The Arizona Fall League, the premier prospect showcase league in baseball, kicks off play for it's 21st season today. The Seattle Mariners have seven players participating again this season, but they have changed their affiliated team from the Peoria Javelinas to the Surprise Saguaros. Surprise's roster has 20 pitchers and 15 position players from the Mariners, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers.
Taijuan Walker is one of the biggest names on the roster, and he gets the start in the opener this afternoon. The 22-year-old right-hander pitched to a 2.61 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 38 innings in eight appearances (five starts) with Seattle this season and also made 16 starts in the minors, striking out 91 in 82 1/3. Despite Walker having big league experience and being a well-known name to Seattle fans and those who follow baseball's top prospects, he is still the second youngest pitcher on Surprise's roster.
Walker is joined on the pitching staff by fellow right-handers Matt Anderson, Matt Brazis and Stephen Landazuri, each of whom made at least 13 appearances at the Double-A level for the Jackson Generals in 2014. Brazis was recognized as the Relief Pitcher of the Year for the Mariners' organization after posting a 2.36 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and striking out 84 in 72 1/3 innings this season. Anderson pitched as a starter in Double-A before being moved down to High-A High Desert and pitching out of the bullpen to finish up his 2014 season. Landazuri's first season at Double-A was an up-and-down one, but the 22-year-old former 22nd round pick pitched the second most innings of his pro career (95 2/3) and had the fourth lowest H/9 rate (7.3) among M's farmhands with 10 or more starts in 2014.
While there is a lot of promising upside in that group of pitchers -- with Brazis (28) and Landazuri (22) being low round picks and Anderson being an undrafted free agent signee -- Seattle's most intriguing prospect is among the three hitters the team sent to the desert.
D.J. Peterson, fresh off of his first full season of minor league ball in which he reached Double-A and played very well there, is a prospect that Seattle fans and baseball fans are watching closely. With the Mariners' needs for offense at the big league level and Peterson's pedigree and success to date, there is some thought that the 22-year-old has a chance to break camp with Seattle in 2015. The right-handed hitter was named the M's Minor League Co-Player of the Year (with Jordy Lara) after hitting a combined .297/.360/.552 with 31 doubles, 31 home runs and 111 RBI -- good for second in the minors overall -- across two levels (High-A and Double-A) for Seattle in 2014. Peterson was one of six players in MiLB to eclipse 30 doubles and home runs for the year and he was tied for ninth in the minors in total bases, tallying 273 in 123 games.
Peterson is joined on the hitting side by Patrick Kivlehan, himself both a Mariners' Minor League Award Winner (Unsung Hero Award) and a 100+ RBI hitter (with 103). Kivlehan also split his season between High Desert and Jackson, hitting a combined .295/.363/.507 in 138 games. Seattle's fourth round pick in the 2012 draft, the former four-year Rutgers defensive back is hitting .299 in his three seasons in the system and started to play the outfield in the second half of the 2014 season, utilizing his speed. Catcher John Hicks, who made it to Tacoma in 2014, is the last M's prospect with Surprise. The 25-year-old fourth rounder from 2011 has thrown out 47% of basestealers in his four minor league seasons and carries a .756 OPS. He was a college teammate of Danny Hultzen and Chris Taylor at Virginia.
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