That player development doesn't all happen at the minor league level, out of sight of most fans. Consider the fact that eight players have made their MLB debuts for Seattle this season, including top prospects Michael Pineda -- who made the All-Star team -- and Dustin Ackley -- who is already batting 3rd for the club.
Those two, in addition to Cliff Lee trade-get Justin Smoak, represent the cream of the crop among prospects for Seattle, but many other youngsters have contributed at the big league level already in 2011, and more help is blossoming throughout the minor leagues with their paths to the big leagues on the horizon.
The influx of youth is something that the major league club has definitely lacked over the past few seasons, but perhaps more importantly the club wasn't capitalizing in Player Development. From a handful of draft picks that didn't pan out, to a lack of activity in International Free Agency, to a "win now" mentality in trades that often netted older players at the cost of youth, the team had been in a steady downward cycle for much of the new millennium.
That direction changed on October 22, 2008 when the club hired Jack Zduriencik to be the eighth General Manager in club history. With Zduriencik, Director of Amateur Scouting Tom McNamara, VP of International Operations Bob Engle, Director of Minor League Operations Pedro Grifol and Special Assistant John Boles at the helm, the quality and quantity of legitimate major league prospects up and down the minor leagues has noticeably increased.
In addition to Pineda (who was actually signed in 2005), the club boasts a plethora of young International talent, including 18-year old Pulaski outfielder Guillermo Pimentel, 17-year old outfielder Phillips Castillo, 17-year old shortstop Martin (Esteilon) Peguero and 18-year old right-hander Jose Campos, among others, all of whom were seen as top talents of their respective July 2nd classes.
The Mariners are rumored to have already signed two of the top talents in this year's class as well in Venezuelan right-hander Victor Sanchez and outfielder Helsin Martinez from the Dominican Republic (though the club officially denied a deal with Martinez earlier this month). They will certainly take it slow with these teenagers, but the potential in many of these kids is that of a big-time impact player.
The draft has yielded some top talent for Seattle, as well. Dustin Ackley is the most obvious player in this category, but he was recently joined at the big league level by his college teammate Kyle Seager, who tore through the minor leagues with a .329 average while playing second base, third base and shortstop.
Taijuan Walker -- the club's top pick in 2010 -- has been brilliant at times, dominating in the Midwest League as a 19-year old while piling up the strikeouts and ground balls. Walker is probably the only player that has shown more than lefty James Paxton, who was selected in the fourth round in 2010, this season. It appears that Paxton is regaining his 2009 first round ability, and he could be one of the bigger steals in recent draft history if he continues to perform like a front-of-the-rotation arm.
2009 first rounder, shortstop Nick Franklin, had a breakout season with the bat in 2010 and was just getting going in 2011 following a promotion when he suffered a concussion in a freak accident. 2010's 2nd-round selection -- Marcus Littlewood -- got off to a slow start in 2011 in his pro debut, but he has collected five extra base hits and 10 walks in his last nine games for Everett and he is playing a very smooth shortstop where he shows great natural instincts, a strong arm and soft hands. Add in the 2011 draft haul (Danny Hultzen, Brad Miller, Kevin Cron, John Hicks, Carter Capps, Steven Proscia, etc.,) and the draft can certainly be seen as a strong point for the Mariners.
The trade market has also brought back some very good talent, from Smoak, to outfielder Johermyn Chavez (Brandon Morrow trade), to left-hander Mauricio Robles (Jarrod Washburn) to right-handed starter Blake Beavan (Lee) and relievers Dan Cortes (Yuniesky Betancourt) and Josh Lueke (Lee), the Mariners have certainly fared better in what they have received in trades as compared to what they have given up.
Yes, the big league club may be frustrating to watch right now, but help is on the way. And you can count on SeattleHardball.com to keep you up to date on the daily happenings from around the Mariners minor leagues.