Early season review: Mariners top pitching prospects

Aces and closers aplenty

Before the regular season we took a look at the best positional prospects in the Mariners farm system. Today we take a look at Seattle’s crown jewel: the pitching prospects.

It’s well known that the M’s have three of the best pitching prospects in baseball. That trio has been dubbed “the big three,” and consists of starters James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Danny Hultzen.

But there’s way more depth to this system than those three stars. With a look toward the 2013 season, here’s the best Seattle has to offer on the mound this season.

5. Brandon Maurer, RHP

Drafted in the 23rd round of the 2008 draft, Maurer’s name has been on the rise for some time in Seattle. He has posted an 8.4 K/9 and 3.05 K/BB across five minor league seasons, with his highest stop coming last season at Double A Jackson.

Despite his lack of higher-level experience, Maurer’s impressive spring (1.50 ERA, 24 innings pitched, 25 Ks) was enough to earn him a spot as the Mariner’s fifth starter.

Brandon Maurer, Seattle Mariners

It could be time Maurer heads back to the farm.

Things haven’t gone so well since then. Maurer has managed only 6.2 innings pitched in his first two starts, giving up 12 runs on 15 hits.

Even though a demotion may be around the corner, it doesn’t mean Maurer is a bust. He’s a 21-year-old rookie who has never pitched above Double A, and despite his Major League struggles he’s only given up one walk—proving his control is for real.

With a mid-90s fastball and a wide arsenal of pitches, the best is yet to come from Maurer.

4. James Paxton, LHP

This is a low ranking, especially given that Paxton had the best 2012 out of any of the big three.

Paxton has very good stuff. His mid-90s fastball and big curve is very reminiscent of a Josh Beckett caliber pitcher—that kind of comp used to be a compliment.

His ceiling showed last year, as he racked up 110 Ks and a 3.05 ERA and 106.1 innings of work at Double A.

The troubling thing with Paxton is that he’s always been a bit wild. His 4.6 BB/9 and 1.411 WHIP last year were the highest of his minor league career. Things didn’t look much better in spring training, where Paxton walked four and surrendered six hits in 3.2 innings.

Keep in mind, he’s also the oldest of the big three—currently 24 years old.

With a very dangerous repertoire Paxton has the upside of a fringe ace, and he should be making his Seattle debut at some point this season. But, unless he can get his control to a more consistent level the results might not be pretty.

3. Carter Capps, RHP

I’m not usually big on closers, but I’ve always liked Carter Capps.

Capps got his first taste of Major League action last season, firing 25 innings out of the bullpen. In that time he had his growing pains (11 walks), while flashing wicked stuff (28 Ks).

Capps has everything you’d want from your closer of the future:high-90s fastball, good control and some solid secondary offerings.

The other option here would have been Stephen Pryor, but I like Capps more. He’s younger, has shown better control in the minors and his fastball is just a tick better.

So far in 2013, Capps has worked 4.1 innings out of the bullpen, walking one batter while striking out seven.

Tom Wilhelmsen has a hold on the closer role now, but he’s someone Seattle could get a return from around the trade deadline. If that’s the case, expect Capps to step into the 9th-inning role in his stead.

2. Danny Hultzen, LHP

This is a ranking based purely on upside, and it could change drastically as the season goes on.

Hultzen was a big name in Seattle last year, and for a while he was earning it. The then 22-year-old started his minor league career at Double A, where he pitched to the tune of a 1.19 ERA and 9.4 K/9. After 13 starts he was promoted to Triple A.

The future of Mariner pitching (Photo: AP).

Hultzen and Walker, the future of Mariner pitching (Photo: AP).

That’s where Hultzen hit a wall. His walk rate rose to 8.0 BB/9, and hitters were suddenly averaging 9.1 H/9. Oddly enough his K-rate did rise at the same time, to 10.5 K/9.

Hultzen posted a horrid 5.92 ERA in 12 Triple A starts, averaging 4.0 innings per start—compared to 6.0 at Double A.

Hultzen doesn’t have wicked stuff, but his control and ability to mix pitches makes it devestating. His fastball sits in the low-90s with good movement, and his changeup is arguably his best offering. His slider is developing.

Hultzen is polished and has a great repertoire. As long as he refines his control issues, he has all the upside of an ace at the Major League level. Here’s hoping 2013 is a new start for the youngster, who could see time in Seattle very soon.

1. Taijuan Walker, RHP

Walker saw his fair share of struggles at Double A last season, but as the youngest pitcher in the Southern League (19 years old) that’s understandable.

While Walker has the longest to go of any of the big three, he has the most upside as well.

Featuring a mid-90s fastball with late movement and a developing changeup, Walker has his one-two punch. He also features a curve, which could give him a solid three-pitch mix at the Major League level.

Walker posted a 4.69 ERA last season at Jackson, but a lot of that came from an ugly June. Overall he pitched well for such a young player, posting an 8.4 K/9 while showing good control (3.6 BB/9) and averaging around 5.0 innings per start.

Now a 20-year-old at Double A, Walker will most likely remain in the minors this season (a strong showing could have him in Triple A by mid-season). That leaves a mid-2014 call up in the realm of possibilities.

With a long way to go, Walker remains the biggest risk/reward player in Seattle’s system. But given his maturity and athleticism—and at such a young age—the upside to develop into an ace is there.


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About Jonathan Irwin

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