Prospect lists have come under a lot of scrutiny over the past few years after the Wild West era of lists that was the early 2000s, where you could find claims as off the wall as Tanner Watson being a top-200 prospect in all of baseball (yes, I read that list). The main area where they've been under fire recently is the practice of ranking pitchers and hitters side by side. This is a valid criticism, sure. After all, the incidence of injuries for pitchers is far greater than that of hitters, and their means of providing value to a team vary in frequency where you're expecting to count on a hitter more often than not.
These fail to touch on what I think is the bigger issue. The aim of most prospect lists is to synthesize three largely unrelated factors into one easy-to-swallow number in which two guys being adjacent doesn't necessarily mean anything. Those factors are risk, potential yield, and nearness to the major leagues. Everyone does their own little calculus when it comes to weighting these factors, some preferring safety and proximity, others preferring to roll the dice on what is simply a better physical talent.
This leads to the variety of list-making that you'll see in what's out there, but it also invariably guides you towards some conclusions that just don't feel right. "So this high-injury-risk potential #2 starter entering double-A is worth about the same as this just-drafted college backstop who could provide slightly above-average offense for that position, but nowhere else! WOW!" The only reason prospect lists make any kind of sense is because we've been doing them for so long that they've become normative. Get enough people doing any irrational thing and after a while they'll be unable to imagine doing much of anything else. Just look at sanitation practices in the Middle Ages.
If a prospect list is any good and the reader is any good at receiving it (WARNING: MOST READERS ARE NOT), the value is not so much in the ranking as the scouting information gleaned and the discussion it generates. But what if I could provide you a different vehicle for that information that would, in the process, teach you about something else? Here are the pre-draft 2012 Seattle Mariners top prospects as Jovian satellites, because the only thing more interesting than talking about one thing is talking about two things. Here is a soundtrack for this even though the video inexplicably goes on for like two minutes after the song ends.
I'll disclaim all of this by saying that I have no scientific training. Instead, like a good humanities major, I have a skill for noticing connections between things and then developing those through a combination of grounded postulation and flimflam.
Taijuan Walker - Io
Io is roughly the size of our moon (The Moon) and is unusual among the other satellites in that its composition (rock, iron) and density is closer to the terrestrial planets than it is to the other moons out there, which are mostly ice and silica. But if you know anything about Io, you probably know that it's the most volcanically active body in the solar system, thanks to its unusual orbital eccentricity which pulls it between Jupiter and the other Galilean satellites. The most prominent features on its surface are typically volcanoes which, in keeping with their native climate, are usually named after deities with fire connotations like Surt, Pele, and Prometheus. The surface of Io is so geologically active that probes in flyby have observed large-scale changes in the span of eight years.
So too has Taijuan Walker's career trajectory changed drastically over the course of the past several years. Four years ago, it was probably a given that he was going to end up as a basketball player, likely a small forward, but Walker was 6'4" and most NBA small forwards are between 6'6" and 6'10". Realizing baseball was a sport where normal-sized people could succeed, he tried out for the team and ended up as their shortstop for a while before testing out the mound and realizing that he could throw in the low-90s with some ease. A few years later, his heater zips on by as fast as 98 mph and the curve which was so inconsistent as a prep player now rates as one of the system's best. Even if for some reason he'd prefer to throw his slider. No one really expected a guy picked 43rd overall to become one of the top prospects in all of baseball, but here we are.
Thus far, Walker has responded to the pressures of being pushed by the organization and set up on a roster with a bunch of other top prospects by showing his most explosive stuff. But as a younger guy with so much talent, the question of volatility is always in our minds. Young pitchers of Walker's status are in such rarefied air that you're almost afraid to engage with them. They're nice to look at, but do you want to get too attached?
Danny Hultzen - Europa
Where other moons tend to be dark and frequently marred with various craters, Europa is unusually bright and polished. It's about as reflective as the upper bounds for oceanic ice (albedo around .67, for those of you that this means anything to) and tectonic activity keeps the surface looking smooth. The theory is that under the crust, there's either layer of warmer, pliable ice or something like an ocean, possibly containing the conditions necessary for life, making it a target for exploration. Since the surface is basically floating on that ice/ocean, things tend to shift around a lot. Some use this fact to theorize about the "chaos terrain" of Europa, where crevices, ridges, and all kinds of other features are jumbled together with no discernible patterning in mind. Most of these chaos are named after places in Celtic mythology, though there's a bit of Greek too to go with the Europa story.
When Hultzen was drafted, his reputation was one of a very advanced college pitcher who wasn't really going to need much time to work things out in the minor leagues. For the most part, he had gotten through the struggles and evened out the kinks on his own. It wasn't just that the fastball, the change-up, and the slider were all offerings that graded well on the scouting scale, it was that he knew how to pitch with those offerings and could generally spot them wherever he pleased. When the front office said that Hultzen would enter spring training with a chance to compete for a spot in the rotation, it seemed to make sense. That competition for a rotation spot didn't materialize in the end, and Hultzen joined the others in double-A.
This hasn't seemed to deter Hultzen much. If anything, he's gained a lot more of that prospect sheen as the season has gone on. In the archive of his game logs, there are certain erratic patches, such as the May 5th outing when he had seven walks to four Ks over four and a third innings and his start to his triple-A career. To date, we still have no good explanation for that, or why out of his first four outings, he only walked fewer than three once. But as the season has gone on, the appeal of Hultzen as a rotation candidate has become clear enough and he's increasingly looked like a building block as the team tries to take the next step forward.
Nick Franklin - Ganymede
Despite being named Titan (titans are known for being big), Saturn's main satellite isn't the largest moon in the solar system; that's Ganymede. Where Ganymede stands out from its neighbors is that differentiation gave it an iron core which helps provide it one thing that no other satellite in the solar system possesses: a functioning magnetosphere. Venus and Mars don't even have functioning magnetospheres, just wimpy ionospheres! Nobody knows why it's there when other similarly composed bodies lack the same feature! That Ganymede's magnetosphere operates within Jupiter's own leads to some weird interactions, like aurorae around the poles, the maintenance of a thin layer of ozone, and the ability for that same ozone layer to deflect some of the radiation blasting in from Jupiter (not very much relative to other magnetospheres and not enough to avoid deadly radiation poisoning). Since I've mentioned it with every other entry so far, its features, largely ghost craters, crater chains, and patches of grooved terrain are named after either Egyptian things or Sumerian ones.
Franklin joined the system back when we were still trying to figure out Tom McNamara's scouting style (Ed. Some of us are still trying to figure that out). What we had to go on was that he was out of a high school program that had produced a number of eminent big leaguers and that he hit some dingers but overall dinger expectations were set fairly low. So naturally, dingers, and lots of them as he broke the Clinton record for home runs his second season and shot up prospect lists. The following season he ended up trying to play through residual effects of a concussion, food poisoning, and mono, and did far better under the circumstances than most could expect to. Yes, I'm looking at you. In fact, going over the slash line now that he's healthy, he's actually hitting about the same as he was when he "broke out" in Clinton, except he's doing it at high levels and is walking a lot more than he used to.
You see, where we had undersold Franklin to some degree is his inner drive. They weren't sure if he could hit for power. He has, more than adequately. They weren't sure if he could stick at short. He has, even through complaints of lacking arm strength (note: every shortstop prospect must have arm strength that is likened to heavy artillery). They weren't sure if he could keep switch hitting... okay, well that's out because I'm not sure either (I say no), but even enduring a great deal of media scrutiny and the full assault of the injury bug last year, he's endured and played as though he was feeling considerably less heat. There have been a few rough spots here and there, but no more than could be easily explained, and it's been offset by displays of real hitting prowess. All prospects are risks to a certain extent, and considering all the other factors, Franklin might be a good choice to build around once we get some other things about this team figured out.
This one was probably the hardest of the four to make sense. If the ozone actually repelled more radiation, I'd have this one all figured out.
James Paxton - Callisto
Callisto is kind of its own thing out there. It's structurally similar to Ganymede (rock! subsurface ice!), but it doesn't experience tidal heating and isn't a part of the orbital resonance that the others share in. Like the rest, it's believed to have formed by accretion in the Jovian subnebula over the period of either a hundred thousand or millions of years. However, since it's further out and isn't differentiated in quite the same way as its peers, Callisto probably took a lot longer to come together. And since it's never been geologically active, its surface is more pocked and dark than the others. Craters are layered on top of craters, with the only brightness coming from the usual ice deposits scattered throughout. On the plus side, because it's the furthest out of the bunch, it also has to endure less radiation, and its lack of tectonic activity has made it an appealing candidate for a base. I guess that's something? Its features go heavy on the Norse mythology as far as naming conventions go.
Instead of playing baseball in warm, coastal climates like everyone else, Paxton did his groundwork in Canada. Elbow issues pushed him out of the draft as a prep, so he ended up at Kentucky where he grew up a bit and added six miles to his average fastball velocity. The story gets weird from there: the Jays picked him 37th overall, he didn't ink, their team pres mentioned negotiations with Boras, the NCAA torpedoed his draft eligibility, and he wound up in Grand Prairie of the indy leagues where he was unimpressive, thus dropping to us in the 4th round. So I guess the system works. For us! Take that, Blue Jays. U-S-A! U-S-A! K-Pax spent his first season being more or less awesome and fully healthy, though if you wanted to get into the details of it, he still walked a lot of dudes. The first and third start of this season gave us the full range of his abilities: from a ten-K two-hitter over 5.2 innings to a 4/8 K/BB in 4.2 innings, then in May, he suffered a knee contusion which he tried to pitch through. That didn't work and he was shelved until recently.
Such is the strange tale of James Paxton. Our pal from the outer perimeter took a lot longer to put it all together than the other guys on the list, and still needs consistency, but he isn't necessarily worse off for it, even if his history happens to be blotched with various dings and impacts. The scrapes, though frequent, have never been severe enough to damage the overall picture for him, nor have they been aligned with any one factor. And because he's not in quite the same draft status and has been out for a little while, he's not really drawing the same level of scrutiny at the moment that the others are, which gives him an opportunity to get things together on his own. He may not be foremost in the minds of a lot of fans right now, but there's no reason why he couldn't be another major rebuilding piece, carving out for himself an Erik Bedard-type career. He'd be the top pitcher in a lot of systems right now.
Carter Capps and Stephen Pryor - Metis and Adrastea
Once you get outside of the Galileans, things start to look a little different for the moons and their role in the big picture. Metis and Adrastea are the two closest satellites to Jupiter and were both discovered in 1979. Their interesting feature is that they're two of the three moons in the solar system that orbit their planets in less than an equivalent day. The remaining one is Phobos, one of the two potatoes spinning around Mars at all times. Phobos is pretty slow though, with an orbital speed around 2 km/s. Metis and Adrastea are unusually zippy at 31+ km/s. Not much is known about the composition of either, but what we do know is that they're the two major contributors to the materials of the main ring of Jupiter and that their orbital decay means that eventually they'll crash into Jupiter.
Go through the old archives and you won't find a whole lot of information on either Capps or Pryor. It seems weird to me that these kinds of relievers always end up in top ten prospect lists at the season's end but are afterthoughts at draft time. Pryor was more of an unknown, transferring late to Tennessee Tech, but it wasn't like people didn't know who he was since he nearly tied the D-I record for Ks per nine. Capps was probably more recognized on the national level, but considering he was a redshirt catcher and played at a D-II school, it's hard to say that he was a clear commodity. He too had a ton of strikeouts built off his fastball and considerable work to do on his secondary offerings. Despite being drafted in consecutive years, both opened the year with the Generals as co-closers and racked up stupid numbers of strikeouts, as ever.
Because both of them have offerings so fast they seem to leave trails in the air, if all goes well, both will have the capacity to form the last line of defense between us and victory. They're not the most important contributors and there stands some risk that they'll flame out in time, since very little out there seems able to withstand sustained velocity that high, but they play their part and are fun to watch while they're around.
Stefen Romero - Himalia
Himalia is an irregular satellite that has its own little cadre of smaller moons it orbits with, discovered in 1904 and formally named in 1975. It's the most massive moon outside of the Galileans and the most visible as well, though Amalthea, part of the inner group, was actually discovered first. It's believed that a smaller moon in the group, S/2000 J 11, which went missing soon after its discovery, crashed into Himalia, which had better than 40 times its diameter. At least that's one possible explanation for why Himalia seems to have a dust halo these days.
Romero had been a decent prospect leading up to the draft for Oregon State, known for some surprising pop, but in the weeks leading up to the big day, he broke his arm (not during a collision, but throwing) and slipped a few rounds. These sorts of injuries happen every year, but sometimes the responses are out of proportion with the severity. Romero did not debut the same year, but he did make a showing in Clinton the following year and after posting a .624 OPS in April and a .664 OPS in May, he was 1.093, .920, .821 the rest of the way. The trend has continued through this season, as he's somehow hitting better in Jackson than he did in High Desert. He's also been playing primarily second base after having pre-draft reports question whether he could stick at third.
The initial break that left Romero slightly busted was probably thought to have greater impact than it ended up having. Nothing changed for the worse, and it seems that the only thing that's lingered is a desire to recover and improve in the aftermath. Now he's one of the brightest hitting prospects in the organization, even though he wasn't initially on the radar for anyone.
Vinnie Catricala - Amalthea
Amalthea was the last satellite to be discovered purely through visual observation back in 1892. It's the third farthest out after Metis and Adrastea. Not a whole lot is known about its composition other than its surface is redder and more reflective than a lot of the other inner satellites. Another "space potato" in terms of dimensions, it was initially thought that because it's reasonably big and shaped in a weird way, it had to be composed of some pretty sturdy stuff since gravity would have made weaker materials conform to a more spherical shape. Then the Galileo orbiter flew by it and determined it was either icy or porous, less stable than initially thought. Whoops. It also radiates a little more heat than it receives from the sun, due to the Jovian heat flux and other things I won't bother to explain.
What's weird with Catricala is that, up until this season, there was no point at which he was not hitting, and in spring training, we had possible defensive improvement to dream on as well. He had a .856 OPS in Pulaski the year he was drafted, but a lot of guys hit well there. Then he was at .874 in a full season in Clinton. That's a little different, and he was on the watch list entering last year. The fact that he had a .996 OPS in High Desert and then a 1.052 OPS in Jackson in 2011 prepared us for something opposite of the .445 OPS he put up in April. He's rebounded to .700+ for the past couple of months and has done well in July so far, when he's stopped striking out and started walking a lot. Gosh, I hope he's all right.
I guess we might have prematurely penciled Catricala into the lineup, thinking that he was going to solidify the lineup in some way. That's a lot to be pinning on a guy who, having been selected in the 10th round, was probably not regarded by evaluators as a guy who could anchor the lineup. He's been one of the hotter hitters on his team lately though, and that's something that could help him hold on to his position in the organization's plans.
Julio Morban - Themisto
Themisto sits on its own somewhere between the Galileans and the Himalia group. This is a bit uncommon for the system in that most of the moons and moonlets have clustered around in groups, but Themisto emphatically does what it pleases. If that's not the weirdest thing about it, then we'd probably have to go with the fact that it was "lost" for a time. It was discovered in late 1975, but the observations of it were insufficient to calculate its trajectory. It vanished until twenty-five years later when a completely separate group of astronomers found it again, confirmed its existence, and then came to find out that it was the same 1975 object.
Morban was a big get back in the day, regarded as one of the most skilled hitters to come out of the Dominican Republic in years a lot of money. He batted .270/.309/.509 in the AZL his first year and ranked well enough afterward. Some figured he would wind up in Clinton the year after rather than wait for Everett to open up. But something happened. Over the course of the 2010 season, he only showed up in ten games, split across four levels, and otherwise, he was gone. No explanation for why. He resurfaced last year and did okay, but most of the attention to him has been recent, as he's gone on a tear and seems to be somewhat healthy. Somewhat.
Morban was entering select company when he arrived on the scene, but as is commonly the case with guys that are that far out, so few people were in on him that when he left public view, it was like he had disappeared. Given his history, I'd expect he's probably sticking to a different timetable than his peers, but now that we've been able to confirm that he's out there, I would expect that if something comes up again, we'll know about it.
Brandon Maurer was my Themisto alternate, but I figured people were sick of me talking about pitching.