It’s that time of year again. Time to give this prospect junkie his fix. Last year, I did farm system rankings for all of baseball, and so I wanted to do so again. As I explain with any farm system rankings, this is a completely subjective business. I do watch minor league baseball, I do a lot of research on the players, and I do talk to people who do talent evaluation in baseball. I certainly don’t have the clout in the prospect world that the guys at Baseball America have, nor do I care to. This is meant to be fun for me, and hopefully fun and informative for the reader. At the very least it should allow for some debate from other teams’ fans, as well as allow Tigers fans a glimpse into other organizations farm systems, so when the Tigers make a trade, there may be some knowledge of who they are getting. Last year, the Texas Rangers took the top spot. Who will it be this year?
*This is where the rankings get tough, because starting with the Cubs, these systems are very good to elite. I have gone back and forth on multiple scenarios, but hey, it’s not life and death, it’s just some pretty awesome farm system rankings.
1. Taijuan Walker (SP)- Walker is an elite level pitching prospect that has everything you look for. He is athletic with an ideal frame that still has some projection on it. His athleticism and smooth arm action allows scouts to project a guy with good command down the road though at this point it could be a bit better. His repertoire is highlighted by a mid 90’s fastball that touches more, and one he holds it deep into games. Walker also throws a power curve ball that suffers from inconsistency but flashes as a true 12 to 6 plus pitch. His change has improved but isn’t where it needs to be a this point, as he can noticeably slow his arm down. It’s nitpicking though, because Walker is still only 20 years old still, and will pitch at that age all of 2013.
2. Danny Hultzen(SP)- I don’t think you can completely throw Hultzen’s control problems in AAA out the window, however, I do believe it’s more of a blip on the radar than something that is likely to continue. I don’t think its a coincidence those problems happened in the Pacific Coast League, where offense reigns king. Hultzen has to trust his stuff, which to me, is better than the average fan gives it credit for. His fastball comfortably sits in the low 90’s with some good movement, and until AAA, he had always commanded well. His change up is a true plus pitch with nice fade and thrown with good arm speed. His slider is also a pitch with a bit of sharpening could become a third above average offering.
3. Mike Zunino (C)- Zunino has a chance to be catching games for the Mariners by the end of 2013 after being drafted last summer. Zunino isn’t toolsy per se, but he does everything pretty well. In the batters box, his best tool is probably his power, where he grades out a bit above average to plus for his position. There is some swing and miss to his game but his approach is solid, giving us reason to believe he can hit for average. Defensively, Zunino is a good leader, and carries with him a pretty good arm. He owns solid athleticism, but he does struggle from time to time as a receiver. Zunino is more a sum of his parts, and it’s easy to project him as an above average major league backstop.
4. Nick Franklin (2B/SS)- Franklin I don’t think gets the type of credit he should in the prospect world. He has already reached AAA, and just turned 22 this month. Offensively, Franklin is a switch hitter, but is far better from the left side. He uses a short compact swing that generates enough bat speed to give himself surprising pop. His approach at he plate is good, and his offensive package suggests a guy that will be above average for a middle infielder. Defensively, he doesn’t carry plus tools, but I don’t believe gets enough credit for being able to play shortstop. The arm and range are average, but he makes enough plays where the Mariners wouldn’t be crazy to play him there. He isn’t particularly fast, but his instincts on the base paths are good, helping his run tool play up a bit.
5. James Paxton (SP)- I ranked Paxton ahead of Hultzen on last year’s list, but I don’t have the courage to do so again. I still believe that ultimately Paxton’s ceiling is a bit above Hultzen, but I am not convinced at this point he is going to completely reach it. Paxton owns two plus pitches in a mid 90’s fastball, and a hammer curve. His circle change is getting better, but his command is still a struggle with his entire repertoire. His delivery offers a good deal of deception, coming straight over the top, but long arm action can cause his release point to waiver a bit.
6. Brandon Maurer (SP)- Maurer essentially became the fourth amigo amongst Seattle’s pitching prospects in 2012. The big bodied righty owns a four pitch mix, and ultimately could end up a midde of the rotation starter with relative ease. His fastball sits low to mid 90’s, and owns a bit of natural sink to it generating a good amount of ground balls. His slider is an above average offering with sharp break, and generates a good amount of swings and misses. His curve ball has gotten stronger in the past year, flashing above average. His change is also an offering Maurer is coming to trust a bit more, though it is merely a show me pitch at this point.
7. Victor Sanchez (SP)- Sanchez is extremely young at just 18 years old, and likely to start in full season ball in 2013. His body is on the big side and he will have to be careful not to let it get out of control, and maybe tighten it up some, though he has time for that. He owns a low to mid 90’s fastball, with a curve ball and a change up that already flash as above average. Scouts wonder about projection and assume there isn’t much room for velocity increases, but I think it is premature to assume that right now. Consistency is obviously something that he has to work on, and I am looking forward to seeing him in person.
8. Julio Morban (OF)- Morban was an international signing of some acclaim years ago, and didn’t really put things together until 2012. His numbers were likely Cali league inflated a bit, but his talent is real. He has just had trouble staying healthy. Morban has good strength in his hands and projects to hit for above average power from the left hand side. His good hand eye coordination helps him barrel balls regularly, however, he needs to exercise more patience at the dish or he could have trouble hitting for average moving up the ladder. Morban is a solid athlete that projects defensively in RF because of a strong arm. At just 21 Morban is likely to start in AA and is one to watch in 2013.
9. Luiz Gohara (SP)- Gohara is just a dream at this point, but word travels in the prospect world pretty fast. A 16 year old lefty who touches the mid 90’s already with his fastball is impressive. Gohara apparently has a feel for a curve and a change up as well, and on top of it all his frame suggests some projectability. The ceiling is immense, and that’s why I have him this high. We won’t get any data on him until the short season leagues start up though.
10. Stefen Romero (LF)- Romero doesn’t really seem to have a defensive home. He is a bigger guy so quickness around the 2nd base bag isn’t an asset, however, some believe he can play it well enough to stick there. Third base may be an option as well, but I think left field is probably his best bet. Regardless of where he plays, Romero takes a potentially above average bat wherever he goes. Romero has fantastic hands, helping him get the bat through the zone quickly, lining baseballs all over the diamond. While he looks to have moderate home run power, he could be a doubles machine who hits .300, and I think Seattle would gladly take that.
11. Brad Miller (2B/SS)- Miller is much like Romero in that he doesn’t have an ideal defensive home. His athleticism and arm strength is good enough for SS, however, he makes a ton of throwing errors from the position, making people think that second base is his ultimate home. Offensively, it is often mentioned he has awkward swing mechanics, but he consistently makes hard contact to all fields with a good approach at the dish. He also runs well and could steal a consistent 15 bags at the big league level.
12. Tyler Pike (SP)- Pike is a 19 year old lefty with good pitchability for his age, and some projection on his frame leading scouts and alike to dream on a possible mid rotation starter and perhaps more. Pike already touches the low 90’s on his fastball, and mixes that with a solid curve ball and change up. If he adds a mph or two on the fastball, and his command/consistency profile gets just a bit stronger, the Mariners may have found themselves yet another quality pitcher.
13. Carter Capps (RP)- The only reason that Capps is here this late is because I tend to rank relief pitchers quite a bit lower than most. There just isn’t the same value. However, Capps is really talented and in a lesser system, he would easily make the top 10. Capps has explosive ability with an upper 90’s fastball and a hammer curve ball. He could use better command, but often that is the case with arms like this. A likely future closer.
14. Edwin Diaz (SP)- Diaz could be the poster child for the Mariners developmental staff if he becomes the top of the rotation starter he has the potential to become. He is extremely raw though and is much more thrower at this point than pitcher. Diaz already sits low to mid 90’s with his fastball with a very lanky and skinny frame. He flashes a plus curve ball, owning long arms that help him get extension. His change is a long way away, and his skinny long limbed frame hurts his command presently. Still, despite his rawness, Diaz presents exciting potential down the road.
15. John Hicks (C)- I’m not sure why Hicks isn’t talked about a bit more in prospect circles. He is 23 years old and has yet to play in AA, so maybe that is why, but he has a strong set of skills behind the plate. Defensively, Hicks owns a strong arm behind the dish, all but eliminating an opponents running game. Offensively, he has solid pop, makes good contact, and runs pretty well for a catcher. Zunino comes with much more fanfare, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hicks starting in the major leagues for someone for a long time.