I feel like my annual list of MLB draft prospects needs some kind of build up, if for no other reason because it is so long. It would feel like a shock to the system without fair warning, and a little stretching.
So, why not ease into this year's draft coma with a look at the Mariners farm system as it sits right now?
All in all, I do not think it has been as exciting of a year so far in the minors for the M's, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Many new players emerged last year, and some of them are following up break-out performances with worthy encores. That's good, because it makes it less likely that some of last year's youngsters are flashes in the pan.
Still, as in any year, there are surprises, both good and bad - as well as unsurprising performances, also good and bad. Below is my overview of the M's minor league affiliates, divided into hopefully useful groups:
THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE
Any excuse to pull out this classic NFL coach clip, especially in an NFL lockout, is a good one. Simply put, here are some guys doing about what was expected at the start of the season.
In Tacoma, Dustin Ackley is about to become the newest Seattle Mariner. There are still worries over his defense, but he leads the PCL in walks, and a recent hot streak has countered a slow start. He knows how to hit, and that should get him up to Safeco in the near future.
Alex Liddi is striking out a ton, but also with power - which is the kind of hitter he has been for two and a half years now. His defense draws mixed reviews, but I think it is solid enough to stick at third. Carlos Peguero also fits the high K, big power mold, though to a bit more of an extreme than Liddi. We've seen how that plays out at the MLB level, and it's not all that great.
On the mound, virtually no one has been surprising, for better and for worse. Manny Delcarmen's best days are behind him. Denny Bautista racks up both walks and strikeouts. Royce Ring destroys lefties. Blake Beavan has his good and bad days, and neither type includes many strikeouts. Luke French and Chris Seddon are quite hittable. All in all, it's a very "AAA" staff. Whatever that means, it describes Tacoma quite well.
In the lower levels, a couple guys have gone out and done about what I expected. Nick Franklin continues to look like a solid bat that can stick at shortstop. James Paxton has control issues, but also a live arm. The control issues are expected after what amounted to a year off from competitive baseball for him, especially given that he wasn't a control artist to begin with.
COULD USE SOME PRACTICE
Yes, we are talking about practice. There are a handful of players that have had disappointing seasons so far.
In the Tacoma bullpen, Josh Lueke still hasn't found the overpowering stuff he featured all of last year, and it shows in his numbers. Edward Paredes struggled so badly that he got demoted to AA Jackson, where he has rebounded some. Chaz Roe isn't about to make the Rockies regret the Jose Lopez trade, even though they ditched Lopey last week.
Down in Jackson, Johermyn Chavez, one of the brightest stars from High Desert last season, has just recently started to pull out of a slump he has been in most of the season. Also, Josh Fields still struggles to find the strike zone, while Brian Moran has been hit hard.
The biggest disappoints for me are in the lower levels. At High Desert, Stephen Pryor has suffered through a miserable season, after such a promising start to his career last summer. There was optimism that he could rise through the system quickly, but that's not about to happen. Injuries might be at the root of his problems, which I guess is a good thing.
In Clinton, Steven Baron has followed up his surprising spring with an anemic performance thus far at the lowest full-season level of the minors. Although I didn't expect much from Baron, I thought the momentum from spring might carry over a little more. At least it is still better than what he posted in Clinton last season, so there is progress. It's quite slow though.
I will finish the glass half empty portion of this post on a positive note. A couple weeks ago, this section would have been longer, but some regression to the mean seems to be happening. Many players that struggled early are heating up some, which is good to see.
I don't have a catchy clip for this group, but it should be the first group that can be exciting all on its own. Two players have come a long way this season, after years of scouts preaching belief in their tools.
Carlos Triunfel is finally hitting for some power. I still think that he and Franklin are on track for mid-season promotions. While it would be great to see some more discipline from Triunfel, the hitting ability that kept getting touted is showing through. He makes consistent contact, and stings the ball from time to time. That's nice to have from the shortstop position.
In High Desert, Mario Martinez is erupting. He showed some flashes in Clinton last year, but seems to have taken a large leap forward. Scouts kept saying that he would hit, and he is this year. The plate discipline is still lackluster, but that's much easier to palette when the batting average raises over 100 points. It's worth remembering that Martinez is in a much more hitter-friendly environment, but it would be foolish to believe that's the only factor driving his surge.
Finally, the most fun group to look at - overachievers! Some of these guys are coming out of next-to-nowhere, while others are simply doing better than expected.
Jackson has a few guys that have surprised me, Jake Shaffer and Erasmo Ramirez. Shaffer had a really nice year in High Desert that got lost in the shuffle, but a second year with great production at a higher level cannot be ignored. He has worked his way onto the radar with a year and a half of tremendous hitting. Meanwhile, Ramirez is the youngest player in the Southern League this year, and continues to show impeccable control. He has even had a few performance where he racked up strikeouts. The Mariners were uncharacteristically aggressive with his promotion to AA, but it is definitely paying off so far.
Daniel Carroll is flashing a bit more power in High Desert, while also being among the minor league leaders in stolen bases. He might finally be cashing in on the potential that Bill Bavasi saw in him when he was drafted. Vinny Catricala continues to hit the living daylights out of the baseball, to the point that I think he might force a promotion to AA soon.
On the pitching side, a couple guys in Clinton have caught my attention. Forrest Snow's transition to starting has been much more smooth than the record or ERA suggest. He is the product of some really bad luck, as his peripherals are quite nice. Recently, Taijuan Walker emerged from extended spring training, and is posting dominant pitching lines with some regularlity. I thought Walker was a raw prospect, but he is showing much more polish early on than I anticipated.
That will do for now. Of course, this is not a comprehensive list, or even that comprehensive of analysis. It is simply an overview that hopefully brought some less familiar names out of the woodwork.
I have the rest of the summer to talk about the rest of the summer. There are some guys to pay particular attention to in the second half of the season, but I might as well lump them in with whomever the Mariners draft next week.
Speaking of the draft, this is my warning to brace yourself for my pre-draft rankings, which I will drop tomorrow. It may very well be my longest post of the year, and is among my geekiest and most intense writings. I even think the veteran readers of my blog out there will appreciate this warning.