Seattle Mariners announce AFL assignments

In the Arizona Fall League's 20th season, the Seattle Mariners will have nine representatives with the Peoria team. Among the eight players are several of the club's top prospects, including 2012 1st round pick Mike Zunino. SeattleClubhouse goes in-depth on each of the eight players that will be heading to the desert.

The Seattle Mariners, in conjunction with Major League Baseball's Arizona Fall League, today announced the group of prospects that they will be sending to the top prospect showcase league in October. The players include four pitchers – one starter and three relievers, two left-handers and two right-handers -- and four position players. The players are right-handed reliever Logan Bawcom, infielder/outfielder Vinnie Catricala, shortstop/second baseman Nick Franklin, left-handed reliever Bobby LaFromboise, left-handed starter James Paxton, infielder Stefen Romero, right-handed reliever Carson Smith and catcher Mike Zunino.

Mariners Director of Player Development Chris Gwynn said, "We are extremely proud with the seasons each of these players have had this year and look forward to seeing all of them compete in the Arizona Fall League. The Arizona Fall League allows each player to set goals and work on individual areas of their game, while competing against some the top prospect in the minor leagues."

It is a repeat trip for Franklin who was the MVP of the Rising Stars game last November, going 4 for 5 and driving in four runs with two doubles and a home run in the first inning off of the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft -- Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole -- in the game which was started by fellow Mariners prospect Danny Hultzen. Franklin started the 2012 season playing for Double-A Jackson, where he hit a robust .322/.394/.502 in 57 games and won the Player of the Month Award for May before being promoted to Triple-A Tacoma. He hasn't enjoyed quite the same level of success for the Rainiers, but the 21-year-old switch-hitter is still showing flashes at the plate and in the field (at both shortstop and second base) of being able to become the type of player that can really help the big league club for Seattle soon and is hitting a respectable .241/.307/.415 in 58 games in the PCL. Improving his recognition of tougher breaking balls from better pitchers, a more consistent approach to his right-handed swing and continued reps on defense in the middle infield are the goals for Franklin in the AFL.

Zunino, of course, was the Mariners top selection in this year's draft, taken 3rd overall out of the University of Florida where he led the Gators to three College World Series appearances. The 22-year-old catcher from Coral Gables, Florida, leads all of MiLB in OPS since his debut back on July 14th for the Everett Aquasox at 1.178. Not even an aggressive promotion to Double-A Jackson has slowed down his bat, and the right-handed hitting Zunino is making a push to get his name into consideration for the 2013 MLB roster for Seattle already with his impressive show of power and patience that is better than any other hitter in the M's organization at this point. The more realistic timetable is for Mike to hang around in tandem with right-hander Taijuan Walker to start the 2013 season and, if all goes well, force the club to make a decision to promote him at some point in the second half of next year. Zunino is still learning some of the intricacies of catching at the pro level and needs some more ABs under his belt, which is what the AFL offers for him.

Paxton is another arm that Zunino could be catching in the minor leagues at the start of next season. Coming into 2012, Paxton was probably the least heralded of the "Big Three" (with Hultzen and Walker), but since returning from a knee injury that shut him down for a month in early June, James has been the most consistent of the trio of M's prospect pitchers, posting an ERA of 2.33 and a SO:BB ratio of 2.60 in 10 starts. The 6-foot-4 lefty has a big fastball/curve combo that leads to a lot of strikeouts, but his mechanics sometimes fail him, leading to bouts of control problems for the Richmond, BC native. That has been better since the knee healed up, and there was talk that the club took extra time with his recovery as it worked on a mechanical issue with his landing that may have played into that knee injury. Paxton turns 24 over the offseason, and with his age and pedigree, you have to figure that the big leagues are a real possibility out of the gate in 2013 for him. In that light, continuing to show a better handle on his mechanics and, in turn, his command is the main goal for Paxton with this assignment.

Catricala shot up prospect charts with his jaw-dropping performance last year in High Desert and Jackson where he hit a combined .349/.421/.601 while hitting 48 doubles, 25 home runs and driving in 106 runs in 133 games and entered Spring Training with the tag of best hitting prospect on Seattle's farm. That label stuck through February and March as he torched the ball in the desert in both big league and minor league camps. But he struggled mightily to start his first year in Triple-A and although he had a stretch where he hit decently after the season's first month while playing third base and left field, he's never gone on a stretch remotely near what he did last year and is hitting a very pedestrian .227/.294/.339 on the year now as he's once again fallen off of late. Getting him more acclimated to the outfield -- as well as wiping the bad taste of a poor season at the plate away -- are likely the main goals for Catricala in Arizona this fall.

Romero has done his best Catricala, circa 2011, impression this year, as he's hit a combined .345/.386/.585 at the same two stops as Vinnie this season. The 23-year-old Oregon State product is a career .313/.364/.525 hitter in his two minor league seasons with Seattle and was named as Clinton's Player of the Year after the 2011 season. Romero is on Peoria's "taxi-squad", meaning that he will only be eligible to play in Wednesday and Saturday games. Primarily a second baseman to this point as a professional, one of the goals for Romero -- who was a third baseman in college -- in the AFL could be to get him more familiar with other defensive positions, most likely the outfield corners.

Bawcom was one of the Mariners' deadline additions, coming over from the Los Angeles Dodgers as part of the Brandon League trade. That shifted Logan from Double-A Chattanooga to Double-A Jackson, but he stayed in the Southern League. The 23-year-old Texan had some rough early outings as he got himself acclimated to his new team and teammates, but he has been very good again of late and has taken over the closer's role for the playoff-bound Generals. He has 25 saves combined for three squads this season and has 54 in 117 career appearances since being drafted in the 17th round by LA in 2010. Bawcom is considered a fairly safe bet to be a big league contributor soon, but could use some refining with his fastball command as he's had a bit of trouble with that since coming into the M's system. Fixing that command and refining the use and sequencing with his secondary offerings will be his main goals in Arizona.

LaFromboise -- a 6-foot-4, sidewinding left-hander -- has been remarkable this season in both Double-A and Triple-A for the M's. In just his second season pitching strictly out of the bullpen, LaFromboise has a 1.27 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 63 2/3 innings with 68 strikeouts and has not allowed a home run all year. He has also held left-handed hitters to just 16 hits in 110 at bats (.145 AVG), striking out 41 of them. The former 8th round pick has moved past some of the other left-handed relief options in the organization and is showing a really useful talent (retiring left-handed hitters) that could keep him in the big leagues for a long time. Bobby can be more than a LOOGY, though, as he is used to pitching multiple innings being a former starter. With that thought in mind, being more consistent in getting right-handers out with an out pitch will be the area he wants to improve on in the AFL.

Smith, too, was an 8th round pick by the M's, but 2012 marks his minor league debut. He has shown command and control issues in the past, but over the past 38 innings he has walked only 12 batters pitching at the back-end of the bullpen for High Desert. He has a 0.61 ERA and 14 saves in the second half for the Mavs while striking out 13.5 batters-per-nine. Smith is missing plenty of bats, getting a ton of ground balls (2.25 GO/AO ratio on the year) and is limiting damage when he does get hit. After not playing in 2011, the AFL for him will be more about getting in more work, refining his mechanics, command and control than about any area of weakness.

An added perk for the pitchers that the Mariners will be sending is that Jackson Generals pitching coach Lance Painter fills the same role for Peoria for the second straight season. Working through these specific goals with one of your team's guys helping you through it is an important aspect of the AFL experience that shouldn't be overlooked.

The Mariners have a recent history of some great showings in the AFL, from Dustin Ackley's 2010 MVP to the dominating pitching of Forrest Snow and Danny Hultzen last year. This talented group of Mariners is a good bet to continue that string of success as they continue their march toward the major leagues. Stay tuned to SeattleClubhouse throughout the AFL season for updates on these players and more for the Mariners.

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