The question has been going around almost since the day that minor league rosters were announced, "who will be the first talented pitcher from Jackson that is promoted?"
The question was answered this morning, and the answer is…right-handed reliever Stephen Pryor.
Okay, so he isn't one of the "Big Three", but Pryor is still a big time prospect for Seattle. And as good as Paxton, Hultzen and Walker have been for the Generals this year, Pryor has been even better. Through 11 games and 16 innings for Jackson, the 5th round pick out of Tennessee Tech in 2010 has a 1.12 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. He is tied for second in the Southern League among pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched on the year with 13.5 strikeouts-per-nine, and has just five walks (2.8 BB/9) while yielding only seven hits (3.9 H/9).
As he touched on in his interview with SeattleClubhouse in February, Pryor -- who works in the upper 90s with his fastball -- had an injury last spring that set his routine off a bit once he got back in action for High Desert, where he struggled with his command to the tune of 8.7 BB/9. But once Pryor was promoted to Jackson he had corrected the mechanical issues that were ailing him. Counting 2011 and 2012, Pryor appeared in 28 Double-A games for the Generals, throwing 38 2/3 innings, allowing just 16 hits, only 12 walks and no home runs while striking out 51 and posting a 1.16 ERA and 0.72 WHIP. In his three seasons since being drafted Pryor has made 73 minor league appearances in all, striking out 140 and walking 51 in 101 innings pitched while saving 22 games with a 3.21 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Pryor heads to Tacoma -- where he may share closing duties with Chance Ruffin for the time being -- at the expense of left-hander Mauricio Robles. Robles, who was arguably the club's top pitching prospect not long ago, has been an unmitigated disaster since he, too, was hurt in Spring Training last year. He was roughed up to the tune of an 8.91 ERA and 2.04 WHIP in 10 starts across three levels in 2011 and had a 9.86 ERA and 2.10 WHIP in six games (five starts) for Tacoma so for in 2012. Because of his shoddy command, Robles had made it through just 31 1/3 innings in his last nine Triple-A starts, walking 21, hitting two more and surrendering four homers in that span. Recently demoted to the bullpen, Robles' third shot at Double-A with the Mariners may be his last chance to stick with the organization throughout or beyond the 2012 season. He is currently on the 40-man roster with several top prospects -- including Pryor -- now breathing down his neck for that coveted spot.
Pryor doesn't figure to hit any major speedbumps in the Pacific Coast League because of the type of stuff he has, and if all goes as planned, he could be first in line to join the Mariners in Seattle should an injury or trade occur.