The M’s Top 10 Prospects for 2013: the National View

marc w · December 31, 2012 at 2:25 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I know the ‘Future 40’ link hasn’t been updated for four full seasons, but we’re really giving it a go this time. Until it’s done, I thought we’d close out 2012 with a look at how the national prospect writers size up the M’s system. The consensus is that the M’s have an elite system – say, top 3-5 in baseball – with pitching depth in the high minors, some close-to-ready bats, and a few high-upside players further down the development ladder.

A year ago at this time, the debate was how you ranked the top three pitchers – was Taijuan Walker’s ace potential more enticing than Hultzen’s polish and poise, or vice versa? The arrival of Jesus Montero in January of 2012 gave the M’s a top bat, and a top 10 overall prospect. Obviously, the M’s haven’t made a similar move, but it’s encouraging that the M’s have several position players who rank highly this year despite the fact that the M’s have retained the big three/big four pitchers.

Here are the top 10s from Baseball America (Conor Glassey), Baseball Prospectus (Jason Parks), and Fangraphs (Marc Hulet). There are a few surprises, but there’s also a noticeable similarity to them, perhaps more so than in years past. This has less to do with a lack of depth and more to do with the extremely solid scouting and performance record of the top 8-9 names. Prospect lists are always about hope and wishcasting, but it’s nice to see the M’s put together a group this good.

Each list includes the same top 5, with minor differences in how they’re ranked (essentially, ‘Walker or Hultzen?’ has been replaced by ‘Walker or Zunino?’). The 3-5 are nearly exactly the same. The real differences in approach start to show from 5-10, but that makes a change from several years ago, when there were stark differences of opinion even in the top #1 or #2 prospects (the late Greg Halman being the embodiment of these debates), and when picking an 8th or 9th ‘best prospect’ was something of a chore.

Here are the big three national top 10s:

Player Baseball America Baseball Prospectus Fangraphs
Mike Zunino #1 #2 #1
Taijuan Walker #2 #1 #2
Danny Hultzen #3 #3 #3
Nick Franklin #5 #4 #4
James Paxton #4 #5 #5
Brandon Maurer #6 #6 #7
Carter Capps #7 #6
Stefen Romero #8 #10 #9
Victor Sanchez #10 #8 #10
Brad Miller #9 #8
Luiz Gohara #7
Tyler Pike #9

Obviously, there’s a lot of commonality, particularly between the BA and Fangraphs lists. The placement of Miller depends on how people see his chances of sticking at SS, and how his hit tool will play against more advanced pitching (he had an odd stance in college, with his hands very high, but seems to have made some adjustments in pro ball). It’s good to see all three rank Victor Sanchez in the top 10 despite his age and 2012 level; I understand the “it’s just short-season ball!” argument, but I think what Sanchez was able to do against college-trained hitters at his age was absolutely remarkable. Carter Capps retains his rookie eligibility, having amassed only 30 or so days of service time before the September roster expansion. He’s clearly seen as a reliever, which may have limited his appeal to BP, but I can’t think of many with a higher upside than Capps.

The first real odd pick is Luiz Gohara. Gohara is a lefty the M’s signed out of Brazil this summer, and who’s obviously been generating some breathless reports in the complex leagues this fall. That’s highly encouraging, especially when compared to how many of the M’s recent international free agents have fared in the US, but there’s zero performance data to go on. I don’t think it’s as crazy as some might, but it’s clearly not a mainstream view to have Gohara in the top 10. Similarly, Tyler Pike is a lefty the M’s drafted out of high school in Florida who put together a very good year for the AZL M’s. I think many would balk at ranking him above, say, Brad Miller, based not only on shaky AZL stats but on the fact that his raw stuff isn’t Carter Capps-ian.

The state of the farm is excellent, though I know hope has turned to cynicism for many M’s fans who’ve heard about a solid system for the past three-four years. The M’s have a fairly stark challenge in front of them: the gap in talent at the big league level demands that they maximize the potential of their prospects. For a variety of reasons (the TV money of the Rangers/Angels, the mixed feelings many free agents appear to have about signing with Seattle, fewer players on the market in any given year, etc.), it’s going to be hard for the M’s to close the gap using free agency. The M’s have a slight advantage against many of their rivals in the ‘raw material’ they have on the farm, but closing the gap means getting more out of it than their competitors. This year had some very encouraging developments, particularly that of Brandon Maurer, the 23rd round pick who battled injuries and ineffectiveness before breaking out in AA. Or Stefen Romero, who played with Maurer in Clinton in 2011 before joining him in laying waste to the Southern League in 2012. Getting value from lower picks like these (or even James Paxton) has kept the M’s from falling further behind Texas. Now they need to take the next step.


34 Responses to “The M’s Top 10 Prospects for 2013: the National View”

  1. ivan on December 31st, 2012 3:06 pm

    I’d like to hear what people think of OF Patrick Guerrero, 18, Vlad’s nephew, who raked in the DSL and continued to hit in the Arizona Rookie League.

  2. Choo on December 31st, 2012 3:33 pm

    I believe Gabriel Guerrero is the player/nephew in question. Patrick Guerrero is the Dodgers Latin American coordinator.

  3. Klatz on December 31st, 2012 3:57 pm

    I’m looking forward to a new top40. I miss the in depth analysis of the M’s prospects.

    While the bevy of pitching and MI (well at least 2b anyways) prospects is great, there’s a relative lack of outfield prospects.

    Guerrero is the only one that gets on a list for 2013. It’s a bit remarkable considering there were multiple OF prospects just a year or two ago: Guillermo Pimental, Phillips Castillo, Julio Morban, Johermyn Chavez, James Jones

  4. Westside guy on December 31st, 2012 4:08 pm

    Marc, I am really enjoying all the stuff you’ve been posting lately.

    I can’t speak for other cynics, but I for one have never been cynical about the farm system Z has built. With me, it’s been more a fear of turning into the Royals – a team with a superb farm system, but one that’s unwilling (as opposed to simply too incompetent, a la KC) to make the necessary final moves to true competitiveness. In any case, this did he me remember there’s hope – thanks!

  5. Flaco on December 31st, 2012 4:13 pm

    Good info here, but this year, at least for me, will not be spent wondering about prospects. Prospects are just prospects, I wanna see real players, with real results.

  6. ivan on December 31st, 2012 5:44 pm

    Thanks Choo. Brain fart there. Happy New Year.

  7. GLS on December 31st, 2012 9:57 pm

    I’m honestly not sure how useful a future 40 truly is. Forty is a lot and once you get past the top 8-15, it’s usually just a big pile. A better way to do it might be to say “here are the guys you need to know about now” and “here are some guys that are interesting” and “here are some guys that might be interesting next year”.

  8. bookbook on January 1st, 2013 12:40 am

    My fear is that the upside of almost all the position players has been “solid support player” or “second division starter”.

    It’s incredibly valuable to get a bunch of those pre-arb, but maybe not the same as finding/developing the Mike Trout types? Breakthrough stars are hard to plan for, but without them on the farm or through free agency, it’s hard to cobble together a championship.

  9. maqman on January 1st, 2013 2:43 am

    One thing for sure Z has given us reason to hope. Not all, or many, will turn into valuable contributors on the big club but there’s enough talent to know some will. The coming spring training and season are going to be really interesting to see who does what. As usual someone will exceed expectations and some will just fade away.

  10. vetted_coach on January 1st, 2013 7:00 am

    Claiming the Mariners have an “elite” system seems obtuse to me. Based on what? The Rangers, Yankees and Reds have superior systems. For five years running they’ve produced a steady influx of young, fresh ML contributors and closed August-September in contention. Atlanta, too, to some extent.

    Who has come through the Mariner sysfem? How has the big club benefitted? Who and what does Z hang his hat on? This is shuck and jive – a bait and switch, a decoy, a facade. Like claiming that Justin Smoak was the “best prospect” to get from Texas for Cliff Lee. Guess what: no, he wasn’t.

    Like claiming USC was #1 last August. No one thinks they had a good season, and no one is callimg Lane Kiffin an “elite” coach.

    Speculation is not analysis. It’s hypothesis. The Mariner system is hype. Period.

  11. Cody on January 1st, 2013 8:32 am


    What exactly does Marc or any of the talent evaluators have to gain by giving you the “bait and switch”?

    There is a large bit of luck involved in converting prospects to MLB contributors. The most you can do is amass talent and hope it hits, or that you can trade it for proven commodities.

    The farm was in a sad state when Z took over and it is now strong again. Now that he has the tools to work with things get interesting.

    BTW, claiming the Yankees farm is stronger than the M’s is hypothesis as well and if you don’t enjoy speculation then maybe paying attention to prospect lists isn’t for you.

  12. bookbook on January 1st, 2013 8:32 am

    It takes time to build a system. It actually is possible to make predictions with some degree of confidence.

  13. Klatz on January 1st, 2013 8:36 am

    The Ms have produced impact major league talent in Shin Soo Choo, Adam Jones, Michael Morse, and Adsubral Cabrera. The problem is most of them were traded under the “WIN NOW” philosophy for little return.

    I like the Future 40 if only because of the background info on the prospects, why is such and such considered a prospect. If it weren’t for such in depth analyses I wouldn’t have known much about Felix until he was an MLB rookie.

  14. firova2 on January 1st, 2013 9:00 am

    Just check the 2009 Future Forty on the upper left to see just how bare the cupboard was when Jack took over. Pretty sobering.

  15. greentunic on January 1st, 2013 9:00 am

    Smoak, Ackley, and Montero were all elite hitting prospects.

    I believe in our system, and believe that some of our young MLB players will definitely improve, but it’s exhausting to keep waiting and thinkging “Well, maybe our NEXT top hitters will perform.”

    I’m still hopeful. But it’s time for some of our top prospects to EXCEED their expectations.

  16. greentunic on January 1st, 2013 9:06 am
  17. Jopa on January 1st, 2013 9:24 am

    I take a more patient approach than most. I love what I’m seeing and hope they don’t make hasty trades of young prospects to “win now”.

    They’ve built an elite bullpen internally already. They have an elite rotation arriving. I love a team with rock solid pitching.

    The IF is shaping up nicely and Zunino shows all the signs of a franchise C.

    OF is an empty void. Saunders could be a good piece. Maybe Romero can be moved to the OF. I think the farm system will have a few extra pieces to trade for an OF, otherwise, eventually, they can drop $$ for a free agent.

    My only off-season wish for this year has been a Felix extension. I can wait another year or two for the system to develop.

  18. Westside guy on January 1st, 2013 10:18 am

    And the Angels are 30th 🙂

    It’s amazing what promoting a guy like Trout to the major leagues will do for you. 😉

  19. greentunic on January 1st, 2013 11:40 am

    Trout’s a phenom. No doubt about it. Just goes to show that they have nothing left after him and the Greinke trade. I just hope they further gut their system for another half-season rental in 2013.

    I think we generally loathe the Angels most as M’s fans. More than Texas, Oakland, New York, and even San Diego!

  20. Typical Idiot Fan on January 1st, 2013 3:50 pm

    The Rangers, Yankees and Reds have superior systems.



  21. henryv on January 1st, 2013 6:02 pm
  22. _Hutch_ on January 1st, 2013 7:44 pm

    I’m not generally the type of fan that needs immediate payoff and I recognize that sometimes it takes some patience before prospects turn into legitimate MLB hitters, but sometimes I wonder if the issue is the team’s coaching staff. It’s a really hard thing to judge when we’re not seeing what’s happening behind the scenes on a daily basis but it seems to me like some of these hitters’ flaws (Ackley not being able to cover the outside of the plate, Montero being unable to recognize and layoff sliders off the plate) are things that they should be able to overcome with a combination of their natural talent and the right coaching. If you buy into Smoak’s September as being a reflection of his new, shorter swing you could point to that as some progress and Montero’s second half was heading the right direction, but sometimes I wonder why those things take so long. Smoak spent months flailing around out there and probably should have been demoted six weeks earlier than he was. It’s hard to separate the coaching from the player but it seems like some of these issues should not be insurmountable.

  23. DarkKnight1680 on January 1st, 2013 8:25 pm
  24. TomC on January 1st, 2013 8:32 pm

    _Hutch_ has a very good point. It is difficult to get excited about Mariner prospects given the poor history the team has in developing their past prospects.

    Smoak, Montero and Ackley should all have been solid contributors last season. Instead they all have us dreading they will be failed prospects. Why?

    Doesn’t the Mariner’s past history indicate Zunino, Franklin and Miller will also be washouts? For their sakes they have to be hoping they are traded to a team that knows how to develop young players.

  25. ChrisFB on January 2nd, 2013 10:05 am

    Hutch, TomC: I’ve wondered about that as well, but it’s really nigh-impossible to measure. There’s a lot of moving parts to a player’s mental and physical approach, and a variety of coaches and/or veteran mentors and/or peers providing input at every level.

    For example, for all that we joke about the effect that “Josh Bard’s brother” had on Saunders… even then, can we really truly say that that coaching was the critical difference? Did every single other thing about the player’s routine, swing, mental approach, study/prep, diet, conditioning, etc. etc. stay the same, and the only change was the rubberbands trick to shorten his swing? Did he truly face the same pitchers in the same circumstances and counts and ballparks, to be able to contrast and compare?

    I’m not discounting the coaching factor. Like I said, I’ve wondered the same. I just think we’ll never be able to truly measure one way or the other.

  26. Gormogon on January 2nd, 2013 12:10 pm

    Can we speculate how many of the top 10 prospects it would take to get Giancarlo?

    I reiterate TomC’s concerns. Did we really just have 3 premier prospects flame out? How much of a mind buster is it to play in Safeco? Here’s to hoping 2013 provides some mental relief and relaxation at the plate for these guys.

  27. stevemotivateir on January 2nd, 2013 12:21 pm

    ^Ackley and Montero just finished their first full major league seasons. To say they flamed out, really isn’t fair, and it’s certainly premature.

    Smoak’s another story.

  28. Gormogon on January 2nd, 2013 12:49 pm

    I agree, it is premature to say so about Ackley and Montero. That’s why I ended that with a question mark. I certainly hope they both progress this year, substantially, and I tend to think that they both will. If they do happen to fail, I think it would be imperative to actually determine why.

  29. casey on January 2nd, 2013 1:21 pm

    One first year player hits .264 with 16 homers and 61 rbis as a 20 year old. The other hits .260 with 15 homers and 62 rbis as a 22 year old. First guy is Junior and second in Montero. Admittedly Griffey was plus plus in the field and Montero struggled with the defensive side of the game but most young players not named Trout struggle in their first thousand or so at bats in MLB.

  30. the tourist on January 2nd, 2013 2:06 pm

    “One first year player hits .264 with 16 homers and 61 rbis as a 20 year old. The other hits .260 with 15 homers and 62 rbis as a 22 year old.”

    And Griffey was in a hitter’s paradise while Montero was in the hardest park to hit in. Put Montero into the Kingdome and his numbers would’ve been quite a bit better due to park factors alone.

  31. jellison on January 2nd, 2013 6:57 pm

    The future forty is amusing as a piece of history, when pineda was deemed good (not great) and triunfel was the top prospect.

    It would be fun to see a future forty retrospective. A kind of where are they now piece. Or a comparison of 2009 to the current state of the Ms system.

  32. Longgeorge1 on January 2nd, 2013 8:02 pm

    The Mariners have a long history of not developing their prospects, shipping them off and ten watching them blossom elsewhere. Raul is returning after a very credible career. He looked like a washout until he was traded to KC and George Brett got a hold of him and the rest is history. Earlier comments have named several others who have left and prospered. My question is – Why did Michael Saunders have to find a hitting out of the Mariner system to learn how to hit? Isn’t there anyone in our system that can teach hitting?

  33. dirkvdb on January 2nd, 2013 8:25 pm

    I think its great to have a top 10 prospects being rated highly. But the recent history of our top prospects actually producing is miserable. This off -season should have been spent getting us a few possible quality hitters and the those that we halved signed are veteran insignificant signings. I am so depressed about M’s prospects – we are at least 3 years away from competing.

  34. G-Man on January 3rd, 2013 8:17 pm

    IF they want to trade Hultzen or Paxon with a lower prospect (below 10th) or two for Upton, I’m OK with it. More than that is too much.

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