SeattleClubhouse Top-50: 30-26

Each Monday for 10 weeks, SeattleClubhouse gives you an inside look at the Top-50 prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization as things stand at the end of the 2012 season. Rankings are complete with scouting notes (when available), quotes from various baseball sources and extended player info. This is our fifth set of five prospects, which gets us to the midway point in our countdown.

Here at SeattleClubhouse, our primary goal is to give our readers exclusive information on Seattle Mariners players from the rookie leagues all the way to the major leagues. Looking beyond the numbers and using input from respected baseball resources -- as well as contributing our own input -- we are aiming to give the readers rundowns on the names in the Seattle organization that are worth tracking, and maybe even pinning some future hopes on. Our determination of where the prospects land on the list is a combination of potential ceiling, the player's likelihood of reaching that ceiling, the most probable outcome for the player and their proximity to cracking the 25-man roster.

These types of rankings are very fluid and things can change very quickly, particularly in the bottom half of a list this large, but this compilation is our best effort at a look at the 50 best prospects in the system right now.

The breakdowns are being done in groups of five for subscribers, with the complete list (sans scouting info) being posted to the forums for discussion once the pieces are complete. Each player section will be headed by the player's position, age (as of the date of article publishing), hitting and throwing handedness and level at which they ended the 2012 season.

You can check out who and what we've covered so far by clicking on these links for prospects 50 through 46, 45 through 41, 40 through 36 and 35 through 31. We are closing out the first half of the list now with prospects number 30 through 26.

30. Marcus Littlewood - C, 20, B/R, Short Season Everett
Littlewood (who we ranked 12th in last year's Top-50) was drafted by the Mariners in the 2nd round of 2010 as a shortstop, with the opinion that he would likely end up a third baseman as he physically matured. He showed decent hands at times and a strong arm in his first pro season, but he also committed 38 errors in 329 chances on the middle infield. That lead the M's to make a defensive shift with him, but not the expected one. Littlewood began the conversion to catcher late in 2011, working extensively with Roger Hansen in between games in Everett to prepare himself for the move behind the plate. To make a long story short, it looks like it has worked. Littlewood continues to show a strong arm, and his footwork and throwing mechanics look like those of a lifetime defender behind the plate.

Because of the position switch Marcus repeated in Short Season Everett in 2012, and while some of the same issues with contact still plagued him at times, he put up much improved numbers overall. He hit .262/.390/.435 with 19 extra base hits, including nine home runs (t-7th in the Northwest League) and his 44 walks ranked 2nd. That BB rate of 17.0% was the best among Seattle minor leaguers with 250 of more plate appearances and his .390 OBP was tied for 6th best in the organization with 250 or more plate appearances.

Littlewood is a switch-hitter with power, but he also has some holes in his swing, particularly from the right side where he hit only .188/.328/.271 in 58 plate appearances. He has average bat speed but generates the loft and power to all fields now that suggest he can hit for power more and more as his body naturally matures -- something that will be less of a hindrance now that he is behind the plate. Back when the switch was first being discussed, Pedro Grifol told me that the move was made because they expect Littlewood to excel and reach the big leagues at the catcher position. Grifol said that, "This isn't a move that a team makes with a high draft pick unless they're confident it will work. (The Mariners) think he can be a front-line catcher." Some of the statements that I've heard from other coaches and scouts back that up. Littlewood has the tools to succeed at the plate and behind it.

29. Jordan Shipers - LHP, 21, R/L, Low-A Clinton
Shipers played in Everett in 2011, too, giving me several first-hand looks at his stuff and his approach. Drafted in the 16th round by the M's out of a high school that didn't have a baseball team, Shipers is a smallish left-hander that doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he commands his stuff and sets up hitters very well pitching with smarts. In talking with a variety of contacts about Shipers, a majority of the good that was fed to me was based on how tireless of a worker he is. "Jordan is easily the hardest worker on the team. So hard that the staff has to reel him in at times," I was told. That may sound like something that people might say about a non-prospect, but Shipers, they agree, is definitely a prospect.

He threw a 93-pitch no-hitter back in July and while his fastball is typically in the 86-89 range, he showed improved command of that pitch and all of his pitches in the Midwest League this year. Shipers' changeup generates swings and misses and his breaking pitch, while inconsistent, shows promise, too. His strikeout rate plummeted this year to 4.9 from 8.5 a year ago (when we had him ranked 40th in our Top-50), but it seems that a lot of that was tied into Jordan attacking hitters and learning to work ahead.

But, again, the thing that stands out about Shipers is his work ethic. "He competes," said one NL scouting director. "He works hard and he is in control when he's on the mound, so the stuff plays up. I'd bet on him at least becoming a big league LOOGY." Shipers did hold left-handed hitters down to a .586 OPS in 2012 (compared to .786 for right-handed hitters), but let's not settle him into the bullpen just yet. The jump in innings from 49 2/3 in '11 to 118 in '12 showed that he can handle an increased workload, and the 93-pitch no-no showed that he can be efficient in the rotation. Shipers figures to get that huge challenge of High Desert in 2013, and he'll have more learning to do there, but he is definitely an interesting arm to watch in the Mariners' system.

28. Timmy Lopes - 2B, 18, R/R, Rookie Arizona League
We highlighted Lopes -- who tied for the AZL lead in hits with 68 -- back in September with an in-depth look at his background and what he brings to the diamond. The Mariners 6th rounder in 2012, Lopes hit .313/.375/.476 across two levels in his debut pro season defending primarily at second base. The right-handed hitter has a mature approach and consistently barrels the ball up to all fields. He also drew his fair share of walks (9.5%) and doesn't strike much, as his 11.9% K-rate was 7th lowest among stateside prospects with 200 or more plate appearances.

As detailed in our draft recap piece, Lopes earns high marks for his heady play. That advanced mental approach to and understanding of the game helps him to get the most out of his tools. The 18-year-old right-handed hitter probably doesn't project to have a 60 anywhere on his scouting report card, but the stats seem to pile up. On top of leading the AZL in hits, Lopes also ranked 6th in Total Bases (103), 8th in extra base hits (23) and tied for 5th in the entire minor leagues in triples with 13.

Lopes should find himself in Everett in 2013, likely as the everyday second baseman, but as his body continues to mature to the level that his mental game is already at, Timmy could be a fast moving prospect for Seattle, and as one scout from California put it, "I wouldn't be surprised at all if he became a big leaguer." The Marines certainly hope that comes to fruition.

27. Gabriel Guerrero - OF, 18, R/R, Rookie Arizona League
Guerrero was among the Mariners' prospects that generated the most buzz in 2012. A relatively low-profile $400k international signing in January of 2011, Gaby struggled a bit at the plate last year, hitting just .236/.288/.298 in 57 games of DSL action. But the nephew of Vladimir Guerrero did a fine job of carrying on the family tradition of mashing baseballs in 2012, winning the DSL MVP award by hitting .355/.409/.605 and leading the foreign circuit in home runs (11) and RBI (54). He continued to hit after being brought stateside, adding four more HR and 18 more RBI in 18 games of action in the AZL, where he hit .333/.350/.560.

Guerrero, although still only 18, bears a striking physical resemblance to his slugging uncle, with a tall frame, long limbs and a thick mid-section or trunk. He also hits without batting gloves like Vladdy did. Of course, translating Dominican League success to U.S. leagues isn't as simple as snapping your fingers. Guerrero saw his K rate climb from 12.4% in the DSL to 16.3% in the AZL. Still a very respectable number, but also an indicator that there could be a bit of a learning curve that he has yet to be challenged with.

Guerrero is likely to get time in extended Spring Training with the Mariners in 2013 before getting his league assignment, but it is likely that Pulaski will be his home for 2013 -- at least at the start of the Appy League season. If he can continue to show the big power and ability to hit for average while limiting his strikeouts, it isn't out of the question that the then 19-year-old could end his year in a full season league for the Mariners.

26. Steven Proscia - 3B/1B, 22, R/R, High-A High Desert
Proscia was the Mariners' 7th round selection in 2011 out of the University of Virginia. The right-handed hitting third baseman reported to High-A High Desert on July 15th in 2011 and went on to post an .887 OPS and 12 home runs in 44 games for the Mavs in a solid debut. But he also walked just four times and struck out 33 times in his 192 plate appearances, showing some obvious weaknesses in approach and pitch recognition. The strikeout rate climbed in 2012, but so did the walk rate, although admittedly still not into an acceptable range, but the production for PRoscia soared.

Proscia was one of only 16 minor leaguers across all levels to hit 20-plus homers and drive in 100-plus runs in 2012, as he ended at 28 homers and 103 RBI in 127 games played. Although the end of season stat line looks like that of a Top-10 organizational prospect, Proscia clearly benefited from playing in Adelanto as he put up home numbers of .385/.412/.775 in 51 games, hitting 21 of his 24 High-A HR in the high winds and high altitude of High Desert. But he actually hit three of his four Double-A long balls at Smokies Park in Tennessee, which isn't known as a home run park.

Proscia played third base, first base and even 15 games at second base during the regular season for the Mavs, but his defense isn't a plus at any of those spots. That means, of course, that the bat is going to be his carrying tool, and that means that the road stats and BB/SO numbers are going to have to improve in order for Steven to break into the big leagues as an everyday player in the future. His power is real, if primarily to his pull side, and better than it showed on the road in 2012, but the bat speed isn't ideal and, again, there are no other average tools. But as he figures to get a full-time shot at Double-A pitching in 2013, Proscia is definitely a prospect worth keeping tabs on for Seattle.

That does it for the bottom half of the SeattleClubhouse Mariners' Top-50 prospects. Be sure to come back next Monday when we start getting into the high end prospects for Seattle.

Looking for more Mariners prospect player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.

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