Here at SeattleClubhouse, our primary goal is to give our readers exclusive information on Seattle Mariners players from the rookie leagues all the way to the major leagues. Looking beyond the numbers and using input from respected baseball resources -- as well as contributing our own input -- we are aiming to give the readers rundowns on the names in the Seattle organization that are worth tracking, and maybe even pinning some future hopes on. Our determination of where the prospects land on the list is a combination of potential ceiling, the player's likelihood of reaching that ceiling, the most probable outcome for the player and their proximity to cracking the 25-man roster.
These types of rankings are very fluid and things can change very quickly, particularly in the bottom half of a list this large, but this compilation is our best effort at a look at the 50 best prospects in the system right now.
The breakdowns are being done in groups of five for subscribers, with the complete list (sans scouting info) being posted to the forums for discussion once the pieces are complete. Each player section will be headed by the player's position, age (as of the date of article publishing), hitting and throwing handedness and level at which they ended the 2012 season.
You can check out the first 40 prospects in groups of five by clicking on the links for prospects:
- 50 through 46
- 45 through 41
- 40 through 36
- 35 through 31
- 30 through 26
- 25 through 21
- 20 through 16
- 15 through 11
The final 10 players in this group are among the best in baseball in terms of future ceiling and proximity to the major leagues. These prospects are valuable to the Mariners -- and could be valuable to other clubs -- as they eye the future. Here now are Seattle Mariners prospects numbers 10 through 6.
Sanchez was a big-ticket international free agent signing by Seattle in July of 2011. Touted by the experts as the best pitcher in Venezuela and possibly even all of Latin America that year, he started to catch the eyes of scouts in the region when he was just a 13-year-old. The Mariners signed him for more than $2 million and brought him stateside to work with their staff in Arizona and in Fall Instructs rather than have the then 16-year-old Sanchez report to a team. He started 2012 in Extended Spring Training and impressed everyone there, too, before being sent to Short Season Everett.
I had the opportunity to watch Sanchez pitch in Everett in person a number of times during the 2012 season and also had a chance to talk with his pitching coach, Rich Dorman, before or after most of his starts, home and road. Sanchez displayed poise, composure and a feel for pitching well beyond his years in Everett, posting a 3.18 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.3 SO/9 and .223 opposing hitters' average while winning six games for the AquaSox. He allowed three runs or fewer in 12 of his 15 starts, turning in nine quality starts in the process, while ranking 2nd in the Northwest League in Innings (85), 3rd in strikeouts (69), 7th in WHIP and 9th in ERA. His performance in the league showed why Chris Gwynn told me that the organization actually considered placing the 17-year-old Sanchez -- already the youngest player in the Northwest League by almost a full year when the season began -- in Low-A Clinton of the Midwest League. Asked what made Sanchez ready for that level at such a young age, Gwynn stated, "He's really advanced, really polished and really confident."
A stocky right-hander already built like a full-grown man at an even six-foot and a muscular 255 pounds, the Venezuelan-born Sanchez has more than just pitching smarts to his arsenal. Working off of a hard fastball that is typically in the 90-92 range but that he can get up to 95 at times when needed, Sanchez also mixes in a curve and slider, although Dorman told me that both are hit-and-miss from game to game -- something that was all too visible at times. His second best pitch is his changeup, which is already a plus offering for him, with great velocity separation, deception and late fade. His delivery incorporates the "Felix Hernandez-twist" at the waist (as you can see in the photo above) and the ball jumps out of his hand, getting on hitters quick despite his less-than-ideal height and length. "I'm not sure how much better his stuff is going to get -- not a lot of projection left -- and I have some concerns with the body, obviously, but he's a prospect and could end up being a [No.] 3 [starter]," one Northwest area NL scout told me.
It was "only" the Northwest League, but there were starts where the opposing teams only had two or three good at bats all night off of Sanchez while I was in attendance, and I heard, "not a lot of good swings off the fastball all night," from Dorman often in our talks. The body has to be watched so that the weight doesn't become a problem, but Sanchez isn't fat, just thick. Big.
AquaSox announcer Pat Dillon had a first-hand view of each of Sanchez's 15 starts and he offered this take on the young righty: "He has really long arms -- like [former Sonics big man] Sam Perkins-long -- and I'd like to see how many baseballs he could fit into one hand. They're huge. Victor is very likable. He's personally laid-back, but social, and speaks enough English that you can have a conversation with him. Even though he didn't get a lot of ground balls (1.03 GO/AO), he had success this year when he pitched to contact. Good change, developing curve and a fastball that, while good, really didn't blow people away. I think the organization believes he still needs to really master the preparation routine of being a starting pitcher in professional baseball."
Working in and out, up and down with his fastball, Sanchez gets ahead and doesn't nibble, which allowed him to get through the 2012 season with fairly efficient pitch counts, as well, which is a big reason he got to that high innings total. In his best start of the season, on July 6 versus the Eugene Emeralds, Victor took a one-hit shutout into the ninth inning while throwing only 93 pitches. That night, Dorman told MiLB.com, "The way he pitched tonight was above and beyond what a 17-year-old is capable of." The former big league pitcher added, "He has a real good idea on how to pitch to all areas of the zone and how to use his stuff to set batter's up".
With his build, repertoire, poise and projection considered, Victor has all the makings of a top prospect, even at just 17. As things stand with 2012 coming to a close, Sanchez -- for me at least -- is a clear pick as the fourth best starting pitching prospect in the organization behind "The Big Three" of Walker, Hultzen and Paxton. Again, he was just 17 all season in the Northwest League -- younger than 2012 high school 1st round draftees Carlos Correa, Albert Almora, Joey Gallo and Lucas Giolito. More than a year younger than Byron Buxton.
Sanchez should start 2013 pitching in the Midwest League, which is a pretty pitching-friendly environment, even considering that he will still likely be one of the youngest competitors there. If he continues to refine his fastball command and can get the slider or curve to take a step forward, it isn't out of the question that he could make a mid-season jump as he could just become too good for even that league in 2013. Regardless of where he finishes 2013, he will absolutely finish it ranking highly once again in our Top-50 prospect list. Victor has the makings of an innings-eating, mid-rotation workhorse for the Mariners and he could get to that in pretty short order.
Romero was, without question, THE breakout performer in the Mariners organization in 2012. A former 12th round pick out of Oregon State, the right-handed hitting second baseman was No. 43 on our Top-50 list a season ago, but in 2012 he ranked 2nd in the organization in batting average, 3rd in home runs, and 2nd in RBI by putting up a .352/.391/.599 line with 34 doubles, 23 homers and 101 RBI in 116 games between High-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson. Advancing at the season's midway point, Romero increased his BB%, HR%, OBP and SLG after moving up and out of the hitter-friendly Cal League. Romero was named the Seattle Mariners' Minor League Player of the Year for his accomplishments. He was then sent to the Arizona Fall League by Seattle and he continued to hit there, putting up a .333/.375/.511 slash in 11 games while playing second and third base for the Peoria Javelinas as a member of their "taxi squad". It was a season of massive performance, for sure; one that has Mariners fans, and the Seattle front office, excited about the future for the 24-year-old.
Former scout Bernie Pleskoff saw Peoria extensively in the AFL and said of Romero, "He is an under-the-radar guy that almost no one talks about and he just has an incredible bat." Kyle Glaser of the Victorville Daily Press saw a lot of Romero this season, reporting on and attending every Mavericks home game during Stefen's time there in the first half. He had this to say of the right-handed hitting second baseman: "A very, very physically imposing guy. But he knows how to have a good time, is sort of soft-spoken, but definitely well-liked in the clubhouse." When I interviewed Romero in September I, too, got the sense that he exuded a soft-spoken, quiet confidence.
Glaser also spoke about how good of a teammate and person Romero was. He said, "Just to show how he has absolutely no ego - a lot of times Miller drove a lot of guys to the ballpark in his SUV because he had a car and the other guys didn't. Romero often sat in the trunk of the SUV, laying out. I got a kick out of the team's best hitter being transported to the park in the trunk every day, but clearly he didn't mind." Teammate Brad Miller -- Romero's double-play partner for better than 100 games over the past two seasons -- had a lot of great things to say about him, too. "As a teammate, you can always count on him. And I trust him because I see how hard he works at every phase of his game. We've really become great friends," Miller said. On a lighter note he added, "He also cuts mine and everyone else's hair, so we joked that he was also the Mariners Barber of the Year, too. He can do it all!"
But on top of the person that he is, Romero is showing to be an exceptional baseball player, and more specifically, an exceptional hitter. Romero enjoyed multi-hit games in five of his first six Double-A contests and ended the regular season with four straight as well. He ranked 1st in the Southern League in AVG from the time of his promotion until the end of the season and was 2nd in extra base hits (31), SLG (.620) and OPS (1.012) in that time, too. He hit .403 and slugged .774 with RISP for Jackson and was 14 for 28 with 2 outs and RISP. He consistently puts in quality plate appearances, and seldom slumps. Much of that, in my opinion, comes from his mental approach. Miller said of Stefen at the plate, "In all the games we've played together, I really don't think I've ever seen Romo have two bad at-bats in a row. He knows his routine and sticks to it. I can see why he's had a ton of success because of how he prepares. It was fun getting to hit in front of him, too."
Hitting for the right-handed Romero is done from a slightly bent stance. His hands starting shoulder high, Stefen has a short lift and short stride, quickly getting his upper- and lower-half in sync and to the hitting position. His line-drive stroke is achieved by being on plane through the zone and short to and long through the ball, with a top-hand release after contact.
There is some question around the long-term defensive home for Romero. He was a pretty good third baseman in college at Oregon State, but has played primarily second base as a pro. His large, muscular frame and average speed always lead people to want to paint him as a future corner outfield option only, but he has shown enough that the Mariners aren't likely to give up on Romero as an infielder just yet. Glaser said of Stefen's defense at second, "he always made the plays, and did it pretty smoothly. He wasn't quite as rangy as say, [Padres prospect] Cory Spangenberg, but he got to the balls he was supposed to and made it look natural. I'm not totally convinced he can't stick at second base if the bat continues to excel." Jackson's radio play-by-play guy, Chris Harris, echoed that, saying, "he was very good at second base." Harris also added, "He has one of the quickest bats I have ever seen." If second doesn't work out for him, third base is probably worth another look (another point that Harris agreed on) as Romero told us that he has changed up his throwing motion since recovering from that nasty arm injury and feels that his arm strength and throwing motion are better now than they ever have been. Regardless of his long term defensive home, the old adage applies here that, "if he hits, they'll find a place to play him."
Romero will almost definitely get himself an invite to big league Spring Training in February and get a long look from Eric Wedge and his staff. The smart money would be on him starting the 2013 season in Triple-A Tacoma, but if he can continue to put up quality at bats and crazy offensive numbers, he won't be long for the minor leagues. The Mariners could be looking at a high average, medium power, good contact big leaguer in Romero that can handle the infield and outfield corners and possibly even second base in MLB.
Pryor burst onto the scene with the Mariners throwing 100 mph fastballs in his MLB debut against the White Sox and Paul Konerko and striking out 27 big league hitters in 23 innings. But before that point he was running roughshod over two levels of the Mariners' minor leagues with his blazing fastball and hard cutter, compiling a 0.93 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 10.9 SO/9 in 38 2/3 innings during the 2012 campaign. Already a member of Mariners history as the winning pitcher in the 6-man combined no-hitter of 2012, Pryorranked 13th on our list last year before his break out. With his first complete season of putting all of his skills together in a fully healthy year, Pryor climbs firmly into the Top-10 this time in what is definitely his last season as a prospect and not an established big leaguer.
The first thing that everyone notices about Pryor is that he has your prototypical hard-throwing reliever's size. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds with broad shoulders and a barrel chest, he looks like he throws hard. Looks do not deceive here as he does throw hard. Of the 482 big league hurlers that threw 20 or more innings in 2012, Pryor ranked 15th in average fastball velocity at 96.3 MPH. Stephen averaged 11.9 SO/9 in 123 2/3 minor league innings before making his way to the major leagues with that fastball, and he has the type of fastball that he can get away with even when he isn't locating it perfectly. Location can be a problem with Pryor as his career 4.7 BB/9 number in the minors and 13 walks in the big leagues during his first go 'round shows, but 2012 still showed a new side of Stephen Pryor. The fastball is weapon one, but he has changed a few things along the way.
As he told SeattleClubhouse in his interview last February, he has ditched his slider in favor of a cut fastball as his second offering. The cutter at 89 to 92 miles per hour and riding away from righties, in on lefties is a weapon by itself. But when it plays off of Pryor's 95-98 mph fastball and looks identical out of his hands it can be downright unfair. Right-handed hitters managed only eight hits in 71 at-bats against Pryor in the minors this year, striking out 33 of those times. They hit him a little better in the big leagues -- where everyone can hit a good fastball -- but he still struck out more than a third of the right-handers he faced (21 in 62 PA). The off-speed offering is what Pryor needs to refine (and use more) to make him even more effective against major league hitters from both sides of the plate. Whether that ends up being his overhand curve or his changeup is not yet determined.
Pryor, who was the Mariners' 5th round pick in the 2010 draft out of Tennessee Tech, delivers all of his pitches from a delivery with a back-side rock at the top of his high leg kick, accelerating through with a straight over the top arm slot. The delivery can easily be identified as something that can lead to some of his battles with command, but it also helps him generate his velocity. Pryor told the Seattle Times late last season, "It's about keeping my weight locked on the back side and driving my hips towards the batter." The Mariners, who have their pitchers focus on the importance of the running game throughout the organization, worked on speeding his delivery up a bit once he reached the major leagues and teams started to take advantage of his time to the plate in the running game and Pryor seemed to adjust to that change well. Harris told me of Pryor, "Of all the 2012 players that were in Jackson, I was most proud and happy for Pryor. Some guys just really deserve good things to happen for them and he is one of them. The Capps/Pryor combination at the end of the game for Generals fans were something to behold. Pryor is a very soft spoken person, but Mariners fans got to see how fiery he can be in 2012."
Pryor ended the year in the big leagues on a down note, walking nine and allowing nine runs (six earned) over his final 9 2/3 innings (12 games), but he clearly already had the trust of his manager as just under 80% of his innings on the year came in the eighth inning or later. If Stephen can stay on track with his command, limit the self-inflicted damage -- i.e., walks -- and work to develop that third pitch, he could easily become a fixture in the back end of the Mariners' bullpen for many years. But that command needs a step forward, as pitching coach Carl Willis told the Spokesman-Review last year, "that room [for error] isn't very large no matter how hard you throw."
Brad Miller, who was a 2nd round pick for the Mariners out of Clemson in 2011, was impressive enough as a collegian and in his brief stint in 2011 that we ranked him 15th on this list a year ago. But after he finished 2nd in the entire minor leagues in hits in 2012 with 186 knocks in his first full pro season in 2012, a big jump into the Top-10 was warranted. His season (.334/.410/.512, 186 hits, 40 2B, 74 walks) is actually very similar statistically to Kyle Seager's 2010 year (.345/.419/.503, 192 hits, 40 2B, 71 walks), which was the last full season that Seager spent in the minors. Could we be saying the same about 2012 and Miller at some point in 2013? Considering that Brad did almost half of that damage in a higher league than Seager did his two years earlier (at an identical league age) I'd say the chances aren't bad.
Miller's bat is an unquestioned asset at this point. The left-handed hitter has hit at every level, at every stop as an amateur and professional. He even made strides against left-handers in 2012 (.777 OPS in 199 PA and a very strong 12.6% BB rate). The one and only knock that is still floating around on Miller is that some question his ability to stay at shortstop defensively. I put a few of the comments that I got on that topic in the minor league mid-season review, but as the season wore on I heard less and less of that from people that saw Miller regularly and he only ended up making five errors in 40 games in Double-A, seemingly lending more credence to the notions put forth from Gwynn, Grifol and others that the field conditions in the Cal League had more to do with his high error total there than anything Miller was doing or lacked defensively. I've shared this before, but when I spoke with Gwynn about Miller's errors he answered this way, "I don't know a lot of big league shortstops that didn't make a lot of errors in the minors. It's part of the learning process."
Kyle Glaser also saw a lot of, and interacted a lot with, Miller this season, too. Kyle offered this take on Brad: "I know it seems like I've talked positively a lot about everyone on the team in terms of personality, but no one tops Brad Miller. I can't really explain it, just a damn good human being in every aspect. The whole questioning his fielding was kind of ridiculous to me. He has the range, instincts, arm, quickness, everything you want in a shortstop. The only reason for the errors was lapses in footwork, which admittedly happened too often, but he recognized it and owned up to it. It's really simple, if he gets his footwork right more consistently, he's an everyday shortstop for a long, long time that's the backbone of your team. If he doesn't, he easily moves to the outfield and lets his athleticism play out there." Another contact told me that, "his limitations right now are fixable."
Kyle was given a Craig Counsell comp on Miller -- which I have heard a few times, too, dating back to the draft -- but I feel (and Glaser agrees, as do others) that that really sells Miller's upside short. Special Assistant to the GM Tony Blengino told me, "Miller has a knack for squaring up the baseball, and as a left-handed hitting shortstop with above average speed and enough glove to stay at the position, is a fairly rare commodity." He also said that Miller has "solid tools that have a chance to play up," because of his field presence.
At the plate, Miller's biggest asset is his plus pitch recognition and plate discipline. Not afraid to work the count and take strikes, his left-handed line-drive stroke (with his hands starting lower than they did in college, and not nearly as exaggeratedly high as Counsell) gets through the zone quickly with great balance. He's probably a tick above average as a runner in terms of speed and acceleration and he, of course, has great baseball instincts -- a McNamara draft specialty. "I love the bat and the overall approach at the plate, but I think he needs more work at shortstop. Gamer," one scout who saw Miller extensively in California League action told me.
As Miller offered me some tidbits on Stefen Romero, I had Romero respond in kind for Miller. "Brad is the type of player you want on your team not only because of his talents, but his leadership skills and the chemistry he brings to every team he plays for," Romero said. He continued, "You can count on him making the routine plays and the spectacular ones when the game is on the line. He's also a big spark plug to the offense." Chris Harris said of Miller that if he reminded him of one player, "it would be Kyle Seager. He handles himself a lot the same way. They come from a similar background playing for ACC schools and being drafted high. Miller has sneaky power and really fed off the large gaps at Generals Park this season."
Miller should be in big league camp in 2013 and although there is some congestion in the upper minors in the middle infield, he could start the season as high as Tacoma, although returning to Jackson to get more Double-A at-bats and more reps at short wouldn't be the worst thing for him.
Capps' lightning-quick ascension to big league back-end bullpen arm comes just a few short years after he was moved to the mound to throw pitches from being squatted behind the plate calling and catching pitches. Converted to starting pitcher from catcher at Mount Olive College, Carter won 14 of his 15 decisions in his final season, posting a 1.75 ERA and 7.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio before the Mariners pegged him as their supplemental 3rd round selection in the 2011 draft. After pitching as a starter in 2011, Capps was shifted permanently to the bullpen this past year and his stuff -- which was already very good -- took another big step forward. He saved an organization-high 19 games and posted a 1.23 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 13.1 SO/9 in 51 1/3 minor league innings while allowing only two earned runs over his final 30 minor league appearances before debuting with the big league squad in early August. The ease with which Capps has transitioned to his shift to the bullpen has escalated him from being our number 19 prospect a season ago to his lofty spot at six this year.
A hard thrower as a starter that was regularly 93-96 with his fastball, Capps increased that out of the pen and owned the 2nd highest average fastball velocity in the entire major leagues last year at 98.3 MPH, hitting triple-digits with regularity. But even though he probably could survive solely on blazing fastballs, Capps is more than just a fireballer. He works hitters the right way and kept his pitches down in the minor leagues, something that he undoubtedly draws on from his time as a catcher and hitter. He spoke with me about the relationship between pitching and catching and what he took from his experience as a hitter and catcher in my interview with him in May.
Even though his fastball can be very straight and flat at times, his ability to work down in the zone lead to a 1.27 GB/FB rate in the majors. That said, he does elevate the fastball at times and that can be a huge weapon at the MPH he brings. Capps also throws a hard curve/slurve between 81-85 and an occasional changeup that is more like an average pitcher's fastball (88-91). He delivers all of his pitches working exclusively out of the stretch with a violent, herky-jerky delivery that includes an entire body and head dip which makes his explosive stuff even better because of the deception.
Beyond his delivery and stuff, Capps has the makeup and persona of a late-inning arm. One scout that saw him in the Cape Cod League foretold of the shift to the pen saying that Capps has, "a demeanor that a lot of clubs like. He goes at hitters very aggressively." Tom McNamara added to that prior to 2012, telling me that Capps was, "a physical presence with a true power arm. He threw the ball well and opened up a lot of eyes in Instructional Ball." The eye opening continued following his move to the pen and he now can be counted as one of the more promising relief prospects in the game. Chris Harris told me that Tennessee Smokies hitting coach, former big leaguer Mariano Duncan said to him of Capps, "This kid just isn't fair." Harris also offered this great little bit about Capps and his personality: "The thing I will come away with from being around Capps in 2012 is the night a skunk came onto the field in Jackson and he wrangled it out of the stadium. That defines Capps' personality and his pitching style. No fear and care free."
The deception and three-quarters delivery are what give Capps a higher ceiling than Pryor, in my opinion, although both need work on their secondary offerings. Left-handers hit Capps to the tune of a .798 OPS in the majors (51 plate appearances) so that will be a big area of focus for him as he matures. Even though Carter threw only one game at the Triple-A level before his big league debut, he is already ticketed for a permanent job in the MLB bullpen for Seattle. With Pryor and Wilhelmsen joining him as young arms on the back end, the Mariners have the makings of a potentially elite and cheap right-handed power bullpen for years to come.
That ends our look at the Mariners 10th through 6th best prospects. Check back with SeattleClubhouse in the coming days as we unveil the final five prospects in the system for the M's.
Looking for more Mariners prospect scouting reports, rankings, interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.