Organizational depth is what turns a franchise with some good top-tier talent into a franchise set up for long-term success. If a club can get the right pieces in the right places, developing top players and role players alike, the system can feed the big league club top to bottom, building a sustainable pipeline to young, cost-controlled players.
Everyone is familiar with the upper end of Mariners prospects and subscribers have seen the entire Top-50, but in these Prospect Depth Chart series we will show you what lies behind the first few prospects, giving our readers an idea as to the quality of depth at each position. This information is used by clubs in planning for draft strategies, targeting players in trades and free agency and knowing which in-house players should be the highest priority for locking up to extensions.
Recapping our guidelines laid out in the first post, in this series we are considering only those players who still have rookie eligibility based on innings, at bats or big league service time. We are also only considering players who's 2013 will be their age 26 or younger season. The depth chart standings are a combination of the player's developmental ceiling, floor and big league ETA. These rankings, while based on information and input that we have received from many sources, are the opinion of SeattleClubhouse and do not necessarily reflect the same rankings for the Seattle Mariners.
So far we have covered:
Now let's get on to the list of our third group of prospects: The Middle Infielders.
1. Nick Franklin 22 years old, B/R, 6'1", 200 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Considered one of the club's top prospects since his breakout 2010 season, when the wiry shortstop went 20/20 in the pitching heavy Midwest League, the switch-hitting Franklin reached Triple-A in 2012 and had an under-the-radar good season overall. Splitting his time between second base and shortstop, Franklin equaled his extra base hit total from that 2010 season (52) in fewer trips to the plate with a better BB% and K%. Having added significant weight for the first time since being drafted, Franklin is primed to become a bigger offensive force in 2013, a season where he will likely get his first taste of the big leagues at some point.
2. Brad Miller 22 years old, L/R, 6'2", 185 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Miller put up some very impressive offensive numbers of his own across two levels in 2012, ranking 2nd in all of MiLB in hits (186) while also leading all M's farmhands in BB (74). His 62 XBH tied for the 12th most in the minors and I was told by one front office man that Miller has, "the best balance of any hitter I've ever seen. Period." A lot of the questions about his defense at shortstop disappeared when he made only five errors in 37 games in Double-A and there seem to be more and more people that believe he can be solid at the position, but his bat will still drive him to the big leagues. And maybe very soon.
3. Jack Marder 23 years old, R/R, 5'11", 185 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Of all the great seasons turned in by Seattle minor league hitters in 2012, the offense shown by Marder may have been the most surprising. His stats were certainly inflated by the High Desert conditions, but his road numbers, split vs right-handed pitching, clutch stats, etc., all look like Marder has the makings of an impact player at the big league level down the road. His catching days are on hold thanks to a string of concussions, but Marder -- who coincidentally always modeled his game after Craig Biggio among others -- can handle playing second base and the outfield just fine. And with 36 multi-hit games and 164 times on base via hit, walk or HBP in his 83 game MiLB career, his bat can play just about anywhere.
4. Carlos Triunfel 23 years old, R/R, 5'11", 204 lbs
BREAKDOWN: The forgotten man in the Mariners system who was once viewed as the organizations jewel, Triunfel finally reached the major leagues in 2012, seemingly an eternity after his name first surfaced as a future star. And though that star isn't quite so bright now, Triunfel was still only 22 when he made it to the game's highest level. He's put up just a .691 OPS over the last season-plus in Triple-A, but Carlos showed off some of his talents -- including what is probably the best infield arm in the system -- in his late season cup of coffee with Seattle. He'll probably be in Tacoma again in 2013, but despite what some may say, all is not lost for Triunfel, and he may still contribute in Seattle with the bat and glove soon.
5. Chris Taylor 22 years old, R/R, 6'0", 170 lbs
BREAKDOWN: While Triunfel has a great arm at shortstop, 2012 draftee Taylor has shown exceptional hands and smooth actions at shortstop. He has also shown surprising tools at the plate, enough that he earned a fairly early promotion out of Short Season ball in his debut year in the M's organization. He walked more times (23) than he struck out (22), hit .322/.417/.432 and pitched in with 15 extra base hits and 17 steals (in 23 attempts) in his 49 games between Everett and Clinton while showing a sound approach, good eye and the ability to drive the ball more than most thought he could, even to the opposite field. He should move fairly quickly through the system because of his age and his defense, but it will be his bat that determines just how fast.
6. Gabriel Noriega 22 years old, R/R, 6'2", 164 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Triunfel and Taylor both have parts of their defensive game that shine, but Noriega is one of those defenders that is a step above everyone else and shines all the time. A true shortstop with plus range, hands and arm, the only thing holding Noriega back is his bat. Discount his time in the often inflated offensive environment of the California League and the Rookie Leagues and Noriega has slugged just .274 in over 700 minor league plate appearances. The total lack of pop is one thing holding his offense down, the 24.1% strikeout rate is another. Noriega showed a little more promise in his late season demotion back to High Desert (even on the road), but his game has a ways to go before his glove will be allowed to become a factor.
7. Timmy Lopes 18 years old, R/R, 5'11", 180 lbs
BREAKDOWN: The youngest player on this list by more than half a year, Lopes has good bloodlines (brother Christian is in the Blue Jays' system), a solid build, a sound linedrive, all fields approach, and baseball smarts to him. The 6th round pick in 2012 by Seattle showed a lot of promise with the bat during his debut in the desert, with a strong BB:K ratio, a .313/.375/.476 slash and 13 triples in only 57 games -- the fifth highest total in all of MiLB depite playing almost 50 games fewer than any of the players ahead of him. He had the 7th lowest SO% in the AZL and was the youngest player to reach the High-A level in 2012. Lopes maximizes his tools because of what people around the game like to call his "baseball IQ" and although he's moved off shortstop as a pro, he seems to be a great fit as a second baseman going forward.
8. Martin Peguero 19 years old, R/R, 6'1", 185 lbs
BREAKDOWN: A former big bonus baby from the international market, Peguero has seen his stock drop considerably since he started playing stateside for the M's. It is pretty clear that his errant throwing and suspect footwork will not allow him to play shortstop regularly, but a move to the other side of the bag could let his natural defensive talents shine through. And his offensive profile as a kid with great wrists and a penchant for barreling balls still hasn't disappeared. Peguero certainly has some maturing to do on the field, but the tools are still there for him to develop into a prospect with a good ceiling if he progresses like he can.
9. Ketel Marte 19 years old, B/R, 6'1", 160 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Marte is another shortstop who has a lot to offer on defense but sometimes is overpowered in the batter's box. The switch-hitter is a fine bunter and good contact hitter who can battle through an at-bat spoiling tough pitches, but right now the contact that he does put in play is often not very loud. He does do a good job of using his speed to his advantage by putting the ball in play on the ground right now, but he'll need more offense to come in order to be a big league utility option down the road. Marte has managed only two extra base hits from the right side in his two years in the system and had only six extra base hits in 69 games for Everett in 2012.
10. Gabrial Franca 18 years old, R/R, 6'1", 165 lbs
BREAKDOWN: Franca is another California high school product (like Lopes) and is still very slight of stature (like Taylor, Noriega and Marte), but the 22nd rounder showed enough during his first pro season to warrant keeping an eye on him. He stole 19 bases (in 22 attempts) had BB and SO ratios better than the league average and played very strong defense at short in Peoria and earned himself a late season promotion (mainly due to positional need) to High-A, where he showed something when he doubled in one of his two plate appearances. Franca has a lot of growing to do -- physically, mentally and emotionally -- as a player, but he has skills that should translate well as he does that.
Some of these names are very close and should see MLB time in 2013, some are several years away with several developmental hurdles to clear to reach their potential. But the strength and depth of the middle infield positions is real for the Mariners and something that fans should be happy to see.
Next up we will take a look at a slightly larger group as we cover all three outfield positions.
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