Is the "Up" Elevator Getting Crowded?

It was just weeks ago that the Mariners upper-shelf prospect list looked like this:

1/1A. Dustin Ackley

1/1A. Michael Pineda

3. Nick Franklin

4. Ummmmm ... *long pause* ... Taijuan Walker?

There were plenty of lists, but there was total consensus on the Top 3 and then total disagreement on how to weigh toolsy teens who were a looooong way off vs. those closer to the majors but seemingly lacking rock-solid MLB prospect status.

Well, a lot has changed in a few weeks, and most of it (sorry, Mauricio Robles and Dan Cortes) for the better.

James Paxton.  Except for a brief stint in independent league, Paxton hadn't pitched "for real" since 2009, so no one knew what to expect when he finally signed a contract.  What they got was 96-mph fastballs, apparent command of his other pitches, and glowing praise from Doc for his mechanics.

Especially with Robles undergoing elbow surgery, Paxton rockets to the top of the pitchers-not-named-Pineda list.

Gerrit Cole/Anthony Rendon.  Cole has been outstanding for UCLA so far in the college season.  He's still lighting up the radar gun -- as he has since high school -- but he's been more efficient, pitching deep into games with low pitch counts and significantly cutting down on walks.  And, his changeup is reportedly becoming a plus pitch.  In addition, he seems to be showing some maturity that was supposedly lacking when he was a teen prospect.

With Cole moving up the scale, the #2 pick has moved from a "settle for" to a "get to" pick -- as in, we "get to" pick whomever the Pirates pass over.  Some of the shine is off Rendon, but he's still exactly the uber-skilled RH bat at 3b that would fit right into the Mariners' needs.  And Jim Callis of Baseball America says he would rank either Rendon or Cole ahead of both Ackley and Pineda (FWIW).

Jose Vicente Campos & Taijuan Walker.  These two 18-year-old righties were born two weeks apart in 1992.  Both are listed at 6-4, 195.  Both can bring it in the mid-90s and up, with intriguing offspeed stuff.  They'll be a fascinating pair to watch rise through the system.

Maybe someone should have wondered back in February why Walker got all the love and not Campos -- oh, wait . . . maybe somebody did :-), but now it's fair to wonder why Campos is getting buzz and not Walker.  Regardless, two chances at the next Pineda is way better than one.

Ji-Man Choi at C.  Choi hits and hits and hits, but even Ackley wouldn't be considered rock-solid at 1b only.  And, in the tradition of Ackley-to-2b, it looks like they're going to give Choi a shot at catching.  At a glove position, Choi zooms up to top-10 status.

Carlos Triunfel.  At least in his non-pay section, Churchill reports Triunfel is fully healthy and in great shape, but still making fundamental mistakes.  His age-19 season was lost to injury and his age-20 season was enough of a regression to drop him from top-5 to second-10 status, but the age-18 season in high A with 32 XBH, 30 SB and 30 walks/52 strikeouts is still lurking out there, and he's still just 21.  Still worth watching to see if he can get his stuff together.

Josh Lueke & Tom Wilhelmsen.  Don't need to go through these stories over again, but I had both of them a lot higher than they were on any of the official lists.  Based on spring results, they both look like the real deal.  They could end up being the saving grace of what could be a very thin bullpen.  Now, watch them go out and crater like Cortes did [-- except I think the chance of Lueke failing (or re-offending) is pretty small].

Steve Baron.  Dropped like a rock on any charts that he had been on in the first place after stinking up the batter's box in his first two professional efforts.  Then he gets a shot at big-league camp just as a warm body with catching gear, and what does he do?  He actually hits.  We don't know yet if it means anything, but he's probably earned a chance to prove he wasn't a colossal mistake.



A lot of the prospects that we wanted to see perform are performing.  Those that needed to be kept at glove positions if possible are getting that chance.
I'm still a non-believer on Triunfel.  The combined laziness and arrogance are a noxious cocktail for me.  Baron has (apparently) the arrogance but after being humbled is putting in the work.  His overhaul is gonna be worth watching.  I don't expect big-league results for another half-decade, but that's okay.  Choi will be up there already holding down the fort. ;)
The news actually isn't that bad for Robles.  The complaint on him was that his stuff lost all control after 4 innings.  Well...if his arm was locking up and hurting from the chips in his elbow then 4 innings might have been all he could give. 
Cleaning out the elbow sets him back a bit, but a strong showing with control for the last 4 months of the year could bump him way up for us as well.
That's not even mentioning players like Morla (3B built like a brick outhouse and clubbing with authority), Pimentel (OF who makes Morla look like an undeveloped stripling and is just 18 with a beautiful swing) and a bunch of the other teen arms like Mieses and Shipers and Taylor.  They all have plenty to prove as far as pitch recognition or health and stuff concerns, but they've got a head start in the talent department.
We've got a hole in the system right now.  Our hitters are either really young or about to need to prove themselves, with only a couple of exceptions.  Carp is gonna be gone soon (I don't think he has been saying very nice things about the org that is trapping him in AAA), Mangini keeps getting injured, Wilson is aging out as a prospect while not growing, and Halman is similarly stunted with his pitch recognition.
But we're restocking nicely with some of the guys you mentioned...and how many more players do we want to come through AAA right now than the Smoak/Ackley/Pineda/Lueke grouping we have arriving this year?
That's a good chunk for any org.  Now we just need to back it up with another wave in a year or two.  Poythress, Chavez, Seager, Wilhelmsen, Tenbrink, Paxton and either Cole or Rendon will be putting their names in that hat for that wave.
Choi, Franklin, and a metric ton of starters and relievers will be trying to show up in the one after that.
Let's just keep adding to the good applicants. :)


Ackley-Franklin-Choi is a VERY nice trifecta....add Poythress and  there is one star and at least one very good MLB'er in the bunch.
I'm not giving up on Carp.  Not at all...but I think the Cust signing means that Carp may produce for someone else. I hope not, however.  Minus Bradley...I'm not sure I just don't give him LF this year and put up with the lack of range.
and I think Mike Wilson has a very nice MLB year in him. He probalby needs 3 MLB years to find it....but it is there.  Remember Joe Charboneau?  Doc certainly does.  I don't know if Wilson has that year type of year...but he has a 110 OPS+ year in him.  He'll walk and slug his way to that.


19 extra base hits in 51 games, I like.  6 of them triples, I love. 
58 strikeouts in 51 games vs. 5 (sigh) walks, I don't love.  But he was just 17, if you know what I mean.
Pimentel would be at the top of a list including Morla, Morban and E. Peguero, all of whom have a real shot.
I, personally, would put Johermyn Chavez and James Jones ahead of all of them at this point, since they've performed against non-teenage competition and drawn their share of walks.  Plus, both of them appear to be progressing in a positive direction.
But Pimentel has big-time upside and it's easy to see him doing at 19 what Chavez just did at 21, in which case he would be in line to be an MLB star.


I was disappointed in Pimentel's ability to take a walk this year as well - though his swing is still startlingly sweet for as young of a kid as he's supposed to be - but very, very few latin teenagers come over here and post a good # of walks in their first years.  Batting eye is not a skill they work on.  It's more "See ball, hit ball."  Or at least swing.  The phrase "nobody ever walked off the island" applies.  They have to hit to get noticed. 
Teaching Pimentel not to swing at everything is a key.  He, Morla, Morban, Castillo and the Pegueros represent a significant investment in money and hope.
Mario Martinez is never going to be a big-league hitter, and I don't believe Triunfel is gonna be a presence either, but one of the guys listed above needs to become one.  We've invested around 10 million dollars in the guys in this post.  At some point it needs to pay off.
Luckily we have a bunch of other hitters (like Jones, who I forgot to mention, and all the other names tossed around) that should be able to keep the pipeline pumping.
And most of our other good hitting prospects are NOT the free-swinging, no-walk hitters of years past, which allows this investment some time to mature.
Hopefully at least one of em is the right one, but it's certainly nice to know that we had several excellent prospects in a different mold as well.
I'm lookin at you, Choi...

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