There may not be much hope for the Mariners to contend in the strong AL West in 2013, but if pitching wins championships, then there is some serious upside on the way -- and a catcher who can flat-out rake.
My Top 10
1. Mike Zunino C
2. Taijuan Walker SP
3. James Paxton SP
4. Danny Hultzen SP
5. Victor Sanchez SP
6. Brad Miller SS
7. Nick Franklin SS/2B
8. Carter Capps RP
9. Stefen Romero 2B
10. Luiz Gohara SP
Mike Zunino C
Age by 4/1/2013: 22
Notes: Strong frame, plus power and the tools to be an excellent defensive catcher at the big league level. Pretty much the whole package.
With my own eyes (video): Zunino starts with a wide, strong base that stays strong throughout a simple load. His balance is excellent at the point of contact and when he gets his arms extended, he has almost all of his strength behind the swing.
Upside: If his plate discipline continues to develop, we're looking at a consistent all-star that is one of the best all-around players in the game: .300/.375/.550 with 25-30 home runs.
Downside: .275/.330/.500 with plenty of power
Fantasy potential: Think Buster Posey with more power upside.
Taijuan Walker SP
Age by 4/1 2013: 20
Notes: At 6'4" 210ish, Walker has an ideal frame for a pitcher. The ball absolutely explodes out of his hand with a fastball that will sits in the mid-90s and touch the high 90s. He was the youngest pitcher in Double-A Southern League last year.
With my own eyes (video): Walker's windup is very controlled. A pause as he reaches his balance point helps to keep him from getting out in front. Curveball should be a plus pitch at the big league level. If the changeup and command develop, he could put up some nasty numbers.
Upside: Low 3s ERA and 8-9 K/9. If everything comes together, I think he could push #1 starter status.
Downside: Reports of some inconsistencies in his offspeed stuff are a bit of a concern, but those concerns are lessened once you consider he started Double-A as a 19-year-old. At worst, he'd be a very solid #3 starter.
Fantasy potential: Should rack up Ks and post good ERA numbers. Development of command will determine if he can package a solid WHIP in there as well.
MLB Regular Potential
James Paxton SP
Age by 4/1/2013: 24
Notes: Great 6'4" left-handed frame with a plus fastball, potentially plus-plus curve and ability to rack up strikeouts. However, command has been an issue.
With my own eyes (video): Fluid windup with good rhythm. He "reaches back" with his left arm before bringing it through the drive zone. This aspect of his delivery allows him to hide the ball for a very long time.
Upside: I rank Paxton over Hultzen since Paxton has the upside to be an above average strikeout pitcher at the big league level. Control/command is more likely to be developed than the ability to put hitters away at a high rate.
Downside: His control/command never comes around, but he still turns into a solid 4-5 with ERAs in the low 4s.
Fantasy potential: Due to inconsistent command, he'll be a guy you look to take a risk on in the later rounds.
Danny Hultzen SP
Age by 4/1/2013: 23
Notes: Hultzen was supposed to be the safe bet with excellent command and low strikeout numbers. That did not happen in his first professional season. Instead, Hultzen struggled with command, but posted good strikeout numbers. Because he has such solid offspeed offerings -- his changeup in particular -- and had a deceiving delivery, he has a distinct advantage over minor league hitters, the majority of which struggle with good offspeed stuff. That advantage will decrease sharply at the big league level, so the development of his fastball command will be paramount.
With my own eyes (live): Uses three-quarters, almost sidearm delivery to deceive hitters. Throws across his body, which also helps with deception, but creates concerns about command/injury risk.
Upside: Solid #3 starter that keeps hitters off balance and his walks in check.
Downside: His command never comes around and he struggles at the back end of the rotation.
Fantasy potential: Maybe a mid-3s ERA sprinkled in there, but mostly nothing to write home about.
Victor Sanchez SP
Age by 4/1/2013: 18
Notes: While some reports knock Sanchez for a lack of projectability due to a short, stocky frame (6', 240+ lbs), I happen to see a pitcher that already throws hard, has a good feel for the strike-zone and can actually improve with a better conditioning.
With my own eyes (video): Sanchez has a windup that might remind some of Johnny Cueto. When he uncoils, he has balance and gets his arm through the drive zone with no problem. His command is excellent and video suggests that there is potential in his breaking stuff.
Upside: A long way to go, but if he retains his feel for the strike-zone and his breaking stuff develops, he should be a solid #3 with upside for a little more.
Downside: The breaking stuff never develops and he ends up in the bullpen.
Fantasy potential: Too far out to say for sure, but keeper leagues with deep rosters will want to give him a look.
Brad Miller SS
Age by 4/1/2013: 23
Notes: An underrated prospect, maybe because he doesn't look the part. Not only has he hit at each level thus far, but he has a good eye at the plate with above average contact skills. Needs to improve defensively, but has a chance to stick at short.
With my own eyes (live): Quick swing and gets good extension, leading to more power than expected. Not that comps are all that great, but reminds me a little of Coco Crisp swing-wise. He has good range and the arm to play short at the big league level.
Upside: A solid, but not great everyday shortstop who hits for AVG and gets on base.
Downside: He doesn't improve defensively and big league lefties eat him up, leading him to a utility role.
Fantasy potential: If everything breaks right, he'll be a solid mid-round shortstop.
Nick Franklin SS/2B
Age by 4/1/2013: 21
Notes: Solid bat, but leaves much to be desired on defense.
With my own eyes: His swing itself is uncomplicated enough with quick hands, but he does rely on a drastic weight shift forward to generate power. That leaves him susceptible to good offspeed pitches. Though he has put up some decent stolen base numbers, he is not a plus runner. Defensively, he has a lot of work to do, as his mechanics and focus are inconsistent.
Upside: .285/.340/.450 with about 15 HR and 15 SB annually.
Downside: The bat doesn't translate against big league pitching and sub-par defense leaves no reason for him to be an everyday player.
Fantasy potential: Mid-rage fantasy middle infielder.
Role Player Potential
Carter Capps RP
Age by 4/1/2013: 22
Notes: Let's face it, a reliever is a role player, no matter how nasty their stuff is. A closer is nothing more than a good reliever with a fancy title, so I try not to get too wrapped up in "future closer" speculation.
With my own eyes (video): Max effort delivery makes me wonder how long he can maintain 98+ MPH velocity. Arm absolutely whips through the drive zone and uses extremely long stride to his advantage. After big leaguers get more looks at his delivery, will offspeed stuff be good enough as a counter adjustment?
Upside: "Future closer" with plenty of strikeouts.
Downside: His max-effort delivery puts too much strain on his arm and the velocity tails off, leaving him as a middle inning guy.
Fantasy potential: Closers with strikeouts are good.
Stefen Romero 2B
Age by 4/1/2013: 24
Notes: Numbers look incredibly impressive across each level, but a lack of plate discipline is certainly a concern and he hasn't exactly been "young" at each level.
With my own eyes (video): Nice, quick swing, with excellent wrist action -- where a lot of his extra base pop comes from.
Upside: So much will be dependent on his AVG, which I don't think will translate at the big league level. Still, I could see some .285/.330 seasons with double digit home runs and steals.
Downside: Lack of plate discipline turns him into a marginal big leaguer.
Fantasy potential: With a little luck from Mr. BABIP, he could hit .300 with a little power and speed, but don't bet on it.
Luiz Gohara SP
Age by 4/1/2013: 16
Notes: Sometimes, I wonder how many ways there are to define a "top prospect." Yes, Gohara is years and year and years away, and, yes, we have no stats to view as backup for our assertions. However, if Gohara was considered one of the top international arms to sign last summer and reports indicate that he has tremendous, easily projectable upside, then why not give him top-10 status? I'll take that package over a guy that might hack it for a few years as a back-end starter or even as promising reliever and be worth around one WAR per season in the big leagues.
With my own eyes: Looking forward to it!
Upside: Very high given initial reports.
Downside: The initial reports are BS.
Fantasy potential: See above.
About the author: Charlie Saponara is a former college baseball player who has coached at the high school and collegiate levels. He currently works for the Visalia Rawhide, high-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. You can find examples of his scouting reports from Project Prospect here (Mike Trout), here (Tyler Skaggs), and here (Billy Hamilton).
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