Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

Highlighting the best and worst of the past seven days in the minor leagues for the Seattle Mariners.

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.

More promotions and quiet weeks made this a more difficult week to fill out the top performers...after the first one, that is. A top prospect continues to be lights out on the hill in Tacoma, perhaps setting himself up for a call up to the big leagues soon.

Read on for the breakdown of his week and the weeks of five others in this installment of Three Up, Three Down.

THREE UP

James Paxton - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 1-1, 1.29 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 14 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 11 SO, .163 oAVG
Paxton -- who I will have a detailed piece about later this week -- has made a remarkable turnaround in his season, and the results continued to show that this past week. The left-hander didn't walk anyone in his two starts and lost a 1-0 decision in Reno, well known as a PCL launching pad -- Saturday while pitching his 2nd complete game of the year, and his career, for Tacoma. The 24-year-old's strikeout-to-walk ratio is 48 to 10 over his past eight starts and I'm starting to get the feeling that he's turned a corner.

It seems that Paxton has dialed back his fastball a bit in recent starts, working more 92-93 and dialing up to 94-96 only when needed. That is the same thing that Taijuan Walker did this year that helped him make strides in his command. It also looks and sounds like the long lefty's mechanics are staying more true of late, and we all know that there have been problems in the past there for James. If he can stay on track in his next few starts, there is no reason that Paxton wouldn't be up to take a rotation spot in Seattle very soon.

Ji-Man Choi - 1B, Jackson Generals: .375/.423/.667 (9-24), 2 2B, 3B, HR, 3 RBI, 2 BB, 2 SO
Choi, who slugged his way out of High Desert but struggled to get hits to fall in once he was moved up to Double-A, has started to see his luck level out in Jackson, and the lefty swinging former catcher is putting up a season that should have him in the discussion for M's Minor League Player of the Year come season's end. Nine of his first 14 hits for the Generals were for extra bases and he was drawing walks so his OPS was still above league average while his average was hovering around .200, but a strong week pushed his average up over .250 for the first time in Double-A and he now sits with combined season slash of .301/.392/.560 in 89 games with a 12.3% BB% and a 15.0% K%.

Choi lost a lot of potential value when his back injuries forced him out from behind the plate, injuries that caused him to miss all of 2011 and a chunk of early 2012. But so far since he's been back on the field as a 1B/DH, Choi's bat appears up to the challenge of manning that position. His power has seen an uptick this year while his plate discipline has continued to improve. He now has a career 10.7% XBH% in his 205 minor league games and has the elusive .300+/.400+/.500+ slash in his minor league career. Still not a top prospect, mostly because of his size and questions that remain about the sustainability of his power spike, but he's making a move in that direction.

Lars Huijer - SP, Everett Aquasox: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 7 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 SO, .043 oAVG
Huijer isn't yet a top prospect either, but kudos should go out to the Mariners for spotting his talent. Pitching in the Dutch Major Leagues at ages 16 and 17, Huijer had pretty pedestrian numbers. But the M's liked his size and arm speed and signed him on June 1, 2011. After pitching decently in 23 of his 26 appearances in Rookie ball (AZL and APPY) prior to 2013, Huijer headed to Everett as a starter, where the results and the process have been eye-opening. The 6-foot-4 right-hander turned in his best start of the season this past week, carrying a no-hitter into the 7th and extending his scoreless streak to 15 innings in hitter-friendly Everett Memorial Thursday night.

I've seen Lars once live, where he worked into the high 80s, touching 90 a time or two, and he bends in a breaking ball around 75-79. But the delivery is smooth and fluid and his frame -- although still young -- is ideal, leading me to believe that there is more velocity in there. He's allowing just 5.2 H/9 so far in Everett and his 1.85 ERA and 0.87 WHIP are both the second best marks in the NWL. Huijer doesn't turn 20 until late September and is certainly worth keeping an eye on going forward.

THREE DOWN

D.J. Peterson - 3B, Clinton Lumber Kings: .095/.136/.238 (2-21), HR, 2 RBI, BB, 7 SO
Peterson is the hitting prospect in the system with the highest ceiling, but he has had a slow introduction to the Midwest League. He homered in his second game with Clinton but it is clear that the pitching is better there than what he was seeing in Everett, where he hit .312/.382/.532 in 29 games. He's struck out in seven of his first 22 plate appearances for the LumberKings after ending his time in Everett with only three strike outs over his final 39 plate appearances.

That said, he starting slow in Everett, too, hitting just .212/350/.455 in his first nine games before taking off. He has power, covers the plate and uses the whole field with a short, compact, quick swing that generates a lot of easy power, all the way around to right center field. He's only played two of his five games in the field for Clinton so far, but the fact that he's hitting clean-up in every game shows you the type of talent that the club feels he possesses. He'll be fine, so much so, in fact, that I wouldn't be surprised if he's promoted again before the minor league regular season ends on September 2nd.

Leon Landry - OF, Jackson Generals: .105/.190/.158 (2-19), 2B, RBI, 2 BB, 8 SO
Landry's outstanding performance in the 2nd half of 2012, after joining the organization in the Brandon League trade, had me excited enough to rank him 18th in my off-season Top-50. His struggles thus far in Double-A in 2013 have been so poor that he's now dropped out of my Top-25. Those struggles have been worst here in July and they continued this week as the left-handed hitting speedster got on base only four times in the five games he got into for Jackson, striking out eight times in the process -- including a Golden Sombrero on the 23rd.

Landry -- who hit .341/.371/.584 last year -- now stands with a .221/.265/.328 slash through 85 games in the Southern League and with his low rate of getting on base his speed, which is his best tool, just hasn't been able to be a factor that much. And while Jackson has had an incredibly athletic defense all year, it is still worth noting that Landry has logged only five games as the team's center fielder to date. He is walking much more than last year, though still at a low rate (5.5%), and he is making plenty of contact (17.2% strikeout rate), but the quality of that contact isn't near what we saw from Leon last year.

Thyago Vieira - SP, Everett AquAaSox: 0-2, 13.50 ERA, 2.19 WHIP, 8 2/3 IP, 18 H, 13 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO, .439 oAVG
Vieira, who pitched a couple of games in the WBC for Brazil as the lesser-hyped of the M's two Brazilian pitching arms (Luiz Gohara) has good size and a decent delivery, but his stuff -- which saw him post a 5.55 ERA and 1.73 WHIP in 25 games over two seasons in the small Venezuelan Summer League -- still is lagging behind. He's been hit pretty hard in each of his last four starts, but none harder than his last time out in Hillsboro, when the Hops got him for eight runs in 4 2/3. He now has allowed 57 baserunners in 38 innings for Everett and he has the worst ERA (5.45) and WHIP (1.50) of all qualified NWL pitchers on the year. Vieira has also hit eight batters and has allowed 18 extra base hits (12.9 XBH%) in his 38 innings of work.

Thyago's fastball is usually 86-87, but has some tools to work with, with a decent breaking ball and solid control, but he also nibbles a lot -- almost always away -- and gets himself into trouble as a result. The right-hander would benefit a lot from a boost of confidence, in my opinion, but that isn't going to come with these results, so he's got a case of Catch 22 going on here. At this point in the season I'd say that repeating Everett next year is all but guaranteed for Vieira.

. . . . . . .

Paxton's hot stretch is leading the headlines for Seattle's minor leagues right now, but another member of the "Big Four", Brandon Maurer, found his way back to Seattle this weekend. Meanwhile, Taijuan Walker had his roughest outing in months and Danny Hultzen continued to rest his finicky shoulder on the disabled list.

The recent fates of those four is a good reminder about how quickly things can and will change in a player's performance as they work to get to the big leagues. It isn't always smooth sailing even for the most talented of prospects. That is why when you see players here regularly in our weekly pieces, it's time to take notice of what that player is doing right (or wrong). Check back again next Monday to see who ends up on each side of the ledger over the latest seven days and see if you can spot any more repeats.

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.


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