Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

Zunino's bat stayed hot this week

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

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 and lowlights from the past week include many of the most recognizable, top talents in the system. Let's take a look at this week's Mariners minor leagues Three Up, Three Down.

THREE UP

Mike Zunino - Everett Aquasox: .308/.438/.731 (8-26), 2 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 4 BB, 8 SO
Zunino, who also topped this list last week when he won Northwest League Player of the Week honors, continues to show that the Short Season level is probably a tad too easy for him. The 3rd overall pick in this year's draft lead the league in HR, RBI and runs scored (8) the past week and continued to hit the ball hard even when he got out.

He's now tied for 3rd in the NWL in HR (6) despite playing only 16 games (out of 44) at the level. He hit a big 9th inning 3-run homer on Saturday night that helped Everett come back from a 6-1 deficit to win, and homered again on Sunday. Now hitting .356/.465/.746 on the season, I wouldn't be surprised if this great weekend was Zunino's last at the level.

Taylor Ard - Everett AquaSox: .435/.462/.826 (10-23), 3 2B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 2 BB, 6 SO
One of only two players (both AquaSox) with more Northwest League homers than Zunino, Ard may be due for a promotion to a more challenging level of baseball soon as well. This past week the right-handed slugging first baseman topped the league in OPS at 1.288 and tied Zunino for the lead in total bases (19) despite sitting out one of Everett's games.

Ard banged out four multi-hit games and three multi-RBI games this week for the Frogs. The 22-year-old Vancouver, WA, native was the M's 7th round pick out of Washington State in this year's draft and not only tops the circuit in HR (7), but he also leads in RBI (35) and total bases (86) while ranking 2nd in SLG (.515) and 3rd in OPS (.875) as Everett's cleanup hitter.

Taijuan Walker - Jackson Generals: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.33 WHIP, .100 oAVG, 6 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 SO
Following a bit of a mid-season lull in his performance, Walker impressed at the Futures Game in Kansas City during the MLB All-Star festivities and has turned in two very good starts since, this last week's effort being perhaps his best outing all year when he limited Montgomery to just two baserunners in six innings of work while striking out eight.

The stuff is never a question with Walker and he's said to pitch like a player much more experienced than he is as a 19-year-old former shortstop, but his calm confidence, athletic ability and electric arm make it very unlikely that Walker will ever go through extended periods of struggles on the mound. With back-to-back good starts for Jackson, the rest of the Southern League should consider themselves on notice for more of the same from Taijuan as the season progresses.

THREE DOWN

Danny Hultzen - Tacoma Rainiers: 0-1, 9.31 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, .308 oAVG, 9 2/3 IP, 12 H, 11 R (10 ER), 7 BB, 11 SO
Following his brilliant performance in Tacoma's 18-inning win over Sacramento about 10 days ago, I was ready to annoint Hultzen ready for the big leagues. But following that outing -- which at the time was his fourth straight start allowing just one earned run -- Hultzen was hit very hard and showed wavering command in each of his last two games for the Rainiers, and it now appears that the young left-hander still has some minor league learning to do.

In each of his three poor outings in Triple-A, there has been one inning that has been Danny's big undoing, and the struggles during those innings typically come from his command. Poor command of the fastball and poor command of the slider lead to favorable hitter counts which lead to opponent's either getting hard base hits when he has to get a fastball in the zone or walks because he continues to nibble. Hultzen has very good stuff and needs to trust it more, but he also needs to harness the command that was supposed to be one of his best assets coming out of college.

Hector Noesi - Tacoma Rainiers: 0-2, 7.20 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, .349 oAVG, 10 IP, 15 H, 9 R (8 ER), 4 BB, 12 SO
Is this really the same pitcher that some scouts were saying could be better than Micheal Pineda when that trade with the Yankees went down? After getting shelled for the most home runs in the league by not pitching effectively when ahead and ultimately earning himself a demotion to Triple-A, Noesi's disastrous season on the mound has continued to compound for Tacoma. Following two less than stellar outings this past week, Noesi's numbers in Tacoma include a 10.31 ERA, 2.40 WHIP and .376 opponent's average.

Noesi showed in a handful of very good starts in Seattle this year that he has the stuff to win at the big league level, but the question seems to be what he has between the ears. He'll likely have the rest of 2012 to work on refining his mental strength, his pitch sequencing and his command at the minor league level. If things don't turn around, a return to the bullpen in 2013 could be in order for Hector.

Francisco Martinez - Jackson Generals: .000/.056/.000 (0-17), 1 BB, 4 SO
Martinez had six hits in his first three games back with the Generals following a long layoff and rehab that stemmed from a pulled hamstring, but he is now hitless in his last 25 at bats after going 0-17 this past week. It has really been an offensive struggle all year for Martinez as he's hit only two home runs and has had a tough time inching his OPS even close to league average. With the struggles this week, his OPS is now down at .636, hardly good for a corner infielder, even if he is still young for the level.

The two parts of his game that have taken steps forward this season are baserunning and defense, but with his bat seemingly take a step back and with the M's mixing in some time in center field for him, it is looking very likely that 2013 could end up being Martinez's 3rd straight season competing in Double-A.

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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