before that trade, Montero easily slots in as the number one guy in the system. The departed Campos would have slotted in the top five or six prospects with ease as well. This system now packs a punch with a trio of high-powered arms and a big bat at the top, not to mention some raw, high ceiling times that could take a step forward.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to one of my readers for correcting my inclusion of Dan Cortes. I had overlooked his departure from the Mariners organization and have revised the #15 spot on the list.
1. Jesus Montero (C)
Montero jumps from number one on the Yankees list to number one on a very highly regarded Mariners list. That’s what happens when you’re one of the elite offensive prospects in the game. He offers the best combination of power and hitting ability in the system and should be a staple in the M’s lineup for years to come. I recently completed a detailed scouting report of him that can be found here.
2. Taijuan Walker (RHP)
Walker is a scout’s dream when it comes to right-handed pitchers. He is long, lean and ultra projectable. His raw ceiling invokes visions of a number one starter thanks to a mid-90s fastball that can reach 98 mph, a hammer curveball and a change-up that shows promise. He still lacks refined command but he won’t turn 20-years old until August and his athleticism allows for command projection. There’s not much to dislike when evaluating Walker and every cliché about raw ceiling can be applied. The sky truly is the limit here.
3. Danny Hultzen (LHP)
The Mariners surprised many by taking Hultzen with the second pick in the draft, but they had plenty of heat on him in a late season start at Boston College. Hultzen has number two starter potential and he could move very quickly through the M’s system. His fastball sits in the low-90s and will touch higher. His change-up shows 70-grade potential at times but he has a tendency to over throw it and leave it drifting away from him to the arm side. He also throws a slider that earns consistent average grades. He should start the 2012 season in Double-A with a chance to break into the Mariners rotation for good in 2013.
4. James Paxton (LHP)
Paxton has taken a circuitous route to the upper echelon of prospectdom. He was forced to sit out parts of his college career due to disputes with the NCAA over his negotiations with the Blue Jays in 2009 and then didn’t show the same raw stuff in independent ball prior to the 2010 draft. He was nothing short of phenomenal last year, torching the Midwest League and having absolute no trouble after a two-level bump to Double-A. Both his fastball and curveball earn plus to plus-plus grades while his change-up flashes as an average pitch. He must refine his command of the strike zone but he could be a very solid number three starter with a chance to breakout and become a number two.
5. Nick Franklin (SS)
Illness stunted Franklin’s rise in 2011 but he still showed plenty of skills once healthy toward the end of the season. He has good bat speed and a good feel for hitting to go with a highly leveraged swing that generate at least average raw power. He has the potential to hit 15-18 home runs with a solid batting average and some secondary skills. There is still a large cadre of scouts that question his ability to stick at shortstop long term, but some scouts do believe his offensive output will make his merely average defensive tools and allow him to stick at the position.
6. Guillermo Pimentel (OF)
Pimentel’s raw power rivals anyone in the system, including the newly added slugger topping this prospect list. He has the potential to hit 35+ home runs down the line thanks to a lofted swing and good enough swing mechanics to allow him to hit for some average. Pimentel is a bat-first guy that will be limited to left field long term. If he tightens his strike zone he could be an offensive force in the middle of the lineup, but it could take a while to get there.
7. Francisco Martinez (3B)
Martinez was the highest ceiling piece in the trade that sent Doug Fister and David Pauley to the Detroit Tigers last July. He has an exceptional swing path with hands that work well and a rapidly improving idea at the plate. His long arms and natural strength leave some scouts to project above-average power but that has yet to materialize in games. He is a plus runner and a plus thrower but his instincts at third base have left scouts wondering if he is destined for an outfield corner where his athleticism may play better. Though he’s already spent an entire year at Double-A, Martinez will repeat the level in 2012 at just 21-years old. He could reach the big leagues sometime in 2013.
8. Phillips Castillo (OF)
The Mariners big splash in the 2010 international market, Castillo has the potential to be a special offensive player. He has plus-plus bat speed and a natural feel for hitting that belies his age. He shows gap power in batting practice and should show 15-20 home run power once he matures physically. Much like Guillermo Pimentel, Castillo is likely destined for left field long term. He is not a good runner or thrower. His offensive has a chance to profile as that of a number three hitter in the end, but it will need to for him to maximize his value at the big league level.
9. Vinnie Catricala (1B)
Another in a lengthy line of bat-only prospects in this system, Catricala can flat out hit. He consistently stings the ball to all fields and has an outstanding approach to hitting. Though he lacks the loft in his swing to be a classic power hitter, he could rack up 40 doubles and 15-20 home runs annually. The Mariners have tried him at just about every corner position with nothing fitting thus far. Most scouts see a first baseman in the end and he will need every bit of his offensive projection to become a big league regular if that is the case.
10. Chance Ruffin (RHP)
Another piece acquired in the trade with the Tigers last summer, Ruffin is ready to pitch in the big leagues in 2012. He has a lively fastball that sits at 91-93 mph and will touch 95 with less life when he needs it. His slider earned high marks in the Tigers organization and is a legitimate swing-and-miss pitch at the big league level. Ruffin gets a little wild at times and can lose the strike zone. He is an “interesting dude” as one scout put it with the right kind of mentality to handle the late innings. He fits more as a setup man than a closer though.
11. Martin Peguero (SS)
Peguero was though by some to be a more highly thought of prospect on the 2010 international scene that teammate Phillips Castillo. That belief has changed since both have made their professional debut but Peguero still offers plenty of offensive potential. He has quick hands that get the bat to the hitting zone very quickly and show solid power projection. Scouts I spoke with believe he has the potential to hit for a high average and solid power down the line while also being a plus runner. He doesn’t look the part of a shortstop, getting very messy in every phase of his defensive game. He could slide to second base long term in the hope that the bat carries him there.
12. Chih-Hsien Chiang (OF)
Chiang came over from the Red Sox as part of the three-team trade that send Erik Bedard to the Red Sox late last year. He’s a bit of a tweener in that he doesn’t have the classic offensive profile for an outfield corner and is a little stretched defensively in center field. He has good bat-to-ball skills with doubles power. He is more of a left fielder due to his fringe-average athleticism and below-average arm. Chiang could use some time at Triple-A to polish his game but he could be a very nice fourth outfielder or fringy everyday guy at the big league level.
13. Jabari Blash (OF)
A Miami Dade Community College product Blash entices with tremendous athleticism and plenty of tools. He is a huge kid, built more like a linebacker than a baseball player, that moves extremely well with above-average running ability. Power projects to be a huge part of his game both in terms of home runs and arm strength, as both tools stand out as potential 70-grade monsters. His hitting approach and defensive instincts lag way behind and may never catch up but the raw potential he shows with his size and athleticism maintains a high level of intrigue.
14. Alex Liddi (3B)
Liddi drew some Joe Crede comps early in his career but nearly all scouts have backed way off of that projection now. He can drive the ball out of the park to any field when he makes contact, but that is all too infrequent. Liddi struggles as a hitter and will always pile up strikeouts and hit for a low average. His defense has not progressed and some scouts feel he could end up at first base in the long run.
15. Tyler Marlette (C)
The M’s gave Marlette $650,000 as an over slot signing in last summer’s draft and the scouts I spoke with loved his athletic ability, effort level, bat speed and arm strength. While he is still very raw and there are questions about how much contact he will make at higher levels, it is hard to ignore a backstop with potential for average power, a plus arm and good athleticism. Marlette will likely move slowly through the system and the development of his bat will ultimately dictate his progression.