Lastly, I come to the prospects that possessed the good fortune to be both well regarded coming into 2011 and so far have exceeded what would have been reasonable expectations. The ones who do not graduate off the prospect list entirely and head off on a fruitless search for employment should make up many of our top prospects for 2012.
Dustin Ackley, 2B L/R 23
Ah, the savant who lives amongst the autistics scattered elsewhere among the Mariners' lineup. I doubt I need to recap Dustin Ackley for this audience. But just for fun, it's nice to remember that coming into this season, many people had pegged Ackley as a high-average hitter and nothing else; making Ackley sort of a Jeremy Reed redux. I'm not ridiculing their opinion because it could have turned (and still turn) out that way and some of it was justified, but it's pleasing in this recent stretch to remember that some things have broken Seattle's way.
Not only has Ackley affirmed that tool; he's flashed much improved power. He hit only seven total home runs in 2010, but knocked nine out in Tacoma alone and has added a few more in Seattle as well along with an inconsequential number of triples. This brings up his speed, another above average tool it appears Ackley has. His defense at second base has been nothing to write longed lost loved ones about, but I mean that in neither a good nor a bad way. He's been adequate at second base.
Dustin Ackley has been like a bottle of Westvleteren. People hyped it all to hell and by sheer popularity it started to attract some detractors. You started to worry. It would be good, probably, but how good? Everything is relative and if you go into something with too high of an expectation, it sets you up for disappointment. And then, no, you get a hold of some, it's amazing and you remember that oh yeah, often times hype originates for a reason.
Blake Beavan, SP RH 22
Blake Beavan lost some shine from his fastball and with that went his level of intrigue. The margin for error when you throw 90 is lower than when you can pump it up at 94 and Beavan fell into that category of pitchers who seemed serviceable but nothing special. Sometimes those turn into a Doug Fister, but far more often they are an Andy Baldwin.
This has been a small redemption year then for Beavan. He's gained some of his fastball speed back and he's shown that his skills can translate to Triple-A at least. Beavan at every stop in his Minor League career has a 15-16% strikeout rate and a 5-6% walk rate. Not literally every stop, but every long-term stay has ended in that range. That's a fine enough range, just not exciting because there's always the worry that the bottom will fall out of the strikeouts. However, he keeps getting one step closer to doing that in the Majors and a 3:1 rate in the Majors is gravy. And not that crappy gravy from a packet either, but good gravy.
Mike Carp, LF L/R "25"
I put his age in quotes because of a previously written item I wrote in a series preview noting that Carp's birthday is on June 30, the exact day of baseball's age cutoff. Born a few hours later and, to baseball, he'd be 24. Anyways, Carp has never been that exciting of a prospect. As a first baseman years ago, his main skill was a good plate approach making his absolute ceiling something like John Olerud without the defense. That's a low ceiling for a guy years away and doesn't leave one with a high probability of success. However, Carp has done two things recently. He's transitioned full time to the outfield and he's started hitting for power.
The move to outfield does not make him a quality fielder there, but he's not awful, just slow. He won't be an asset on defense, but being able to fill in at left field offers teams more flexibility. The power is the big noise though and it's what makes him worth a shot at the Major Leagues.
Vincent Catricala, 3B R/R 22
Vincent Catricala looked like a quality prospect, but there was just so little data behind him, just a year at Clinton and a half year at Pulaski coming into 2011 that it's no wonder he got little fanfare. A tenth round pick usually needs to have some sort of monster season to make waves, and Catricala's 2010 wasn't a monster year. 2011, on the other hand, is so far. After a decent April in High Desert, Vincent got it really going in May with a .363/.459/.646 line and more walks than strikeouts. He was not quite so scalding in June, but he was still simmering and found his way to Double-A Jackson. He hasn't let up there either which is even more impressive.
Maikel Cleto, SP RH 22
Profiled better as a reliever, Maikel Cleto was traded in the offseason to the Cardinals for Brendan Ryan. We've been pleased with Brendan Ryan and the Cardinals are likely pleased with Maikel Cleto, who's held his success as a starter up through Triple-A now. We may in time look back and wished the two teams had settled on some other pitcher like a Dan Cortes.
Josh Lueke, RP RH 26
Josh Lueke's on the field performance this season hasn't been particularly illuminating or bad. He's been fine. He would likely have fallen on the cusp of this, and the holding steady group based on the field numbers solely. However, there's more to the story with Josh Lueke and the concerns over how the off the field issues would be handled were real and important. Since Lueke's has had no problems of his own and he broke camp with the big league club, I think we can put the worries that the team would ship him off instead of play him to rest and for that, he grades as an improvement in my book. Should be back by September at the latest, and possibly post trade deadline if someone like Jamey Wright gets sent away.
Guillermo Pimentel, RF L/L 18
The Rangers also have a right fielding Guillermo Pimentel. He's playing in Spokane for their low-A team and doing merely okay. He's 21. The Mariners' version is three years younger, just one level below, and hitting much better. Suck on that, Texas. Scouts loved our Pimentel's power and age level, but worried about the strike zone as with so many other young Latin prospects. The power is even better this time around (a staggering .300 isolated power) while the strikeout rate remains astronomical at over 30% and he hardly walks. That's not a surprise given his background, age and that why draw a walk when you have a flipping .300 ISO? Pimentel is a rising stock with the extra year of data, but is still too far out to headline a list.
Michael Pineda, SP RH 22
Michael Pineda came in pretty close to the consensus best prospect in the Mariner system. That's both a testament to him and another reminder of how certain people had skepticism about Ackley. People flagged Pineda coming in for his raw change up and injury concerns from 2009, but raved about his fastball, his command and the potential in his slider. Most thought he would refine his offspeed pitches in Tacoma to begin 2011 and make an appearance with Seattle in the summer.
Pineda has certainly exceeded expectations. I would have been satisfied with his performance level this year if he put it up in Tacoma. To accomplish what he has in the American League right out of the gate is great news. Presumably, he has adjustments to make in order to maintain his current pace and developments still to make in order to grow, but frankly, if Michael Pineda wants to just continue posting a 125 tRA+, I won't complain.
Kyle Seager, 2B/3B L/R 23
Kyle Seager had himself an adequate 2010 season. His park-adjusted wOBA+ of 110 is obviously above average, but not a figure prone to cause a lot of bother unless paired with something else. Seager wasn't exceptionally young for the league, played an altogether neutral (2B) position and seemed to have okay marks for his defense. He came across as polished but with low upside, a hitting version of Blake Beavan.
Seager began this year in Double-A and improved over 2010 with a wOBA+ of 115 and pretty much exactly the same hitting rates (park adjusted) as he had in High Desert. It's always nice to see a prospect move up a level and not take a step back. A move up to Tacoma after Ackley's promotion gave Seager 12 games to utterly destroy the Pacific Coast League before being promoted to Seattle. His numbers at Triple-A and MLB are incomplete, but he'd get a hold steady rating based on Double-A alone. I feel like in ten years we could look back at 2011 and notice that is when Adam Kennedy ran head first into his 12-year-younger clone.
Taijuan Walker, SP RH 18
I'm not sure if anyone even expected Taijuan Walker to reach Clinton this season. A dual Pulaski-Everett year would have been perfectly appropriate given his development track as of 2011. Making it to Clinton would probably have marked 2011 as a successful year by itself, but to arrive in A-ball and put up a 90-31 strikeout to net walk ratio? And to do that while posting a Felix-like ground ball rate over 50%? Walker might be the system's biggest positive surprise in a year with a couple good choices for pleasing surprises. Walker could challenge Hultzen for the system's top prospect next season.