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.
With all nine of the affiliates now in action, there is a lot to watch each week in keeping up with the Mariners. This check in gives you good news on some of the hottest names in the organization.
Without further delay, here is this week's Three Up, Three Down.
James Paxton - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .163 oAVG, 12 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 16 SO
After struggling to throw strikes and make it through even five innings for much of his maiden voyage in Triple-A this season, Paxton exploded with two dominant six inning outings this past week, including his one walk, 11 strikeout outing on Saturday against Fresno. The big left-hander through nearly 70% strikes in that outing and lowered his ERA nearly a full run (5.70 to 4.75) and opponents' average more than 20 points (.305 to .284) with his two starts this week.
Paxton still has two plus pitches and plus velocity, but his command the past few outings has allowed him to work deeper into the game without having an inning where his fastball can't locate. He's 24 and this year was certainly shaping up to be a disappointment before this past week, but the B.C. native has some momentum going now and he could push for a look in the second half as he competes on a very talented Rainiers' pitching staff.
Taijuan Walker - SP, Jackson Generals: 1-0, 1.35 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, .240 oAVG, 6 2/3 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 12 SO
Speaking of which, the talent level just got a lot better in Tacoma. Walker threw himself a little Double-A going away party on Thursday when he won his fourth game of the season while ringing up a career-high 12 strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 2.46 in a dominant outing against Mobile. He found out soon thereafter that the performance would be his last at the Double-A level as the Mariners promoted the 20-year-old right-hander to Triple-A Tacoma.
His cut fastball and spike curve are now legitimate weapons that he controls well and he has learned when to add on or subtract from his fastball to get the most out of his game. He's averaging more than 92 pitches per outing but less than 14 pitches per inning in June in proving that he's ready for the next step. That challenge of the minors' highest level starts Tuesday in Tacoma, and Walker will no doubt have lots of eyes on him. Following 39 Double-A starts as one of the youngest players in the Southern League, he'll be the youngest pitcher to throw at or above the Triple-A level when he debuts for the Rainiers.
Julio Morban - OF, Jackson Generals: .409/.435/.773 (9-22), 3 2B, 3B, HR, 9 RBI, BB, 7 SO, SB
Morban has really stepped his game up to the next level this season in Jackson, and he put on a bit of a show during this past week's series against Mobile, driving in nine runs and collecting five extra base hits to lead the Generals' offense. That performance brought his season's slash up to .328/.379/.522 in 51 games and the 21-year-old left-handed hitter continues to build on the breakout he had in 2012. He now leads the Southern League in AVG and OPS (.902) and has been outstanding in clutch situations for Jackson, hitting .426 with runners in scoring position on the year.
Despite being in High-A for all of 2012, Morban is pushing hard for a promotion of his own to Triple-A and he could get it soon if he continues to hit, and more importantly, continues to stay healthy and in the lineup. He's only DH'd five times in his last 20 starts and hasn't cooled off at all this year at the plate while playing a strong right field.
Alfredo Morales - OF, Everett Aquasox: .143/.240/.190 (3-21), 2B, RBI, 3 BB, 4 SO
Morales inked a contract with the Mariners as part of their vaunted 2009 international class, but while his 2011 season created a lot of buzz for the left-handed hitting outfielder, he struggled in his initial assignment to Clinton last year before a lackluster season in Everett and is back with the Short Season club to start his 2013 year. He's walked more than he's struck out in the early going in Everett this time around -- a major issue last year for Morales -- but his bat has yet to get going, and as a middle of the order bat for the AquaSox, Morales struggled this past week to put anything together.
Morales has great hands at the plate and showed a patient approach and a very good understanding of the strike zone and the situation at times last year. Still just 20, if he can build on that and be more consistent with those factors this year he could find himself moving up to Low-A once again before Everett's season is done.
Phillips Castillo - OF, Everett AquaSox: .095/.240/.238 (2-21), HR, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 10 SO
Signed for big money (a reported $2.2m) as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican back in 2010, Castillo has had expectations on him for a while now, and while he started his career in the U.S. with an impressive showing for the M's AZL club back in 2011, he still is much more potential than true prospect at this stage. This past week highlighted that profile for Castillo as he struggled to make contact (NWL-high 10 strikeouts) and collected only two hits all week but also crushed a game-tying home run for the Frogs. He's hitting a paltry .156/.308/.313 on the year but the strong right-handed hitter has already drawn five walks (12.8% BB rate), which is an encouraging step forward compared to his career numbers.
Castillo is still just 19 and still possesses the raw tools that made him that big money signing for Seattle, but following his disappointing showing in Pulaski last year (.209/.286/.348) the slow start to this season is not what the doctor ordered. Strictly a left fielder with an average arm and speed, Castillo's bat will be his carrying tool -- and his plus raw power and hit tool potential need to improve for him to reach the heights projected for him.
Hector Noesi - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 0-0, 14.40 ERA, 2.40 WHIP, .400 oAVG, 5 IP, 10 H, 8 ER, HR, HBP, 2 BB, 4 SO
I'm admittedly stretching my own rules a bit by featuring Noesi in this series, but his continued struggles and status as a known 40-man member make him prominent enough to highlight. His start on Thursday -- 13 base runners and eight earned runs in five innings -- was his fourth for Tacoma this year and it is completely fair to say that each of those four starts has been bad. The PCL is hitting .351/.380/.702 off of the Mariners' former No. 5 starter and he has seemingly not made any progress with his areas of focus as he's allowed eight home runs in his 20 1/3 Triple-A innings so far on the year.
Noesi made a very strong spot start for Seattle and had three solid relief outings before that for the big league club, but his stuff hasn't improved and his command of that stuff and inability to put hitters away remains a confounding issue. The 26-year-old right-hander has a 6.59 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts as a member of the organization and consistently looks like one of the most hittable pitchers in the league. A disappointing turn of events for a pitcher who the Mariners hoped would ease the loss of former All-Star Michael Pineda, who is working his way back to health with the New York Yankees.
As I mentioned above, all nine affiliates for Seattle are now in their regular seasons. 30 of the clubs top 31 picks (and 31 of 40 overall) from the 2013 draft have signed and been assigned to clubs, too. From this draft, youngsters like D.J. Peterson and Tyler Olson had notable first weeks with their clubs and the same can be said for pitchers Edwin Diaz and Luiz Gohara of Pulaski. Lots to keep track of, and lots of reasons to be excited in the system. Tune in next Monday to see which players excited the most in the next update of Three Up, Three Down.
Looking for more Mariners news, articles and player interviews? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse site Editor Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.