SeattleClubhouse Top-50: 15-11

Maurer was the Organization's Most Improved Player

Each Monday for 10 weeks, SeattleClubhouse gives you an inside look at the Top-50 prospects in the Seattle Mariners organization as 2012 winds down. Rankings are complete with scouting notes, quotes from various sources and extended player info. As we crack the Top-20 here, the reports get deeper. These last 15 prospects are among the best in a talented organization -- among the best in baseball.

Here at SeattleClubhouse, our primary goal is to give our readers exclusive information on Seattle Mariners players from the rookie leagues all the way to the major leagues. Looking beyond the numbers and using input from respected baseball resources -- as well as contributing our own input -- we are aiming to give the readers rundowns on the names in the Seattle organization that are worth tracking, and maybe even pinning some future hopes on. Our determination of where the prospects land on the list is a combination of potential ceiling, the player's likelihood of reaching that ceiling, the most probable outcome for the player and their proximity to cracking the 25-man roster.

These types of rankings are very fluid and things can change very quickly, particularly in the bottom half of a list this large, but this compilation is our best effort at a look at the 50 best prospects in the system right now.

The breakdowns are being done in groups of five for subscribers, with the complete list (sans scouting info) being posted to the forums for discussion once the pieces are complete. Each player section will be headed by the player's position, age (as of the date of article publishing), hitting and throwing handedness and level at which they ended the 2012 season.

You can check out the first 35 prospects in groups of five by clicking on the links for prospects:

Each of the players in this group are among the best in terms of future ceiling and proximity to the major leagues in a Mariners organization that is ranked among the best in baseball. These prospects are valuable to the Mariners -- and could be valuable to other clubs -- as they eye the future. Here now are Seattle Mariners prospects numbers 15 through 11.

15. John Hicks - C, 23, R/R, High-A High Desert
Hicks is part of the Mariners recent string of success stories from their Virginia pipeline, and although he doesn't get a lot of attention and likely won't make any of the Top-100 lists this off-season, he is one of the better and more complete catching prospects in the minor leagues. He played 2012 in hitter friendly High Desert and hit .312/.351/.472 in 121 games with 32 doubles, 15 home runs and 79 RBI, good enough for 4th among all catchers. He also ended up leading all full-season minor league backstops in steals with 22 (in 30 attempts) while throwing out a remarkable 57 of 106 (53.8%) of runners that attempted to steal against him. The right-handed hitting Hicks did accumulate a majority of his power numbers at home -- 11 of his 15 homers and 19 of his 32 doubles in basically equally split plate appearances -- but he still hit a respectable .289/.327/.398 on the road while playing solidly defensively everywhere. That complete package of offense and defense that Hicks offers should lead him to a very bright future.

On top of his obvious statistical prowess, Hicks earned great marks across the board from managers and scouts alike for his leadership and aptitude. One scout spoke very confidently about him when he told me, "He's good already, and he's going to get better. He knows how to receive the ball and he is quick laterally, too." Mariners scout Mike Moriarty, who signed Hicks, told me that the catcher is, "a very good athlete. He probably won't need to, but if he ever sees time at first base, he can pick it over there."

His former manager Pedro Grifol gushed about his work with the pitching staff and from his High Desert mates that I spoke with this season he is an excellent teammate as well. Hicks was named a California League All-Star and to the Tops All-Star team for the combined A-levels as the top catcher in the ranks following the season. With his offensive and defensive numbers it is hard to argue that the acclaim was unwarranted, regardless of environment. And although he's yet to reach Double-A, the 23-year-old has all the makings of a fast moving prospect going forward.

Hicks is a physically strong player, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 205 pounds, he is a solidly built athlete that certainly looks the part of a catcher while behind the plate and of a hitter while standing at it. Hicks is more of a gap power guy than a power hitter, often opting for solid contact over swinging for the fences. Although his less-than-elite bat speed may limit his offensive production as he advances, he struck out in only 13.6% of his plate appearances in 2012 and I was told often in asking around that Hicks gives quality at-bats every time.

With his combination of defensive chops and solid offensive ability, one could argue that Hicks already has a future with a floor of becoming a solid big league platoon option with a lengthy big league career. And although he hit right-handers better than lefties in 2012 (.848 OPS to .747), that could be the exact situation that sees him break into the big leagues. With him trailing Mike Zunino on the Mariners prospect depth chart at catcher, it's likely that Hicks will spend 2013 in Double-A for Seattle. Even if Hicks doesn't light the world on fire next year, his name could continue to come up in trade discussions as a valuable piece as catching is such a rare commodity.

14. Jack Marder - 2B/LF, 22, R/R, High-A High Desert
Marder is another 2011 draftee that made a splash in his debut season and took things up another notch in 2012 before having his season derailed by injuries. A 16th round draft pick after putting up some rather unimpressive numbers in college at the University of Oregon, Marder his .324/.380/.493 in 18 games in his coronation to professional baseball in 2011 and upped that effort by hitting .360/.425/.583 in 65 games this year. That average was good for the 7th best mark among all minor leaguers with 300 or more plate appearances. Marder's numbers, like Hicks', got a boost from High Desert, but the right-handed hitting scrapper hit .303/.378/.462 in road games, too. And while his 21 walks and 6.6% walk rate may seem a touch low for a player with his skills, Marder has another way of getting on base that has to be respected as a skill at this point: the hit-by-pitch.

Marder was plunked 13 times in 65 games this year after getting hit 5 times in 18 games in 2011. He was hit twice in two games in the WBC for Israel this fall and he told SeattleClubhouse back in March that he has, "developed an approach that, if the ball is coming in at me, I'm going to wear it for the team. I'm not afraid of getting hit." That attitude really says it all about Marder. He's an all-out, anything for the team, get dirty and hustle type of player. His manager in the Cape Cod League in 2011 Jeff Trundy said, "He puts team first. He wants to do anything to help the team and that's not a cliché. He means it." That profile is one of the main things that turned Tom McNamara and the Mariners on to Marder, and he doesn't just do it for show. Grifol told Kyle Glaser of the Victorville Daily Press a story about Marder's approach to the game. "We had a team defense drill the other day where he was in left field and he lays out for a ball," Grifol said. "At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, he goes parallel to the ground and makes probably the best catch I've seen in 20 years, and he does it in a team defensive drill."

Jack took to catching while at Oregon -- because they were thin behind the plate and he thought the former shortstop thought that he could do it -- and was doing that with the M's, too, but a laundry list of injuries, including a concussion and a few knocks to the mask last year, have likely put an end to Marder's time behind the plate now. The bright side of that for Marder and the M's is that the Calabasas, California native's game at the plate has really stepped up, and it is now easy to envision him as a major league contributor without him necessarily being stuck behind the plate. It is realistic to see that the value can come from his offense.

Marder has a quick bat, strong hands and uses the whole field with a linedrive approach. And while he is definitely aggressive at the plate, he has a good understanding of the strike zone and doesn't get himself out often by chasing bad pitches. He's a fierce competitor, but has learned to keep an even keel about him. Defensively he, obviously, gives his all and makes every effort possible to make a play, with his legs, his arm or his glove. He has good range at second base and in the outfield and shows an average arm with great athleticism.

Marder could benefit greatly by having a healthy season, and while he is somewhat a man without a position, he is -- as several people opined -- a winner. Jack Marder has a spot on any ballclub, regardless of his position. He should start in Double-A Jackson in 2013 and if he can manage to stay healthy and his offense continues to advance as a pro he could jump up to Tacoma in short order. Marder is somewhat like former Mariner Willie Bloomquist but with some more pronounced tools (though nothing grading out as a huge plus) and a stronger bat. That equates to a very valuable player.

13. Vinnie Catricala - 3B, 24, R/R, Triple-A Tacoma
Catricala was the hottest prospect in the organization at the end of 2011, winning the organization's Player of the Year honor after putting up a combined line of .349/.421/.601 with 25 home runs and 106 RBI between High-A and Double-A. He hit well in big league camp and torched the ball in minor league camp this past spring, but when camp broke and Catricala was sent to Tacoma the good news pretty much ended. He got off to a slow start with the Rainiers and only had one month where he posted an average of better than .250, OBP of better than .300 and slugging percentage over .400 (.256/.343/.400 in 25 games in June) on his way to a dismal .229/.292/.348 mark with only 10 homers and 60 RBI in 122 games in the PCL.

The Mariners sent Vinnie to the Arizona Fall League to give the 24-year-old a chance to wipe away the bad taste of that season and he showed a little more life, hitting .279/.329/.412, but he struck out 18 times in 19 games and didn't really show much defensively in his chances at third base, first base and in left field. MLB.com writer Bernie Pleskoff told me that Catricala, "is not a third baseman." Pleskoff said that he saw a slow bat and wasn't impressed by Catricala's defense. " I had been told he was Troy Glaus," Pleskoff said. "He's not Troy Glaus. He's got some power, but I don't think he profiles that high for me."

One thing about Catricala's past and his 2012 that struck me was that he has always played in warm weather climates before 2012. As he told SeattleClubhouse in his first interview with us late in 2011, Cat the Bat has played in California, Hawaii, Clinton, High Desert and Jackson from high school through 2011. Tacoma was his first taste of the Pacific Northwest weather as a ballplayer, and he hit just .193/.264/.269 at home this past year.

The Mariners added Catricala to the 40-man roster with four others back on November 20th to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but the right-handed hitting 24-year-old seems to have lost a lot of his prospect shine from a season ago. On top of the offensive struggles, Catricala also committed 22 more errors in 2012 with 19 of those coming in 104 games as a third baseman. He said that he worked on his speed and quickness during last offseason yet he saw his stolen base numbers drop from 17 in 2011 to just 4 this past season. Catricala also saw both his BB% (9.5% to 7.3%) and his K% (15.3% to 17.4%) move in the wrong direction over the last year.

So what does the future hold for Catricala? He needs to find a defensive home and he needs to regain his offensive stroke. 2011 aside, Catricala is a prospect that hit .300 or better and flashed plus extra base power at each stop prior to 2012. There are questions about his bat speed, but more than that Catricala seemed to get himself out a lot in 2012. He needs to advance in his mental approach in his likely return to Triple-A in 2013 and regain his edge in the batter's box along with it. He has some strong tools and can be a big league contributor with gap power and patience if that returns.

12. Brandon Maurer - RHP, 22, R/R, Double-A Jackson
Perhaps no prospect in the organization took as big of a step forward in 2011 as Maurer. A former 23rd round draft pick out of a California high school, Maurer has struggled with injuries since turning pro in 2008, throwing under 25 innings in two of his four years in the organization prior to 2012. But this season, in a rotation and on a team filled with some of the Mariners top prospects, it was Maurer who shined the most, earning recognition as the Southern League's Most Outstanding Pitcher following his 9-2, 3.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 117 strikeout season in 24 starts.

"Brandon made the biggest strides from start to finish of any player on our roster," said Jackson Manger of Media Relations and Broadcasting Chris Harris. He continued by saying that Maurer, "did it because he made a commitment early. I credit a lot of it to Lance [Painter]. It was not just a commitment in his work on the mound, but in his attitude. He is a great kid that I really don't think realized his potential. At some point mid-summer, he began pitching with swagger, began punching guys out with overpowering stuff. With all the great pitchers in the Southern League this season, Maurer was the most consistent and was an easy choice for pitcher of the year."

When I spoke with Director of Minor League Operations Chris Gwynn shortly after the Double-A All-Star break he told me that he thought the Jackson environment had helped Maurer a lot. "Certainly him being around the 'Big Three' has helped Brandon focus," Gwynn said. He concluded saying, "He can rush [his fastball] up there. He's a guy with a lot of talent, but he's [at that time] still working on his fastball command." That command came around for Maurer in the second half, and with that command Brandon saw his numbers improve dramatically. A 2.40 ERA and .207 opponent's batting average in 10 second half starts while his strikeout rate went from 6.8/9 to 8.7/9.

He gets those strikeouts with a four pitch mix, headed by his fastball that is regularly 92-95 and can run up to 97 at times with good sink and some decent arm-side run. He throws both a slider and a big curve -- the slider being the better offering as far as swing-and-miss potential -- and also has an improving changeup. For what it's worth, at least one Mariners' staffer predicted this breakout for Maurer in 2012. Pedro Grifol told me in our interview in 2011 that, "Maurer will pitch in Double-A next year and my bet is that he will be a very good pitcher in the Southern League."

Maurer's low draft selection, injury history and lack of knowing really who he was as a pitcher has led to a low profile for him -- he was ranked 32nd on our Top-50 list last season. But his 2012 season has vaulted him to the forefront of the prospect world, not just for the Mariners, but around the minor leagues. Expect him to be in big league camp in February and likely head to Triple-A Tacoma to work on refining his off-speed offerings in 2013. Depending on how 2013 goes, Maurer could very well be ahead of James Paxton in terms of future value/ceiling by this time next season.

11. Erasmo Ramirez - RHP, 22, R/R, MLB Seattle
Ramirez ended the season in Seattle's rotation in 2011 and because of how well he pitched, that is where he may start 2012. Ramirez actually broke camp initially on the M's big league roster and pitched in seven games in relief early on before being sent down to Triple-A Tacoma to lengthen himself out and get used to starting again. His overall numbers in the big leagues -- 3.36 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.3 SO/9 and just 1.8 BB/9 -- were impressive enough, but after his last recall in early September, Ramirez made four great starts for Seattle to really solidify his status as a true prospect and real candidate for the 2013 rotation.

Ramirez has always been a pitcher with plus control as he's walked just 1.4 per nine in his 532 2/3 minor league innings during his career. But it was his command -- particularly locating the fastball -- that made a big jump forward during 2012 and allowed Ramirez to succeed at the big league level. Like Maurer he has the standard four-pitch mix, with his fastball having a little more run and sink and a little less velocity (92-94 typically, but reaching 96 at times). He works away from hitters very well and the run on his fastball and break of his off-speed pitches have actually made him a more dominant option versus left-handers than right-handers of late with a 20.5% K rate against lefties compared to a 16.1% mark versus righties in 2012.

Erasmo missed time during the middle of the season with what was called an elbow strain, but there seemed to be no lingering effects once he returned to action. The 5-foot-11 right-hander's body of work in 2012 was very impressive. And his repertoire of pitches and change in usage pattern over the course of the 2012 season was a very obvious maturation. As I highlighted in June following his dominant start against the A's, Ramirez's changeup is a very good pitch. And it is a very good pitch that he started using more often as the year went along, moving away from the constant pounding of his fastball.

Erasmo is a quiet, undersized guy, but he showed in 2012 that the numbers he had been putting up along his ascent to the big leagues were not a mirage. The kid knows how to pitch, and he isn't too proud or afraid to learn as he goes, either, which is a big step for a prospect -- learning and adapting. He shows great poise on the mound and an ability to control his emotions and harness his adrenaline in tight moments in the game. "He did a great job with his fastball, mixing in his changeup and breaking ball," manager Eric Wedge said after one of Ramirez's late season starts. That variation was the key for him late in the year. The fact that he was able to continue to succeed once reaching the big leagues with the same type of numbers in terms of command and strikeouts that he enjoyed in the minors is a good sign for his continued success going forward.

With Ramirez in the mix and showing great signs of growth, the Mariners strength of young pitching just gets more pronounced. Expect Ramirez to be among the leaders in the running for a rotation spot when the M's report to Spring Training in February, and expect him to continue to adapt as he matures in the big leagues.

That ends our look at the Mariners 15th through 11th best prospects. Check back with SeattleClubhouse next Monday as we unveil prospects number 10 through 6 for the M's.


Looking for more Mariners prospect scouting reports, rankings, 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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