MLB.com released its Top 50 prospects list on Tuesday, and the Mariners had three of the top 38 young players on the board with second baseman Dustin Ackley (No. 5), right-handed pitcher Michael Pineda (13) and shortstop Nick Franklin (38).
The rankings further reinforce the belief that the Mariners are building a strong core of young talent in their system and should begin seeing dividends of that plan soon.
"I think it says a lot about what we've done and where we're headed," said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik. "I've said all along, despite some of the disappointments at the big league level, a lot of good things are going on under the surface.
"Guys coming up via the draft and international signings are important to creating a foundation and building this thing from the ground up in order to sustain the Major League club for years to come. It takes time. But having three young guys in the top 50 spots in baseball says a lot about where we're headed."
Both Ackley and Pineda appear on the verge of providing dividends this year, though the two 22-year-olds took different paths to reach this point.
Ackley was the team's first-round Draft pick -- and second choice overall -- in 2009, so it's no surprise he's regarded as one of the top handful of up-and-coming players. After getting off to a slow start at Double-A West Tenn last year, the former North Carolina All-American gradually adapted and hit .274 for Tacoma after getting promoted to Triple-A for the final two months.
He then dominated the Arizona Fall League, winning MVP honors after batting .424 and leading the circuit in nearly every offensive category.
The Mariners expect him to compete for the second-base job in Spring Training and get a shot with the big club by midseason, if not sooner, depending on how he continues handling his shift to a new position as well as Major League pitching.
"Mentally you have to appreciate how he's handled everything," Zduriencik said. "Starting out the way he did last year and struggling early, then coming back as strong as he did, I think it says a lot about what's inside this kid's approach and makeup. And that's what really takes good players over the top.
"He's obviously a very good hitter," said Zduriencik, "and we think he's going to be a very good player for a long time."
Pineda, who just turned 22 last week, also figures in the Mariners' short- and long-term plans. The Dominican native, signed as an international free agent in '05, will be given every shot to win a spot in the club's starting rotation this spring.
Although he's thrown just 12 games at the Triple-A level, Pineda has dominated every step of the way through the system, and the Mariners believe he's physically ready to compete in the big leagues now.
"You're talking about a 6-foot-5, 245-pound guy with a 100-mph fastball as a starting pitcher, which is very rare," Zduriencik said. "He's young, but he has all the earmarks of a top-of-the-order starter for years to come."
Then there's Franklin, the youngest of the bunch. The shortstop out of Florida won't turn 20 until March, but has already opened eyes by hitting .281 with 23 home runs and 65 RBIs in 129 games with Class A Clinton in the Midwest League last season.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder was selected by Seattle out of high school with a first-round supplemental pick in '09 after a strong push from Mariners amateur scouting director Tom McNamara, and he now appears to be a rising star.
"You have to give Tom a ton of credit on this guy," Zduriencik said. "He kind of went against the grain with him on the 27th pick, and he's not disappointed. He's a switch-hitting offensive middle infielder with surprising power.
"There have only been two teens to put up those kinds of offensive numbers in the Midwest League in terms of home runs, and the other was Prince Fielder. That says an awful lot. We think he can be a shortstop and middle-of-the-order hitter, and that's a tremendous commodity."