I've looked through the minor league rosters, and offer up a batter and pitcher I am interested in at each level (with honorable mentions). I've intentionally highlighted guys that don't grab headlines all the time. I don't have a real firm definition for who counts as a headline-grabbing prospect, but I generally tried to avoid players that pop up on most pre-season top 10 lists. My theory is that there will be plenty of coverage around those guys. The players I've chosen to write about might get overlooked though, and in some ways they are just as important to the vitality of the farm system.
Keep reading past the jump for some names to track in the M's farm system that aren't getting much hype, but might be poised to become a bigger part of the Mariners future:
Tacoma Rainiers (AAA)
Batter: Carlos Triunfel, SS. Triunfel used to be the crowned jewel of the M's farm system, but then he broke his leg, and at the same time the Mariners hired a competent GM that didn't trade away all the team's prospects, and even continues to flash an innate ability to identify talent in the draft too. Carlos is seen as an afterthought at this point, and maybe he will go the way of Matt Tuiasosopo. Still, Triunfel is just 22 years old, which means he's still young enough to "put it all together." If he does, and becomes the Miguel Tejada type player many scouts envisioned, how awesome would that be?
Honorable Mention: Scott Savastano, INF
Pitcher: Mauricio Robles. After arm troubles last year, Mauricio has fallen off the radar quite a bit. There were already question marks around his control, and his ability to start, so it's not too surprising that interest in him tanked so quickly. However, Robles will open up the season in Tacoma's rotation, and if he can find a little more control with his live arm, I'd expect him in the majors at some point. I see him as a bullpen arm, and I think that's where he will ultimately settle as "the big three" in AA right now move their way through the system.
Honorable Mention: Forrest Snow
Jackson Generals (AA)
Batter: Rich Poythress, 1B. It's hard to pick out individual players in Jackson. This is the farm team to watch if you watch no others in the M's system right now. It's loaded with interesting names. I love Poythress coming out of college, and so far he has treaded water in the minors. If he's going to mount to something, it feels like this is a big year for him. His walks and extra base hits will tell the story.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Carroll, OF
Pitcher: Carter Capps. This is why I prefaced this post by saying I'm intentionally steering away from the headline-makers. Of course I'm deeply interested in Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker (just as you should be too!) However, of all the minor league assignments, Capps was the one that made me literally say "woah" out loud. This will be Carter's first full season in pro ball, just like Hultzen, and he has been promoted just as aggressively. The Mariners clearly see him as a polished arm that's going to be ready for the majors soon. I'm very curious (and excited) to see how he does.
Honorable Mention: Stephen Pryor
High Desert Mavericks (A+)
Batter: Jack Marder, C. Marder is another 2011 draftee in his first full year of pro ball. At the University of Oregon, he was a utility type, but the M's are playing him behind the plate full time. I didn't think much of Marder when he was drafted, but many scouting reports I read raved about how he was a steal when the M's got him. If Marder settles in defensively at catcher, and really is more of a hitter than he showed in college, the M's might have themselves a catching prospect
Honorable Mention: Stefen Romero, UT
Pitcher: Tyler Burgoon. Undersized but productive in college, Burgoon was highly productive in low A last year. I was surprised he didn't get called up to High Desert mid-season. A strong showing in High Desert's hitter-friendly confines could garner him a little more attention. Burgoon is a reliever, which is one reason the buzz around him stays low.
Honorable Mention: James (Jimmy) Gilheeney
Clinton Lumberkings (A)
Batter: Jabari Blash, OF. Blash started last season in Clinton as well, but was demoted to Everett when the short-season league started up. He wasn't flashing much power, but few do in the Midwest League, and I thought his other numbers were respectable. Still, Blash crushed the ball in Everett, seeming to show what can be with his tantalizing, toolsy skillset. A good season in Clinton will get him some publicity. Another bad season wouldn't be the end of the line, but I think it would pretty permanently alter the perception of what his ceiling is.
Honorable Mention: Guillermo Pimentel, OF
Pitcher: Jordan Shipers. Shipers is a short lefty, and starts the season at just 20 years of age. The Mariners drafted him 2010, but he did not appear in any recorded games until last summer in Everett. He went 1-5 with a 4.71 ERA, but his peripherals suggest a much stronger performance. There's a pretty strong argument that Shipers has the most upside of any Clinton pitcher, and a good chance that he will hold his own in the Midwest League.
Honorable Mention: Cameron Hobson
A star player can make an entire draft class successful, but a star does not make a farm system. Finally, the Mariners have several players in the minor leagues that are getting attention from national scouts and prospect pundits. However, a strong farm system also needs depth to truly be strong.
Youngster beyond the ones I mention in this preview, and the "big names" I chose to avoid, will certainly break through. Even though Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker are the rage in the M's system right now, none of them were on opening day rosters for any of the M's affiliates last year. Things change drastically and rapidly in the minor leagues.
What I hope I've provided here is a true barometer for the state of the M's farm system. The more that these secondary prospects develop, the deeper the farm system is. Then the Mariners can depend on the system to churn out solid talent more and more, instead of spending $5-6 million on the open market to acquire similarly skilled players. Churn out three or four solid prospects, and all of sudden a team has $20 million or so it didn't have to spend plugging holes. That's cash that can go towards premium talent.
Here's hoping for a bunch of fun box scores to check out in 2012!