FanPost

Mariners Minor Leagues: 2 prospects that I'd trade and 2 that I wouldn't

For the last week I've actually been working on a different fanpost. After spending a few days researching and over a good day or two of writing, I've still come to the conclusion that after 4,000+ words I still don't know what I know. I still don't know how best to present my findings, or what my findings even are, but I know that something is definitely there and the numbers bear it out. I just don't want to present 5,000 words that don't tell you anything.

I could still envision Matthew ridiculing the piece, even though he's not here anymore. (And I thank him for that ridicule that makes me want to do better.)

What I did was look at the Baseball America list from 1990 and compared it to the list from 2000. I was able to grab every list from 1990 to 2010 thanks to an article from Beyond the Boxscore and then I just began going name by name adding in information that included things like WAR, and how successful the team's were that had the best prospects, but I also wanted to note which prospects had been traded when they still had value as prospects.

Finding which players to trade and which ones to keep could arguably be the crux of success in any GM's resume, despite the fact that it can largely be influenced by luck and circumstance. Though Bill Bavasi's track record was simply influenced by alcohol and old-timey black-and-white footage of Eduardo Perez.

Jack Zduriencek's history with the Mariners is a mish-mash of good and bad when it comes to trades. The moves of Cliff Lee and Michael Pineda check out as "Okay" in my book as far as process go, but the moves of Brandon Morrow and Doug Fister still turn into real headscratchers. Is Jack a prospect genius, or did his star shine too bright too early, like a white, bald M Night Shyamalan? Is Jack prepping a furious comeback on the scale of what he acquired for JJ Putz, or is he headed for a fallout of "Airbender" proportions?

I don't pretend to be smarter than all the minds in baseball. I think Jack's clearly got some next-level shit for his scouting team that I'd never understand. But after some research, I'll give my opinion just for the hell of it and/or smell of it. Every now and then for the Triunfel of it.

Taijuan Walker, SP, Jackson/Tacoma - Keep his ass!

2013, 20 at AA: 4-7, 2.46 ERA, 84 innings, 96 K/30 BB, 58 hits, 6 HBP, 4 WP, 3.2 BB/9, 10.3 K/9, 3.20 K/BB ratio, 3.22 FIP, .253 BABIP against, 48% GB

I'm sure that your first thought at this moment is "nah duh, iddyot!" but hear me out: I would technically trade any pitching prospect. Any. Stephen Strasburg the prospect? I'd trade him for the right deal. Bryce Harper the prospect? Most likely the answer would always be: No thanks.

Evidence and support: Stephen Strasburg himself.

Not that Strasburg isn't one of the top pitchers I'd start a rotation with today if I had the chance, but the attrition rate of pitchers is well-documented. Strasburg made only five starts in 2011 and was shut down before the playoffs in 2012. But I wouldn't start a franchise with a pitcher, I'd start one with a hitter. During my research, I found that the top 13 ranked hitting prospects in 1990 ended with more than double the average career WAR than the top 13 pitching prospects.

Steve Avery was the top prospect in 1990. Todd Van Poppel was the top prospect in 1991. Brien Taylor was the top prospect in 1992. Taylor was number two in 1993. Mariners prospect Roger Salkeld made the top five twice. The top ranked pitcher in 1994 was James Baldwin. The next year, it was Armando Benitez. 1996? It was Paul Wilson. Kerry Wood came along in 1997. (This is fun, right?) He was again the top ranked pitcher in 1998, followed that year by Matt White and Kris Benson. Rick Ankiel was the top pitcher in 1999 and 2000.

Finally, you get Josh Beckett as the top pitcher in 2001, the best player named on this list so far, by far. (Jon Rauch was next on the list.)

It's not just bad evaluation, though that played a part in it. A pitcher comes into the minor leagues in 1990 and during his first year in rookie ball goes 10-1 with an ERA of 1.90 and skyrockets up the list despite striking out 6.5 batters per nine inning with 3.5 walks. Injuries still afflicted Wood, Mark Prior, Ryan Anderson, Salkeld, Francisco Liriano, and countless others. Players like Ankiel were damaged because they couldn't handle the mental aspect of pitching.

There's just too much going on with pitchers that I'd definitely listen to offers on any pitching prospect, but I also think that Taijuan Walker has one of the best chances in the minor leagues of making it at the next level. He has almost everything you'd look for and I have decided on some of my own personal warning signs, though it's far from groundbreaking. Plenty of others on the internet would agree, at least to some degree.

Hits/9 under 8.0

BB/9 under 3.0

K/9 over 8.0

Walker's poor stretch in the middle of 2012 led to these final numbers at AA Jackson: 8.8 H/9, 3.6 BB/9, 8.4 K/9. At this point, he's in trouble. But a significant caveat would also be age-relative-to-league, and Walker was (if I'm not mistaken) the youngest pitcher in AA. So give him some time off and let him repeat the level, still as one of the youngest pitchers in AA:

6.2 H/9, 3.2 BB/9, 10.3 K/9

Nice, dude. Sweet, dude.

The walks are still higher than you'd like overall, but as has been pointed out to death, he improves every week. Walker lowered his BB/PA from 15% in April to 7.1% in May, and then to 4.5% in June. Meanwhile, his K/PA rose from 26.7% in April, after a slight dip to 24.6% in May, to 31.3% in June.

Walker's numbers in Tacoma will be important but taken with the same grain of salt as we gave to Walker for his numbers in Jackson last season. He's on pace to be a part of some team's major league rotation at this time in 2014, and I would certainly be rooting for that team to be the Mariners.

But why would we even entertain the thought?

The classic idea is that every July, good teams trade prospects for veterans and bad teams trade veterans for prospects. It's hard to work out a deal between the Mariners and the White Sox at this time, because neither team is probably focused on finding a veteran player. Players on the trading block are typically "rentals" and the Mariners need guys that are going to be here not only in 2014, but beyond.

However, in the offseason there could be opportunities available for prospect-for-proven trades and I'm sure that the M's would be involved as they have been in recent years.

Think that prospect evaluation has gotten so much better since 1990 that now we have to believe that any top 25 pitcher is definitely going to work out? The top 10 pitchers from 2010:

Stephen Strasburg (Spent one year on DL)

Brian Matusz (Now in relief)

Neftali Feliz (Now in relief and on 60-day DL)

Madison Bumgarner (Good)

Martin Perez (In third year in AAA, just made a start for the Rangers)

Jeremy Hellickson (#6 prospect in 2011, mixed results in majors)

Aroldis Chapman (Now in relief, though amazing)

Tyler Matzek (A bad AA pitcher)

Casey Kelly (Hasn't pitched this year, pitched sparingly last year)

Kyle Drabek (Bad and on the 60-day DL)

You think that Walker is more highly regarded than Matusz? Or Feliz? Or maybe our memories just want us to believe we thought that Matusz would really just suck. Important to note that in the case of Matusz, he was ranked first for being the #4 overall pick in the draft and then the next year because he posted dominating numbers... as a 22-year-old in high-A and double-A ball. Enough to suspect that maybe we needed to see more of this guy above AA.

Walker needs the rest of this year and then some of next year at AAA, but the fact that he's only 20 is comforting.

James Paxton, SP, Tacoma - Trade his... Butt!

I don't want to seem like a jerk, so maybe substituting "ass" for "butt" here is less harsh. Or maybe I'm just a no-talent bum.

The time for trading Paxton may be too late, but the warning signs were early. Paxton pitched 56 innings for Clinton in 2011, striking out an impressive 80 batters (12.9 K/9) but the other numbers were worrisome. Paxton was 22 and single-A ball and walked 4.8 batters per nine innings. His promotion that year was encouraging (AA Jackson, 39 innings, 28 hits, 51 K, 13 BB) but it was only 39 innings. And the injury bug was apparent early too.

Paxton went back to Jackson in 2012, getting in 106.1 innings and posting 9.3 K/9, but he also had 8.1 H/9 (that's a no-no) and 4.6 BB/9 (that's a big no-no.) I realize that luck and BABIP influence H/9 but it's just a trend I've noticed during my research and I prefer a pitcher to be under 8.0.

This season, Paxton has lowered BB/9 to 4.0 (still too high) but his H/9 has gone all the way up to 10.2. Paxton's BABIP against is all the way up to .374 this year, a number that's going to significantly negate his success, but how good would Paxton be if it was at the .327 number it was last year? Paxton's K/PA has dropped from over 34% in 2011 to 24.3% last year to 21.6% this year.

Here's a major takeaway to remember: A pitcher can always lose a skill, but it's very hard to add one.

I always like to ask myself: What would (Pitcher) look like if he didn't have this. James Paxton's number one attribute was his strikeouts. By striking out over 10 batters per nine innings, Paxton could have success (albeit more limited if he didn't reduce strikeouts) but he had to have that number. If that goes away, then what do you have? A pitcher that walks 4.5 batters per nine but only strikes out 7.0 and that's not a successful pitcher.

In the cases where a pitcher like James Paxton works out, you have Brandon Morrow and Gio Gonzalez. (Perhaps a telling sign with Morrow that Jack is prone to deal these types of pitchers. And in the case of Gonzalez, several GMs decided to move him rather than keep him, being deal three times before he was traded to the Nationals.)

Gonzalez's most successful season came in 2012 (5 WAR) and I have my doubts he'll ever replicate that. It was the only time in his career that his BB/9 was under 4.00 (3.43) and this year it's back up to 4.03. That's manageable for as long as Gio strikeouts out over 9.00 per 9, but he's still always limited for as long as his walks are that high and they likely always will be, so he'll likely top out at around a 3.0 WAR pitcher but he constantly feels like a guy that could implode if his skill to K guys goes away.

And it's a lot more likely that a pitcher will lose a skill, than all of a sudden gain strikeouts in the fifth year of his career. Players like Fister are as exceptional as they come.

Look at the case of Morrow. While we'd all rather have Morrow than what the M's got in return for him, it's important to note what he is: A left-handed (haha jklol) starter that doesn't go deep into games and has never pitched 180+ innings in a season in his career. This year his K's have gone away (6.96) and he's putting up a 5.43 FIP in 10 starts.

Trade James Paxton. (Also, he's already 24.)

Tyler Marlette, C, Clinton - Keep his ass!

(Honestly, I just spent a lot of time looking for players I want to keep. Moral of the story: Never be afraid to deal your prospects. The truth is that players fail at a rate much higher than they succeed, if "being an average regular major league player" is considered the bar for success. There's only so many jobs to go around and the best teams remember that the most important place to have talent is in the big leagues, not on the farm. In this age of "smart spending" I think we've started to overrate the value of prospects, both fans and general managers. Take advantage of that, if you can.)

Marlette was considered a good pick in 2011 if he would sign, which he did obviously, so there ya go. Of course, we have to keep reminding ourselves that just because a player is a "good pick" in the 5th round because he's considered a "signability risk" doesn't make him a great prospect. The absolute best high school players are rarely not signing these days thanks to that whole "millions of dollars" thing and Marlette is a player you want in your system but not a franchise prospect.

Unless, maybe. Just maybe. He keeps developing.

Marlette hit .284/.304/.423 with Pulaski last year in 58 games. Not good. Marlette was in rookie ball and walked six times in 214 plate appearances. Players that can't do something as simple as drawing a walk are at risk, again, of losing a skill without gaining one. He had to have better plate discipline, or what's the point? Well, we're seeing that so far.

With Clinton this year, Marlette is hitting .315/.372/.517 while more than doubling his walk-rate. Last year it was at only 2.8% and this year it's at 7.7%. He's also lowered his strikeout rate and raised his ISOP, all great signs of progression that a player can do all three of those things at once. All sorts of things can factor into this, including BABIP.

In 66 plate appearances last month, Marlette had a .426 BABIP and hit .361/.409/.574.

In 31 plate appearances in June, Marlette has a .250 BABIP and is hitting .233/.258/.400.

I think that Marlette can be poised to move up to High Desert next year and dominate. If he does that, the team might decide to get him out of there and he might be in Jackson as a 21-year-old catcher with hitting skills. And then, you might want to trade him.

(People forget that there isn't just value in prospects that turn into good players, but there's also value in simply good prospects. And Jack has been a master at finding good prospects -- Look at the list of players he has drafted that have done well as minor leaguers. There is value in that, and if he moves the right players at the right time, you've got yourself a stew going.)

Julio Morban, OF, Jackson - Trade his... Butt!

.328/.379/.522, 5 HR, 55 K/14 BB, 2 SB/2 CS, 14 2B, 3 3B, .434 BABIP

The inspiration for this article. Oh, how badly I want to trade Julio Morban. It's sinful. I feel bad about it. I've lived my whole life conditioned to not only root for our players but to make sure they never left. Let go of good prospects? But why!?! THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS. AND HE'S A HITTING PROSPECT OF ALL THINGS.

Right. But I'm worried he's not a very great one.

There was always the thought that Morban ($1.1 million bonus in 2008) could be something if he ever got healthy but that's rarely happened. The minor league version of Franklin Gutierrez, and then maybe last year you could finally say he had his "one good year" just like Franklin but he's still never played more than 82 games in a season. He's never had more than 352 plate appearances. He missed time again this year, too.

Last year at High Desert, Morban hit .313/.359/.550 with 17 HR, 16 2B, and 2 3B in 76 games. He doesn't steal bases. He's your classic "tools" player that if it all works out he's going to be one of the best and if it doesn't, he's going to *fart noise*

Morban is finally healthy? Great. Let's see if we can move him.

Though he's young for AA (turned 21 in February) Morban hasn't shown the kind of plate discipline that you would expect to hold up at higher levels. He's striking out in 28.7% of his plate appearances this year (20.4% last year) and walking in 7.5% of his at-bats, with the majority of that coming in June. Morban walked in only 2.6% of his plate appearances in April, though he only had 38 of those thanks to injury. (Again.)

Morban is striking out in 31.8% of his plate appearances this month. He benefits from a .481 BABIP on the road, and a .434 BABIP overall. He hasn't been a threat on the basepaths, though he once left a note on second base that said "gimme a million $ or I kill the bunny" using cut-up magazines. His power isn't impressive, posting an ISO of .168.

But the tools are there. He's holding his own at double-A for now. He's healthy, for now. I think that's enough for Morban to get Top 100 consideration and if he has a big second half, maybe more. And when that happens, I'd deal him in a heartbeat.

Example: Even toolsier, Aaron Hicks has been on the Top 100 for the Twins four times, topping out at #19 in 2010. "If only he could put it all together!" Hicks walked much more than Morban, struck out less, actually stole some bases, but as a 23-year-old in the majors this year, he's hitting .179/.249/.326. If Hicks can't make it, I'd have some concerns for a guy that has done worse in the minors.

Without rosterbating any specific player, I'd say that I wonder if a major league team out there has a fourth outfielder that plays above-average defense and has some power but is blocked by a better player. I'm thinking of the Seth Smith situation in Colorado a few years back. I wonder if a team would be interested in acquiring Morban for a major league player with a few years of team control left that simply is wasting away on their bench.

If it was a 1-2 WAR role player, I'd take that for Julio Morban. (Now I'm starting to wonder if I'm Bill Bavasi, Jr., or if this is how Bill Bavasi turned into Bill Bavasi.) Even being a fake GM is harder than it looks.

Good luck, Jack.

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