Mariners Prospect Watch: Three Up, Three Down

The past seven days had some great pitching performances from some of the top pitching prospects in the Mariners system. We check in on three such arms on the bright side and check the down side of three other prospects in our weekly recap known as Three Up, Three Down.

Each Monday during the 2013 minor league season, I will again give our readers a rundown of the best and worst from the minor league week that was within the Seattle Mariners system. The goal is to concentrate only on true prospects (age 26 and under and not on the big league roster), but if any player has an exceptionally noteworthy good (or bad) week, he could appear here as well. 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.

A lot of the focus over the past week has been on the draft, and rightfully so, but the minor league action is still heavy -- and about to get a lot heavier when the three other affiliates start play in the coming days. This week some of the shining examples of how Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara have scored in the draft stood out for their performances, good and bad. Here they are in Three Up, Three Down.

THREE UP

Taijuan Walker - SP, Jackson Generals: 0-1, 2.19 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .214 oAVG, 12 1/3 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 14 SO
Even if you haven't been able to watch him pitch in 2013, it's clear Walker has been pretty obviously dominant the whole year by the numbers. About the only area that the 20-year-old could stand to clean things up a bit is in the walks department. Well he continued to do just that in another outstanding two start week this past week, walking only two while striking out a Southern League best 14 in 12 1/3 innings. He now has only 11 walks in his last seven starts and 42 1/3 innings over which he has struck out 45.

Taijuan now has 37 starts and 198 innings in Double-A under his belt and you have to think that his promotion to Tacoma is due very soon. The curveball has been a little sharper of late and his cut fastball has allowed him to hold lefties to a lower split than righties on the year (.189/.295/.315 vs .197/.281/.345). Walker remains one of the brightest pitching prospects in the game and one of the few pitchers with true ace upside.

Brandon Maurer - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 0-1, 1.42 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .186 oAVG, 12 2/3 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 13 SO
Even though he struggled at times earlier this season in the Mariners rotation, Maurer flashed electric stuff that was among the best on the staff at times. But left-handers just ate him up, posting a 1.038 OPS as opposing managers loaded up their lineup to take advantage of the rookie right-hander's lack of a quality offspeed offering. While we can certainly sound the "small sample size" trumpet, the early returns in Tacoma on that front are at least encouraging as Maurer has limited left-handed hitters to a .125/.222/.125 line through their first 18 plate appearances in the PCL

This is Maurer's first action in Triple-A, remember, so the fact that he is handling it so well early on in these first two starts is also encouraging. His stuff remains among the best in the organization and if he finds a way to right himself then he should be back up in Seattle's rotation before too long.

Erasmo Ramirez - SP, Tacoma Rainiers: 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .192 oAVG, 7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO
Speaking of right-handers that should be in Seattle's rotation soon, Ramirez's spring injury is behind him and his rehab is going quite well, thank you. His start this week was dominant and efficient as he allowed three infield singles among his five hits surrendered as he cruised through seven innings on just 92 pitches. Following a strong start for Jackson Ramirez now has two good efforts in the books for Tacoma and has combined season numbers of a 1.53 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and a .209 oAVG in his 17 2/3 innings.

Erasmo posted a 3.64 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 7.9 SO/9 in eight starts for Seattle last season as a 22-year-old rookie and his stuff, consistency and mettle have been sorely missed in the rotation so far in 2013 by the M's. Perhaps one or two more tune-ups with Tacoma and then Erasmo should be able to find his way back on the big league roster, maybe this time for good.

THREE DOWN

Denny Almonte - OF, Jackson Generals: .158/.158/.158 (3-19), RBI, 4 SO, 1-2 SB
Almonte was having so many troubles with making contact that he gave up on switch-hitting and returned to his natural right-handed side about a month ago. So far that move isn't really doing the trick. His OPS is nearly .200 better as a right-handed hitter against right-handed pitching than it is against lefties (.701 to .522) since he's made the move, but there are still 14 strikeouts to just two walks in his 46 plate appearances. This past week saw Denny post the 5th worst OPS in the entire Southern League and he's now gone seven games without picking up an extra base hit and 12 without drawing a walk.

Almonte is a very good athlete, a solid defender in center with speed and has easy plus raw power, but making this kind of switch as a 24-year-old and still not seeing the tools all translate is making the hopes of it ever all clicking become even more dim. There is a long road ahead for him, and as he's working in his 7th season in the system, a roster crunch coming up behind him.

Dan Paolini - 1B/DH, High Desert Mavericks: .222/.276/.259 (6-27), 2B, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 6 SO
Moving into the best hitting environment in the minors in 2013, I expected Paolini to put up some impressive numbers for the Mavs. And while he's had a couple of stretches and is once again showing very good plate discipline, the extra base hit power for Paolini has been pretty scarce, as any week by any player in the Cal League with a .259 SLG would suggest. The main reason for that seems easy to figure out -- the Mavs played mainly on the road last week. On the year Dan is hitting .318/.423/.561 at home but just .223/.311/.320 on the road, where he has hit just one of his seven home runs.

Paolini hit 11 homers and drove in 37 runs in August alone last season in the pitching friendly Midwest League, but as he's moved up the ladder this year the more veteran minor league pitchers seem to be better able to exploit his weaknesses. For instance, he is hitting just .231/.299/.359 on the year in 87 plate appearances against pitchers older than him this year for High Desert. Not a good sign of things ahead.

Stefen Romero - OF, Tacoma Rainiers: .185/.267/.259 (5-27), 2 2B, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 7 SO
Maybe I'm just nitpicking here, as I had Romero on the "Up" list a week ago, but I thought that he should be taking off in Triple-A by now. This past week saw three more multiple-strikeout games and his OPS dipping by nearly .050 yet again as he was exposed to more games in Tacoma. Hitting a solid but unspectacular .288/.350/.417 overall, Romero has done a lot of that damage on the road in the PCL's hitter friendly parks while hitting just .250/.309/.364 at home for the Rainiers.

On the bright side he is drawing a few more walks this season and his defense in left field is coming along nicely, but make no mistake about Romero, he has to hit and hit well to be a big league regular. And on that front, he continues to have some trouble against left-handers in Triple-A: .172/.286/.276 in 36 plate appearances is a huge drop from the .370/.431/.630 mark that he put up in 144 PA in 2012 against them.

. . . . . . .

Because of the big league failures of a couple of top prospects there seems to be more pressure on the next wave of guys advancing towards the big leagues, which means that the microscope will definitely be on players like Walker and Romero as everyone tries to predict what they can expect once they do reach Seattle. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it isn't, but the fact is that that is the way it is going to be. Tune in next week for another Three Up, Three Down.

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

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