When you think of the few teams that could possibly have the best farm system in baseball right now, the Seattle Mariners are always going to be one of the teams that comes up. And while the Cardinals also make a really strong case, I do think that the Mariners have he best system in baseball right now. They are absolutely loaded at just about every level, starting with their trio of "elite" prospects: Danny Hultzen, Mike Zunino, and Taijuan Walker. While they might not be competing with Oakland, LA, and Texas this year, they could be a very scary team quite soon. Here are my notes:
1. Casper Wells is out of options, and also looking unlikely to make the team due to the excess of outfielders that the Mariners have after picking up Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse. They already traded Mike Carp to the Red Sox for this reason.
2. Jason Bay hit a home run in his first at-bat as a Mariner today, and it is possible that he will return to somewhere close to prime form, after a few abysmal years with the Mets. That being said, I'm not sure where there's room for him in the everyday line-up, as Michael Saunders and Michael Morse seem to have the Corner OF spots lined up, with Kendrys Morales as the DH. Most likely Bay gets his ABs against lefties, replacing Saunders.
3. With the pickup of Morales, a switch hitter, it may be hard for the Mariners to find many at-bats for Raul Ibanez, but it's hard to imagine them letting him go due to his history with the organization. He is limited defensively, and will probably mostly be utilized as a pinch hitter and occasional DH.
4. Jeremy Bonderman, and perhaps more interestingly Jon Garland, are in camp on minor league contracts trying to resurrect their careers. Garland has a legitimate shot at making the rotation, but the 5th spot is likely leaning towards Erasmo Ramirez. Will be interesting to see what happens with these guys if they do not make the major league cuts. The minor leagues are quite crowded.
5. I've got Mike Zunino, Stefan Romero and James Paxton all moving up to AAA Tacoma after being very successful in AA last year. Romero is a pure hitter who tore up both High Desert and Jackson last year after being drafted out of Oregon State in 2010. He mainly plays 2B, but the Mariners are trying to move him to 3B or LF, where his bat makes more sense.
6. There's a long list of guys who hit the heck out of the ball in High Desert last year that need to prove their success wasn't a fluke due to the severe hitter-friendliness of playing in High Desert. Stefen Romero already did that, and so did, to an extent, Brad Miller. I would expect John Hicks, Jack Marder, Steven Proscia, Leon Landry, Julio Morban and James Jones to all play for Jackson this year, all guys who had eye-popping offensive numbers last year.
7. Taijuan Walker has the most upside out of any arm in the organization, and is listed up near the top of most prospect lists, but he struggled a bit last year and I'd expect him to stay with Jackson until he's truly dominant. Maybe he gets a September call-up, but I wouldn't be surprised if he stays in the minors all year. In the mean time, the Mariners have Paxton and Hultzen as top prospects who they can call on to make a spot start.
8. I've talked about Hultzen, Paxton and Walker but don't sleep on Brandon Maurer. God, this system is loaded with arms. Anthony Fernandez is a pretty good one too.
9. The Class-A Advanced level is the one place where the Mariners are not stacked with prospects, but High Desert always seems to turn non-prospects into studs real quick. Two guyswho should start there to keep an eye on: Jabari Blash and Daniel Paolini.
10. Jackson is getting most of the college hitters from the 2011 draft, but they also got a bunch of good ones in 2012, who will mostly be in Clinton. This includes Patrick Kivlehan, Taylor Ard, Chris Taylor and speed demon Jamodrick McGruder.
11. One of the things that I think really helps this organization is the fact that they have a class A-Short Season team, as well as an Appalachian League Rookie ball team. Most organizations have one or the other, not both. This allows the organization to get more players consistent at-bats and innings pitched.
Overall Farm System Grade: A
Top Ten Prospects
1. Mike Zunino, Tacoma
2. Taijuan Walker, Jackson
3. Danny Hultzen, Tacoma
4. Nick Franklin, Tacoma
5. James Paxton, Tacoma
6. Brad Miller, Jackson
7. Brandon Maurer, Jackson
8. Stefen Romeo, Tacoma
9. Victor Sanchez, XST
10. Carter Capps, Seattle
HM: John Hicks, Jack Marder, Patrick Kivlehan, Timmy Lopes, Leon Landry, Julio Morban, Anthony Fernandez