Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

An influx of walks made Almonte's week special

Our weekly Monday statistical look at the good and the bad in the Seattle Mariners system from the past seven days. The Triple-A Tacoma Rainiers are struggling mightily early in the year as a team, while the California League yielded the Mariners some good pitching and a standout at the plate over the past week.

Each Monday during the minor league season, I will give our readers a rundown of the best and worst from the minor league week that was within the Seattle Mariners system. The focus will be to concentrate only on true prospects, but if any player has an exceptionally noteworthy good (or bad) week, he could appear here as well. This isn't a "stock going up" or "stock going down" on the player, just simply a recap of their week.

The goal is to not only keep you up to date on the goings on, but to try and give you a better look of what talent is in the system by spreading the coverage around.

This week's recap takes a look at three pitchers, three hitters, and unfortunately, three players from the Mariners highest level of minor leagues.

THREE UP

Denny Almonte - Jackson Generals: .409/.519/.682 (9-22), 2 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 4 SO, SB
Almonte has been somewhat of a surprise all season for Jackson, but this week he managed to raise his already impressive OPS .077 points to .998 and he's showing that his Cal League power from the last two seasons is legit. Perhaps most importantly in his success, however, is the fact that he has now drawn eight walks through the season's first 23 games. His previous season high in walks in 29 and the pace he's on now has him aimed at well over 50.

Even though the strikeout total is still higher than we would ideally like to see (24 in 86 at bats), it, too, is a pace that would be a career best. With the rest of the tools he has to offer -- switch-hitting power, speed and a good defender in center field -- refining the plate discipline is the one area (albeit a huge one) that Almonte needs to fine tune to be a legit prospect. His early start in that regard is encouraging.

John Hicks - High Desert Mavericks: .421/.542/.579 (8-19), HR, 5 RBI, 5 BB, 2 SO
Hicks, too, is impressing in part because of a better approach at the plate. Last year after signing the catcher drew just five free passes in 148 plate appearances. In 2012 he has already taken 11 walks, including five in the last week of action. And his home and road splits in all aspects of his hitting have held up nicely away from High Desert, too.

The fact that Hicks hit so well this past week is especially a great sign considering that the 22-year-old is more or less catching every day now with fellow backstop Jack Marder, who he had been in a strict rotation with between catcher and DH, on the 7-day disabled list. It's also worth noting that Hicks is doing his best work with runners in scoring position, where he has a 1.067 OPS in 38 plate appearances.

Anthony Fernandez - High Desert Mavericks: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP, 7 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 7 SO
Fernandez threw one of the first shutouts of the season in the California League on Thursday, and while it was only a 7-inning affair due to the weather and double headers that the Mavs are becoming all too familiar with, it was still a notable performance in a season where he is certainly showing some progress.

Fernandez needed just 88 pitches to get through those seven innings, lowering his ERA on the year to 3.26 through five starts. He is using his command to work down in the zone and limiting damage from both left- (.668 OPS) and right-handed hitters (.656) in the early going. The start is a welcome sight after Fernandez -- who posted a 2.80 ERA in 21 Midwest League games last season -- was knocked around to the tune of a 7.39 ERA and 2.18 WHIP in seven Cal League starts last year.

THREE DOWN

Mauricio Robles - Tacoma Rainiers: 0-2, 25.31 ERA, 3.75 WHIP, 5 1/3 IP, 10 H, 15 ER, 3 HR, 10 BB, 3 SO
Robles had a good spring and was decent enough through his first three starts of the season (3.95 ERA, .196 oAVG in 13 2/3 IP), but he has completely fallen apart in his last two starts and is starting again to look like the terrible pitcher that struggled to get his groove back after surgery in 2011. With his last week's work added to his 2011 campaign, Robles has now walked 53 in just 51 1/3 IP in his 15 starts from mid-June of '11 through today.

He has a good fastball and enough on his other pitches to get people out, even after the surgery from last year, but his command and focus on the mound just look like something he may never overcome. Hopefully there isn't another injury to be concerned about, but it may be time to seriously take a look at moving Robles -- now 23 and in his third trip through the PCL -- into the bullpen.

Forrest Snow - Tacoma Rainiers: 0-1, 8.44 ERA, 1.88 WHIP, 10 2/3, 13 H, 10 ER, 7 BB, 7 SO
Following a whirlwind '11 that saw him pitch at three levels and ended with him leading the AFL in ERA (1.10), Forrest had a rough beginning to the season, getting hit hard in his first two starts. But a very good game against Sacramento back on the 18th (6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 SO) looked like he had turned the corner. Then this past week happened.

Both Fresno and Las Vegas touched Snow up for five runs and he ran just a 1:1 SO:BB ratio while laboring (just under 18 pitches/inning) to get through just 10 2/3 innings. Another troubling sign is that Snow, who succeeds by staying low in the zone and getting ground ball outs, has just a 0.47 GO/AO ratio on the year now. Like Robles, Snow may best fit in the bullpen, but perhaps unlike Robles, there is still a chance that he can turn things around.

Vinnie Catricala - Tacoma Rainiers: .182/.250/.182 (4-22), RBI, 2 BB, 2 SO, 2 Errors
Vinnie Catricala hit .349/.421/.601 and racked up 77 extra base hits in 133 games in 2011 between High-A and Double-A. He hit well in major league camp and absolutely tore the cover off the ball after being sent back to minor league camp, but after yet another week of futility, Cat the Bat is now hitting just .182/.240/.205 through 23 games and has but two extra base hits (both doubles) for the Rainiers.

He absolutely still has the talent to go on a tear and make this miserable start a thing of the past, but the fact that he doubled his error total during this past week suggests that perhaps the struggles at the plate are getting to Vinnie in the field, now, too. Despite the unimpressive totals, he does still lead the punchless Rainiers in RBI (12) and is hitting .300/.333/.367 w/RISP, but he sure could use a multi-hit game or a long ball to get his confidence going again.

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