Each Monday during the 2013 minor league season, I will again give our readers a rundown of the best and worst from the minor league week that was within the Seattle Mariners system. The goal is to concentrate only on true prospects (age 26 and under and not on the big league roster), but if any player has an exceptionally noteworthy good (or bad) week, he could appear here as well. The goal is to not only keep you up to date on the goings on, but to try and give you a better look of what talent is in the system by spreading the coverage around.
This past week there were some of the most familiar names in the system doing good and not so good things of note, plus a few lesser known prospects for Seattle making the cut. Here now is a look at those six players.
Nick Franklin - SS/2B, Tacoma Rainiers: .474/.600/.789 (9-19), 3 2B, HR, 6 RBI, 6 BB, SO, SB
Franklin was on a tear in 2012 when he earned his first promotion to Triple-A, being recognized as the Southern League's Player of the Month for May. But his first Triple-A exposure revealed from growing pains as the switch-hitter would see his strikeout rate climb and walk rate plummet as he learned to deal with better quality pitching. Nick managed to cut his strikeout rate almost in half over the season's final 30 games, but his bat and walk rates were still lagging behind his Double-A pace significantly.
None of those things seem to be an issue here in 2013 as Franklin rode a six walk week to a 14 to 8 strikeout to walk ratio through his first 15 games with the Rainiers this season as he boasts a slash of .382/.514/.618. And perhaps more encouraging than even that is the fact that Franklin has a 1.442 OPS in the early season in 12 plate appearances batting right-handed -- a definite area of concern over the past few seasons for the switch-hitting middle infielder. As I covered last week, Franklin could see the M's call on him soon if he keeps up the pace as they search for an answer at shortstop in the major leagues.
Dan Paolini - OF/1B, High Desert Mavericks: .435/.464/.783 (10-23), 3 2B, 3B, HR, 10 RBI, 3 BB, 2 SO
Like Franklin, Paolini has always been able to hit, but his uptick in plate discipline is making him a more exciting prospect to follow -- this week and for the whole season thus far. The 2011 10th round pick out of Siena showed strong walk and strikeout numbers in 2012 for Clinton, where he had one of the best months of anyone in the entire minor league season in August, but his ratio's and rates are improving in 2013 while his main tool -- his powerful extra base-loaded bat -- is showing it can handle the California League. Half of his 10 hits on the week went for extra bases this past week, gibing him 11 in 22 games on the season.
Paolini hasn't collected a home run on the road, but his plate discipline numbers are staying true regardless of park right now. Still searching for a permanent home defensively, if Dan can hang onto that improvement in plate discipline while maintaining the power stroke he has shown then he could still move up as a bat-first prospect for Seattle.
Stephen Landazuri - SP, High Desert Mavericks: 1-0, 2.45 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 11 IP, 8 H, 3 ER, HR, 2 BB, 7 SO, .205 oAVG
As park environment is a caveat to consider for Paolini, it is something that earns extra credit for a pitcher like Landazuri. Promoted from Clinton following three very strong starts there to open 2013, Stephen has been unfazed by the desert environment in 2 trips to the hill for the Mavericks, inducing a lot of ground balls and showing his trademark strong command while working quickly and limiting damage when runners do manage to reach against him. A 22nd round pick out of a California high school back in 2010, Landazuri has been very good while healthy for the M's ever since.
He has a nice goal and blueprint to shoot for now that former 23rd round California high school draftee Brandon Maurer is in the Mariners' rotation. While Landazuri doesn't have Maurer's stuff, he does understand how to pitch and maximize the effectiveness on the stuff that he does have to get hitters out.
Denny Almonte - OF, Tacoma Rainiers: .188/.278/.188 (3-16), 2 RBI, 2 BB, 7 SO, SB
Almonte started off hot out of the gate in 2012 with the bat and it seemed that a lot of his success could be tied to his big improvement in plate discipline. After striking out more than 500 time and drawing only 72 walks over the previous three seasons, Almonte walked a career-best 52 times while posting his lowest SO% and highest OBP in his first taste of Double-A in 2012. But the jump to Triple-A has reopened the wounds of years gone by and Denny is back to striking out at a very alarming rate with 37 punchouts in 74 plate appearances (50%) so far for Tacoma.
The switch-hitting center fielder has tools to spare, with plus speed, easy power and a strong throwing arm and he's connected for two homers and a triple while stealing three bases despite his catastrophic start. But his complete breakdown in plate discipline could see him being shipped back down to Double-A pretty soon if he can't turn things around.
James Paxton - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 0-1, 11.37 ERA, 2.84 WHIP, 6 1/3 IP, 13 H, 8 ER, 2 HR, 5 BB, 5 SO, .419 oAVG
As the eldest of the top pitching prospects for the Mariners, it seems a little odd that Paxton is the one who seems to have the most growing pains, but the 24-year-old is doing just that as he tries to adjust to Triple-A for the first time in 2013. There was one implosion and one incomplete out of his two starts this past week and the 6-foot-4 Canadian left-hander has made it past the fifth inning in just one of his five starts for Tacoma so far, failing because his command falls apart.
The fifth inning has been the biggest problem for Paxton so far, twice cruising into that frame before collapsing under self-imposed pressure from too many wide ones. Left-handed hitters are also crushing Paxton so far this season (.353/.476/.471) and it seems like there could be something that is holding James back from giving his best stuff -- be that a mechanical or a physical issue. Averaging over 20 pitches per inning in 21 frames this year, it is clear that he cannot succeed with how he's operating currently.
Francisco Martinez - OF, Jackson Generals: .200/.200/.200 (4-20), 9 SO, 2 SB
With the pressure of playing a new position (center field, formerly third base) full-time for the first time in 2013, and with a much more unsettled batting order so far for Jackson this year than last, Martinez doesn't seem as though he's been comfortable at the plate yet in 2013. And after drawing walks more and striking out less than even before for Jackson in 2012 despite a poor showing with the bat, that progress in plate discipline seems like a distant memory for Martinez here in 2013.
The right-handed hitting 22-year-old already has six multi-strikeout games and he hasn't been able to get on base with any regularity on the year while batting first, second and sixth in the Generals order. Martinez is repeating Double-A and is now at an age that the competition level is no longer an excuse, so it is time for the lone prospect piece left from Seattle's end of the Doug Fister trade to step up his game.
While I chose to go a different direction on the hot list, Clinton LumberKings right-hander Dylan Unsworth is putting up some noteworthy starts of late and could have very easily made this list for the 2nd week in a row. The 20-year-old from South Africa has pitched 24 innings in his last three starts. He walked only one hitter in 11 games and 50 1/3 innings back in 2010 and bested Victor Sanchez in most pitching categories in Everett last year. Definitely keep an eye on him.
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