Scouting the Mariners Top Hitting Prospects

Now that the Mariners went out and made what is likely to be their biggest move of the winter in acquiring Jesus Montero, the outlook of the organization has changed a bit. No longer needing to produce a true cleanup hitter, SeattleClubhouse takes a look at the hitters that could potentially help the big league club as complimentary pieces in 2012. Scouting reports and MLB-player comps included.

As has been covered ad nauseum here, and virtually everywhere, the Seattle Mariners of the last two seasons have had a serious lack of offense at the big league level. They lack power hitters, they lack hitters for average, they lack hitters with good batting eyes, plate discipline and patience. They just lack hitters, period.

But when they traded away young right-hander Michael Pineda to bring Jesus Montero into the fold -- a deal that was finally made official this afternoon -- the hitting outlook got a little bit brighter. No longer needing to produce that one monster bat in house, the complimentary pieces already on board became all the more valuable, and all the more likely to contribute. In this article, SeattleClubhouse looks at some of the top hitting talent in the upper levels of the Mariners' minor leagues. Hitters that could make an impact at the big league level as early as this season are covered and SeattleClubhouse provides their hitting tools' scouting grades (with a little help from my friends, Scout.com prospect experts Frankie Piliere and TigsTown Managing Editor Mark Anderson). Everyone loves MLB Player Comps, so I tried to give a general idea with some familiar names (*disclaimer* these are not perfect, but are here to give you a general idea of expected production based on AVG/OBP/SLG/XBH/BB/SO/SB stats if the player continues to develop as expected).

1. Nick Franklin: Franklin is, of course, the top position player in the organization that is likely to start the year in the minor leagues. Everyone that follows the club is anxiously awaiting his arrival in the big leagues, and that arrival could happen at some point in 2012. He isn't your classic slugging, middle of the order hitter at this point, but he is also an offense-first shortstop. And offense from the shortstop position is a premium commodity. One could argue that he would provide more value at the plate right now than likely starter Brendan Ryan. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo recently named Franklin the No. 6 shortstop prospect in baseball for 2012. He ranked 2nd on the list last season.

Franklin set a franchise record for home runs in 2010, hitting 23 for Clinton, and in doing so became the first teenager since Prince Fielder to hit that many home runs in a Midwest League season. He missed a lot of time in 2011 with the concussion/jaw injury, food poisoning and mono, but his showing in the Arizona Fall League -- particularly in the Rising Stars Game, when he collected four hits and was named the game's MVP -- and in his limited action in Double-A as a 20-year-old are great signs that he will continue to hit even very good pitching as he advances.

Franklin generates a lot of power despite a slight frame thanks to plus bat speed and excellent leverage, particularly left-handed. That power is mainly pull power from the right side, but as he's consistently shown since turning pro, the power is to all fields from the left side. He has very good speed and is a smart baserunner, has plus range, good hands and enough arm to make the plays deep in the hole at shortstop.

Scout.com's Frankie Piliere: "Franklin's advanced feel for the game is what makes him different. Granted, his raw tools are impressive, but his ability to learn and adjust game to game are what will make him a better than average big leaguer. I think he's cut from a Jimmy Rollins type cloth."

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
50+
POWER
50

MLB Player Comp
Ray Durham

2. Vincent Catricala: Catricala shot up the prospect rankings last season with a monster level across High-A and Double-A, building on the impressive stats that he had compiled in his first two pro seasons with the M's.

Moving from the hitter friendly environment of the California League's most offensively-inflated park in High Desert to the far fairer confines in Jackson in the Southern League, Catricala actually saw his SLG, OPS and extra base hit rate increase as his surroundings got tougher. About the only thing holding Catricala back from being a favorite to land a spot on the 25-man roster is his defense. Drafted as a third baseman, he saw 34 games of action at first base and 26 more in left field last season as the M's moved him around to create some versatility. Wherever he ends up playing with the glove, it will be his work with the bat that lands him in the big leagues.

Catricala hits with an upright stance and a smaller leg kick than your typically power hitter, but perhaps Catricala won't be a true power hitter. While he drives the ball well to all fields and has a great approach at the plate, because there isn't a ton of loft in his swing, he may be more of a 40 doubles, 15-20 home runs type of bat than a straight home run hitter. Still, if he can combine those numbers while maintaining his high average and good plate discipline, the club will find a place to play him defensively.

Piliere: "The hit tool is what stands out here. And, the good contact rate should make him a successful big leaguer fairly soon."

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
60+
POWER
50+

MLB Player Comp
Billy Butler

3. Alex Liddi: Liddi got a chance to showcase some of his talents in a September call up in 2011. He flashed some of his promising power and actually made a few very good defensive plays to boot, but his plate discipline and tendencies to swing and miss were also very present.

While Liddi lacks the hitting ability to be a consistent force at the plate in the batting average department, his walk rates in the minor leagues have been pretty steady around 9% and that paired with his promising power could still make him a very useful complimentary bat in the Mariners lineup.

Alex has decent enough bat speed and his swing generates the good loft and backspin that are typically present in power hitters. He is a young, big kid and still maturing, and he certainly looks the part of a slugger. Most of his power is to his pull side now, but he does have enough strength to hit the ball out to any part of the park. Although he has been making good progress of late, he still gets out front regularly on offspeed pitches and doesn't recognize them early enough to lay off of them or adjust at this point, and that power loses a lot of its effectiveness when there is such a clear way to attack it. If Liddi can make strides in 2012 in his approach like he did in 2011 with his extra base hitting, he could turn into a weapon at the big league level.

Piliere: "I like Liddi's chances of being a big contributor in 2012. I've seen him progress and recognize pitches better over the last year. The swings and misses will be an issue though."

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
30
POWER
60+

MLB Player Comp
Jesse Barfield

4. Chih-Hsien Chiang: Chiang's performance fell off a steep, high cliff when he went from Double-A Portland in the Eastern League to Double-A Jackson in the Southern League, posting an OPS after the trade less than half of what he had prior to the trade. But he performed well in the Arizona Fall League, impressing scouts with the hit tool and his power.

The M's have a handful of corner outfielders in the upper minors, including several that got a taste of big league action last season, but Chiang may end up being a more complete hitter than all of them. His strengths at the plate are using the whole field and a line drive stroke that comes from a swing with a nice, level swing path. That will most likely prevent him from ever being a true power hitter, but his bat does have value.

Piliere: "His power really surprised me in 2011. And, I don't think it's a fluke. He's a 20 homer guy in the big league and his bat has improved yearly."

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
60
POWER
40

MLB Player Comp
David Murphy

5. Francisco Martinez: Over from Detroit via trade just last year, Martinez's 2011 was his best season as a pro as he set several career high marks at the plate. Having just turned 21 late in the season, Martinez is used to playing against much older competition and although he is still young and a little raw, some of the polish started to shine through for him in '11.

Signed out of Venezuela in 2007, Martinez is a very athletic, physical ballplayer with good speed along with all of the tools teams look for in third basemen. His swing path is fairly flat so he doesn't maximize his loft, but he has a very quick bat that has consistently produced a lot of line drives. His plate discipline numbers aren't great as he walked only 23 times while striking out 104 in 2011, but he isn't really a big swing and miss guy. He'll likely be in Double-A Jackson again to start 2012, but he could still see Seattle before year's end with continued development at the plate and at third base and figures to be ready to battle for the position full-time in 2013.

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
60
POWER
50

MLB Player Comp
Fernando Tatis

6. James Jones: Jones had an injury plagued 2011 as well, getting shut down in July just when he was starting to heat up. That slow start mirrored what he did in Low-A Clinton in 2010, when he ended the season on a tear. Originally viewed by many as a pitcher when he entered the draft, the Mariners picked Jones up to be an outfielder and got to work on refining his swing and approach immediately.

Jones is a tall, athletic left-handed hitter with very good speed, patience at the plate, and the potential for 20+ home run power as he continues to mature. He does swing and miss a lot and sometimes takes too many pitches, but he is still a hitting prospect worth keeping an eye on. He is playing in Australia right now with Adelaide and has put up decent numbers down there, shaking off the rust from being off for four-plus months (.307/.398/.542 in 45 games). Jones played this Winter in Australia and led his club in OPS (.940) with a strong late season surge. He has great bat speed and a natural left-handed swing that generates backspin and loft, so he has the potential for power.

He isn't as complete a product as many 23-year-old college draftees are, but that is a direct result of the years he spent focusing on pitching. Still, he has a considerable ceiling offensively and just needs a little fine-tuning in his approach to become a 20/20-type threat. If something clicks in that approach early in 2012, Jones could advance toward the big leagues quickly.

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
40
POWER
50+

MLB Player Comp
B.J. Upton

7. Daniel Carroll: Always a burner on the bases, Carroll had a breakout season at the plate in 2011, but it was done in the "don't believe everything you see" atmosphere of High Desert. The steep increase in extra base hits (as well as the grace of being healthy for a full season for the first time ever) were great, but the most encouraging development for Carroll was that he nearly quadrupled his previous career high in walks.

The strikeout number was still very high (157), and that trend continued in winter ball (28 in 76 at bats). His speed is an easy 60+ on the scouting scale, maybe a 70, but he needs to find better ways to use it. The home run total he put up in '11 (18) is likely not indicative of what is to come, but Carroll could still provide plenty of value by continuing to draw walks and hit line drives. He'll need some roster movement in front of him to make it to the big leagues, but as a guy that can handle center defensively, it isn't out of the question that he would reach Seattle soon.

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
50
POWER
30+

MLB Player Comp
Brian Hunter

8. Dennis Raben: Raben was arguably one of the best power hitters available in the 2008 draft when the Mariners selected him in the second round out of Miami. And he has proven that his bat is worth watching...when he can stay on the field. A number of injuries have cost him one full season and parts of several others, including 2011.

When he's been healthy, Raben has put up impressive offensive numbers: .306/.382/.581 with 52 doubles, 43 home runs and 77 walks in 185 games. The left-handed hitter has big-time power, but he's more than just a power hitter. Still, having missed parts of the last two seasons and all of 2009, Raben has fallen into some bad habits at the plate and his once above-average plate discipline has declined a bit. With a swing that gets long at times, the strikeouts hurt Raben, too. If he can ever manage to stay on the field for more than two and a half months, he may make some adjustments to get some improvement on that front. That task will most likely start in Double-A Jackson in 2012 for Raben.

Piliere: "I've been watching Raben since he was in the Cape (Cod League) a few years back and I've always been a believer. He's a pure power bat with the swing to hit 30 homers in the big leagues."

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
40
POWER
70

MLB Player Comp
Adam Lind

9. Denny Almonte: Almonte was a second round pick (one selection ahead of Mike Stanton) out of a Miami high school back in 2007. Almonte repeated the Cal League for High-A High Desert in 2011 and set career highs in a number of offensive categories, including H, 2B, HR, RBI, XBH and SB in his fifth pro season with the Mariners. He continued putting up great numbers in Australia in Winter Ball, ranking fourth in the league in RBI (35) while coming in sixth in both home runs (10) and total bases (91) for Adelaide.

The switch-hitter has good raw power to all fields and quick hands and has plus speed on the bases and on defense out in center field. But with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of more than six to one for his career, plate discipline and pitch recognition are certainly a big weakness for the talented 23-year-old. He'll likely head to Double-A to start 2012 and try to prove that his power numbers of the past few seasons aren't all a product of the thin air.

Mark Anderson: "I don't think that Almonte will play that well at the big league level. (He's) going to get eaten alive by more advanced pitchers."

TOOL
GRADE
HITTING
30
POWER
50+

MLB Player Comp
Ruben Rivera

Looking for more Mariners news and articles? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.

You can also follow Frankie Piliere at @FrankiePiliere and Mark Anderson at @TigsTownMark.


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