Organizational depth is what turns a franchise with some good top-tier talent into a franchise set up for long-term success. If a club can get the right pieces in the right places, developing top players and role players alike, the system can feed the big league club top to bottom, building a sustainable pipeline to young, cost-controlled players.
Everyone is familiar with the upper end of Mariners prospects and subscribers have seen the entire Top-50, but in these Prospect Depth Chart series we will show you what lies behind the first few prospects, giving our readers 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.
Recapping our guidelines laid out in the first post, in this series we are considering only those players who still have rookie eligibility based on innings, at bats or big league service time. We are also only considering players who's 2013 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 that we have received from many sources, are the opinion of SeattleClubhouse and do not necessarily reflect the same rankings for the Seattle Mariners.
So far we have covered:
Now let's get on to the list of our second group of prospects: The Corner Infielders.
1. Stefen Romero 24 years old, R/R, 6'2", 220 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Romero was recognized as the Mariners Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .352/.391/.599 and driving in 101 runs in 116 games across two levels in 2012. All 107 of his defensive starts came at second base last year, but he has played 23 games at third base and 17 games in the outfield. Stefen told us in January that he has been told to be prepared to play both the infield and the outfield corners this season, but regardless of where he plays, his hitting is his key. His line drive bat produced as many multi-hit games in Double-A Jackson as it did in hitter-friendly High-A High Desert (25 at each) last year and he has 84 multi-hit efforts in 232 minor league games (better than 1/3) in two seasons.
2. Vinnie Catricala 24 years old, R/R, 6'3", 220 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Catricala had a down season in his first crack at Triple-A in 2012 after dominating two levels of the minor leagues in 2011, and he admitted that he was starting to press because he was so close. Sent to the AFL to get ironed out and back on track, Vinnie came to camp this season as a member of the 40-man roster for the first time. He, too, will be manning multiple positions defensively but will be counting on a rebound in the batter's box to pave his way to the big leagues. If Vinnie regains his extra base stroke in 2013 he could become an option in Seattle very quickly.
3. Patrick Kivlehan 23 years old, R/R, 6'2", 211 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Kivlehan won the MVP in the Northwest League and ranked 2nd in the circuit in OPS (.883) despite getting just four extra base hits in his first 15 games for a .674 OPS through more than 1/5 of the year. In other words, he got better as the year went on. And that should be expected for a player that is just now getting re-acclimated to playing baseball as his primary sport. With four years of college football in his background, Patrick is exceptionally strong and athletic, and that athleticism and experience with high level athletics should allow him to make adjustments and improve on an already impressive start to his baseball career.
4. Steven Proscia 21 years old, 21, R/R, 6'2", 215 lbs
BREAKDOWN: With all of the attention that Romero was given for his numbers, it was actually Proscia who led the Mariners' minor leaguers in 2012 in both home runs -- with 28 -- and RBI -- with 103 in 127 games. Steven also was third in the organization in hits (161) and runs scored (98) while playing third, first and even a little second base. His long term home is probably over at first and the home/road splits in High Desert aren't great, but Proscia has shown an ability to consistently drive the ball for extra base power in his two seasons in the system and has the bat speed and natural lift and backspin to think that he could continue to hit for power as he advances.
5. Rich Poythress 25 years old, R/R, 6'4", 248 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Poythress increased his OBP by nearly 60 points in 2012 and hit over .300 in repeating Double-A but saw his stock take a dip. That's because the prospect that hit 31 home runs just two years ago hit only six for Jackson in over 300 plate appearances. A hulking right-handed hitter, Poythress had a BB:K ratio of better than 1.5:1.0 in 2012 but the power that has been and should be his calling card didn't materialize during the season's first half. He did hit five homers in a 19-game stretch in August (when he hit .341/.464/.571 while also walking 21 times and only striking out nine in 27 games overall), but the overall lack of homers the last two seasons (just 20 in almost 900 plate appearances) is concerning. If the power returns more regularly, Poythress could take off.
6. Mickey Wiswall 23 years old, L/R, 6'1", 213 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Wiswall collected the third most RBI for Seattle's system in 2012 with 98, but his season was really a tale of two halves -- or maybe even a rejuvenation after three less than great halves. Following an impressive debut in 2010 after being a 7th round pick Mickey fell off steeply in 2011, hitting just .240/.281/.340 in Low-A. Those numbers didn't improve much to start 2012 as Wiswall ended the first half with a .715 OPS in the California League. But he hit .311/.357/.549 with 14 HR and 31 extra base hits in 64 2nd half games and his home/road splits for the year are favorable, too, with just a .030 gap. Mickey has seen a fair amount of time in the outfield thus far but is really best suited for first base. If those second half numbers can continue as he advances, first base may still be an option.
7. Ji-Man Choi 21 years old, L/R, 6'1", 224 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Choi -- who broke in with the M's in 2009 as a catcher -- has had back injuries take away a bulk of his playing time, and his primary position, since September of 2010. But when he was healthy and back on the field in 2012 for Clinton, he did a lot to prove that his bat deserves a longer look as a first baseman/designated hitter. Choi posted a .298/.420/.463 mark in 66 games; 55 of those coming as the LumberKings' 3-hole hitter. He handled left-handers well (.877 OPS) and had a strong off-season showing for Adelaide in the ABL, too (.309/.419/.540, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 26 BB in 40 G). Choi has added mass to his frame since catching went away, and his bat seems to be responding to it well. A fully healthy 2013 could go a long ways in telling the Mariners what type of prospect Choi can be.
8. Joe DeCarlo 19 years old, R/R, 5'10", 205 lbs
BREAKDOWN: The M's bought DeCarlo out of his Georgia commitment with their 2nd round pick in 2012, and the youngster showed impressive power and great patience in his debut in the AZL after signing. A former shortstop, he has a strong arm and should be able to stick at third base as a pro, but his bat will be his carrying tool. He really had a tough time against lefties in his first pro season (just seven hits and 15 strikeouts in 58 plate appearances), but that is very likely just from a lack of exposure. DeCarlo is still a teenager, but he has potential for plus power and a plus hit tool to go along with good patience and a willingness to use the whole field. He also has an aggressive, winning approach to the game and is very physical.
9. Taylor Ard 23 years old, R/R, 6'1", 235 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Ard actually outshined the NWL MVP Kivlehan at the plate in nearly every power/run producing category last year, and he did so with much better walk and strikeout ratios. There is no mistaking that power is the key to Ard's game, but the 7th round pick out of Washington State has enough bat speed and a short enough stroke that he has a possibility of being able to hit for good average as well as power as he moves forward in the minor leagues. Ard is another right-handed hitter that produced despite struggling vs left-handed pitching last year (.203/.288/.356 in 66 PA).
10. Dan Paolini 23 years old, R/R, 6'0", 195 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Paolini's suspect defense at second base led to him to starting as the first baseman or designated hitter for 80 of his 111 games in 2012 even though he lacks experience and the ideal size at the position. A power hitter in college at Siena who had only 11 professional home runs in his first 141 games in Seattle's system, Paolini exploded with perhaps the best month in MiLB in August, hitting 11 long balls while batting .361/.422/.705 and driving in 37 runs in 29 games. Paolini will likely end up in left field, but he could see time at both infield corners in 2013 as the M's search for a defensive home to get his potent bat into the lineup daily and hope it continues to tap into that power.
As touched on in the story teaser, most of these prospects will end up as first baseman or perhaps even corner outfielders. But there are some bats in this group that can definitely play in the big leagues at those positions if they continue to develop and refine.
Next week we'll look at the best of the Mariners minor league Middle Infielders. Come back to see which prospects crack the ranks there.
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