The Seattle Mariners had a number of their top prospects make their highly anticipated MLB debuts in 2013, but they also had many more prospects down in the minors have what could be considered breakthrough performances. SeattleClubhouse gives you a breakdown of who we consider the All-Prospect Team for Seattle in 2013.C - Tyler Marlette: 75 G, .304/.367/.448, 82 H, 6 HR, 37 RBI, .377 wOBA, 8.4% XBH, 8.1% BB, 17.8% K
As was covered back in August when I had an in-depth conversation with a non-Mariners scout, Marlette is a player that quietly impresses. And while his numbers were unquestionably better this season than they had ever been before -- both at the plate and behind it -- there are a lot of reasons to believe that even better days lie ahead for the 20-year-old. First off, yeah, I just said it: he's only 20. He posted career best numbers across the board in a very tough league to hit in 2013, and he did a lot of it while he was still splitting playing time. He also made defensive improvements statistically, lowering the rate at which he allowed wild pitches and passed balls while maintaining strong throwing numbers, throwing out 38% of would-be basestealers -- well above the 30% number posted by all Midwest League receivers.
Marlette hit only six home runs but that part of his game figures to come along more as he continues to mature. He has a quick bat, understands hitting and is firmly built. If he can stick behind the plate and continue to improve his plate discipline numbers as he moves up the ladder then it is very possible that he becomes a big leaguer in time. He's likely to see High Desert to start 2014 for Seattle.1B - Ji-Man Choi:122 G, .295/.394/.535, 125 H, 18 HR, 85 RBI, .414 wOBA, 12.0% XBH, 12.7% BB, 13.7% K
A former catcher who was moved off of the position because of back issues, Choi made a big statement with his bat in 2013. A lot of people shied away from him as a prospect after the position shift because they felt that the bat would have a tough time playing at first base. But Choi set the world on fire in High Desert and continued to show power at both Jackson and Tacoma during the 2013 season. He ended the year with 60 extra base hits, second best number in the organization and 20th best in all of minor league baseball, 18 home runs and a .535 slugging percentage.
Choi also drew 63 walks, 5th best in the organization, and struck out just 68 times in 499 plate appearances. That 13.6% strikeout percentage was the best in Seattle's system for any stateside player who had an ISO over .160, and Choi's was better than 1.5 times that at .242. He bats from the left side but throws right-handed and doesn't have a typical first baseman's body as he's listed at what seems to be a generous 6-foot-1 and isn't long-limbed. But if his bat can continue to perform as it did in 2013, the major leagues will find a spot for him. He'll be back in Tacoma to start 2014.2B - Ketel Marte:117 G, .295/.322/.364, 137 H, 1 HR, 37 RBI, .330 wOBA, 4.6% XBH, 3.8% BB, 10.0% K
I had the chance to see quite a bit of Marte in 2012 while he was with Everett, and while his physical tools and defensive abilities were very apparent in those looks, frankly I came away pretty unimpressed with the overall package. While he could certainly run and handled the bat in terms of contact better than most young foreign kids at the Northwest League level, he was still very raw as a hitter, seemingly content with slapping the ball instead of driving the ball. He had the speed to do that and still make a contribution at the Short Season level, but he needed to get better with the bat as he moved up. Well, he did that and then some in 2013. I hear there are still times when he slaps-and-runs balls, but Marte drove the ball with a full swing much more consistently this year. He hit so well during late-July and early-August that he earned what was probably one of the more surprising promotions for Seattle prospects during the year.
Not surprising in that he didn't earn it, mind you. Marte's last 19 game in Clinton included a 17-game hitting streak that saw the switch-hitter get nine consecutive multi-hit contests; 26 hits in nine games. He ended the year with four multi-hit games among his 19 games for High-A High Desert and tallied 137 hits -- including 23 extra base hits -- in his 117 games on the year. Marte will return to High Desert to start 2014 and should continue to split time defensively between shortstop and second base. Drawing a few more walks and continuing to put the ball in play hard could lead to another climb up the ladder for the 20-year-old.3B - D.J. Peterson: 55 G, .303/.365/.553, 63 H, 13 HR, 47 RBI, .413 wOBA, 10.9% XBH, 8.7% BB, 18.3% K
Peterson, who the M's took 12th overall in this June's draft, immediately became one of the best prospects in the organization when he signed. He hit his first pro home run while I was in attendance in Everett and tore through Northwest League pitching in a manner reminiscent of what Mike Zunino did there a year ago. And after a slow start in Clinton following his promotion, he turned it on at the Low-A level, too. The only thing that slowed him down was the fastball to the face that shattered his jaw and ended his season on August 22nd. That didn't stop Peterson from being named as Baseball America's best pure hitter and second best power hitter from the 2013 draft class.
Peterson has a classic hitter's build, with a strong frame, short arms and a short, powerful swing that led two scouts to tell me, "He's Jeff Bagwell," the first time we talked in Everett. Although the broken jaw sidetracked his AFL plans, his injury has heeled now, and there is no reason to expect anything short of an aggressive assignment to open 2014, with a real possibility that he could be an every day player with Seattle as early as Opening Day 2015.SS - Chris Taylor: 134 G, .314/.409/.455, 165 G, 8 HR, 60 RBI, .404 wOBA, 7.6% XBH, 13.6% BB, 18.9% K
Taylor, of course, heads up this list as far as the big club is concerned as they named him as their Minor League Player of the Year for 2013 following the completion of the minor league season. Taylor played at two levels and led the organization in a number of offensive categories. Thought of as a glove-first shortstop when Seattle picked him in the 5th round in the 2012 draft, the right-handed hitter hasn't slowed down with the bat since turning pro as he owns a .316/.411/.449 slash in 837 plate appearances to date. He's also stolen 55 bases and played very strong defense at both shortstop and second base while climbing up to Double-A.
Taylor is a line drive hitter that uses the whole field but he has shown surprising lift to the opposite field at times. He's very quick once underway and has outstanding pitch recognition and plate discipline, allowing him to draw 84 walks this past year. His defensive actions at short are natural and smooth and while he lacks elite range, he has plenty of range and arm to stick at the position. He's been playing second base more in the AFL and he can handle that defensive assignment, too, obviously, but the Mariners will no doubt continue to push him as a shortstop in 2014 when he's likely to return to Jackson to open the year.OF - Abraham Almonte: 123 G, .300/.394/.482, 132 H, 15 HR, 68 RBI, .382 wOBA, 8.6% XBH, 13.0% BB, 18.2% K
Almonte was nabbed from the Yankees for a very low cost (Shawn Kelley) before the year and all he did was tear through the two top levels of the minors and become a fixture in the M's major league lineup towards the end of the season. Before his ascension to Seattle, the speedy, stout, switch-hitting, strong armed outfielder set career highs in home runs, RBI and walks (67) while also picking up a 6-hit game for the Rainiers. The 24-year-old former second baseman has phenomenal athleticism and his ability to contribute with that tool and ignite an offense was readily apparent during his time with the M's in September.
But while Almonte had one of the best overall seasons of any M's player from all levels, don't think that the Mariners are simply slating him in as one of their starters for 2014. He still has some work to do on the plate discipline side, as do most rookies, as he struck out 21 times in 82 MLB plate appearances. He also posted just a .475 OPS in 31 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. Even though Almonte has some work to do, he also has tools that not a lot of other outfielders in the organization do, and he figures to enter camp in 2014 with a legit shot at being the fourth or fifth outfielder for Seattle.OF - Julio Morban: 86 G, .295/.362/.468, 87 H, .371 wOBA, 9.8% XBH, 8.6% BB, 29.1% K
Morban came into the 2013 season with a reputation as a very talented prospect with serious tools and serious questions around his ability to stay healthy. After again putting up very strong numbers and again missing significant time to injury, that is the same way that he'll head into the 2014 season. Julio spent a lot of time at DH early in his age 21 season because of hamstring issues and saw his season end in mid-August when he broke his lower leg trying to advance to second base on a pitch in the dirt. In between he flashed the package of power, speed and consistent ability to hit balls hard that makes him a prospect worth following and one of the three outfielders on this list.
Following a breakout 2012 that was downplayed because it happened in the California League (even though most of the damage happened away from Adelanto), 2013 was a test of Morban's true ability in a much tougher league. The strong outfielder with a sweet lefty swing passed that test, ranking among the Southern League leaders for batting average for a substantial stretch of the season that lasted until after the All-Star break. Morban hit .354 with runners in scoring position for the Generals and reached career highs in games played, doubles and walks. But that career high games number was still just 86, and he's played in just 304 games as a pro since signing back in 2008. Morban should be fully recovered and ready for another invite to MLB spring training in February, but he is likely to start off the 2014 season back in Jackson working on his plate discipline and getting back into a comfortable spot with his health.OF - Austin Wilson: 56 G, .241/.319/.414, 49 H, 6 HR, 27 RBI, .370 wOBA, 8.8% XBH, 7.5% BB, 18.6% K
Judging from a lot of the pre-draft hype, Wilson sliding to the Mariners in the 2nd round was an extreme stroke of good fortune. Sure he had some stigmas working against him, but the consensus seemed to be that his physical abilities were plenty to warrant using a mid- to late-1st round pick on the big right-handed hitting outfielder. That hype wore down a bit when Wilson initially struggled in his assignment to Everett. The "Stanford swings ruin ballplayers" hyperbole started and many turned their attention away from Austin. In turning away, they missed him go on a tear to end his debut pro season. The 6-foot-4, 210 pounder hit .313 over his final 24 games, picking up 12 of his 24 extra base hits along the way and raising his season OPS nearly .150 points in the process.
That late season break out didn't go unnoticed by scouts and managers in the league, and Baseball America named Wilson as the 5th best prospect in the NWL at the end of the season. Wilson's power was the big tool, but he played very well defensively in Everett, too, and looks to have a prototypical right field profile. He'll be challenged with a likely assignment to High-A to start 2014, but the thin air, warm weather and high winds together with being close to home in California could lead to a monster first half for Wilson. He is definitely one of the best outfield prospects in the M's system, and one that could be in the Top-10 prospects in the organization overall once we roll out those rankings.DH - Patrick Kivlehan: 128 G, .303/.366/.464, 148 H, 16 HR, 90 RBI, .392 wOBA, 8.0% XBH, 7.8% BB, 19.5% K
The somewhat played out story of Kivlehan playing football for four years at Rutgers while away from baseball before returning to the field with a bang was a nice narrative, but the DB turned middle of the order hitter should be changing that story in everyone's mind by now. But after tearing through two levels of the M's system and having one of the best months of anyone in all of minor league baseball at one point, he's no longer just a nice story, he's a nice looking ballplayer. When Kivlehan won the Northwest League MVP he hit .301/.373/.511, but he struck out at a 29.4% clip while making 16 errors in 179 chances. In 2013 between Low-A Clinton and High-A High Desert the right-handed hitting third baseman cut that strikeout rate down nearly 10% and made just 14 errors in 211 chances in the second half of the year in a tough environment.
Kivlehan is obviously a very good athlete, with strength and speed (once underway) that make him look like a former defensive back. But as he's become more comfortable back on the baseball field, he's looking more and more like a baseball player. The 6-foot-2, 210 pounder has hit 28 home runs and stolen 29 bases in his 200 game minor league career thus far. Seattle challenged him a bit with an assignment to the AFL and he's definitely had a rough time so far, hitting just .186/.222/.256 and striking out in 13 of his 45 plate appearances, but at 23 and wrapping up his second pro season and just second year back on the diamond, Patrick is making improvements at a very fast rate. He should see Double-A in 2014, and while he may end up shifting to the outfield before the year is out, he is certainly a prospect worth following.RHSP - Taijuan Walker: 25 G, 141 1/3 IP, 2.93 ERA, 3.31 FIP, 1.20 WHIP, .217 oAVG, 10.2 SO/9, 3.6 BB/9
Walker, always an elite athlete and a pitcher with an elite arm, took the huge step forward in 2013 that many were projecting for him in 2012. And while it may have been a year late in some people's eyes, the wait certainly look like it was well worth it. Walker dominated in most of his 14 Double-A starts before earning a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, and all he did there was allow two measly runs over his first four starts. That was the middle of July, and people began asking when Walker would be called up. He hit a bit of a rough patch shortly after that, but righted himself and ended his minor league season with nine strikeouts in six innings of work in his 25th minor league start. He was ready for the big leagues.
And to the big leagues Walker went. He got three starts for Seattle -- SeattleClubhouse was at his one home start, covered here -- and lived up to the hype. 2014 will be his 21-year-old season and there seems to be little doubt that the former standout basketball player that the Mariners tabbed with the 43rd pick in the 2010 draft will be in Seattle's rotation. The development of his cut fastball, his ability to command his fastball, and -- perhaps most importantly -- his understanding of how to effectively add and subtract from his fastball were all major factors in Walker's success in 2013. He's still a little unpolished with his curve and changeup, but his stuff is so good and his aptitude and effort so high that there seems to be little doubt that Walker should be able to succeed in the big leagues in 2014.LHSP - James Paxton: 28 G, 145 2/3 IP, 4.45 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 1.50 WHIP, .277 oAVG, 8.1 SO/9, 3.6 BB/9
The oldest of the "Big Three", many expected 2013 to be the year that Paxton separated himself from the pack a bit, establishing himself as a big league option early in the year. But the big lefty struggled a bit with command early in his first Triple-A season and that led to a 6.00 ERA after his first five starts for Tacoma. James eventually got it turned around and was very good in 11 of his last 12 starts, including his first two professional complete games, before being rewarded with a big league Cup of Joe in September that saw the 24-year-old get four starts. And unlike Taijuan Walker, Paxton wasn't exactly lined up for a soft landing. Regardless, he pitched extremely well in those four starts, finishing with a 1.50 ERA< 0.92 WHIP and 21 strikeouts to just 22 baserunners in his 24 innings of work, seemingly etching his name in stone as a part of the 2014 rotation for Seattle.
There have been doubters of Paxton ever since Seattle nabbed him in the fourth round following his NCAA-induced drama a year earlier. With a lot of moving parts in his delivery, consistency and command had been issues. But simply put, there just aren't a lot of long, tall left-handed pitchers who possess the kind of stuff that Paxton has. He routinely hits the mid- to upper-90s with his fastball, even late into games, and his curve is a swing-and-miss pitch, too. The command was the last piece of the puzzle for James, and that appeared to be a complete non-issue in his four big leagues starts. After ending his season with a 10 strikeout, no walk, 4-hit performance over 7 innings against Kansas City at home, Paxton looks ready to be a big part of the M's rotation for 2014 and beyond.RHRP - Dominic Leone: 48 G, 64 IP, 2.39 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 1.06 WHIP, .212 oAVG, 9.0 SO/9, 2.5 BB/9
Another one of the undersized right-handed relievers that the Mariners have been picking up in the middle rounds in Tom McNamara drafts, Leone is the first to take a really huge step forward among them. I got word after last season's Fall Instructs wrapped up that he had really picked up velocity from one of the M's coaches down there, and that velocity uptick was with Leone as he climbed up three levels for Seattle in 2013. He was regularly touching 98-99 and comfortably sitting 95-97 -- as he still is now in the AFL -- throughout the year, despite standing just 5-foot-11. The biggest improvement for the 16th rounder out of Clemson, though, is his command. After walking 19 in 33 innings for Everett in his 2012 pro debut, Leong surrendered just 18 walks in 64 innings in 2013; just 2.5 BB/9.
He compliments his plus fastball with a good cutter that is right around 90-91 and a slider that sits 83-86. Leone has jumped over several relievers who were ranked above him entering this season and it should be expected that he'll se an invite to MLB camp in February with an outside shot at cracking the M's bullpen. Even though he'll likely head to Triple-A Tacoma to open the year, Mariners fans should be expecting to see Leone in Seattle at some point in 2014.LHRP - Kyle Hunter: 41 G, 69 IP, 1.83 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 1.14 WHIP, .225 oAVG, 6.9 SO/9, 2.6 BB/9
Hunter is an interesting case in that he was a late draft pick (31st round in 2011) and doesn't have turn-your-head-type stuff, but three seasons and 101 appearances into his minor league career with the Mariners now, it's getting very hard to ignore his performance. He's boasting a 2.28 ERA (2.62 FIP), 1.15 WHIP and very good command numbers over 201 2/3 innings. The 24-year-old left-hander out of Kansas State reached Double-A in 2013 and put up a 1.40 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 57 2/3 innings, continuing to show a great ability to keep the ball in the ballpark and limit his walks while dominating left-handed hitters.
Hunter was rewarded for his performance to date by being named as Danny Hultzen's replacement in the Arizona Fall League. Results in the desert haven't been quite as good for Kyle, as he's made five appearances (four starts) and been hit to the tune of a 6.75 ERA, 1.95 WHIP and .386 oAVG. A lot of that goes back to the fact that Hunter lacks plus stuff. His command -- particularly down and away -- is what leads to his success. He made four starts for Jackson this past season and is being stretched out in a starters role in Peoria now, but he probably fits best as a long guy in the bullpen long term. Look for Hunter to be back in Jackson to start 2014 if he's starting or in Tacoma if he's coming out of the pen.
With apologies to Jabari Blash, Dario Pizzano, Tyler Pike and Carson Smith in particular -- who each had fantastic seasons of their own -- those are our 13 selections for the 2013 Mariners postseason All-Prospect Team.
All of the (qualifying) above players and many more will be covered in-depth soon as we countdown the Top-50 prospects in the Mariners' organization heading into the 2014 season. Stay tuned for that and more this winter as SeattleClubhouse brings you the best coverage of the major and minor leagues for Seattle.
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