Obviously, the Seattle Mariners are known for their impressive crop of top starting pitching prospects. With Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker, many feel like the Mariners have the best top three in the league. They haven't been lacking for hype, and according to this MLB.com Top 100, Walker ranks fourth in baseball, Hultzen ranks eighth, and Paxton ranks 78th. Before this year, Baseball America ranked Walker #20, Hultzen #21, and Paxton #52. People are fond of these pitchers and the pitches that they throw.
This season, Hultzen pushed double-A to the ground and repeatedly kicked it in the ribs. Hultzen just beat the living shit out of the league, then he was promoted to triple-A and mysteriously lost his command. And control. Lost 'em both. He still got his strikeouts, but in between all of the strikeouts were walks, which was and is perplexing. You could point to fatigue, and maybe it was just simple fatigue, but it was a new thing, a new struggle.
Walker had success in double-A before kind of fading down the stretch. Through June, he struck out more than 23 percent of the batters he faced. From July, he struck out just over 19 percent of the batters he faced. He started allowing home runs down the stretch and his August/September ERA was 5.51. Walker only turned 20 just over a month ago.
Paxton pitched well in double-A around a non-arm injury. After getting healthy and making his return, he showed improved control, although location still isn't his strong suit. Batters slugged just .323 against Paxton, but they reached base at a .334 clip. The Southern League overall had an average OBP of .333. There is nothing more important than keeping opponents off base, because opponents who don't reach base are opponents who are out.
Erasmo Ramirez is 22. He's never ranked in the Baseball America top 100, and he's never ranked in the Baseball America Seattle Mariners top 10. Last time around, Francisco Martinez, Chance Ruffin, and Phillips Castillo ranked in the Baseball America Seattle Mariners top 10. Ramirez has a career minor-league K/BB of 5.1.
Ramirez has now broken into the majors, beating the others to the punch, and he's found some success in the Mariners' starting rotation. Over 34.2 innings, he's allowed three homers and three unintentional walks while striking out 32. He's thrown better than two-thirds of his pitches for strikes and he's allowed the same rate of contact as Felix Hernandez. His fastball has averaged about 93 miles per hour and it's gotten into the 96/97 neighborhood. Of 57 swings at his changeup, 28 have whiffed. It should also be said that Erasmo Ramirez is very little.
Ramirez has been the unheralded starting-pitcher prospect, but so far he's the guy who's gotten into the majors and had some success. The big three probably have more raw talent than Ramirez does, and they certainly generate more hype, but none of them have yet succeeded with Tacoma. I want to ask you guys a question and I'm very interested in seeing how these results shake out. I know it seems kind of subjective but it's not, really. There are no right or wrong answers, yet.