Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

Fernandez has stepped up since being moved up

SeattleClubhouse's weekly look around the Mariners' minor leagues highlights three players that shined and three players that struggled.

Back after a bit of a hiatus caused by shortened weeks and other pressing issues. 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 necessarily 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.

The past seven days saw a number of standout performances, including a lot of great pitching from both starters and relievers. I can't highlight them all, but I will give you the best. Read on for Three Up, Three Down.

THREE UP

Anthony Fernandez - Jackson Generals: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP, .069 oAVG, 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO
Simply put, Fernandez could not have been any better in his start this last week, and the same can be said for his Double-A debut the week before. A complete game, 2-hit shutout on 97 pitches followed up his 6-hit, 1-run, 99 pitch complete game debut back on the 23rd. Since being moved up from High Desert, that gives Fernandez two starts, two complete games, two wins. Who was this Hultzen guy that he replaced in the rotation again?

The 22-year-old left-hander was pitching very well in the California League before his promotion (3.68 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.08 SO/9), keeping his 88-91 MPH fastball low in the zone, working quickly and making hitters swing at his pitches. That success has continued to find him as the recipe hasn't changed against higher competition. High Desert manager Pedro Grifol had high praise for Fernandez when I spoke with him a few weeks back, and it is clear why - Fernandez just knows how to pitch.

Ji-Man Choi - Clinton Lumber Kings: .538/.586/1.038 (14-26), 1 2B, 4 HR, 7 RBI, 1 BB, 4 SO
Choi missed the entire 2011 season with back issues and those issues ultimately ended his catching career and delayed the start of his 2012 season. Now relegated to DH/1B defensively, his bat will have to carry him more if he is to remain a prospect. Performances like he had this past week will certainly qualify in that regard. The 21-year-old South Korean hit twice as many home runs this week as he had in his previous 75 pro games, leading the Midwest League in HR, hits (14), total bases (27), AVG, OBP, SLG and OPS.

Choi has added significant weight since the end of 2010 and has a solid left-handed swing that looks like it can produce power. His monster week has his overall Low-A line up to .316/.405/.518 now in 31 games. The lone concern is the 34 strikeouts, but a lot of that can likely be chalked up to rust from missing a year-plus as he showed very good plate discipline in his first pro season, drawing 27 walks and striking out 39 times in 209 plate appearances. He'll continue hitting 3rd for the LumberKings and see a lot of at bats to work through this very important season in his development.

Mickey Wiswall - High Desert Mavericks: .458/.567/.833 (11-24), 3 2B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 6 BB, 5 SO, 1 SB
Through about mid-May, Wiswall was having a season to forget for the Mavs, hitting below .250, showing very little power, not driving in runs and striking out at a breakneck pace. That early performance was on the heels of a very disappointing showing in the Midwest League last year that had the same script. But over his last 32 games, Wiswall has driven in 36 runs and raised his OPS nearly 140 points with a better approach that his seen much better results.

This past week was a payoff of that approach as he hit .458, drove in a league-high 12 runs with five extra base hits while also drawing six walks. Wiswall's calling card has always been his power, and the 2010 7th round pick showed promise on that front in his debut pro season, but plate discipline and pitch selection have always plagued him. The 23-year-old left-handed hitting 1B/OF has started to correct that part of his game enough recently that the power should start to show more often.

THREE DOWN

Joe Dunigan - Jackson Generals: .176/.263/.176 (3-17), 2 BB, 9 SO, 2 SB
Dunigan started his season off not only showing the power that made him a 5th round pick back in 2007 -- and the Southern League's HR Derby champ over the All-Star Break-- but also some improved plate discipline that saw his strikeout rate drop by nearly 1/3 over his career mark. But in his last 37 games, Dunigan has whiffed 57 times and, of course, is seeing a huge drop in production as a result.

Dunigan had just three singles this past week while striking out nine times in 19 plate appearances. He did still put up an .824 OPS in 26 June games, but as a 26-year-old in Double-A for the 3rd straight season, the fact that there isn't significant improvement in this area in 2012 sends the message that there likely never will be. Which is too bad, because Dunigan has some of the best power in the organization.

Dennis Raben - High Desert Mavericks: .136/.345/.227 (3-22), 1 3B, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 8 SO, 3 HBP
Raben is another guy that has huge power but trouble making contact. But really his biggest problem has always been his inability to stay healthy and stay on the field. Now that he is back on the field, Raben is trying to make up for lost time by working through the California League for the 3rd straight season. And while his plate discipline is certainly a few grades ahead of Dunigan's, his early struggles in High Desert aren't what you want to see.

Eight strikeouts in 22 at bats this past week, no home runs and only four extra base hits in 14 games since reporting from extended Spring Training (where he was again rehabilitating an injured and surgically repaired knee) qualifies as a slow start for Raben, who was a 2nd round pick in 2008 and was considered as one of the best power bats in the draft at the time. Because of the extended time that he's missed with injuries, Raben is against the development clock, too, as a soon to be 25-year-old. Hitting in the middle of a very good lineup in the middle of a very hitter-friendly league and park means he needs to start putting up very hitter-friendly stats. And soon.

Steven Baron - Clinton LumberKings: .095/.136/.095 (2-21), 2 RBI, 1 BB, 2 SO
Sticking with the theme here, Baron is in his 3rd season in the Midwest League, and while he has shown significant improvement at the plate early, this past week was a disaster. He had the lowest OPS (.232) in the entire league for the week and has seen his OPS dip from a season high of .708 a little over a week ago down to .654 with this latest dry spell.

While this year easily qualifies as his top season as a pro thus far, the 2009 1st round pick is still striking out a ton (46 in 254 PA) and not walking at all (12 BB) for a guy that offers as little pop as he does. He's improved his overall baserunning and is stealing more bases than in past years and the catching is still very solid, but word is that Mike Dowd may actually be performing better behind the dish for the LumberKings this season.

Looking for more Mariners prospect player interviews, news and articles? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.

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