The Seattle Mariners started the 2012 season with one of the top-10 or so farm systems in all of baseball. Heavy at the top in talent with "The Big Three" pitchers of Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton along with shortstop Nick Franklin, the knock against the club was the drop-off in talent after those first four names.
With the 2012 minor league season winding down, SeattleClubhouse takes a look at the 20 prospects in the organization that have moved their stock the most during this season -- some looking to join the top group of Hultzen, Walker, Paxton and Franklin and some falling down, perhaps out of the Top-50 altogether. In alphabetical order, here are 10 who's stock is climbing, and 10 who's stock is falling.
2012 STATS: .258/.345/.420, 101 G, 94 H, 19 2B, 5 3B, 10 HR, 45 RBI, 46 BB, 107 SO, 21-29 SB
The improvements made this year by Almonte have moved him from frustrating former 2nd round pick and organizational filler status to legitimate big league prospect. Always a guy with loud tools, Almonte made a conscious change in his approach last fall during his time in the Australian League, backing off of his aggression and waiting for better pitches to hit for power, not worrying about his average as much. The results haven't been a great increase in power for the switch-hitter as Almonte already showed that (24 HR in the Cal League last year, 22 the year before and just 10 this season), but rather a quite dramatic improvement in his walk rate, from 5.8% career and 4.1% in 2011 to 11.0% percent in 2012. That huge increase in bases on balls -- up to above league average -- is allowing Almonte to post the best OBP of his career by nearly 30 points despite hitting just .258. And the power (34 extra base hits, six HR in the month of April) is still there for Almonte, who is a strong athlete with quick bat speed.
The dropoff in power after the first month of the year is worth looking at, as is the fact that he's hit a bit of a slump in the second half, but the encouraging part of that slump is that this "new" part of Almonte's game -- drawing walks -- has stayed pretty consistent throughout the year. On top of the walks and the dormant power, Denny has plus speed and is a very good defensive center fielder with a strong arm. He has a bit of a Ruben Rivera feel to him in his toolset and he could end up being a fourth outfielder with high strikeout totals like Rivera if/when he reaches the big leagues, but that is much more than could have been expected last year at this time. He also could continue to progress and put it all together and turn into a legit starting center fielder with home run power. But the big take away from this season is that Almonte has moved his offensive game to a new level by showing the ability to work the count and draw walks and that the change was part of a conscious effort on his part to get better.Carter Capps: RHRP, Seattle Mariners
2012 STATS: 19 SV, 1.57 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 40 G, 51 2/3 IP, 41 H, 13 BB, 75 SO, .211 oAVG, 13.06 SO/9, 5.77 SO:BB
Capps, a third round selection by the Mariners in the 2011 draft, didn't come into this season as an unknown or with low expectations, but the 22-year-old (just turned 22 on August 7th) has really taken to his new role as a late-inning reliever and has easily exceeded any reasonable expectations with his performance and quick ascension this year. Featuring a fastball that rarely gets below 98 MPH and working consistently in the low reaches of the strike zone, Capps has shown great command which he pairs with an unorthodox delivery to make for a tough matchup for hitters on both sides of the plate. His fastball isn't only fast, but he gets good ride on the pitch with his ability to work downhill with it. Capps also works from an odd arm angle and release point, mixes in a hard curve around 82-84 and a changeup with just enough deception and separation that leads to a very uncomfortable at bat for his opponents.
After starting the season in Double-A, Capps is already up in the Mariners' bullpen right now and I wouldn't be surprised if he's there to stay. Pitching as the set-up man for fellow flame throwing right-hander Stephen Pryor for much of the minor league season, many see Capps as the pitcher with the higher upside of the two. Even if he doesn't unseat Tom Wilhelmsen as the Mariners closer soon, he'll likely have a job at the end of the bullpen for a long time and figures to be a big strikeout option for the club like -- and form a nasty back-end of the bullpen with -- Wilhelmsen and Pryor.Anthony Fernandez: LHP, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: 6-6, 3.33 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 22 GS, 140 2/3 IP, 139 H, 28 BB, 116 SO, .259 oAVG, 7.42 SO/9, 4.14 SO:BB
Fernandez is a pitcher that succeeds off of smarts, command and guts much more than stuff. Not that his stuff is bad, but the 22-year-old left-hander threw two complete games shutouts in his first three Double-A starts and has pitched great throughout the 2012 season by working quickly, working ahead, commanding his pitches and exploiting hitter's weaknesses. His fastball has ticked up over the last year and is generally 88-91, touching 92 at times, and he's started using a cutter this season to help keep hitters off balance. His curveball and changeup aren't great pitches, but he uses them smartly and currently gets outs on all four pitches. He leads all Mariners' minor leaguers in innings, has been a little better as he's advanced this year (3.68 ERA in High-A, 2.73 ERA in Double-A), but really Fernandez has been a consistent performer since he broke into the system back in 2007 at age 17 as he now owns a career 3.39 ERA in over 500 minor league innings.
Fernandez is a good athlete and fields his position well and at 6-foot-4, the left-hander has great size for a starting pitcher. He will need to be added to the 40-man roster over the winter to be protected and he definitely should be as he is showing the stuff, durability and pitchability to be a major league option as a back-end starter as soon as next season. His ceiling is probably that of a good No. 4 starter now, but if Anthony can fine-tune his breaking ball and/or changeup a bit further, he could reach No. 3 status.Jack Marder: 2B, High Desert Mavericks
2012 STATS: .366/.431/.584, 61 G, 96 H, 22 2B, 4 3B, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 20 BB, 39 SO, 16-21 SB, 12 HBP
A 16th round pick with very pedestrian, even unimpressive numbers while in college at Oregon, Marder fit the Tom McNamara draft profile as a baseball rat -- someone who plays hard, gets his uniform dirty and gets the most out of his abilities. He was aggressively assigned to High-A after signing in '11 and hit a robust .324/.380/.493 in 18 games split between catching and second base. All he's done in his return trip to the California League so far in '12 is raise his average and on-base percentage by about 50 points while raising his slugging about 100. He's again playing multiple positions, mixing in some outfield time with his duties behind the plate and at the keystone, but his bat is the thing that is worth talking about. The right-handed hitting Marder is hitting .307/.385/.472 on the road and has hit nine home runs and tallied 35 extra base hits through his first 60 games on the season. His quick, strong hands, line drive stroke and discerning eye help him put the ball in play hard a majority of the time, and he is dangerous once he is on the bases, too, with 16 steals in 21 attempts so far.
Marder may end up being a super utility-type player in the big leagues, but that label shouldn't be seen as a negative. Versatility is something that a lot of teams value very highly. He can hit and he plays all-out all the time, showing some natural leadership qualities. While he doesn't walk a lot, it isn't due to a lack of discipline. He is simply an aggressive hitter who hits line drives early in the count. He has also been hit by 12 pitches (much like his idol, Craig Biggio) and could fit in the top of the order even without a lot of walks. He has the skills to be a .280 hitter with good on-base skills while providing good defense, good baserunning, some gap power and a lot of fiery intensity.Brandon Maurer: RHP, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: 8-2, 3.38 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 22 GS, 128 IP, 127 H, 42 BB, 112 SO, .266 oAVG, 7.88 SO/9, 2.67 SO:BB
While Maurer started the year in Jackson as perhaps the low man on the prospect totem pole, the big right-hander has started to garner more notice as the season has gone on as he's been perhaps been the most consistent starter in the entire minor league system for Seattle in 2012. Now featuring a fastball that can touch 95 with heavy sink and good arm-side run, Maurer was just a 23rd round pick by Seattle back in the 2008 draft. He's battled injuries since signing, but he's been completely healthy so far in 2012, already far outpacing his previous career high in innings of 79 1/3 set last year. Although he hasn't really gone through any struggles this season, Maurer has been especially good over his last 12 starts for Jackson, posting a 2.70 ERA (23 ER in 76 2/3 IP) while trimming his BB/9 from 3.33 to 2.70 and raising his SO/9 from 6.31 to 8.92.
Earlier this season I spoke with Seattle's Director of Minor League Operations about Maurer and he told me, "Brandon's still working on his fastball command, but there is no doubt that he has big time ability." That ability seems to be coming to the forefront as Maurer gets more experience under his belt, and he now looks like an arm that could have MLB mid-rotation upside.Brad Miller: SS, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: .335/.414/.515, 111 G, 155 H, 34 2B, 5 3B, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 63 BB, 87 SO, 20-27 SB, 34 Errors
Miller was the Mariners 2nd round pick last year and, after signing at the deadline, hit over .400 down the stretch for Low-A Clinton. Assigned to High-A High Desert to start the 2012 campaign, Miller continued his hot hitting and hit his way all the way to a promotion just a few weeks ago. Along the way he accumulated the most hits in the organization (2nd most in all of MiLB) and has scored 97 runs (4th most in MiLB). He's racked up 48 multi-hit games and also leads the organization in walks with 63. To put it simply, the left-handed hitting Miller can swing the bat. He's shown enough outside of the league to know that his production isn't a product of the California League (he's hitting .308/.429/.442 in 14 games since his promotion to Double-A) and as a guy drafted after his junior year of college last year, his big league ETA isn't that far off. Despite having a swing that is a little long through the zone, Miller doesn't have alarming strikeout rates, and the power -- both in terms of home runs and extra base hits -- is playing above where a lot of people projected when he was picked.
The 34 errors look bad on paper, but almost every person I've spoken with on Miller like his defense. The majority of those errors (21 of them) came over two separate stretches of 10 or so games, one near the beginning of the season and one in his last few weeks in High-A. His manager in High-A -- Pedro Grifol -- said, "For me, he's a big league shortstop." And one scout told me, "I'm not sure where the errors are coming from; he's got good hands and seems fundamentally sound. Maybe just a lack of concentration at times, though he doesn't seem like that kind of kid to me." With Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager already with the big club and Nick Franklin and Carlos Triunfel in Triple-A, Miller needs to continue to force the issue of moving up the depth chart on his own with his bat. His emergence this year and continued development both offensively and defensively in 2013 could allow the Mariners to look to move one of their numerous talented middle infielders in a trade sometime soon.Julio Morban: OF, High Desert Mavericks
2012 STATS: .319/.356/.551, 69 G, 88 H, 15 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 51 RBI, 15 BB, 55 SO, 50 R
Morban has been in the organization since signing as an international free agent out of the Dominican back in 2008. After two seasons almost totally lost to injuries in '09 and '10, Morban finally saw some extended action on the playing field in Clinton last year. He played 80 games and went to the plate 336 times (more than 1 ½ times as much as he did in his first two seasons) and showed some flashes of his promise both at the plate and in the field. But his modest success in '11 (.256/.315/.382, 7 3B, 10 SB) did not give any indication that 2012 was going to be such a breakout campaign for the 20-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder.
Although he has still battled the injury bug from time to time (just 69 games played so far), the bulked-up, stronger Morban has already surpassed his career highs in a number of offensive categories, most notably home runs and RBI. And despite playing in High Desert, Morban has done most of his damage hitting on the road, posting a .368/.423/.641 with eight of his 15 homers in 29 road games. He's also punishing left-handed pitching, hitting a robust .373/.424/.593 in 66 plate appearances against them. "There is some real talent there," said Kevin Goldstein of ESPN and Baseball Prospectus about Morban. Pedro Grifol added, "He's a five tool player. And he has a good swing -- great hands -- and great speed." And he won't be 21 until 2013 Spring Training reporting day as he's the 5th youngest player in the California League, so he is taking these giant leaps in his production while playing against much older, more experienced, more advanced competition. Add all of that up and we could be looking at a potential middle of the order outfield bat a couple of seasons down the road. After a few years of stumbling, Morban seems to be on track to fulfill the expectations that were put on him as a high-dollar international signing all those years ago.Stefen Romero: 2B, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: .351/.392/.599, 99 G, 142 H, 31 2B, 6 3B, 19 HR, 89 RBI, 23 BB, 60 SO, 8-12 SB, 11 GIDP
Romero is putting together the most consistent offensive season of any Mariners hitting prospect in 2012. A promotion from the hitter friendly California League to the pitcher friendly Southern League hasn't slowed his bat down at all, and Romero is proving to be quite a find as a 12th round pick in the 2010 draft. He's a hard worker that takes the game very seriously, earning praise from both Pedro Grifol, his manager in High Desert, and Chris Gwynn on that front. "Just great, great makeup," said Gwynn. Both said they feel that Romero is a guy that will hit at the major league level because he has a great feel for getting the barrel on the ball.
He is more of a line drive hitter than a power hitter, but he does hit the ball with authority into the gaps and is seeing a fair amount of his line drives turn into home runs right now. That could increase with age and experience, but Romero is probably not going to blossom into a 25 to 30 homer a season type threat. Not that that is a bad thing. He uses the entire field and can drive the ball gap-to-gap with the best of them. His bat is going to play, but that wasn't really a question. Already a muscular 6-foot-2 and close to 230 pounds, Romero's long term defensive home remains the biggest question about his future. He was a very good defensive third baseman at Oregon State before his injury, but he has played predominantly at second base the last two years and has shown very good defense at both High Desert and Jackson this year at second base. While he doesn't fit the typical mental mold of what a second baseman should look like and lacks ideal foot speed for the position, he's making all the plays and -- much like Marder -- his bat is going to get him in the lineup. Having the ability to play second and third and maybe the outfield down the road can only help accelerate his MLB timetable.Victor Sanchez: RHP, Everett Aquasox
2012 STATS: 5-1, 3.56 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 10 GS, 60 2/3 IP, 51 H, 20 BB, 49 SO, .230 oAVG, 7.27 SO/9, 2.45 SO:BB
Sanchez was a highly regarded prospect in the 2011 international free agent class out of Venezuela, but the polish and poise in his mound demeanor and the refinement that he has shown on his pitches as the 2nd youngest player in the Northwest League has been quite impressive and probably more than the Mariners expected out of the 17-year-old right-hander. The downside to Sanchez in his scouting report is a picky one in that his body is already so mature that he doesn't have much projection left. But despite standing 6-foot even and weighing in at 255 pounds, Sanchez isn't out of shape and is a very hard worker. He already possesses plus makeup, composure and two pitches -- fastball and changeup – that could earn a plus grade, as well. He isn't a flame thrower as his fastball generally sits in the 89-91 range, but he can get it up to 93 or 94 on occasion. Everett Pitching Coach Rich Dorman told me earlier this year that Victor had never even been in a long toss routine before this year, so lengthening his arm out and working him on a regular throwing program could coerce a few more MPH out of his arm.
The fact that he is only in Short Season ball right now may lead you to believe that Sanchez is still quite a ways away, but Chris Gwynn told me that the club seriously considered starting him out in Clinton in the Midwest League, and another player development staffer told me he's positive that Sanchez could handle that assignment right now. This all means that he could move quickly, perhaps more than one level at a time, and he -- like fellow Venezuelan Felix Hernandez -- could make it to the major leagues before he turns 20.Carson Smith: RHRP, High Desert Mavericks
2012 STATS: 11 SV, 3.48 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 40 G, 51 2/3 IP, 49 H, 27 BB, 59 SO, .251 oAVG, 10.28 SO/9, 2.19 SO:BB
Smith was the club's 8th round selection in the 2011 draft out of Texas State where he posted a 1.99 ERA as a junior. He pitched in the fall instructional league with the Mariners last year and made his pro debut here in 2012. One person in the Mariners front office told me "Bad delivery, bad mechanics, good results," when I inquired on Smith before the season. Those poor mechanics can lead to some erratic control at times, and that was the culprit behind his early season struggles. But now that he's getting that control under control, so to speak, Smith has a 0.84 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings and has converted all 10 of his save opportunities since the All-Star break. His environment has also led to his numbers not being as eye-opening as one would expect, as Carson has a 4.28 home ERA but a 2.59 mark on the road.
The 6-foot-6 Smith has been dominating right-handed hitters all season as they've hit just .206/.301/.308 off of him, but left-handers are still giving him trouble, hitting .307/.410/.409 in 107 plate appearances. His fastball, routinely in the 94-95 range, is his bread and butter pitch and he gets good movement and sink on the pitch. Smith also throws a changeup and slider. Developing one of those pitches to keep left-handers honest has to be priority 1-A this offseason for the big right-hander, but if he can add that last piece to his repertoire, Smith could quickly join a very talented, young back-end of the bullpen for Seattle.
2012 STATS: .225/.341/.405, 91 G, 71 H, 11 2B, 5 3B, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 50 SB, 107 SO, 11-16 SB
A very toolsy, raw player, Blash was assigned to Clinton to start the 2011 season but his often too-patient approach led to some huge struggles at the plate and he was demoted to Short Season Everett. He took off while in the Northwest League, becoming an All-Star and leading the league in slugging percentage while leading the Sox in HR and RBI. But back in Clinton again in 2012, some of the same issues have plagued the 23-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder. He now has 36 strikeouts in his last 24 games (92 plate appearances) and has fallen into the trap of being too selective and sitting on the fastball too much once again. At times it looks as though he isn't all in for that particular at bat, inning or game -- disinterested perhaps.
Blash possesses some very good tools, headed by his plus power that plays from the left field line to the right center power alley. Tall, lean and athletic, Blash also has a fairly strong but sometimes inaccurate throwing arm. He's played some center field, is most comfortable in right but may be best suited in left long-term. This season at this level, Jabari should have taken a big step forward and he hasn't. He'll likely end up heading to High Desert in 2013 by default and his numbers should jump up from the environment if nothing else there. Perhaps success is all Jabari needs to kick himself into gear and get his substantial tools working like they should.Vinnie Catricala: 3B, Tacoma Rainiers
2012 STATS: .238/.304/.359, 104 G, 94 H, 21 2B, 9 HR, 53 RBI, 33 BB, 68 SO, 19 Errors
A year ago, Catricala would've easily topped this list as he put together one of the best seasons in all of minor league baseball across two levels for the Mariners. Following a decent showing in big league Spring Training and a laser show on the minor league side in Arizona, Tacoma figured to be a fairly easy conquer for Cat the Bat. But his bat has never really got going in 2012 as he tries to adjust to the more advanced pitching of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Finer breaking stuff and better command seemingly has done him in a lot, and early on Catricala was struggling to even string together any significant stretch of quality at bats.
Vinnie's been decent since his atrocious April (.444 OPS in April, .254/.320/.404 slash since) and he was a .300 hitter coming into the '11 campaign, but he still hasn't put together any sort of stretch to prove that last season's otherworldly production wasn't an outlier. He's been seeing time in left field and even an occassional start at first base in the second half for Tacoma, and versatility is going to be a key for Vinnie as his defense at third still looks just okay and his bat isn't nearly the weapon it looked to be heading into this year.Chih-Hsien Chiang: OF, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: .255/.286/.375, 95 G, 95 H, 21 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 18 BB, 58 SO, 12 GIDP
The Mariners acquired Chiang at the deadline last year from the Red Sox and shifted him from the Eastern League -- where he was hitting .340/.402/.648 with 59 extra base hits in 88 games -- to the Southern League -- where he hit a weak .208/.255/.262 in 32 games. He showed some promise with a decent AFL performance, including hitting very well off of left-handers. But shuffled around early and often due to a string of outfield injuries that hit the Mariners minor leagues, Chiang -- who is on the 40-man roster -- was clearly overmatched at Triple-A (.245/.265/.321 in 168 plate appearances). Back in his comfort zone in Double-A he has faired better (.262/.301/.416 in 229 PA), but in his third year at the level, those numbers still aren't great and don't scream "future big leaguer". In fact, they are almost a mirror image of his first season in Double-A back in 2010 (.260/.312/.420).
There have always been concerns about Chiang's bat speed and he has done nothing this season to limit those concerns. He's played a little bit of center field (in the AFL and in Tacoma), but without great speed the converted second baseman fits best defensively in a corner. Bottom line, his bat needs to pick up to be worth holding on to, and having already been DFAd once this season, the club may already have soured on Chiang as a prospect past the point of working hard to retain him.Ambioris Hidalgo: RHP, Everett AquaSox
2012 STATS: 4-11, 4.88 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 23 G (20 GS), 107 IP, 106 H, 51 BB, 67 SO, .261 oAVG, 4.3 BB/9
Hidalgo showed a lot of promise in his stateside debut in 2011 while pitching for the Pulaski Mariners, but he was hit pretty hard in his 2012 opening assignment in Clinton. He put up a 5.67 ERA and struck out just 4.7 batters-per-nine in 15 starts while getting roughed up by left handed hitters for the LumberKings before the Mariners wisely demoted him to Everett to regain some confidence and work on missing some bats and keeping lefties honest. He's done that, increasing his K/9 to 7.7 in his 34 Northwest League innings, but he's pitched out of relief about half the time as he doesn't seem to be able to stay away from the big inning as a starter.
He has a four pitch repertoire and the slider can be a swing-and-miss pitch when he locates it and uses his fastball (up to 91 or 92) well enough to set that pitch up. His changeup has been better of late but his command is still iffy. Not the type of year that Ambioris -- who pitched in Venezuela for three years for Seattle -- or the Mariners were looking for coming off of a strong stateside debut in '11.Alex Liddi: IF/OF, Tacoma Rainiers
2012 STATS: .240/.306/.392, 81 G, 71 H, 14 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 23 RBI, 29 BB, 98 SO
Liddi got a shot at consistent playing time at the big league level earlier this season and had a decent stretch of games where he was making consistent contact, driving the ball and laying off of pitches out of the strike zone, leading to a .286 average for Seattle for about a month's time. But that discipline didn't last, and following just two hits and 17 strikeouts over his last 27 big league at bats, Liddi found himself back in Triple-A to once again work on plate discipline, pitch recognition and shortening his swing. And, oh yeah, playing the outfield.
He's made 18 starts in left field in his 50 games in Tacoma and done okay, picking up three outfield assists and making only one error, but at the plate he was completely and utterly lost for the entire month of July, hitting just .198/.271/.311 and striking out a whopping 36 times in 28 games. He has been shorter to the ball and seen better results lately, as he has a current 9-game hitting streak that includes five multi-hit games and five extra base hits (two HR) with only three strikeouts, but Liddi will soon be 24 and has not progressed from the player that he was in 2011 in his first go 'round in the PCL.Francisco Martinez: 3B/CF, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: .246/.315/.339, 83 G, 77 H, 17 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, 27 RBI, 30 BB, 67 SO, 26-32 SB, 7 Errors
Still playing in an advanced league when you consider his age, Martinez hasn't really built on his success at the plate in the 2nd half of last season during the 2012 year as was expected. After hitting .310/.326.481 in 33 games with Jackson following his trade to Seattle from Detroit, it looked like 2012 would be the year that Martinez took that step forward to elite prospect status. But he has struggled with his average and has shown almost no power to speak of while mainly hitting in the leadoff spot for the Generals.
Which leads to one of the bright spots with Martinez: he is walking. After walking just 23 times in 509 plate appearances last year, he has a career best 30 walks already in 2012 in just 350 plate appearances. Add to that, his plus speed has started to pay dividends on the bases as Martinez has been successful on a career best 26 stolen base attempts in 32 tries. Last but not least, he has cut his error total at third base from 35 in '11 (.912 fielding %) to just 7 this year (.961 fielding %). The only thing is, likely because his power isn't developing as planned while speed is becoming more of his game, the Mariners have taken Francisco away from third base now and then and have started to experiment with him in center field. This isn't necessarily a negative, but putting everything from 2012 together for Martinez, him being the club's third baseman of the future is starting to look less likely.Rich Poythress: 1B/DH, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: .304/.422/.456, 69 G, 72 H, 18 2B, 6 HR, 38 RBI, 47 BB, 28 SO
At first blush, maybe you think it isn't really fair to put Poythress on this list as he's hit .304 and drawn 47 walks while striking out only 28 times on the year. But, truth be told, his average has been pretty empty for a hitter taken in the 2nd round as a player with a profile as one of the better power bats available. He showed that power in 2010 in High Desert by hitting 31 home runs, but as we get further and further removed from those numbers, that production is starting to look like a complete result of the hitting environment, and not of Poythress' true ability.
He hit just 11 long balls last year in Double-A, and repeating the level in '12 he is once again hitting plenty of doubles, but the home runs -- just three hit in Double-A (the other three coming in AZL action on rehab) in 64 games isn't what you want from your cleanup hitter. Poythress could easily sacrifice some of his patience and still be a productive hitter, especially if it meant getting more power back in his game, but the near 25-year-old needs to move on that change ASAP or risk doing it with another club.Mauricio Robles: LHP, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: 1-4, 6.41 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 34 G (6 GS), 59 IP, 50 H, 57 BB, 54 SO, .285 oAVG, 5 HBP
After missing most of 2011 while recovering from injury and looking like a shadow of his former self while healthy (8.91 ERA, 2.04 WHIP in 10 GS, 32 1/3 IP), Robles was a prospect with a lot to prove in 2012. He started the year as the Rainiers No. 1 starter, but after once again struggling with his control, he was shifted to the bullpen in Tacoma briefly before being demoted to Double-A Jackson to try and get right. Robles had a stretch of 12 games through June where he showed better command and got better results, but over the last 10 games those control issues resurfaced (16 BB in 12 IP) and his ERA has climbed nearly two full runs since.
Robles has got his velocity back to his pre-surgery norm of 91-93, but the bite on his curveball and the feel for his changeup are all but gone. And Robles -- who always seemed to run out of gas as a starter in or around the 5th inning -- is currently having trouble even putting it all together for two consecutive hitters. He's just 23-years-old, but his grasp on his 40-man roster spot is slipping, and he may be best served by a change of organization for a fresh start at this point.Chance Ruffin: RHRP, Tacoma Rainiers
2012 STATS: 0-4, 1 SV, 6.56 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 42 G, 60 1/3 IP, 68 H, 30 BB, 44 SO, .279 oAVG, 7 WP
Ruffin, acquired from Detroit as part of the Doug Fister trade, was a supplemental 1st round pick by the Tigers in 2010 and came with the profile as a fairly well polished, quick moving, strikeout reliever. He made good on that profile by posting 19 saves and an ERA right around 2.00 in Double-A and Triple-A for the Tigers in '11 and ended up throwing 17 2/3 innings of pretty solid relief at the big league level with Detroit and the Mariners. But despite reporting to Spring Training with a fairly good shot at a bullpen job for Seattle, Ruffin didn't make it into many games in Arizona as he struggled with his command from the get go.
Now well over 100 games into the minor league season, that struggle hasn't subsided and Ruffin -- who lost his closer role very early with the Rainiers after a few ugly meltdowns -- is finally getting hitters out in Triple-A. Following some solid results over the last month-plus, Chance has his ERA down to 6.56, but he isn't striking anyone out and is getting pretty lucky in terms of balls in play and strand rate. He still has his stuff, but his feel for the strikezone is terribly shaky out of the windup. "Way too much movement for my liking out of the windup right now. I'd like to see them make him go from the stretch 100% of the time, see if that fixes anything. The stuff is still good, but it's taken a step down," is what one scout told me about Chance's struggles. Ruffin is taking the first step now by getting outs. Next step is getting back to dominating...but that is no guarantee.Forrest Snow: RHP, Jackson Generals
2012 STATS: 3-9, 7.01 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 23 G (19 GS), 105 1/3 IP, 116 H, 60 BB, 87 SO, .282 oAVG, 15 WP
Snow capped off a great 2011 year by leading the Arizona Fall League in WHIP and ranking 2nd in ERA. But the former 36th round pick has struggled with his fastball command all year and not even a demotion to first Double-A and then to the bullpen has been able to right the ship thus far. Though Snow throws up to five pitches (fastball, curve, slider, change, splitter), he is primarily a fastball/changeup pitcher. Without being able to locate the fastball, he either is falling behind in counts early or getting hit hard early. That, in turn, is rendering his changeup and other offspeed offerings much less effective. This isn't a unique happening to Forrest as many pitchers face this challenge as they advance through the minor leagues and start facing better, more polished hitters. The trouble here is that Snow hasn't been able to make the adjustment, whether it be sequencing or better location with the fastball -- he just isn't finding anything that works.
We do need to remember, however, that 2012 is just Snow's third professional season, and we was a 36th round draft pick. The fact that he isn't a finished product at this point does not mean that he is a failed prospect. It simply means that adjustments are still needed. Forrest is a bright guy and I'd bet on him figuring at least some of this out and still having an MLB future, but being a bright guy, I think Forrest would also chalk 2012 up as a lost season.
*All stats through games of August 7, 2012