The 2012 season featured some great minor league performances, including some players who were making their system debuts in 2012. SeattleClubhouse counts down the 10 most impressive of those seasons based on what the players accomplished, their age relative to their level and their performance relative to expectation.
10. Taylor Ard - Everett AquaSox: .284/.356/.497, 12 HR , 58 RBI
Ard is a product of Donnie Marbut's Washington State program, drafted in the 7th round by his home team (Ard was born in Vancouver) Mariners this season. Ard had a good profile as a slugging first baseman, performed well in the Cape Cod League and hit a home run off of Mark Appel with Tom McNamara in attendance prior to the draft.
The big right-handed hitter tied for first in the Northwest League in home runs, led the league all alone in RBI, Extra Base Hits (36) and Total Bases (147) while also ranking in the top-10 in AVG (10th), SLG (2nd) and OPS (4th) in his first pro season. Ard also posted respectable walk (8.4%) and strikeout (16.2%) ratios in 75 games for the AquaSox, for whom he only hit 3rd (46 games) or 4th (29 games) in the order.
9. Jabari Henry - Pulaski Mariners/Everett AquaSox: .271/.357/.488, 8 HR, 42 RBI
The Mariners employ the only two Jabaris in the history of professional baseball, and one of them had a sparkling debut season in 2012. Henry, an 18th round pick out of Florida International in June, used a strong August to wrap up the year ranking in the top-10 in the Appalachian League in Extra Base Hits (t-5th, 26), RBI (6th, 42)Doubles (t-7th, 15), Total Bases (t-10th, 101), Home Runs (t-10th, 8), SLG (.488) and walks (t-10th, 27).
The Appy League had just a .711 OPS as a whole and Henry easily outpaced that mark while playing strong defense in the middle of the diamond. The 21-year-old center fielder that played in high school with Brad Miller showed a talent for hitting in tough situations, too, as he slugged .493 and drew 12 walks in 83 plate appearances with runners in scoring position on the year. His performance earned him a very late promotion to Everett, where he collected two hits and two walks in three games.
8. Tyler Pike - Peoria Mariners: 2-1, 1.78 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 11 G, 50 2/3 IP
Pike was the M's supplemental 3rd round pick, signed away from what was thought to be a fairly strong commitment to his hometown Florida State baseball program. As such, he was probably expected to have a decent year in his first stop in pro ball, but the 6-foot left-hander was more than merely good in Arizona for the M's. He allowed only 34 hits and 21 walks in his 11 starts, striking out more than a hitter per inning while limiting opponents to a .193 AVG and only eight extra base hits in a league that hit .266/.347/.392 and averaged nearly as many XBH as the American League.
Pike didn't get a promotion at the end of the season, but that was due to the fact that he is a young kid that threw a lot of innings already in 2012, not because he didn't perform. Tyle led the AZL and the Mariners organization in ERA and allowed two earned runs or less in every one of his starts.
7. Dario Pizzano - Pulaski Mariners/Everett AquaSox: .354/.442/.507, 4 HR, 29 RBI
Pizzano came into the system via the 15th round this season as a guy that doesn't have much defensive value, meaning he'll really have to hit to be a prospect. Pizzano did just that in 2012, leading all of minor league baseball in hits for the month of August (47 hits in 115 at bats) and ending the season as one of just 11 minor leaguers that qualified for their league's batting title hitting over .350.
An Ivy League education (Columbia), a keen batting eye and a line drive stroke helped the left-handed swinging Pizzano lead the Appalachian league in AVG (.356), OBP (.442) and OPS (.953) while ranking 6th in SLG (.511). He continued to be successful after a late season promotion to Everett where he hit .333/.440/.476 in 25 plate appearances in the regular season.
6. Matt Brazis - Pulaski Mariners/Clinton LumberKings: 2-0, 7 SV, 0.65 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, 18 G, 27 2/3 IP
You really couldn't ask for a relief pitcher to be any more dominant in his first crack at pro ball than Brazis was at two stops in 2012. The 6-foot-3 right-hander pitched 27 2/3 innings between Pulaski and Clinton allowing only two earned runs and striking out three times as many batters (51) as he allowed base runners (17). He posted a 10.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 16.6 strikeouts-per-nine while shining with a 0.65 ERA and 0.58 WHIP in his 18 appearances.
Brazis, a 28th round pick in 2012, won his only two decisions and picked up seven saves as well while limiting opposing batters to a .117/.170/.160 slash line in exactly 100 plate appearances on the season. He pitched more than one inning in nine of his 18 outings and retired every batter he faced in one-third of those games. The sample size isn't huge, but the results are eye-popping...especially for a 28th round pick.
5. Danny Hultzen - Jackson Generals/Tacoma Rainiers: 9-7, 3.05 ERA< 1.31 WHIP, 25 G, 124 IP
If you only followed Hultzen via Twitter updates or those that come at the end of minor league roundups in newspaper reports for the last month and a half, you might think that he had one of the worst seasons in minor league history for 1st round picks. But Danny actually put together a very nice full body of work in season number one as a pro. The left-hander who was supposed to be more poise and polish than power struck out 9.9 batters-per-nine and allowed only 87 hits (and only four home runs) in his 124 innings of work.
He certainly appeared tired toward the end of the season with Tacoma and the control problems seem to speak to that, but Hultzen gave Seattle the 3rd most wins, 2nd most Ks (136) and 6th most starts in the entire system in his first season while having a completely dominating stretch in Double-A. Certainly nothing he should hang his head about.
4. Carson Smith - High Desert Mavericks: 5-1, 15 SV, 49 G, 62 IP
Smith turned in a rare feat in the California League by posting a sub-3.00 ERA while allowing just 7.8 H/9 and a tiny 0.3 HR/9. The right-hander had some bouts with control problems early in the year as he fought with his mechanics a bit, but once he got tuned in he really turned it on. 77 strikeouts and a 2.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the year in all, but that number jumps to 3.44 when you cover just his final 38 appearances (May 12th through end of year).
Smith's ERA was 1.71 in that timeframe, his WHIP just 1.14 and he held opponents to a .208 average over their final 199 plate appearances against him. All while not surrendering a single homer and running a fat 1.93 groundout-to-airout ratio. The 8th round pick from 2011 was a huge part in the second half success of the Mavericks team that ran away with their division after the break.
3. Patrick Kivlehan - Everett AquaSox: .301/.373/.511, 12 HR, 52 RBI
Kivlehan, who hadn't played baseball in four years at this time last season, was Seattle's 4th round pick out of Rutgers this season and all he did in Everett was tie for the league lead in HR, rank 2nd in RBI, 3rd in AVG, lead in SLG while ranking 2nd in OPS (.883) and extra base hits (32) for the AquaSox. He also chipped in on the bases with 14 steals (in 15 attempts) and scored the 3rd most runs (46) in the circuit. The 22-year-old right-handed hitting third baseman certainly looks like a great athlete with a fantastic feel for the game.
Following his Big East Triple Crown and MVP, perhaps there was the hope that he would be a good pro, but an MVP award and his name scattered all over the leaderboards in what proved to be a more prospect-heavy contingent of Northwest League talent than usual this season had to far exceed those hopes. His lone weakness in year one may have been the plate discipline, but Kivlehan actually ranked 13th in the league in BB over the season's final 40 contests as he got more comfortable and adjusted to the pro game.
2. Mike Zunino - Everett AquaSox/Jackson Generals: .360/.447/.689, 13 HR, 43 RBI
To land near the top of this list as a high 1st round pick, the expectations either needed to be a little low or the results need to be a bit amazing. I think that both are true in the case of Zunino. Hailed as a "best tool is no bad tools" type of "safe pick" at number three overall, Zunino wasn't forecast to wow us with his offense. And while it was only the Northwest League, wow is exactly what he did. He had the 5th highest OPS (1.137) in all of minor league baseball from the date of his debut until the end of the season, clubbing 27 extra base hits and drawing 23 walks in his 44 pro games.
His jump from Short Season A Everett to Double-A Jackson trimmed his numbers all the way down to .333/.386/.588 in 15 games and Mike threw out 43% (12 of 28) would-be basestealers in his 31 starts behind the plate. Although he was only in Everett for about one-third of the Northwest League season, Mike tied for 4th in the league in HR (10) and ranked 16th in RBI (35). I think at this point it is safe to say that the expectations were a little on the light side for Zunino and the Mariners made one heck of a pick at No. 3.
1. Victor Sanchez - Everett AquaSox: 6-2, 3.18 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 15 G, 85 IP
He wasn't the MVP, wasn't the All-Star selection as pitcher and wasn't promoted during the season, but Sanchez tops this list for debut seasons for one very big reason: he was the 2nd youngest prospect in the Northwest League this year and his name is still everywhere among the pitching leaders. He tied for 6th in wins, was 9th in ERA, 7th in WHIP, tied for 2nd in strikeouts (69) and was also 2nd in innings pitched.
Sanchez -- who I was told the club seriously considered placing in the Midwest League -- showed the poise, mental toughness, understanding of pitching and confidence that is only found in the top pitching prospects, and he did so as a young teenager in a league dominated by college-aged talent. He didn't win any awards, but he won the respect of his teammates, his coaching staff and the entire Mariners' front office on his way to becoming one of the brightest prospects in the system, and he is our winner as the Top System Debut of 2012.
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