06/06/12 10:56 PM ET
Mariners' pipeline flush with promising talent
By Greg Johns / MLB.com
The addition of Florida catcher Mike Zunino as the No. 3 overall pick is just the latest step in beefing up a system that has developed into one of the better Minor League organizations in baseball the past few years under the guidance of scouting director Tom McNamara and general manager Jack Zduriencik, himself a former head of scouting with the Brewers.
"I'm biased, but in my opinion we've got the best two in the game when it comes to evaluating amateur players," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. "It starts with Jack and his No. 1 guy is McNamara. He learned from the best in Jack [with the Brewers], and they still work closely together.
"We've got the best of both worlds there, and I think it's been evident in the Drafts since they've been here. It's been obvious."
The Mariners' pipeline is now filled with interesting prospects. It starts with young pitching, where the past two Drafts have produced premier starters Danny Hultzen (2011), Taijuan Walker ('10) and James Paxton ('10). That trio has been outstanding in Double-A Jackson, with Hultzen (6-1, 1.44 ERA) knocking on the door for a promotion and Walker (4-1, 2.68 ERA) and Paxton (3-3, 3.38 ERA) right behind.
Stephen Pryor, a fifth-round pick in 2010, was just promoted to the Mariners as a hard-throwing reliever last weekend. Carter Capps, a third-round compensation pick last year, is lighting up the radar gun with similar 100 mph pitches as a reliever in Jackson and has a 1.53 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings.
But there are position players on the rise as well. Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager already made the jump after being drafted in 2009. That year also brought prep shortstop Nick Franklin, who is tearing it up in Jackson this year (.337 with a .943 OPS).
"It's not just the top picks, but other guys further down," Wedge said. "It's a big part of who we are already as a big league club, not to mention our organization with kids on their way. It shows you just how quickly it can happen."
Among the later picks, the '09 Draft also yielded third baseman Vinnie Catricala in the 10th round and pitcher Andrew Carraway in the 12th, both now rising prospects at Triple-A Tacoma. Brandon Maurer, a 23rd-round selection as a high school pitcher out of California in '08, is 4-1 with a 3.80 ERA as an unsung starter in Jackson, alongside the talented trio.
Jack Marder, a 16th round pick last year as a shortstop out of Oregon, is batting .355 for Class A High Desert. That club also includes shortstop Brad Miller, last year's second rounder out of Clemson. Miller is hitting .319 with nine home runs and 32 RBIs.
John Hicks, a fourth rounder out of Virginia last year, is hitting .303 with 10 home runs and 46 RBIs as a catcher for High Desert. Second baseman Stephen Romero (12th round in '10) is batting .361 with nine home runs and 46 RBIs.
And that doesn't even get into the players acquired via trade or signed as international free agents, where Seattle has always been active.
Hultzen, Walker, Capps and Franklin were among seven Jackson players named Wednesday to the Southern League midseason All-Star team, joined by outfielders Joe Dunigan (fifth round in '07) and Denny Almonte (second round in '07) and catcher Jesus Sucre (signed as a Minor League free agent last year).
Three others were selected to the Midwest League All-Star team from Class A Clinton -- outfielder Jamal Austin (13th round in '11) and pitchers Tim Griffin (28th round in '10) and Jordan Shipers (16th round in '10).
Now the Mariners will begin adding the latest crop of Draft talent. As Zduriencik says, rebuilding the system requires patience. But the fruits of that labor are starting to pay off.