Catcher Zunino, left-hander Hultzen among high-rated talent thriving in Minors
By Greg Johns
SEATTLE -- When MLB.com ranked the top prospects in baseball heading into the 2013 season, the Mariners had the most premier young players of any Major League club. And with the Minor League season now in full swing, those top prospects are getting their chance to show what they can do.
Catcher Mike Zunino, the club's top-rated position prospect, has wasted no time backing up that reputation, as he racked up four home runs, 18 RBIs and a .303 batting average in his first eight games with Triple-A Tacoma.
But Zunino, the 23rd-ranked prospect in MLB.com's Top 100, is far from alone on the Prospect Watch list. In fact, he's just the third-ranked player in the Mariners' own system, behind right-hander Taijuan Walker (No. 5) and lefty Danny Hultzen (No. 18).
where to watch
Where the Mariners' Top 20 prospects are starting the season:
Click here for the complete Top 20 list on Prospect Watch.
Walker, 20, is pitching for Double-A Jackson, where he was winless in his first two starts, but posted a 3.60 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 10 innings. Hultzen, 23, is off to a strong showing with Tacoma, going 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 16 2/3 innings over his first three starts.
The fourth Mariners' prospect in the Top 50 is infielder Nick Franklin (No. 47), who missed the first week of the season with illness, but he has since hit .350 in his first five games back with Tacoma.
Those are just the cream of the crop of a Mariners farm system that had the most wins and highest winning percentage of any Major League organization in 2012.
With the new Minor League campaign fully under way now, you can keep track of all the Mariners' top prospects throughout the season on MLBPipeline.com and Prospect Watch. Get scores, stats, news, schedules, tickets and more for all of the Mariners' Minor League teams on MLBPipeline.com/Mariners.
Both Tacoma and Jackson have a wealth of quality prospects this season. In addition to Zunino and Franklin, Tacoma has four position players with Major League experience in outfielders Eric Thames and Carlos Peguero, third baseman Alex Liddi and shortstop Carlos Triunfel.
The Rainiers' starting rotation features promising prospects Hultzen, James Paxton and Andrew Carraway, as well as veterans Jeremy Bonderman and Brian Sweeney, while the bullpen includes well-regarded youngsters Logan Bawcom, Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina, Brian Moran and Lucas Luetge.
Two injured youngsters -- infielder Stefen Romero and pitcher Erasmo Ramirez -- opened the year on the disabled list, but both figure to be with the Rainiers as soon as they get healthy. Romero, out since the middle of Spring Training with a strained oblique, just began a rehab stint with Class A High Desert, while Ramirez is expected to return soon from a strained triceps muscle.
Jackson has its own share of top-shelf position talent, including infielders Brad Miller, Steven Proscia and Vinnie Catricala, outfielders Julio Morban, Leon Landry and Francisco Martinez and catcher John Hicks. And the Generals pitching staff is an interesting mix, with Walker joined in the rotation by former Mariners starter Hector Noesi and converted reliever Chance Ruffin, plus youngsters James Gillheeney and Roenis Elias. The bullpen includes hard-throwing closer Carson Smith, the latest in the Jackson pipeline that last year sent Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps to the big club.
Debuts and Draftees
Zunino is obviously the 2012 Draft pick on the fastest track, as he's opened at Tacoma after playing two months of low Class A and Double-A ball last year after being selected with the No. 3 overall pick out of Florida. Among the other Top 10 round Draft picks already seeing action this spring, shortstop Chris Taylor is playing for High Desert, while third baseman Patrick Kivlehan, shortstop Timothy Lopes, first baseman Taylor Ard and left-hander Tyler Pike are all with Class A Clinton.
Another youngster to watch at Clinton is outfielder Gabriel Guerrero, the 19-year-old nephew of former MLB standout Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero is ranked No. 11 among the Mariners' Top 20 prospects after being named Most Valuable Player of the Dominican Summer League last year.
Teams on TV
The Rainiers are among a growing number of teams whose games are available on MiLB.TV. The 2013 MiLB.TV package will include more than 3,500 Minor League games streamed live, as well as games archived for on-demand streaming soon after completion.