SeattleClubhouse: Minor League Mailbag

In this, our first edition of the SeattleClubhouse: Minor League Mailbag (Week of February 4th, 2013), we talk about a handful of the top Seattle Mariners prospects and give a glimpse of what we hope will become a highly reader-interactive weekly piece. Check out our maiden voyage!

Welcome to the first Seattle Mariners Minor League Mailbag at SeattleClubhouse.

This feature will be a weekly edition to the SeattleClubhouse publication schedule on Thursdays once the 2013 season is underway. In addition to answering questions, SeattleClubhouse will include weekly and bi-weekly columns chronicling news from throughout the organization. It is our hope that providing such a format will allow you, our readers, to obtain thorough and attentive answers to your questions.

Future renditions of this feature can be expected to be set-up as follows:

• Questions & Answers
• Columns

For this issue of the 'Mail Bag', instead of providing columns, Seattle Clubhouse will provide column ideas (on which we welcome feedback) that we might be looking to incorporate into future issues of this publication. Right after we get through some reader questions!

At what positions does SeattleClubhouse see Nick Franklin, Stefen Romero, and Brad Miller breaking into the Major Leagues?

The Seattle Mariners organization has not been shy regarding their interest in acclimating young prospects to multiple fielding positions. This can be seen throughout a number of affiliates over the past two seasons.

Brad Miller is the lone prospect of the group to have fielded from a singular position in the minor leagues, taking the field in 148 games at shortstop since being drafted in 2011. While Miller's tools (range, arm strength) are sufficient to handle the position, his outlook at the position has been hampered by his sometimes less-than-ideal footwork and errant throws. He played strong at shortstop for Jackson in late-season 2012, recording marked improvement with a .969 fielding percentage. If you follow Miller through his baseball career (Clemson, USA Baseball), improving on defense is a trend that follows him as he becomes more experienced with each level. I wouldn't expect the organization to rush Miller off shortstop and as was detailed in his profile in the Top-50, SeattleClubhouse heard less and less of the defensive concerns from people that saw Miller regularly as the season wore on.

Nick Franklin starred for Peoria in the Arizona Fall League for the second straight off-season in October and November. His bat led him to be one of the top scouted players of the event, but his defense from second base caught the eye of all who watched. Playing almost exclusively up the middle -- due in part to the construction of the roster -- Franklin showed plus range and arm strength in Arizona and one former scout praised his work to us late in the AFL season. While the short-term in the Mariners system may require him to continue at shortstop, he certainly made himself more valuable to the organization with his defensive play at second over the past year.

As for which position he prefers, his preference is to play the game of baseball, "They could put me in center field and I'd still be happy. As long as I'm in the lineup playing, I'll be more than happy." While it's unlikely that Franklin will see time in center field, the sentiment and his dedication to the game of baseball is well-spoken.

The majority of Stefen Romero's time in professional ball thus far has taken place at second base. The Mariners though have announced they will utilize Romero at a number of positions in the upcoming season; thought to include first base, second base, third base, and corner outfield.

SeattleClubhouse had the chance to sit down with Stefen for an interview during FanFest and he was quick to point out that he's made fielding transitions before and welcomes the opportunity to become more sound defensively on the baseball diamond on a professional level. "I don't think it is tough to acclimate because I've moved around already -- I played third base in college, I played shortstop in high school, played some first base in college and played some outfield in Clinton", he said. As for mentally adjusting as he bounces around the diamond, that appears to bother him little, "If you're learning a new position you just have to work fundamentally to get sound at each position and get better every time. Offensively, I don't see it as affecting that side of my game so I don't give that part of the matter any concern."

By all accounts, it certainly appears that Romero is prepared to attack his 'Player of the Year' encore season from any position the organization throws at him. And he'll take that bat with him wherever he winds up defensively.

What did SeattleClubhouse think of the season Taijuan Walker posted?
Matt – Issaquah, WA.

Comparisons to Dwight Gooden have always been present for Walker. He is built much from the same mold, while highly athletic much like the former New York Mets All-Star. While Gooden debuted in the major leagues at 19-years old, Walker experienced a hiccup in Jackson (Double-A) at the same age in 2012. Don't expect that to diminish the comparisons, Walker is a stronger pitcher moving forward because of it.

Early season, Walker kept pace with arguably the two most talented pitchers in the Southern League at the time.

Player ERA FIP GB% BABIP K% KS% (Swinging Ks) HR/9
Tyler Skaggs 4.24 3.16 33.3% .370 34.3% 23.2% 1.54
Trevor Bauer 1.26 3.06 40.3% .283 31.4% 26.3% 0.31
Taijuan Walker 1.64 2.38 43.4% .288 30.2% 30.2% 0.41

It wasn't until June that Walker began to come back down to earth, posting an 0-3 record alongside a 9.15 ERA. With those struggles, the 'rumors', of course, started flying -- is it mechanical, is he not ready to be on this stage?

"Physically I feel fine. Everything feels the same, I just hit a bump," Walker told during this year's Futures Game. Adding what he seemed to think as a reason for the fall off with, "Lately I've been a one-pitch pitcher. I need to show my curveball."

He improved markedly over his final eight starts, nearly doubling his K/BB ratio from his previous seven outings (1.43 to 2.83). Displaying not only control over his curveball, but of all his offerings as a whole. After finding his way back on track, he would say, "You just have to trust yourself. Everyone's going to have struggles at some point when they're a pro. You just have to work to get yourself out. I think I'm there now."

While his season has been characterized as a set-back by some analysts, thanks in part to one of baseball's most medieval measuring tools (ERA), it's a story that cannot be summarized in such short context. Walker may have left some statisticians on the fence regarding this upcoming season, but it is easy to tell from his late season improvement that he turned a positive corner. recently ranked Walker as the second overall pitching prospect in baseball, taking the fifth spot in their 'Top-100' for the 2013 season, the same spot hung on him here in the Top-100 that was released last month.

After the regular season wrapped for the Generals, Walker performed very well in the playoffs for Jackson, too. And no better symbol of his late-season surge can be found outside the Jackson Generals eventual championship appearance against the Mobile Bay Bears, the team built by the two pitchers in the table above.

Now that Winter Ball has wrapped up, which players impressed SeattleClubhouse most?
Sarah – Bremerton, WA

Discounting the Arizona Fall League, where a number of Seattle's prospects put their stamp on off-season ball, three players stood out for reasons all their own; Yoervis Medina, Ji-Man Choi, and Danny Farquhar.

(Full Winter League Stats for the Mariners can be found here.)

Farquhar, traded to Seattle in the deal that sent Ichiro to the Yankees, has unanimously (until this point) been viewed as the complimentary piece to D.J. Mitchell in the deal above. The right-hander took an initial step towards proving otherwise with Tacoma last season, recording a 0.54 ERA over 16.2 innings pitched. He picked up right where he left off this off-season, leading all Seattle Mariners Winter League relievers in strikeouts (30) and K/BB ratio at 5.00, throwing 24 innings (1.50 ERA) in Venezuela. His efforts were enough to be mentioned at Fangraphs among some of the top arms of the off-season.

Medina, who I covered after last season in Prospect Evolution style, was nearly as impressive as Farquhar over 30 innings of work. Medina, who was a 2012 bullpen convert, struck out 25 batters on his way to recording a 2.40 ERA. Friend of SeattleClubhouse, Alfonso Saer Jr., who covers Venezuelan baseball was impressed by Medina. Citing his "amazing slider" as one reason he believes Medina could see time in the Major Leagues this coming season. A sentiment the organization seemingly echoes as Medina remains on their 40-man roster moving within a week of reporting to camp.

Choi played 66 games in 2012 for Single-A affiliate, the Clinton Lumberkings. Due in part to participating in extended Spring Training duties to open the season. After missing part of 2010 and the 2011 season due to various shoulder and back injuries, Choi -- a former catcher -- used the extended training to get into shape for what was a productive season at a new full-time position; first base. He continued this success in the Australian Baseball League, finishing the season ranked 8th in AVG (.309), 4th in OBP (.419), 5th in SLG (.540), 3rd in OPS (.958), 2nd in home runs (8), and 3rd in RBIs (31). While his positional flexibility has been cut due to the lingering issues mentioned above, his bat and plate discipline make him a prospect to watch.

Check out this promotional poster for Choi and the Adelaide Bite this winter.

Which minor league player(s) does SeattleClubhouse see most being effected by the recent changes at Safeco Field?
Jacob – Pullman, WA

There are a number of guys in this organization who will undoubtedly find themselves taking advantage of the new wall dimensions of Safeco Field. To be more specific, SeattleClubhouse sees two 'prospects' on the 40-man roster who could benefit the greatest. Those two are Carlos Peguero and Julio Morban.

Peguero undoubtedly has some of the most impressive raw power in the minor leagues. Possessing the kind of power where even a fastball in on the hands can disappear into the stands. While his skill-set has yet to make him successful in the Major Leagues (.191 hitter over 63 games), he posted his highest OBP (.366) since rookie-ball in Tacoma this past season. Among hitters over 300 plate appearances in the Pacific Coast League, Peguero placed first in HR/Con (Home Runs/Contact) at 11.6% and HR/OFB (Home Runs/Outfield Fly-Balls) at 29.2%.

While Morban has always been labeled as having 'projectable power', he flashed that power in 2012. The outfielder hit 17 home runs in 86 games played, having hit just nine home runs in 136 previous games played. Spending the majority of the season with High Desert, his 17.2 LD% (Line Drive %) for the season easily eclipsed the California League average of 14.2%. He additionally posted well above league average ratios for HR/Con at 7.2% and HR/OFB at 27.9%. Morban could see the Major Leagues as early as 2014 and could benefit greatly from the shortened fences.

As stated above, here are column ideas for future publications of ‘Mail Bag'. Reach out to us on twitter (@randallball or @JPDobner) or on the forums here at SeattleClubhouse to add suggestions or support those listed:

• Weekend Matchups – Projecting prospects to keep an eye on over the weekend – provided probable matchups and annual splits (hitting/pitching).

• Coach Profiles – The Seattle Mariners undoubtedly have one of the top systems in baseball; this is due in part to the players and coaches within. This column would profile those coaches, helping you the reader get to know them a little better.

• Affiliate of the Week – Using Win/Loss records and provided RF/RA (Runs For/Runs Against) – profiling the ‘Affiliate of the Week'.

• Stat Match – Comparing a successful player, from the week that was, to a player who posted similar numbers over that time in the Major Leagues.

• Major League Link – It is often ‘beyond ironic' how closely tied minor league players are to those in the levels above them. ‘Major League Link' would profile a minor league player with significant close ties to a player in the Major Leagues.

Looking for more Mariners player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse Contributing Writer Josh Dobner on Twitter at @JPDobner and site Editor Rick Randall at @randallball.

MadFriars Top Stories