Organizational depth is what can turn a franchise with talent into a franchise set up for long-term success. Get the right pieces in the right places while developing top players and role players alike and the system can feed the big league club top to bottom.
Everyone now knows about the upper end of Mariners prospects, but in these Seattle Mariners Prospect Depth Chart series we will show you what lies behind the first few prospects to give you 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.
For the purpose of this series, we're only considering players that still have MLB rookie status, based on innings, at bats or big league service time. We are also only considering players who's 2012 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 I have received from many sources, are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the same for the Seattle Mariners.
We will be working our way around the defensive positions as in a scorebook, having already covered starting pitchers, relief pitchers, catchers and corner infielders, we now move to middle infielders.
BREAKDOWN: Franklin's tough year with injuries in '11 sapped a bit of the juice out of his fast-rising prospect star, but he is still the club's best middle infield talent. While there are some that question his defense, he is just a couple years removed from high school still and is a tireless worker. It would be nice if he cut the strikeouts, too, but the bat will be special if he can stick in the middle of the diamond. He probably needs one more full year of minor league action before he's truly ready for MLB.
BREAKDOWN: No, he isn't old and washed up. He's actually just barely a year older than Franklin. And the tools are starting to show a little more often, and the bat is starting to come around. He still swings at most pitches that reach the plate on the fly and his speed hasn't come back from the broken leg in '09 (and it likely won't), but Triunfel is still a decent prospect with an MLB future.
BREAKDOWN: Miller's left-handed stick peppers line drives all over the field (as evidenced by his .415 debut with Clinton) and he stays away from the strikeout for the most part. Tall, athletic and labeled as a baseball rat, he may eventually be moved to the outfield defensively where his somewhat erratic arm would be less of a hindrance. The 2nd round pick from '11 could be a fast riser, a la Ackley and Seager.
BREAKDOWN: Smallish, switch-hitting second baseman debuted stateside last year and didn't disappoint. Less than ideal speed, but surprising gap power for a player his size with tons of line drives from foul line to foul line in his bat from both sides of the plate. The owner of a .325/.420/.426 career slash line, he'll likely make his full season debut in '12 at the age of 20.
BREAKDOWN: Peguero was one of the prizes of the '10 international class and showed well at the plate in '11, debuting in the Arizona League. His speed was better than advertised, his defense at shortstop was shaky (as expected), but his bat is his driving tool. Quick hands and wrists and a good feel for the strike zone, he's a line drive hitter that should develop a little power as he fills out (and moves off shortstop, likely to second or the outfield). Just 18 and very raw, he has three or four years to go before we start talking about a big league timetable, but he should develop into a good hitter.
BREAKDOWN: California born but from a U.S. Military Base high school in Germany, Cohoes is athletic but raw with the range and arm to stick at shortstop. He has decent bat speed and foot speed and comes with the same label as Franklin, Miller and others picked by McNamara as a baseball rat. He's likely to spend time in extended ST before being assigned to his first stop in the organization in '12.
BREAKDOWN: Noriega is the organization's most sound defender on the middle infield, with soft hands, quick feet and a strong arm. He hasn't progressed much at the plate and is a free-swinger with a swing much too long for someone of his size and abilities, which leads to high strikeout totals. He is wiry strong though and, still just 21, could turn it around at the plate as he continues to mature. He'll most likely be in Jackson again in '12.
BREAKDOWN: Paolini set a school record for HR at Siena and ranked 2nd in the NCAA with 26 in '10 then followed that up with 17 with the new bats in '11. He was the M's 10th round pick in the draft last season and saw action with Pulaski where he slugged .463 in 61 games. He is merely adequate defensively at second now and may easily outgrow the position and his swing can get long which leads to strikeouts, but he has good power that could allow him to handle another position if he progresses in his approach.
BREAKDOWN: Okuda is interesting in that he is Brazilian born but was signed out of Japan, where he reportedly moved in order to face stiffer competition as an amateur. He has a line drive swing and plus speed to go along with a very patient approach at the plate which has allowed him to draw 43 walks (against only 24 strikeouts) in 72 games playing in the Venezuelan Summer League. He also has a familiar stance and swing as he has been said to look very "Ichiro-like" in the box. Originally a pitcher, he has the arm to play shortstop. Very young and definitely raw, he is interesting nonetheless and could be stateside in '12.
BREAKDOWN: Following two ho-hum years in Venezuela for the M's after signing, Coronel took off in '11, hitting .352/.406/.429, ranking sixth in the VSL in hits (74) and AVG. A February '09 signing, he hasn't been seen stateside so we're going almost completely off of stats and a few scarce scouting reports, but a decent walk rate and fairly low strikeout rate to go along with his slash line and fielding stats at short and second the past few seasons make this 20-year-old worth monitoring.
Clearly the weakest area in terms of depth in the Mariners organization here as we have one clear cut big leaguer followed by lots of "maybe" guys. Will someone in the organization take a jump forward in 2012? If so, it is likely to be one of the players on this list.
Next up we will look at the Top-15 outfielders in the final segment in our Prospect Depth Chart series.