Top Prospects: Danny Hultzen, LHP, Mariners

SEATTLE -- For many ballplayers the end of August heralds the arrival of another offseason, which is spent working out, watching the postseason and figuring out how best to ensure that their team isn't left out of the next season's autumn festivities.

But for those players still trying to prove they belong on the big league stage, the changing colors of the leaves represents a proving grounds far from the eye of the casual spectator. Seven members of the Mariners' organization will play in the 2013 Arizona Fall League, joining representatives from the Phillies, Astros, Padres and Royals on the Peoria Javelinas. They will play among prospects from all 30 Major League teams in the last pit stop, for some players, on the road to the Majors.

Representing the Mariners will be pitchers Danny Hultzen, Dominic Leone, Brandon Maurer and Carson Smith, joining outfielder Stefen Romero and infielders Patrick Kivlehan and Chris Taylor.

"I think it's a step for guys to either make up time or to take the next step against really good competition, and I think it's just part of development," general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "So the guys that we've asked to go there are excited about going, I think they'll relish it and I think they'll all benefit from it."

Maurer began the year in the Mariners' starting rotation, but he struggled. He was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma in late May, and then returned to Seattle on July 27 as a long reliever.

Hultzen -- the No. 25 overall prospect according to MLB.com -- has made just five Triple-A starts this season because of irritation in his left shoulder. He will be able to make up for lost time this fall.

"In terms of the Fall League, he's getting some time to continue to do what he's doing, he'll continue his whole program," Zduriencik said. "I think he'll go there for the six weeks that the Fall League is running ... you want him to make up some of the innings he's missed in the course of the year."

The Mariners have demonstrated that if a prospect plays well in the AFL, they are willing to give him a shot at making the big league squad. Second baseman Nick Franklin played for Peoria last year, as did part-time reliever Bobby LaFromboise and catcher Mike Zunino.

The rosters include 33 prospects who have been first-round selections in First-Year Player Drafts, as well as international players from eight countries.

"We are excited to welcome the class of 2013," AFL director Steve Cobb said. "We are proud of the role we serve in MLB's player-development process. It is our history that over 60 percent of these players will reach the Major Leagues. We want fans to know the top young talent in the game still will be playing baseball in October and November in Arizona."

Zunino begins Triple-A rehab assignment

SEA@CLE: Mariners take lead on Zunino's solo shot

SEATTLE -- On Tuesday night, catcher Mike Zunino played in his first game since breaking the hamate bone in his left hand while swinging a bat June 25.

Zunino was second in the lineup for Triple-A Tacoma in the first game of his rehab assignment, going 1-for-2 with a triple, a walk and two runs scored. Mariners manager Eric Wedge said that if all goes well, the No. 2 pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft could be back in the Majors next week.

"He'll catch about five innings today, [be the designated hitter] tomorrow, and then we'll go from there," Wedge said Tuesday. "Keep building him up so he'll be down there for the rest of this week, and we'll see where we're at."

Prior to the injury, Zunino impressed coaches and teammates with his abilities behind the plate and in the batter's box. In the five games leading up to the injury, Zunino was hitting .333 with a home run and five walks."

Worth noting

• Zduriencik said that Hultzen was impressive in a throwing session on Tuesday. Hultzen, the No. 2 pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, has missed much of the season with shoulder issues. Zduriencik said that ideally the lefty will throw again before Tacoma's season ends on Monday.

"We'd like to get him on the mound before the Tacoma season ends, just to get his feet on the ground again," Zduriencik said. "Maybe two innings or so. We'll monitor that and see how he feels [Wednesday]."