Now that we’ve reached the halfway mark of the Seattle Mariners’ season – and we’re struggling at 10 games under 500 – it’s time to start dreaming about our prospects in the minor leagues.
JJ Cooper puts together Baseball America’s top 50 prospects list and he has Tacoma Rainier sensation Taijuan Walker as the second best pitcher in all the minor leagues.
“I had a scout tell me, not long ago, ‘You know – if you needed to – this guy is ready to pitch in the big leagues right now.’ He really commands the fastball well, probably needs a little bit of work still commanding his curveball and his changeup at times, but he’s pretty close to a finish product – and he won’t turn 21 til next month,” says Cooper.
He also lists pitcher Danny Hultzen as a good prospect, but Walker is beyond good. He predicts Walker will be playing for the Mariners sometime this season and eventually move into a strong Mariners pitching rotation.
“If he stays healthy, I think he really slots in as, before too long, sliding in that rotation as a very strong one-two with (Hisashi) Iwakuma,” says Cooper.
That’s some pretty heady company. Felix Hernandez and Iwakuma were both named to the All-Star game this year.
Unfortunately, the Mariners have had a number of top prospects wash out on them in recent years. Take, for instance, catcher Jesus Montero. Among the top seven prospects a couple of years ago (Montero was ranked No. 3, by the way) – four are now all-stars and two others are playing great.
“Really of the top seven, you’d say one guy busted – and that was Jesus Montero,” says Cooper.
A similar fate appears to have happened to Dustin Ackley as well. So are the M’s just snakebit? Or is it something else?
“I think you could make the argument that the Mariners have done a good job of bringing in talent – those are on the plus side. On the negative side, they’ve brought in a number of highly regarded players who they’ve acquired in trade, Montero, (Justin) Smoak, guys like that, bring in a guy like Ackley – those guys haven’t gotten better. They’ve not come close to living up to the expectations, and that’s a knock on it,” says Cooper. “That’s a legit knock on the organization.”
Cooper says he doesn’t follow the Mariners closely enough to be able to fairly judge general manager Jack Zduriencik but he says he understands the fans’ frustrations.
“The problem is that they rebuild around a young core Ackley, Smoak, Montero, guys like that, and when you do that and when you build up the core and the core doesn’t do what you’re expecting, you have to go back and say, ‘OK, we’re going to rebuild again.'”
Back on a positive note, Cooper reiterates that Taijuan Walker could be another King Felix. That’s what I want to hear.