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December 3, 2012 at 9:48 AM

Zunino zooms to top of Baseball America’s rankings of Mariners prospects


(Seattle Times staff photo)

Baseball America is out today with its top 10 rankings of Mariners’ prospects, and catcher Mike Zunino, drafted third overall last June, comes out on top. He is ahead of the Mariners’ “Big Three” of pitching prospects, Taijuan Walker (No. 2), Danny Hultzen (No. 3) and James Paxton (No. 4). Walker ranked No. 1 last year.

The rest of the top 10:

5) Nick Franklin, SS/2B

6) Brandan Maurer, RHP

7) Carter Capps, RHP

8) Stefen Romero, 2B

9) Brad Miller, SS

10) Victor Sanchez, RHP

The author, Conor Glassey — a former writer with USS Mariner, so he’s got a feel for the Mariners — writes, “Hope is on the horizon, as the Mariners have one of the best farm systems in baseball. Seattle has top-tier talent, most notably an outstanding group of pitching prospects, along with depth and balance.”

Zunino did nothing but wow in his professional debut last year, hitting a combined .360 in 161 at-bats between Everett and Jackson — not to mention an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League. Glassey compares him to Jason Varitek, and writes, “He has all-star potential as a middle-of-the-order hitter at an up-the-middle position.”

Glassey sees Walker as “a potential ace” and says that Hultzen “has the upside of a No. 2 starter.” He writes that the development of Paxton’s changeup will determine if he can be a No. 2 starter, and brings up an interesting notion that I hadn’t heard before: That Paxton’s combination of fastball and curveball suits him to be a closer.

Franklin could make a few All-Star appearances, Glassey writes, and Maurer is regarded as “yet another pitching prospect with frontline potential.” Romero is this year’s Vinnie Catricala, coming off a breakthrough offensive year at Class A and AA but without a real defensive position. Romero can play second, third and the outfielder corners, and is regarded as the best pure hitter in the system. Glassey projects him as a 20-homer-a-year player in the majors. Miller is compared in style to Craig Counsell and in production to Kyle Seager, projected as an every-day player in the majors.

The name that is kind of sneaking up in prospects rankings is Sanchez, one of the last gifts to the Mariners from departed international scouting guru Bob Engle. Signed out of Venezuela in 2011 for a $2.5-million bonus, Sanchez — who doesn’t turn 18 until January — was the youngest player in the Northwest League with Everett and more than held his own. He was second in the league in innings pitched (85) and strikeouts (69) while compiling a 3.18 ERA and holding opponents to a .213 batting average. He is listed as 6-0, 255 pounds, which is an interesting physique for a pitcher. Glassey notes that teammates called him “Ray Lewis,” which paints a picture. For some reason, I’m getting a mental image of Bartolo Colon.



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