Top-drawer talent plentiful in Mariners' system
The future success of every Major League team lies largely in its Minor League pipeline. With that in mind, MLB.com is looking at the top 10 prospects from each farm system, with only those who still maintain rookie status entering 2011 being eligible.
When the Seattle Mariners obtained Cliff Lee before the 2010 season, they obviously had a different outcome to the season in mind.
Of course, to paraphrase Robert Burns, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and the Mariners ended up dealing Lee to Texas last summer for some young talent. Justin Smoak gets most of the pub, but the Mariners also got some intriguing upper-level arms in the trade in reliever Josh Lueke and starter Blake Beavan, who comes in at No. 9 on the organization's Top 10 list (see below).
"The first time to get traded, for anybody, you're just kind of shell-shocked," said Beavan, who was initially taken in the first round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft by the Rangers. "I was happy to go to the new organization, try to get to know the guys, build some camaraderie.
"I was fortunate to go up to Tacoma this year, be around some of those guys. Some of the guys that played in Texas with me were there, with Smoak and Lueke, so it wasn't like I was going into a room of strangers."
The 6-foot-7 right-hander spent most of last season at the Double-A level, making the Texas League All-Star team and being named that circuit's Pitcher of the Year, even though he was traded away from it after 17 starts. After three starts in the Southern League post-trade, Beavan made seven with Triple-A Tacoma, the team he'll likely begin the 2011 season with. There were some positive moments -- including getting to make two postseason starts as the Rainiers went on to win the Pacific Coast League championship -- but he finished with a 6.47 ERA over 40 1/3 innings of work.
The lumps he took were not without lessons, however. Now a bit more familiar with his surroundings, Beavan is in big league camp showing the big league staff what he can do for the first time.
"Just consistency, pitch after pitch, knowing what you're doing, not just going out there and throwing, having a purpose with whatever you do, on and off the field," Beavan said about what he learned. "In Triple-A, it's kind of up to you to do what you need to do. That level is so close to the big leagues, they expect everything, no excuses, just go out there and handle business, put yourself in a position where your team can get a win. I'm going to keep trying to throw strikes, giving the offense the chance to score some runs and getting the defense some work to help me out."
Mariners Top 10
1. Dustin Ackley, 2B: He began his pro career very slowly, came on, earned a promotion to Triple-A and finished by winning Arizona Fall League Most Valuable Player honors. The next stop for MLB.com's No. 5 prospect (No. 1 among all 2B prospects) is second base in Seattle. He's still learning the position, but his advanced bat and speed are pretty much ready. If it's not Opening Day, he'll reach the bigs at some point soon this season.
2. Michael Pineda, RHP: Pineda could join Ackley in Seattle this year. The No. 13 prospect in the Top 50 (and No. 4 among RHP prospects) is getting a serious look in camp this spring for a spot in the rotation. He's got the size (6-foot-5) and the stuff (fastball, slider and changeup) to succeed, with a ceiling as a No. 2 starter behind ace Felix Hernandez.
3. Nick Franklin, SS: Ranked No. 38 on the Top 50 (and No. 2 among shortstops), Franklin has an intriguing combination of power and speed that allowed him to be one of three players in the Minors to have 20 homers and 20 steals. He's got the skills to stay at short but might be an even better second baseman down the road. He jumped two levels from Class A Clinton to Double-A West Tennessee at the end of 2010, and that's where his 2011 campaign could begin.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
5. Taijuan Walker, RHP: A terrific athlete who played more than one sport in high school, Walker is still obviously learning the nuances of pitching. What he does have is a live arm, projectability and plenty of athleticism on the mound. He can crank the fastball into the mid-90s already and has shown a plus breaking ball. He won't be rushed, but he has the chance to be an outstanding starter.
6. Mauricio Robles, LHP: In his first full season as a Mariner (he came over in the Jarrod Washburn deal), Robles pitched across two levels and is now knocking on the door of the Majors. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he's got a plus fastball to go along with a very good changeup and a curve. He doesn't have the highest ceiling in the world -- think No. 4 starter or maybe a setup man -- but he's not far off from helping out in Seattle.
7. Johermyn Chavez, OF: While some of it undoubtedly came as a result of playing for High Desert in the California League, Chavez's 32 homers and 96 RBIs in 2010, both of which were good for second in the Mariners organization last year, can't be discounted. His power is legit, and he improved as an overall hitter. The move up to Double-A should provide a good test for the 22-year-old corner outfielder.
8. Dan Cortes, RHP: Sometimes a change of scenery and a change in role is all a young player needs. Cortes joined the Mariners in July 2009 and made the move from starter to reliever last year. That enabled him to move from Double-A to Triple-A and up to the big leagues late last year. Command is still an issue, but not as much in short stints, where his power stuff plays up. He's got a shot to make the Mariners' bullpen out of Spring Training.
9. Blake Beavan, RHP: He's a strike-thrower in a big, power pitcher's body, but when Beavan is on, he's got three decent pitches he can throw for strikes at any point. He goes right after hitters and mixes his offerings well. He could be a future workhorse in the back half of the rotation and might get the chance to show what he can do in Seattle at some point this year.
10. Alex Liddi, 3B: The Italian import showed his California League breakout in 2009 was no fluke with an All-Star season in Double-A and his second straight Futures Game appearance. He's still learning the nuances of the game, yet he'll be in Triple-A in 2011, just a phone call away. His defense gets mixed reviews, but he could be the Mariners' third baseman of the future.
Under the Radar
Brian Moran, LHP: This University of North Carolina product, a seventh-round selection in the 2009 Draft, is making a beeline through the Mariners' system. He began in the Midwest League and finished with a brief stint in Double-A. Combined, he had a 1.73 ERA, 78 K's and nine walks in 67 2/3 innings of work. The Mariners don't have a ton of left-handed depth in the bullpen, so Moran is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Anthony Vasquez, LHP: Guys taken as college seniors in the 18th round don't typically generate much buzz, but it's time to start paying attention to Vasquez, the USC product. He may have started 2010 too old for his level in the Midwest League, but he finished the year two levels up in Double-A. When he was done, he had led the organization with his 2.46 ERA, finished tied for second with 11 wins and was fifth with 125 K's (vs. just 24 BB). He's now at the upper levels at age 24.
Hitter of the Year -- Nick Franklin, SS
He'll show his first full season was no fluke, pulling off his second straight 20-20 season, all while making the jump full-time to Double-A at age 20.
Pitcher of the Year -- Taijuan Walker, RHP
Some might feel Walker will move a bit slowly, as a raw high school arm. While still learning how to pitch, though, Walker will force his way into the Clinton rotation and, even if not for a full season, be among the organizational leaders in ERA and strikeouts.