Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

Zunino hitting and catching well early for Everett

SeattleClubhouse's weekly look around the best and worst performances in the Seattle Mariners' minor league system takes a closer look at six prospects.

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 an in-depth "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 highlights this past week saw the big club's top pick paying early dividends with two other talented prospects breaking out of struggles and letting their tools play. Let's take a look at this week's Mariners minor leagues Three Up, Three Down.

THREE UP

Mike Zunino - Everett AquaSox: .407/.500/.815 (11-27), 2 2B, 3 HR, 3 RBI, 4 BB, 8 R
Some feel that Zunino got a bit of a soft landing assignment by getting sent to Everett and the Northwest League to start his pro career, but that doesn't diminish the blistering start to his pro career that he's off to. The right-handed hitter has reached base in each of his first nine games and has reached base via hit or walk at least twice in two-thirds of those.

He's been using the whole field and showing power to all fields and has been showing very good plate discipline so far. This past week he merely led the NWL in OPS (1.315), SLG (.815), runs scored, home runs, total bases (22) and extra base hits (five) for the AquaSox as they clinched the first half Western Division title. Odds are extremely good that Zunino won't be there to help his teammates cash in on that berth once post season play comes around in September, but his impact on the team in his (likely) short stay has already been significant and he very well could give Everett their 3rd Offensive Player of the Week winner with this performance.

Marcus Littlewood - Everett AquaSox: .348/.444/.652 (8-23), 2B, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 4 BB, 8 SO
Zunino's teammate and fellow backstop, Littlewood drove the ball consistently this week, picking up three extra base hits on his way to tying for the Northwest League lead with nine RBI, even though he sat out the game on Wednesday for Everett. He still contributed enough to rank third in the league in OPS for the week and drove in five of Everett's six runs, largely because of his Grand Slam, in their extra-inning loss Sunday Night.

Repeating the NWL for the AquaSox this season because of his position change from shortstop to catcher, Littlewood is showing more power so far in 2012. He also has his average up to a much more respectable .255 so far and continues to draw walks at a great rate (22 in 30 games). Of course, he also continues to strike out at a better than one per game clip (34 in 30). But it should be remembered that Littlewood is still a very young (20) pro, having joined the AquaSox straight out of high school last season.

Jabari Blash - Clinton LumberKings: .348/.464/.739 (8-23), 4 2B, 3B, HR, 3 RBI, 5 BB, 7 SO, 7 R, 2 SB
As I covered in the Premium Forums the other night, Blash is so much more talented than most of the other players in the Midwest League, it is a huge head scratcher why weeks like this aren't happening every week for the Clinton outfielder. The strikeout number was still up, but when the bat meets the ball with Blash, the ball gets damaged, usually for extra bases. And that 1.203 OPS from this week (4th in the MID) showcased his selectiveness at the plate, too.

The power is his biggest tool, but if he ends up at first, he is a threat to run as well. His home run was to right-center and was a good 15 - 20 feet over the wall, his triple was to dead center off the wall on an easy swing and he pulled a ground ball double down the line in left, lifted one to right-center and hit a laser beam into the left-center gap for one of the others. Blash is hitting just .235 so far in 85 games this season which is criminal, but his package of power, patience and defense (he isn't fantastic, but he isn't close to being a statue, either) certainly make him one to watch the rest of the way here in 2012.

THREE DOWN

Anthony Fernandez - Jackson Generals: 0-1, 8.35 ERA, 2.38 WHIP, 9 2/3, 19 H, 9 ER, 2 HR, 4 BB, 7 SO
Fernandez couldn't have started much better than he did in his first four starts in Double-A, allowing just four earned runs combined and winning all four while posting a 1.20 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with two complete games and a shutout to his name. But the last two starts haven't been close to that level and Fernandez scuffled with command, control and damage control while picking up his first loss at the level as he's seen opposing batters -- who hit just .138 off of him in June -- hit .359 against him in July.

The good news is that the left-hander still has very good overall numbers in Double-A and on the season (with his High Desert numbers included). And as his former coach Pedro Grifol told me, he is more than equipped to handle diversity mentally. He still ranks 2nd in the organization in strikeouts on the season (107) and leads in innings pitched by a fairly wide margin (127 2/3) and he's improved most of his other measurables while being challenged at his highest pro level in this, his 22-year-old season.

Alex Liddi - Tacoma Rainiers: .100/.129/.100 (3-30), BB, 10 SO, 1-2 SB
Here we go again with Alex Liddi. More strikeouts, more strikeouts, more strikeouts -- to the point this last week that he basically accomplished nothing offensively, despite having some of the best power in the PCL. He isn't making the necessary adjustments, so even though he is getting in time at third base, first base and left field for the Rainiers, the likelihood of him earning a promotion to Seattle, much less earning playing time with the big club in 2012, is disappearing like a slider down and away for Liddi.

He is playing practically every day for Tacoma so rust isn't an issue, but he has just 14 hits this month while striking out 30 times in 80 at bats, dropping his OPS from .897 to .655 over his last 21 games. He still has some of the best power at the plate and some of the best hands in the infield in the entire Seattle system, but neither mean anything if he can't get a handle on the off-speed stuff enough to make more consistent contact.

Jose Leal - Peoria Mariners: .000/.188/.000 (0-13), 2 R, 2 BB, 9 SO
Leal, a 2011 International signee out of Venezuela, was somewhat aggressively assigned to the Arizona League by the Mariners in a move that all parties may now regret. Leal got into five games this past week and managed to put the ball in play just four times -- all for outs. Now 13 games into his AZL career, the 6-foot-3, 215 pound powerful right-handed outfielder has just two hits in 34 at bats and has struck out 23 times leaving him with an ugly .059/.220/.059 slash line.

He is experiencing much more than just baseball, of course, and the cultural shock of being moved away from your entire support system and thrust into an environment of practicing or playing organized basically during every waking hour in a strange place at such a young age is something that is often overlooked, but Leal has the talent to do more than this. Hopefully the other factors start to take less of his attention and his natural abilities take over on the field soon so that his season can turn around and give him something positive to build on going forward.

Looking for more Mariners prospect player interviews, news and articles? Want to keep up with which prospects are hot and cold for the M's? "Like" SeattleClubhouse on Facebook and follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.

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