Mariners Prospect Predictions for 2012

The minor league regular seasons get underway today, so SeattleClubhouse takes a stab at predicting which Mariners prospects will win which statistical categories in 2012. Who will lead the farm system in home runs? Which pitcher will strike out the most batters? Which player will break into next year's Top-10 with their performance this year? All of these questions and more answered inside.

With the full season rosters announced, SeattleClubhouse makes some semi-educated predictions on which prospects will be the statistical leaders and make a name for themselves in 2012 for the Seattle Mariners.

Starting Pitchers

Most Wins: Brandon Maurer - RHP, Jackson
While the big three prospects will all be in Jackson and all have the stuff to stake claim to this honor, Maurer may be the only one that gets a full-season's worth of innings in the minor leagues. Hultzen and Paxton because of probable eventual promotion and Walker because of an innings limit. If Maurer can stay healthy all year then he should benefit from having a strong offense – which should include Nick Franklin, Chih-Hsien Chiang, Denny Almonte and Rich Poythress, among others – and from not pitching in High Desert, as he did last year.

Most Strikeouts: James Paxton – LHP, Jackson
He reached his innings limit of just under 100 last season and still tied for 2nd in the organization in K's. And while he may hit the big leagues at some point before summer is gone, Paxton still could rack up an insurmountable lead with his fastball/curve combination. Walker could challenge here as could Forrest Snow and Anthony Fernandez if any of them see enough minor league starts and innings.

Best Walks-Per-Nine: Andrew Carraway – RHP, Jackson
Last season's leader, Jose Campos, is gone and the club's best control pitcher could very well be Erasmo Ramirez, who is currently on the 25-man roster. Young Australian right-hander Dylan Unsworth has shown great control in his first two seasons in the organization, but he may once again be in a short season league this year. The 25-year-old Carraway has a 1.7 BB/9 number over his three seasons in the organization and even had a sub-2.0 rate while pitching in the sometimes scary California League.

Lowest ERA: Taijuan Walker - RHP, Jackson
Once again the talent the M's have at the top could lead any of that trio to be the favorite in this category, but Walker is not only the most likely to stay in the minor leagues all year, but he is almost assuredly the only one that won't be jumping up levels mid-season. Giving him a full year to get familiar with Southern League hitters should make him better in the second half and see his ERA – which was the 2nd best among full-season starters last year at 2.89 – stay very low.

Relief Pitchers

Most Saves: Jonathan Arias - RHP, High Desert
This is always one of the toughest categories to predict at the minor league level because the Mariners, like many clubs, often pitch their better relief prospects in multiple inning situations and not merely to rack up save totals. Still, Arias' breakout '11 (14.4 SO/9) and relative newness to pitching make him a safe bet to hold one role all season. He has a good fastball and a plus slider and if he can refine his control a bit (5.4 BB/9 last year) he could continue putting up big numbers. Stephen Pryor and Chance Ruffin also figure to close at the higher levels, but both could possibly see the big leagues before 2012 runs out, giving them fewer save opportunities.

Lowest ERA: Stephen Pryor - RHP, Jackson
Pryor got off to a horrendous start last season as he recovered from some spring training injury issues, but he posted a 1.19 ERA in 17 games for Double-A Jackson to end his second season after posting a 2.04 ERA in 23 games for two teams in 2010 following the draft. It may be unrealistic to expect a repeat performance to that extent, but Pryor is a legitimate big league closer prospect that shouldn't have too many troubles in the late innings in the minors.

Highest Strikeouts-Per-Nine: Pryor
The Mariners had 12 relievers from full season teams post better than 10.0 SO/9 last year and have some intriguing young arms in guys like Arias, Hunter, Bischoff, Burgoon and others along with minor league veteran Scott Patterson (who had an 11:1 SO:BB ratio last season), but Pryor easily has the best stuff out of the group. Pryor's stuff makes him the most likely to sustain his K rate from last season (11.1) even if he advances to face tougher competition.

Hitters

Best Batting Average: Jamal Austin - OF, Clinton
Speed doesn't slump, and Jamal Austin has a lot of speed. He also has good plate discipline and a short, sound stroke from the right side. He isn't going to hit for power, but he knows that and stays within himself well. If he can stick to focusing on controlling the strike zone and hitting line drives and ground balls then he should once again put together a nice season at the plate in the Midwest League.

Most Home Runs: Johermyn Chavez - OF, Jackson
Chavez is getting a chance to redeem himself in Double-A, and I wouldn't bet against him. He still gets pull happy and for such a big guy he could do a much better job of covering the outer half of the plate if he'd just trust his hands and let his power play to all fields more. In a more potent lineup, on a team that is going to win a lot of games, I say he does it this season and once again approaches 30 home runs.

Best On-Base Percentage: Jabari Blash - OF, Clinton
Blash showed a lot of patience in '11 -- perhaps too much at times -- posting a 16.9 BB%, but he also came on offensively later in the year. He wasn't just walking, he was hitting good pitches and letting the tough ones go. Being a selective force. As he repeats in Low-A this year, he should build on that success and maybe even approach 90-100 walks.

Most Stolen Bases: Austin
If he's leading the organization in Average and also continues to draw walks at a decent pace, no one in the organization will have much of a chance to catch Austin in this category. Playing his first full season of baseball, he could steal as many or more bases as Danny Carroll did last season (62). Austin has great speed and picks up on pitcher's moves and tendencies well for a young player.

Extra Credit

First Player Called Up to "The Show": Vinnie Catricala - 3B, Tacoma
Not going to guess if it is injury, an MLB player's release or just a volcanic-hot bat that gets him the call, but I think that Catricala will see Seattle before the season turns to summer (and just when is that again?). His '11 season was a huge feather in his cap, but after the spring he had with the big club, his stock is still rising. The PCL doesn't figure to be much of a challenge to him offensively, so the M's will closely be watching his progress defensively.

Best Comback From Injury: James Jones - OF, High Desert
The Mariners have a few candidates from the prospect world here – Nick Franklin, Dennis Raben, Brandon Maurer, Julio Morban and Ji-Man Choi all missed significant time in 2011 along with Jones – but given his lack of consistent production thus far and the multitude of abilities that many see as potentially being there, Jones could easily have the biggest breakout season of any of the rehab candidates in 2012. And being back in the friendly confines of the California League could give him a nice boost.

Best Non-Injury Bounce-Back: Chavez
If he gets to 30-plus homers like I predicted above then he'll automatically win this category, but Chavez could also climb back up the prospect chart with a more well-rounded approach at the plate. He isn't going to challenge for a batting title or anything, but he will draw a walk, and if he can harness his aggression and -- saying it again -- trust his hands and let his power play to all fields more, the rest of his stats offensively will come along with the power. The makeup of the roster looks like he'll be able to stick to RF, where he is most comfortable and where his arm and range play best.

Biggest Mover Among Foreign Rookie Leaguers or International Imports: Victor Sanchez
Sanchez was one of the top international arms available last June and he comes with the label of being very advanced for his age. He's starting his career stateside, meaning there will be a lot of scouting eyes on him, meaning word will spread fast. I expect that word to be good. And I expect Sanchez to be good. Quickly.

Current Minor Leaguer to Crack the Top-10: Blash
Jabari Blash was strikeout-prone and had a low average during his time in Clinton last year, but he was a Northwest League All-Star and corrected some of his passive ways at the plate while leading that Short Season circuit in SLG. He's still very raw and has some poor habits at the plate at times, but he is a big, athletic, toolsy outfielder with a good eye, big arm and big power. If he takes a natural step forward in 2012, he could find himself creeping into the organization's Top-10...and maybe get a mid-season call-up, too.

Guys to Break Into Next Season's Top-50:
Obviously the number three pick in the '12 draft is likely to be high on this list, and other draftees will hopefully join him, but amongst the names currently in the farm system who could make their way into the Top-50 prospects by season's end, there's no shortage of candidates. Arias, Austin, Sanchez, Jose Leal, Mike McGee, Carson Smith, Dan Paolini and even Steve Baron could make a push with good seasons in 2012.

Top Mariners Prospect for 2013: Walker
While Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Vinnie Catricala and even Nick Franklin could make their MLB debuts in 2012, Walker is still so young that it is very likely that he won't even get a cup of coffee after rosters expand. His feel and understanding for pitching is truly advanced for a pitcher still so new to the mound, and a good showing this year with a few more innings (140 to 150-ish) could have him on track for an MLB debut in early-2013. The Dwight Gooden and Bob Gibson comparisons are flattering and tantalizing, but getting him another full season of work in the minors will set him up better for the future than rushing him will.

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