Where do the youngsters fit?
A month and a half into the season and the Seattle Mariners are four games under .500 and third in the AL West. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this organization is incredibly top-heavy in the minors, and it’s top prospects could be coming to the rescue very soon.
But because Seattle’s roster is—for lack of a better word—bloated, finding the time and place for those prospects to make contributions is easier said than done.
Looking at Seattle’s five top prospects, we’re breaking down the best roles for those players throughout the current MLB season.
1. Mike Zunino – Catcher by July
Mike Zunino started his season at a torrid pace, and though he still has six home runs and 17 extra base hits, his average and OBP have since fallen to .222 and .299, respectively.
Despite his recent slump, Zunino is still Seattle’s No. 1 prospect by far. He is bound to make his Major League debut at some point this season, at which point he’s likely to take over as the M’s everyday catcher.
That’s why a takeover is doubtful until we get closer to July. At that point Seattle can trade someone—my money’s on Justin Smoak—allowing the proper position changes to make room at catcher.
2. Taijuan Walker – Minors
Hands down the best pitching prospect in Seattle’s system, Taijuan Walker is finally dominating Double-A after struggling at the level last season.
Through eight starts Walker has a 2.09 ERA and 9.9 K/9 in 47.1 innings pitched.
Despite his dominance, it’s doubtful we’ll see Walker before 2014. The electric armed prospect is still only 20 years old and has yet to play above the Double-A level. He’s bound to hit Triple-A by some point this season, but his meteoric rise won’t proceed beyond that.
3. Nick Franklin – Infielder no later than July
Of all the players on this list, it’s likely Nick Franklin will be the first to crack the Major League roster.
The M’s aren’t getting anything from their infielders offensively this season, and Franklin could be the answer. The 22-year-old is currently hitting .319/.446/.496 through 33 games with Triple-A Tacoma.
While a Franklin callup would require as many moving pieces as a Zunino callup, Seattle’s infield situation is less muddled than it’s catcher/DH/first base situation. That’s why we’ll see Franklin sooner than later.
4. Danny Hultzen – Major League Starter once healthy
The M’s aren’t getting anything out of their third, fourth and fifth starters, and it’s likely some help is on its way. Once healthy, that could mean a Danny Hultzen callup.
Before landing on the DL with a rotator cuff strain in April, it looked like Hultzen had returned to form after a rough go at Triple-A last season. Through four starts the left-hander has a 2.78 ERA and 4.17 K/BB with Tacoma.
As long as his rehab and return go okay there’s no doubt we’ll see Hultzen in a Seattle uniform upon his return from the DL.
5. James Paxton – September cup of coffee
James Paxton had the most consistent 2012 of any of Seattle’s Big Three, posting a 3.05 ERA through 21 starts with Double-A Jackson.
Paxton received a promotion to kick off 2013, starting the year at Tacoma. While the results have been good, they’re not great. Paxton has a solid 3.93 ERA and 10.8 K/9, but he’s also averaging less than 5.0 innings per start with a BB/9 of 4.4.
The 24-year-old has great stuff, but he continues to struggle with command. It’s likely he receives some kind of cup of coffee this season, but it won’t be until later in the season.