Here at SeattleClubhouse, our primary goal is to get information on Mariners players to the fans that want the knowledge. Looking beyond the numbers and using input from scouts and other baseball personnel and putting that together with my own input, I am going to give you a brief rundown on quite a few names in the Seattle organization that are worth tracking. Keep in mind that while the top five or seven players are fairly secure in their rankings, the rest of these players' positions in the rankings will be very fluid going forward.
Part eight of our 10-part series of initial rankings of the 50 best prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization is below. Click the numbers to see Prospects No. 50-46, 45-41, 40-36, 35-31, 30-26, 25-21 and 20-16
15. Brad Miller 22-years-old, shortstop, Low-A Clinton
Miller, much like Nick Franklin, was described by many as a "baseball rat with great makeup" around draft time. And also much like Franklin, he outperformed expectations in his half season of action in 2011. The left-handed hitter who was the Mariners 2nd round pick posted a .415/.458/.528 line in 14 regular season games in Clinton. During his final season for Clemson, the shortstop was named the ACC Player of the Year after hitting .395, so his bat is translating to the pro game well so far.
The comp that was being thrown around is Craig Counsell, but that is just lazy if you ask me--he holds his hands a little high, but it is not nearly as exaggerated of a stance as Counsell's and his bat gets to a good hitting position much earlier. His setup and swing is actually a bit more reminiscent of a young Curtis Granderson in my opinion. His swing path is a little long, but it stays flat through the zone well and he uses his hands great, meaning that he should hit a lot of line drives while limiting his strikeouts. He profiles as a gap-to-gap guy and he has easy potential for 30-plus doubles in his bat and as he matures he could get to be a 18-20 home run guy, too, despite his slight frame.
He only faced lefties 13 times in 2011, and he managed just two hits and one walk while striking out five times, but that isn't exactly a conclusive sample size. I think that a more glaring issue could be his defense at shortstop: he committed four errors in 42 chances for the LumberKings and was drafted with the profile of a guy with enough range but lacking in the hands department. His arm is a bit fringy for shortstop, too, so a shift to the other side of second or a move to the outfield could be in his future, though that move isn't imminent.
Special Assistant to the GM Tony Blengino told SeattleClubhouse, "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.
Despite being less than perfect, Miller did nothing to warrant not moving him to High-A or even Double-A in 2012, and Blengino echoed that saying that challenging him isn't out of the question. He indeed may end up being another one of the Mariners fast-moving draftees in the mold of Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager and he conceivably could see Seattle in 2013, though the defensive questions could hold him back a little longer.
14. John Hicks 22-years-old, catcher, Low-A Clinton
Hicks was the M's third round pick this past June and he, like Miller, had a nice start to his pro career in Clinton. He was Danny Hultzen's battery-mate at Virginia and one of three UVA draftees this season (Steven Proscia). His .309/.331/.446 line included a nine-game hitting streak during which he hit .500 (17-34), and he also had a postseason homer for the LumberKings. Hicks' August was very impressive as he hit .358/.376/.568 in 21 games primarily batting out of the eighth spot in the batting order.
All 38 of his starts in Clinton came behind the plate, and he profiles as an average defender with a plus throwing arm--both in terms of strength and accuracy. Evidence of that comes in his 44.2% caught stealing rate that he posted this season. Hicks is also very athletic and quick behind the plate for a catcher, and although he came into the draft with the profile of having just average hands and allowed six passed balls, Blengino called Hicks, "a solid all-around catcher who is a strong, workmanlike defender." The M's have one of the best in the business at coaching catchers in Roger Hansen, and you can bet that Hicks will continue to spend a lot of time with Hansen this next spring.
At the plate he has toned down the hitch that was in his swing at Virginia, but even then, he is a good contact hitter (only 17 strikeouts his final season) with a line drive swing. Because he has decent bat speed, the power should develop a bit more as he gets more comfortable with the wood bat and adjusts to the pro game, but I think he falls short of 20 home run power. Blengino said that Hicks is a guy who, "makes solid contact and gives you a professional at-bat." He competed in the fall instructional program for Seattle and Blengino said that Hicks, "acquitted himself well" there.
That doesn't make him sound like a breakout prospect or superstar in the making, but the complete package still makes him the second (*asterisk*) most intriguing catching prospect in the organization right now, and one that has the potential to be a starter in the big leagues.
Because of his position, Hicks will likely move one step at a time, though Blengino said the same thing about "challenging" Hicks, but I still think High Desert will be his home in 2012. It will be important for Hicks to not fall in love with the atmosphere in Adelanto and stay true to himself in his approach at the plate to avoid falling into bad habits there. If he can do that and continue to progress defensively, there is no reason why he won't move up in these rankings in the future.
13.Stephen Pryor 22-years-old, relief pitcher, Double-A Jackson
The Mariners have their fair share of talented right-handed bullpen arms in the system, and Pryor is certainly the best of the bunch that has yet to crack the big leagues. His numbers to open the season in High Desert were pretty ugly--25 walks in his first 15 1/3 innings and a 7.67 ERA and 2.00 WHIP in his 22 games there--but Pryor admitted that he wasn't fully healthy during his time there. And his performance in Double-A Jackson after his promotion seem to back up that claim: 1.19 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 27 strikeouts to just seven walks in 22 2/3 innings of work.
His fastball routinely hits 98 and has some late downward, arm-side movement, and that is the primary weapon which allowed him to strikeout 16.5-per-nine in his final college season and rack up a 12.3-per-nine figure since turning pro. But he also has a mid-80s slider that can get hitters out when it is right and mixes in the occasional changeup and was working on a cutter last season, too. He has the classic power reliever frame (6-foot-6, 235 pounds), repertoire and mound presence. His dominance of right-handers while in Double-A (just four hits and one walk allowed in 50 plate appearances with 19 strikeouts) really speaks to his potential as a late-inning, shut down arm.
If he keeps his mechanics sound and, in turn, shows the plus control he had in Jackson, Pryor may be an arm that is in the competition for one of the final bullpen spots in 2012 for the Mariners. Or he could be ready to step in if/when Brandon League gets traded, but at the very least he should be just down the freeway in Tacoma flashing his power arm.
12. Marcus Littlewood 19-years-old, catcher, Short Season Everett
Here is that asterisk I was referring to with Hicks. When the Mariners selected Littlewood, the scouting reports raved about his baseball smarts, his polish and his hands. Drafted as a shortstop, he played on both sides of the bag this season in Clinton and Everett, but the club let it be known late in the season that they were going to work with Littlewood on the somewhat unusual switch from shortstop to catcher. That isn't completely an unheard of move, but the natural progression is typically short to third or second of perhaps the outfield...moving to catcher is pretty far down the list of moves.
That said, the positions do share some things in common as both are seen as the on-field leaders of a defense, and the traits that made Littlewood a prospect to watch on the infield have the potential to translate well to catching. This move wasn't made without thinking things through. Pedro Grifol told SeattleClubhouse that they "think he can be a front-line catcher." He added that, "Marcus wants to do it (switch to catcher), is happy about it and he loves the position (catcher)." Those are certainly important factors in making a move such as this.
Littlewood does have good hands, a strong arm and a quick release, and his athleticism and willingness to learn the position--combined with his age, just 19--mean that this transition doesn't have to work overnight to be a success. Truthfully, the bigger concern for the Mariners with Marcus right now may lie with his bat. A switch-hitter, he hit just .192/.309/.326 this season in 385 plate appearances and struck out in 104 of those. He drew a good amount of walks and hit for some power, but he also swung-and-missed a lot, including regularly swinging through fastballs in the zone from both sides of the plate. He has slightly above-average bat speed and a pretty simple setup and approach, and he can generate good power (mainly to his pull side, but he should be able to spread that around as he matures) but the ball was still getting passed him a lot.
He worked in instructionals on catching and that will be his focus this offseason and into next year, but he also needs to make adjustments at the plate. The 19 extra base hits that he tallied in 47 games in July and August were offset by the 58 strikeouts. And although he also walked an impressive 35 times in that span, his average was just .213...and that was during his "hot stretch".
Because of the position switch, Littlewood is one of those rare prospects that could repeat a year in the Short Season leagues depending on how much one-on-one instruction the club feels he needs following Spring Training in 2012. If he is ready to move forward as a catcher and the bat looks better, than a second shot at Clinton (where he hit just .158 in 27 games to start 2011) will be in the cards
11. Carlos Triunfel 21-years-old, shortstop, Triple-A Tacoma
Some people that follow the Mariners' minor leaguers have given up hope for Triunfel, but I'm a believer that the tools he possess can still turn into a complete package of a major league contributor. After all, although he has been on the prospect radar since 2007, he is just four months older than fellow shortstop prospect, No. 15 Brad Miller. Is Triunfel still looking like the star that he was projected to become back in 2008? Probably not, but he does have the tools to play shortstop and hit for a high average, and that is valuable.
He finally made it to the Triple-A level in 2011, and while he didn't light the world on fire there, his .279/.302/.351 line over 27 games for the Rainiers (along with his .984 fielding percentage) was encouraging to see. He still isn't showing many signs of the power that was projected to come with age, but his 37 extra base knocks (just 6 HR) were a career high.
I got the opportunity to watch Triunfel extensively in Spring Training last season and took lots of video and lots of notes, and he appears to be working hard (which was something he reportedly had troubles with in the past) and making some progress both at the plate and in the field. But the fundamental lapses are still there defensively, which is why many feel he still won't stick at short. I can tell you this much--he has enough range and plenty of arm to play there. I think he is already better than Yuniesky Betancourt ever was, for example. And although his strikeout rate went up this season, it still wasn't to a concerning level, and if that is the tradeoff for Carlos to mix in more extra base power, it is certainly a beneficial one.
Barring a shocking roster move at the big league level this Winter, Triunfel will be back in Tacoma to start 2012. He needs to continue to work hard and make progress at the plate while continuing to limit the miscues on defense in order to become a legitimate MLB middle infield option, but as I keep harping on, he is still young enough to do just that.
That's it for prospects 15-11. Be sure to check back next Friday as we move into the Top-10 in our countdown to the top prospects in the Mariners system here at SeattleClubhouse.
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