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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

November 9, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Taijuan Walker tops Mariners’ prospect list on Baseball Prospectus

taijuan.jpg

(Taijuan Walker waves to the crowd at Safeco Field after signing as the Mariners’ top draft pick — No. 43 overall) in 2010. Seattle Times staff photo).

Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus unveiled his list of the top Mariners prospects today. Part of it is hidden behind a pay wall, but you can see his picks, and read his analysis of Taijuan Walker, whom BP has ranked as the No. 1 Mariners’ prospect.

Kevin is one of the best in the business at prospect analysis, so it’s interesting to see his rankings.

Five-Star Prospects

1. Taijuan Walker, RHP

2. Danny Hultzen, LHP

Four-Star Prospects

3. James Paxton, LHP

4. Nick Franklin, SS

Three-Star Prospects

5. Jose Campos, RHP

6. Guillermo Pimentel, OF

7. Francisco Martinez, 3B

8. Vinnie Catricala, 3B/1B/OF

9. Chih-Hsien Chiang, OF

10. Chance Ruffin, RHP

11. Phillips Castillo, OF

Nine More

12. Alex Liddi, 3B: Liddi has tremendous power, but it comes with poor hitting skills, tons of strikeouts, and questionable defense.

13. Martin Peguero, SS: This teen has plenty of tools, but few are star-level.

14. Brad Miller, 2B: This second-round pick is a grinder with a line-drive bat.

15. Erasmo Ramirez, RHP: Ramirez has fantastic command, but is the stuff enough?

16. Carter Capps, RHP: Capps has a power arm and power body, but a relief projection.

17. Dan Cortes, RHP: He has too much power stuff to be a Quad-A reliever, but Cortes’ big-league struggles are a concern.

18. Brandon Maurer, RHP: Some scouts love Maurer as a sleeper. This 6-foot-5 reliever can get up to 96 mph.

19. Stephen Pryor, RHP: He bounced back with a huge second half. Pryor has a plus-plus fastball but needs more.

20. Forrest Snow, RHP: Snow will be a fast mover thanks to a fastball with velocity and sink. He could pitch in big leagues in 2012, but he has a seventh-inning ceiling.

His overall analysis of the Mariners system: “As enviable a trio of starters as any team, but system leans on hopes of exceedingly young talent from there.”

Indeed, the Mariners could be on the verge of building a tremendous young pitching staff, with Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda already in the rotation, and Walker, Hultzen and James Paxton knocking on the door. Hernandez, of course, is already a bonafide ace, and Pineda had a standout rookie season. Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, appears to be the closest of the other three to cracking the rotation, despite the fact his professional experience is thus far limited to the Arizona Fall League (where he is excelling). Paxton, a lefty, was very impressive last year in his minor-league debut, while Walker, just 19, might have the highest upside of them all. Goldstein writes, “Walker’s ceiling ranks with any pitching prospect in the game.”

The Mariners know as well as any organization that the step from pitching prospect to major-league pitcher can be a huge one. Just look at Ryan Anderson , who once had the highest ceiling in the minor leagues, and now is wearing a chef’s hat, without ever throwing a major-league pitch. The harsh reality is that not all those guys are likely to pan out, but it’s still an enviable collection of pitching talent.

Hitting wise, the prognosis is not quite as bright, with the highest-end prospects — Guillermo Pimentel, Francisco Martinez, and Phillips Castillo — still seemingly far away from the majors. The one guy that continues to intrigue me is Vinnie Catricala, who combined to bat .349 with 97 runs, 77 extra-base hits (48 doubles, four triples, 25 homers) and 106 RBIs in 133 games split between Class A high Desert and Class AA Jackson. The problem with Catricala, who is 23 and hits right handed, is finding a position. He has dabbled at first, third and the outfield and is not a standout at any of them. But if he keeps hitting like that, he’s going to work his way into the Mariners’ plans.

The Mariners could realistically expect to have Hultzen and Paxton break into the majors at some point this year, but the rest are all at least a season away. Shortstop Nick Franklin is on a fast track and could move up very quickly, but his ETA is likely to be 2013. That means that for improvement in 2012, the Mariners will either need major advancements from their young players already in the majors — the likes of Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager, Mike Carp, Casper Wells , Blake Beavan, Charlie Furbush and Chance Ruffin — or some new acquisitions. The latter will unfold over the next couple of months. The general manager meetings, where the groundwork for deals are often laid, take place next week in Milwaukee, while the winter meetings, in Dallas, are in early December.

Goldstein concludes, “The Mariners organization has some of the best starting pitching around, but there is a lack of depth among position players and a dependency on very young players. Still, there is more than enough help on the way to provide optimism in the Pacific Northwest.”

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