In times of great Major League peril, attention turns to the Minor Leagues. Does any help exist there? What people are down there that we can grow attached to and ultimately watch fail to live up to our hopes and dreams? I am not a prospect maven, but I can use a search engine and I can evaluate numbers so here I go, doing both of those things. I went through the various top prospect lists that I could find* and compiled the names involved. My goal was not to assemble a consensus ordinal ranking of our prospects pre-2011 season, but rather to just get the names down that these more clued-in people felt worth following.
*Included are entries by Kevin Goldstein, John Sickels, the ProBallNW duo, Marc Hulet, Baseball America, Jason Churchill and Hardball Times. Could not find any specific top whatever post from either Marc or Jay.
With half(ish) the season past, I will now randomly grade and not randomly analyze the numbers for this blob of prospects. Note please that as stated above, I am not a person in touch with scouts. I cannot tell you how so-and-so's offspeed pitches or power are developing. The goal of a Minor League system is to develop Major League players and Minor League stats are a part of that, but not the whole of that. What follows is not the complete picture, only the part that I feel competent to assess.
First off I will go through some of the guys who went (by my count) unmentioned by the people above and could find themselves mentioned in the 2012 edition. These are not guarantees to make a top 10 or 20 list next Spring. I'm in no position to guarantee anything. Stop assuming that I'm an unreasonable person! It angers me when you do that. Some like Hultzen are near locks to do that while others are more dependent on how their second halves go. Overall, this is simply a list of guys with good seasons to date. You may have already seen my remarks on Forrest Snow and Willy Kesler. Here are some others. You might notice a pattern.
ANDREW CARRAWAY, SP RH 24
A round 12 pick in the 2009 draft, Andrew Carraway pitched really well in his inaugural half season and then showed acceptable numbers last year in High Desert as well. Carraway, another former Virginia Cavalier, sort of maintains a blog as well. He tossed some in the bullpen for Double-A Jackson this year, but the team has primarily used him in the rotation where he has a 56-16 strikeout/walk ratio in just over 70 innings pitched. The strikeouts shouldn't bowl you over, but the control might.
JAMES GILLHEENEY, SP LH 23
Owner of a surname far longer than it should be James Gillheeney is another pitcher from the 2009 draft, this time the team's eighth round selection. Gillheeney spent most of last season in Clinton where he did well enough, and then closed the year out with three starts in High Desert and four in West Tenn. He did well in both of those stops as well, but found himself back in High Desert this season. It can be difficult to impress there with the park factors and 19 home runs allowed already is not pretty, but he has 103 strikeouts in 94.1 innings with just 33 free passes given out.
DANNY HULTZEN, SP LH 21
What's to say? Regardless of whether you think the Mariners should have drafted someone else with the second overall pick this past June, you have to admit that Danny Hultzen is a very talented pitcher and sure to one of the better ranked prospects once he signs.
CESAR JIMENEZ, RP LH 26
I was surprised to find Cesar Jimenez's name on this list, but he is still only 26 and having a successful season in Triple-A. I'm more impressed by results than I am "projectability" (since I have access to numbers and not to scouts) so I am fonder of players who are succeeding at Double or Triple-A than the raw athletes in A-ball. Jimenez has a low ceiling and is only a reliever, but with over a strikeout per inning, Jimenez deserves a look in a big league bullpen. He's just on the wrong team to get it.
BRANDON MAURER, SP RH 21
The big problem with Brandon Maurer seems to be staying healthy and sure enough, he's spent time on the shelf this season. Maurer can actually bring it with the fastball, reaching to the mid-90s, but the health issues seem to hold him back. Despite this being his fourth professional season, he's just now reached High Desert. As with others though, he's done well there when he's been able to hurl that baseball.
JAMES PAXTON, SP LH 22
James Paxton might have made the lists before the season had he been signed. Paxton belongs in the high minors where he is pitching now, but made his pro debut in A-ball Clinton instead. While there, he struck out over one-third of all batters that faced. He also walked over a metric ton of them so it wasn't all peaches and pears. Now in Double-A, Paxton has had very early success. His talent level and newfound signed status means he's likely to be in the top 20 next year. He's done what would have been expected and despite the layoff before entering the pro ranks, is still only 22.
DENNIS RABEN, 1B/DH L/L 23
He lost all of 2009 and half of 2010 with microfracture knee surgery and wasn't all that impressive in his stint with Clinton once he got back on the field. There are legitimate concerns about him ever playing a defensive position. His bat needs to be terrific and there's nothing he can do at 23 in High Desert to show that, but Dennis Raben hasn't fallen on his face. His OPS there is near 1.000. He can draw a walk and hit for some average along with real power. This is what passes for an unexpected outburst from a hitting prospect in Seattle.
ERASMO RAMIREZ, SP RH 21
Made somewhat famous for his insanely low walk totals in Venezuela, which is laughable really. Boy were we desperate for positive news. He came stateside last season and continued to not walk anyone, but did plunk 12 guys. What's up with our pitchers hitting so many people? Erasmo Ramirez skipped over High Desert and began 2011 in Jackson where he continues being himself despite the jump to the Double-A level. He has low strikeout rates (17%) which are fine if he can do that in Seattle, but are worrisome in Jackson. He still has the low walks (just 16 in 92.1 innings) and is still hitting people (seven so far). He gets a good amount of ground balls so maybe he's the next Blake Beavan, who's the next Doug Fister, who's the new Jamie Moyer. Forever, the Mariners seemed to try to replicate Jamie Moyer. The key seems to have been to stop drafting lefties that throw 85 and instead draft righties that throw 89.
MATT TUIASOSOPO, LF R/R 25
Haha, just kidding. Nobody cares.
MIKE WILSON, RF R/R 28
No way, right? Mike Wilson? He's not a prospect, but he is destroying Tacoma and I said I like it when players do well in Triple-A. Consider Mike Wilson my hitting version of Cesar Jimenez. The ceiling is low and he's not going to seismically change the fortunes of the Mariners, but he deserves a Major League shot. I hope two years from now I'm not still saying this about Mike Carp. Has Wilson shown any improvements this season? Not really. The strikeout and walk rates are similar, as is the home run power. He has hit for more doubles and his BABIP is over .400, but I doubt he's found a skill reason for it to be that high.
Now if you've read through all this and are about to comment, "Hey, what about this guy?" and that guy is someone like Dustin Ackley or even Taijuan Walker than you have not comprehended this sentence:
First off I will go through some of the guys who went (by my count) unmentioned by the people above
I will now virtually slap you. Seriously, there's a couple more of these coming. Just hold off asking about players not yet mentioned here.