Organizational depth is what can turn a franchise with talent into a franchise set up for long-term success. Get the right pieces in the right places while developing top players and role players alike and the system can feed the big league club top to bottom.
Everyone now knows about the upper end of Mariners prospects, but in these Seattle Mariners Prospect Depth Chart series we will show you what lies behind the first few prospects to give you an idea as to the quality of depth at each position. This information is used by clubs in planning for draft strategies, targeting players in trades and free agency and knowing which in-house players should be the highest priority for locking up to extensions.
For the purpose of this series, we're only considering players that still have MLB rookie status, based on innings, at bats or big league service time. We are also only considering players who's 2012 will be their age 26 or younger season. The depth chart standings are a combination of the player's developmental ceiling, floor and big league ETA. These rankings, while based on information and input I have received from many sources, are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the same for the Seattle Mariners.
We will be working our way around the defensive positions as in a scorebook, so in this first post of the series, we start on the mound with starting pitchers.
BREAKDOWN: Hultzen is a polished left-hander with deceptively good stuff that is made better because he has impeccable command of all of his pitches. Working with a few different versions of his fastball and change-up, Hultzen has the ability to be a solid No. 3 starter the minute he breaks into the big leagues, which could be very early in 2012.
BREAKDOWN: Paxton can attack hitters with high-90s heat and a knee-buckling curve with a delivery that creates some deception from the left side. He shook off some rust about 1/4 of the way through last season and dominated the rest of the way. His command will determine how far he can go, but from a pure stuff standpoint, he can be at least a No. 2 starter in the big leagues in very short order.
BREAKDOWN: Walker is a top-shelf athlete on the pitcher's mound and polished beyond his years in his approach as well. Working low in the zone with a heavy, sinking fastball that reaches the mid-90s regularly, he understands pitching like a veteran despite being just 19. Depending on how quickly his secondary offerings develop, he could reach the big leagues before he can get into a bar.
BREAKDOWN: Short, stocky right-handers don't generally create much buzz, but Ramirez is hard to ignore. His always had plus control, but his command caught up in 2011 and his velocity picked up, too. Now sitting comfortably in the 91-94 range, he has the ability to work all quadrants of the zone with his fastball and get swinging strikes with his change-up as well.
BREAKDOWN: Maurer didn't pitch a lot in 2011 because of some elbow issues -- something that has nagged him in his career -- but he is a smart pitcher that never gives in. He works in the low-90s with his sinking, riding fastball and also shows promise with his secondary pitches. He ranked 5th in the organization in SO/9 among those with 75 or more IP. Getting a full season outside of High Desert should give a better look at his true potential.
BREAKDOWN: Robles' 2011 is a year he and the Mariners would like to forget, but his potential is still there. With a fastball that can touch the mid-90s from the left side, a change-up with good depth and a curveball that flashes as a plus pitch at times, Robles just needs to work on his command and on maintaining his stuff later into games. If he can do that, he has No. 3 starter potential.
BREAKDOWN: Medina had a rough statistical season in 2011, but he has the stuff -- and perhaps more importantly, the build -- to be a back-end innings-eating right-hander for the Mariners. His control and command need to take a step forward and one of his secondary pitches needs to start generating swinging strikes in order for his low-90s sinking fastball to work it's best.
BREAKDOWN: Shipers was a 16th round pick for Seattle in '10 out of a high school with no baseball program. He still got the same signing bonus ($800k) as Taijuan Walker. He pitched very well at times for Everett in '11 and has participated in Instructional league for the club both seasons. The left-hander will move up to Clinton in '12 and try to work on refining the command on his 91-93 fastball, slider and good change-up.
BREAKDOWN: Sanchez is a fairly physically developed 17-year-old with a fastball that can touch 94 and a slider that could become a plus pitch down the road. Not as raw as he is young, Sanchez's debut for the Mariners system will come in 2012, possibly in Arizona, but because of the right-hander's size and relative polish, he could move a lot quicker than most teenage internationals. A lot will depend on his command.
BREAKDOWN: Valdivia has had a heck of a time staying healthy -- throwing just 45 innings in his career despite being a '08 signing -- but the former Tommy John patient has high-end stuff when he is. He's added a lot of weight in the last year (up 30+ pounds) which may help. A fastball that can touch the mid-90s and good but unrefined secondary stuff all are reliant on health and mechanics.
BREAKDOWN: Fernandez was cruising through the M's system until he hit the desert last year. But that isn't an easy environment for anyone, and he does have the repertoire to succeed. Working in the low-90s with decent, late run on his fastball, a change and a slurvy breaking ball, he has some of the better command in the system and has done a fantastic job of limiting the long ball. The left-hander turns 22 this summer and also has a plus move to first base.
BREAKDOWN: The left-hander struggled more in Double-A than in High Desert in '11, but he has shown good strikeout ability and good control in his career. Working with a high-80s fastball, a slow curve and a change-up, he's the type of lefty that we see a lot of in baseball. 24 now and likely to start back in Jackson, time isn't on his side, but he could get better as he continues to mature as a pitcher.
BREAKDOWN: Butler is tall, left-handed and used to be regarded as one of the M's top prospects. Now 24 and in his second tour of duty in the organization, Butler righted a lot of what ailed him in '09 - '10 in Baltimore when he returned to Everett and Clinton in '11. He may ultimately end up in the bullpen, but he showed better mechanics, control and command in '11 than he ever had before and he can be a ground ball machine meaning he has the stuff to start.
BREAKDOWN: Drafted out of high school in '10, Landazuri got his first real look last season for Everett where he averaged a strikeout an inning in 14 starts. He doesn't blow you away with his stuff but shows good command and pitching smarts for a young (20) guy and is adding weight to his frame that could help him pick up a few ticks on his fastball and improve his durability. He'll be in Clinton in '12 and his strikeout rate is something to watch as he advances.
BREAKDOWN: Carraway was drafted in '09 following his senior year at Virginia so he's older than most from that draft, but he's shown good durability, excellent control and enough on his secondary pitches that the right-hander has been able to limit the damage by lefties. Low-90s on his fastball, he has a delivery that looks like a reliever, but he's been successful as a starter and figures to continue to get the chance to do so in Triple-A in '12.
That's it for the starting rotation. We'll take a look at 15 arms for the bullpen next.