The Ones to Watch

Each full season affiliate of the Seattle Mariners has a roster with a good amount of talent on it. SeattleClubhouse gives you the one player that deserves the most attention at each level as 2014 begins.

The Top-50 Mariners prospects are spread all throughout the minor league system for Seattle, but each level also has one prospect that stands out as THE player to follow here in the early stages of 2014. This post breaks those four players down.

Tacoma Rainiers
Nick Franklin

Despite the presence of a handful of arms that could contribute at the big league level in 2014 and the organization's defending Minor League Player of the Year (Chris Taylor), Franklin is the obvious choice for the must-see prospect from the M's Triple-A PCL affiliate Tacoma. The 23-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder burst onto the big league scene in 2012 with a hot start for Seattle in the season's second half before fading down the stretch as holes in his swing and shortcomings in his approach were exposed. Still, he appeared to be a virtual lock to be the club's second baseman in 2014 and beyond until the signing of Robinson Cano completely erased that possibility. Now he's a player without a clear path to a big league job in Seattle.

Franklin played well defensively at both second base and shortstop in spring and even ventured into right field for the first time in his pro career, but he's not stepped back out there for the Rainiers through the first six games of the season. Although he is a talented hitter in a system wanting for offense, his value to the big league club will probably only be best realized via trade, which is further evidenced by their hesitance to commit to shifting him to the outfield. That means watching how he performs in Triple-A through the season's first half will be crucial.

Franklin has made adjustments when getting repeat exposure at every level, and it appears that he's doing it again now, adding more power to his game this time through with Tacoma, having already hit three home runs in his first 26 plate appearances. He's also showing improved plate discipline while continuing to play solid defense at both second base and shortstop. Those improvements and his overall skill set should make Franklin a desirable trade target and definitely make him the one to watch in Tacoma.

(tip of the cap to Carson Smith)

Jackson Generals
Jabari Blash

Blash, who lead the organization with 25 home runs last year, hit a towering home run early in an intrasquad game early in camp and got into 10 games for the big club in spring training, catching the eye of many. With a wiry strong 6-foot-5 frame, he's hard to miss. Blash's shortcoming the past few seasons has been with the strikeout. He's known to be just a bit too patient in his ascension through the system but he's seemingly broken away from that since arriving in Double-A last August. He's still striking out (35 times in 36 games in Jackson since last year), but the walks are becoming even more frequent and the home run power he has is being tapped into more frequently.

Blash hit a Grand Slam in the Generals' opener and has picked up three doubles so far as well, collecting a hit in each of the first seven games while also drawing six walks. His plus power plays all the way around to right center and he has decent speed on the bases and in the outfield for a player his size. And while he's still relatively new to the game of baseball, he's a quick learner. "He's a smart hitter," M's Minor League Field Coordinator Jack Howell told me recently, "and he started to learn to set up patterns and took advantage of that knowledge. He works hard, too."

Blash doesn't have elite bat speed and is still pretty raw at the plate, but he has a combination of patience and power that could lead to a long career in the major leagues if he figures it all out. If those tools continue to show with frequency in the early part of Jackson's season, it seems reasonable that the 24-year-old Blash could move up as the year moves on. While he's with Jackson, though, he is the one to watch for them.

(tip of the cap to Victor Sanchez)

High Desert Mavericks
D.J. Peterson

The first time I spoke with scouts about Peterson after the M's drafted him, I had two separate scouts at the game in Everett say to me about D.J. as a hitter, "He's Jeff Bagwell." That's lofty praise, but the guy who looked like the best hitter in college his final season at New Mexico has looked like one of the best hitters at each level he's been at as a pro thus far, too. The broken jaw was the only blemish on his debut campaign and his start in 2014 -- including a strong showing in big league camp -- is eliminating any fears that that errant pitch could derail Peterson's career.

The right-handed hitter turned 22 in December and is less than a year out of college, but because of his talents and his potential, his stay in High Desert could be a short one. About the only thing that could give you pause at this point with D.J. is his defense at third base; he's handled 16 chances and made 6 errors already at the hot corner. But it will be his bat that gets him to the big leagues. His short arms, strong hands and compact swing generate easy loft and backspin leading to some very impressive moonshot homers when he gets into one.

With the thin air, hard infields and strong winds in the California League, don't be surprised if Peterson goes on a tear and puts up some video game-like numbers during the season's first half for the Mavs. But if you want to see him in person down there, you'd better do it quick because he likely won't be there into the second half. That makes Peterson the one to watch for High Desert.

(tip of the cap to Patrick Kivlehan)

Clinton Lumber Kings
Austin Wilson

Wilson, taken with the pick after Peterson in last year's draft by Seattle, starts this year a level behind him. Wilson is also a little more than a month younger than Peterson, but they are both right-handed hitters with big power potential. While Wilson struggled at the start of his pro career in Everett last season, he turned it on late and has continued that success with Clinton in the very early going in 2014, showing more consistency in doing damage to pitcher mistakes. With a build very similar to Blash but even more athleticism, Wilson is a prototypical right field profile guy, with a big arm to go along with his offensive abilities.

Wilson is burdened with the label of having a "Stanford swing", but that stereotype isn't something that the M's front office believes in. And his tools on the field are already translating at the plate and on defense. "Great work ethic, great attitude," former Everett manager Rob Mummau told me on Austin, adding, "He's got a chance to be a Gold Glover out there." And as another right-handed hitter and outfielder in an organization in need of both, he, too, could be pushed through the system as he finds success.

Wilson isn't as polished as some top prospects, but he oozes physical abilities. He's already starting to put some of those tools to work and getting results. As his work ethic and instincts continue to help him grow his game, Wilson is clearly the one to watch on Clinton's roster this spring.

(tip of the cap to Edwin Diaz)

. . . . . . . . .

The Mariners have generally been looked at as an organization with more pitching than hitting, and half of the top-20 -- including four of the top five -- prospects in our countdown were pitchers, but this list has only hitters on it. The reason? Seattle's impact pitching talent is either already in the big leagues or not quite scheduled to make a jump up to that level anytime soon. These players all could be fast-track guys to the major leagues for the Mariners, and that makes their 2014 season a very important one in their development and makes them the ones to watch.

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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