The Southern League team is dominated by Mariners prospects, including one of the best pitching prospects in the game and a 2012 draftee. It’s a relatively small league so the pickings are slim at some positions, but every player on this roster has some big-league aspirations.
Catcher: Mike Zunino (Jackson) – If the season ended two weeks earlier I probably would have stuck with Bethancourt as my post-season catcher on this squad. In that final two weeks, Mike Zunino, the Mariners top pick in June arrived in Jackson, Mississippi and absolutely destroyed the toughest competition of his career. Zunino has the offensive and defensive potential to be a perennial All-Star and he could arrive in Seattle during the middle of the 2013 season. (Pre-Season Pick: Christian Bethancourt)
First Base: Hunter Morris (Huntsville) – During the pre-season there wasn’t a single Southern League first baseman that I was interested in talking about. While I’m still not convinced he has a significant big-league future, Milwaukee’s Hunter Morris is the best first base prospect in the league. He’s slugged at every stop of his career and that didn’t stop as he his plus-plus raw power really showed through this year with 40 doubles and 28 home runs. His increased power production came with more swing and miss and there are questions about his hitting ability at the highest level. (Pre-Season Pick: N/A)
Second Base: Scooter Gennett (Huntsville) – Gennett made the pre-season roster and he was solid enough to hold onto his spot despite some other solid keystone players. If an MLB career is in Gennett’s future, it isn’t going to be anything flashy, but he could grind his way to a solid little career on a second division club. He’s lost a little bit of production at every stop up the ladder and he’ll need to make sure he doesn’t slip any more. (Pre-Season Pick: Scooter Gennett)
Third Base: Matt Davidson (Mobile) – This season was the epitome of what scouts have expected from Davidson since the day he was drafted. In his first exposure to the upper levels, he managed to slug 28 doubles and 23 home runs while increasing his walk rate and cutting his strikeout rate despite moving up a level. There is little certainty that he can stick at third base but if he keeps hitting, he’ll keep getting chances in the field. (Pre-Season Pick: Matt Davidson)
Shortstop: Nick Franklin (Jackson) – Franklin may have only been in the Southern League for 57 games before moving on to Triple-A, but that was enough to make a huge impression on me. He has always been a bat-first prospect and that held true this year as he hit .322/.394/.502 during his time in the league. Shortstop likely isn’t in his long term plans but he could slide over to second base and be an above-average regular and occasional All-Star that helps bring the Mariners back to prominence. (Pre-Season Pick: Hak-Ju Lee)
Outfield: Todd Cunningham (Mississippi), Mikie Mahtook (Montgomery), Alfredo Marte (Mobile) – Adam Eaton did plenty to hold onto his spot on this team but I opted to give other players a chance after he made the Pacific Coast League squad. Atlanta’s Todd Cunningham owns a very strong fourth outfielder profile and the occasional scout will see an average regular. He solidified his status after a couple of injury-plagued seasons by hitting .309 with 23 doubles and 24 steals across 120 games. While the Rays typically take things slowly with their pitching prospects, they wasted no time pushing Mikie Mahtook to Double-A. The numbers don’t jump off the page but he does just about everything at least solidly well and could be a solid regular at any of the three outfield spots. Alfredo Marte was one of the Southern League’s breakout prospects as he put on a show all season long and impressed observers in this year’s Futures Game. With his ability to absolutely kill left-handed pitchers and the pop in his bat, Marte should at least reach the big leagues in a platoon role. (Pre-Season Pick: Todd Cunningham, Adam Eaton, Blake Smith)
Pitcher: Daniel Corcino (Pensacola), James Paxton (Jackson), Taijuan Walker (Jackson) – The biggest thing that stood out when looking through pre-season rosters was the Jackson pitching staff that feature Taijuan Walker, James Paxton and Danny Hultzen. The rotation was truly fascinating all year long, but not for the reasons people expected. The most polished of the trio, Danny Hultzen struggled with his command and control. James Paxton was the most consistent and Walker struggled at times, as expected, while showing tremendous raw stuff. Walker remains one of the best pitching prospects in the game and I’m a huge fan. I aggressively ranked Corcino in the Reds system heading into the season and he made me look pretty smart with a 3.01 ERA across 26 starts in Double-A. He allowed far less than a hit per inning and struck out nearly eight per nine innings thanks to a power fastball-slider combination. (Pre-Season Pick: Jackson Generals Starting Rotation)