Harvesting Opinion: Seattle Mariners–Top Minor League Arms

Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Each week, a handful of FanSided’s MLB sites send S2S a question relating to their team’s minor league system, and we answer them in this space–each question gets one article devoted to answering it. In this way, we make sure we regularly get to discuss hot-button issues relating to the systems of every team, as we cover the teams in a regular, recurring cycle.

Please note that any statistics used may be a day or two out of date, as we prepare our answers over the course of a week.

In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our Seattle Mariners site SoDo Mojo:

How does the combination of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Jose Campos (you can even include Victor Sanchez in there too) compare to the top minor league arms in other organizations?

Nathaniel says: 
That’s certainly a nice bunch of arms. Hultzen, Paxton, Walker, and Campos are all likely to make our Top 100 Prospects list. The only other teams likely to place four pitchers on that list are the Rangers, Blue Jays, Nationals, Padres, Royals, Cardinals, and Diamondbacks, although our list has yet to be finalized and that could change. In any case, though, that rough estimate would put the Mariners’ top pitching prospects in the top quarter.

I would certainly put the Rangers ahead of Seattle, but I think one could make an argument that the Mariners’ top four or five guys are right there with those of any other organization.

The biggest thing working against Seattle in such a comparison is that so few of their pitching prospects are all that “proven” beyond just a handful of scouting reports and one season. Paxton’s only pitched one year, Walker and Campos are stuck in the low minors still, and Hultzen and Sanchez have yet to throw a professional pitch. Given the attrition rate of pitching prospects, the nascence of the quintet has to provide some trepidation.

The flip side of that, of course, is that all five currently harbor a ton of potential, which is why they’re on the list despite their inexperience. That means that, while the overall “prospect ranking” of their top arms would be in the 4-8 range, most likely, what actually results from this group could have more variability—the entire group could flame out, or they could form the core of an unstoppable rotation.

That negative extreme should be kept in mind as much as the positive, but there’s no question that few organizations boast as exciting of a group of young hurlers.

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Wally says:
They are certainly in the discussion for the best quartet of starters in the minors, but as Nathaniel mentions, it’s hard to put them at the top given their ages and limited experience. Paxton (22) is the senior member of the 4, and he has just 95.0 innings of affiliated ball under his belt. Walker and Campos (both 19) have 103.2 and 171.1 innings, respectively, but neither has reached Double-A yet, or even High-A, yet. That’s not surprising, given their age, but it does dampen my optimism on both right now. That’s not because they aren’t fine prospects, but simply because they haven’t made the jump to AA, which really separates the real prospects from the “mirages.” Hultzen (21) hasn’t thrown a pitch yet as a professional, and while it’s certainly reasonable to be excited about his future, can you place him ahead of top guys from other organizations that are more battle-tested?

That aside, the 3 that have pitched in 2011 have turned in fine seasons. While they lack experience against advanced hitters, they are getting results, and can only pitch at the level they are assigned to.

Paxton, limited to 4 starts in independent ball last season, turned in a 2.73 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 4.8 BB/9 and 12.9 SO/9 in 56.0 IP with Low-A Clinton. That alone is enough to get excited about, considering transitioning to professional ball is no easy task. But then he pitched to the tune of a 1.85 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 3.0 BB/9 and 11.8 SO/9 in 39.0 IP for Double-A Jackson, which is extremely impressive

Campos spent the season in the Northwest League (A-) pitching for the Everett AquaSox, and of the four, he might be the guy that I am most intrigued by. In 81.1 IP he had a 2.32 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 1.4 BB/9 and 9.4 SO/9. Those numbers are eye-catching, to be sure, but what gets me excited is that he has improved his WHIP, H/9, BB/9, SO/9 and SO/BB in each of his three seasons in professional baseball.

In 96.2 IP with the Clinton LumberKings (A), Walker had a 2.89 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 3.6 BB/9 and 10.5 SO/9. While those numbers are off a little from his seven-inning stint last year in the Rookie League in 2010, that might make his 2011 performance even more impressive. We’re talking about a kid who pitched his first full season of pro ball in the Midwest League at just 18 years of age.

The bottom line is that I like all 4 arms we’re talking about here, but I have a hard time matching them up against the top arms of other organizations. They are collectively in very different places in their development from the top quartets of many other teams. I’d definitely put them in the top-5 out of the 30 but couldn’t justify putting them ahead of the Rangers, for example.

For more on the Mariners, check out SoDo Mojo!

Follow us on Twitter: Nathaniel (@stoltz_baseball), Wally (@thebaseballfish) and James (@JAYRC_MCB). You can also keep up to date with all things S2S by liking our Facebook page.

Topics: Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Jose Campos, Seattle Mariners, Taijuan Walker, Victor Sanchez

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