Originally written on NorthWest Sports Beat  |  Last updated 6/20/12
The Seattle Mariners Farm Arms

Today we’re kicking off a new monthly duel series here at NWSB called “prospect watch.” Each month I’ll be writing two pieces, one covering the top three-four pitchers in the Mariners system, and the other covering the top three-four hitters in the system.

For our inaugural piece we’ll be exploring the pitching side of things. It’s not often that an organization has three pitching prospects that rank among the elite in all of baseball.

With some stellar drafting over the years, the Seattle Mariner’s have achieved just that. Did I mention two are lefties?

James Paxton, Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker are names fans might not be aware of.

Well, you best start learning them, because they could be with the Big League club any day now.

James Paxton

Paxton has quite a story.

Originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2009 draft, Paxton forwent signing in order to play his senior season at the University of Kentucky. However, because of contact made with agents, Paxton was determined ineligible by the NCAA. He then moved on to play independent ball before being drafted by Seattle in the 4th round of the 2010 draft.

So far in 2012, Paxton has been good, but not great.

The committee is still out on Paxton, as no one knows how he projects. His fastball and curve make him as good as any starting pitcher out there. However, how well he develops his changeup and control will decide whether he makes the rotation or the ‘pen.

So far in 2012, Paxton has been good, but not great. He’s currently 3-3 at AA Jackson, with a 3.88 ERA in 46.1 innings. There’s good, and there’s bad.

Paxton is averaging just 4.6 innings per start, not a number you really want to see. However, it is the minors and limited innings comes with the territory. Paxton is also showing a continued struggle with command, walking 6.2 batters per nine innings. Of course his K/9 is still 10+.

The 23-year old lefty is going through some growing pains, and things at AA aren’t as easy this year as they were last year. James Paxton’s also been on the DL since his May 25th start with a right knee contusion.

Despite the struggles of 2012, Paxton still has a great ceiling. In 2011 he had a 1.85 ERA at AA accompanied by a 3.92 K/BB. If he can rediscover that control, he could easily reach his ceiling of a No. 2 starter.

Danny Hultzen

Enjoying his first year of pro ball, the 22-year old Danny Hultzen is making waves on the farm.

Drafted second overall out of the University of Virginia, the Mariner’s knew they had something special with their first pick of the 2011 draft. Hutlzen was one of the most polished pitchers in the draft, already featuring stellar control.

Hultzen has two plus offerings in his mid-90′s fastball and highly deceptive changeup. Both feature great movement, with his changeup getting a lot of sink. He’s currently working on a slider, and though it isn’t great it combines really well with his other two pitches.

Though he signed late and wasn’t relegated to a minor league affiliate until 2012, Hultzen is making up for lost time. At AA Jackson he’s currently sporting an 8-3 record supported by a 1.19 ERA in 13 starts. He’s averaging nearly 6 innings per start while sporting a stellar 0.929 WHIP.

Hultzen hasn’t been completely perfect, evidenced by a BB/9 of 3.8, but he’s still striking out a solid enough guys to make his K/BB ratio 2.47. His stuff is nearly untouchable, allowing just 4.5 hits per nine innings.

Just today Hultzen was promoted to AAA Tacoma. If he’s half as dominate there was he was at Jackson, it could be a matter of time until he’s starting for the Mariners.

Danny Hultzen will make first AAA start with Tacoma on Sat. at Colorado Springs. He was 8-3, 1.19 ERA in 13 AA starts.

— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) June 20, 2012

Taijuan Walker

Paxton and Hultzen are two stud lefties who would easily be the top pitching prospects in any other farm. Unfortunately, those two have to contend with the 19-year old Taijuan Walker.

2012 has brought ups-and-downs for Walker. Could we be seeing him soon in Seattle?

Walker was taken by the Mariner’s in the first round (43rd overall) of the 2010 draft. A high school pitcher, and at the ripe age of 17, Seattle thought what they were getting was something very raw.

However, it turns out they had a diamond in the rough.

Pitching out of the ‘pen in the Arizona Fall League, Walker did what you’d expect. He kept a low ERA, and struck out a lot of guys. The next spring he was set to start at A Clinton. While there, Walker was stellar.

The 18-year old was incredibly refined, sporting a 2.89 ERA in 96.2 innings spanning 18 starts. He struck out 10.5 batters per nine, while walking a mere 3.6.

While Walker was dominating A-ball, Michael Pineda was making strides at the Big League level, with many calling him the successor to Felix Hernandez. At the same time, there was many a prospect junky reporting that Taijuan Walker had an even higher ceiling than Pineda.

2012 has brought ups-and-downs for Walker. He’s made 12 starts for AA Jackson, in which he has a 3.79 ERA. His control still looks stable, as his BB/9 still sits at 3.6, but his strikeouts have dropped a tad to 9.3 per nine.

The real issues have come in June. Walker has a 9.24 ERA this month, allowing 13 earned runs in 12.2 innings. Through April and May his ERA sat at 2.24.

Walker’s going through a rough patch, and as a 19-year old at AA it’s understandable.

Despite his current lows, his ceiling remains the best in the system.

If anyone is going to usurp King Felix, it’s going to be this kid.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE MARINERS BLOG IN OUR CLUBHOUSE TODAY AT NWSB!

© Jonathan Irwin for North West Sports Beat, 2012. | Permalink | No comment |

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Post tags: A, AA, AAA, Arizona Fall League, Clinton, Clinton LumberKings, Danny Hultzen, Farm System, Felix Hernandez, Jackson, Jackson Generals, James Paxton, Mariners blog, Mariners Blogs, Mariners MLB Blogs Online, mariners pitching, Mariners prospects, Mariners rookies, Michael Pineda, MLB, MLB Prospects, NCAA, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Mariners farm system, Tacoma Rainiers, Taijuan Walker, Top prospects, University of Kentucky, University of Virginia

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