A look at the Mariners current top 10 prospects

It is deadline day. A day in which the front offices for all 30 major league teams are scrambling in the final hours (deadline is 9 pm PST) to sign their team’s remaining unsigned draft picks that are up against the August 15th deadline.

The Mariners in particular, are feeling some heat with 12 of their 51 draft choices yet to agree to terms including five of their top 10 picks and first three overall led by No. 2 overall pick LHP Danny Hultzen.

The importance in signing these players lies in the current state of the franchise. It is no secret that the Mariners are in a rebuilding phase in which General Manager Jack Zduriencik has placed the top priority at acquiring an abundance of young talent. This draft is Zduriencik’s third with the club and adding as many of those players he and his team of scouts pored over for several months, including their top pick Hultzen, is critical to the success of the plan.

So as the Mariners are set to complete their 2011 draft signing class, adding another 40 or so players to their system, we take a look at their current top 10 prospects and where the system ranks as a whole compared to the rest of the league.

Without further ado, we begin with number 1:

1. Taijuan Walker, 19, RHP

Walker has been an absolute stud in his first full year as a professional. Last year’s first round compensation pick (No. 48 overall) didn’t get going in his minor league career until mid-May with the Class A Clinton Lumberkings where he has started 18 games now, pitched 96.2 innings with a 2.89 ERA.

More impressively, Walker has allowed just 69 hits in those innings and a 113 to 39 strikeout to walk ratio while holding opponents to a paltry .202 batting average. GM Jack Zduriencik and director of player development Pedro Grifol have recently praised Walker’s maturity and pitching acumen. He has a very smooth delivery with a plus fastball and above average offspeed pitches already as kid who just had his 19th birthday on Saturday.

Look for Walker to finish the season out at Clinton, pitch a little in the fall and then begin next year at the Mariners AA affiliate Jackson.

2. James Paxton, 22, LHP

Paxton was the Mariners’ 4th round draft choice last season who didn’t sign until March after spending time in the Cape Cod League. After signing in the Spring, he spent time in Peoria, AZ in extended spring training before joining Walker in Clinton, IA.

Paxton pitched 56 innings in Clinton where, like Walker, he dominated hitters with his advanced pitching arsenal to the tune of 80 strikeouts while allowing just 45 hits and 17 earned runs while holding opponents to a .225 batting average. He was then promoted to AA Jackson after 10 starts in Clinton (3-3 2.73 ERA) and has only been better.

With Jackson, Paxton is 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA in 39 innings (seven starts thus far). He has allowed just 28 hits while sporting a 51/13 strikeout to walk ratio. Paxton, like Walker, sports an above average fastball, curve and has been honing a changeup in Jackson as well all throw with plus command.

Look for Paxton to finish out the minor league season with Jackson and then potentially get a call-up with the Mariners in September. If not, he’ll probably pitch some in the fall and will be given a shot to earn a starting rotation job in the Spring in 2012.

3. Nick Franklin, 21, SS

After a breakthough year, his first as a professional, in 2010 with Clinton, Franklin began 2011 with the High Desert Mavericks, the Mariners High A affiliate. There Franklin fared about average with a .275 average in 64 games for the Mavericks, an OPS of .767.

However, in late June Franklin was promoted to AA Jackson and finally seemed to bust out like many people were expecting — for four games. Franklin hit .600 with 9 hits in 15 at bats and an OPS of 1.467. But just before his fifth game with the Generals, Franklin took a bat to the head on the follow through of a teammate and was placed on the 7-day disabled list. While recovering from that injury, Franklin became ill with mononucleosis and has yet to return to action with the team.

It seems that Franklin will rest through the end of the minor league season before going to the Arizona Fall League in October to play some baseball. Hopefully, he gets healthy and picks up right where he left off in Arizona. He will most likely start 2012 in Jackson with the potential to rise quickly with his talented overall game of solid hitting, speed and defense.

4. Guillermo Pimentel, 18, OF

Pimentel was a 16-year-old international free-agent signing out of the Dominican Republic (ala Michael Pineda) in July of 2009. Now with the Pulaski Mariners in the Appalachian League, Pimentel is hitting .263 with 8 homers and 33 RBI and a .744 OPS in 50 games.

After a hot start, Pimentel has cooled off in Pulaski falling down to .263 with his average. But he remains a five-tool outfielder who doesn’t turn 19 until October. One area where he needs to improve is on his pitch selection and free-swinging approach. Pimentel has 57 strikeouts in 186 ABs to just 13 walks.

5. Jose Vicente Campos, 19, RHP

Perhaps a bit high compared to most system rankings but Campos is a pitcher with a ton of potential that has taken off of late. Playing with the Mariners low-A affiliate in Everett, Campos is 5-3 with a 2.49 ERA in 62.1 innings pitched (11 starts). Sporting an absurd .98 WHIP, he’s allowed just 52 hits while putting up a ridiculous 63/9 strikout to walk ratio.

His stuff is electric, led by a fastball that can touch 98, 99. His problem was always secondary stuff and control and while I can’t report about the progress of his secondary pitches, it does appear that his control is improving. Look for Campos to finish out the year in Everett, play some winter league ball in Venezuela and then go to Clinton to start 2012.

6. Trayvon Robinson, 23, OF

Robinson was acquired from the Dodgers at the July 31st trading deadline in the deal that sent Bedard to the Red Sox. He is now up with the Mariners, playing 4 out of every 5 games in left field for the team. Robinson has power (delivered 26 homers in AAA Albuquerque) and speed which could lead to him locking down the left field job for years to come in Seattle.

Look for him to finish out the season with the Mariners and enter 2012 in a competition with fellow outfielders Greg Halman, Casper Wells, Michael Saunders, Carlos Peguero and perhaps others for the starting left-field job.

7. Chih-Hsien Chiang, 23, OF

Chiang, acquired from Boston in the Erik Bedard trade at the July 31st trade deadline, repeated AA this season and has been dominant. At the time of the trade, he was considered one of the top hitters in the Eastern League with his .340 average and .648 slugging percentage.

Chiang currently holds a .988 OPS across the two leagues with 18 homers and 80 RBI. He could be promoted to AAA Tacoma any day now or receive a cop of coffee with the Mariners in September.

8. Rich Poythress, 24, 1B/DH

Poythress, a second round pick from the 2009 draft, is a powerful right-handed first base prospect. After putting up huge numbers last year at High Desert (.315 avg., 31 homers, league-leading 130 RBI) got off to a pedestrian start in his second go-round in AA Jackson but has rebounded nicely since the All-Star break. In 110 games with the Generals this season, Poythress is hitting .267/.346/.415/.761 with 10 homers and 56 RBI.

I’m probably a bit higher on Poythress than some of the other prospect analysts around simply because I think he’s the type of hitter that thrives with runners in scoring position and in clutch situations. You don’t post 130 RBI in one season without knowing how to bring a runner home when you need to. He has the potential to be a good hitter in Safeco and help the M’s at first or DH.

9. Vincent Catricala, 22, 1B/3B/OF

Catricala was drafted in the 10th round of the 2009 draft and has really emerged this season across two levels. He began in High Desert, just annihilating opposing pitching with a .351 avg and .996 OPS; moved up to Jackson and improved to .354 with a 1.020 OPS in what is considered a pitcher’s league. Catricala has been playing mostly at third where his defense — his one real negative — has forced the organization to start trying him at other areas like first and the outfield just to see where he fits.

You look at Catricala and despite being maybe a minus defender, his bat plays and it plays at every level. I think we’ll see him finish the year at Jackson then move up to AAA Tacoma in 2012 with a September call-up probably in his sights.

10. Erasmo Ramirez, 21, RHP

Signed out of Venezuela in September of 2007 at just 17, Ramirez is probably best known for his epic control. In 2008 and 2009, he combined to walk just 14 batters in 151 innings. Last year he walked 21 in 151.2 innings and this year has walked 23 in almost 130 innings across the AA and AAA levels.

Ramirez probably projects as a middle reliever with his durability and excellent command. Yet, in his recent promotion to Tacoma, is excelling as a starter with a 3-0 record and 3.26 ERA in 3 starts so far.

Just missed: 3B/1B/DH Alex Liddi, 3B Francisco Martinez, OF James Jones, SS/3B Carlos Truinfel, OF Jabari Blash, OF Julio Morban, P Anthony Vazquez

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Remember Mariners fans, players like Kyle Seager, Dustin Ackley, Mike Carp, Josh Lueke, Dan Cortes, Greg Halman and Michael Pineda no longer qualify as prospects and thus aren’t considered for this ranking list.

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