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, and as we've already covered starting pitchers, we now move on to the relief pitchers.
1. Chance Ruffin 6'1", 195 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: The son of a big leaguer, the Mariners were very high on Ruffin in the '10 draft but decided to take Taijuan Walker instead. They got their chance to get Chance in the trade with Detroit last year and jumped at it. He has a big fastball that routinely hits 95, both a slider and curve and all three pitches generate swings-and-misses. He also has that always coveted aggressive reliever mentality.
2. Stephen Pryor 6'4", 245 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: Pryor certainly looks the part to become a shut-down bullpen arm. He just looks like a reliever. Big and strong, he has the arsenal to back that look up. A fastball that routinely hits 98 and now a cutter that he is consistently using as his second pitch. A big overhand curve or a change-up will be his third pitch, but his fastball is enough to make him a force in MLB right now if he can harness his mechanics.
3. Carter Capps 6'5", 220 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: Having converted from catching just three seasons ago, Capps is working as a starter in the M's system right now. Most see his big fastball (as high as 99 in shorter stints) and lack of a third pitch as perfect for the pen, and if (when) he gets moved to relief, he should advance towards the big leagues very quickly. He pounds the bottom of the strike zone and can pile up the strikeouts.
4. Forrest Snow 6'6", 220 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: An almost unheard of rise for a 36th round draft pick, Snow is now widely regarded as one of the better and more polished arms in the system after just two seasons as a pro. He still has a chance to start and has five offerings in his arsenal, but his fastball plays up to the 94-95 range out of the bullpen. Primarily a fastball/change-up pitcher, Snow has been working with a split-finger fastball regularly since late in '11.
5. Tyler Burgoon 5'10", 173 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: '11 was Burgoon's first full season in the system and he impressed a ton. A better than 4:1 K:BB ratio and a 2.30 ERA in Clinton as the closer. He isn't built like a big arm, but he has a big arm, sitting 91-94 with his late-running fastball with a good slider that is 83-85. If he maintains the command he showed last year he could advance very quickly through the minor leagues.
6. Matt Bischoff 5'11", 193 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: Bischoff has put up lights-out numbers without really having lights-out stuff because he has very good control, pitches smart and has a deceptive delivery. Undersized for a traditional right-handed reliever, his fastball is only 90-93 but has good arm side run. A late breaking slider also generates swings and misses, but his short-arm, cross-body, three-quarters delivery is very hard for right-handed hitters to pick up.
7. Carson Smith 6'6", 205 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: Smith was the M's 8th round selection last year out of Texas State and although he hasn't pitched as a pro yet, he already ranks high on this list because of pure stuff and size. His fastball is 94-95 with hard sink and late life and he mixes in a decent change-up and a firm slider. Big bodied and mature, Smith could see Double-A before the end of '12.
8. Brian Moran 6'3", 212 lbs, left-handed
BREAKDOWN: Moran has shown that he can effectively get strikeouts despite average stuff -- high-80s fastball primarily off of his deceptive pitching motion. He could be the 3rd member of the 2009 draft out of the University of North Carolina to break on to the big league roster at some point in 2012. His 2nd half in '11 for Jackson was very good and his 1.32 ERA in 11 AFL appearances were another good sign.
9. Tyler Blandford, 6'3", 201 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: Blandford hasn't had a lot of luck staying healthy or getting results since the M's picked him in the 6th round in '09. Right shoulder, biceps and triceps injuries since that time have limited him to just 25 big league games. With really good arm speed, he sits 92-94 and touches 96 with the fastball and has a sharp slider in the 82-84 range. He's 24 and hasn't got out of Low-A, but if he can stay healthy he will move fast.
10. Kyle Hunter 6'1", 207 lbs, left-handed
BREAKDOWN: A starter in college, Hunter was a late round pick in the '11 draft and immediately took to pitching out of the pen. He tied for 2nd in the organization among relievers with 11.9 SO/9 over 47 innings last year and did so while yielding just 1.7 BB/9. Usually 90-92 with his fastball, Hunter has a change-up that he locates well against righties and an overhand curve that he uses to keep left-handers honest.
11. Jonathan Arias 6'3", 210 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: Arias was originally signed out of the Dominican in '06 as a catcher, but after two less than stellar seasons at the plate, the club converted him to pitching during the '09 off-season. '11 was his first full-time chance as a reliever and he struck out 101 hitters in just 63 1/3 innings hitting the mid-90s with a running fastball that he compliments with a good slider. Already 24, he could take the last few minor league steps quickly if he continues to show strikeout stuff and decent command.
12. Phillippe Valiquette 6'1", 205 lbs, left-handed
BREAKDOWN: Not many lefties can pop triple-digits on the radar gun, but Valiquette can. So why was he released by the Reds as a 24-year-old? Fact is that he just hasn't been able to harness his control, develop a second pitch or really get a great feel for pitching after over 350 minor league innings. He's had injuries, sure, but his lack of effectiveness is what made him available to the M's late last summer. That said, he still has a dynamite arm.
13. Ryan Kiel 6'4", 228 lbs, left-handed
BREAKDOWN: Kiel -- who idolized Randy Johnson as a youngster -- worked on refining his change-up last season to compliment his 91-94 fastball and hard slider and enjoyed a successful, albeit abbreviated, year. He keeps the ball down and repeats his delivery well. Already 24 with just 52 2/3 pro innings under his belt, Kiel is another guy that needs to stay healthy and get innings so he can get a chance to advance.
14. Steven Hensley 6'3", 191 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: Hensley -- now 25 -- has mainly pitched as a starter as he's moved through the M's system, but he profiles best in relief. 90-93 with his fastball in the past, he once was considered to have the best slider in the system. It still has swing-and-miss potential, but his command of both pitches was completely gone during his disastrous stint in the AFL last season. If he gets back on track, Hensley could quickly become a 6th inning arm in the big leagues.
15. Willy Kesler 6'0", 245 lbs, right-handed
BREAKDOWN: Kesler is another late-round pick that has done nothing but impress since coming into the M's system. He dominated in Everett his first season and even handled the thin air of High Desert well last season, racking up 8.1 SO/9 along the way. A Tommy John guy, Kesler's fastball is 90-92 with good arm-side run and he also has a good 12-6 curve, commanding all of his pitches well and attacking hitters.
Several other bullpen arms could emerge, but that covers my choices for the Top-15 right now. We move next to catchers. Stay tuned.