That’s Taijuan Walker on the cover of the current issue of Baseball America, which features the Mariners’ Top 10 prospects. Here’s the link. The author, Conor Glassey, ranks them like this:
1, Jesus Montero, C
2, Taijuan Walker, RHP
3, Danny Hultzen, LHP
4, James Paxton, LHP
5, Nick Franklin, SS
6, Francisco Martinez, 3B
7, Chance Ruffin, RHP
8, Tom Wilhelmsen, RHP
9, Vinnie Catricala, OF/3B/IB
10, Phillips Castillo, OF
A couple of other things: Prospect Insider reports that Matt Tuiasosopo, released last September by the Mariners, has signed with the Mets organization. Glad to hear it — Matt’s a good guy, and a good enough athlete that I still think he has a chance to blossom into a pretty decent player. I kind of figured he’d end up with Toronto because Don Wakamatsu really liked him, but now he’ll try to revive his career in the Mets’ organization.
Also, we’ve run a series of live chats on seattletimes.com for a couple of years now, and today we have one of our best ever: Cal Ripken Jr. is going to be live chatting at 1:30 p.m. (Seattle Time). Cal is going to be on town next week to be the featured speaker at the Hutch Award banquet on Wednesday, Feb. 1 at Safeco Field, and also to speak at the Seattle University baseball Meet The Redhawks Dinner on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center. Tickets for the latter are $75 and available by contacting Seattle University Athletics at 206-398-4420. I’m going to have a pretty cool story in tomorrow’s paper about the link between Cal Ripken and his brother, Billy, and the famous O’Brien twins of Seattle U, John and Ed.
Finally, since I wound up transcribing the remarks of Jack Zduriencik and Eric Wedge from yesterday’s luncheon, I thought I’d let you read them in their entirety (well, almost their entirety. I did skip a very little bit out of deference to my aching fingers). Here, first is Zduriencik. I’ll put up Wedge later. Please excuse any typos. I’ll try to hunt them out and fix them.
This is an exciting time. As we look forward to this year, one of things we’ve talked about is all these young kids. You’ve heard a lot of names. When you think about just three years ago when I said what we were going to do here was build a foundation and create something that was going to sustain itself for years to come. We’re in the process of doing that right now.
The analogy I use is, a lot of times you’ll go by a construction site, and you see a hole in the ground. It takes time to get that foundation established. Then you go by 2, 3 weeks later, and all of a sudden the sides of the building are up, and you go, man, that happened pretty quick. How did that happen so fast? Well, it really didn’t. It’s a process that takes place.
I think this year, when you look at the big league club, and you saw 18 guys that played in the big leagues as rookies (last year), you look at the non-roster invites that are coming to spring training, I think that’s exciting for all of us.
The one thing to keep in mind, as I’ve said when I first got this job,we’re going to build the minor-league system. But we’re not here to build the minor-league system to have a really good minor-league system. We’re here to create a minor-league system where the byproduct becomes your major-league product eventually. It just takes time to do that.
As you go through this process, you have your lumps and bumps,and sometimes patience is a tough thing. A lot of you have been here a lot longer than I have, and you’ve heard a lot of things said, and a lot of people say things to you. But I do think we put a plan in place. I think we’ve stayed the course with this plan. As we see this thing unfold, our goal is to have this sustain itself for years to come.
I think we have some very talented young kids. This is going to be a challenging year at the big league level for us. Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve got a young club, no matter how you shake it. We’ve got young players. The positive is, we’ve got a lot of young kids coming right behind them.
We’ve brought in a few veteran guys like Kevin Millwood, who I think have a lot to offer as far as experience level and what he brings to the clubhouse. We got a lot of mileage last year from veteran guys like Adam Kennedy. We’re working on some things right now, and maybe we’ll continue that process before spring training opens.
On the prospect of adding a veteran to the offense: It would be helpful. To say it’s the end all, be all, it isn’t that. But I think that when you really think abou it, you look at kids like Ackley, Smoak, Seager. Their time at the big league level has been very limited. With Justin, some of it has been because of injuries. As you start to look around, you have the young kid we just tradee for, 22 years old. They’re going to need someone to put their arms around them, to guide them, and show them the ropes. Otherwise, it can be tough for them.
I know the bulk of our club will be fairly young. But you’d like to see guys like a Gutierrez, like a Figgins, like a Felix, of course. Even Jason Vargas, take more of a leadership role. We’d love to develop leaders from the guys we have, but we’re also looking to bring in some guys in that category.
On whether Ichiro can be a leader: I’d hope so. All of you have been around Ichiro, and know Ichiro, the way he does things. He’s not a real boisterous type guy, not a guy who jumps out. Ichiro does it more by example, by how prepares himself, how he works.
On whether this will be a contending year or a year of growth: It’s going to be a challenge, because of the young kids. You think about it. Dustin Ackley has a half year in the big leagues; Kyle Seager has a galf year in the big leagues. Casper Wells. You start looking at these pieces. Then you look at what happened in this division. No matter how you shake it, you can’t ignore what Anaheim did, or what Texas did. And those clubs were ahead of us prior to these moves.
It’s an uphill battle. We have a real challenge before us. The positive to it is, we’re going to know real quickly. We have two of the best clubs in all of baseball in our division. That’s a real challenge, but we’re going to compete against these guys and find out what we’re all about.
On whether he expects a trade or free-agent signing: I think if we do something, it will probably be a little chip, I don’t think it will be anything earth-shattering. At this point, there’s not that much out there. In terms of trades, I don’t see anything happening right now that would be something signficant. When you look at our club and realize how young we are, and you have these other pieces I think you need, the veteran guys you really have to have on your ballclub. I won’t say never, because you never know when the next call will spur something, but right now there’s nothing imminent.
On the personality of the team: Eric and I met with all the players at the end of the year. One of the things I said is that when you rolled into spring training last year and shook Eric’s hand, he said, “Hi, I know you, you’re so and so.’ This year, they’re going to walk in and hug each other because they’ve been together awhile.
We had nine kids come in (for a minicamp). It was interesting to see them, physically to look at them, what they had done to their bodies and how they prepared themselves. Who says, “I have to step up and take a more active role.” You won’t know that until you get to spring training and we get our hands on these players.
On the minicamp, which included Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Franklin Gutierrez, Brendan Ryan, John Jaso, Casper Wells, Chone Figgins, Kyle Seager and Miguel Olivo: It was Eric’s idea. I give him a lot of credit. He said to them when we met, you might get a phone call in December, and I’m going to tell you I want you up here in Seattle. He let them all know what was expected of them. What happened was, Eric put the list together, and said, I want these guys here. They came on Sunday, worked here Monday and Tuesday, and Tuesday night Eric had them at his house.
Franklin left here at 180 pounds, and he was at 199. That was a tremendous sign to see him getting stronger. His diet is under control. Smoaky was like, 234, 235, and now he’s 224. You saw his body structure change a little. He’s gone home and done something. You look at them, and the proof is in the pudding. It was time well served, money well spent.
On the timetable for pitching prospects Danny Hultzen, Taijaun Walker and James Paxton: : I think that’s somewhat fluid. When we roll into spring training, I’ll be anxious to see them. Every player has his own timetable. Over the years, when someone says he’s going to be in the big leagues by such and such date, that’s dangerous. Every player is a little different, whether emotionally, physically, experience wise. You don’t know until he toes the rubber.
In this particular case, we go in with our eyes wide open. We go in excited to see them, excited to give them the experience of being in a major-league camp and to compete. In the same sense, we’re going to be realistic and cautious. We won’t do anything to endanger the player.
Mike Leake did this a few years ago with Cincinnati. It was remarkable. They took him in the first round out of ASU, he played in the Arizona Fall League, rolled into spring training, and made the club. They were shocked. We’re not expecting that, but you never know, either.”
On the Prince Fielder signing: It’s a very good question. A lot has been written and said about it. My stance has always been that I don’t comment on discussions with agents or players. I did get a message from Scott (Boras) on that particular one. He was very positive and thankful for the whole process. He had a vision of what the number was going to be. He openly shared that with me, and he got the number. He certainly thought it would begin with a 2 and it happened that way. That’s a large number and a large number of years. Best to him, I congratulated him and asked him to give my best to Prince and wish him the best, becasue we do. We wish he goes on and has the remainder of a terrific career.
On the contract not fitting with the Mariners: I think you have to gauge everything on where the organization is right now and what we’re trying to do, and the risk and reward of doing those type of things, and certainly there’s both of those in that. I’d rather put it to rest.
On when he’ll know when it’s the right time to add a player like that:: I do have a lot of confidence in this ownership group and those above me that as we move forward and we put this thing together, and we think we’re right there where we can be competitive with this extra piece or two, I feel very confident they’re going to be able to say, ‘Let’s go get it. ‘Let’s do it.’
You still have to back up a little and see where we’re at. We’re still developing this ballclub. I said last night, we’ve been here three years, had three drafts. In this year’s draft, half of our players took in the top rounds didn’t even play in the minors. They didn’t sign until Aug. 16, so they haven’t played a part of a championship season in our organization.
In a relatively short period of time we have had pretty good things happen here. When you look at it, if I’m fan, and sit here, this is not going to be a fly by night thing. We’re doing this thing the way it’s supposed to be done. There’s are a lot of ways to do it. You can spend ta on of money. Any really good organization creates a foundation you can build upon. We’re doing that right now. The proof is in the pudding. Do we have superstars? We’ll see as time unfolds. Do we have great players? We’ll see as time unfolds. But I know we’re going to have pretty good players here, and I think we have the right manager, the right staff in place. I like where we’re at as an organization. I’m not satisfied or content where we’re at, but given all the issues and things, we’re in a pretty decent place moving forward to get where we want. We’re climbing the ladder and moving up the steps in a positive way.”
On whether this is a make-or-break year for Justin Smoak: He’s a kid. When we made the trade, I said to some of you privately, he should be in Triple-A. He was rushed to the big leagues. I told Howard and Chuck, don’t be surprised if in a couple of weeks, this guy is not back in Triple-A, because that’s a lot of put on a guy. He was a big part of the deal, he came over here, and he got out of whack. He came back to have a nice September, and the beginning of last year, he was pretty good. All of a sudden, things started to fall apart. His left thumb, his right thumb, he loses his father, breaks his nose. A lot happened to that kid. He ended the year pretty good. I don’t look at anything being a crossroads year for players. I look at it as a development year.
On fans not wanting to hear about being patient: That’s fair. I walk through the hall and hear fans say these things. You know what, I don’t have a magic wand. There’s nothing I can do to to go, boom, this happened overnight. Boom, we can fix every ill this organization has had for the past number of years. There’s no way to do that. It’s a process that unfolds, and this game is so different than basketball and football. They can make a trade, and all a sudden, Andrew Luck is my quarterback. This sport is not like that. You have to build and stay the course, set a plan in place, Do you think as a general manager I sit her eand go, ‘This is easy?’ It’s not easy. It’s hard to win a major league baseball game. It’s hard to get talent. There are 29 other clubs who are pretty darned good and pretty competitive. What we’re up against is people trying to do what we’re doing. We have our plan, our people in place, and we’re doing what we can do to make this thing better as quickly as we can.
It’s tough to look someone in the eye and say be patient. But hey, you have to walk before you run. And the race is not won in the first 100 yards. If you’re running a 220, you have to run the full 220 yards — or meters now. It’s a process, we’re in the middle of that process right now. We’re moving forward, and a lot of positive things are happening.
On whether he’ll be allowed to remain on the job long enough to finish the plan: I can’t control any of that. What I can control is what I’m doing. When I got this job I was asked to build this organization. That was the challenge given to me. My whole background has been in player development and scouting. To come in and say it happens overnight — it doesn’t. You’re kidding yourself if you think it does. There’s about a five- to seven-year lag in any organization when you’re trying to build something. Unless someone gives you a ton of money and says, ‘Do it right away, yesterday.’ But to do it the right way — and part of the reason Eric got this job; he was in cleveland when they did it with a bunch of young kids. He helped grow it. We would like to give the fans instant success. It’s unrealistic. It just takes time.
I’m going to do my job the way I know how to do my job. Bring in the best people I can, move forward and do it every single day. Whatever happens, happens. I think it’s going to be positive. I think we’re going in the right direction. There are too many good things happening here to not notice it. But it doesn’t happen overnight.”